Friday, July 1, 2011

Post-punk laptop rapper MC Lars talks digital distribution, nerdcore and mixtapes

Posted by on Fri, Jul 1, 2011 at 6:03 AM

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Self-described "post-punk laptop rapper" MC Lars has been in the news quite a bit lately. He was featured on CNN Money, discussing his label, Horris Records, and how online interactivity makes it possible for a performer to operate outside the traditional system and still make a living doing it. Horris' first release, the free mixtape Indie Rocket Science, came out a couple of weeks ago, and July sees the release of Lars' new album, Lars Attacks! The rapper and entrepreneur is performing with labelmates Weerd Science as part of the Vans Warped Tour when it stops at Sandstone next Wednesday, July 6.

We were able to catch up with the incredibly busy MC by phone last week. He took a break from getting packed to talk with us about online fundraising, collaborations, and how blessed he is to do what he does.

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The Pitch:
Is your new label yours 100%, or is it an imprint?

MC Lars: I've been with a bunch of labels and every time I've been with a label, I've had my imprint and had my logo on [my releases]. Finally, for the first time, I've been able to be independent and afford to do stuff on my own. So, Horris Records was really my own label. And then, I met up with Weerd Science and his album, Sick Kids, hadn't come out for a while. I was like, "Man I want to help this guy get this record out," because it was so good.

It's not an imprint. Our distro is just touring and on the web. It's not like we have a major label helping distribute it. But, if we get to that point, I won't be averse to it. It's so weird, because it's like the business is changing so much. It's like, to be profitable, you've got to be smart and sometimes, physical distro can be a net loss, because it's like, you never know what's going to sell. It can be expensive.

The majority of my sales are digital. Except, you know, this summer, Warped will be nice for physical, but basically, you know, it's a weird world.

I imagine that a lot of your stuff would be downloaded. You're the guy who put out "Download This Song."

That's cool you know that song, man. Yeah, it's all been interesting, because it's all digital, and I'm very pro quote-unquote "piracy," and my new mixtape is free on my site. Eighteen songs, and I spent a ton of money to make it on the production, but it's like, I want to give it away, because I want people to have what I do. I believe in my art, and as long as people are feelin' it, that lets me sleep at night. You know what I mean? It's like, I've been in a situation where we spent so much on things that don't matter. It's really about the music, the fans, the passion, and what I'm trying to say -- and the longevity.

Horris Records -- it's interesting, because it's an experiment in new media economics. When I hooked up with Weerd Science, and we were doing our Kickstarter campaign, together we raised like 30 grand from the fans to do it, and it's like, I just want to do things right, and I want to do them for as long as I can, and I keep wanting to not have a day job. Horris Records is just my manifestation of that -- it just exists as a label.

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Speaking of the mixtape: how exactly does one go about getting guests and so on for a mixtape? Even on your albums, you've had this diverse swathe of artists, from Jaret Reddick of Bowling for Soup on The Graduate, to KRS-One on Indie Rocket Science. How do you get people to appear on your album?

Dude, that's a really good question. I've always been kind of a misfit. I've never really had a niche. I've always just been out doing this myself, and I think that appeals to people. The process is like, you come to someone, and I'm like, "Hey, I have this track, and this is the concept, and let's approach it in this way." It helps when you have a concept ready, or pieces of a track.

Basically, I'm just fearless the way I reach out to people. KRS -- we were on the same publishing company, so they got us in touch with his manager, and I talked to him on the phone about the idea and I'd read his book, so we were talking about his book. Sage Francis - I interviewed him for Current TV when I was at South By Southwest a few years ago and we kept in touch.

I'm always just giving people business cards and hitting them up. I feel like I'm a positive, happy person, and that rubs off on people. I'm not trying to take advantage of anyone. I love to work with people. I love to bring people into my world, and it's a fun world to be in. The cool thing is, I'm in this place now where I feel like it's mutually beneficial. Working with people, I feel like I win and they win, too.

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You do speak to different crowds. You appeal to - and appear with - a lot of pop-punk artists, who are maybe not as hardcore or political as KRS-One.

Yeah, exactly. Lars Attacks! is an album that's getting mastered right now, and that album has a lot of influence from him. I read his book, The Gospel of Hip-Hop, and ended up with a profound sense of how hip-hop has this power to change the world and make it better, and there's this whole spiritual dimension. It's different, because KRS - talking to him is like, "Man, we gotta say some positive stuff," and we gotta hit the kids who don't maybe understand old-school hip-hop, but do love the punk rock energy of what I do.

It was just cool to get down with him, because he got it, and he was like, "We gotta say this stuff, and we gotta say something and bless these people." The music exists as a way to inform and inspire, and really save these people, because it's hard times right now, and music always has and always will have the power to heal. You gotta see where people are coming from, and bring to the dialogue. Hip-hop has always been a very collaborative genre, and it being post-modern is what gives it its energy, and that's what gives it its longevity.

That seems to be coming through on the mixtape, which is less "geek" than your past releases. Was that a conscious decision, or did that come about working with your various collaborators?

The mixtape is really -- a lot of those songs are songs that I did for Lars Attacks! and I had way too many. I moved back to New York and worked with a bunch of great producers and I just got my grind on and did eight hours a day, writing lyrics. I dug deep to figure out, "What do I want to say?" I do have that geeky background, and yes, that nerd stuff is part of what I do, but there's more to me than that.

These days, I don't care about nerdcore -- not that I disrespect the genre -- but I care more about making good hip-hop, and where I am right now is more of this intermediate kind of place.

You're writing songs, as opposed to nerdcore songs.

Totally, man. It's like Jello Biafra says in the documentary about Frontalot [Nerdcore Rising] - and I'm paraphrasing - "If you're trying to hit a specific genre, your vision is limited from the outset. Beware of your labels, because they can become a prison." So, I think that is so telling, and so beautiful. That's why, every day that I tour, and I meet kids, and they give me demos, I'm like, "Yo, you have the opportunity to be yourself, to speak your truth, to affect the people around you, to bring beautiful music - don't worry about the forefathers. Yes, listen to the old-school hip-hop, listen to geek rap, listen to all that, but really - spit your own truth."

That's what I feel like: if I can be an inspiration to people, because they see that Lars isn't afraid to grow and change - and that's the beautiful thing about being independent and that's the beautiful thing about Kickstarter, and that's the thing about not being on a major label. I can still take risks. Because I'm so underground, I can do what I want, and that's really fulfilling. I just feel every day that I'm so blessed that I discovered hip-hop.

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