Interview: Q The Sun
This fall, we spent an afternoon at our friend Q The Sun's home studio in Milwaukee's Riverwest neighborhood. Producing for artists like: WebsterX, Lex Allen, Lorde Fredd33, and Siren, as well as membership in bands: New Age Narcissism, and Foreign Goods- Q The Sun has shaped much of Milwaukee's budding music scene. Read our conversation below:
You studied music theory in college, is that right?
I learned musical theory growing up playing classical piano. I started studying classical piano at the age of six, through that I learned theory. I went to school for music composition and piano at UWM (University of Wisconsin Milwaukee).
Was music something you always planned on pursuing?
Absolutely, but I never would have guessed that I’d be doing what I’m doing now. I always enjoyed performing. When I was young, I used to enter competitions playing Bach, Mozart, Chopin, stuff like that. That was from about age seven to 12. Competitions and school plays were my main “music”. High school was the fist time I formed a rock band. That’s when I learned to play guitar. It was also when I started writing my own songs.
You played guitar in the band?
Yeah, I played guitar and sang. I’d also incorporate keys, other piano type stuff. I did that until about age 22.
Now your focus is hip hop?
That’s my focus today for sure, but definitely more on the alternative side of hip-hop and rap music. I call the music I make ‘psychedelic post-trap’. I feel like because of trap music, there are certain things in music production that you need now. You need your hi-hats, and snares, and 808s to be done a certain way. These are established conventions for everyone’s ears in the realm of hip-hop, rap, and electronic music. With KidX I tried to get as creative as possible with the sounds that were already part of the mainstream.
I made it initially as a beat exercise. What he wrote to originally was really basic. I was into the idea that it could be stripped down and simple, but I ultimately wanted it to have more of an impact- sonically. So, I developed a lot of big kicks, and a sort of drag to it. None of the beats are quantized, everything’s kind of behind the beat. I learned how to better create stuff that makes you nod your head. It’s a combination of the composition, and the sonic aspect of the beat.
WebsterX also said that KidX as a concept was something that you presented to him.
Yeah, for one I love Radiohead and I love that album (Kid A). A lot of the artists I like, I like because of some sonic quality. Those are usually the things that catch my ear to sample. I wanted to sample “Everything In It’s Right Place.” Then I wanted to sample “Idiotique” and “Kid A” just as practice for making beats. I ended up making six or seven beats in two days. I went for a walk and had the idea 'Kid A / KidX'. I called WebsterX, he said “lets do it.” He came over that weekend, wrote and recorded everything in a day. He sat here with headphones while I was tweaking the beats. That was a year ago. We sat on it, came back to it, reproduced it, rerecorded it, and now it is what it is.
It's not really inspired by Radiohead in any other way than it used Radiohead as a starting point. It's not a tribute or something like that. A lot of people don’t even realize that there is a connection to Radiohead. People I know who are Radiohead fans say that it doesn’t even sound like Radiohead. It's not trying to be Radiohead.
I think that a lot of people were expecting that we would just loop like the bass line from “The National Anthem” and WebsterX would rap over it. That’s what people would usually do on a project like this.
You went a lot further, dissecting their music.
I used their samples to create my own instrument. I had random hits, and little sounds from the song. I try and sample parts that aren’t necessarily just the hook. It worked out well.
I’d say, excellent work.
What else have you been working on, anything on the horizon?
Everyone’s looking towards their albums. I think Lex and WebsterX have a lot of opportunities to start working with bigger and bigger producers, I feel like I’ll play a part on certain key songs. With Lorde Fredd33 I’ll be responsible for most of his EP, but he’s also getting beats from other people around the city. It makes it easier to keep it in house, especially when you have a good flow. The next release is “Cream and Sugar” with Lex, then Fedd33’s stuff, Beno’s stuff, Siren’s stuff… yeah.
So mostly keeping it within the NAN (New Age Narcissism) ecosystem?
I’m also working with Zed Kenzo, I just worked with Milo, I’m going to be doing this thing with Busdriver. I’m planning on doing a Lorn remix with Lorde Fredd33. I have so much music, and there are so many artists I think are dope who are just a phone call away... I’m trying to put out as much music as I can.
I have so many different sounds to offer. I want to be a Madlib type producer. Create a bunch of stuff that sounds like this, and then never do anything else like it again. A constant flow of new stuff, nothing too planned out. Wherever the inspiration leads.
As an artist you want to keep evolving.
I think it’s kind of the difference between an artist and a designer. Someone who’s going off of their personal inspiration and creativity versus crafting something within a framework. You can still get a lot of creativity and fulfillment within a framework. I suppose I do both, but I’ve found I work best when I’m not even thinking, just continually doing something.
Do you work on new music every day?
Yeah, unless I’m swamped with something else, playing a bunch of shows/rehearsals. In the course of a week I usually will make about 10 pieces. Those can be a sketch, or a loop, or an idea. On average I’ll make a couple things every day. A lot of stuff gets deleted. Sometimes I’ll revisit a piece and something new comes out of it.
Your band Foreign Goods seems to be centered on a lot of this same creative experimentation. There is so much diversity in where the music goes.
There are a lot of influences. Jay Anderson and I are really influenced by the LA scene: Flying Lotus, Thundercat, and Kamasi Washington. We like that revitalization of jazz, not only in terms of what jazz was, but a new jazz. The reemerging of old spiritual and jazz, merged with this futuristic production mentality. It brings an organic quality back to produced music. We want to translate that into the live performance realm. As a producer I think of how the music fits together. Its all little compartments, little loops, little cells, and layers. You continually drop stuff in and out...
(Laughs) Yeah exactly, if you can 'Ableton Live' yourself using a full group of musicians, to me that is the ultimate.
Do you think Foreign Goods will record together?
Yeah, the success of everything else is getting us a lot of connections. We finally have access to these dope studios, and people will either work pro bono, or for very cheap. I’m eager to make a record without sampling or sequencing, all live instruments, but still keep the sound fresh and new. It should be fun.
There is so much talent between NAN and Foreign Goods.
They’re kind of like cousins. Each member in both has their own thing too. That’s what’s so great right now. The network is so thick. There is mutual respect for one another. Everyone’s in charge of themselves.
It seems really healthy that everyone has their own side project. If something doesn’t work with the group, you can go pursue it on your own.
Exactly, that was always the worst thing coming up in bands. That always led to passive-aggressive tension, which prevented the creativity from happening. I hate all of that. I’m too much of a detail oriented, nit-picky person. I need to create the thing first, and then when I start working with other people- let them bring something else to it.
Is there something you attribute to how well the scene in Milwaukee has developed?
The collaboration thing is a big part of it. The people who understand how to do it, seem to do it really well. Support from 88.9 (Radio Milwaukee) has been really important.
A lot of it comes down to people’s willingness to work. We were just on the set of Damien and Cody's film, and there were probably 30 people there: grips, lighting, camera guys, and cast. There were 30 people there for 15 hours, not getting paid. There because they knew we were going to create something dope.
Ultimately, I think it’s the quality of our work.