You have a longstanding working relationship with Mick Harris. How did that start?
It started in 1998 when he played a one-off gig at Tonic in New York with Painkiller. I was 19 years old, had a $300 car, and lived in Washington, DC. I’m from New York, so any excuse to go back home was a great excuse. Nineteen-year-old me with a beater car was like, “Yes, I’m going to go meet Mick Harris” because he’d said, “Yeah, just come, and I’ll put you on the guestlist.”
So I drove up and met him there and met Bill Laswell for the first time too. Bill was standing in front of the venue in these blue camouflage pants. It was crazy because I encountered these guys at the height of when they were iconic, almost like comic book characters.
It was amazing. Mick played until his hands bled. That’s how hard he was hitting during that show. Bill was at the height of his total don’t-give-a-fuck attitude, and he answered his cell phone onstage. And the place was all the way full. I just remember being so impressed with that. [Laughs.]
How had you been in touch with Mick prior to that?
There was an online forum called The Dub Terrorist Forum. It was crazy because there were people from all over the globe. To this day, I’ll run across people, and it’s like, “Oh man, how do I know that guy?” and it’ll turn out to be from Dub Terrorist. That forum was such a huge connection for a bunch of different people, and we’re all still kind of associated.
What was it about the basslines that you came up with that made them a fit for this Scorn track?
Well, I talk to Mick every day. We have WhatsApp and shoot each other videos all day long. He’s just one of those friends I’m in constant contact with, especially because I’m a new father, and he’s already raised two kids. That’s the thing: Mick Harris is a really, really family-oriented dude. You probably wouldn’t guess that from the first go, but out of anybody I can talk to about kids, Mick is great. I mean, he’s a grandfather now, and he’s a real resource for me as a friend.
So I had this one bassline, and I was like, “Alright man, can I be on the new Scorn record?” I had something that worked at 66-70bpm, and that’s his tempo range. He sent me all these cool videos of him chopping it up. He was kind of sad about Jason not ending up having the time to do the song and I love Kool Keith.
He’s my absolute favorite rapper, my bucket-list person to make a record with. I have one bucket-list artist left, and I’d better hurry because it’s the Sun Ra Arkestra. I want to release them on Ohm Resistance too. But anyway, my buddy Dean [Barker], who was an Ohm Resistance intern for a long time—he’s a TV chef who got a lot of fame from being on the show Chopped. But he’s also a great musician [who works under the name KillBreak]. He was like, “Yo man, I know you love Kool Keith. He’s looking to do collabs and stretch outside of his sphere” and I was like, “Well, perfect timing.”
Kool Keith’s approach to rhythm with his vocal phrasing is—
—very distinct, to say the least. What he’ll do with a line and a train of thought, it’s like “What??” As a trained musician, I’m curious as to what you hear in his style.
Keith is very advanced musically. There are intervals he uses that make people uncomfortable, like [sings the line:] “I’m-a tell you how I feel” from the album Spankmaster, he doubles his vocal and does a minor 2nd, which is really tough to do with your voice. His intervals, rhythms, and wordplay are just so advanced. If you notice, he rhymed “infinite words” with “infinite words” on our track. [Laughs.] I just thought that was the most brilliant thing ever.
Kool Keith can pull off saying the same thing twice, and it doesn’t even register as a negative. It’s more like, “Oh shit, he just did that!” He’s one of the most interesting rappers, not only musically but the way he sets the stage with characters and the way he approaches each record differently. That resonates with me. And my family’s from the Bronx, so I totally get [his depictions] of babies in the projects with dirty diapers and stuff like that.
So, when you heard the finished track, what was your impression?
The first thing I heard was a rough mix that engineer Tony Maimone had done at Studio G, and I was blown away. I mean, those verses are certified dope. Keith really came with some power. He really tuned into who all of us are. He really tuned into Mick and gave Mick almost like a benediction. Because Mick’s a really stressed-out dude. He’s really high-energy and just going-going-going all the time, with a lot of anxiety. When Keith says, “relieve your mind from exhaustion, distortion,” there really is some sort of magic to those words. He blessed both of us.