Let's be honest: guys who used to work for Def Jux records don't usually get cease-and-desist letters from Kevin Spacey. Yet this is just one facet of the ever-fascinating life of Jason Drake, and it makes for one hell of a 20 Questions.
It's probably fair to say that Kevin Spacey isn't a fan of Cassettes Won't Listen.
How does Cassettes Won't Listen's mastermind Jason Drake know this? Well, when he was prepping for the release of his third full-length album of immaculately-crafted indie electro-pop tunes, he wound up settling upon the name of KEVINSPACEY, which seemed to accurately reflect that mature, thoughtful, but still playfully fun sound of the record. The two-time Oscar winner, however, was not amused, and a cease-and-desist letter followed in no time. In thinking of a way to avoid this legal quagmire, Drake then came across a brilliant idea: take a letter off.
Now, Drake is going about the country in support of his latest disc, EVINSPACEY, and it's as dramatic, funky, and offbeat as his previous work (which, it should be noted, PopMatters has given a stamp of approval to before). Maybe it was all the time he spent working at Def Jux Records, honing in on his craft and doing a large amount of remixes for that label's unique indie-rap roster, but with EVINSPACEY, it feels as if Drake is finally ready to break through.
Sitting down for a thoughtful and revelatory 20 Questions, Drake discusses how he relates to a character in the feel-good movie Kids, never goes on "vacations", and how he's ventured into a realm that few other electronic artists have ever entered in before: improv comedy.
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1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Wall-E was probably the last movie that made me cry. It's amazing the story you can tell with animation and minimal dialogue nowadays. The movie is the quintessential love story set in a dystopian future with commentary on our world's current lifestyle. A love story between two robots is such an amazing juxtaposition of man and machine. It makes me cry just thinking of it.
2. The fictional character most like you?
Casper from the movie Kids, minus the rape and HIV part. I always admired Casper's carefree attitude, preference for malt liquor, blunts, nitrous oxide, and sex. I moved to New York City at 19 and my life was very similar to his at the time. That lifestyle is what has shaped me into who I am today.
3. The greatest album, ever?
Wow, that is a good question. Albums are always changing their meanings to me so the greatest album ever today will probably change soon. I'd base my greatest album not on the strength of musicianship or influence on music in general, but more on how it influenced my life. Any album that marks a particular time in my life would end up towards the top of my list. Albums like DJ Shadow's Endtroducing, Beck's Mellow Gold, Pavement's Wowee Zowee, and Beastie Boys Check Your Head, are probably some of my favorite albums of all time.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Wars, although the latest Star Trek movie was pretty amazing and killed any of the latest Star Wars movies. Star Trek always seemed a bit cheesy to me though, whereas Star Wars was fucking badass. The special effects and character development of Star Wars is far superior to Star Trek. Klingons just reminded me of people in make up and funny suits talking nonsense. I like the subtle minimalist look of the storm troopers and Darth Vader.
5. Your ideal brain food?
Moving. Travel has always been the ultimate way to stay inspired for me. Especially extended stays where I almost feel at home in the places I travel. As a kid I traveled for a summer to Brazil and stayed long enough where I became deeply connected to the people and their way of life. It was a huge turning point for me and how I viewed the world moving forward.
My stepfather was in the Navy while I was growing up so we moved around the country every two years. I was lucky enough to live in northern and southern California and make my way east via New Orleans to New Jersey and finally New York.
For my latest album I decided to move to Los Angeles after living in NYC for ten years. It had a huge influence on how I approach producing and writing music, the culture here is completely different than the east coast and it gave me tons of material to pull from while writing the album.
Vacations don't really do it for me, I have to feel like I've set emotional roots down in a new place. Once that happens it's creative gold for me.
6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?
Taking improv comedy classes at Uprights Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles. It's something I never thought I'd do or enjoy. I'm a producer, in other words an "editor". I make music by sitting in the studio for hours on end, recording, re-recording, experimenting, cutting, pasting, etc. until I've edited a product into something I like and feel my fans will like.
The thought of standing up on stage and completely improvising a 30 minute show in front of a live audience while trying to make them laugh literally made me nauseous but, because of that, it was something I felt I should try. The goal of the course was to be able to ask an audience member for one word and base a whole show off of that word. The final class would be at the UCB theatre in front of a live audience. No time for planning, no time for editing. What?
Being in Los Angeles, I was the only non-actor in the bunch which didn't do much for my nerves but also took some of the pressure off. Just enough to keep me engaged and able to excel in the eight week course. The "graduation" show ended up going well and I made it through improvising a 30 minute show without throwing up or passing out. It was one of those accomplishments that I'll always be able to look back on and pull from.
7. You want to be remembered for ...?
The easy answer would be for my music. But I guess the more complicated answer would be for any inspiration that comes from my music. I guess it would be different for each person who was affected by any of my songs.
I was recently giving an interview when the writer thanked me for giving him something to live for. A very powerful and rewarding statement that will stay with me for a long time. It reassured me that maybe I am creating something that could last longer than my life and continue on to affect peoples lives in a positive manner.
8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are?
Jean-Michel Basquiat is the first one that comes to mind. He has always represented New York to me and being able to survive in New York on what you love to do is a common goal between most of those who live there. Basquiat's work covers everything from hip-hop to graffiti to punk rock and the drug fueled art scene of the '80s that always made New York so appealing to me. Not saying Basquiat wasn't without his problems but those problems are also very romantic to me.
There's something about overcoming the odds and then dealing with the stresses, sometimes as a detriment to your mental or physical health, that has always been very inspirational to me. It's the clichéd "giving your life for your art" ideal that I'm still a sucker for. Basquiat has been very inspirational because he bridges the gap of music, art, and culture in New York that made me want to move to the city in the first place. I've finally been lucky enough to live off my music in both Los Angeles and New York but no serious mental issues, yet.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans would be a fun one to have my name on. I'm a huge fan of pop art, and most lately pop surrealism and lowbrow art. The soup cans represent such a turning point in 20th century art and the influence of Andy Warhol's work on today's culture is massive. He became famous by staying true to himself instead of creating something he knew people would like. That has always been a very admirable quality to me.
10. Your hidden talents . . .?
I'm a fantastic cook. I've loved cooking since I was a kid and culinary school has always been something I've been interested in. Growing up, my parents would give me one night a week to cook dinner and I started learning how to make pasta, seafood, and meat dishes at an early age. I also chose to work in restaurants as some of my first jobs, I'd make friends with the chefs behind the line and they'd show me how to prepare some of the dishes we'd serve. Nowadays I still love to cook at home rather than go out but there is one thing I hate. Dishes.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
I went to a community college to take basic music classes before heading to New York University to get my degree in music technology. My first music teacher was a hard ass and didn't take shit from anyone. I was sort of a wise ass in my high school days so my personality mixed with his tight ship of a class didn't mix too well. I remember being late on my final music theory paper in his class, which ended up sending him over the edge. I'm not sure if it was a year's worth of frustration with my constant tardiness and wise cracks but this was the last straw. He backed me in the corner, finger in my face, while beaming red with anger. He lectured me for over five minutes about being a professional musician and how I can't be late for anything if I wanted to succeed in music. He told me I wouldn't amount to shit if I continued on the path I was on.
Little did I know, musicians are always late, but this lecture sort of scared the crap out of me and completely changed how I looked at being professional. I even wrote him a thank you letter for the advice. Advice I still use to this day. I'm very punctual.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
I stopped stealing things when I was about eight and up until then it was mainly stealing candy from 7-11. I'm also not one to borrow things because I know I'll never give things back.
In terms of something that affects my life everyday, the best thing I've ever bought is my MacBook. I'm online everyday, all day, and record all of my projects on my laptop. It gives me the ability to travel easily, record anywhere, and stay connected so I can basically work from anywhere. Without it I'd probably be stuck in an office somewhere driving myself crazy.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . .?
Depends on where I am. I'm not rocking Armani while sitting on the couch at home, but I'm also not rocking Levis when I'm out and about. I love wearing suits so I might side on Armani for this question.
I worked for Def Jux Records for ten years so that was a decade of no dress code, jeans and hoodies all the time. As I get older I feel like my style is becoming a bit more refined and I'm enjoying fashion and dressing up a bit more than I used to. I'm more Ted Baker than Hanes, nowadays.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
Anyone who's suffered a mysterious or premature death . JFK, Tupac, Biggie, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, etc. The list could go on forever but I'd be happy to sit with anyone on it. I'd mainly like to know where they were mentally, what they were involved with and who they were involved with before they died. People love to speculate all of this information and it would be extremely interesting to hear it straight from the person who died.
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
Oh, I'm a huge time travel fan. It's hard to pick between the past and the future. I always thought it would be fun to travel only a few days into the future. That way you still have your family, friends, and a life you're used to but you have the insight of someone who has lived ahead of everyone else. For obvious reasons, you could use those extra days of knowledge to help or harm people and you could make a ton of money by predicting the future. It would make for some awesome party tricks as well.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
Spa vacation with no cell phone reception or internet. If I can shut off my phone and computer for a few days and have no way of checking my email or hopping online, my stress decreases very rapidly.
I love being connected, but it's sort of an addiction and I'm glued to my phone and computer all day long. Especially being a self employed artist who needs to stay connected with fans and the rest of world, it's my job to stay online and it gets draining and stressful when I find myself staring at a screen for 10 hours. So if I can get away, sit by a pool, drink pina coladas, and turn off all electronics, I'm usually pretty stress free.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . .?
Coffee. Definitely. I recently bought a beans to brew coffee machine meaning you load up about a pound of coffee beans, turn the machine on and press one button to make coffee by the cup on the fly. I'm extremely addicted to coffee and this new machine has increased my consumption by about 300 percent. It's almost as if you put a crack vending machine in a crack house. I also have a bunch of great coffee places around me (Groundworks, Intelligensia, Funnel Mill, Venice Grind) so I'm always five minutes away, at most, from a good cup.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
If you would have asked me a year ago I would have said New York City, but I'm now living by the beach in LA and my current interest in environment has started to shift. It's taken me a while to feel settled in Los Angeles after living in NYC for ten years but the slower lifestyle has given me the opportunity to focus on myself and my work.
I've also always wanted to live in France for a year or two. I'm in love with Europe and the thought of living there has always been high on my list of things to do relatively soon. Find me a nice beach in France and that would probably be the ultimate place to live right now.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
Is being the US president everything you thought it would be? Or is it now just another job?
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
I'm gearing up for a run of shows to promote my new record, Evinspacey, and also getting ready to start working on a debut album for my instrumental side project, Dfalt. I'm pretty busy at the moment working on videos, interviews, radio, etc for the record so it's been pretty consuming. I'm looking forward to getting back into the studio and refocusing on producing music.