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Endtroducing...

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Also available in this series:
Dusty in Memphis by Warren Zones
Forever Changes by Andrew Hultkrans
Harvest by Sam highs
The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society by Andy Miller
Meat Is Murder by Joe Pernice
The Pper at the Gates of Dann by John Cavanagh
Abba Gold by Elisabeth Vincentelli
Electric L adytand by John Perry
Unknown Pleasures by Chris Ott
Sign `O' the Times by Michaelangelo Matos
The Velvet Underground and N o by Joe Harvard
Let It Be by Steve Matteo
Live at the Apollo by Douglas Wolk
Aqualung by Allan Moore
OK Computer by Dai Griffiths
Let It Be by Cohn Meloy
Led Zeppelin IV by Erik Davis
Armed Forces by Franklin Bruno
Exile on Main Street by Bill Janovitz
Grace by Daphne Brooks
Murmur by J. Niimi
Pet Sounds by Jim Fusilli
Ram ones by Nicholas Rombes
Born in the US-A. by Geoffrey Himes
Kick Out the Jams by Don McLeese
Low by Hugo Wilcken
Forthcoming in this series:
In the Aeroplane over the Sea by Kim Cooper
London Calling by David L. Ulin
Music from Big Pink by John Niven
The Notorious Byrd Brothers by Ric Menck
Loveless by Mike McGonigal
Doolittle by Ben Sisario
Daydream Nation by Matthew Stearns
There' a Riot Goin' On by Miles Marshall Lewis
Stone Roses by Alex Green
Court and Spark by Sean Nelson

Endtroducing...
Eliot Wilder
Big ups to: the sound of scratching (that "voop voop voop"), old 45s, vinyl, Neil
Ross and KDEO, Dusty Groove America, John at Planet Records in
Cambridge, Tom at Nuggets in Boston, Laurel and Hardy, the Beatles, Brian
Wilson, Bob Dylan, Ray Davies, Neil Young, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Robert
Christgau, Ed Ward, Steve Thorn, Pete Miesner, Natalia Cooper, Craig
Palmer, Theresa Rochelle, Jack Mahoney; Zeena Malin, Max Vanzi, Joe
Frank, Ann Japenga, Edward Abood, Dave Westner, Marvin Etzioni, Carolyn
Chandler, Bob Gartland, Tom Schlesinger, Dave and Dan Linck and all the old
Mutt gang, Barbara, Kitty, Blake and Nattie, Leigh Salgado, Mary Klages, The
Simpsons, and the Kusnitt clan.
Also, a huge thanks to Joe Pernice for opening the door, David Barker for
allowing me to do this and, most especially, josh Davis, whose music continues
to change my life...
For Chris, with love, and Astrid, who sat with me during the first seven months
of her life while I wrote this. And my dad.
For more information on DJ Shadow, visit www.djshadowcom
For more information on the author, visit www.eliotwilder.com
You cut up the past to find the future.
-William Burroughs

Intro
When it was released in 1996, Endtroducing... sounded like nothing before or
since-an album of beats, beauty and chaos, a sound that cuts to the very blue
flame of the heart. Looking back, no other popular record, to my mind, better
summarizes the end of the last century. Josh Davis, alias DJ Shadow, took
elements of hip-hop, funk, rock, ambient, psychedelia as well as found sounds,
oddball spokenword clips and cut-out bin nuggets-a literal sweep of sounds that
exist on planet earth-and then wrote the ultimate lesson. All this from a
suburban kid who grew up in Davis, California-a small, out of the way aggie
college town. But josh was a suburban kid with a passion-an obsession, really-
for vinyl. Davis has spent a good chunk of his life scavenging through what
most dismiss as ephemera: the records that reside in those musty and dark
used record stores. To many of us, they are less than mean ingless. But to josh
Davis, they are lost souls. And, as their rescuer, he has done them an honor.
Because these lost souls have a home on Endtroducing....
It is an album that sits with you and lingers. It's an album you can return to
and discover whole new areas you hadn't been aware of, like finding a room in
your house you never knew was there. Or like the time you pulled The Catcher
in Rye off the shelf and, after reading it, thinking, I didn't know it was about that.
But what draws me to it time and againand what drew me to writing this book-is
that Endtroducing... never fails to deliver emotionally on so many levels. "If I
were to find one word that resonates more than anything within Endtroducing...,
it would be 'hope,"' Josh told me when I interviewed him for this book. I like that.
I know that when all that is terrifying and depressing about this world has
consumed me, all I have to do is put on Endtroducing... and I am...transported.
Sounds like hope to me.
Since Endtroducing..., DJ Shadow has produced other remarkable music;
his second album, 2002's The Private Press expands upon everything that was
compelling and unique about Endtroducing.... And it's likely that the disc he's
currently working on will surpass what has come before. But there is something
about Endtroducing... that always brings me back. There is something about a
record that questions, "what does your soul look like?" There's something about
a record that, although it provides no answers, still acts as a balm.
Growing up, life in the Wilder household wasn't that much different from the
other families living their quietly desperate lives in Fletcher Hills, a small, grit-
free prefab community east of San Diego. We ate our tinfoiled TV dinners,
loved our Lucy and ducked and covered when the air-raid siren sounded every
Monday at noon, just like everyone else. Perhaps it could be said we were too
much like everyone else, a paper-thin sheet of lath and plaster separating one
chockablock tract household from another.
For me, the only respite from my vague sense of middleclass suburban
dislocation and the only thing that truly got through to me was what got played
on a local AI radio station, KDEO. It was a standard Top 40 format, which in the
mid- to late-60s meant you could hear everything from the Kinks' "Sunny
Afternoon" to the Four Tops' "Standing in the Shadow of Love" to the Byrds'
"Eight Miles High" to Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue" to Buffalo Springfield's
"For What It's Worth" to Ennio Morricone's theme from "The Good, the Bad
and the Ugly" to Richard Harris's "MacArthur Park." You could also pull in tunes
by Claudine Longet, the Animals, the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Johnny Rivers,
Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Leaves, jimi Hendrix, James Brown, the
Jefferson Airplane, Bobbie Gentry, Sly & the Family Stone, the Hollies, Aretha
Franklin, Bob Dylan. And, of course, the Beatles.
It was the sublime and the ridiculous, all mashed togeth er. It was the kind of
mixed-up non-format that is currently being employed by artists like Kid Loco,
Four Ter and Nightmares on Wax for the Back to Mine, AnotherLateNight and
LateNighlTales compilation series. Take a listen to Saint Etienne's ultra cool
The Trip, which includes songs by the Supremes, the Mamas & the Papas,
Dusty Springfield, the Left Banke, the Originals and, my personal fave, the
Poppy Family. Eclectic, to put it mildly. That was the stuff I heard in my youth.
There were other numbers on the dial, but because KDEO's signal was the
strongest the station was located just a few blocks from where I lived-it was
pretty much all I listened to. And just about every minute that I wasn't in school
or asleep, I listened in. Either in the kitchen on the clock radio or in my bedroom
on my transistor, which, when you think about it, was in its way a precursor to
the iPods of today-without such niceties as attenuation, equalization, treble,
bass and stereo imaging. It was low-fi, before the expression was hip. But who
knew from technology back then?
Inspired by what I heard, I began to collect singles, which I purchased from
the local Rexall. Up until that point I had only my two sisters' records to choose
from"Cindy's Birthday" by Johnny Crawford, "Palisades Park" by Freddy
Cannon and "Leader of the Pack" by the Shangri- las. Not bad stuff, but most of
it was on the teen idol side, and not what I was really into. I believe the first 45 I
owned was "Live" by the Merry-Go-Round, followed by the Royal Guardsmen's
"Snoopy vs. the Red Baron," the Statler Brothers' "Flowers on the Wall" and
"Dang Me" by Roger Miller. I finally graduated to LPs when, for my eleventh
birthday, I was given the Beatles' Yesterday... and Today. It was all I had that
was truly mine, and I played it to death.
It's tough to describe what it was like to have and to hold your first record,
with its new record smell. You had a whole 12-inch jacket to gaze at, to scribble
on, to use as a lunch tray. There was the inner sleeve, which usually featured
the covers of other artists on the label. There was something about touching-
and smudging and scratching, which was inevitable-the vinyl. You would watch it
spin, see the lathelike needle scrape along the dusty grooves. And so what if
my Webcor phonograph, which was just a little larger than a shoebox and about
as durable, sounded no better than tinny (for the high end) and muffled (for the
low end). On eBay nowadays they call record players like that "vintage." Back
then it was a serious piece of crap. But it was my piece of crap.
Alas, whenever I played the feeble little thing a notch above a whisper, my
dad would burst into my room and shout, "Turn that malarkey down!" Dad just
didn't "get" music. Talk to him about the Stones or Otis Redding or Stan Getz,
and he'd go blank in the face like a TV when the plug is suddenly pulled. It didn't
matter what I had on. It could've been the Mlonkees, Mancini or Mahler. To
Dad, it was all malarkey. Which was a drag, because Dad made it difficult for
me to simply enjoy music.
MIy buddy Scooter's father was the first on the block to own a component
stereo system-up until then the most sophisticated home-listening device I had
experienced was our Magnavox TV and stereo combination unit, which looked
like a credenza and, mysteriously, only played one side of the stereo spectrum.
I didn't quite understand why when I played Sgt. Pepperi certain sounds-like,
say, the animals galloping along at the end of "Good Morning, Good Morning"-
would suddenly fade away, or why the singing was unusually prominent on "Lucy
in the Sky With Diamonds" or why the drums were barely audible on "Fixing a
Hole." It wasn't until I heard the record on Scooter's dad's system that I
understood stereo. It was like watching a movie in three-strip Technicolor after
having only seen sepia-toned silents.
It was around this time that I attempted what I thought was a Brian Jones-
inspired pudding-bowl haircut. Mom would laugh at me and say, "You look just
like Little Lord Fauntleroy." Which wasn't exactly the effect I was after. But what
did I care? I liked the idea of long hair almost as much as I liked wearing it long.
It was not so much a fashion statement but a sensibility. It was a way of life. It
was rock 'n' roll. Of course, Dad hated it. "You don't fool me with all your damn
malarkey," he would scoff. When Dad told me that I had to cut it off or I couldn't
buy the Love's Forever Changes, I cried quietly while I was shorn. But it was
worth it. I mean, it was Forever Changes, for chrissakes.
Despite my parents' animosity toward music, my enjoyment of it was
undeterred. I was a fan in the truest sense: I was a fanatic, an obsessive. If I
heard it on the radio, I had to know what it was and who was singing it. And
because there were few magazines around devoted to music other than Tiger
Beat, all I had to turn to were the likes of Fred Kiemel, Robin Scott, Buzz Baxter
and the rest of the jocks at KDEO. Through them and the music they spun, I
began to identify with and feel connected to something bigger than what was
around me. A world of sounds, ideas and sensations opened up to me then-a
world that still exists for me now.
Because having an aesthetic was of little use or importance to my parents,
because we were not particularly religious, because I was not good at sports
like the all the other kids on my street and because I seemed to experience the
world, well, differently than everyone I knew, I felt lost. I felt like I didn't know how
to be. I had no plan, no map, no guide. But the more I got into music, the more I
understood what it is about and what it offers, the more I felt comfortable in my
own skin. Not that I hold anything against my father, but teaching me about what
goes on out there was not his strong suit. Frankly, I learned much of what I
needed to know from John Lennon. It was not just his voicealthough hearing
him tear it up on "Rock'n' Roll Music" still tears me up-it was also his look, his
intelligence, his cool and his wit. As for many kids in the 60s, seeing A Hard
Days iti'ightwas a revelation. I wanted to be in a band. I wanted to get excited, to
make a noise.
In a small way, that would happen later for me. But in the late 60s, it was
enough to feet that I was in middle of something-a revolution in sight and sound.
Each song that would come through my radio was a fresh happening. Yes,
there was a shitload of junk to dig through. But those turds only heightened the
good stuff: "I Got You" by James Brown, "I Hear a Symphony" by the
Supremes, "My Girl Has Gone" by the Miracles, "Make Me Your Baby" by
Barbara Lewis, "Make It Easy on Yourself" by the Walker Brothers, "Lies" by
the Knickerbockers, "Over and Over" by the Dave Clark Five, "The Sound of
Silence" by Simon & Garfunkel, "Rescue Me" by Fontella Bass, "Get Off My
Cloud" by the Rolling Stones, 'Waterloo Sunset" by the Kinks-all were essential
chapters in my sentimental education.
As the 60s drew to a close and radio continued to evolve, and as FM became
more prevalent, a new movement called "underground radio" began to peek its
head up. By the early 70s, KDEO had pretty much abandoned whatever
semblance of format they had-as risky then for an ant station as it is now-and,
at nights at least, they adopted an approach that was freeform and, in some
rare instances, blatantly noncommercial. I recall hearing tracks from Bitches
Brew by Miles Davis, Ummagumma by Pink Floyd, Music from Big Pink by the
Band and even Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica.
There was one DJ, George Manning, who played the most intriguing sets.
He truly broadened my palate: Flying Burrito Brothers, Spirit, Neil Young,
Fairport Convention, the Stooges, Joni Mitchell, Funkadelic, Little Feat. One
night I screwed up my courage and made my way over to the station, a tiny
ranch-style cottage next to the Speedee Mart and just up from the Coronet Five
& Dime on Fletcher Parkway. I pounded on the back door for almost an hour
until a hirsute young man dressed all in black appeared and asked me what I
wanted. "To see what's inside." George led me through a musty-smelling
labyrinth of funky old records and brought me to the control room. Like that
scene with Wolfman Jack in American Graffiti, it took me aback to see the face
behind the voice. He was much smaller and slighter than I imagined, but he
looked familiar when he spoke into the mic. I would return frequently, and he
would let me comb the archives and select whatever record I fancied to be
played on the air. He even allowed me to put on the entirety of Skip Spence's
Oar-I can't picture what the listening audience made of that.
At this point, more than anything I dreamed of being in a band, a dreamed
fueled by a scene in the movie Hep! in which the Beatles arrive at what appear
to be four separate residences in a modest London suburb. They emerge on
the inside into one extravagant apartment, where together John, Paul, George
and Ringo share their music and their lives. Four into one. The Marxist concept
that individuals can come together and create something greater than the sum
of their parts reached an apogee of sorts in the 1960s, when the utopian spirit
of cooperation and communal living seemed within reach.
The Beatles certainly set the bar by which most bands have since striven to
measure up. The group's freewheeling and experimental approach contributed
profoundly to music, ideology and culture, stretching the limits of what had been
thought possible. Because they were mainstream, the Beatles managed to be
perhaps unwittingly subversivewhatever they said or did was sacrosanct. The
fact is, unlike many of today's pop idols, the Fab Four actually had something to
say about life and the way one could live it, and their impact was undeniable.
Mostly-and this is something I believe is often forgotten-the Beatles
demonstrated that if you stick with your band of brothers (or sisters), you could
create something infinitely superior to what you could do on your own. As
separate musicians the Beatles were, with the exception of Paul McCartney, no
virtuosos, and each had foibles that were subsumed by an overriding vision. As
an example, a song like "Honey Pie" is a spoonful of saccharine that only gets
its tang by being placed in the context of the 1968 clas sic The Beatles,
otherwise known as the "White Album." On his own, McCartney's tendency for
twee has remainedwith rare exception-unchecked, and his solo work has
consistently suffered. The post-Beatles recordings, although not entirely without
merit, miss the magic that they created as a unit.
So, late in high school when it happened that I became friends with some
like-minded musicians, I helped to form a band. iklutt was our name, and we
were together in one form or another for more than a decade. We played
schools and clubs throughout San Diego. We got a song, "Mission Bay," on
Homegrown Five, an album sampler put out by local station KGB. In the late
70s, we changed our name to Catch 22 and migrated to Los Angeles where we
made little if no mark at all. I took my life in music as far as I could. We cut
some decent tracks, we fought, we played Madame Wong's at 1AM on a
Tuesday to five drunks. We also met our share of peculiar characters: Norman
Ratner, the man behind the Leaves' "Hey Joe," produced us for an album's
worth of material that ultimately went unreleased. What we wanted was
someone to bring fresh energy and insight to the band. What we got was this
dude who wore flowery shirts, gold chains and heavy cologne, and who spent
most of the time in the studio beating his poor dog Buddy when he wouldn't
perform tricks on command. All I can say is, beware of the man who carries
around his own monogrammed pillow.
But, hey, overall we had a rockin' great time. It wasn't A Hard Dayl Night, but
it wasn't as much of a drag as Let It Be either. I learned a bit about singing,
writing and performing. I learned what it was like to dream something up out of
nothing, how to put seemingly disparate pieces together into something that
made sense, how sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Mostly; I learned how to be. That's what listening to all these great records and
being in a band did for me-it gave me a plan, a map, a guide. These ideals
formed who I am. They were my ultimate lessons. All I had to do was put on the
"White Album," and I understood. It's such a fulsome, unwieldy and ambiguous
work, a true work of art and inspiration to everyone from Joan Didion to
Charles Manson. It's like what Katie's mother told her about the Bard in A Tree
Gron's in Brooklyn: "Shakespeare is a great book. I have heard tell that all the
wonder of life is in that book; all that man has learned of beauty, all that he may
know of wisdom and learning are on those pages."
OK, the Beatles ain't Shakespeare, but the "White Album" remains a
personal lynchpin. With its faux-laminate blank sleeve design and simple
embossed lettering, which contrasted starkly with the multicolored psychedelic
movement of the year before, the record effectively announced the end of one
era and the beginning of another. Although it was not wholly apparent then, its
very "whiteness" belied something bleak and crepuscular. Intended or not, irony
had suddenly become a component of pop music.
I bought my copy at a store called Discount Records in San Diego. I believe
it went for something like eleven bucks (hugely expensive at the time), and I
paid for it mostly in dimes and pennies, much to the chagrin of the clerk at the
register. When I got it home and pulled out the giant poster with the lyrics on the
back, I felt overwhelmed by the sheer heft of it. Thirty songs that covered the
gamut: music hall, Beach Boys-inspired harmonies, reggae, musique concrete,
country and western, folk, heavy metal, nursery-rhyme twaddle, British blues
and, of course, dirty-ass rock 'n' roll. There's nonsense, there's intelligence.
There's equivocation, there's vehemence. There's folly, there's genius. Of
"Happiness Is a Warm Gun," the late Ian MacDonald, in Revolution in the
Head, wrote:
While rationally it may not hang together, it packs a considerable
punch, working on an emotionally allusive level few songwriters have
been aware of, let alone succeeded at. The sound, the arrangement,
and the performances (especially Lennon's vocal) all contribute to this
effect; what's more they couldn't have done so unless the entire group
ha d joined in piecing the whole thing together (so providing an
exception to the view that The Beatles is a set of solo tracks on which
each writer employed his colleagues as session musicians). While the
song could have been written by no one else, all four pitched for it: this
is a Beatles performance.
In the end, the most purely Lenuionian aspect of "Happiness Is a
Warm Gun" is its extreme ambiguity From an initial mood of
depression, it ascends through irony, self destructive despair, and
obscurely renewed energy to a finale that wrests exhausted fulfillment
from anguish. Grippingly uneasy listening, the track's tense blend of
sarcasm and sincerity stays unresolved until its final detumescent
downbeat.
I pull out the "White Album" whenever I need something explained to me,
whenever I need comfort, whenever I need to rock. For me, it is not a nostalgia
test, what author John Casey calls moonbeams of your peculiar unrelatable
memory. It is something that, like one of Proust's madeleines, opens gateways
to sensations that not only provide comfort but also insight into the human
condition. Even though I have long since begun to ratchet downward my
estimate of just how much joy I can extract from the world, there is still nothing
more exciting to me than coming across a record that pushes all the right
buttons. Like when I got introduced to "White Lines" by Grandmaster Flash and
the Furious Five or "I Will Follow" by U2 or "Your Song" by Elton John or "La La
Means I Love You" by the Delfonics. Or my initial hearing of The Queen Is
Dead by the Smiths or Hounds of Love by Kate Bush or Good Morning Spider
by Sparklehorse or Black Sea by XTC or Loveless by My Bloody Valentine or
El phant by the White Stripes or Savordfishtrombones by Tom Waits or Songs
o f Experience by David Axelrod or Astral Weeks by Van Morrison or Ziggy
Stardust by David Bowie or Music fora New Society by John Cale or
Screamadelica by Primal Scream. Or Endtroducing... by DJ Shadow.
Albert Camus wrote: "Of whom and of what indeed can I say: `I know that!' this
heart within me can feel, and I judge that it exists. This world I can touch, and I
likewise judge that it exists. There ends all my knowledge, and the rest is
construction." These constructs are like Rorschach tests, and the best we can
do is guess at their meanings, most of which are, when it comes down to it, just
nonsense. Postmodernism rejects universal a priori truths and instead
embraces incoherence and fragmentation, and frees the artist to play with
nonsense. This can result in work that is either trivial (think reality TV) or it can
be transcendent (think Wes Anderson).
The term postmodernism is tough to define because it gets attached to so
many aspects of our culture these days. In art, it is a broad expression for
those movements that followed modernism, which, in the early 20th Century,
was a rejection of antiquated Victorian values and traditions. Many of the first
postmodern proponents were the poststructuralists of the 70s, French
philosophers such as Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard and Jean-Francois
Lyotard, all of whom espoused themes of uncertainty and dislocation that
mirrored what they felt was the disintegration of society's moral, political and
economic bases. Modernists like T. S. Eliot, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf
believed that art could provide coherence and meaning in meaninglessness.
But postmodernism, says professor Mary Klages of the University of Colorado,
doesn't lament the idea of fragmentation, provisionality or incoherence, but
rather celebrates it. Klages says that according to Baudrillard, in postmodern
society there are no originals, only copies-or what he calls "simulacra." You
might think, for example, about painting or sculpture, where there is an original
work (by Van Gogh, for instance), and there might also be thousands of copies,
but the original is the one with the highest value (particularly monetary value).
Contrast that with CDs or music recordings, where there is no "original," as in
painting-no recording that is hung on a wall, or kept in a vault; rather, Klages
says, there are only copies, by the millions, that are all the same, and all sold
for (approximately) the same amount of money
Popular music has always relied on bricolage (to put it nicely) and
cannibalism (to put it bluntly). In the liner notes to Capitol's reissue of Sun'
U.S.A., Brian Wilson says of the title track: "I started humming [Chuck Berry's]
`Sweet Little Sixteen.' And I got fascinated with the fact of doing it. And I thought
to myself, `God, what about trying to put surf lyrics to the "Sweet Little Sixteen"
melody.' The concept was about `they're doing this in the city, they're doing that
in the city,' the Chubby Checker ['Twistin' U.S.A.] concept. So I thought of calling
it `Surfin' U.S.A.' "
Read a review of any new record and you can't miss how much trainspotting
is employed. Comparisons are inevitable because rock 'n' roll is nothing if not
the sum of its parts. It's in the grand tradition of pop to borrow-to "sample"your
favorite riff and incorporate it into your "style." Elvis Presley sampled from the
styles of R&B pioneers like Roy Brown, the Beatles sampled the harmonies of
the Everly Brothers, and Eric Clapton sampled Robert Johnson's hellbound
moves. Jimmy Page gets hold of Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor," and poo "The
Lemon Song." George Harrison is in need of a melody for ` My Sweet Lord"?
The Chiffons' "He's So Fine" will do just fine. MC Hammer plunders Rick
James's "Superfreak" and out pops "U Can't Touch This." The Beasties lift the
riff from AC/DC's "Back in Black" and spit out "Rock Hard." Pilfering is the warp
and woof of pop music. And no popular music genre is better at it and more
artful with it than hip-hop.
Doug Pray's documentary Scratch-at the very least a must-see for anyone
reading this book- details the history of the form, whose pioneer, Grand Wizard
Theodore, explains the difference between hip-hop and rap: the former is a
culture, the latter is an component of that culture. And what is that culture? It's
one based on the breakbeat, what Afrika Bambaataa-founder of the Universal
Zulu Nation in the South Bronx and often credited with having the greatest
influence in shaping the culture of hip-hop-says, "is that part that you look for in
a record that lets your God-self just get wild." Scratch details the DJs' lives,
their passions, their struggle to develop a form from the only "instruments" they
had available to them: their parents' turntables and record collections. As
Asphodel Records co-founder Naut Humon observes, the listener could now
participate in the music he was listening to. The documentary shows hiphop and
its attendant elements-lIC-ing, deejaying, graffiti art and break-dancing-as a
way of life. It's all about freestyling, about improvisation, about skillfully mixing
beats in your own unique fashion. Like when Mix Master Mike (who handles the
decks for the Beastie Boys) scratches an old Robert Johnson blues record,
and the past becomes the present.
Among the hip-hop heavyweights are Kool Herc, Qbert and the Beat
Junkies, Cut Chemist, Jazzy Jay, Z-Trip, and Dot a Rock and Kevie Key, and
Grand Mixer DXT-best known for his ground-breaking deejaying performance
o n Herbie Hancock's "Rockit." There is talk of extraterrestrials and
intergalactic travel. There also is a healthy yet fervent rivalry between most of
them; competitions such as Disco Mix Club, or DMC, portray turntablism as
blood sport. Says DJ Craze: "Battling-or B-boying is where hip-hop came from-
from being competitive, from knocking the next guy down."
But there is one DJ in Scratch who seems less concerned with knocking the
next guy down and a lot more interested in the music itself, its origins, its
essence. He is, as Cut Chemist puts it, "the king of digging." In the dank cata
combs beneath the much beloved Records store in Sacramento is DJ Shadow,
sitting Buddha-like in between rows of old vinyl records that reach to the ceiling.
It's a little like the scene in Rob's apartment in the movie High Fidelity, only after
a devastating earthquake. Shadow's tone is deferential:
This is my little nirvana. Being a Dj, I take the art of [crate] digging
seriously, and this is a place I've been going for eleven years. It's an
incredible archive of music culture, and there's the proinise in these
stacks of fincling something that you're going to use. In fact, most of
[Endtrodueing...] was built off of records pulled from here. So, it has
almost a karmic element of, "I was meant to find this on top," or, "I was
meant to pull this out because it works so well with this." So it has a lot
of meaning for ine personally.
just being in here is a humbling experience because you're looking
through all these records and it's sort of like a big pile of broken
dreams, in a way Almost none of these artists still have a career,
really, so you kind of respect that. If you're making records and you're
a Dj and putting out releases whether it's mix tapes or whatever, you're
adding to this pile, whether you want to admit it or not. Ten years down
the lice, you'll be in here-so keep that in mind when you start thinking
like, "Oh yeah, I'm invincible and I'm the world's best" or whatever.
Because that's what all these cats thought.
It is that reverence and keen understanding of how ostensibly incongruent
pieces can somehow fit together to form an organic work that Endtroducing... is
built upon. Because if anything, Endtroducing... is a lucid fantasia, culling
several decades worth of forgotten beats, disembodied radio signals and
unclaimed melodies. It is a record that not just makes everything old new again;
it also opens wide a fresh yet curiously recognizable dimension. It is a mosaic
o f grooves, dissonant shadings and found objects that, as critic Robert
Christgau says, "accrues a mysterious fascination without ever revealing their
relevance to each other or anything else."
What resonated about Endtroducini... when it was released in 1996, and
what makes it still resonate today, is the way in which it loosens itself from the
mooring of the known and sails off into an uncharted territory that seems to
exist both in and out of time. Davis is not only a master sampler and turntablist
supreme, he is also a serious archaeologist with a world-thirsty passion (what
Cut Chemist refers to as Josh's "spidey sense') for seeking out, uncovering
and then ripping apart the discarded graces of some other generation-that "pile
of broken dreams"-and weaving them back together into a tapestry of chronic
bleakness and beauty. Piano notes drop like rain. Drums roll with a terrible
momentum. A burst of guitar grates nastily. An unrelenting tension thrums
throughout. It wrangles your emotions. It is soundtrack music to a psychological
horror film that even David Lynch might have a hard time dreaming up. It is the
score to that nightmare you can't put your finger on. It is music that spreads out
in all directions like cracks on a windshield. It is walking down Beacon Street in
Boston at night in the falling snow, "Midnight in a Perfect World" blasting in the
headphones.
I recall the very first time I heard it. I was driving through the Mojave for no
other reason than to escape the rigors of Los Angeles. It got to be late
afternoon and I'd been on the road all day. I felt exhausted, so I pulled into a
motel and grabbed a room. I took off my clothes, dragged myself into bed and
fell into a deep and dreamless sleep. After what seemed like days, I awoke,
showered, checked out and got back on the highway. But somehow, for some
reason I couldn't fathom, it was getting darker and darker. At first I thought it
was had weather rolling in, but then, to my amazement, I realized what was
happening: I had been asleep only a few hours and had gotten up and checked
out of the motel the same day I had checked in. And now night was coming on. I
drove on, passing campers filled with families obviously excited about their
plans for the weekend. They had no idea I was watching them. I could only
imagine what it would be like to play the alphabet game or call out license plates
from all the different states. I could only imagine fighting over who would sit by
the window and who would get the last of the potato chips. All these people were
about to have the time of their lives at a carefully chosen destination, and here I
was, completely lost. Just then I remembered I had a CD with me that I'd gotten
a few days before but hadn't had a chance to get to. I'd read a few things about
it that made it sound interesting, but I had few preconceptions. I put it on and
listened to it all the way through. Then I played it again. And again and again.
Endtroducing... became that journey. Like the "White Album," it has since
become a part of all my journeys.
"Endtroducing...," according to DJ Shadow, "is like every record that I make,
in that there's a sense of you starting on a journey. You experience things and
you come back to the end, full circle-hopefully, having learned something, or
having gained some sort of something out of the experience."

Endtro
In the spring of 2004, DJ Shadow and I spoke on the phone over the course of
several months. I found Josh to be extremely eloquent, honest and open as he
talked at length about what it was like for him growing up in Northern California,
about his influences and mentors, about listening to the radio, about record
collecting and crate digging, about making mix tapes and deejaying, and, of
course, about how Endtroducing... came about. Here, then, is "Sunday
Afternoons With Dj Shadow"
Shall we start at the beginning?
I was born in '72 in San Jose. My parents got divorced when I was about two,
and my mother and brother and I moved to a town called Middletown. She was
trying to get her teaching credential, so we went where she could get a teaching
job. The first thing I think any child hears is com mercial jingles and cartoon
music and songs on "Sesame Street." But I'm not going to pretend like that was
a great, enormous influence because, at that time, you're soaking up anything
and everything that's around you. And that is one thing I've always thought
about, that music is just pervasive in our lives. But I also learned, at a certain
point, that most people just don't even think about it. They're not affected by it
either way, from the music that they hear in a department store or grocery store
or on the radio. Some people, it affects them, and other people, it doesn't.
When you're growing up, you get records almost like toys-just something to
entertain you. Or you'd be at a department store, and you'd want something,
and records were cheap, so you'd get a record. Generally, it was all children's
stuff. My brother, Dave, who's 5 years older, collected records, and he got
"Snoopy vs. the Red Baron" by the Royal Guardsmen. It came out in a number
of different ways. This particular version was marketed for kids. It was on the
Pickwick label, with cartoon artwork. I remember being intrigued by it because I
read Peanuts in the papers.
Then we moved to Davis when I was 5. And I remember my mom, when
she'd go to grocery stores like Albertson's or Safeway, which, at that time, used
to sell this series of classical albums. You see them in every thrift store in
America now because they must have sold them by the bucket-load. They were
really cheap. And they were basically designed to get kids interested in music.
I've always been a collector, ever since I can remember, whether it was
baseball cards, comic books, whatever. And I remember there was a cool
collector aspect to these classicals because they all had a similar graphic
design. They would have a bust of the composer, like Beethoven or Chopin. I
remember being intrigued by the art on them, the way the busts look, how there
are no pupils in the eyes and all that-it gives a kind of a weird quality to it. My
mom got them for me because she got it into her head that I was sort of
musically inclined. I don't know if it's because I used to sing the songs when
they came on the radio or whatever. But, being a teacher, she was very into
child development. So she encouraged that side of me, even though at that
age-I was 5, 6 years old-I was just as interested in watching the little army men
go around and around on the turntable as I was listening to the music. I didn't
even think about really taking care of my records until the mid-90s, really.
Something entered my mind where I thought I better start taking care of these.
Because, before that, they were just to be used, to be played, to be deejayed
with, to be scratched.
At any rate, my brother would get records, and as he became older, his
taste became more sophisticated. And my parents had records lying around.
My dad, who I visited every two weeks in San Jose, his musical tastes were
pretty eclectic. He had records by Isaac Hayes, Three Dog Night, the Doobie
Brothers, Asleep at the Wheel and Lou Reed. A lot of blues, like Albert King. A
lot of jazz, like Maynard Ferguson. j\Iy mom, on the other hand, had more
straightup, adult contemporary rock, like the Eagles. And then, when the disco
era happened, that's really the first time that I remember listening to the radio,
looking for a type of music that I liked that the rest of the household didn't have.
I think one of the first songs that I wanted to go out and buy was "Funky Town"
by Lipps Inc.
That's a good song...
Yeah. Classy. I liked it for the technological sound of it. It sounded futuristic. It
sounded like something they would have listened to on Star Kars. My mom
would listen to it and say, "Oh, this is corny." My family was all very cynical
about anything that was hype-driven or media-driven or seemed manufactured
in any way. And, of course, disco, to a certain degree, at least after '77, had an
element of all of that. It was manufactured. But it didn't start out that way. There
were also a couple of songs I liked on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. I
remember liking ELO, too. Even though it was pure pop, that Jeff Lynne did
have a knack for incorporating technology in a really seamless way. By 1980, I
had my own little transistor radio, and I could make my own choice about the
music that I wanted to listen to. And growing up in the Sacramento Valley in that
era, it was classic rock heaven.
Probably still is! [laughs]
Probably still is. Exactly. I mean, I don't think there's been a day in the last 25
years that you haven't heard "Freebird" at least 20 times, you know. But the
station that I ended up selecting was a more progressive station called KZAP.
They played the Steve Miller Band, but they were also playing things like Devo
and other new wave-y stuff like the Cars. So, as a result, they had a reputation
as being the serious rock station. I remember, for a long time, listening to that.
And, as a result, the first album that I ever willingly spent money on was Devo's
first album, Are lie Not Men? Then, for whatever reason, I got bored with that
station. Somehow I made my way to KFRC, which, in the 60s was a powerful
and influential I\f station broadcast out of San Francisco that catered to the
hippy generation. And since AM travels farther than FIlI, I was able to receive it
fine. Somewhere in the 70s it was sold, and they switched format to being an
urban AM station.
Urban, meaning soul music?
Right. So at that time, in the early 80s, I started listening to Kool and the Gang,
the Gap Band, Lakeside and Michael Jackson during his Off the Wall period.
Post-disco soul, basically. It all sounded really good to me. And then, I heard
Blondie's "Rapture." Every kid from third grade or up was able to recite the
whole rap, you know, when that record came out.
I remember that video. That's the one where she's strutting down the street...
...kind of dissing people as she goes. And there's a scene with someone
graffiti-ing a wall. That video definitely influenced me. But I didn't really consider
"Rapture" to be anything other than some sort of new wave anomaly. I didn't
really consider it to be a new genre of music. I heard the Sugarhill Gang's
"Rapper's Delight," as well, but to me, it sounded like disco, like a novelty disco
record, like "Disco Duck" or something. But that all changed when, in '82, I
heard "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and "Planet
Rock" by Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force.
Another thing I should mention because it's kind of formative was that I used
to walk around with a tape recorder everywhere I went and record family
conversations, family arguments, sound effects. I remember seeing a
documentary on how they did effects for Star bars and Empire Strikes Back.
And I remember a scene where these guys were out in a field with a recorder,
tapping on springs in an electrical plant with a wrench. And that's how they made
laser sounds. So I'd go out to the spring on our garage door and hit it with a
wrench and record the effects. I would also tape music, in my own real low-fi
way, by putting the tape recorder up to the speaker of my little transistor radio.
That's how I taped music back then. And so, in '82, when "The Message" came
on, the minute I heard it, it sounded so totally new and unlike anything I had ever
heard that I leaned over and hit the record button. And since I wasn't recording
the music in a closed environment, you can hear what's going in the rest of the
house. It was getting to be my bedtime, and my mom stuck her head in and
goes, "What is this? What are you listening to?" And I go, "Shhh, go away!"And
somewhere, I've still got a tape of that. I actually wanted to use it for the
beginning of my last album [The Private Press], because it's really the beginning
of everything that came afterward.
During the period I was recording songs like "Beat It" and "Thriller," I also
started seeing things on the news about a cultural revolution that was taking
place on the East Coast. I remember seeing a report on the Human Beatbox-it
was a guy doing it on the street for spare change and he had a big crowd
gathered around him. Then, a little bit later, I remember seeing something about
break-dancing. The next thing you knew, it was a massive "media fad," like
video games were. So being of the exact age to be totally influenced by all of
that stuff, the only thing that I think saved me, in recognizing it as a fad, was,
one, the fact that I was anchored in the music first and, two, the fact that, like I
had mentioned, I grew up in such a cynical household [laughs] and was able to
see the forest for the trees and go, "OK, well, all these little K-Tel rip-off albums,
that's an aspect of the fad," but the music, at its core, and the artistry of the
dance and the artwork and everything else was very pure. So I was able to see
it as both. Sure, there was a lot of exploitation going on, but I was able to see
through that, even in cheesy moments, like if PM Magaline was doing a story on
the fad. And I took it for the little glimpses of the real shit that I could see. You
know, like maybe they'd show 5 seconds of the Rock Steady Crew and then
show, you know, 5 minutes of some joker in the studio with them who wasn't
even half as good and was just riding their coattails or whatever. So, you know,
you can always tell the difference. You can sniff it out.
When that was all going on, every kid at school, around the nation, was into
hip-hop. Or thought they were. Everybody thought they could break-dance.
Everybody, thought they could rap. It was people following the media lead,
really. But by seventh grade, the bubble had popped, and suddenly it became
uncool to listen to rap or align yourself with that kind of culture.
Why was it uncool?
Well, because people thought, "Why haven't you moved on to the next thing?
Don't you know this is a fad?" It's like if it was '85, and you knew somebody who
was still wearing a Michael Jackson glove. It's like, come on, dude! Get with the
times! That's what a lot of people thought. And, at that point, you really had to
seek out people who were serious about the culture and serious about the
music. But in seventh grade I met a guy who became a good friend of mine, and
I can't tell you how much he really shaped my understanding of the culture and
the music. His name is Stan Green. He was a really talented artist. He was
really influenced by spray-can art and subway art, and the Henry Chalfont and
Martha Cooper book, Subavay Art. Stan had the right personality for art: He
was very quiet, not at all demonstrative and in his own little world. And the only
thing he cared about, it seemed like to me, was basketball and hip-hop. He was
also an infuriatingly good student, like he just didn't even have to try. And I was
always struggling to keep my attention in class.
We met because I was in a class that he was in, and they were still doing
Scholastic Book orders in seventh grade, even though, by then, I thought, as
most seventh graders thought, "Oh, this is for kids. If you want a book, go to a
bookstore." But I noticed that he had bought a Scholastic book on break-
dancing. I said to him, "Hey, you into rap?"And he said, "Yeah, I spent some
time in Texas, and I've got some crazy tapes of this or that person doing
mixing." He also knew a couple other cats that had access to a lot of crazy
records that we didn't know about.
Later on, we fell out with each other. His family was quite religious, but Stan
had always resisted it. I'm not a religious person myself, so I didn't carry myself
that way. I think, after a while, it just became difficult for him to be able to
tolerate having me make music that didn't fall in line with what he was about. I
always felt that's the reason for our falling out, because we shared so much
love of music together. Because we got into breaks and buying old records
around '89. And as hip-hop fell out of favor with him, we still had that love for
music in common. He's the person that I used to go into these crazy digging
trips with, back when you could actually find things. It was a lot of fun. We felt
like we were doing things that nobody else was doing. As it turned out, that's
largely true-I still have yet to meet people from the States that were buying the
kind of music that we were buying back then, on such a heavy basis. But at a
certain point, there was a big blow-up with his whole family. So, I said, "Well, I'm
sorry you guys feel this way." Still, I am very appreciative toward him. In fact, on
Endtroducing..., there's a big credit to him saying, "I owe my career to your
support. I could never thank you enough." That one incident doesn't in any way
tarnish all the positive things that have happened between us.
Do you remember the first rap record you bought?
It was Street Beats, Volume Two, which came out in '83. It was a Sugar Hill
Records compilation that was designed as a gateway into the world of Sugar
Hill. It was $7.99 for two records and I split the cost with a friend of mine. And
we would share custody of it. My friend, he came from a wealthy household and
thought he was into rap and then got it and decided he wasn't. So it was perfect
for me because I knew he wasn't going to keep it.
Who was on that album?
It had West Street Mob, who sampled Apache, Grand-master Flash and the
Wheels of Steel, and the Funky 4 + 1. I really like the song "Break-Dance
Electric Boogie" by the West Street Mob because it had a lot of scratching in it.
Shortly after that came Run-D.M.C.'s [eponymous 1984] first album. It was
seen as being punk and cutting edge because it was so raw. And the cover was
real cool, too.
And I also remember, around this time, that's when I decided to first tune in
to the college radio station in Davis, called KDVS. Davis is a university town,
and KDVS very much catered to, obviously, college tastes. The very first time I
tuned in, I heard "World War III" by the Furious Five. But then the next record
they played was by Camper Van Beethoven, which didn't make sense to me. So
I asked my dad, who I always felt was a little more hip when it came to music, if
he knew of any station in the Bay Area that might play just rap. He told me about
KSOL, which was a longtime independent black radio station. I took his advice
and that night I tuned in and I heard-and somewhere, I've still got a tape of this
as well AJ Scratch" by Kurtis Blow being mixed with "One for the Treble" by
Davy DMX. And, you know, I was sold. So now I had a lot of access to the
music. I was hearing it in cars. I was hearing it on KSOL. I was hearing it on
KDVS. My brother was into it, so he would get tapes from people at his school.
This was all between '83-'84.
It wasn't until I started shopping at a Tower [Records] in San Jose-again,
thanks to my dad-that the world of the 12-inch opened up to me, really. But, you
know, as I've now learned, so many important, pivotal records from the first 7
years of rap never made it-were never distributed to California.
Why?
Well, many of them were never distributed outside of Harlem or the Bronx or
Brooklyn let alone halfway across the country-or all the way across the country.
It's sort of the nature of what was going on. It was so neighborhooddriven back
then. But, by the same token, a lot of important early Miami-based records
never left Miami. A lot of important early LA records never left LA. I quickly
started to understand how it all worked with distribution and all that stuff.
In the mid-80s, I started watching an independent TV station up in San Jose
that would show videos for hip-hop records by Run-D.M.C., the World Famous
Supreme Team and Grandmaster Flash. I was able to see people scratching
on video. Somehow hearing scratching and seeing what it looked like-it made
sense to my experiences touching vinyl and making it do things. The whole
technological thing came back 360 because it seemed like such an out-there
cocept. And it was very much a stamp of hip-hop. It was something only hip-hop
embraced and only hip-hop seemed to do. And this is way before the idea of
genre meshing.
So now it's late '84, and that's when I got my first turntable.
What was it?
What I asked for was a Sears combination turntable, radio tuner and dual
cassette deck, so that I could dub all of Stan Green's tapes, so I could dub my
own records and so I could still listen to the radio and dub mixes off the radio.
By now I knew all the DJs names on KSOL. And I had also, by this point, figured
out when the main guy who plays rap on KDVS, when his show was. His name
was Oras Washington. He was a black guy from Richmond, California, who
went to school at UC Davis. His real interest was groups like the Time, but I
think he decided that one way he could make his mark was to play hip-hop and
rap and make a show out of it.
By now I was able to take in a lot of stuff I stopped buying comic books. I
stopped buying video games. I stopped " 11 spending my money on all the other
things that kids at that time spent money on and started saving my money for
records. And that pretty much became my spending pattern until I was off to
college. I'd save almost all the money I had, sell my comic books, sell whatever,
[laughs] to be able to buy records. Stan and I worked out a thing where we'd go
to a store, and he'd buy two singles, and I'd buy two singles, so that between us
we had four new 12-inches to record off each other. With the Sears turntable,
the first thing I did was try to see how it worked for scratching. And, of course, I
didn't understand that you needed to have a mixer, and that belt-drive turntables
don't quite work the same as directdrive turntables do, and that has to do with
the motor in the turntable. If you pull back on the turntable with a belt, the belt
slips, and it doesn't speed back up again very fast, so you have to push it along.
What I did figure out is that, if I held the little selector knob in between "tape"
and "phono," I was able to dub a tape and scratch over the top of it. It was like a
glitch in the way that the turntable operated. I had wanted my own stereo for so
damn long that, when I got this thing, I absorbed it. It became part of my
bloodstream. I touched every knob and fiddled with the thing endlessly and sat
there at the radio.
Just out of curiosity, could you tell me what you think is the difference between
turntablism and scratching?
Turntablism is the description of scratching that's supposed to make people
who don't listen to hip-hop sit up and go "Hmm, maybe it is real music."
Scratching, to me, is just what it is. Turntablism has this virtuosic aspect to it,
and to me, that's when things start to turn jazzy. And I'm not a huge fan of when
things turn jazzy. Because when I think of jazzy, I think of Wynton Marsalis. He
came to speak at my African-American Studies class at UC Davis when I was
a freshman. I remember him just standing up there, and just dissing rap for 20
minutes straight, and just loving the response he was getting from the lily-white
audience. As if they were so thrilled that finally a black guy was speaking out
against rap. I remember just sitting there thinking, Oh this sucks. I was venting
about it afterward in class. Ever since then I've had this thing against people
who over-intellectualize everything and make it an incrowd-only thing. So, any
time anything starts getting jazzy-and you are going to have to say it [whispers]
jazzy "-I run in the other direction because "jazzy" to me isn't where it's at.
Do you recall some of your early mix tapes?
I started out by imitating my heroes. "Step Off" by Grandmaster Flash had a
scratch solo in it. A lot of records were starting to have scratch solos. And I
would imitate the scratching that they were doing. But the big X factor and the
big question mark, in my mind, was, "OK, even if I can achieve the same
patterns, what sounds are they using? What are these records that they're
scratching?" I was trying to figure out what was going on on "One for the
Treble" and "Step Off." Both of those records scratched the same sound, which
I learned, a few years later, was the stab at the beginning of the break on
"Ashley's Roach Clip" by the Soul Searchers.
I didn't understand that there was a whole culture that was very
underground, and very few people knew about this stuff back then. It was an
underground culture in New York City and Philly, pretty much exclusively; where
there was the whole break-beat thing and all these DJs. The records that they
were playing-those were the sounds I was hearing. And I didn't know what the
sounds were. I started realizing that I can do what they're doing-I just couldn't
make it sound the same because I didn't have these records. I didn't have
these break-beats. I didn't have these stabs, you know, these horn stabs that
punctuate the one on the break-beat. And that's what everybody would scratch
on. Or certain phrases, or certain sounds. All these classic scratch sounds. I
didn't know what the hell all those things were. And that became my next
obsession: unlocking this secret knowledge. But it was like the knowledge was
nowhere to be found. I mean, you couldn't get on the Internet and find out what
this was. You couldn't read a book and find out what this shit was. I couldn't talk
to anybody in California, save for probably a few New York transplants living in
LA that I didn't know, that could explain this to me, any of this shit. But then I
read David Toop's Rap Attack. That book helped connect a lot of dots for me. I
started to understand a little bit more about the evolution of the music and the
culture.
Were you ever able to get your hands on the music itself ?
In certain cases, yeah. One time I had to special order from a distributor list at
Barney's, an independent record store in Davis. I asked the guy that was
working there, who seemed to be sympathetic when I would buy rap records, I
said, "Look, there's a bunch of records that I want. Is there a way that you guys
can order them in?" And so he showed me the distributor list, and I pretty much
checked off anything that sounded like it might be rap. And it took like six
weeks, and then finally some of them came in. I remem ber, in that shipment
were two records that were important to me. This is about mid-'85, I'd say. One
was "What I Like" by 2 Live Crew, and the other one was "Techno Scratch" by
Knights of the Turntables. Play "What I Like" yourself and you'll hear why I went
nuts. Because there's so many different scratches and cuts in it!
When did you get into buying older records?
In '87. I went into the only used record store in Davis and bought records like
"Dance to the Drummer's Beat" by Herman Kelly, which is a classic break-beat,
and James Brown's Payback double album. All these records were $3. They
were cheap because there was no real market for that stuff outside of the
Bronx and Manhattan and Brooklyn, where hip-hop DJs were being gouged by
local record dealers for these classic break-beats. But back in California,
nobody was that into it.
I started making tapes of some James Brown records and things like that,
around '87, to complement my normal hip-hop diet. And the only person that
seemed to really devote himself to the same passion was my friend Stan. He
got into listening to soul and Parliament and stuff like that. But, to me, rap
sounded like the soundtrack to my life, in a weird sort of way, even though I
didn't live in New York and couldn't really identify with a lot of what was being
talked about. It was so dynamic and so powerful back then that I just didn't see
the need to listen to much else.
In the summer of '88, 1 made a tape of my dad's copy of Hot Buttered Soul
by Isaac Hayes and the song "Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic." At around
five minutes into it, there's a riff from Public Enemy's "Black Steel in the Hour of
Chaos." But, you know, the Public Enemy album hadn't come out yet. And then,
when it did, and I heard that, that's the first time I went, "Oh, shit, I could have,
theoretically; hypothetically, hooked this beat up." Because I felt like, damn,
Public Enemy's the most progressive rap group out, and I'm like almost caught
up to them. In my own funny way, that's how I thought about it. I mean, obviously,
I've never made a record as good as that record. But, in my own mind, I was
thinking, that from a production point of view or a DJ point of view, that I at least
was on the right track.
When did you first put your stuff out there?
I would listen to Oras Washington and his KDVS hip-hop show He'd always ask
for people to call in with requests. One day, I did, and I asked for some pretty
obscure and hardcore New York record, and he was like, "Damn, who's asking
for this out there?" [laughs] I introduced myself over the phone.
At that time, I was 14. I looked up to Oras because he was older than me,
and he was trying to mix, and he was playing a wide variety- of good stuff. And
at some point, I asked him if I could come and sit in and watch him do the show
And he said, "By- all means" So I did. And, you know, he was about 23, and I
was this real skinny white kid. I think he was tripping out about my dedication to
the music. And also, at a certain point, I was brave enough to play him one of
my little mixes I had done on my Sears system. I tried to do my own version of
the instrumental side of 2 Live Crew's "What I Like." Oras said, "OK, I'll play it.
Do a 20minute mix, and I'll play it." And I recently found that tape. [laughs]
I gave him the tape, and then I went home and turned on the radio and
started taping. All of a sudden, Oras goes, "And now we've got a special treat.
We've got, Davis' own Josh, and he's got a mix." just to really help my nerves,
the tape didn't start right away. I was worried he was going to yank it, you know
what I mean, like I blew my shot? I knew I had cued it up just right, and I couldn't
figure out what happened. Maybe he rewound it or something. Oras got on the
mic. He's like, "Oh, it should be coming on here in a second." MIy heart was
sinking. And then finally it did come on. Me, I was going over the waves. Then I
felt like, if I was at home taping it, maybe somebody else was.
It was also the first time I got to be around a DJ who deejayed for a living.
He was in school, but he would do weddings and parties and spin at clubs. He
let me come over to his house and use his Technics 1200, which were $500
turntables back then and well outside my reach financially. It was like being born
to be a racecar driver and, for the first time, being in a Ferrari. As soon as I got
on the Technics, it was like I was channeling these guys. I couldn't do what
some of them could do, but I could do what others could do. And I started to
develop my own little style. But again, it was still about imitation at that point.
In 1988, a huge rap show was coming to Oakland Coliseum with Def jam
artists like Run-D.M.C. and Public Enemy Oras asked if I wanted to go. I
thought that there was no way my parents would let me go. But my parents, in
retrospect, were really encouraging and they understood that I was passionate
about this music. So they let me go.
Unfortunately, we didn't get into the show. We were also supposed to get
hooked up backstage, and we didn't. But afterward we went to the Holiday Inn,
where all the groups were staying, and I got to meet everybody from Chuck D
and Flavor Flav to Eric Sermon and Terminator X. I got their autographs. Flavor
was walking around with a Muppet Babies boom box, listening to Public Enemy's
"It Takes a Nation of Millions," which hadn't come out yet. People were coming
up to me saying, "Hey, man, check out my tape." Like, "You must be
somebody:" I felt like an equal, in a certain sense. I felt like people were looking
at me like, "Oh, you could be in the biz," or, "You're a Dj? OK, cool. Check out
my new record." Nobody had ever treated me like that before.
All of a sudden there was a huge melee. I remember Oras running around
the lobby going, "Josh, where are you, man? Don't do this to me!" I was
following him going, "I'm right here! Stop! I'm right here!" And he just kept
running around in circles because he couldn't see me. Then bottles were flying
and all kinds of shit was jumping off. The cops showed up, and the last thing I
saw was these two dudes pull up in a Cadillac and pop the trunk. And that's
when I went, "It's time to go!"
Yeah! [laughs] Wow.
I don't know what happened or what that was all about. We were driving home,
and Oras was like, "Ah, man, I'm so sorry." But I was completely OK. It was my
hip-hop moment.
That was my first experience with the industry, with meeting managers and
label reps and promo men; it was my preview to the back end. It was like
somebody raised the curtain up and said, "All right, you can only hang out here
for about four hours, and then you've got to go sit on the other side where the
rest of the people sit." I was hooked, in a whole other sense. Chuck D's looking
at me like, "Damn, how old are you?" I said to him, " `Rebel Without a Pause,'
when you looped this and that...." He's looking at me like, "Goddamn, how do
you know this shit?" Back then, I think I had the attitude like, if you're into rap,
shouldn't you know this?
That's cool that Oras opened up that world to you. Was there anyone else early
on?
In '89, I met a guy named Chris Rivers. Like Oras, he was a black guy from the
Bay Area who ended up at UC Davis. He was aware that I could scratch, and
there were only a few people in Davis that could scratch. I think that, in
retrospect, I must have come off as some sort of idiot savant about hip-hop
because I was so fanatical and so wideeyed-I must have exhibited a lot of
enthusiasm. Chris introduced me to a rapper named Swee D. He had a little
home studio with a four-track and a keyboard. And this dude laid down vocals.
And then I did a scratch. And what we ended up with would have to be the first
released project that I was in any way involved in. It was cassette only. Swee D
also said, "Let me see if you can dance, too." That was the first experience I
had with being in a room with people and them saying, "Do it like this. OK, you're
going to lay out here, come in here."
When did you get your first serious recording equipment?
In late '88, I was hanging out with a friend of my brother, who had a primitive
four-track tape recorder, and he told me about a new Yamaha that was coming
out, an MT-100. It was the affordable option as far as four-track tape recorders
go. I became fixated on that because I started thinking about the mixes I'd be
able to do. So I started saving up money. I had a $10 allowance every week,
and somewhere in there, around late '89, I worked at a pizza parlor. Eventually,
I was able to take it home. From that point on I started messing around with
looping beats. I didn't have a sampler. Basically, I had two cheap, belt-drive JVC
turntables. And when I got the four-track, what I would do is take an old record
with a break and, if you can imagine, I would be cuing it, in my headphone, and
then I'd punch in to record on the four-track on, say, track one. And say the
beat just goes "boom t-gat t-boom boomboom gat," and say that's all I wanted
or that's all that existed on the record. So then I'd punch out in time. "Boom tgat
t-boom boom-boom." Right? Stop the tape, rewind the tape, pull the record
back, cue it to the top, and play the tape, so it'd go "boom t-ba t-boom boom-
boom ba," punch in, "boom t-ba t-boom boom-boom ba," and I'd play the record
again. Then maybe, on the next track, I'd find a vocal scratch. Then, on another
track, I'd layer something else. So, with this technique, I was able to make crude
beats, which weren't always accurate because it depended on if I was exactly
accurate in my punch and my cuing.
The earliest tape I have that was made with the MT-100 is from April 1990. I
remember doing something with Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be
Televised," which is something that a couple other people had already used.
But that was back in an era where it wasn't considered a sin to use what other
people had used. Although, I know that when I heard things that hadn't been
used before, that's when I really started getting interested. At first, you try to
make beats that sound like the beats that you like on records. In the same way,
when you first start scratching, you're imi tating the scratches that you've heard.
I was trying to make beats that sounded like stuff that was out on Def jam or
Profile or Tommy Boy.
Another guy Oras introduced me to was a rapper named Paris. He was the
first person to put me in a real studio. He was from San Francisco and he had
his own little label, called Scarface. He put out a couple records that I liked. One
was "This Beat Is Def" by a group called ATC. It was better than your average
Bay Area stuff, which, to me, just didn't have the right kinetic energy. It didn't
bump, the way stuff from the East Coast or LA did. Paris and I got along pretty
well. He put out an EP called By Night, which was incredible. It had a full-color
jacket and looked professional. Then I didn't see him for a while. Next thing I
knew, I saw his video on MTV. He'd gotten on Tommy Boy and he'd put out an
album called The Devil Made Me Do It. It was very much in the spirit of Public
Enemy-some would say maybe a little too much.
By the time I connected with him again, he was not getting along with Tommy
Boy, and, in fact, he eventually ended up getting off the label. He was starting
work on his next album and he remembered that I was out there making beats
and could scratch. He also had a falling out with his DJ and needed some
scratching. Turns out, I had just gotten a $1,800 Cadillac Sedan de Ville and
was able to drive the 2'/Z hours to East Palo Alto, where his studio was. I'd bring
a bunch of records with me, and he'd be in there working on tracks. I did
scratches and made a lot of beats for him. If you look at the liner notes on
Endtroducing.... I thank Paris for "teaching me `the game.' " What I meant by
that was he taught me that you have to kind of watch your back, when it comes
to making beats for people, and how you choose to get paid. Because, in
retrospect, I got shanked. But I have absolutely no hard feelings about it.
He jerked you around?
Well, the way it worked was that basically he'd call me up and be like, "I need
some beats." Paris would bullshit me and talk about how funny my hair was.
He'd be like, "Yeah, you're not doing shit. Hook that beat up." I'd play him a few
things that I was working on, some samples I thought were cool. And he'd say,
"That one sucks. That one sucks. This one's cool." Then he'd say, "Yeah, run
that onto cassette for me." A lot of times, he'd end up just sampling off the
cassette I gave him. [laughs] And basically, he would pay me a finder's fee for
samples. But, like I said, back then, I wasn't complaining because he was
dealing with me mostly straight. I think deep down he respected what I was
about.
Overall, Oras, Paris and Chris Rivers were probably the three people,
between '86 and '91, that were the main positive forces in my musical evolution.
Chris introduced me to a lot of people that helped further my understanding of
sampling and deejaying and records and what it's about to be down with a crew.
I thank him pretty profusely on the Endtroducing... liner notes. He never said a
discouraging word and always had time for me. There were so many people,
early on in my career, that helped me above and beyond the call. I can only
assume that it must have been my enthusiasm that attracted them to me.
Because, in some ways, it doesn't make any sense, how accommodating and
how helpful people were. All these guys were older to me. They seemed
worldlier. They all had cars and they zoomed around to parties, and I felt like,
"Wow, these cats are really doing it." I felt like I was faking it.
When did you start at UC Davis?
In the summer of 1990. Oras had graduated in '89, so there was about a year-
and-a-half period where there was no hip-hop on the radio at Davis, at least
none of any substance. One day I happened to be at Tower Records in
Sacramento, buying 12-inches. I saw a playlist from KDVS by a guy named DJ
Zen. I was looking at his list, and I was like, "Damn, this guy knows what he's
doing." It's an informed list. It wasn't some stupid shit. I went, "OK, wow,
somebody's back at KDVS like doing stuff again. I'd better check it out." I noted
what time his show was on and I started tuning in. And at some point, just like
with Oras, I called him up, and I started talking to him. I went to the station and
checked out his show. It was good. He wasn't trying to mix like Oras had. He
was just playing stuff. And he definitely had a political slant, as well, which, back
then in hip-hop that was very normal. For people with an ax to grind or that
needed a soapbox to stand on, hip-hop was a convenient conveyor of the
message at the time. To some degree, it took a little bit of the fun out of it, but
some of the music was still compelling, and some of the politics was compelling,
so it was all good. Jeff and I started hanging around, and eventually I asked him
if I could play some of my things. And he was intrigued to learn that I was a DJ
and could scratch, and he started playing my stuff on the air, little tracks here
and there that I had been working on on the four-track.
I worked on tracks my whole freshman year. I thought that maybe I could mix
like some of the guys I heard on I MEL. I thought that I could scratch like a lot of
the people that I heard on record and that although my beats were not as tight
as people who were using samplers, at least I was using interesting stuff. I sat
down at a computer because my neurons were really firing back then, as they
do when you first start college, and I wrote all this propaganda about how I was
going to take over the hip-hop business. Not in an arrogant way or a pushy way.
I tried to put it in political terms-that I was trying to start a musical revolution, and
who's going to join me, kind of thing. It was a little manifesto, very much along
the lines of something that would have made DJ Zen happy.
Around this time I went to KMEL, which was very influential in the urban
market in San Francisco. Somehow, I got a meeting with the program director. I
strolled right into his office and said, "You need to hire me. Your mixes are
getting weak. You know, I'm what you need." The guy was looking at this 18-
year-old kid, just like, "This guy's hilarious. I'm going to give him a shot." I
started doing real complicated four-track mixes that go on for 45 minutes.
Immediately, I would call a label like Tommy Boy, Profile, Wild Pitch, Rap-a-Lot,
and they'd say, "You do mixes on I MEL? Let's get you all our product
immediately." Because they knew that KT'MIEL was a big, important force. It
was a great calling card. Suddenly, everybody was my friend [laughs], all these
radio promo guys at all the labels. So now, not only was I getting records from
these people, but also I was getting posters, stickers and any type of promo
item that any of them came up with. In return, I put their music on the air
because that's what it's all about.
I sent one of my demos to Source magazine, which then was very much
underground. They had a column called "Unsigned Hype," and it was where
people would send their demos and hopefully get a little write-up and then try
a nd parlay that into a deal. I submitted a tape to "Unsigned Hype." It's
interesting because, I think it would have been '98 or '99, Source did a 10-year
issue that featured profiles of everybody that had been in "Unsigned Hype" that
went on to do anything. And I was in that. I was glad they didn't forget about me!
[laughs] But people like Notorious B.I.G. started out there. It was cool to see all
that company.
Did you get responses to your demos?
I sent demos to Tommy Boy, Profile and Wild Pitch-and every single demo that
I sent out, I got some sort of job. I also sent one to another guy at the Source
named Dave "Funken" Klein. He was the main promo man at Def Jam. Initially,
Funken Klein wrote for a magazine called Dance Music Report, which was
dedicated to club DJs. I liked his style because he was very honest. If
something wasn't good, he would say it's no good. It's hard to find people in
positions of power who are actually able to exercise their opinion without any
risk of political repercussion. When the Source started, he started writing for
them because, obviously, it made sense to. He was writing about hip-hop. He
was a well-respected guy. It seemed like everybody the world over has been
done a solid by Funken Klein, at one point or another. So I sent him a tape. And
it just so happened that he had just been asked to start a rap division of
Hollywood Records, in LA, which was Disney's record label, oddly enough. The
rap division was going to be called Hollywood BASIC.
What year was that?
'91. The next thing I know, a guy named Albee from Tommy Boy is asking me to
remix Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock," which is one of the most influential
records ever made, bar none. Certainly one of the most influential records of
the 80s. Tommy Boy was doing a 10-year anniversary project with "Planet
Rock." It came out in '82, and Tommy Boy was looking to do something to come
out in '92. And so they were getting DJs from all over the place to remix it. In the
back of my mind, I'm thinking, Gee, this sounds like maybe not such a hot idea
because it's like asking people to reinterpret the Mona Lisa. It's a classic. What
could I possibly add? Nonetheless, I accepted because I didn't want to blow this
chance at an inroad with Tommy Boy. I agreed to do it, and this is where the
Paris thing comes around full circle. This was the first time I had set foot in a
real studio on my own. Because I didn't know where else to do it, I ended up
going to the same studio that Paris used, in East Palo Alto. Tommy Boy gave
me a dub of the original 2-inch reel. I had no idea what reels were. This was all
so new to me. I had no idea how we were going to do it.
Didn't you have an engineer to work with?
Yeah, there was an engineer. Fortunately, he was able to help navigate. I didn't
know how to sync things up. I didn't know how I was going to do it. Tommy Boy
gave me $750 up front, and that was going to pay for food, gas and studio
rental for that one day. I had to go in and do it all in one day I was terrified. But
we got through it. And the result, I thought, was OK. I thought it was pretty good.
I mean, back then, I felt like everything I did was OK. It was hard for me to really
distinguish what was shit-hot from what was not quite hitting. Since the only
feedback I had ever had was positive-I don't know what I was expecting. But I
was crushed because I sent the result to Albee at Tommy Boy, and then I
couldn't get him on the phone for two weeks, and then, when I did get him on the
phone, he goes, "Uh, yeah, I got it, I got it. You know, we were all real
disappointed." It felt like somebody letting the air out of a big balloon. I just go,
"Oh, what? Really? What do you mean?" And he's like, "Yeah, it just wasn't
happening." I was crushed. It was also when I learned a major, major lesson,
which hopefully to a greater degree than lesser has remained in place
throughout my entire career: never do anything just for the money.
So what happened with Funken Klein and Hollywood BASIC?
When Funken Klein got the tape he called to say, "I'm starting this label, and I
want to get you some work. So stay tuned." About a month later I went with Jeff
Chang to the Gavin Convention, which is the big college radio trade show. This
was the first time, other than when I went to the big rap show in Oakland in '88,
that I was actually rubbing shoulders with the hip-hop elite. I had people giving
me demos, because the general thought was that, if you're there, you must be
someone. And, of course, I had the KNIEL calling card. So I was seen, you
know, meeting people like Albee for the first time. It was incredible because, I
mean, I'm sitting here talking to Russell Simmons. I'm talking to KRS One. SIC
Search is going down the block to get a cheeseburger. I met Funken Klein.
I remember leaving the convention thinking, I can't believe what I just went
through! Not too long after, Funken Klein left a message on my answering
machine: "I need you to do a mega-mix of all this new stuff we've got coming
out. I think I can get you 3 grand. All right, call me" I was flipping off the wall. But
like I said, after the Tommy Boy thing, the money-if I wasn't into it, it wouldn't
have mattered. But the fact that I was doing what I loved to do and was basically
doing anyway, for KMEL, for free, the fact that people were offering me like real
money for it now was incredible. And I thought it was just so cool of him
because he knew I was just some guy from nowhere, just out of high school,
with no equipment, and I'd be like, "Dave, are you sure it's OK? You know, I'm
sending you a cassette." He'd be like, "Yeah, I think it's great" He thought it was
so cool. He thought it was the most grassroots shit that he could ever be
involved with.
What did you give him?
I met a guy named James Presley, who was an associate of Jeff Chang's. He
had every single volume of Ultimate Beats and Breaks, which were a real
influential series of bootlegs that came out in New York. They were the
blueprints for what everybody was sampling from, from '86 to '91. In the
kindness of his heart, James loaned me the entire series for me to absorb,
digest and spit out in the form of a track called "Lesson Four," which was my
first record. I gave it to Funk-en Klein and said, "I did this remix. I think you
should use it " Much in the same way as the KMEL thing, where I just walked in,
and I said, "You need to hire me." Dave called back and said, "Yeah, it's cool. I
can give you a little bit of money for it." And, boom. So that was it. Now the
problem was, "Lesson Four" was coming out around the time of the first big
sample scares, where De La Soul was getting sued for a ton of money by the
Turtles, and the Beastie Boys were getting sued by Jimmy Castor, and
suddenly the whole issue of the legality of sampling was first rearing its ugly
head. And, of course, it only had to do with the fact that rap was now making
money. Hollywood BASIC sent me a fax saying, "We need you to list all the
samples and the songwriter credits." I wrote back saying, "Well, there's like 80
songs I used on `Lesson Four.' " They go, "Well, just do it anyway." It took me
three hours. I wrote it all out. And what they ended up deciding to do was to only
put it out promo because if they're not making money off the record, I guess the
same copyright laws don't apply. They pressed 800 copies and sent it around.
And, to make the most out of this opportunity, because this was the first record
with my name on it as being the artist, I had my man Stan Green draw up a flyer.
And true to the political roots of where I was at at the time, it said, "Stop the
rape of hip-hop!" [laughs] It had a graffiti portrait of myself with a hat on and
these big boots, which I couldn't afford at the time but everybody else was
wearing. When I became known, it was a desired record for people to find
because there were so few made.
And then, in quick succession, I did quite a few things for Hollywood BASIC.
I did a mega-mix, which was only available on a promo CD they made called
Basic Beats. I got paid well to do that. The checks would have Mickey Mouse
on them [laughs] because Hollywood BASIC was a division of Disney. I turned
around and put all the money back into equipment. I also put it into gas, since I
had that big old Cadillac.
Were you known as DJ Shadow, at this point?
No, just Shadow.
And why "Shadow"?
A lot of producers, like Herbie Lovebug and Marley Marl, started coming out
with records where they were trying to push themselves to the forefront. And for
whatever reason, probably another political reason or something, I felt that that
was missing the point of what a producer's role should be. So "Shadow"
represented the fact that I thought that producers should stick to being in the
background. A producer being acknowledged as a celebrity just felt tasteless to
me, at the time.
Do you still feel that way?
I still would like to think that. I mean, when it comes to appearing in public, it's
just something that I had to get over. I think it's important to articulate to people
that you're not afraid to put it all out on the line and do it live. That's something
that you just have to do. And it's served me well. In my career there's been
times when doing a tour has been just the right injection to get people to
acknowledge what I was doing. It's not something I'm entirely comfortable with.
But, when the chips are down, you've just got to do it, whether it's for 50 people
or 10,000. And actually, around '90, one of the first classes I took in college
was a public speaking course. I took it because I felt that it'd be important to
master something that I was always really nervous about. Not master, but at
least be able to tolerate it.
Did you feel like, at this point, you were kind of following your own thing, that
there weren't a lot of other people doing what you were doing?
Yeah. I did. But at the same time, by that point, I had been doing demos for
other labels, like Wild Pitch and Tommy Boy and Profile, and getting a lot of
negative feedback because what I was doing was too "out there." And that was
frustrating me. And that made my relationship with Funken Klein even more
valuable because this was a guy that I felt like was just as much to the core as
everybody else and just as much on the forefront. I valued his opinion probably
more than anybody else's. He was basically saying, "You're on the right track.
Keep going." Whereas everybody else was telling me, "Nah, dumb it down a
little." And Dave Klein was sitting there going, "No, no, no. Keep going." It felt
like I could do no wrong with this guy, so I just kept going to the extreme that I
wanted to and feeling encouraged to do so by him.
When did you get involved with [UNKLE/Mo' Wax chief] James Lavelle?
Well, the next thing I did was a track of entirely my own production-not a remix,
not a mega-mix-for a group from Africa. Funken Klein decided to sign a rap
group from Zimbabwe, called Zimbabwe Legit. I did the track all at home, and
when I felt it was finished, I sent it off. I considered it to be the follow-up to
"Lesson Four," which was very B-boy, very break-beat-y, very kind of dance-y
in its own kind of break-dance-y way. I wanted to set a precedent where
everything that I did was a complete 180 from the last thing I did. So "The
Legitimate Mix," as it was called, was entirely different. It was very down-tempo,
very moody, a lot of spoken-word samples.
The record wasn't a hit. It was a good concept, but I think people in America
don't care what people outside of America have to say, basically, when it
comes to rap. It's still that way today. But what the track did do, in addition to
being yet another calling card for myself, was attract James Lavelle. He heard
the song about a year after it came out. A new scene, which I knew nothing
about, called acid jazz, had started in England and had crossed over into
America in some of the more underground clubs.
A guy in LA named Orlando, who had a label called Brass, played "The
Legitimate Mix" for James, who apparently was blown away by it, at least based
on all the conversations we've had since. He's always described "The
Legitimate Mix" as being exactly what he wanted to hear on record. With Mo'
Wax, James would make only a couple thousand copies of all the early stuff
that he put out. It was all acid jazz, Gilles Peterson kind of stuff. Which didn't
have much to do with hip-hop. But James grew up admiring hiphop and he
wanted to be associated with more hip-hoppy stuff than just the acid jazz he
was doing. So, like I said, it was a year later, and by this point, Funken Klein's
health was going downhill. [Funken Klein eventually passed away in 1995 after
an eight-year battle with cancer.] Hollywood BASIC, which had put out many a
legendary rap record, was going the way of the dodo, along with his health. I
was starting to panic a little bit because I no longer had Hollywood BASIC to
rely on as an outlet. All these other labels that I kept doing demos for were just
getting more and more conservative. I just didn't know where else to turn. Enter
James Lavelle, who called me out of the blue.
We hit it off over the phone. He was impressed because of my connection
with Funken Klein and with my understanding of the UK hip-hop scene. What
made Lavelle successful was his unbelievable drive; he was like a hummingbird.
He had absolute love for music. He was voracious. He asked me to do
something for him. He said, "I want you to follow what you were doing with `The
Legitimate M1ix.' " I said, "Well, that's a real relief because everything I've been
trying to do lately, people just keep trying to get me to simplify it or use more
recognizable samples or this or that"
Did you start recording for him then?
I had just met Dan "the Automator" [Nakamura] in San Francisco. Automator
had put out a few records in the late 80s. His first was called "Music to Be
Murdered By," which was a cut-and-paste thing with some Alfred Hitchcock
dialogue. It was really good. I completely ingested that record. When I met him I
recited his entire career back to himlike I did with everybody that I was
impressed with back then. I don't think Automator had ever met anyone he didn't
already know as a peer who had taken what he had done that seriously. From
that initial meeting, Automator was very cool and accommodating with me and
said, "If you ever need a studio, let me know" And it was at his studio where I
recorded "In/Flux," which was the first record that I worked on for James
Lavelle-and it ended up being the first single for Mo' Wax that I did. It was the
first record with non-jazzy leanings, it would be safe to say, that James put out.
It was a departure for him. It was well received in England [in '93] because acid
jazz was kind of starting to annoy a lot of people, and it was a fresh sound, I
think, for a lot of people out there.
I looked up to Automaton. He was a guy who had been to New York in the
80s buying hip-hop records, he had a lot of breaks that I didn't know and he had
a knowledge that was a lot deeper than most people in the Bay Area. He knew
what he was doing. He was the first person I knew that had ProTools, and he
taught me a lot about recording techniques, taught me a lot about how to sync
up machines.
Thanks to Paris, I got my first sampler. He picked me up in Davis and drove
me to San Francisco, to the Guitar Center, and helped me negotiate the price
down for an Akai MPC. He wasted a whole day driving me all over the damn
place, which was really, really cool of him. And that's how I got my sampler.
"In/Flux" was the first record that I did on it. The MPC wouldn't really catch on,
with hip-hop at large, for another few years. So, again, I felt lucky on the
technological curve, and was doing stuff on the machine before about 95
percent of producers were.
When did you finally meet James in person?
He had come from England to LA to DJ, and he took the opportunity to head
north and visit me. One thing that I remember about when we met is that I was
playing a tape I had made of a David Axelrod song. James, who had never
heard of David Axelrod before, said, "What's this you're listening to? Oh man,
OK. Wow! This is amazing. Where can I get it? When are we going to go
record shopping?" So right from the beginning we got along real well.
In late '93 I went with James to do a tour of Germany. It was a really
important trip, because it cemented James' and my relationship. It was eye
opening. Nobody in my family had ever been outside of America. It was not
something I ever thought I'd be able to do. Growing up, my mom always would
say, "Oh, I'd love to be able to travel." But we couldn't afford it. So, I felt honored
and lucky to be able to go out there. I felt like my music had taken me
somewhere that I never dreamed I'd be able to go.
How were you received?
The only people that knew who I was were like the people who booked us. And
they probably made an effort to discover who I was, since they paid for me to
be there. But James is the type of person who likes to bring new people into his
life to keep him constantly learning and evolving. I guess at that particular time
he thought, "Well, I've got to do this tour in Germany. But I really want to do it
with somebody who would be fun and fresh and new. Maybe I can teach him
something. And maybe he can teach me something."
I flew to London first to meet James, and I remember I was so wound up
before I got there that I didn't sleep the night before, and then I couldn't sleep on
the plane, because I had never been on an international flight. And it didn't get
any better because I landed and James picked me up, and even though I was
feeling ill from lack of sleep I just couldn't get enough of what London looked
like, and the fact that I was actually in another country, which seems kind of
quaint to me now. But at that time, it was really exciting. I had no idea where I
was in London. I remember feeling nauseated by all the diesel fumes, because
they run on diesel out there. Just walking down the street, I felt like I was
suffocating.
So, I landed in London at noon. At about 5, we had to get on a plane for a
gig in Germany that night. We got there about 8, and the promoter-his name
was Marley-picked us up at the airport and drove us around. He was with us on
the whole tour. It was through Marley, and through James, that I started to just
trip off of the lifestyle of these guys and the club scene and the drug culture
involved with it all. I was like "Whoa! This is definitely not in my background."
What kind of drugs? Just pot? Or something harder?
No. There was harder stuff that I saw later. Mostly, they'd be driving around,
burning hash. [laughs] It was such a different life than in California, where the
rules are so strict.
OK, so I still hadn't slept. We got into Germany, and the gig was actually in
East Berlin. The wall had been down for a few years, but when you cross the
line everything gets a lot weirder.
Kind of like in Wings of Desire?
Right. Exactly. To promote the gig that night, I did an interview in an old military
bunker that had been converted into a radio station after the wall came down. It
turns out that MC jamalski, a guy whose records I knew, was at the same radio
show. I felt like I was completely in some fantasy world, because I couldn't
figure out what the hell he was doing there. So then, the gig started at 1 in the
morning. There was another MIo' Wax act called Palm Skin Productions that
was the headliner. They were a real acid jazz group, with all the trappings: a
bongo player, guys with the certain type of goatee, the whole hippy vibe. But
they were cool. And then, I remembered falling asleep against the speaker at
2:30 in the morning; I had just had it. People were stepping on me, but I couldn't
move. And I had to DJ-James put me on at 4 in the morning. I just played hip-
hop. I didn't know what I was supposed to do. I had no idea how to cater to that
crowd.
But over the course of the tour, I watched James and how he would read the
crowd. He was on the mic quite a bit. He would tell me things like, "Don't play
more than like three funk 45s in a row, because people will desert you." One
Might I went against James' advice and played six funk records in a row, and
the crowd seemed really into it. At the end of the night, I got on the mic and said,
"Thanks for being funky." Which is kind of a cornball thing to say. And I
remember somebody going, "Fuck you." I got all embarrassed, like, Geez, the
one time I get on the mic, and this is the result I get! The person was just
messing around, but it still affected me in some weird way.
What did you work on after "In/Flux"?
"Lost and Found," which is definitely one of my favorite tracks. When I did it, I
thought James was going to hate it, actually. I thought I was really doing
something that was flying in the face of the whole acid jazz vibe. I thought that
whole scene was really weak. Especially when hip-hop was so strong, and I'd
be trying to play hip-hop to audiences in Europe. And after two songs, they'd
just start giving up on me. This was when really important hip-hop records were
coming out, the New York sound. It was a real exciting time, and I identified with
that stuff. I didn't really understand all this acid jazz kind of dopey sentimentality.
When I started working on "Lost and Found" I was really depressed. I was
coming to the end of my college career and I was starting to get concerned
about what I was going to be doing with my life-as far as being able to raise
money, because I knew I wanted to be making music. I knew that going to
school was something that, in my family, you just had to do. I mean, my mom's a
teacher. It wasn't an option not to go to college. But, at the same time, I realized
while I was there that music was all I wanted to do. I'm glad I went through
school and got my degree. But, at the same time, I was just sitting there going,
Well, OK, I've got another year to go. And I had already kind of figured it out.
What were you studying?
Rhetoric and communications, which, if you go to UCLA, means you're taking
film courses and interning at exciting places. But at UC Davis, it means learning
about Greek mythology It's not very hands-on. It's not very applied. It's more
theory-based, which is fine. But it wasn't going to help get me some sort of
media job that I wanted. I felt depressed. I was kind of heartbroken about some
relationships I was going through with some girls at the time. It's funny, because
you can be really depressed and make a song, and it doesn't necessarily sound
real miserable. But when you hear "Lost and Found," you can tell what's going
on. It's pretty dark. It's definitely got a kind of an emotional edge to it. I thought,
OK, this is really going to test James. Let's see if he's really down with what I'm
trying to do here. And to my surprise, he called me up after he got it, and he's
like, "This is even better than `In/Flux.' It's great." And I was truly surprised, but
also pleased, because I wanted him to like what I was doing. I just thought that
nobody could possibly identify with "In/Flux" and "Lost and Found." I didn't think
he'd be able to appreciate both on my terms.
It wound up on some critics' Top 50 Records of the Year. People were
throwing it up there with Oasis records and all the other stuff that was popular in
the British music scene at the time. It felt really nice. From reading British
magazines when I grew up, I knew that you could be dragged through the mud
by one person and hoisted on their shoulders by the next person. So, I took it all
with a substantial grain of salt. But it helped Mo' Wax, and it elevated me in
James's eyes because he was putting out a lot of other stuff, but nothing else
was getting the same kind of acclaim. This was when the press coined the term
"triphop," which was intriguing at the time. From then on out, pretty much
everything James did for the next few years was-he couldn't miss.
Mo' Wax moved into some nicer offices, and in '95, James hired a guy
named Steve Finan, who used to manage the Jungle Brothers and Madness.
James decided Steve was going to be the guy to clean up the royalty problems.
And, ultimately, the plan was to rescue Mo' Wax from itself, and from James,
and make it more of a viable business. Steve became a paternalistic figure to
James. And he was able to take all of the money problems and all the business
things that James didn't want to deal with and put them into the hands of
professionals. But what that meant was that James was essentially doing a deal
with A&M Records. In retrospect, what that meant was that James was signing
away his acts into their catalog, and I don't think that he understood that he was
doing that. Because to this day, James doesn't own any of the stuff he put out
on his own label, which is fucked up. But that's what major labels do: You start
making a buzz, and they come along and say that they're going to help you to do
this and that. And in return, you give them everything.
It was an important time, obviously, because some real money was starting
to get tossed around. But I did my deal for what was, in retrospect, peanuts-
although it was sorted out later. I would use that advance to pay for what was to
be Endtroducing... But I didn't have a manager, I didn't have a lawyer. It was still
very much a handshake kind of deal, even though I obviously had to sign,
because A&M wasn't going to give me money without signing a piece of paper.
11
Did you feel at all queasy at the time like, "Am I doing the right thing?" Or did it
seem that this was the thing to do?
It felt very much like it was the thing to do. James was there for me. He was, I'm
sure, telling Steve, "Shadow's the one. You've got to make sure that whatever
he wants, give it to him." I'm sure that was going on, because that's just how
James was back then. He wasn't even trying to hide it from me. I'd be in the
other room and he would be talking on the phone, and I'd hear these kinds of
comments. But I had some concerns. I knew I was doing a deal that was going
to buy me some time. I just didn't know to what extent, because it's 10 years
later, and here I am, still under the same deal.
Anyway, my next record for i\Io' Wax was "What Does Your Soul Look
Like." I was happy with "In/Flux," even though it was a tough record to make.
With "Lost and Found" I thought, OK, this is really more close to what I want to
try and say By the time "What Does Your Soul Look Like" came out, I thought
that was probably about as close as I was ever going to come to a sound that I
had in my head. It came out as a single, which annoyed me at the time to no
end, because it was 32 minutes long. Ever since "Lost and Found," James had
said that he wanted me to do an album. And I thought 'What Does Your Soul
Look Like" was the start of that album. But then James said, "Steve thinks you
should do one more single before you make an album to increase your
reputation to the press and to everybody else." I said, "OK, but it's 32 minutes
long. I mean, that's half of an album." I also couldn't swallow the fact that it was
being sold at a single price, because I was like, "Well, that's at least an EP." I
just felt that I was giving away the farm. But I think they were right. In the short
term, it kind of hurt to have that come out and then realize you're back at zero,
when you have to make an album. I felt, Jesus Christ, I don't know if I can do
this. Because with "Lost and Found" and "What Does Your Soul Look Like," all
the neurons were firing.
What were you drawing on for inspiration at that point?
Honestly? I think back then, I was really drawing on depression. I'm not going to
say I ever had a serious problem with it. But, I found that it served its purpose
inspiration-wise. It is something that you've got to be careful with, because I find
that like love, or anything else, you start allowing yourself to be depressed for
the sake of the music. And then the music, and the whole process of making it,
is making you depressed. It just becomes this kind of circle. After a while, you
can't figure out what's inspiring what any more. Whether the music's inspiring
your depression, or the...
Like a Mobius strip...
Exactly. I started to recognize that "What Does Your Soul Look Like" was my
depression masterpiece. [laughs]
Can you tell me how James's UNKLE evolved?
I was doing a few little projects here and there for James, kind of as favors.
Whenever I was in England, he would say, "Hey, scratch something." Or, "What
do you think of this?" Or, "Do a beat real quick." This is when I started
understanding UNKLE. UNKLE, which has existed at least since '95 [putting out
two albums, 1998s Psyence Fiction and 2003's Never, Never, L.andj was
always essentially James with other people doing the work. That's not meant to
sound any worse than it does. Initially, the guy doing most of the work was a guy
named Kudo, from a Japanese hiphop group called Major Force. And he was,
at this point, living in England, and doing stuff with James. They did a remix of
"Karma Koma" by Massive Attack. That was a big deal for James because
Massive Attack was another group, like the Beastie Boys, that he looked at as
being the ultimate of what he wanted to do. So, for him to do it, it was just
another feather in his cap. When I was in the studio for the remix, they asked
me to do a scratch, and I did a scratch. The next thing I know, the record
comes out with my name splashed on it. I thought, Wait a minute. Shouldn't I get
paid or something? But it wasn't that big a deal. Nothing was that big a deal
back then when it came to money or anything like that.
When did you finally start putting Endtroducing... together?
In '95, I was done with school. I had all of my equipment at my little rat hole
apartment in Davis. And now, for the first time, I could make music whenever I
wanted. For a long time, that's pretty much all I did. During the day, I'd go looking
for records and mess around. Then I'd usually work from 9 at night to 2 in the
morning-not tremendously long hours, but they were very productive. By now, I
knew the MIPC like the back of my hand.
I sampled a lot of funk stuff that I was into at the time. I sampled a really long
South Korean break-beat record that I've never found another copy of. The
sample on "Building Steam" is from a kind of a singer-songwriter thing-a lot of
stuff that I was sampling was outside of the soul LP vein. Because still, a lot of
people were only sampling stuff like PFunk and Sly Stone, and, you know, more
obscure records by groups like the Nite-Liters, or early Kool and the Gang stuff
that's hard to find.
But I was trying to find a sound different from everybody else's, so the
source material had to be different from everybody else's. I was looking for
records that I felt like were really obscure. Whether those were funk 45s, which
nobody was up on yet, or kind of weird rock albums.
Like what albums?
Well, I should probably only talk about stuff that's cleared or was eventually
found out.
I recognize the song "Love Suite" from the English band Nirvana on "Stem/Long
Stem."
Yeah, that's right. And that's been cleared. I used the melody. Nirvana were part
of the whole psych-pop movement in the 60s, which has become popular again.
Their whole catalog's been reissued on CD. I've actually stayed in contact with
those guys. They usually come to my show [laughs] when I play in England.
What is it about a song that moves you to sample it?
When I sample something, it's because there's something ingenious about it.
And if it isn't the group as a whole, it's that song. Or, even if it isn't the song as a
whole, it's a genius moment, or an accident or something that makes it just
utterly unique to the other trillions of hours of records that I've plowed through.
Did you record all of Endtroducing... at your apartment?
Once I had put together some of the initial tracks, I started going to Dan the
Automator's studio in San Francisco. I would bring my samples and a bunch of
records, and start putting things together within the more pressurized
environment of having a time-clock ticking-I've always found that that's handy to
help you finish things. I was comfortable there. I knew my way around the
equipment for the most part. But I still was trying out new things, some of which
didn't really lead anywhere. But I still felt like I was learning and doing new
things, technology-wise.
Like what kind of things?
Well, Dan was really, really into ProTools. He was always upgrading that, and
always getting in new recording equipment. He's kind of a minor tech-head, so
he's always got new ways of doing things. And that was all beneficial. To me,
the interesting thing about working on Endtroducing... was the schedule that I
got into. I'd finish working on a track at 3 or 4 in the morning, and then I'd drive
from San Francisco all the way back to Davis, which took a couple hours. And
that put me in a weird state of mind, because I'd be driving back at this late
hour, watching the sun come up. It's a long drive, and you get kind of
melancholy, you know?
Yes.
Driving along like that on your own, all that time. I think it served the album quite
well, because it gave me a lot of time to reflect, both on the way there and on
the way back. It allowed a certain space.
Would you listen to playbacks? Or would you just let there be space?
It totally depended on where I was at in the song. If I was working on final mixes,
I liked to hear it as I was driving to the studio. I like to listen to it as much as I
can. But sometimes when I left the studio, I would love to listen to the funk tapes
I had made that week. I was getting a lot of inspiration from that, and from hip-
hop. It's funny, because to this day, I can spend eight hours in the studio and
when I'm driving home, I still want to listen to music really loud. Just not
necessarily my music. Or, sometimes, only my music.
Even though "What Does Your Soul Look Like" came out as a single, you still
used it for the album.
I thought, I'm not going to completely leave this out because a lot of people don't
buy singles. So I used "Part 4" and "Part 1."
Tell me about "Organ Donor."
It was something that I thought nobody was going to like. I thought it was
something that James was going to be like, "Yeah, I like most of the album, but
this one, I don't know. It's a little too, I don't know-a little too cheeky or
something." But, I remember James telling me-and I've heard him repeat it a
few times in interviews-that he got the album and listened to it with one of the
label heads, and when "Organ Donor" came on, he said they both just started
jumping around the room. [laughs] I was glad to hear that, because I thought it
was just kind of...light. The What Does Your Soul Look Like EP was an
undeniably heavy record. But I wanted Endtroducing... to be well rounded,
because it was a longer piece. And you know, if you're going to do a half-hour
record, you can get away with being heavy throughout the whole thing. But, an
hour record, you need to mix it up.
Incidentally, I wasn't quite sure how long the record should be, because I
grew up in the vinyl era where records were 45 minutes. But, by the mid-90s it
was common for records to be quite a bit longer. So I decided to use The
Chronic by Dr. Dre as the architect for how long my record should be.
What did that clock in as?
About 62 minutes. I decided, well, that's a great classic, high-selling record
[laughs] and if that's what it is, that's 11 11 what it is. So that's what I worked
toward.
So, you kind of had that in the back of your mind, as far as when you were
trying to winnow it down, that Endtroducing... would be a little bit over an hour
long?
Yes. I didn't want anybody to be like, "Oh, he didn't satisfy us," you know? I knew
a lot of people were looking forward to the record. Again, at this time, the
honeymoon with the UK press was in effect. I didn't want the length of the album
to be an excuse for people not to like the record. But also, you just have to go
with what feels right. There were other tracks that could have gone on the
record. But I just felt like that they were repeating the same point. I find
sequencing an album really, really difficult. And often, very heartbreaking,
because you know, when you put everything together, that's when you finally go,
Geez, it really lives up to its potential, or what I thought it was going to be in my
mind. Or, on the other hand, Geez, I really see where there are problems. And
the one cool thing about Endtroducing... is that it was the most effortless album
sequence that I've ever done-of any album that I've ever had a hand in
sequencing. It was just like every decision was the only decision. Like, Oh, this
has to follow this because of this, and this has to follow this because of this. I
did the whole album sequence in one day, one evening, at Dan's. And, ever
since then, it's been nothing but a fantastic struggle to get an album into a
sequence that seems right, and lives up to these expectations that you've had
for yourself for the last two years, or however long it takes to make the record.
What about "Stem/Long Stem"?
One thing that I've never talked about is that "Stem" was intended to be a vocal
track. I actually wrote lyrics and everything. And there's actually a version that
exists with vocals on it.
With rapping? Or, with singing?
No. It's neither, in a weird kind of way. It's more like rhythmic poetry, but not
rapping. It just never ended up panning out. I did both versions. I remember
playing the vocal version for X [Chief XCe1 from Blackalicious]. He was like,
"Yeah, it's cool." But over time, I think that I just couldn't handle it. It just was
almost too personal. It was just too close. And so, I opted for the instrumental
version. It was probably a good thing, because that track is the one that
somebody in Hollywood is always wanting to use for some scary movie.
[laughs] Not that that's all that matters, but "Stem" was particularly important to
articulate a cinematic feeling. So, yeah, somewhere on a DAT there's a vocal
version of "Stem," which I don't intend to ever see the light of day. But, you don't
know. You never know.
How did "Midnight in a Perfect World" come together?
That was definitely the oldest track in progress. In its basic form, it was created
between '94 and '95. For whatever reason, I decided that it didn't carry quite the
right energy. Or it was maybe too similar in vibe to "Part 1," which is the last
track on Endtroducing.... "Midnight" ended up being the last song to be
completed for the album because I was having a real hard time figuring out a
bass line, or what I was going to do with the lower frequencies. I remember that
being the most kind of profound hurdle in the making of the album, to the point
where I was almost in despair. In fact, I was in despair. And, this is something
that I give Dan a lot of credit for. During this time, Automator hadn't put out his
Dr. Octagon project yet. He didn't have the reputation that he does now He was
an idol to me, but not very many people knew who he was. And he didn't have a
lot of people coming around his studio. That was great, because it made him
available all the time, while I was working. And since I was using his studio, he
couldn't do anything, as far as making music himself. So, he'd usually be
watching TV or something, and he'd always be looking forward to the time when
we would go have dinner. Because you know, it would give him something to do.
[laughs] His studio was a really small, blue room. He doesn't live there any
more-this was at his parents' house. And you had to climb a ladder into this tiny
little box that he had created. It was great, though. I loved working in there
because it felt like you were closed off from the world, and you had everything
within an arm's reach. You didn't have to walk around and move things around.
Everything was right there.
One time I climbed down the ladder and then walked up the stairs to Dan's
bedroom, and I was like, "I don't think I can do this. I think this album's going to
just collapse on its own weight." I remember him talking me down, because I
was starting to hyperventilate about it. Just going, "This fucking track is not
working. It's not-" And I always knew that "Midnight" was the glue that held the
record together. I felt that if I didn't get it right that the whole album wasn't going
to work. All this was going through my head, and I remember him saying, "OK,
don't worry about it. Let's just go get something to eat. You know, just calm
down. We'll figure it out while we're eating, and then, we'll come back and we'll
make something happen." And so we did. We went to a Mexican restaurant,
and we talked about the track. The bass line playing over my sample just didn't
sound right at all, and that's what got me concerned. So, we came back and we
tried filtering the bass line out of the existing sample...
You mean you EQ'd it so that you could bring the bass up, or something?
No, basically you re-track the exact same sample, but filter it to the point where
it is a super-low frequency: And that was exactly what "Midnight" needed, and if
for no other reason, that's why I am so thankful that Automator was there while I
was doing this. I mean, it really was a case of me pretty much going in and
asking only a couple of questions a night. But, when I had to ask a question it
was very important that I got a good answer. So, for that reason alone, I always
give him a lot of credit, and a lot of thanks.
Was James giving you feedback?
At one point, I was out touring Australia with James. I had about a 20-minute
tape of the album in progress. I had parts of "Midnight." I had pieces of "Building
Steam," "Stem" and I think I had pieces of "The Number Song"and possibly
"Changeling." There wasn't a lot of scratching or any overdubbed stuff yet.
James was eager to hear it, and he was pretty positive about what he heard.
I finished the rest of the album after I got back from Australia. I worked on it
pretty much nonstop between January and May of '96. I mastered it in the third
week of hlay. And then, I went to England for the entire summer to start
deejaying again, build the name back up and let people know what I had been up
to. I wanted to be around for every facet that was involved in preparing the
release of the album. I definitely made myself completely and fully avail able.
And my then-girlfriend, now wife, came out to England for six weeks for that.
And it's kind of a fun time in our memory because we were living there-summer
in London. I can think of worse places to be. [laughs] It was a very exciting time.
I felt like I was in the eye of the storm. It was also the first time that I ever had
an anxiety attack. I remember doing press in Germany. We were in Berlin in a
hotel room, and I lost it a little bit.
Why?
Because I was talking about myself for hours-literally eight hours a day. It
becomes exhausting. And people were throwing me hard questions, and
questioning my value system. They want to know what makes you tick. They
want to know if you're a fraud. They want to know if you're copying this person
or if you're just a charlatan. They need to know, because they need to know
how to critique your work. They need to know what's behind the curtain. And I
had never revealed any of that kind of stuff before. Heretofore, all the
questions were pretty much as like, "Where are you from?" "What kind of other
music do you listen to?" Real fanzine stuff. Even with the big magazines-I was a
novelty to a lot of the people out there. I think the way that I carried myself was
very unassuming. I was an open book as far as my love for music. But when I
did "What Does Your Soul Look Like" and Endtroducing..., I felt like I tapped into
the core of some stuff that I didn't want to talk about with people. And so, having
to talk about this stuff, or not talk about it, all day long, for day after day after
day, I just broke down. I was lying there thinking about how I had to go through it
again the next day, and I couldn't deal with it. I just couldn't handle it.
What did you do?
I remember lying in bed, and jay Leno being on. I was looking at the curtains,
and all of a sudden, and this sounds like bullshit, but it seemed very real at the
moment. One of the wrinkles in the curtains turned into a face that was giving
me this expression that, at first, made me very angry. And then, very scared. I
didn't know what was happening. I just knew I couldn't breathe. Tears were
streaming. My wife couldn't snap me out of it. It all sounds very dramatic, but it
was such a strange experience. I've never had anything like that, to that level,
since. Although, whenever I have to do press runs in Europe, it messes with me
[laughs] in a really bad way.
The magazines there, unless it's Mojo, tend to be very catty.
Right. They poke fun at you and they like to build you up and then knock you
down. In Europe, people wanted to know, they had to know, what it was like to
be white and make hip-hop. It was a bizarre fixation, I thought.
Did you ever get defensive toward these questions, and start saying, "What is it
to you?"
No. I was very eager to spread a lot of good will, because I thought that the
album was good. I wanted to do right by the record, and I wanted to be a good
ambassador for the record. To that level, I think, I was mostly successful back
then. But doing press for me is difficult. I find it very weird to be so
introspective. I mean, if I had to talk to you about what all this stuff is about for
eight hours a day, I'd lose it. You have to sit there and talk. You have to carry
the whole conversation. If you don't, then they write that you're moody or
whatever. I find just thinking about myself and my little craft with such weight and
gravity, day after day after day-it's odd to me, to be that self-absorbed.
Most of us are obsessed with knowing what celebrities are thinking. When you
watch sports on TV, at the end of the game, reporters go into the locker room
and ask the players what they thought of the game. And it's like, "Look, didn't
you just see the game?" Like you said, people need to know what's behind the
curtain.
That's right.
So, I guess I shouldn't be writing this book, because it's all about looking behind
the curtain. [laughs] But the way I see it, I'd like this to be more of an historical
perspective. I would like to get this information down so that, in some small way,
it can remain in people's memories.
Oh, that's awesome. And it's easier to talk about stuff that's really old, you
know?
You've had time to sort this stuff out and put the experience in perspective.
Steve Finan once told me: "You're on a train, and the best thing you can do is
just hold on, and don't ever get off. Because if you get off, you may never be
able to get back on." On one hand, that sounds like this paternalistic bullshit that
people think artists need to hear-to motivate them to stay in line and stay
productive, and keep making everybody a lot of money. But on another hand,
there is truth to that. The sad thing is that sometimes you get pushed off the
train, or you fall off a train unwillingly, or unconsciously. It can come in the form
of health problems or sometimes you just have to stop. Throughout Endtro-
ducing..., it was a wild, crazy ride. And for the most part I enjoyed it. It took me a
lot of places. And I learned so much. When I did press for Endtroducing.... I
found myself working out my own explanations for why my music sounds the
wav it sounds, and what my rationale is. I would say things like: "I never thought
about it, I guess I should start thinking about it, but at the same time I've always
not wanted to think too hard about it, because sometimes you don't want to
know the exact psychological combination that adds up to something that
resonates because you don't want to do it over and over again."
Lots of times people would ask me about the whole acid jazz tag, or the trip-
hop tag, or the electronica tag. It's like, What do you want to be considered?
Where should we file you? And I just think of directors that I like, or people that
have managed to carve out a career that's a long, long, long career, like for
example, somebody like David Lynch-if you were to pick one defining moment,
you couldn't, really, because Eraserbead had led to The Elephant Man, which
led to "Twin Peaks" and so forth. It's so varied, but yet you just say, Well, OK,
he's done movies with an element of comedy, he's done movies with an
element of drama, an element of horror, an element of so many different types
of things. So you don't say, "Well, what kinds of movies does he make?" You
just say, "It's just a David Lynch movie," and people know what you mean.
Can you recall what you were doing when the album first came out?
In the UK, the "Midnight" single came out September 2, 1996, and
Endtroducing... came out September 16. I was doing press, and there was a lot
of good will. There seemed to be a lot of folks within the media that wanted to
spread the gospel, which was great. On the day the album came out, my
girlfriend and I went with James to a little clothing and record shop, and I was
looking through some records and James picked up a magazine, the Wire. I
saw him read it and start shaking his head. And then, he smiled and came over
to me, and he said, "You're not going to want to read this." I said, "What do you
mean? Is it bad?" He said, "It's beyond bad. They're murdering you in this
review" It was the first review that I saw, the first piece of feedback that came
out, and it said that I was nothing compared to Ninja Tune and all that stuff. I
remember thinking, Wow, this guy's really got an agenda. It's like he wants to
like pit Ninja Tune against Mo' Wax. Did he even listen to the record? I
remember that review affecting me badly. James, who has had his share of
knocks and was a little more seasoned, was used to this kind of treatment. He
was just like, "Oh fuck 'em." I, on the other hand, was like, "Well, OK, great. This
is the first thing that comes out. And it's just a total dis." It's interesting that, in
retrospect, that it was the Wire, because they come across as, "We are the
intellectual voice of music journalism. And what we say goes." They tend to
have this kind of arrogant air. But shortly after that, the accolades starting
coming in, and it only got better from there. But that's still the only negative
review that I've ever read for Endtroducing..., and it was the very first one.
[laughs]
But it did get better from there...
Endtroducing... was really well received. Compared to other things I've done, it
was almost unequivocal, except for that one review. I was deejaying a lot in
England when the album came out, and I started feeling like a minor celeb. But I
actually didn't really feel that way until I went back to England about six months
later. That was the first time that James and I would walk down the street, and
people would stop and say, "Hey, are you DJ Shadow?"
How were people reacting to you in the States?
When I got back I felt like, "Is this it?" Here I am back in Davis, and nobody
could give a shit-nobody even knows who I am here. I know that sounds fucked
up, but I felt a sense of accomplishment and a sense of standing within the
music community in England. Whereas, in America, I had very little of that. I
remember there was a very protracted, delayed reaction.
I also was feeling like I was on some weird rollercoaster ride. I felt I had
been manipulated in certain ways. Finan and James and the press-all these
people want you, want you, want you, and then, once Endtroducing... came out,
it's like "OK, bye." I know that sounds childish, and that isn't even the best
description of how I felt. But I did feel somewhat powerless. Like, here I am
again, back in this dingy apartment, in this town I've lived in for 20 years. Do I
have to pick up and make a whole other gut-wrenching record again? I went
from being depressed to being angry about the perceived lack of control I had
in my life. That's when I made "High Noon" [released on Preemptive Strike],
which was a reaction in the same way that "Lost and Found" was a reaction.
And then the "heat" started to generate in America. I still didn't have a
manager. Still didn't have a lawyer. Didn't have any of those things. It was April,
and all of a sudden everybody was calling me out of the blue. That's when I
started getting calls at my apartment. I was still in the phone book and people
were calling me [laughs], going, "Is this DJ Shadow?" Then saying, "Oh my
God." And then hanging up. I also started getting calls from people like, "Hey,
we met three years ago. I want to be your manager."
It was strange because Davis is so far removed from the biz, and this is still
pre-Internet for most people. The album wasn't getting radio play anywhere, as
far as I could tell. Even my own college radio station didn't seem to know who I
was, or have any interest in playing my stuff. So, I thought that was it. At that
time, Davis was the world to me. [laughs] Even though I had been a lot of
places, it's the only thing that seemed real. And then, all of a sudden, the weekly
Sacramento arts and entertainment paper did a cover story on Endtroducing...,
and I didn't even know about it. That's when it hit home.
I finally got myself a manager, and when the people at Mo' Wax found out
about it, I think they panicked, because they probably realized that if they
wanted me to do another album, that my manager was going to find out how
much money they owed me. [laughs] And when I found that out, they thought
that I'd probably be so pissed off that I'd never make another record for them
again. They came to America and dropped a bomb on me about how much
money that they were prepared to give me to commit to another album -and to
commit to doing James's UNKLE project. It's tasteless to talk about money, but
it was definitely a decent figure. Now it seems like, OK, that's not an outrageous
amount of money. But, for me, at that time, it was pretty out there. It was pretty
wild. And I remember feeling that it seemed like, without even trying, I could sort
of manipulate back.
I don't want it to sound like all I really cared about was business or anything
like that. Because it's not the case, even now. It's just that I find it fascinating as
far as my own kind of awareness of these sort of issues. And, again, you know,
it's nice when you don't know a lot of stuff. I kind of miss the innocence of those
years. But you can't really go back like that. Unfortunately, when you learn
something that's learned, you can't pretend that you didn't learn it.
It's like what Tom Waits says, "You can't un-ring a bell."
True. [laughs]
You said you were an arts and rhetoric major, and I was wondering what
elements of your education filtered into the making of Endtroducing... ? Were
you drawing on, say, postmodernism or some sort of hip-hop aesthetic? Or
both?
The way hip-hop came about was, you had a bunch of poor people who were
denied access to many things, including expensive instruments. What they did
was they incorporated their environment, which was anything from kung fu
movies playing in Times Square to the records that their parents already had.
Or just making music with their mouths in terms of beat-boxing, and then using
the street corner as a stage. So, the sampling aesthetic, and the way that I
make music, is rooted in the hip-hop paradigm and the hip-hop way of thinking,
which is: take what's around you, and subvert it into something that's 100
percent you, but also has a cultural connection in the way that it was done
before. Andy Warhol's pop art doesn't look like another guy's pop art but they're
rooted in the same aesthetic.
What do you feel were the most valuable things that you took away from
Endtroducing... that you took with you when you made [2002's] The Private
Press?
Let's see, from a technical perspective, I would say that Endtroducing... is
where I felt like I met my maker as far as my ability to mix. By that point I had
been doing stuff in Automator's studio for several years, and I still was very
limited. I never had proper engineering training; I never took classes about
learning how to mix. It was just winging it, self-taught-you know, "Let me turn this
knob until it sounds like..." Beyond things like turn the bass up, turn the mid
down, turn the treble up, or whatever, very basic things like that, I didn't know
how to identify problem frequencies and minimize them. I didn't know things that
I'm only learning now, like, "Well, the reason this bass line isn't hitting the way
it's supposed to is that it's in the wrong range of the keyboard." just real nuts
and bolts stuff.
I went right from Endtroducing... into UNKLE with maybe a month in
between. But a few things had changed in my mind between the two records,
and one was, "OK, if I'm going to be doing this UNKLE record with all these
vocalists and things, I want to have an engineer to be able to handle the mix
side." It's not until now, with the album that I'm working on now, that I'm trying to
do everything on my own again, at least as far as my A-level stuff is concerned.
I've done quite a few self-mixes since then, like on the Dark Days soundtrack
and a lot of the Quannum stuff I've done. But what I've also learned since
Endtroducing... is that as flawed as it all may have been technically, when you
do it all yourself, it just allows that much more of your personality to enter into
the process. I hear the same lack of professional touches on Dark Days, for
example that I do in Endtroducing..., but I also hear a certain warmth and
intimacy with that stuff that I don't hear, perhaps, in the same way, on some
other stuff that I've done. Like, for example, The Private Press. And that doesn't
mean that I don't like the music as much, it just means that it's perhaps more
apropos for things to not sound perfect when it comes to my music because
there's nothing traditionally correct about the way I make music anyway. So
perhaps, for it to be a little bit messed up is part of what drew people to
Endtroducing... in the first place. And I'm not sure, and only time will tell, but this
next album I'm working on may not have the same kind of inept warmth,
because perhaps I've learned a little something in 10 years. And that's fine with
me, as long as it's 100 percent from the heart and 100 percent of me. Because
I've learned a lot in the last two months while working on the new record though
trial and error, like, Oh, I've never really considered this thing and that thing.
I'll tell you another big lesson that came out of Endtroduczng..., which was,
when I finished it, I was woefully under-prepared for all the other aspects of
what went into putting out an album. For example, I remember basically turning
in the album, and James was the first to call me back and express how excited
he was. And I think the next call was from Steve Finan. He was the in to
James's yangwhereas James was all creative, like, "How can we blow this up?"
kind of stuff, Finan was strictly business, and the first thing he said to me was,
"So when are you going to get the single together?" And that's when I just
started going, "Holy shit, I didn't even think of that." I had thought that "Midnight"
could be the lead single, but I hadn't even considered what else to put with it.
Back then, particularly with this type of music in the UK, it was expected that the
12inches had a lot of effort put into them with a couple bonus tracks, some
crazy remit, a long version, a short version, all this kind of stuff. And so I
panicked for a little while until I realized that I had already done a lot of the
groundwork on "Midnight," having done a long version and then an alternate
version with Gift of Gab. Then it was, "What are you going to have on the B
side?" I was like, "Shit, I'm out of B sides, you guys." I had the song "Red Bus
Needs to Leave," which was something I had spent two days on, as a possible
demo. I had to take it into the studio in one day in London, and add on to it, and
mix it in one dav. All that I found really kind of brutal and just I just was under-
prepared. With The Private Press, I was better prepared as far as all that goes.
It's still kind of tough because, unlike a band situation where you can kind of run
a tape and come up with as many songs as you please and then just take the
best one, for the type of music I make, it takes me on average a month for
every song.
You don't have much left in the can, then?
I am not the type of artist who emerges from an album process with five
throwaways. If it seems like the song's not going to make the grade, I just leave
it, and occasionally it will end up being other things. "Six Days," for example,
was definitely the oldest conceptual song on The Private Press, like maybe five
years previous. It was actually originally a demo for Gift of Gab, but never
turned into anything. My abilities as a producer had greatly matured, I felt, from
the original demo. So I completely reworked the entire song, re-sampled and
reassembled everything to make it what I thought it could be. Because it was
one of those demos that I just couldn't get out of my head, and I was lamenting
the fact that it didn't turn into anything.
How did the title for Endtroducing... come about?
One of the extrinsic explanations is that that was my introduction to most
people, and I was always aware of that for most people, when you put out an
album, that's your first record. Never mind how many singles I had done or
remixes or this and that. And so, I knew it was important to put my best foot
forward, so to speak, like the song title that opens the album. But at the same
time, the record was an end to a sound that I feel like I had been developing
while I was at Mo' Wax. They were definitely the label that seized upon that vibe
that had started with the "Zimbabwe Legit" mix, with "Lost and Found," "What
Does Your Soul Look Like" and then finally culminating in an album. I felt like
after that point there was a marked shift in the way I made music. To me,
UNKLE is a completely different era from Endtroducing..., even though, work-
wise, a lot of the songs are only a couple months apart.
Was that it was the end of something, but also a beginning?
To most people it was an introduction, hut to me, personally, it was the end of
that era of work for me. And I just knew it all along, I knew it going into it, and I
really feel, as far as my maturity musically, that UNKLE was the beginning of a
new era. When I listen to UNKLE songs, they're far more sophisticated as far
as the actual sample work being done and where I was at as far as the
sophistication of what I was trying to load into the material, but still working with
samples. Much of Endtroducing... and the songs I had done before were still
kind of loop-reliant, whereas I feel like I started to move away from that on
UNKLE. To me, UNKLE and The Private Press is a separate era. Working on
the new album is a beginning of my third era. It's easy to look at the catalog in
retrospect and the way the pieces are aligned, and be able to make that
assessment now.
I also think the title works as a kind of summing up of a cultural history to
that point, of certain kinds of sounds, and then sort of turning around and
pushing it over a little bit. That's what I think it meant to me. Not that that means
anything one way or another, it's just my take.
I like what you're saying, because it's much more personal than some kind of
philosophical, wide-screen version of what the title could mean.
I like titles that have multiple meanings and are broad enough that they can be
interpreted in several ways but yet have a very specific meaning to me. I'm not
sure what people think it's about, but Preemptive Strike had to do specifically
with me coming to grips with the fact that I was suddenly a commodity to a
certain amount of people in the industry. I saw how there was starting to be
problems with the companies that were handling my music. The problem is that
if the artist is X-ed out of the picture, you really don't have any control over how
your music is compiled and represented or presented to people. The album was
rarity/greatest hits up to that point, compiled in a way that I had control over,
and so it was a preemptive strike. I basically called up the label and said, "Look
I want to do this. Most people in America had never heard all the early Mo' Wax
stuff and didn't hear all the B sides and remixes that we did for Endtroducing...,
so I want to compile it all before somebody else does it in a really cheesy way."
When you talked earlier about "Lost and Found" and what you were going
through at the time, you mentioned feeling depressed about certain things.
When you were creating Endtroducing..., was there an accompanying feeling
that you were having that was driving it that might not be apparent?
When I look at the song titles themselves, there's a lot of latent meaning.
"Building Steam With a Grain of Salt," "Changeling," "Mutual Slump"-I mean, a
lot of it is the kind of stuff I could never talk about with a reporter because then I
paint a picture of me being pathetic. When I sit down to make music, there's a
degree of self-doubt and self-loathing. But I don't want to make it sound like it's
something I'm able to work out in music. When I make a good beat, there are
two things that go through my mind. The first is, this beat is hot. I get super
excited, I get super pumped up, and I think, Oh this is it. But at the same time I
have a feeling like nobody's going to like it, it's going to fail, it's going to be
laughed at, nobody's going to respect it, nobody's going to get it. There's this
constant back and forth on the album between confidence and a total lack of
confidence. And that's why, I think, song titles like "Building Steam With a Grain
of Salt," it's kind of like, "OK, we're getting into the album. This is a hot track,
but, you know, maybe it's not so hot. If you don't like it, it was all just kind of a
joke." I felt that way about "Organ Donor." I thought that people weren't going to
like it. I thought that people were going to think it was trying to be too clever.
That whole year, between '94 and '95, a lot of the music that I made was
very emotionally charged, and when I hear Endtroducing..., it brings me right
back to those feelings. But at the same time I've tried to avoid tilling that earth
too many times because it becomes a little incestuous when you're mining the
same emotional soil.
I do think that my issues of self-doubt and self-esteem come through in the
music, and maybe that's what resonates with people who feel ignored by a lot of
what the music machine is supposed to offer, which is sexuality and
machoaggression. Whereas the kind of music that I've always enjoyed or that
I've always felt closest to has a soft core through all of any of the other
information.
There's also got to be a sense of hope somewhere, and I believe the music
on Endtroducing... touches on what it is that I think people look for in music,
particularly alternative music. The majority of popular music is made for getting
rowdy on a Friday night, and there's nothing wrong with that. But there are wider
experiences in life. In Africa, for example, there's a song for brushing your
teeth. There's a song for walking to work. There's a song for preparing food,
there's a song for all the different life experiences that people there go through
on a daily basis. I've never wanted to be a one-trick pony as far as the way I
make music or the style that I make music, or the messages that my music
conveys. I don't think it's a good thing to always convey a sense of suburban
loneliness. But if you can do it, and if it's a time in your life you can convey it
well, then that's great. I mean, I doubt that I'm in a position at the moment to
convey necessarily the same messages that I conveyed in 1993 or 1991 or
even 2000, because you just, you grow.
When I look at this album, I think about when I was coming to the end of my
college career, and I didn't know what I wanted to do other than music, but
having very little reason to be encouraged to think that that was going to be a
viable option for me. I mean, aside from the support I got from Funken Klein and
then James. There's no way to overemphasize how important that was, that
support. I'm quite sure that I wouldn't have found that secure environment and
that home that I had over at Mo' Wax. To be honest, I haven't really had it since.
We were all young kids who didn't know anything, but we just knew that we were
really into music, and James was into trying to make music happen, and blow up
the people that he believed in. That's a pretty rare thing, because usually people
have their own interests that they're looking out for. "Best Foot Forward,"
"Building Steam," "Transmission" all successfully convey the sense of dread
that I seemed to have when it came to putting out records. I mean, putting out
music, to me, is really raw, in the sense that when a project is new, and when
the songs are being worked on, it's so much a part of you. It's got to be the
same with any type of art that people do. Not to sound all arty' but I remember
playing the album to my then-girlfriend, now wife, and it was really hard for me.
We were driving, and I said, "OK, here's what I've been working on for the last
nine months since we have lived together." I think anything could have been
said and I would have taken it the wrong way. And I usually do.
So, what did she say?
I think something like, "It's really good. I've got to stop and use the bathroom
now.,,

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