By Matt Hose
From their hometown of Miami, hip-hop/jazz-fusion band ArtOfficial is booking it cross-country for a west coast tour, ending at the 710 Beach Club in San Diego on April 14. USD Radio Contributor Matt Hose spoke with Newsense, one of the bands two MC’s, about their new album, the west coast, and their unique live sound.
Matt Hose: Your new album, Vitamins & Minerals, was released last November. How has fan reception of the new album been so far?
ArtOfficial: Great, man. Our record label just released the album in Japan. And it’s doing pretty good over here in the States. People sing the songs with us and a lot of people from all over the place hit us up on Facebook. I can’t complain honestly.
MH: Have you gotten a lot of exposure outside of your hometown of Miami?
AO: That’s what we’re working on now. We’ve pretty much made a name for ourselves in Miami, and we’re trying to push that up to northern Florida, the west coast, and the northeast. We just did New Orleans last week. It was a party the whole time, and they liked the music a lot. We’re just trying to explore outside Miami, and the process is a lot of fun.
MH: The song “Don’t Hold Your Breath” off the new album is a break from the upbeat lyrics and instruments that many of your other songs have. It has a darker feel to it. What inspired that song for you guys?
AO: That song has been in the making for a long time. The whole thing was that we didn’t have drums for it. We tried a couple loops, we tried some live drums, and then we just decided that it would sound better without any drums. Throughout the years we’ve kind of been molding that song, and it stuck out from all the other songs because of that no-drums feel. We put a live string section on it. Those guys were amazing, and they pretty much made that song stand out ten times more than any other song on the album in my opinion.
MH: You guys incorporated a bunch of new and different sounds on the new album, such as the marching band drum line on “AO Cadence,” and the funky flute on “Rooftop.” What new style/influence do you think that you would like to try out next?
AO: Lately we’ve been getting this really bluesy sound. Like this real twang-y southern sound. And we like it so we’re just going to flesh out some more songs and see what happens. At the same time, we also do songs where we jump in the studio and start a song from scratch. With no production value whatsoever, those songs tend to stick out. That’s how we did “Migraine,” that’s how we did “Rumor Says.” So there’s always gonna be different sounding songs. We just want every album to sound more evolved than the last album.
MH: What are your blues influences right now?
AO: We listen to a lot of Black Keys on the road. We’ve been following them for a while now. Pretty much all of us listen to Led Zeppelin. But more so than blues, a lot of the rhythm sections listens to a lot of jazz, a lot of soul. We’ve been listening to this new album that this artist called Robert Glasper put out. It’s very inspiring, very motivational. It’s really good Jazz and hip-hop.
MH: With so many hip-hop artists transitioning into using only computer-generated instruments, do you guys ever feel any temptation to start computerizing some of your sounds?
AO: We already do. We’ve got some really cool vocal samples that we’ve been messing with. So we’ve been trying to transition into doing both at the same time, playing live music with the sample in the background at the shows. But our whole idea is that we don’t want to lose our live sound. We jam a lot at our shows. It helps to set us apart from other bands, even other live bands, because we’ll go into a funk jam with no structure in it and two or three solos. Then the next song will be a hip-hop song with a lot of structure.
MH: This is only you guys’ second time playing on the west coast. How do you feel the reception has been in California as compared with Miami and the Gulf Coast?
AO: It’s a little bit more welcoming [in California] than in Miami. In Miami, we had a strong buzz going fast but it still took us about a year to really get people to notice us and follow us. But we’ll go to San Francisco and everyone receives us with open arms, and they keep in touch with our Facebook. When they see us, they’ve never seen anything like it before. Here in Miami they’re like, “Oh, it’s ArtOfficial, we can see them whenever we want.” In San Fran they’re like, “They’re here once a year, let’s tell our friends and let’s go out and have a good time.” Same thing with San Diego. It’s just such a cool little town and the whole vibe is different. The people are a lot more welcoming and they’re just chill.
MH: Do you guys have any beach time scheduled out here?
AO: Yeah, man, we love San Diego. And when we’re not playing shows out there, we’re hiking or we’re at the beach or a bar. The beaches there are beautiful and it would be a sin to not get some beach time.
MH: ArtOfficial released the 2010 mixtape The Payback for free. Do you think there is a future for more free albums for the fans?
AO: Pretty sure, man. When the first Payback came out a couple of us were talking about doing a Payback Vol. 2. It kinda got put on hold for Vitamins & Minerals, and right now we’re working on a whole bunch of new music, so that’s kind of priority. But once that’s taken care of and we cut a new album, we’ll get bored real fast. We’ve been trading ideas. We were looking at some Led Zeppelin and some Bob Marley.
MH: Having two emcees in a rap band, is there ever any competition between you and MC Logics for a verse?
AO: Not really, not in the sense of “Oh I hope I get this verse and he doesn’t.” But there’s always friendly competition, and I think that that’s what makes us better. He [MC Logics] writes a little more than me and he writes a little faster too, so when I know he’s writing to a beat we got yesterday, it makes me want to start writing too. But it’s all friendly competition; it’s all for the sake of getting better.
MH: ArtOfficial had one show abroad in Barcelona in 2010. How are the vibes different in Spain from the States?
AO: It’s like 1997 in Spain right now when it comes to hip-hop. We went to Barcelona and there were kids with skateboards just rapping on the street, like I used to in high school. They’re really into battling each other and free styling, and they really admire the hip-hop groups more so than solo projects. You can just feel it when you’re walking around: kids love rap, they love going to shows. And I remember when hip-hop was like that [in the States], it was mostly guys. You didn’t really see many girls at shows. Like I wouldn’t take my girlfriend to a Mobb Deep show. In Spain there were a bunch of girls. Young girls, old girls, and they just love the hip-hop. It’s a completely different vibe from here.
MH: Are you guys thinking of doing any more shows abroad?
AO: In my opinion, I think we should play South America. Chile has a huge hip-hop scene. Same with Brazil And Colombia. I think they would really like our vibe and our style and our set.
MH: Thanks again for taking time out to sit with us.
AO: For sure, man. April 14. We’re gonna be there.