Philadelphia producer/emcee/instrumentalist, Lushlife, is no stranger to originality. His work ranges from 60’s rock, futuristic electronic, soul, boom-bap, and pop. His projects expand from the successful mash up of West Sounds (Kanye West meets the Beach Boys), to the sample heavy Order of Operations, to his newest pop and instrumentation inspired Cassette City. Although his music has changed from project to project, the thing that has held true is its alternative roots to stay one step ahead and one step to the left of your average Hip Hop listening experience. RubyHornet conversed with Lushlife to untangle his mind on everything from his past work to his current project and all of his inspirations in between. Check out Lush Life as he goes under the First Look microscope.
RubyHornet: What separates you from the plethora of artists that come from Philadelphia in the past decade or two?
LushLife: I don’t know if I can separate myself from Philly artists in a lot of ways because I was literally raised on Black Thought and ?uestLove’s production. That’s like the stepping stone of the s**t I built off of as a musician. I think anytime I’m working on anything, some of those cats and some of their production ideas from the 90’s and late 80’s are things that are in mind when I’m like, ‘maybe I should do this or maybe I should have a snare that sounds like that.’ It’s always coming from a place, and a lot of times it’s coming from a lot of those guys. So the only thing that separates me from the artists before me is the fact that I’m taking a lifetime of listening to all of their work and filtering it through myself and giving you my sort of singular perspective on it. I’m the first person to say that I bit ideas, but I bite ideas and put them through myself so that they come out differently.
RubyHornet: Biting is inevitable. It’s hard for people to admit that, but every piece of music you hear implements music of the past. It’s just how you interpret your music listenership towards your own creations.
LushLife: Exactly! That’s what music is. That’s what art is.
RubyHornet: I feel like your production is helped so much because of the fact that you play a lot of instruments and implement it into your production.
LushLife: Yeah, I play a lot of instruments. I’m formally trained in piano since I was five, I studied jazz drums for nine years, and now over the last six years I’ve been dabbling in a lot of different stuff like learning how to play guitar and mandolin. A lot of that does kind of rear its head on this new record. I took a little bit of a break between touring for Order of Operations and starting the new project because I just wanted to meditate on what I wanted to do. I remember I was at an Animal Collective show in Philly and watching these dudes on stage just wildin’ out with all sorts of instruments made me think like, ‘if I’m touring for this new record, I want to have the dynamic that they have in their show and play all these instruments.’ That night I grew the opinion where I was like, “f**k it, that’s the unique thing that I can bring to the table aside from being an emcee and producer.’ None of those great emcee/producers are really delving into the world of broad live instrumentation except for a few. Right now I’m actually putting together the live show, which is really fun cause I’m moving from guitar to synth to rapping. Doing all that s**t is fun, and I think it will translate well in the live experience.
RubyHornet: Personally, what has changed over the years of your production that isn’t as evident? The evident being the mash up of West Sounds to the sampling in Order of Operations to the broader Cassette City.
LushLife: Well I think there was a natural progression. I grew from a production stand point. Everytime you work on a track you learn something new on how to make things sound right. I think that there’s fair bit of musical growth between the older records that you mentioned and this one, but there’s also just the sonic sound of how I put s**t together. And honestly, with the first two records I was using FruityLoops and I don’t hate on it at all because it’s really like a Swiss army knife, but for this new record when I got my advance I went out and bought a couple MPCs and they’ve been like the nerve center as far as the production and in terms of the way it sounds coming through the MPC. There’s just something about it that gives it that Hip Hop feel, and that was an important step for me production wise.
RubyHornet: You have classical musical roots, but your music envelopes a lot of pop and modern Hip Hop. Where do you find yourself pulling the most inspiration from?
LushLife: That’s something that I’d have to think about hard. I was a pre-teenager when Black Moon and A Tribe Called Quest were putting records out and I ate that up viciously. My parents would give me three or four bucks for lunch and I wouldn’t eat lunch at school. I’d take the bus to the record shop after school and buy one 12-inch a day. So that music and that era and that sound is obviously forming my sonic sound. But at the same time, I actively watched myself so I didn’t make a throwback record that sounds like it could have been made anytime. I wanted to make something that had the emotion of the 90’s and that feeling, but at the same time in production techniques and aesthetics, I wanted to push the envelope a little bit. Another thing I did want to do was make something progressive. I feel like progressive Hip Hop is pigeon holed and it’s gotta be some weird crazy Def Jux dark s**t, but I make poppy records. So my thought was that you can be experimental and still not be out there with some crazy s**t. So the 90’s is a huge element of my sound but I didn’t want it to be the only back bone.
RubyHornet: Do you listen to other genres more?
LushLife: Well for me it’s weird because I’ve always gone through fits of infatuation on s**t. Like in 6th and 7th grade I’d just listen to Hip Hop and then in 8th grade I became infatuated with The Pixies and The Smiths and a lot late 80’s and early 90’s rock stuff. In 9th and 10th grade I started playing in a soul/jazz group so I got into a lot of the late 70’s Blue Note sounds. It runs a gambit for me, but at any given time I’ll be hyper focused on listening to one particular thing.
RubyHornet: Let’s get into your successful debut digital release, West Sounds. How do you look back on that release?
LushLife: With mixed feelings. I can’t hate on the fact that it sort of did what we wanted it to do, which was to elevate my visibility before I put out my first record. I still have a fondness in my heart for it and musically I’m proud of the mash up. Kanye’s record’s tonality have singing in them, and so to put them together with The Beach Boys tracks I really had to make sure the chords were fitting right. I don’t think a lot of cats at the time really got that it was a far more complex process than just me making an instrumental and beat matching it to an accapella. To have my name associated so strongly with the mash up thing isn’t something I’m crazy about, but it is a part of my journey. From a really positive angle and looking back, this time around on Cassette City, I’ve infused a lot of those Beach Boys stacked harmonies like on “Meridian Sound Part 3.” So in a way it puts my recorded output in full circle. Look on a scale of some random mashup to the Grey Album it was somewhere in between (laughs) but it did – I’ll tell you what, I was living in London at the time and my manager setup the server it was going to be downloaded from and we set it up and we did an e-blast and basically within 20 hours the site had been overloaded and went down. It’s hard to keep track now, but there was an estimated 2,000,000 downloads. But at the end of the day, it gave me a fair amount of visibility.
RubyHornet: That was back in 2005, which was a different Internet age than now. What has changed and affected you since your success with the Internet back then?
LushLife: Well, now I see websites like NahRight and 2DopeBoyz and they update minute by minute. Artists are hitting them up with tracks like twice a day. For me, I’m trying to figure out how I fit into that paradime. I’m the kind of dude that literally spends a month and a half writing one song and four days writing one 16 bar verse. I don’t even know where I fit in that world where things are updated so quickly.
RubyHornet: How did you feel about Order of Operations? Do you feel it was a good official debut after the success of West Sounds?
LushLife: I think it represents a good 22 year old me. It was me really just figuring out how to produce and make records. The first rhyme I ever wrote was on the first real track after the intro. That was a proving ground for me to myself that I can make the sounds I wanted to make and have the control over the samples and the beats. It’s rough around the edges and wasn’t the best conceptual release as I wanted it to be, but it was a huge learning process from beginning to end. I feel like that was the biggest sort of learning curve to get all of that under my belt so that I could make this new record Cassette City, which is an album, which is a huge expression of myself, Lushlife.
RubyHornet: So Cassette City is at the top of your catalogue?
LushLife: I think it is unfairly so. I think everything in one’s past exists and is important because it helps you become who you are. Right now I’ll tell you that Cassette City is the piece of work I’m the most proud of, but at the end of the day it wouldn’t be possible without Order of Operations or West Sounds.
RubyHornet: Cassette City is heavily induced with Hip Hop, but some of the guest spots are far from it. Why did you choose these appearances?
LushLife: Well I hate when I buy a Hip Hop CD where it’s so deluded with guest appearances so I certainly wanted to avoid that. So on guest appearances on the Hip Hop end I wanted it to be there for a very important reason, and for a very specific sonic sort of output. With Camp-Lo, they’re such a unique sound so I wanted to get them. Elzhi is on the record and he’s another dude that has some straight Lord Finesse 2009 s**t. But then I wanted to make a record that was a little broader in scope so I got Ariel Pink who’s wonderful. This dude is from L.A. and he’s kind of like an indy rock weirdo kind of dude but his first records were out on cassette and he records on a four track and overdubs all these sounds, which are beautiful like 70’s AM radio gold music. It’s really beautiful so I ended up sampling one of his records and the way we worked it out was that I contacted him and his record company so that he split the track where the chorus is all him and it came out the same way where Dr. Dre sampled that song by Dido and then it became Eminem featuring Dido. So that’s how that came about and then Greg from Deerfoot is a phenomenal drummer, which you can hear on the song “Bird Athletic.” He’s an amazing percussionist who is out there when he plays the drums; he plays the most random parts of the drum that you wouldn’t think of. So aside from the Hip Hop end, getting those guys on the album kind of made it sound like a broader listening experience.
RubyHornet: What is one thing would you want a person to know about Lushlife before they sat down to listen to a record of yours?
LushLife: I would like them to know that I make music with a huge amount of integrity and I spend enough time and put enough dedication in my music. I have a huge amount of respect for my listeners so ultimately if there’s a bunch of s**t out there and that’s all they’re limited to, I would like them to know I’m offering them something alternative and something that is more thought provoking than the average record.