ATN's Music News of the World: Breaking the Rules
Ultramagnetic MC's Still Breaking The RulesHip-hop pioneers back again with 14-track B-sides compilation of remixed and remodeled favorites.Addicted To Noise Senior Writer Gil Kaufman reports : Unless you were sweating late into the night in underground New York hip-hop clubs in the late-1980s, chances are you've never heard of Ced Gee or his Ultramagnetic MC's."We were the first to go ahead and break the rules," said 34-year-old producer Gee, whose real name is Cedric Miller, the musical mastermind behind the group's unique sound.Along with rapper Kool Keith (a.k.a. Keith Thornton, or as hip-hoppers know him, Dr. Octagon), Moe Love (Maurice Smith) and T.R. Love (Trevor Randolph), the group produced one legendary album, 1988's Critical Beatdown, as well as a trio of now-classic singles ("Ego Trippin'," "Mentally Mad" and "Chorus Line"), all three of which are remixed and remodeled for 1997 on the recently released 14-track compilation, The B-Sides Companion."We wanted to let people know it was more than just old songs," Gee said of the tracks he's remixed with his unique, off-kilter style, overlaid with rapper Keith's sex-heavy, odd-cadence delivery raps. "Basically, we wanted to show people that if you know what you're doing, you can re-create samples right there with the same records and, in some cases, make them even better."The idea to re-group for the album came about when Gee said he found some unreleased songs ("Kool Keith Model Android #406" and "I'm On"), which resulted in the crew reuniting for a one-off live gig on July 11 at New York City's Tramps. That gig is represented by the spare, sludgy beats of "Live at Tramps" (RealAudio excerpt) track, during which Keith's frantic stutter-stop style strains to keep up with the beat as he freestyles stream-of-consciousness lyrics about his microphone prowess mixed with snippets from Keith's Dr. Octagon album."I tried to set up the Tramps gig as a good-will gesture," said Aaron Fuchs, who convinced the club to book the show and who's also the owner of New York-based Tough City Records, which has released a three-volume series of Ultramagnetic basement tape albums. "There were bad feelings with Keith about the albums and I wanted to get them a real quality gig. I thought it would be a good club for them, and from what I understand, it was one of the best pay days of their career."Steve Weitzman, the talent buyer for Tramps, said the successful summertime show surprised him both for how good the crew sounded and the diverse audience they drew. "It was a really good turn-out," Weitzman said about the near-capacity gig in the 800-person venue. "It was packed with their fanatic fans from way back and lots of downtown white kids, Asian kids, hip-hoppers, black, white, it was a really mixed crowd."After the show, Gee told him it was one of his favorite Ultramagnetic gigs of all time, Weitzman said. Gee isn't about to argue."That show felt so good that we said, 'let's go back and work on 'Ego Trippin',' '' Gee said. "We just put so much into recreating these songs." Although the changes to "Ego Trippin' " and "Watch Me Now" '97 remixes on B-Side Companion are barely discernible, "Break North" is reworked with a more ominous, slowed-down beat and electronic squeal, and the previously unreleased "Kool Keith Android #406" lives up to its name with robot-like scratching and mathematically charged cartoon-superhero lyrics.It's not hard to sense the Ultramagnetics' influence on just about any rap tune on the radio, Gee said, especially their refusal to adhere to hip-hop traditions. "Just rap on a whole now, if you listen to rappers, they're not scared to rap in different cadences," he explained. "Before we tried that, though, everybody rapped according to certain rules. Now there's all different styles and that's cool. We were the first to go ahead and break the rules."One of the DJs who said he was inspired by the Ultramagnetics' off-kilter style is 27-year-old Frank Quattlebaum (a.k.a. Rasta Q-Tip), a hip-hop buyer at Amoeba Records in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district. "They definitely opened my mind to different kinds of hip-hop lyrics and just being all-out about whatever you want to say," said Quattlebaum, whose been DJing since age 13.Quattlebaum pointed to Gee's and Keith's off-the-beat rhyming, use of unusual metaphors and three-bar choruses as changing the format of how rap music was created, giving groups such as the Freestyle Fellowship, the Pharcyde, as well as the Hieroglyphics crew inspiration for their inventive styles."The album's good, even though it's not that different. But I think the songs definitely stand up," he said of the new release. "The things they did, people just weren't doing then and they're not doing now." ***Dave Navarro Taps Into The Dark SideChili Peppers' guitarist deals with drugs and mother's murder in songs and film for side project.Addicted To Noise Senior Writer Gil Kaufman reports : Sounding like a man who's trying to get a lot off his chest, Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Dave Navarro said he has been living on the edge over these past few weeks.Between filming a disturbing video for the debut album of his side project, Spread, to completing a whirlwind reunion tour with his old band Jane's Addiction to getting back to work with his Chili Peppers band mates, he's exploring his limits, experimenting with drugs again and dealing with dark issues from his past."I haven't slept in three days," said Navarro by way of introduction when reached at his L.A. home on Tuesday morning. "When I get involved in projects, I can't put them aside, it's impossible. And I've just been really involved in putting together the footage for a film that will accompany the album that Chad [Smith] and I did."Spread is a collaboration between Navarro and Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith. Navarro said he only wants to release Pelican, as the album is tentatively titled, as a dual package on the new, still-unproven DVD (digital video disc) format and as a VHS video ("no CDs"). The plan is to put together a musical and video package that will document both his intensely emotional lyrics and music, as well as his sometimes disturbing personal life."The whole idea is exposure," he said. "The whole idea of art and the need for artists to make art is because they need to expose something within themselves. I want to do art and make music that is artistic. But at the same time, I would like to show [with the film] what I'm whining about basically. I'm tired of the metaphor, I'm tired of dressing up like a jerk sometimes."The guitarist described the 13-track album -- recorded last year while the Chili Peppers were on hiatus -- as "something I needed to make," something that deals with a lot of "girl and mother issues," including the stark "Mourning Son" and the eerie acoustic track "Cry Myself to Sleep." The latter song, he said, represents Navarro's first public attempt to deal with the murder of his mother, which he witnessed as a 15-year-old boy."That one's about the guy who killed my mom," Navarro said, pointing to the opening lines, "There was this man I knew/ And he came to move in with us/ He took all my youth away/ By taking my mother away/ Cry/ Cry myself to sleep at night," (RealAudio excerpt), which he played over the phone during the interview.In addition to dealing with "relationship issues," Navarro makes several unabashed references to his own struggles with drug addiction, both on the album, and more graphically, in the accompanying film. He described "Five Years Gone" as both an homage to Led Zeppelin's "Ten Years Gone" and a depiction of his own relapse six months ago. "That one's about me and a friend. We were both five years sober and we went and got high out of the blue. Which kind of sucked, you know what I mean?"Although the album was delivered to Warner Bros., the Chili Peppers' label, prior to the Jane's tour, according to Chili Peppers publicist Ken Phillips, the label has not yet decided when, or if, it will release the material.Judging from some of the video footage Navarro described on Monday, even the guitarist is skeptical that it ever will be released by a major label. "The whole thing is an expression of where my life is," Navarro said. "And I can only express myself so much, be naked so much, in the musical arena. I'm interested in the whole exposure concept."To those ends, Navarro said, he documented on film a desperate call he made to a rehabilitation clinic last week while he was shooting up hard drugs. "Based on the footage I want to include, I don't think Warner [Bros.] will want to release it," he said. "There's me on the telephone calling into a rehab clinic and tying myself off with the phone cord to make it ridiculously poignant, to be comically dramatic and then talking to this lady, who is not understanding me. I'm fixing at that point, trying to get answers about the facility."Navarro described the scene as ironic, comical drama, explaining that the idea of using the same phone cord that he's calling rehab on to shoot up drugs "is so over-the-blatant-top-of-being-ridiculous that I find it funny. You watch it, and it's funny, because you realize I'm having a difficult time talking to this woman. But at the end of it, I overdose. It makes it not funny."Confirming that Navarro was in fact using a hypodermic needle during the filming, Phillips said the guitarist did not overdose, but rather "blacked-out," and did not have to be taken to a hospital. "There was a needle, but I don't know if he really injected any drugs," Phillips said. "He passed out after that. It was more like he blacked-out.""Some things in the film are not dealing with the music," Navarro said, describing the incongruity of some of the footage, which the guitarist has been compiling for six months. "Some things in the film are not dealt with in the music, but they compliment and contradict each other, so even those accidents are exciting."The footage, in addition to depicting Navarro's life since the end of the highly acclaimed Jane's tour, also features radio interviews, backstage footage, Navarro talking directly into the camera, looking through photo albums and "running around his house," according to Phillips.***Guided By Voices' Guitarist A Man Of Many BandsDoug Gillard keeps a positive focus on recording with GBV.Addicted To Noise correspondent Eric Hellweg reports : At this time of year, many people pen New Year's resolutions, pledging to take it easy and relax a little in 1998.Not Doug Gillard.Gillard will be a busy man for most of next year. He is the lone member of the Mag Earwhig!-era Guided By Voices lineup who will continue to play with leader Bob Pollard in the coming year. And Gillard has plans to play in two other bands over the coming months, splitting time between his own group, Gem, and Cobra Verde, whose members last worked backing up Pollard.For now, the 31-year-old guitarist's priority will be the new GBV album. "I'll do what I can with Cobra and GEM, but GBV will probably be a time-consuming involvement," he explained on the phone from Cleveland recently.After a messy dissolving of the Earwhig! crew, which consisted of the entire Cleveland-band Cobra Verde (Gillard and John Petkovic on guitars, Don Depew on bass, and Dave Swanson on drums), Pollard quickly assembled a new crew, calling on ex-Breeders drummer Jim McPherson and fellow Dayton, Ohio, resident and GBV alumnus, Greg Demos. Pollard's decision to ask Gillard to continue with GBV was a surprise to many, including some members of Cobra Verde. The group had first learned that Pollard planned to stop working with them by reading a story in Addicted To Noise.This subsequently caused a rift between Cobra Verde and Pollard, and the cancellation of their final show at the Metro in Chicago. Gillard is optimistic about the future of the latest edition of GBV. "There might be a different dynamic with the new members [of GBV]," he said. "Demos is one of my all-time favorite rock-bassists."Gillard added that he's excited to work with McPherson, as well, whom he first met when Cobra Verde and McPherson's other band, the Dayton-based Real LuLu, both opened for GBV in Indianapolis.Still, he's realistic about playing in a band that has changed lineups numerous times since forming in the mid-'80s. "If it's just this one record I'm involved with, or several more, I'm OK," Gillard said. "Either way, I'm all right being a hired-hand kind of guitarist or a collaborator. I've just always loved Bob's music, so it's a lot of fun to play."Gillard insisted that relations with his Cobra Verde bandmates are just fine. "I'm still friends with John, Don and Dave," he said. "I always have been and I always will. I'm not quitting any bands."His 12-year musical collaboration with Petkovic, which began with the influential Cleveland glam band Death of Samantha in 1985 and continued with Cobra Verde, will carry on with the release of the next Cobra Verde album, for which he is currently finishing up the guitar parts."Doug's involvement [with Cobra Verde] was always more a come-and-go thing since he was doing another band [Gem] that was more his own project," Petkovic wrote in a recent e-mail. Gillard will continue to work with Gem, the band he founded in 1992, and with whom he penned -- and originally recorded -- the GBV single, "I Am a Tree."Gillard said he and Pollard are collaborating on a couple of songs for possible inclusion on the next GBV album. Pollard has said that he's already written more than 20 songs. "I've sent him three or four tunes, and we've been swapping tapes on two of them," Gillard explained, describing the process in which he sends Pollard music, chord patterns or a full song without lyrics, which Pollard then completes and returns to him."I come up with a chord structure or music, and Bob handles the melody and lyrics," he said. When asked what the new songs sound like, he added, "They don't really sound like anything. One's a short, fast rock-type number; the second is a slow, acoustic tune."These as-yet-untitled songs may or may not make it on to the record, however, Gillard said. "Things are always subject to change up until the record comes out. Once we get in the studio, more songs may develop between the two of us, I don't know."