Danger Mouse Interview
Better Propaganda Editor Terbo Ted talks to Danger Mouse.
Better Propaganda: So if we could have the opportunity for Danger Mouse to describe Danger Mouse in your own words, how would you describe it?
Danger Mouse: Describe Danger Mouse?
DM: Myself you're talking about, not the cartoon?
BP: Well, the Danger Mouse we are talking to right now, the world famous hip-hop producer, that guy...
DM: He's in the bed about to have a long day, (laughter) that's typical right now, man, ...gosh...
Describe myself, uhhh, I guess it depends on what context I'm in, man. I guess, I'm a producer, I guess hip-hop is what I'm mainly known for right now, I guess I'm trying to use music to help kind of like change people's perceptions. That is what the big start has been from, with that project we were talking about, I guess, I've been producing music - whether you call it producing, writing, composing, whatever you want to call it - making it, I guess- for like 8 years. Just started getting decent at it in the last couple. I did a hip hop record with Jemini, Jemini the Gifted One, last year, Ghetto Pop Life, you guys know the name of that one already.
BP: We have that on our site, Ghetto Pop Life, the mp3, the lead single, the Ghetto Pop Life track. Within days of posting it it became our number one hip hop download and has been holding strong since...
DM: I guess people are curious now, to hear what it sounds like, that's cool. I like that track, I think that is one of my favorite tracks on the album.
BP: Our staff likes it, too. We are sending you out as our song of the week tomorrow.
DM: That's cool. Thanks, man. I'm glad people are checking it out.
I did that record, like, when I think about it, almost two years ago. If I look at when I actually recorded the music - with Jemini - it was almost a couple years ago. Now, it is finally getting out there. I like the record, you know, it is almost like a concept record. This is what happens when I get to work with one of my favorite MC's from the 90's. I gave him all the tracks I wanted to hear him rhyme on, I wanted to see what he would do with these tracks. He wrote these great songs to it. We are very, very different people. Our dynamic is there, man. It is like the kinda music I listen to and the kinda music he listens to, it is all very different. We just managed to find some common ground without trying to conform to what each other was doing.
BP: Is the Jemini project the main thing you've been working on as a producer, is that your main gig right now?
DM: It is probably. We are working on another record, me and Jemini, there are other things I am working on, let's see, let's see...
BP: I'll tell you a story about that, I work at this music site, I get all this music sent to me, I got this Prince Po track sent to me and I said "Man, that cat is ripping on Danger Mouse, its got that 2/4 thing going..." (beat boxes 2/4 guitar hits) Then I look at the sleeve and it says track three produced by Danger Mouse...
DM: I didn't realize I had a sound but then people started telling me I had a sound in Danger Mouse. It is only after you do things that you realize you have a sound. I realized that with other bands too. You don't realize you have a sound until after the first record.
It's cool, it's cool. I hope you dig that record, I guess you'd call it exec produced, got all the beats together with Prince. We put the beats together in California. That took a lot of time, something I've been busy with this whole past year. It's a great record.
BP: Are you a Californian?
DM: No, I lived here now, I've lived here for a year.
BP: You're from the East Coast?
DM: I'm from all over.
BP: Hip hop has always had this West Coast/East Coast thing...
DM: I left New York when I was thirteen. And I wasn't really into hip hop when I was in New York. It was hair metal and eighties pop just like every other kid. I had an older sister who listened to hip hop early on, so early eighties, she was bringing home all this new music, all this new hip hop stuff. But the kids I was hanging with, they were young and I don't think they got it, it was all about pop music, including myself. Later on I realized how much of that I retained because I would hear songs and know all the words.
When I got to the South, I got into Miami Bass, Miami booty music, like Magic Mike, and things like that. I got into Midwest stuff like 8 Ball & MJG, UGK and stuff like that. Of course the West Coast stuff, too: N.W.A., Dre, and Snoop stuff. Then, I started getting into the East Coast stuff much more heavily, I guess
But for me, it didn't really matter where it was from, I was always just listening to the beats, that was just my thing. I got into the WU Tang thing...then, it was mainly a hip hop thing. It was an East Coast thing. I don't know if I can say Middle East Coast. (laughter) You know the mid-nineties, that is when a lot of stuff was coming out, it was coming from there anyways.
BP: It is interesting that you said you listened to metal in the early eighties because your music now has a lot of guitar samples in it which isn't something you would expect in hip hop.
DM: I love guitar, I can't play it very well, I try. I've done some records where I've played guitar here and there. I'm into a lot of live instrument stuff. I like guitars and strings a lot. I'm a big film music person - Ennio Morricone, Lalo Schifrin and stuff like that.
Also, I got really into psychedelic rock when I moved to Athens, Georgia. I lived there for six years. That was what got me outside of hip hop and wanting to make the music itself. The hip hop was so ingrained in me for awhile but all that other stuff was in there, too.
I wanted to make music that wasn't hip-hop. I couldn't help that it had that feel to it, but I was refusing at the beginning... like "no MC," none of that stuff, I don't want to do what everyone else is doing. I wanted to try to do something different. I just slowed the music down a whole bunch so it would be less tempting for people to try to rhyme on it - metal stuff, not using samples, and all that stuff. At first I did say, I'm not going to use samples anymore. I'm not really sure. I wanted to use live instruments, I would get people to play them, then I would try things myself. And I would sample that and mess with those, Then, I loosened up a bit, you know when you are younger, even now, it is the same thing, you get an idea, and you just go way overboard on shit. I was just kinda like, well, I guess I can use samples only if it is for hip hop and if people can rhyme to it. That is the only time I am going to use samples because it is fun like that. When I do something specifically for hip hop, I get to do it that way. But when I am doing other music - that is not that way - I try to come up with it, myself. It is just as much work either way, honestly. It is a different approach I guess. A lot of Danger Mouse was sampling, Pelican City was a lot of live instruments and original music.
BP: Let's backtrack several decades. Let's say someone was in a band and they got a guitar and they decided they liked some blues player and they are trying to pick up on some Carl Perkins riffs or Chuck Berry riffs and then they wrote their own versions of the song, used the exact same kind of phrasing and techniques, used the same positioning and gear, I guess that's not sampling. But if you buy someone's CD and like it, and pull from it, and loop it, and pitch it, and make something yours, that is sampling?
DM: The second thing you described is definitely sampling. The first is kinda like you know your place; you gotta start somewhere. I was a graphic artist. I was a comic book kid; you look at the cover and you draw them Eventually you get good enough, you develop your own technique, you do your own thing. It is kind of similar, in a way, as far as when you get started.
I always made a point that the whole sampling thing is definitely a choice, I can take - like you said - a blues guitar guy, I can take two weeks and try to learn the song, because I don't play the guitar very often. I'm really not very good at it at all. I could sit there for several weeks and just hammer on it and just learn that song, or I can take a six second loop and try to do something that no one has ever done before. I don't want to learn the guitar like so and so.
BP: I think one can easily argue that you are like Eddie Van Halen on the sampler sometimes...
DM: I never thought of it that way. But, who knows. I guess that is what working with loops becomes. Like, let's say I am going to take a sample, or something like that, you have a whole song you can sample from; sometimes, I want to work with just one loop, just because it limits you and makes you more creative; you got this one loop; ow are you going to make it interesting for three minutes? How am I going to do this?"
I look at it as - not to sound so pretentious and everything - I look at art as: how am I going to do this? I never know what the end result is going to be.
I use my ears for something, I can't read or write music or anything. If I sit with something, something comes out naturally. If I am working on a track, and I'm forty minutes into it, and I don't have a huge grin on my face, or I'm not jumping up and down because of what is happening, I'll just erase it. It is either there or it is not, you know, you can't force it. I guess that is kinda my approach right now. But that is just with the sample based stuff.
Otherwise I am just trying to come up riffs and layers of stuff and layering and layering. Simplistic as some of the music I do is, in that way, something I get a lot out of because it is all my own stuff, there are times and things that I do, that I get a lot of fulfillment out of it having written a song myself but also I know the flipside. I know how hard it is for me to come up with songs without sampling. I know how hard it is to sample. It is very similar, I get equal fulfillment from both things.
BP: I'd call you a pretty accomplished musician from listening to the work you've been doing, you've said it has taken some time to get to this point, but it seems this year you are one of the hottest sounds out there...
DM: Thanks, man, you know, I've got this thing, too many people, too early on; I've got a long path. This little hiccup that happened kinda changes it. I use what happened to work with people I really admire, people I can get a lot of clues and pointers from, people I can work around and see how they do things. I get to meet a lot of people now, too. I guess we'll see what happens. I'm just going to try to keep changing peoples' perceptions. That's what I am really trying to do.
Music showed me how much I was missing, you know, how much I was afraid to stray from my social path that is kinda setup for you - by everybody - your family, the people you are around... based on your demographic, based on how you grew up, your race, everything, all that stuff, a lot of times it is predetermined for you - what you end up doing, it is all there. People miss a lot of stuff. For me, being so into music - I am so heavily into it - when I started seeing these groups and bands and songs and things poking out, it just hit me over the head that I was absolutely in love with this stuff. When I realized how long it had been out, you know, whether it be old Pink Floyd stuff that I had totally heard of forever but had not listened to until I was 19, Why? Why? Why? Why did this happen? What other things are out there that I have been ignoring or not even looking at? Whether it be music or not.
Music was the easiest way for me to give that to other people. You hear a track - these old remixes I did in Athens - I am mixing something like Jefferson Airplane with WuTang; I watch somebody take it, and they can't wait to play it for their friends... I totally see that happening. You can touch on something there. Now I make sure I follow it up.
BP: Let's talk about the follow it up thing because this year has been such a breakout year for you. You are getting a lot of people's attention, a lot of famous musicians are aware of your work right now. Do you expect to be producing tracks with any of these established names within the year?
DM: I hope so, gotta make sure I don't get in there too early. I've still got a ways. I don't want to go and mess up someone's song. I got to make sure it is the right stuff. Something I can add something to.
BP: I read somewhere that David Bowie was really inspired by your work this year and was hoping to start remixing his back catalog...
DM: Yeah, I've read that too, that he is letting people mash up his stuff and things. He's always a forward thinker, man, he's cool. I've always dug Bowie. I guess the only record I have of his is Ziggy Stardust. I believe in what he does, a lot, as an artist, I really do.
BP: Do you collect mp3s?
DM: Here and there, here and there, it just depends on what it is. Usually, I only use them for my nieces and nephews to listen to. Are you going to suggest something?
BP: What new music do you listen to right now, the stuff that is current?
Let me see... I don't want to mention something nobody's ever heard of, there's no point... let's see, ahhh... whenever I buy CDs, I put them on my iTunes.
BP: Do you have an iPod? Or do you have iTunes?
DM: Yeah, I have both of those things
BP: You have an iPod?
DM: Yeah, I just recently broke down and got one.
BP: Yeah! Let's hear what is in Danger Mouse's iPod.
DM: Hold on a second....
BP: No worries, cool...
DM: I'm just going to browse and see what's in here, artists, oh man, most of this stuff I cannot even pronounce, it is all old, like. Foreign psychedelic music is mainly what I am listening to.
At the Drive-in
BP: All right
DM: Just the one song - "Toxic" - it is fucking amazing, I love that song.
BP: Right on.
BP: Buddy Rich?
DM: Can - big Can fan right now
BP: There you go!
DM: The Cardigans - so underrated, man, people just hear that one song and say whatever, but the Cardigans are one of the best. They've got the same band members and on every album they redefine what they are doing. The Cardigans are one of the best bands, I love them.
The Coral - I'm listening to the Coral a lot recently
BP: I believe we have one of their mp3s on our site.
DM: They are one of my favorite new bands. They are all young kids and they have already done two or three records. They are really prolific, really good.
There is some Danger Mouse in here. (laughter)
Daniele Luppi, I've been listening to a lot to his stuff. I'm going to remix some of his stuff. Have you heard of this guy? - Daniele Luppi - OK, check this shit out! An Italian composer of film music stuff, he's out here in California now. A younger guy. He did a record that just came out called an Italian story. He wasn't on a label or anything. He got all the old Morricone players, from all the spaghetti westerns, together again to play his new compositions. You would never know this thing was recorded a year or two ago, you would never know. It is so, so good, so good. I picked it up in a store. I saw the cover, and I read the bio, and I said, no fucking way! I picked it up and it was amazing. You'll have to check that out. ...I just met him recently and we are going to do a remix together soon...
I'm just going in alphabetical order...
The Faint, I'm a big Faint fan
BP: We have them on our site
DM: I love the Faint
Food Brain - Food Brain is a crazy band, they are a total Japanese rock band
Grandaddy - I love Grandaddy
BP: They are on our site.
In a way it almost sounds like you're listing clients you are going to do remixes for. I'll bet a lot of those people would love having some Danger Mouse skills on their catalog...
DM: You know, I just did a couple remixes recently. People just never, ever, ever, get what they think they are going to get from me. They don't. No way. I don't want to do straight hip hop remixes for people. If I can, and it will work, then it is fine. Even the Ghetto Pop Life record is a straight up hip hop record. It's just that, it is funny now. All the music I've done in the last year and half, none of it really sounds like Ghetto Pop Life ...or The Grey Album. It is just that, that is all anyone's heard. I've got to be really patient and not be frustrated that that is the case. You have got to go through the whole process to release a record. You can't just say, no, no, no, here, everybody, this is what I am doing now. You can't just do it that way. Well, maybe you can; I just haven't figured out how to do it yet.
You know about that Murs track I did with the Free Design remix...
BP: No, I haven't heard that yet
DM: Go to the website - Light in the Attic is the name of the label. You haven't heard of Free Design?
BP: An old psychedelic hippy band from San Francisco. Really happy. Light in the Attic just did a re-release. They did a remix EP. The first EP had like Madlib, Peanut Butter Wolf, Belle and Sebastion. The next one, I did one track, Manitoba did one track, and Supper Furry Animals did one.
BP: We have Super Furry Animals on our site.
DM: Yeah, I am pretty good friends with Griff. Man, he's a really cool guy. I saw him out in Wales, not too long ago. He actually recorded here at the house. I'm a big fan of theirs. I got that record Ring Around The World. I really like that record.
BP: So, going forward, what is Danger Mouse's future going to be? Are you gonna wear the mouse costume some more?
DM: You know, as long as I feel comfortable. As long as it is comfortable. As soon as I stop feeling comfortable, I'll stop, but, right now, I'm alright with it, it's okay, so...
BP: We'll expect you to still be playing shows?
DM: Yeah, a small tour, I'm also doing Lollapalooza, its going to be kinda crazy...
BP: What are people going to see at the shows when they go to see Danger Mouse?
DM: It will be a lot of Ghetto Pop Life in those shows. But also eclectic DJing, here and there, you know, all those things I was mentioning, just mixed up...
BP: Do you do the turntablist thing, with the decks?
DM: I am not a heavy scratcher. I have four turntables, and try to do a lot of live remix, a whole megamix, like I listen to now, just mix it up, just fun. I don't take myself too seriously, especially onstage. I get a bit into what I am doing; I kind of forget what I am doing. I try to get back into reality every once in awhile...
BP: Do you take a laptop or iPod on stage with you?
DM: No, I am really paranoid about that... um, yeah, I'm paranoid about that. I am always worried it is going to lock up on me, so I never do. I use two CDs, and two turntables - two 1200's - and then a mixer, and that's it.
BP: You burn your own CDRs to play over...
DM: With the CDs, while I am waiting to go on stage, I have my laptop with me, and I can change some things, or add some things. Yeah, that's pretty much it...
BP: Hey man, congratulations on a great year, so far, and the best of luck to you!
DM: When are you going to run with this? Cause I was going to get you ....you know I am doing a record with Doom? Have you met MF Doom? The Victor Vaughn record. The record that's out right now with Madlib One of the best MCs around. Just did a record with Madlib, that came out this year. He's doing some of the best writing there is, man, lyrically. He's just amazing.
And, just a couple other things I may be able to shoot over to you. Just have to make sure. There's a Zero 7 remix
BP: Dope man, we love them.
DM: I just did something with them. I did two remixes with them: one that was a little out there for them, and one that was more hip hop. I'm going to try to find a way to get the one that's more out there some way... maybe give it to you guys, for your site... if they'll let me, or won't come after me or some shit...