We caught up with unique laptop rapper MC Lars while he was in the UK.
"I call what I do post-punk laptop rap," MC Lars tells us "I think the best comparison for someone who doesn't really know much about it would be, it's like a fusion of Beastie Boy's and The Dead Kennedy's, but it's also like an art performance."
And that much is true in the ways that not only do you get the pleasure of watching Lars do what he does live, but you also get to see videos incorporated into the live show by way of a projection screen. It is hip hop at it's most fun, and for MC Lars, the Californian native, it was a calling.
"I grew up listening to people like Weird Al [Yankovic]" he says explaining how he got started in music, "And then I got into bands like Nirvana and I started playing guitar, and I started making music on my computer when I was really young. And then when I got into late high school and into college, I just found that hip hop really spoke to me, and before I'd played guitar in some punk bands and some weird rock bands and that had been really fun, but hip hop was really my calling and I found hip hop to me is kind of like a philosophy and a religion and I found like God in hip hop. And so you its just meant to be you know."
It's not just hip hop that is the sole style of MC Lars, using it as base he incorporates many sounds such as punk and rock influences throughout his music and fusing styles.
"Yeah that's a great observation thank you." he starts when we ask how people respond to his music, since his music bridges genres. "It's been good, I mean I think this tour is especially awesome, Zebrahead are playing as my back up band on half the set which is really cool because we do hip hop with a little bit of punk and they do punk with a little bit of hip hop so we kind of have this beautiful symbiosis that the fans have really been appreciating this tour, plus they're such great guys so we always get a really good response because what no one really does what we do and that's awesome."
Do you like being unique and standing out with the music?
"Totally," he smiles "And my friend Christian from the Aquabats he always says that being punk is being different, and really that's what we do, is in the heart of it even though its hip hop its really just a punk thing you know what I mean?"
As mentioned earlier, MC Lars blends styles with his music, incorporating influences of punk and rock, as well as other influences and interlacing them with hip hop. With this in mind does he think he has made it more socially acceptable for people to enjoy more than one type of music?
"That's a great question," he says before briefly pausing "I mean I think in some places we've made hip hop more accessible for certain kids who wouldn't listen to it, and if a kid wants to see us and then goes home and downloads a Public Enemy album or goes and looks up Caris One on Youtube, that's awesome for me because I just want, I want people to know about this culture that I'm an outsider in too I guess in terms of my background, but I really identify with and anyone who can identify with hip hop then find themselves in that music, that's really beautiful for me that's really my whole goal in life."
Given that his music incorporates many styles and samples bands such as Supergrass and Brand New to name some, lyrically speaking his music definitely stands out. Using various factors MC Lars creates diverse lyrics, which also go further to at times educate listeners. But how does he come up with ideas?
"I try to write about pop culture things or sociological things or historical things." he explains "So songs like 'Download This Song' and 'iGeneration' were about technology and culture, and then I do a lot of songs about books and poems and that's just because I love to read. And I strongly believe that hip hop is really just street poetry and its cool to connect those two cultures, like to connect an old nineteenth century book with a hip hop chorus and a hip hop beat that's really exciting to me. That literature can come so alive in hip hop because hip hop is just basically a digital manifestation of the meter of poetry and having studied all that stuff in university its so exciting to me."
And that's where the learning comes in to his music. Bringing in the literary references, and writing about books gives people the chance to come into contact with the works which they may not have done otherwise, not to mention that literature is a wide scope to play around with in terms of its content. But how does Lars choose which books to use?
"Well for example," he begins to explain "With Mr Raven, Edgar Allen Poe he writes in a form called Iambic tetrameter, which is like 'Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary'," he explains while tapping out a beat as he quotes the line "That's like Iambic tetrameter, and hip hop kind of the break beat traditionally is a four-four beat so its like one two three four, one two three four, so that poem worked really well. Because of the bounciness of the Brand New sample - this band Brand New that we sampled - it really fit the cadences of what Edgar Allen Poe wrote and so I try to find stories and poems that tie in with the feel of the music, and of course I try to find things that are well known so that's sort of like why I did The Raven, and we did Hamlet and Moby Dick, every album I try to do a song about a book."
Are there any books that he's thinking about doing at the moment?
"I want to do Paradise Lost by John Milton," He tells us "That's such an amazing, scary, weird English classic. Like the first English epic poem that would be awesome. That's probably going to be on the next album."
As was notable while asking, there was a great sense of passion for the literary art as MC Lars was talking about how he incorporated the books. And that is something that we noticed throughout the interview so far. He is incredibly passionate about what he does, and this comes across in his music as well as when he explains his writing process.
"I try to start with the beat first," he tells us "I look for a bounce, like a beat and then I try to make sure the beat fits the vibe of the emotion or I'll try to make the music sound like what I want like what's in my head. And then I'll sit down and listen to it, and I'll write the words and then I'll record them, and try to make sure that the cadences and the flow sounds unique." he pauses "I think with hip hop what you really have to do is really play with the rhythm, and I've learned about this because it's so easy to get stuck in like a bum-buh-buh-bum-buh-buh-bum-bum-bum bum-buh-buh-bum-buh-buh-bum-bum-bum, something like that, but the best rappers are the ones who really play with the beat and make it incredible. So it's also like, what I did on 'This Gigantic Robot Kills' is I listened to certain rappers and I analysed their flow and I tried to look at what they were doing with their meter and find a way to kind of emulate that. And that was a really interesting process because that's a very technical way to write lyrics. But of course it always comes back to if its something you feel about, that you're passionate about, then you can make other people care about it. Because if you're just writing a song because you think people want to hear about, like probably guitar hero hero which was the first single on the last record, its an okay song but I wasn't really emotionally invested in it because I don't really care about video games. And so that was a song that I don't think I'm as proud of, and the reason why is because I wasn't emotionally invested in it when I started writing it, so that's always very important to figure out why you're writing about certain things."
MC Lars last release was 'This Gigantic Robot Kills'. An album who's title has its own special meaning.
"There was this hero of mine," Lars begins to explain about how the album title came to be "This guy Wesley Willis who was a solo performer, he was a big guy from Chicago who suffered from chronic schizophrenia. And he heard voices but he'd block out the voices by playing music and so before he died I met him in New York and we talked and he said he was going to call his record 'This Gigantic Robot Kills' and dedicate a song to me, and because he died early I wanted to dedicate something to him and create a record in his memory. And I'm really proud of it because his voice is on there, and I feel like a lot of the messages are more things that he would would have identified with. And he's kind of like of Star Wars, he's kind of like my Obi Wan Kenobi, he's gone but he still inspires me every day."
The record also contains a number of guest appearances, ranging from Gabe Sapporta of Cobra Starship to classical musician Walt Ribeiro. Was there anyone that MC Lars particularly enjoyed working with?
"I mean the highlight for the last record was working with Weird Al Yankovic." he states "Because I used to listen to him when I was 10, and that happened because I was on mtv.com and I talked about him, how much I loved him and he read the article and emailed me like 'Dude thank you, I think what you're doing is really great' and it was just so awesome, because he played the accordion part, he did an arrangement and he promoted the album too, and so he's just been a big support. So working with my childhood hero on an album was a dream come true."
"I really would like to work with Caris One who is a rapper from New York" he tells us when we ask if there is anyone he'd like to work with, "He is one of the old school guys, he wrote this book called 'The Gospel of Hip Hop', that kind of has informed my spiritual beliefs in lieu of hip hop. And I spoke to him on the phone and his management has the song that I wrote that I want to do with him and so we're waiting to hear back, but he seems interested and so if I do a track with him, like that would be another dream come true. Like working with him and Weird Al were like 2 goals starting so, I feel if that happens that would be really fantastic."
If Caris One happens is there anyone else out there that he'd ultimately like to work with?
"Yeah, I mean I'd love to work with this guy Sage Francis, who is another underground rapper. I mean of course I'd love to work with Rick Rubin who did like the big Beastie Boys records, he worked with Slayer, he helped do some of the guitar stuff for Run DMC, Rick Rubin is incredible. Dr Dre, any of the hip hop people I think I could do some amazing stuff with, so there's a lot of beautiful opportunities." he explains "But you know my favourite collaborator right now is this girl called Kflay who we're taking on tour. She is a genius producer who went to Stanford with me and she's always helps with my production, and she's incredible and she's about to take the world over. So I hope I keep working with her," he tells us before laughing "I hope she doesn't get too big that I cant work with her any more."
When we spoke to MC Lars, he was on tour with Zebrahead and they were at the time close to finishing the UK leg of their tour. How had he been finding it?
"Its been fantastic," he smiles "I mean we had some sell-out shows and the fan response has been awesome. Its been great Zebrahead and I and my friend DJ who raps with me, we've all become really close and I just have so much love and respect for what they do artistically, and there's no like ego or no garbage they're just a really really great band full of really great people and its been awesome. Its been a really good tour, and then we're about to go to mainland Europe and most of the countries we're going to I haven't been to so I'm incredibly excited about that."
MC Lars tours with quite a number of bands, Zebrahead, Bowling For Soup, Wheatus, Army Of Freshmen, Aquabats are just some of the acts that he has shared a stage with.
"You know I'd love to go out with someone like the Beastie Boys," he tells us when we ask if there is anyone he'd like to tour with "Or The Roots or Public Enemy any of the hip hop acts that tour consistently and do very well and have a great live show. |That would be an honour, I think a Beastie Boys tour would be perfect."
Has there been a particular track that the crowds have enjoyed the most?
"I think," he pauses briefly "We've been ending every night with my song 'Hot Topic Is Not Punk Rock' which is a punk song I wrote with this band The Matches, from the Bay area. And its in the style of DC hardcore bands like Minor Threat, and we always end with that. And that song is awesome because there's a big mosh pit and it kind of ties into the punk energy of what we do. And with Zebrahead playing that with us, its just amazing because they really get that and its really cool that our set goes from being a traditional hip hop set to being like a hardcore punk show, and that's really fun just seeing that translate live. It's the coolest thing any time we play, we go and we make that switch from hip hop like hands in the air, to a mosh pit its always fun."
And with such a diverse range of songs, he no doubt gets many a request from fans.
"Yeah we do," he nods "I mean with this tour we play most of the songs people like and we're doing some new stuff too from the upcoming album that I'm trying to get out early next year, so that's been cool to test some of the new material. And then we've been doing new versions of old songs too, like we redid some of the music and changed things so artistically, this tour has been really fun because I found that every show it just taps into how I see the punk hip hop fusion happening, its really cool. Its really cool." he laughs.
And cool it is. With this blend of old and new, and of course the revamped its easy to see why MC Lars is becoming a favourite. And with new material in the works, he looks set to become even more of a favourite.
"I'm trying to go back to like the laptop roots." he explains as he talks us through what can be expected from the future record. "'This Gigantic Robot Kills' was more of a live record, we had pretty much live instrumentation through most of it, which was awesome because its the kind of album that if you listen to it on a really nice stereo you hear a lot of different things, whereas 'The Graduate' I did on my laptop and so its simpler. The new record I'm trying to do more in the electro-punk kind of thing which just sounds different, you know one of the songs 'Lars Attacks' is kind of in that groove. And I'm hoping to work with the producer who did 'The Graduate' on this new one, this guy Mike Sapone, is a Long-Island producer who's amazing. So basically like finding a way to make laptop digital music sound heavy like a punk band and be a hip hop song, that's what I'm going for. And its been really cool because the stuff we've been doing has been really dope so far."
And so with the rest of the European tour to do and working on a new record what's next for MC Lars?
"I'm going home," he tells us "I mean we're out until May and then I'm going home for a month. Then I'm doing a month in the US with this rapper MC Chris, who I don't know if you know, he does voice work for cartoons in America so he's kind of known more with like that comic book crowd, and so any ways we're doing a tour together and that will be really fun. And then basically I don't know. For July onwards I'm going to just be working on my projects, I'll probably be back on tour for college shows in America and then hopefully, coming back to the UK in 2011 when the new record comes out. So its really cool there's a lot of beautiful things in the future."