Lushlife: Cassette Tapes & Dada Mics (Interview)

    South Philadelphia-based producer/MC Lushlife’s all about slamming disparate sounds and artists together. On 2005’s West Sounds it was Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and Kanye West’s Late Registration, and on 2009’s Cassette City it was Camp-Lo and Ariel Pink. Last Tuesday, Lushlife dropped a new mixtape called No More Golden Days, and this time it’s Frank Ocean, Fleet Foxes, Gang Gang Dance and Clams Casino.

    Lushlife isn’t some gimmicky, throw-away mash-up chump–he’s a multi-instrumentalist who adds his own instrumentation to the production, borrowing and enhancing but never straight aping. He also spits hard over his sharp production work. Available as a free download and purchasable in cassette format, Golden Days also features guest spots by Das Racist’s Heems, ex-Titus Andronicus member Andrew Cedermark, and ex-Roots affiliate Dice Raw. Prefix caught up with Lushlife in a coffee shop in West Philadelphia to talk about the new tape.

    There’s some sonic overlap between Cassette City and No More Golden Days, but the latter sounds like a more polished, complete project.

    Yeah. I feel like I’ve been building outward and onward. The underpinnings of Cassette City are these various sonics I’m really into—from Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound stuff to 1990’s golden era hip-hop shit. When I was growing up, I was obsessed with Nas and Black Moon, and I was also listening to M83’s first few records a lot while making Cassette City. It was an exploration of a classic hip-hop ethos underpinned by all these different sounds. I tried to make it a cohesive album, but where that album was more of a survey, with Golden Days I’m starting to hone in on a sound that feels more like me, at least for now. I’ve been trying to describe it to myself as “making shit that gives me the chills.”


    Golden Days is available as a free download, but you’re also releasing it as a limited edition cassette. While cassettes have become a bit more common in recent years for indie releases, if I’m not mistaken, it’s still a pretty uncommon format for contemporary hip-hop, right?

    I’ve definitely noticed that a lot of hip-hop blogs point it out more incredulously—“And he’s putting it out on cassette.” Maybe it’s sorta strange, but I’m kind of a cassette fetishist. I grew up as a backpacker hip-hop kid with a bag full of DJ Clue mixtapes and Pixies’ Doolittle on cassette. I like the evolving degradation of the sound. You listen to that shit in your Subaru 80 times and it starts to feel a little bit different. I thought it’d be a cool medium to put it out on.


    The opening track of Golden Days is called “She’s A Buddhist, I’m A Cubist.” Are you a Cubist?

    I jokingly describe my relationship with my girlfriend in that way. You know, like, my girlfriend shops at Whole Foods and I shop at Super Fresh. It had a good ring to it. In a lot of ways, the rhyming is more like this Dadaist, broad swath of non-sequiturs. These things mean something to me, but sometimes I’m just writing shit and it just comes out automatically. It only means something to me later. It’s organic. 


    So you just throw down verses and figure it out later?

    Yeah. The shit just comes out of me, and I let that be what it is. It’s almost as if I’m removed from it to where later I’ll have these interpretations of what things mean. A lot of the time it will take the lens of a year for me to realize what this shit’s about. I always liked that sort of De La Soul codification where you get the vibe of what they’re talking about but you don’t really know what they’re talking about.


    The first thing most people will probably notice is that you use a diverse range of samples on Golden Days, from Fleet Foxes and Gang Gang Dance to Frank Ocean.

    I’m not trying to be eclectic, so I hope it doesn’t come across that way. Doing a mixtape was cool to me because it seemed very free. If I liked an instrumental or a vocal track, I could do something with it. There were no parameters. I think it’s probably a reflection of the fact that I have as diverse tastes in music as anybody else. I don’t listen to hip-hop music all day, and I don’t listen to indie music all day. The fabric of all the things I listen to comes out naturally when I’m recording.


    For the past several years, people have been talking about how, in regards to music, the internet’s breaking down stylistic barriers. Given such technological shifts and how they’ve opened things up, so to speak, how is Golden Days a record that could only happen right now?

    It couldn’t have happened 10 years ago. A mixtape like this could only happen in this sort of sliver of time. First of all, I’ve always been into a lot of music, but the rate with which I can consume it now is insane. I have this amazing survey of everything that’s going on, and I can filter everything I like through my own sensibilites. If I were in South Philly in 1982, maybe there was a grand array of things going on, but I only could’ve created something that was a proxy of what I was exposed to. I made this whole record in my guest bedroom, and the capacity of the internet and recording technologies made it so. 


    One of the instrumentals you spit over is Clams Casino’s “Motivation.” Why did you choose it?

    My caveat should be that the moment I heard Clams Casino was eye-opening to me. It was all these things I couldn’t quite imagine in my head, and he just fucking did it. I hate to even quantify it in this way, but I think it’s the best rap instrumental of the last few years. The track literally blew my mind, and I wanted to let other people hear it in the context of a greater body of work, within the mixtape. I ended up compressing the instrumental, and I think it may have brought out some artifacts that you don’t hear on the original recording of the beat.


    How do you see yourself as an artist within the landscape of contemporary music? Do you find yourself gravitating to one scene more than any other?

    I’ve always felt like such a loner. I don’t run in rap circles. I don’t run in any kind of indie scene. I’m just this dude who lives in a Trinity house in South Philly that has a recording space, and I just feel mad comfortable making the music I want to make. I don’t feel like a huge part of anything, except this insular world of making my own music. 


    You shout out Philly a few times on the tape. How has the city impacted your music?

    Philly hip-hop has always been influential. I’ve been a huge Roots fan since I was a kid, particularly of Black Thought as an MC. I was into the Philly soul sound in college, particularly those lush Gamble and Huff arrangmeents. In some ways, I think all that subconsciously crept into how I make instrumentals. I live and breathe in this city, so it’s hard for the references to not make themselves apparent. I felt directionless at 23 when I moved here. I came to Philly and I immediately felt this synergy… I felt my life come together.