Alice Meets… Lostribe
Lostribe, the West-Coast group made up of producer JustLuv and vocalist Agustus ThElephant, just released their latest album ‘Sophie’ in the UK – think smooth hip hop laced with experimental electronic production and features from the likes of Talib Kweli and Gift of Gab. To me, the album sounds like what I imagine Prefuse 73 could do if they were given an attention span and made full vocal tracks (which, is something I’ve always yearned for…) So I’d recommend checking it out.
And, if you’ve ever played the game Afro Samurai you may already be familiar with Lostribe, as they both worked on the cult game’s sick soundtrack. So, I met up with the guys earlier this month in downtown San Francisco to chat about the album, their musical influences, the hip hop and electronic music scenes and video games…
So, in your own words – how would you describe Lostribe’s sound?
JustLuv: Well, we both grew up listening to a lot of rap music and we’re heavily influenced by hip hop and rap. But, when we were both teenagers we – this guy more than me – got pretty immersed in the electronic, the rave scene, and drum and bass – so stuff like that became musical influences towards us, as well as the introduction of dubstep to the United States and that kinda sound, the heavier bass. Then, some of the West Coast artists glitching things out – just with the progress of music I think we’re working towards being as relevant and modern as we possibly can in 2011.
Is that important to you guys? To feel like you’re pushing things forward?
Agustus: Absolutely. I mean, there has to be progression in the music. I think everyone is kinda sick and tired of the way things are going for the industry. People aren’t focussed or interested in rap music in general anymore. I mean there is a club culture and that’s what it represents, but outside of that there is nothing that is innovative that people are being inspired about that you would consider commercial or mainstream culture. JustLuv: Commercial hip hop is definitely just regurgitating old formulas and putting a little bit of a new gloss and shine on it, but it’s the same formula that’s been happening for 10/15 years
Agustus: Beating it to death…
JustLuv: It’s actually funny how the line between commercial ‘hip hop’ and just straight pop is extremely blurred right now, and it has been for a while, but at least when Jay Z and people like that were in their prime there was a fairly defined line. Not that there needs to be necessarily, but it’s kind of interesting how ten years ago the hip hop culture didn’t embrace that kind of music – it wasn’t okay to listen to house music, and now everybody makes house music and everybody’s making club music. So it’s kinda this twilight feeling almost and it’s getting boring and old.
Agustus: Over saturated.
JustLuv: Highly over saturated.
And what does the name Lostribe mean? Like where did that come from – what’s the backstory to that?
JustLuv: The group started out with me and this guy, our other friend –
Agustus: In a garage… JustLuv: In my brother’s garage. We’re all from different walks of life a little bit, but we’ve all found a really common thread – in the music and just in each other and life and friendship. Where you’re from doesn’t necessarily set a stereotype for who you have to be and who you interact with, so we’re kind of a lost tribe of misfits that just kind of found each other and came together.
So how would you describe the Bay Area scene, and where you think Lostribe fit in there?
JustLuv: I mean, I did a little bit of production for some local artists back in like the early/mid 00’s, so somewhat immersed in the Bay Area hip hop scene – more rap you know, the street/hood scene or whatever. I’m actually more aware of the electronic scene out here, and there are a lot of producers and deejays from out here that are really pushing boundaries, getting a lot of recognition. And that’s being incorporated into the local rap scene. There is actually a lot of crossover stuff happening, like I know Turf Talk did a track with Lazer Sword – which is a super hood/ hypey rapper (Turf Talk) and Lazer Sword’s like super glitch/ dubsteppy. So those cultures are overlapping, and I’m glad to see a lot of that progress because it’s been kinda stale out here for a while and really stagnant.
Maybe more San Francisco than the Bay as a whole, but it’s a pretty international place so I would’ve thought surely that would be reflected in music scenes-
JustLuv: In the electronic music I definitely think that’s highly prevalent. There’s people like Bassnecter and I know Mimosa lives out here now…
Agustus: ill.Gates just moved out here – it’s kind of a renaissance it seems like right now.
JustLuv: The Glitch Mob – I mean, they’re from LA predominantly, but they’re really present out here. All those guys are international musicians and work with other international musicians and producers from around the world, so that scene is a much different kinda community. The hip hop community is much more secular it seems.
Your album ‘Sophie’ just dropped in the UK (26th September) – so if you could just tell us a bit about it, your inspirations, how you see the record…what’s in there….?
JustLuv: If you want to say there was a sign or a cosmic feeling or whatever, this just kind of felt like it was something that we had to do, and it just kind of started snow-balling. Me and this guy have been making music for a long time and we just felt like it was time to put something out of a certain calibre that we hadn’t done before. So N8 the GR8 jumped on board, co-signed the album, and all the features were through connections that he’s had and established over the last 15/20 years of being in the industry. So it just kinda turned into this big art project that we got behind and wanted to finish.
Agustus: There’s a lot of depth to the album too, a lot of elements. I just feel like people need to sit down and spend time with it because there is a lot of depth conceptually, and it turned into a pretty refined representation of Northern California.
JustLuv: And modern – there’s a couple of points on the album where we talk about being young – and in pop music it seems like one of the common themes is being young, going out and getting fucked up at the bar, getting trashed and having a ‘I don’t give a fuck’ mentality – and so we talk about that, but we also talk about like the next day and what it feels like, and the repercussions of living that kind of lifestyle. And acknowledging ‘yeah, we’ve all done that, we all do that’, but like ‘this is only for so long, and this is what happens…’ And we’re all multi-faceted beasts out here in the world, as human beings, so we can’t just rely on one aspect of consumption to define us. So, we try to speak on the depth of the human being and the multi-faceted nature of existing and trying to survive in 2011.
Yeah. I think the track I like the most is the one with Gift of Gab – the Break Up Song -in that song there’s all these little snippets of Slum Village and I think a Common track – and I’m just curious if they’re like personal break up songs of yours or if there was a story to that? Or if they were just songs ya liked… (Both laugh)
Justluv: That actually was…
It’s ‘Climax’ isn’t it?
Agustus: I think so.
Justluv: Yeah, that song definitely was made in response to a personal situation that I was going through at the time…
Agustus: It was for him though.
JustLuv: Yeah. It was for a break up that I was going through.
Agustus: I was writing it in context for him.
JustLuv: Which we’ve done before.
Agustus: Second time we’ve done it.
As a good friend?
JustLuv: Well yeah – he’s the voice of the group so…
Agustus: Best friends so…I probably know him better than he does.
JustLuv: But yeah the samples – it’s funny that you mention that, cos you know I’m heavily influenced by J Dilla as a music producer and the original conception of that beat – we put a lot more glitch and some synths and different cuts over it – but the original feel to that beat was kinda on a Dilla feel. I wanted to use all Dilla samples on the chorus, so all those samples are produced by J Dilla – that was the kind of thread on them.
I can see how J Dilla would be a good break up/ heartbreak producer to listen to.
JustLuv: Oh he’s done it for sure, he’s definitely done it. (laughs)
As a whole the album to me feels kind of chilled, in a good way, was that sort of intentional? Or, as you say, did things just happen and you weren’t going for a certain vibe?
JustLuv: We were trying to make not really a vibe for the whole album but more wanted to touch on a few specific things with the production. I mean, there are obviously gaps from whatever artistic perspective you look at it, but as a whole it’s a pretty complete idea – it’s kind of a trip that it wasn’t really planned out that way.
And why the title ‘Sophie’?
JustLuv: Sophie is the name that I would give my daughter if I have one. I don’t have any kids or a family, I mean like I don’t have a wife or a girlfriend. So, I’m gonna be 30 in a couple of weeks and a lot of my friends-
That’s not that old!
JustLuv: It’s not that old, but when most of the people around you are in stable relationships or have a kid or are getting married or whatever – and I’m one of the last rebels out here, you know, so this is my daughter, this is my first-born.
I feel that – I’ve just graduated and fully aware that it’s getting to that stage where people are getting real jobs and settling down…you can already see it. But anyhow – I was kinda intrigued about the work that you guys had done on the Afro Samurai soundtrack: when you’re producing music for something like that – I imagine it must be a lot of fun, but how does it compare to when you’re making your own project?
Agustus: We had goals with both projects and deadlines which give the creation of art a little bit of a different dynamic – you’re actually pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. For me, that’s how it was cos with the album the conception was born and it was like ‘we want to put a deadline on it’. And when we got the call from Afro Samurai it was kind of the same thing – like ‘okay – I have two weeks to write nine songs’. So, that’s the first comparison that I’d make.
JustLuv: It’s kind of like being a boxer; when you’re alone in the studio by yourself – that’s the time that you spend in the gym training and running and hitting the heavy bag – and then there’s an opportunity like that and it’s the main event. You get to the ring and all of the training, all the tools that you’ve created and utilised to get to where you’re at as an ‘artist’ kind of come into play and now it’s time to show like ‘this is what I can do, I can step up to the play’. You know, it’s scary and it’s a motivator, but it’s ultimately extremely fulfilling, cos those two things happened and were completed.