Interview: Amerigo Gazaway (of Gummy Soul)
In 2011, Nashville-based DJ Amerigo Gazaway released his second mixtape – Fela Soul. The nine track project blended the sounds of Afro-beat legend Fela Kuti and Golden Age hip hop group De La Soul to create an internet sensation, as Gazaway used the past to propel him forward.
On the one year anniversary of Fela Soul, Gazaway unleashed Bizarre Tribe, a mix of The Pharcyde and A Tribe Called Quest that would once again send hip hop heads into a frenzy. The mixtape was downloaded over 30,000 times within two weeks.
In an era where many are quick to ditch the roots of hip hop for electronic beats and radio rap lyrics, DJ’s like Gazaway remind us why we “Can’t keep runnin’ away,” from rap’s greatest decade as he continues to use the past to propel himself forward.
With his SXSW festival debut looming, Gazaway spoke with The Find Magazine on creating his mixtapes, what it means to be a mashup artist, and future endeavours.
Your dad was a trumpet player. How did growing up in a musical environment influence you?
My dad used to take me on the road and let me get up on stage with him and jam when I was 12 or 13. I used to spend summers with my dad and being surrounded with old keyboards, samplers, and beat machines; it definitely rubbed off on me. He bought me my first set of Techniques. My mom’s side of the family comes from an art background.
The first of your mixtapes that caught my attention was Fela Soul. How do you go about creating such a work?
There’s an infinite amount of potentially dope remix possibilities, so deciding on the one that’s going to consume my life for the next few months is always a difficult process. First, you have to have a great idea. An idea that isn’t just novelty, but something that actually makes sense musically. I’ll be driving, listening to something, and in my head, I’ll just sort of involuntarily start hearing a different melody under the vocals that are playing (or vice versa).
The next step is RESEARCH. The music-making is the fun part – that comes naturally. The hard part is tracking down the acapellas, records, samples, footage, soundbytes, etc. that you want to use. How many acapellas (if any) exist for this artist and where can I find them? Are there any other songs they are featured on that I’m not thinking of? Where do I find good quality versions of the original samples/albums? Are there any cool interviews, documentaries, soundbytes I could use?
Once you finally get your hands on the source material and start experimenting – that’s where the magic happens. From there, the music begins to take on a life of its own.
Do you consider this work (or other similar works of yours) a mixtape, or does something as time consuming as this warrant the title of an album?
Our genre tends to dictate how a particular project should be categorized, and “mixtape” or “mashup” is usually the easiest way for the broader audience to know what to expect. In a lot of ways, it works against us, particularly the “mashup” title. Not to knock on DJs or producers who blend records – because there’s definitely a lane for that. My process is just a lot more nuanced.
Like with Bizarre Tribe, I didn’t want to just use beats that Tip or Dilla had already created. I wanted to find the original sample sources and then give it my own take. I also wanted to build a narrative of sorts, giving the audience some background on the artists through use of interviews, soundbytes, etc.
What goes into creating such a cohesively blended set of tracks? What programs do you use and when did you first come up with the idea?
It’s a labored process that I take very seriously. In order to make the record sound as if the vocals were originally recorded over my reinterpretation, I go through endless possible combinations until I hear the right one. From there, I’ll start working the track, rearranging till it sounds just right. The programs I use also have a lot to do with my ability to blend certain tracks together, particularly Ableton Live, which allows you to time-stretch a sample without drastically altering the pitch or tone.
I think the success of Fela Soul and Bizarre Tribe has as much to do with the songs sounding familiar as them sounding different. It’s finding that sweet-spot in the overlap that compels people to play it again.
I originally came up with the idea for Bizarre Tribe around April of last year. The “Bonita/Passin Me By” blend was something I had been doing for years when I would DJ. However, it wasn’t until Record Store Day, when Delicious Vinyl dropped a box set of The Pharcyde 45’s, that I began to think about doing a whole project. I already knew The “Bonita” blend was gonna work, although I still wasn’t sure about the others. But when I first heard “Runnin’” combined with Tribe’s “Electric Relaxation” and the ”Mystic Brew” sample, that’s when I knew that I was headed in the right direction.
Are there any legal troubles with your work?
No, it’s been nothing but support. I haven’t heard anything from Tribe, but The Pharcyde reached out to me. They love the project and they ended up sending me some of their acapellas; I remixed them exclusively and we dropped the Bizarre Tribe Megamix. They’ve actually been performing the megamix for people live.
The Gummy Soul website makes it clear that the collective is about far more than just music. How did you first get involved with Gummy Soul and how do you feel your talents fit into their brand?
Originally, Gummy Soul was a radio show on the now defunct Nashville radio station, WRVU. My partner Wally Clark and I were co-hosting a weekly show spinning 60s and 70s soul music. We had already spent a good amount of effort building the Gummy Soul brand in the on-air space so the record label was formed when we lost the station as a platform to continue sharing good music. That’s when we dropped Kurtis Stanley‘s Gummy Soul album and started releasing our own original content.
I studied Digital Media in college, so my skill set definitely ties into what we do. It allows us to cut down on production costs and do a lot of stuff in-house. I maintain the Gummy Soul website, as well as shooting and editing a lot of our videos and creating graphics.
What was it like being recognized by the likes of NPR and MTV? How does this inspire you to continue moving forward with the Gummy Soul project?
It’s as much an honor as it is surreal. I remember when Rick (my manager) called to tell me that we were going to be on one of NPR’s “Best of 2011 lists” and I couldn’t believe it. The mashup game is so saturated that unless you’re Girltalk, or a producer with a heavy EDM influence, your chances for success are slim, so when we started getting mentions on outlets like Okayplyer or the L.A. Times, I felt validated. Not just for me but for my team and family. And when legends like De La Soul, The Pharcyde, and Questlove (people I grew up listening and looking up to) start taking notice and giving you props, it really changes your whole perspective. You go from thinking “this is just a hobby” to “this is something I was destined to do.” It’s a truly mind-blowing experience.
How is the industry adapting to this trend?
People like Creative Commons, they’re headed in the same direction that I am, trying to encourage people to upload samples of themselves playing the guitar, rockin’ a drum beat, or spitting a flow and letting other people do stuff with it.
Are there any artists you want to collaborate with?
I’m a huge Little Brother fan, I love Phonte. I love everything Mello Music’s doing, some of the artists like Oddisee. And Stones Throw. I’d love to collaborate with them in the future because they were such a part of us getting into hip hop and starting our own record label. The thing I want to try and start doing is getting acapellas from artists to remix on their terms instead of me just doing it. I’ve got a few different new mashup ideas that I’m trying to get in the works but it actually requires me to get in touch with the artists because the acapellas aren’t just floating out there.
You’re performing at South by Southwest in just a few months, what are you going to be bringing to a live performance?
The party that I’m performing at is funk themed, so I’m gonna be rockin’ a lot of old samples that have been used, old funk records, b-boy breaks mixed with some remixes. I’ve also got 15 to 30 minutes of original beats that I’ve done. It’s in Texas, so I may be dropping some Texas rap – UGK, Pimp C. I might rock the keytar on a couple joints.
I used to DJ a lot more, for the past few years I’ve been in producer mode but I’m trying to get my head back in the game. I’ve been kicking it with a lot of other DJ’s around town – Kids Meal and Case Bloom – they’ve been putting me onto cool DJ tricks and sound effects. I just released a 30 minute mix that’s a preview of some of the stuff I’ll be dropping at SXSW called Freak the Funk.