Eyedea Interview


Combining MC/lyricist Eyedea with DJ/turntablist Abilities creates the very best of Hip-Hop, Eyedea and Abilities. Eyedea has proven himself as not only an extraordinary song writer, but also as a master at battling and the art of freestyling. Abilities talent from the battle, to the mix tape, to production has resonated on the underground for quite some time.

Between 1997 and 2001, E&A completely conquered the competitive circuit. (Winning national and regional battles such as: Scribble Jam ‘99, RockSteady 2000, Blaze-Battle Chicago 2000, HBO Televised Blaze-Battle World Championship New York 2000, ‘99 DMC Regional, 2001 DMC Regional…the list goes on.) During this time E&A was also laying groundwork and establishing a fan base for themselves with Rhymesayers labelmates Atmosphere by doing self promoted U.S.. tours, traveling state to state selling their product hand to hand. Since then they have established themselves as a phenomenal live act, having performed with everyone from De La Soul to The Roots, to American Head Charge. (As well as doing full blown tours with artists such as: Prince Paul, Aceyalone, Cannibal Ox, Living Legends and more.)

Lauded as one of URB Magazines Next 100, Eyedea and Abilities dropped their first full length album entitled First Born in the Fall of 2001. This conceptual masterpiece caught many fans off guard, as they expected a more battle oriented approach to the songs. But as unexpected as it was, First Born proved that a powerful battle M.C. and Turntabilist could create a clever and cohesive concept album.

I got to sit down with lyricist Micheal Larson (Eydea) from Eyedea & Abilities in Philadelphia, at The Barbery, and talk about his albums, philosophy, and future musical aspirations.

How did you think of the name Eyedea?

Eyedea: Oh, it’s just one of those things. When you’re young you need to think of some code name to validate your existence. I wanted a name that wasn’t a ‘thing’ like it could be anything.

Tell me about your new album that just came out.

Eyedea: We’re working on a brand new album right now that’s actually gonna come out next year. And it’s fun. I’m playing a lot of guitar on it.

What’s it called?

Eyedea: I don’t know what we’re gonna call it yet.

What’s the one that’s out right now?

Eyedea: We have two out. One is called First Born. The other is call E and A. Then there’s also a solo record in there called The Mini Face of Oliver Hart.

Tell me about how you’ve evolved through the years. For example a lot of your songs are philosophical, while some about ‘dumb bitches’. Tell me about that.

Eyedea: I guess I’ve been more focused on trying to write something that is relevant in a big way for a long time. I think I’ve always tried to write music that can touch people and that can express something that’s interesting and ‘worth it’ to listen to. I think that’s kind of what I’ve always focused on. But now I’m old enough and mature enough to know what certain thing not to talk about and not to write about.

For example…

Eyedea: Well, in the world of hip hop you get into the whole world of ego-driven music, like talking about rap, or talking about music, just a lot things that all these hip hop guys do. I’m just really not into that. I don’t think it lasts. I just think it’s childish to talk about things like that.

On one of your albums you have a song about that…

Eyedea: I have lots of songs about lots of things.

…You talk about how hip hop artists are all into themselves.

Eyedea: Yeah, I do. But even me saying that is too much. You don’t need to say that. You just write a song about how beautiful waterfalls are. That’s what I’m into now. It actually tells a story that means something. It’s not enough to make commentary.

Any interview would be remiss if it did not mention your song A Murder of Memories.

Eyedea: Yeah, A Murder of Memories is one of the songs about war, and it’s about a war vet and a nightmare that he must continue to live with. That’s one of the few songs that I still like. I wrote it when I was fifteen. It sounds like a little kid wrote it, but…

Naw, it’s tight, I was just listening to it. How have you gotten to the point where you’ve risen about narcissism and become humble?

Eyedea: Well, I think that as you get older, you start thinking about you and the world. It would be going backwards to get more and more isolated. The truth of everything is that we’re all one things. So I think that people that do end up becoming more and more narcissistic probably have a huge lack of love or something in their life that makes them think that fame and all this pointless shit is going to make them be happy. But I think that the truth is that happiest you can be is when you feel a part of everything. It helps to kill the ego a little bit and be a part of things.

So do you practice Buddhist philosophy?

Eyedea: Yeah, I’ve always been into all types of Eastern ideas, I guess. But I’m typically into thinking and breaking down my own walls. Whether I can help do that through some types of reading I will, but mostly I just like to internally think. Think about my behavior, and think about suffering, and think about what’s going on in me and in the world. It’s really important. All you have as a person is that –your brain!

I know that this is going backwards, but you have a song about girls coming to your show and having you sign their tits…

Eyedea: I should have never written that song.

…And then some girl who wouldn’t give you time of day in High School is all about you, now that you’re famous…

Eyedea: Yeah, I should have never written that stuff. It’s all misunderstood. The point of all that stuff was to try to be kind of funny. It displays some of my personality that is funny. I’m not really interested in that stuff. We don’t play that kind of music anymore. They’re some vulgar things that came out of my mouth around that time period that just didn’t need to be said. So I’ve definitely moved on from that.

Tell us about your new music and what you’re focusing on.

Eyedea: Now we’re making a new Eyedea and Abilities record and I think it’s actually pretty good. It’s very musical. I’m playing a lot of guitar on it. We’re writing a lot of the music instead of sampling it, so that’s pretty cool. I also have two other bands that I really focus on. One of them is called FaceCandy. It’s kind of improvised jazz freestyle rap group. And then there’s a heavier rock band called Carbon Carousel, and I write all the music for that.

Is it Metal?

Eyedea: No, it’s not really metal-- more distorted guitars and aggressive singing. But that band’s always changing, too. I write all the music for that. That’s really fun.

Tell us about Abilities, where did he get his name from?

Eyedea: Abilities (Oliver Hart) is the DJ. His name comes from wanting to show his skills. It’s all just young person’s stuff--that’s what you do when you’re a kid growing up trying to do hip hop. It’s all about how cool you are and shit like that.

How did you get into hip hop?

Eyedea: The first music I did get into was metal, when I was like seven. The first record I ever bought was And Justice for All. I really was frightened by the lyrical content, and that’s what I liked. I liked bands that were dangerous. Like Guns and Roses, where you’d listen to the words and think, “These guys are fucked up!” But a lot of it was driven by the words. So I was kind of addicted to that danger, and then around that same time I heard NWA and rap, and I was like, “Holy shit! These guys are mean, and cussing, and they sound fucking scary.” So I really got into it, and I just started imitating it around that time, say at about age ten. So I just got heavier and heavier into it, until around age fourteen, I finally got into writing it and doing the whole thing.

So it was freestyle?

Eyedea: Yeah, it was a lot of freestyle. That’s still a big part of why I still do this is because I just love improvising. Because when I first started Carbon Carousel there was a big part of me that just really wanted to sing and play guitar more than I wanted to make rap music. But the thing that always keeps me anchored in this is improvising rap. It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced is when you’re in this moment doing your thing.

So when you think of your songs, is it on the spot, and you just write it, or does it come out in pieces?

Eyedea: It could go a couple different ways. It’s not the same all the time-- and it depends which band too. With Eyedea and Abilities, we spend a lot of time perfecting the music and then I actually write the words last, after the whole idea is there. As you’re sitting there writing music, you’re learning what the song is about. It’s telling you what it’s about. And then what I figure out it’s about and what it’s saying, it’s very easy to write the verses. Although when I first started writing this record it was kind of a trip because it was so many words as opposed to rock song where you’re only singing ten words and a rap song where you’re singing ten thousand. So I kind of had some problems getting back into it. But now I’m back into it, and I feel pretty good.

Can you tell us about your tour?

Eyedea: Yeah, we’re doing the east coast right now. It’s kind of a short run. It’s called the Appetite for Destruction tour. We did the west coast and the mid west in December, and then we kept getting calls to do gigs, so we came out here.

In one of your songs you say ‘it’s time to wash MTV outa your ears’… are you expressing the desire for being underground as opposed to mainstream?

Eyedea: No, I would want it to be huge. I would wanna be touching as many people as possible. Like the war song, if that were an MTV single, that would be great. It’s not about trying to underground. I think when I was younger I thought that was cool, but all that stuff is just secondary. What’s first is that you’re trying to communicate these ideas. So if you can do it by being on television or whatever, you should do it. I think that people should do whatever they can to get to the end result which is communicating. Granted that all the stuff that pops up on TV and radio is garbage, but that’s all the more reason to have more Bob Dylan’s in the world.

Can you tell me at what point you met Abilities.

Eyedea: When I was thirteen, he needed a place to stay, and I knew him from around. So I moved him into my mom’s basement, and we lived together for a couple years, and then he went on. Then he lived with me again at one point, and we’ve just been really good friends since I was like twelve or thirteen.

And you were laying down tracks at that age?

Eyedea: It wasn’t until fourteen, fifteen that we started recording. So it was right around 96 or 97.

And then how old were you when your first album came out?

Eyedea: It didn’t come out till 2001, so I was about eighteen or nineteen. It didn’t come out for a really long time.

But you were actually getting it down at that young age.

Eyedea: Oh yeah. By the time the first record came out, I already had half of my solo record done. Even the E and A record which came out in 2004, we wrote it and did it in the summer of 2002. That’s the last thing we did actually. So it’s that old. But I’ve been doing it all through High School and stuff.

Do you ever have fans of yours that come up to you and are really into you and have tattoos of your band?

Eyedea: Yeah sure. That’s not a huge amount of people that are that tripped up. But yeah, it does happen. For sure.

How does that feel for you?

Eyedea: At some point, it felt good. But now, not so much. It still feels good to know that your music is communicating something and to know it worked for some people, so that’s great. But sometimes it gets a little weird, and you think, “Oh, you could just look at yourself and write better songs than I do.” Being an idol to people is a little strange, but it happens. People idolize things. It’s the way shit is. I had idols when I was kid. Especially young kids – they’re looking to you for guidance.

How does it not affect you? How did you go from thinking you’re an idol, to wanting to help people evolve?

Eyedea: Well, I think that I’ve always wanted to help people evolve. When I was in high school, I was going to be a teacher--that’s what I wanted to do. That’s always been a big driving force behind my music. At times there have been moments where I have slipped up and fallen into little pockets of myself, but it’s always been there. And I think that anyone that’s really into art is driven by that. That’s the whole thing that you want to help people. Just realizing that makes it a lot easier to figure out what the fuck you’re doing.

What else were you into at that age? Were you into skateboarding, were you into graffiti?

Eyedea: I was into graffiti... I was always into all kinds of art. When I was younger I was into skateboarding a little bit. By the time I was a teenager I was mostly into music and reading... music, physics, psychology, and yoga.

Do you want to say anything else?

Eyedea: Just that when you’re feelings are hurt, or you’re really sad, I think it’s a good opportunity to look into what it is, and connect with the world. Then you’ll realize that you’re pain isn’t yours. It’s actually the pain of the whole world that you’re feeling. And I think that it’s a good opportunity when you’re sad to sit down and listen to that without running or rejecting it. Feel it and feel connected with the world, because suffering is a part of the human psyche.

Suffering is a humanism?

Eyedea: Yeah, completely. It is a truth right now. It is a function of the mind. So it’s important to look at it and not run from it.

So in a way you’re talking about mindfulness and being present. So if something happens, instead of pushing it down inside and trying to be better than it. That we should feel everything that is in the present, and then that way you can transcend the past and evolve.

Eyedea: I don’t know if you can transcend it and evolve, because I don’t know what that means. But I think that you definitely have a better chance of evolving, if you deal with it. But I feel that it connects you to the world. If you understand that you’re not sad because your parents died, or your house burnt down, or your your your… You’re sad because sadness is happening. And you use your life situation to feel that way. But that feeling is happening. There’s somebody dying right now as we’re talking. And you can just feel that in yourself when somebody you know dies. You don’t typically feel that all the time. But when you feel loss, you feel loss. It’s not your loss, it’s the loss that everyone feels. So I think that that’s important to stay connected and feel and know what it is to be a part of the world.

You feel it fully, detach from it/ let it go, and be present?

Eyedea: That’s the thing. If I make rules about it, then it becomes a system, and it becomes unreal. You have to figure it out for yourself. I can’t tell anybody what it is, or what the function is, or what happens afterward, because if I do, they listen to my words and not the actual thing. So it’s kind of being the anti-teacher and just encouraging people to learn for themselves, I guess.

Are you still thinking about becoming a teacher?

Eyedea: I do teach. I do talks mostly about music related stuff. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a teacher, probably not. I can talk to a lot of people through my music.

What do you mean, ‘talk?’

Eyedea: I mean like go to song writing classes and do workshops. I also do private lessons. The last one I did was a literature class at Hamelin College. I just go and hang out with these people that are thinking about stuff, and wondering about stuff, and I sit there and talk with them.

Style-wise, you look more ‘grunge’ than ‘hip hop’. Was it always like that?

Eyedea: I got a little bit into the uniform of hip hop when I was a kid. But I was always kind of an outsider in hip hop, anyways. I really was. And so now I’m just more comfortable with who and what I am.


Eric Dyer said...

This is an amazing interview. Thank you for sharing. <3

Randy Z said...

Btw what do u think about this hiphop drum pack ? is it a good choice?