Every track's a killer for San Francisco's Gold Chains
Off the Chain
What's new in hip-hop these days? Even in spite of an increasingly prosaic commercial showing and even more disappointing independent releases recently, the genre has permeated relentlessly. So it's really no surprise that a kid from San Francisco, via Reading, Pa. no less, is making waves with his version of verbal acrobatics laced over club rhythms. Topher Lafata's been transforming himself into megalomaniac Gold Chains for the past four years, and most recently this Spring on tour with his British counterpart the Streets in support of his first full-length, Young Miss America, which is set to drop June 6 on PAIS. Prefix's Gwendolyn Elliott tracked Gold Chains down recently to get his thoughts on the new album, being progressive and the merits of Marvel comics.
Prefix Magazine: You're in New York for a show at the Mercury Lounge, where you've played before with the Streets. What do you think of Mike Skinner and what he's doing with his music?
Gold Chains : I like his music -- I heard that record probably almost a year ago ... PM: You've been dubbed everything from hip-hop to booty-bass to techno-funk to what a press release called a "gravel-voiced, gutter-mouthed tek punk rapper." What resonates the most with you when critics talk about the nature and influence of your music?
Gold Chains : For me, it's more just the sum of influences and music I listen to from growing up and what I like. I think it's definitely like techno in a broad sense of the word, but there's also a lot of punk and garage rock in there, just because that's sort of where I'm coming from. But I've also been up on the rave scene for a while. That's always the hardest thing, when people are like: "Alright, we need to figure out how to sell this music or whatever. What market are we going to sell it into?" I think it's kinda hard just because it's progressive music -- it's just really hard. I'm pretty confident that the Young Miss America record, when I listen to it, it doesn't sound like any other record that I know of. PM: I feel the same way.
Gold Chains : Yeah, so when you're in that position, it's kinda harder to sell it, maybe? But I don't really care. I just want to make progressive music and I think this thing was sort of successful in that regard. PM: You definitely come across as an artist who has more of an authentic sense of place both as a musician and as a free thinking person than a lot of other people putting out records ...
Gold Chains : Yeah, especially when the music industry is awash right now in just straight up retro fucking bands. And it's cool. I like the way a lot of that stuff sounds, but a lot of it sounds no different than it did 20 years ago. You have lots of bands that sound like Gang of Four, and that's cool, but change it up a bit, because that stuff will get tired, you know what I mean? PM: No doubt. What kind of feedback do you get from your fans, who must be as diverse as the music you put together?
Gold Chains : I don't know, I mean, if they're fans, the feedback I get is like: "Gold Chains -- WE LOVE YOU," you know what I mean? PM: (laughs) Right.
Gold Chains : But I think I get a lot of what you're talking about. A lot of people think that you must listen to this, or you must listen to that. PM: Your new record, Young Miss America, will be out in June. What was it like working on your first full length? You've put out a couple of EP's and a live DVD before.
Gold Chains : Well, when I started working on this thing, I had the idea that I wanted to make a record as opposed to a bunch of tracks, you know what I mean, which is an easier thing to do when you're making electronic music. I wanted to make something that you could listen to from the beginning to the end and be engaged and not get to the third or fourth track and be like, "Oh, this shit all sounds exactly the same," and there's like two good tracks on the record. There was a really conscious decision to try to make something that had more of the flow of a full-length recording, like "Dark Side of the Moon." PM: That's what I really dug about your sound -- it's full of technical skill and rhythm at the mic, and everything brings the record together as a comprehensive whole as opposed to something that has one or two more outstanding tracks.
Gold Chains : Right. Like, when you look at commercial rap records, it's ridiculous, from track to track, the shit all sounds the same. PM: Exactly. Can you tell me a little bit about how you got started?
Gold Chains : Basically I was just making more instrumental techno and clubbie-type tracks, just traditional like dub-techno type stuff, and then I wanted to start doing vocal stuff, and I had rapped before in my day when I was growing up. Gold Chains is like, from high school or whatever. So I was making electronic music and then I wanted to make vocal music, so it just sort of fit the form, so to speak, when I started working it out, and it kind of just of went in that direction, you know what I mean? It kind of evolved on it's own. PM: Yeah, it's so layered, it's such a cool sound, and I think, like you said before, people do have a hard time getting comfortable with the fact that it doesn't fit in a particular genre, but I think, Word up, that's really cool ...
Gold Chains : Word, thanks. PM: You're originally from Reading, not too far from Philly or NYC -- what drew you to San Francisco as opposed to closer East Coast spots?
Gold Chains : I just moved out there with a band. The bass player's brother lived out there. So we just moved out there, like a week after I graduated college, and I had been out there playing shows. I was in a punk band, and we had been out there, and I just really like it. PM: It suits you, definitely.
Gold Chains : Yeah, it's a good place for me, and since being there I have a really cool community. That's really beneficial to me just in terms of meeting all these cool people, like Kit Clayton and Kid 606 and being able to bounce ideas off them and just talk about stuff, you know? If I was in Reading the whole time, the record would sound a lot different. PM: Yeah, I mean, the scene out in San Francisco is so conducive to putting a sound together like what you've been doing. You mentioned you went to school -- is that where you met Kit?
Gold Chains : Actually, I met Kit out in San Francisco after I moved there, I think I met Kit about four or five years ago. Yeah, he's one of my best friends ... PM: You guys seem like you have a lot of fun together.
Gold Chains : For sure. PM: In the video, "I Come from San Francisco," it looks like you guys just showed up in the train and started rapping. It looked really funny.
Gold Chains : That's pretty much what we did, yeah. PM: What are you listening to right now?
Gold Chains : Oh, I don't even know -- I hardly listen to music. It's weird, 'cause I make music all the time, so when I'm not making music, I just listen to silence. It's like my brain gets tired -- listening to stuff for me is this really active experience, not very relaxing. Like if there's music playing, I'm always listening and analyzing it. But, aside from that, I would say I've been listening to a lot of mid-'90s house and acid house from the late '80s, early '90s, like Detroit, like UK, like acid house kinda stuff. And then commercial hip-hop from the radio, and I guess I was listening to that Nuggets box set a bunch. PM: How'd the tour in Europe go?
Gold Chains : Oh, it's good over there, I've toured there like way more than the US, I think I've probably been there like six times. It's cool, I think some places really understand things well, and some places are just really confused by what I do. If someone's confused about the music and then they come see it live, it's like, "Oh, ok, I understand now, I get it." For some reason, it just comes together and alive, and I guess they're like, "He's not fucking around. He's givin' it up from the heart." PM: Right, it seems like you have a pretty solid following.
Gold Chains : Yeah, I would like to think so (laughs). PM: Alright. Now's it's time for the "Lightning Round."
Gold Chains : The what? PM: I'm gonna do a little lightning round with you. I'm gonna list off a number of completely arbitrary pairs, like Joan Jett or Deborah Harry, and you tell me which one most appeals to you, ok?
Gold Chains : Uh-huh, ok. PM: Alright. DC or Marvel Comics?
Gold Chains : (Is he grinning?) Marvel. PM: You like the X-Men?
Gold Chains : Um, I like this thing that they did, Secret Wars. PM: Ok. Simpsons or South Park?
Gold Chains : Simpsons. PM: Al Green or Marvin Gaye? Gold Chains : Ohhhh. Hmm. Al Green. PM: Diana Ross or Aretha Franklin? Gold Chains : (No pause) Diana Ross. PM: El Camino or Camero?
Gold Chains : El Camino. PM: Guns-n-Roses or Aerosmith?
Gold Chains : (scoffs) Neither. PM: (Laughing) Soda, or Pop?
Gold Chains : Soda. PM: That's right, you're East Coast.
Gold Chains : Yeah, for sheesy. PM: Mentos or Altoids? Gold Chains : Altoids. PM: Home fries or Hash Browns?
Gold Chains : Hash browns. PM: Grand Theft Auto or Tony Hawk?
Gold Chains : Tony Hawk. PM: Alright, you got ... let's see. Gold Chains : Oh, there's a score here? PM: Yeah. You got most of them right, according to my very ... Gold Chains : Arbitrary? PM: Yeah, my very arbitrary curiosity. But the correct answer to the Guns-n-Roses question is Guns-n-Roses.
Gold Chains : Ok, I'll remember that. PM: You know, for next time. Anything else you'd like to say?
Gold Chains : I don't think so, I guess I'd just like to say, for people making music, don't get bogged down in the retro quagmire -- keep things progressive and looking to the future. I think we're in this real fashion-y, weird, trendy thing right now and I don't know if music has always been like that, but it never seemed like that to me when I was growing up. PM: The concept behind your new album, right? Gold Chains : Well, I don't know if there was a concept other than some weird social commentary.