INTERVIEW: SOULECTION’S ANDRE POWER

Soulection — if that name doesn’t ring a bell, maybe it’s about time to come out from whatever rock you’re hiding under. The label slash collective has been gaining steady progress since their inception in 2011 under founders Joe Kay and Andre Power, who have stacked the label roster higher than we can stack the empty Red Bull cans in our office. We caught up with one-half of the big dream duo, Andre Power, to talk about being the new kids on the block, why we both dig singers and worldwide takeover. 

andrep

LA CANVAS: You guys started Soulection in 2011 and it just seems like everything surged upward: your popularity, fans’ reception of the music coming from the crew, it all just seemed to escalate in a short amount of time. Can you elaborate on what that’s been like?

We started with an idea, and that idea actually kind of switched once we got things going. We got the first compilation two years ago that drew in a lot of supporters and fans for us, and from then we had a lot of friends that wanted to help us out. I don’t know, everything just seemed to flow together a lot better and faster than we expected it to. I mean, there was no real plan in the beginning but everything that has happened in the last two years has definitely been a blessing. Me and Joe coordinate a lot on ideas and thoughts and we get a lot of help from the team when it comes to proper ways to market, proper ways to promote ourselves and things like that. Every aspect that we’re doing we try to not put a whole bunch of pressure to become somebody else, but just to keep doing what we do and let it flow.

LAC: Have there been any challenges or setbacks along the way?

Probably one of the biggest challenges is the communication between artists – especially because we work with a lot of artists overseas. There is so much coordination that has to go into maintaining those types of relationships because you have to factor in things like time zones and language barriers. I mean, it’s been tough, but this whole thing has been a huge learning experience for all of us.

LAC: At what point did you guys start bringing on the rest of the crew – Sango, IAMNOBODI, Esta – did things just start to fall into place?

Yeah, me and Joe were diggin’ all these crazy beats styles we found on SoundCloud, MixCloud, different blogs and stuff like that. I know we heard of Sango a long time ago, like in the very beginning — it’s funny because a lot of us became friends before we started talking about the business side of things, we were more mainly focused on the music side. So Joe and Sango were talking every day, me and Esta talked like once a week – IAMNOBODI was just making amazing music so we brought him on. We’re kind of really organic in that sense because we find a sound that fits – The Sound of Tomorrow – and we kind of just flow with it. We check out the artist, their past and current work, and see if they have what it takes to help us make what we’re vibin’ for in the future. We just have that keen air for what’s dope.

soulection-profile-crew

LAC: Yeah, we definitely feel that. We follow you guys on Facebook and you’re always posting dope tracks, whether its someone from Soulection or someone else’s.

Yeah, and that’s part of it too, we’re not selfish about if there’s another label out there that’s also making amazing music. We’re not going to tell you to not listen to them and to only listen to us. And the end of it all, it’s about sharing good music and keeping what we’re doing alive. Because there’s a lot of people who don’t like to look back once they get to a certain level; we don’t ever forget about the music, at all.

LAC: Being out in LA, with other crews like HW&W (Recordings) and Team Supreme, is there some kind of… friendly competition of sorts between you guys? I know you’re all homies, but…

As far as competition goes, there isn’t really any (heavy competition) but it’s like a sport. We’re all teammates at the end of the day; we’re all there for the same reason, we can all learn from each other, we can sit down and share ideas, have conversations, share goals and focus on that. But I guess you can say that there is a different kind of friendly competition, nothing too deep like East Coast and West Coast. It’s all love.

LAC: That party on Saturday, though…

I cannot wait for that. I’m performing and doing all the visuals, so all the live projections for the show. So I’ve been working that all week, making sure all the performances flow together; it’s a nice little challenge to have. Just sucks that I hurt my leg this week.

LAC: Yeah, man, what happened?

We were at Kaytranada‘s show at the Pagoda (in San Jose) last week and we were all on the stage partying hard, and I took a step back and missed the stage and sprained my ankle.

LAC: Red Bull Music Academy did a piece on you guys, basically placing you at forefront of LA’s beat scene. What place do you guys think you hold in it? Coming from Low End Theory and that entire beat scene, being named the new kids on the block, that must mean something.

It totally means something. That’s the best way to put it – we look at a lot of movements as being generational things. So we look at ourselves as part of the next generation that’s part of what Brainfeeder has done, what Stones Throw have done – because they’ve paved the way for us, because if it wasn’t for them there may not be a Soulection. We’re here to be the present day of what they have created for us and for LA and the music scene. At the same time, we’re definitely there to help the cats that are coming up behind us, because we know there are guys ready to take our spot already, you know? We just want to keep growing and do what we do and push people to follow what we’re doing.

LAC: I mean, I definitely see that you guys believe that moniker you live behind, “They sleep, we grind.” Via social media, it looks like you guys are constantly working at 3am.

That was so present up in San Francisco. Literally, we were like, drink, party, kick it, work at like 2am, watch (Mr.) Carmack and Ab-Jo work on a beat, take a quick 20-30 minute nap, then back at it. It was rare to have us all together so we were all on that good creative high so when you’re in a zone, you gotta run with it.

LAC: I heard you guys finally found a singer?

I mean, we’re always looking, it’s not like once we find someone, that’s it. We’ve been talking to a few people. But it’s just like with our producers, we’re constantly searching and growing trying to find people that are down to rock with us. One really good reason we were looking for a singer is that a lot of our producers like to sample, do remixes, flip beats and when you do that, a lot of copyright laws come into play and it got to a point where we just don’t want to have to deal with that, you know? Somebody takes a Rihanna song and flips it and blows up, they can’t really go that far from that song. But if we had someone to lay down original vocals, then that shit can be infinite. That was one of the main reasons, but we also want to cover all ground as far as future soul, future beats. We don’t want to just be instrumental or hip-hop. We want to try to reach every aspect of our sound and the future of it.

LAC: So what is 2014 looking like for you guys?

My god… (laughs) For me personally the biggest thing is European tours and touring the entire world really. That’s something we’ve been talking about for the past two years and something that we all want to do. It’s definitely a dream for me because I feel that once we do that our following will definitely probably double. It’s one thing to be on the Internet, but once you make that physical presence and start doing these shows in Europe, Asia, and Australia, that these people start showing that much more love to you. Off the top, 2014 is going to be the worldwide move for us.

Catch Andre, Joe Kay and Esta, along with their HW&W (So Super Sam, Bahwee, Astronautica) and Team Supreme (Lil Texas, Penthouse Penthouse) homies and hella more at the 4th Annual Asylum Halloween Party this Saturday. In conjunction with Assemblyline Collective, UPxUNDR, Swisher Society, Rif and yours truly, this is one for the books. Don’t miss it. Tickets available online only. 

INTERVIEW: FREE THE ROBOTS

freetherobots

 

Chris Alfaro, a.k.a. Free The Robots, is a producer and musician based out of Santa Ana, Orange County but has long been associated with the “beat scene” community of Los Angeles. With his fusion of jazz, psych, electronic and hip-hop, Alfaro’s productions are a refreshing change of pace for the underground hip-hop scene. We speak to the humble beat-smith about his roots in Orange County, and the story behind his self-released LP, ‘The Balance.’

***

LAC: How has living in Orange County (Santa Ana specifically) influenced your work?

FTR: As frustrating as it was growing up around the various ‘burbs of OC, settling in the city of Santa Ana provided a balance for me creatively and productively. Entertaining enough, but generally secluded from distraction, the vibe of this neighborhood keeps me level headed. It’s a very small downtown where everyone knows everyone. Life here is relatively simple. I love it just for what it is, and accept what it’s not. For everything else I go elsewhere.

LAC: You are part owner in a restaurant/bar in Santa Ana called The Crosby. What role has that played in your development and growth as a musician?

FTR: The two different lives I live somehow compliment each other. Aside from being an artist myself, at The Crosby, I step behind the scenes to manage a whole different world of responsibilities, giving others the stage. I stay inspired from the bookings alone, and my growth as a musician has a lot to do with being there night after night. We have some of the greatest talent in the world sharing our stage week after week. That energy at The Crosby makes it impossible for me to stay creatively stagnant.

LAC: Has running a business taught you anything valuable as an artist?

FTR: We’ve been open over 5 years now, and the whole experience taught me the importance of balance, confidence and humility. I find myself constantly in very opposite situations back to back. One night I’ll be somewhere in Europe enjoying my last evening after a mind-blowing world tour, only to come back home to host, and bus tables… clean the toilet, if I have to, and jump behind the bar when needed. It’s a challenge, but I’ve accepted the fact that both endeavors need 100% of my attention, and as a leader, there’s no room for complaint. Staying active while maintaining balance is crucial. It keeps me proud of what I do, and positive when approaching my craft.

LAC: If you weren’t involved in the Crosby, do you think you’d still be living in OC?

FTR: There are tons of places I’ve been around the world that I could see my self living in for awhile; and I probably would. I’ve always been a natural wanderer, and admirer of different culture, but home is home… LA and OC is where my family is. Between the two is where I would be regardless of The Crosby.

LAC: Are there artists in OC that we in LA should be keeping an eye out for?

FTR: Truth be told, no one really just reps OC… unless you’re into the psych, garage, punk world; in which case, Burger Records runs it in OC. When it comes to hip hop, and beats, the LA, OC, IE, SD scene has a very loose border. Family is spread and united no matter where they are these days. Some labels/ collectives worth checking out are Soulection, HW&W, Team Supreme, My Hollow Drum, Tar, Leaving Records, etc. Check the lineups and listen.


LAC: Is there a story behind your LP? What’s the meaning behind the title, ‘The Balance’?

FTR: The Balance’ is the musical diary of all the chaos that made up my life during the recording process. After the release of my debut, ‘Ctrl Alt Delete,’ and the opening of the The Crosby, too many things started happening at the same time. I won’t go into detail, but it was a major struggle. Maintaining my sense of creativity, touring, owning/operating a restaurant, relationships and my overall lifestyle does not lend itself to idle times. With so many moving parts, balance is what I strive for, and this album tells the story. The overall tone of the album pulls back from the chaos because this record was mainly inspired from my times of solitude… on the train, or a plane… walking around foreign cities with my headphones on… at a random bar somewhere with strangers and language barriers… In meditation, or out in the ocean, paddling into the waves.. this is where i shut everything off to create balance in my life.

LAC: How has your sound progressed since your LP ‘Prototype’?

FTR: That was 2004; the beginning of Free the Robots. I felt creatively liberated for the first time in my life, and I wanted to do everything all at once. I was young, much less experienced, with a scatterbrain full of random ideas that never really made sense together. These days, I have a little bit more than a blank canvas. My daily experiences give me with much to work with, and I’m able to channel my energy, creating a more cohesive flow of sounds with every release. Ultimately, I have much more of a story to tell.

LAC: Why did you decide to self-release this LP?

FTR: I wanted to go back to my DIY roots, from when I first started making music. I’ve always respected people like Ian MacKaye, and others, who did their own thing. They inspired the self-release of ‘The Prototype’ and the first ‘FTR EP,’ which was a huge eye opener for me. I put it out there with no expectation or plan, and an audience organically spread worldwide through word of mouth. Something I’m very grateful for; ‘Til now, people are constantly discovering and supporting what I do, and what I did back in the day. The DIY approach just feels right. Being part of every little bit from the creative process, to coming up with creative ways to put it out there is gratifying to me. My music is a very personal thing, and so is connecting with my audience. We live in different times now and I feel like the tools to connect us directly with the people are becoming more and more available; just have to put in work. It’s also gives me the freedom to work with good friends whom I source out to for things i’d need. In the end we help each other. The power of community is strong, the people are always ready, and my music will have a way of reaching my audience, if not now, then later.

LAC: You’re often associated with the “beat scene” but how would you really describe your sound?

FTR: Some of my most important shows were at the Low End Theory, which is pretty much the home where the beat scene exploded in LA. The Low End family has always played a major role in my career as Free the Robots, constantly supporting what I do; that “beat scene” association is inevitable. To me, it’s more of a community than a definitive sound, and I am honored to be a part of it. Some songs I make may be recognizable as ‘beats,’ while others have more of a straightforward approach, using traditional instrumentation and pop progressions (verse, chorus, bridge). Whatever stamp people put on it, is their own version. To me, it’s just my moods expressed and recorded.

LAC: I saw in another interview that one of your biggest influences is DJ Shadow. Did you go to his show a couple weeks back at the Observatory?

FTR: I couldn’t make it to his show at the Observatory, but I was able to play with him at the Low End Theory (San Francisco). It was a huge experience for me to finally meet the man behind the record that inspired my career. He stayed on stage with me for my entire set, and personally gave me props at the end. It was an honor, and a great feeling to see how music goes full circle.

LAC: Why do you think it is that you gravitate toward an analog sound?

I came from an era of digging; aspiring to make hip hop beats. Jazz, psychedelic rock, soul, dub, obscure stuff were always my focus when finding samples. The act of even finding samples got me listening to different music, and that analog sound is what hooked me. New music technology and picking up different keyboards added more electronics to my sound, but I still have to maintain a bit of analog dirt with my music.

LAC: What’s next on the horizon?

FTR: I’m currently working on some new sounds for a tape release on Leaving Records… also some Psych stuff for TAR; a new LA based collective you’ll be hearing of soon… Some vocal/beat collaborations with Nekochan out of France… also more stuff with Jessie Jones. And other things I can’t really talk about right now. Stay tuned though.