WUGAZI the interview

Fugazi and the Wu Tang Clan are two iconic groups, both defining the sound of a scene and making everyone sit up and take notice of their music and their message. So what happens when you mix the two together? Well, thanks to Doomtree‘s Cecil Otter and fellow Minneapolis musician Swiss Andy, of The Swiss Army and The Millionth Word fame, we now know.

Sleep Rules Everything Around Me mysteriously appeared on Soundcloud and within half a day, the track had garnered 20,000 listens, with over 100,000 in a week. It has been one of the most talked about topics in music of late and we caught up with the two brainchildren behind the project to discuss the process of making the music, how long it took and even preferred fighting styles.

Ladies and Gentlemen, enter the Chamber of the Wugazi!

Words: Abjekt
Photo: Ben LaFond

Straight out the slums of… Minneapolis?

Cecil: Yes Sir, the centre of the Universe!

The big question first – how did you come up with the idea of putting Fugazi and Wu Tang together? Are you both big fans of both acts so know their catalogue extensively?

Cecil: Andy had been kicking around the idea for a few years before he brought it up to me. We had both been huge fans of each group since we were young, so it was easy to fall in love with the idea of WUGAZI.

Andy: Yeah, that is pretty much all that was in my headphones during the 90s.

Cecil: A one point in his life, Andy sold his guitar amp just so he could go see a Fugazi show. I sold my tickets to that same Fugazi show and bought an ice cream cone and shared it with my friend. I later broke into that show, caused a scene and got screamed at by Guy from Fugazi. He kept telling everyone that he saw me eating ice cream outside with my friend…over and over…I didn’t enjoy that at all, but the ice cream was good.

Andy: Asshole.

Did you decide on the tracks you wanted to use first or did you just play it by ear and see which Wu track fit with which Fugazi?

Cecil: We would listen through every Fugazi album and take notes on where the drum breaks, bass loops and guitar loops were. After that I would put them into Protools accordingly, find a close enough tempo to fallow the song, chop everything onto a grid and start cranking away at a song structure.”

Andy: I had a few Fugazi tracks I really wanted to use, but they were just too fast or slow for us to fit under an acapella.

Cecil: We let the samples loop in the background and begin to play Wu Tang acapellas over the song until we found the perfect match. When we found that, we would place it in the session and begin to cut, paste and stretch each verse to fit the track…then we get detailed.

Andy: We would try to use more than one song in each track. Using them more as samples for producing, than just putting one thing on top of the other.

Were there any tracks that you tried to mash together that just sounded horrible?

Cecil: Oh yeah, that’s why we put a full year into this. We have a handful of half done songs that just wouldn’t marry each other or we didn’t have a clean enough acapella to work with. The hardest thing about making the album (well, one of them) was the limited Wu Tang acapellas that we had access to. There are so many Wu Tang songs that we would have loved to do, we probably would have been able to call it Wugazi: 36 Songs if we had all the acapellas!

You’ve got 13 Chambers dropping in July, is there anything you can tell us about it other than it houses the track Sleep Rules Everything Around Me?

Cecil: Well, it will have 12 more songs and they will all be different and they will all have drums and bass and guitar and vocals, never forget the vocals!

Also, Sleep… hit 20,000 plays in 12 hours, did you think it was going to be as huge as that in such a short space of time?

Cecil: Not at all. We we’re very excited about the tracks because our friends loved them so much. We had no idea that the two groups would work together so well. We made S.R.E.A.M. the first night into the project. We lost our shit when we stretched the vocals in and took the first listen. After that night,  Wugazi was pretty much a reason to get together with a friend and lose ourselves in the moment. I don’t think either of us had any idea that so many others would like it as much as we do, but then again…it’s Wu Tang and Fugazi, who doesn’t like them?!

Andy: When Paddy Costello almost started crying, I knew we were doing something right. But never thought this would spread like it has.

Would you like to see the two bands work together, maybe do a one-off live show where Ian MacKaye battles Ghostface? Or have Guy Picciotto go hard against Method Man?

Andy: All those guys are such great musicians. Even after Fugazi, Guy produced that amazing Blonde Redhead record and Joe put out that album with John Frusciante. Putting Ian in a room with RZA, I wouldn’t even know where to start…

Cecil: Without a doubt. That would be one of the happiest days of my life.

If you had a sword style, which you would have to train in the mountains of Tibet to perfect, what would it be called?

Andy: Drunken Monkey

Cecil: Drunker Monkey

MGMT Interview

30/12/07
Live shots by Justine Trickett

New York’s pysch-indie youngsters MGMT are being hotly-tipped for 2008, and it’s no surprise as their debut album Oracular Spectacular produced by the helping hand of David Fridmann should stop you in your tracks.

They kindly flew into the Crossfire office on a magic carpet fuelled by last night’s booze and had a chat with Zac about dogs and smelly fruit.

Welcome to London fellas…

Hello!

So, we have two members of the band here, Andrew VanWyngarden who sings, plays guitar and writes songs and we also have songwriter Ben Goldwasser who also plays the keyboards, pretty gnarly too…

[Ben] Hey…

So, virgins to London, you’ve just got off of a plane, spill the beans….

[Andrew] We had a great first day. We got scammed trying to buy hash and then we went out in Notting Hill and went to Tesco Disco, which is a small carpeted room underneath the Tesco supermarket. They had free spicy cheese doodles and that was a lot of fun. Last night we played a show at The Social which was pretty cool.

And that was your first ever gig in the UK?

Yeah, our first ever gig…

So, did you enjoy it Ben?

[Ben] Yeah, a lot more people knew about us, more than we expected, which was nice. It was nice that people were there to see us. The sound turned out pretty good considering the place was pretty small. We spent a long time trying to figure out how to get all of our stuff on the stage.

You managed to fit it all thought didn’t you?

Yeah, we managed; we have a massive keyboard though.

Are you aspiring to take over the stage with your keyboard collection?

[Ben] Yeah, I want to take up at least half the stage. When we start playing bigger stages then I will think of more things to take up space. Maybe I could play a couple of notes on each one during the whole show?

[Andrew] Yeah, that’s a good idea

Can you ever imagine yourself like KISS being zoomed out into the audience with your keyboard?

[Ben] That would be great. What about being like David Lee Roth on a surfboard out into the crowd?

That would be sick

[Andrew] It’s like the ultimate goal of any musician

[Ben] A hover craft would be pretty cool…

Any more wishes?

[Andrew] Yeah, we want to play a show exclusively for dogs at some point. We aren’t a joke band, but we think it would be really amazing if there was a stadium full of dogs…

I am sure Battersea Dogs Home could hook you up next time you come in. There are a lot of dogs in there. It’s like jail; they don’t get much entertainment stuck behind those bars, so they might be pretty stoked if the yanks turn up with a full band, 40 keyboards and a bag of Baker’s…

[Ben] Dogs love Baker’s!

Do they love Baker’s in America as well?!

Oh yeah!

My dog loves Baker’s, but anyway, let’s talk about how you put the band together. Obviously you two are the main members, would you say that’s correct?

[Andrew] Yeah, I mean, we are the founding members and songwriters

[Ben] CEO of MGMT incorporated

How did it all come together, what is your musical background and where are you guys from?

[Ben] Well, I’m from upstate New York, about 5 hours from New York City. I didn’t go down to the city that much growing up although we live there now. Andrew is from Memphis, home of the blues

[Andrew] Birth place of rock and roll as well….

[Ben] And we met at University in 2001, started the band in December 2002 and started writing songs in my dorm room on a laptop. We would sit and make up these weird little electronic loops, play them live and do silly things over the noise. We didn’t sing at that point. Then at some point we decided to start writing pop songs, kind of as a joke, so the whole thing wasn’t that serious to start off, it’s still not

[Andrew] They weren’t joke songs necessarily…

[Ben] No, just the idea of pop was a joke to begin with. The whole ‘Management’ thing was to do with the whole corporate idea. Our goal was to sell out as quickly as possible. We thought it would never really happen and then it kinda did!

[Andrew] Go on…

[Ben] What do you want me to say?

[Andrew] We should talk about a couple of our shows from school….

[Ben] Yeah, we should! We played a show at school where we had a giant inflatable snow man and we covered that Nine Inch
Nails song

[Andrew] ‘Closer’

[Ben] We did a 15 minute version of that while they inflated a snow man [laughs]

[Laughs] It sounds like a teenage movie…

[Ben] It was, that’s what we were going for..
[Laughs]

[Andrew] Then another show…we got into the series of wearing jump suits and drinking a lot of red wine. We were exploring these tunnels underneath the dorms that were really far and I don’t think kids were supposed to be in there. We found this little room that was like a bomb shelter and it had supplies from the 60’s like crackers and this giant barrel. We tried to eat the crackers, but they were disgusting.

[Ben] They were the worst crackers I’ve ever had!

[Andrew] But we took the barrels and we played some shows were we would stand on top of the barrels and try and push each other off. I mean, that was just insane! People were going crazy at that show…

[Ben] Then we had another show where we played at this kind of county fair type thing called ‘The Daffodil Festival’ and we were warming up before the set, at this time we had put together a 6 piece band. Anyway, while we were warming up this group of cheer leaders go by and I guess they had just won a cheer leading competition and they saw us playing and I guess they liked it because they came back for our show and started doing their routine in front of us while we were playing.

You can’t buy that stuff….

[Andrew] No, you can’t. That’s how we got famous and that’s why we are in London.

So it’s all down to the cheer leaders?

[Andrew] Yeah, that’s how everything happens..

In a quest to find dogs…

[Andrew] Yeah, the cheerleaders happen to be the daughters of these famous dog breeders from London, so, that’s why we came over here, it’s incredible.

That’s amazing; no one would believe that y’know? So farfetched….

[Ben] You can’t make that stuff up…

I hear you used to cover the Ghostbusters theme tune?

Yeah, we did. I think we did it once that was like out first show. I had a Digitech whammy that had built in drum sounds, we had the drum sounds on loop. Ben had his Roland XP80 and we played a talent show and we were on last. We carried on playing, we wanted everyone to leave to our music. It worked, we played for like an hour.

Hang on, you played the Ghostbusters theme tune for an hour?

[Andrew] Yeah, an hour. I mean, it went places, it was a pretty psychedelic version of it, but the drum loop was going the whole time and I just laid on the floor and closed my eyes and muttered stuff into the microphone, Ben held down a synth line pretty well.

[Ben] The one that was stolen from Huey Lewis..

What have you guys listened to throughout the years that has inspired you to create the mess that is MGMT? (It’s a beautiful mess, by the way!)

[Andrew] What a great compliment, thank you. We’ve always been attracted to what we call creep balls music, which is just really strange music. Some people would call it bad, but we call it good.

[Ben] It’s really gross music..

[Andrew] We like gross music, examples Ben…

[Ben] Erm, Psychic TV maybe?

[Andrew] I guess we like it if it’s pretty, but really strange. We like Chrome, Spiritualized and Spacemen 3. A lot of British music too. The oldies, the goodies!

Do you like stuff like Loop? Is that the sort of era?

[Andrew] Yeah, for sure stonery, psychey….

Is Dead Meadow the kind of band you would like to play with if you went out on tour?

[Andrew] Yeah, that would be amazing. I wonder if they would want to play with us though. They are really nice guys. We hung out with them in Berlin one time.

So, ‘Oracular Spectacular’…there is a lot of meat in there. There is a different flavour for everyone, a bit of everything. How do you take every ingredient and end up with the pâté that comes out?

[Ben] A lot of times when we write songs we have had some kind of influence or a style that we really want to put into our music. Like, we’ll say let’s have that part sound like this and that part sound like that and then we piece it all together. We didn’t plan anything, it was more of a song by song thing. We tend to be inspired a lot by artists that switch genres each album. Each song is different. ‘Legendary Pink Dots‘ are like that. When we were writing the album they were a big influence. We literally just wrote whatever came to us. There is a weird combination on the album because it has a couple of older tracks on it which were originally electronic with a more dancey feel. ‘Electric Feel‘ was one of the first songs we wrote, well the first actual song with lyrics.

It is definitely one of the stand out songs on the album. You recorded with David Fridman right? He has worked with The Flaming Lips who are one of the most spectacular bands on the planet. How much of his influence was his production skills on the end result of your album?

[Ben] When we started writing we didn’t know that he was going to produce us. I mean, we had randomly put him on this list of dream producer’s who we would like to work with and we ended up talking to him on the phone and we hit it off really well. We love his production work. I mean, we didn’t want to work with him because we wanted to sound like the Flaming Lips, it was more that we felt like he understood us on a personal level and he really got out music. We were pretty sure after talking to him that he would make it the album we wanted it to be.

So, did David mix your record as well or did you get someone else in to do it?

[Andrew] Dave mixed it and he did a lot of the mastering. A lot of the album sounds over compressed, like really mashed. There’s times when there is full mixed distortion, which is crazy, it sounds awesome. He ran the whole thing through crappy 90’s compressors. There are so many bands that are over compressed so they sound loud for the radio. I hope our album sounds loud, but not bad.

[Ben] Loud loud not bad loud…

[Andrew] Hopefully there is still dynamics.

Have you had any random faces come out of the wood work and say ‘I’m a fan of MGMT’ yet?

[Ben] Famous people?

Yeah, dead people, famous people . They’re all the same.

[Andrew] No dead people….

[Ben] The Kings Of Leon….apparently the drummer likes us? A lot of model’s and fashion people are getting into the album which is pretty sweet.

Why is that do you think?

[Ben] I don’t really know how it started, but keep it coming!

[Andrew] There is nothing wrong with it. We love being associated with fashion people and models. Was that believable? [laughs]

[Ben] We are also inspired by the fans who bring us lots of free drugs at the shows.

Does this actually happen, I’ve heard this rumour?

[Andrew] It actually does happen a lot. When we were on tour in Montreal this last few weeks, like San Diego, LA…they would be very nice and just give us stuff. It was trimming season…

Trimming season? Explain that, if you were talking to an English person they would probably think you were talking about having a ‘personal hedge trim’ if you know what I mean?

[Andrew] Basically it’s the harvest season, people help with the crops and it filters through down California to San Francisco and they gave us some really nice presents!

Do you like presents, are you into people bringing you presents when you play?

[Ben] Yeah, it’s sort of this tradition..

Do you give presents back to the audience? For example, the original drummer of Pavement used to make toast for people in the crowd.

[Andrew] Toast?! Erm, well we have given cookies. There was one show when we cut open this fruit called a Dorian, it’s the king of all fruits. It’s the smelliest fruit in the world. It’s kinda like bacon and onions mixed with rotting flesh. In fact, it’s garlic rotting flesh.

I want one..

You don’t want it, trust us. It is actually restricted to cut them open on some airplanes because the smell is so strong. We cut one open at one of our shows and people passed it around. We sacrificed it with a machete and invited our friends on stage while we sampled it and played ‘Blowing In The Wind‘ by Bob Dylan on an ipod and everybody went around and said what the fruit tasted like….everyone else left because it was the worst smell. So all in all, I guess we don’t give any good gift to our audience.

[Andrew] Although, cookies are pretty cool and so are set lists. Oh, I threw drum sticks at someone last night which I now regret..

Is she now in hospital?

Well, it did hit her in the head. It was a joke! I always wanted to do it like you see other bands doing and hit some poor girl in the head, but hey, that’s just what’s it’s like. It’s rock and roll.

[Ben] Yeah, it’s R and R.

What are your two favorite tracks off the record…one each…

[Ben] I think my favorite track from the album is probably ‘The Youth’

[Andrew] Mine would have to be ‘4th Dimensional Transitional’ because it is the least appreciated. It’s almost as if no one acknowledges that it exists. We decided that the song is four dimensional and some people can only see three dimensions

Next year obviously you guys are going to be coming back to release the album and after that are you thinking of world domination on a major scale?

[Andrew] We would love to go to South America or Mexico. I think I want to live in Mexico…

The presents would be rad..

Yeah, cactus stuff. We still have that mentality where we wanna wear fur coats and always be making the music we want to make and being good dudes. No one likes assholes. It’s annoying when people turn into assholes, we never want to be like that.

Well, it all sounds amazing and it’s been great having you in here…where do people find you?

[Andrew] Check out www.myspace.com/mgmt If you guys haven’t heard of Myspace you should check it out. It’s a social networking site and it is cool shit…

I’ve er..heard about it [laughs] Thanks for coming in boys..

[Both] – No worries, bye!

Check out the wonderful album ‘Oracular Spectacular’ released in February/March on Columbia Records here in the UK and www.whoismgmt.com for the full experience.

We made these three videos for the band in our neighbourhood when they came by for this interview. Enjoy their first trip to Portobello Rd in Ladbroke Grove.