Finding Community in Ca$hville: An interview with Mac L

Despite still only being in his early 20s, Malcolm Lockridge has had plenty of time to gauge where he stands amongst Nashville’s hip hop community; where he stands and what he stands for. Growing up in a rough neighborhood has helped guide him toward who he has become, certainly instilling in him the idea that he needed to brand himself to reflect a tougher image (Mac’s stage name has evolved from the harder sounding Mac tha Ripper—which he used as a college DJ—and later Mac tha Knife), but in speaking to Mac he makes no bones about not wanting to promote an image that isn’t indicative of where he’s at in this stage of his life. He recognizes his upbringing as a chapter from his past, but also feels as though it would be unfair to front as though that image was still a reality as he moves on with his life; something many MCs struggle with as they evolve as not only artists, but people. Now having graduated college, Mac explained how the move to change his name once again was motivated to reflect a “more professional” version of himself; but all that assuming the modest stage name of Mac L really does is go to further suggest the MC’s willingness to be upfront about who he his and what he’s about right now.

Earlier this month Mac performed on a bill ringing in the new year at the grand opening of the recently rebranded Epic 9 (formerly Avenue 9). Following a performance by Tasha T—an uneven set that still inspired a solid reaction from the modest crowd—Mac quietly took to the stage and rolled through a half dozen songs. Despite his confident presence however, the already scattered audience appeared to take an unannounced intermission from partying by the stage and slowly cleared out over the course of the MC’s set. Watching the performance, it became immediately clear that the setting wasn’t optimal for Mac’s brand of lyrically focused rap. But he rolled on. Opening with “Music City,” a song unfortunately heavily influenced by crowd interaction, Mac persisted, determined to do shrug off the awkward light show and club goers’ dwindling interest. As the performance went on though, Epic 9′s off stage hype-man perked up and chimed in, eventually barking the clich├ęd “this is real hip hop” chant; in this case however, he wasn’t simply bullshitting to stir things up. In the face of a disinterested audience, now only waiting for the next Waka Flocka track to overtake the dance floor, Mac remained confident and established his voice amongst the chaos.

The MC might not fit in when considering Southern Hip Hop as a brand, but Mac fits like a glove when considering that he’s inspired by a sense of community that the south is largely known for. It’s unfortunate though that the rap scene in Nashville is, at least on the surface, about as divided as his reception at Epic 9 might suggest. This isn’t meant to push the man as some messianic hope to change things in the country-music capital of the world, but Mac has a bigger picture in mind and is excited to see whether or not the city’s scene can grow into a full-fledged movement. Whatever you think of his music, you have to give it up to him for pressing on with such faith and determination despite being in such a minority. Recently Mac and I touched base, discussing this conflict, his upcoming album, Raw Material, and the local artists who he feels are some of Nashville’s finest.

This isn’t meant to incite a shit-talking session or anything like that, rather I’d like to work on building on the positives. In 2009 you wrote a post on your blog that read, “Nashville is notorious for its crab mentality. Nobody wants to work together. There’s alot [sic] of hate in the city. There are too many cliques that call themselves movements, and they stand for nothing. It’s really disturbing.” Do you feel that Nashville has enough talent to develop into a hotspot on the national scene? If so—in relation to the points you made a few years back—what do you think Nashville artists have to do to start heading in that direction?

Mac L: Nashville has more than enough potential. The problem is people are either too afraid or too stuck in their ways. When we start working together and start going outside our comfort zones, I think that’ll start a great change. We also need to start being professional and stop trying to continue the “hood” mentality. Don’t get me wrong. I’m from the hood. I left the hood.

Why do you think MCs in Nashville have come to the point where they are only looking out for themselves like you’re saying? Elsewhere the saying “a rising tide lifts all boats” applies in many cases, and you’ll have whole communities working together to reach their individual goals. What is it here that isn’t working?

ML: That can really be applied to life. I say it is experience (or lack thereof) that makes people want to fly solo. What is also hurting us is that everyone wants to be the star. Everyone wants to be Kobe [or] Michael. No one wants (or knows how) to play their position. This is Ca$hville, and everything comes at a price here.

In that same post you mentioned Classic Williams and Black Noize as key proponents of pushing Nashville as a scene. Two years later, who’s out there working on building bridges, attempting to make change in the city?

ML: On the scene, I see DJs like DJ Legacy and DJ Sir Swift hosting events and CDs that are really good for the city. Moss da Beast and Aphropik are a couple MCs I see also puttin’ on for the city. Behind the scenes, I see Wes (founder of Hip-Hop in the Ville) and Janiro (founder of the Southern Entertainment Awards) putting in work in Nashville. Capo & Latino Saint also have a quarterly event called the Urban Music Challenge, which is a great opportunity for artists.

Your track “Coordinates” revolves around a hook that includes the line, “Because there’s people that want to see you fall off track.” What roadblocks do you see right now getting in the way to achieving the success you’re looking for in the track?

ML: Right now, life is my main roadblock. Not wanting to make excuses, but what’s keeping me from the success I seek is my reliance on others. My lack of necessary resources is really hurting me, but to be realistic, my biggest roadblock is myself. I still doubt myself sometimes. I still have bad habits I need to overcome. I still have things to do.

Prophicy is one of the names you’ve been high on—who are two or three more names in the city that people have to check out right now?

ML: Haha, yeah Prophicy is a beast—as an MC and a producer. But aside from him, as well as others mentioned, people should definitely check out my brother KDV, my dude Likwid and my boy Stix Izza. There’s plenty more, but off [the] top, these guys have chops.

As a young MC, how do you see your voice developing since first dropping your Great American Paper Chase mixtape in 2008?

ML: Well, my voice has always been something I’ve worked on. You’ll definitely be hearing a matured sound; more confident, more serious.

CD: You do have a very confident presence on stage—of the local names hustling right now, who has impressed you as a live performer?

ML: I appreciate it. There are two artists who really stand out to me here in the Ville, the first being Finess Da Boss. Her live band only adds to her skill. I’ve also been impressed by D-Lowe with Blow 4 Blow Entertainment. We’ve actually performed together and D-Lowe has tons of energy. I’ve actually perform with a group named Word Up. Started in Nashville by my boy Dean “Dirty D” Andrews, he got me and a select few others to build up the live music scene in Murfreesboro. This is where I earned my stripes. (Mac followed up with me after the initial interview, adding the following: “In regards to your question about impressive performers, I forgot to mention Quiet Entertainer. Awesome musician.”)

CD: What’s coming up in 2011 for you? New releases?

ML: I have a lot on my plate this year. My big release this year is Raw Material, my follow up to The Great American Paper Chase. I’m also working with a couple new artists, one of ‘em being an R&B singer whose names I won’t reveal yet. I’m also working with a lot of producers including Kev the Sureshot, M. Will the Shogun, Bhon of Audio Ink, Bill Breeze, Johnny Storm, and more. 2011 is gonna be busy. Expect many singles.

Tristen Interview

I really enjoy discussing the twists and turns that have led people’s lives to where they are now. Whether speaking with someone a few decades older than me or talking to people who are the same age — as is the case with Tristen Gaspadarek — it’s rare to hear an entirely uninteresting account of what’s worked for them during their journey through life. Part of the intrigue there is found in contrasting each individual’s path: for instance, when I was 17 I barely eked out a high school diploma, and while I had completed an apprenticeship as a chef I was fairly aimless in terms of what I wanted for myself. By the same stage in her life, Tristen had already been performing live for three years in her native Chicago and was none too far off from taking the first steps toward pursuing a degree from DePaul University. Without knowing much else about her, it becomes clear quite early on that the lady has had her head on straight for quite some time.

Recently talking to Paste, Tristen explained that her focus of study was aimed at “relational group and organizational theories of communication”; but once she graduated she still found the urge to follow the path of a musician before transplanting herself south to Nashville. Now having crafted her style as a vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter for over a decade, Tristen is on the verge of releasing her debut album, Charlatans at the Garden Gate, via American Myth. Catching up with her via email, I wanted to figure out some of the key moments which have led her to this stage in her life. We discussed her education, religion, and approach to songwriting — all of which support the character which resonates deeply throughout Charlatans‘ 11 tracks.

I read that you graduated from DePaul University. Knowing little about the school other than it being a Catholic university, I was wondering if there was any religious influence which directed your songwriting through those years?

Tristen: I was raised Catholic as most kids on the south side of Chicago, but fortunately do not suffer from any religious influence. I believe in the God with two o’s. With that said, DePaul was a very progressive school and placed no pressure on students have any particular religion or politics.

Your songs on Charlatans seem like they’re coming from a place inside of you that is far away from that sort of environment. Where does a line like “Baby, don’t you want me to bring you those drugs” come from?

“Baby Drugs” is about loving someone that is an addict and the naive perspective that you can fix them or fill the void that causes addiction with love. At the end of the day you are only capable of sustaining a relationship an addict as long as you are capable of enabling their addiction, whether that be burying your head in the sand or getting messed up with them and calling it sport.

Do you find that you’re more comfortable as a storyteller or poet with your songs rather than a solely autobiographical writer?

I’ve never really thought my life was interesting enough to be put into a book. My autobiography would say “She waited tables in the morning and then she went home and wrote a song about it, and recorded for hours. When she was done she went to the local pub to get a beer.” Part of the fun of writing songs is that I get to sing, play, and write music, and it’s more like poetry to me than anything else. I get to say what I think about relevant topics in my world. It’s more of a puzzle that I get to figure out.

Do you write your songs yourself or is there anyone you’ve collaborated with along the way?

I write songs by myself. I’ve tried the “Nashville co-write” thing and it seems like a waste of time to me. I’m mostly a loner in that respect.

As a newcomer to the city I’m still trying to figure out what the Holly House collective is all about. How do they fit into your story since you moved here?

A group of us started playing shows together, hanging out all the time, collaborating musically and we finally decided to call it Holly House. You know the best way to kill something is to name it. Most of the bands now are broken up, estranged, or rearranged.

When the Black Cab Sessions crew was in town recording the scene recently, you were recommended to them as one of the artists in town that who is sort of coming into your own right now. What does it mean to you to regarded as one of the city’s brightest upcoming talents?

Although I am flattered by the attention, it honestly doesn’t mean anything. My day to day includes a few more emails, but nothing has changed. I’m still all locked up in my studio writing songs and traveling around playing shows. It’s the same as it was when no one knew I existed.

Do you ever look around you and see how many great musicians there are in Nashville and feel a little self-conscious, like “what makes me stand out?”

I’ve been pretty lucky in Nashville since great musicians need songs to play. I provide that. I’ve never felt self-conscious about my work mostly because I’ve always been surrounded by those great musicians and felt encouraged and accepted by the community. You get to a certain point in any trade, building houses, writing songs, whatever, and you know exactly what people are doing. I listen to a song or see a live music show and I know how that person wrote it and what they are going for. There is no mystery left for someone like me. I find it hard to be a fan(atic) of anything.

Since moving to the city have you met anyone who you look up to musically or anyone you’ve been a fan of for a long time?

I met Wanda Jackson, queen of rock and roll, last year when she played at the 5 Spot and she autographed a picture for me. She was still awesome after all these years.

When playing live, how much do you switch things up like your setlist?

My setlist changes all the time. I’m always adding my new songs, these are my favorites to play. My band has been through a lot of changes, sometimes with strings, sometimes with keys, sometimes I play solo. The steady forces though are Buddy Hughen on guitar and Jordan Caress on bass.

Do you find that bringing something unique to each show keeps things more interesting for yourself?

Definitely, you have to keep things fresh within the group and you have to always challenge yourself to perfect things. We never, as a group, think that we’ve made it, or that we are done working. We just say, that was a cool show, what should we work on?

Which tracks of yours have you enjoyed most in the live setting?

I enjoy them all. Honestly, my band is such a bunch of hot shots that I really enjoy my time with them singing and playing.

I wanted to get your opinion on something I’m trying to piece together right now on my own. Right now I’ve been working a lot to try and piece together what’s going on in Music City within the rap and hip hop community, but there is a lot of brokenness there right now. The impression that I’m being given is that people are so bent on the idea that working with other people of the same style or whatever could be detrimental, or that because I’m helping you out, doing so somehow puts me back a step or two. But in the rock community I’m left with an entirely different picture: there I’m seeing people like the Nashville’s Dead crew who seem to be about building something bigger here. What’s your perception on that, and how do you see the development of the non-country community shifting in the coming year or two?

I’ve never believed that there is a finite amount of success out there and if one person gets it, you don’t get it. Music simply doesn’t work that way. People all over the world listen to MANY different artists, in different genres, and they will buy a record if they like it. Being competitive with others, only alienates you from learning, growing, and getting better.

I definitely sense a competitive edge in this town, people move here to see where they stand. Usually big fishes from small ponds. I find that competitive people are usually the ones who are the most insecure or frustrated with their own work or success in music. These people find it easier to tear things down, rather than build things up.

I find the most talented people are usually the most open to help and collaborate and are the easiest to work with. You can’t do music all by yourself, because at the end of the day you will have to play shows for people (unless you are Steely Dan or Harry Nilsson) and at the point you have to consider how someone will respond to your work, otherwise who are you talking to?

Heavy Cream and the Nashville Scene

It’s damn near impossible for me to discuss the music of Nashville’s Heavy Cream without also feeling some sort of personal connection to the quartet’s music. Wrapping up a six-month stint in Canada, I had already decided that Nashville was going to be the next stop for me when I caught the Turbo Fruits as part of the Sled Island festival last July. (Simply put, the show was bonkers.) I’d been a fan of the group since forever, but I didn’t have a clue of what else was happening musically in their hometown before making the trip south. So when I landed in Music City and began to find my bearings — again, not knowing what I was getting into — it came as a welcomed surprise when I was introduced to Heavy Cream. The comparison I made at the time might have been a little shortsighted, but the similarities between the two groups was one that really excited me, “Musically none too distant from their Trashville brethren the Turbo Fruits," I wrote at the time. "The three to one ratio of females to males in the band means that there’s a hell of a lot more estrogen behind the group’s gritty rock.” Coincidentally, I wasn’t alone in slowly coming to the realization that Nashville has a shit ton of talent to offer that has absolutely nothing to do with the city’s stereotypical sound.

When asked about the surge of publicity that the band and the Nashville garage rock scene received this past summer the group responded via email, “It’s wonderful to get some attention from Nylon and everyone but this isn’t a brand new scene at this point.” Had I only known I would have probably made the move sooner. Slowly I began to realize just how deep the talent pool was. Heavy Cream cites the likes of Cy Barkley, Big Surr, Denney and the Jets, and Those Darlins as a few of their favorites, but still, that only scratches the surface of what the city’s scene has to offer. One of the most alluring aspects of the musical community here isn’t simply the volume of talented acts there are, but the apparent willingness to form a community within the rock scene. This takes many forms, be it cross-promotion, split-releases, or simply kicking back with one another. One thing’s for sure: without it there would be no Heavy Cream.

Working with local PUJOL mainman Daniel Pujol and bassist Wes Traylor, Heavy Cream’s Jessica McFarland was previously the drummer for MEEMAW until the group disbanded in 2009 (they did play a one-off reunion last January though). Continuing in their email, Heavy Cream explained that it was only through hanging out at parties and barbecues (see: community) that momentum began to build. And as things came together Heavy Cream eventually locked down their lineup: Nashville natives Galbierz (23) and Danny Severs (25) assumed rolls on guitar and bass, while the Paris, TN native McFarland (25) picked up vocal duties and Melissa Burnett (who was replaced by 25 year old North Carolina native, Tiffany Minton, late last year) kept things steady on the drum kit.

Having already released a 7” through Infinity Cat with MEEMAW, McFarland’s connection set the wheels in motion for similarly hooking up her new band. When IC co-owner and JEFF the Brotherhood‘s Jake Orrall got wind of what was cooking, he reached out and let the band know that he wanted to release their self-titled debut EP. “There was no way we could have turned it down.”

Releasing the 7” in September of 2009 it would be nearly a year of shows (and parties) and touring (and parties) before the band would release Danny, the group’s first full-length album. “Our first gig was at a dive bar in Nashville called Springwater, which later we would play shows with the Spits, Nobunny, Davlia 666, and a whole list of our favorite other bands. We really played our first super tight shows as a band in may 2009, and decided we wanted to do this full time.”

With Orrall again working as producer, the band took to the studio in January of last year and nailed down a whirlwind recording session to lock down their new tracks, “The whole thing was done in 24 hours, but it felt like two weeks.” More shows led to more touring (alongside the likes of JEFF and Natural Child), and eventually the band was opening for the likes of the Israeli madmen of Monotonix. Released in August, Danny immediately received some glowing reviews, MOKB latched onto the album’s “fast, short, exuberant bursts of garage rock” while RCRD LBL explained, “Ripping through their set with the ferociousness of a mountain lion, their primal beats, catchy riffs and bewitching drones leave you wondering when Joey Ramone and Suzie Quattro had a love child.”

Recently announcing a week’s worth of supporting dates, backing Ty Segall all the way from Montreal to Austin, the group will land in SXSW in March for at least one show (as with the SXSW bonanza in years gone by however, don’t be surprised if one show leads to a dozen). And despite Danny only having been out a few months, the band has already set their sights on its follow-up. “We still plan to finish writing and recording our next record in 2011,” continued the group in their email. “We’re writing our second full length as well as releasing a seven inch in the spring.” Maybe by the time summer rolls around there’ll be another lost soul who lands in the city just in time to pick up whatever the band is putting down. In the meantime, I can’t wait to see what 2011 has in store for the band and the scene they’re repping.

I Was There When...

This is far from the only reason I wish myself a long and prosperous life… but… I really hope that I live long enough to see the day when a generation of comedy fans look back on Doug Stanhope in the years after his death, thinking the same shit their parents thought about a guy like Bill Hicks in retrospect after they missed that boat. Not because I think Hicks wasn’t great, and not because I want to be that guy who’s like “Maaaan, I was there when…” But only to call them on their shit like people should be doing now with neo-Hicksians who are remotely of-age.

Sure, I know the Internet wasn’t all the rage in 1991 and Bill Hicks wasn’t as easily accessed as a click on YouTube or a keyword search on The Pirate Bay, but if you were remotely interested in the ideas he was toying with on stage, you probably would have found out about him simply through discovering your own basic interests. Like… Unless they were a complete hermits, people who really got into Pearl Jam back then would’ve probably at least been aware of TAD’s existence… simple chain of discovery fueled by personal interest. But if they were that much shut off that they had no clue, they probably didn’t have any idea who Pearl Jam was to begin with. Same with Hicks’ subject matter.

(x years later…)

“Maaaan, Stanhope was the shit. He was talking the truth back when everybody was just blah blah blah blah blah.” Well, yeah he was. But where was your praise for the man when he was kickin back Miller Lights on stage at the Santa Barbara Improv? You had YouTube, you had every means to search for an infinite amount of information on an infinite amount of topics written in every language from eleventeen different perspectives… Oh, right, you were kickin’ it with your homies talking about how some other dead dude was further ahead of the curve than everybody else when he was alive.”