It’s February 26, 2013 and Friendzone are hosting an outer space house party on top of a shooting star later tonight, after your parents are asleep. You are invited if you can figure out how to break through the earth’s atmosphere (see: “Green Ova to the Top”). Everyone will be grooving. Ryan Hemsworth is DJing, chopping up Fleetwood Mac tracks and 80s love songs. Skywlkr is rolling blunts, shouting, “STYLE!” Squadda B is smoking a Newport outside in his spacesuit, searching for a planet with clouds. MondreM.A.N is helping Julian Wass collect rare crystals from the inner caverns of the dying star. Shady Blaze and Keyboard Kid are talking based tongue twisters while Silkky Johnson and .L.W.H. are smooth talking the ladies.
If you want to know about Friendzone’s past, read their earlier interviews. Previously involved with noise rock and ambient music, Friendzone have since switched to the instrumental shoegaze “cloud rap” that the music world adores. The duo have created something truly beautiful with Kuchibiru Network 3, a journey rather than a compilation. A soundtrack rather than a free mixtape. Nothing forced, hearts open wide. Since 2011′s Kuchibiru Network 2, the Oakland production duo made up of Dylan Reznick and James Laurence have released an instrumental album (COLLECTION 1), worked with Green Ova, Antwon, A$AP Rocky, and plenty of other smoked-out rappers. Deniro Farrar, I see you. Opening and closing their newest group album, they invited their friends along for a musical painting of a clouded video game. Each producer swings through for their own take on the project, yet never straying from the hazy vision Friendzone wonderfully craft. I chatted with the duo recently and we discussed everything from Sega Dreamcast to sample clearance to literature. Check the interview below:
neonpajamas: How’s life treating you guys?
DYLAN: Not bad.
neonpajamas: Some lesser known names made it onto KN3, like DJ 2 $TAKCS, Svengali, DJ Kenn. How did you learn about these artists? What made you ask them to hop on your project?
JAMES: DJ Kenn is from GBE. He produced The Glory Road mixtape for Chief Keef and a lot of other stuff. We’re big fans of his work and are honored to have him on the tape. DJ 2$TACKS produced “Gucci Gucci” for Kreayshawn. We’ve been friends with both of them for a long time, since around when “Bumpin Bumpin” dropped, and have always wanted to do something together. Svengali is a really talented kid we met in LA at a Danny Brown show. He’s been living at Finally Boys’ house for a while and we’ve been getting together a lot to jam and stuff.
neonpajamas: What is this I read about you being signed to 4AD?
DYLAN: Not signed with any label at the moment….but certain people involved in running that label have reached out to us and generously volunteered to help us out with the business side of things. We have more time to focus on music now.
JAMES: Shout-out to Ben, I almost threw up when I got a certain email.
neonpajamas: How will your next album with Main Attrakionz (808s and Dark Grapes III) be released?
DYLAN: We plan to shop it to labels. I don’t think we will have a lot of issues with sample clearance but we’ll see. If that ends up being a problem, we might end up self-releasing it or releasing in a similar manner to 808s and Dark Grapes II. *wink*
JAMES: Label shopping will take place but like Dylan said, sample clearing is a big issue.
neonpajamas: What kind of pets do you have?
neonpajamas: How did your fascination with Japanese culture arise?
JAMES: I went to Japan when I was younger with my dad on a business trip and I was blown away by all of the media being thrown at me and all of the lights. It was quite amazing and since then I’ve always been drawn to that imagery.
neonpajamas: What is your favorite video game/video game system?
JAMES: I definitely love my Sega Saturn and Sega Dreamcast. I’m a huge fighting game player and those consoles always had the best versions of the Capcom fighting games. My favorite video game of all time is Street Fighter 3: 3rd Strike, but my favorite video game right now at this moment is probably Resident Evil 2. I hope to get the world record speed run time by the end of 2013.
DYLAN: Sonic The Hedgehog 3 + Knuckles, Rez, Ico, Ocarina Of Time. Favorite console is N64.
neonpajamas: What does a normal music day consist of?
JAMES: When I feel inspired by a sample or a sound, I’ll throw it into Ableton and see what I can do from there. Once I get a nice loop going, I will start to add other instruments. Once you have a 32 bar loop, you have the heart of the song done. I usually pass it over to Dylan at some point, too.
DYLAN: If I find something that inspires me, I’ll throw some songs into Ableton and start looking for samples. If not, I’ll go through some of James’ half-finished projects and find something that gets me going, or record myself improvising with synthesizers and sample that. I mix all our music and usually record the raps too. Often I will make a complete song from start to finish in one uninterrupted session that typically lasts around 14-36 hours. Other times, I will work in short bursts over several weeks. Usually 20-50 different versions of each song get made before a final mix is chosen. I work on music everyday and it consumes most of my life. Lately I’ve only had enough time to sleep five nights a week…
neonpajamas: Of your lesser known works, what are you most proud of?
DYLAN: “L.R.C.”, our prince cover for cokemachineglow’s 80s mixtape. Our remix of “Shut The World Out” for Lo Fi Fnk. “All In Your Hands”, our collaboration with L.W.H., Main Attrakionz & Shady Blaze for The Tape Hiss Hooligan. The first two songs we ever wrote, “A.L.L.” + “JD”.
neonpajamas: Any Birthplace/LVC creations in the future?
DYLAN: Haha! Haven’t heard those names in a while. Those were our solo projects before James and I became a duo. Nowadays, everything we make is Friendzone, regardless of whether we worked alone or together. Who knows though, maybe we’ll return to those projects one day.
JAMES: Your old solo projects never really die do they? Can they ever die?
neonpajamas: Who are you listening to right now?
neonpajamas: Are more clothing designs coming our way?
DYLAN: Our new sweaters and shirts are about to ship out. Gonna be more in the future I’m sure.
neonpajamas: I heard that if you watch Spirited Away and play Collection 1, they connect better than Oz and Pink Floyd. Thoughts?
DYLAN: LOL omg
JAMES: I can only hope there is a shred of truth to this.
neonpajamas: Dylan, can you talk about your days when you “played guitar with a screwdriver naked and spit in people’s faces”?
DYLAN: I was pretty heavily involved in the noise scene back in 2006-2008. As a frustrated young person coming to terms with adulthood, I found it to be a very satisfying avenue of self-expression.
neonpajamas: How does your beat process happen? Samples first?
DYLAN: Yeah. Most of the time we find an 8-bar loop that inspires us. Sometimes we leave the loop alone and just layer things on top. Other times, we’ll chop it up into 1-3 note slices, transpose and layer them across drum racks in Ableton Live, add FX, and use MPC pads to assemble new melodies from the sounds.
neonpajamas: Did you ever have a Xanga account?
JAMES: Yes, I did. I used to write album reviews and post songs I liked at the time. It was very cool and had a sick Trigun background.
neonpajamas: You said in an earlier interview that you don’t play the same style of music for too long. How long do see yourselves playing this genre? Do you feel like you’re still evolving?
DYLAN: What I love about working in this format is that I don’t feel bound to a genre at all. We’ve never done hip hop exclusively and we still don’t. In fact, everything we’ve done has kinda been an attempt to create something that transcends those sorts of labels. We’re definitely still evolving. All of our upcoming projects are very different than what we’ve done in the past.
JAMES: We never want to be in one place for too long.
neonpajamas: Other than Kuchibiru Network 3 which just dropped, what else do you have planned for 2013?
DYLAN: A new instrumental LP called DX is up next. 808s & Dark Grapes III hopefully in spring or summer.
JAMES: I cannot wait for 808s & Dark Grapes III, it’s our best work. We have been working on it for two years.
neonpajamas: Who would you love to work with?
DYLAN: Le1f, Bieber.
JAMES: Rich Kidz and Chief Keef.
neonpajamas: Does music take up all of your life or do you have other occupations/hobbies/studies?
DYLAN: Lately, I’ve been working on music 100% of the time pretty much.
JAMES: I’m taking time off school to do this full-time, it’s become a job.
neonpajamas: Snowed in for a month and you have one CD…..
DYLAN: Main Attrakionz – Blackberry Ku$h
JAMES: Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works Vol. 1
neonpajamas: Zombies, vampires, werewolves, or ghosts?
JAMES: Ghosts are the scariest shit because you can’t kill them.
neonpajamas: What was your favorite band/artist in high school?
DYLAN: Boredoms, Lightning Bolt, Philip Glass, Nas.
JAMES: The Smiths, Joy Division, Xiu Xiu, Wu-Tang.
neonpajamas: Studio necessities?
DYLAN: Ableton Live. Pro Tools. Izotope Ozone. U-he Zebra2. Mojave MA-200. Shure SM7B. Summit 2BA-221. PSP Vintagewarmer2.
JAMES: Ableton Live and an internet connection.
neonpajamas: Do you and .L.W.H. record together often?
DYLAN: Yeah, he’s flown out here from Texas to stay with us a few times. CIA TV and some of Tape Hiss Hooligan were both engineered here in our studio. He actually just moved to the Bay to stay permanently a few weeks ago.
JAMES: Smack Boys 2013: We Run This Game
neonpajamas: Kuchibiru Network 3 is mostly instrumental, yet you have Mondre and Shady at the beginning, Main Attrakionz in the middle, and Green Ova at the end. Why did you only choose three tracks with rappers? The placement is perfect.
DYLAN: It just felt right. KN2 was sequenced in a really similar way. A lot of people try to cram as many guest rappers as possible for these sorts of projects, and we certainly could’ve gone that way with it, but it would have taken away from the cohesion of the record. KN3 is technically a compilation but we wanted it to feel like an album. It has a certain mood to it. MAz/Green Ova are amazing at adding their magic to the tracks without being intrusive.
neonpajamas: Has producing for A$AP Rocky opened any doors in the hip-hop world for you? I read that you haven’t made a dime on hip-hop. I’m sure that’s not the case any more.
DYLAN: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve already gotten a lot of offers that still seem completely unreal. Seems like anything is possible now. It’s up to us to choose what path we want to take from here. Kinda overwhelmed by it all, to be honest, but we’ve got some VERY exciting collaborations in the works. Still haven’t really been paid for anything (to everyone who made a donation on our bandcamp: THANK YOU!!) but we’ve got some checks coming our way and things are definitely looking up.
neonpajamas: How do you find yourselves naming your instrumental tracks?
DYLAN: My beats are all numbered. James names them.
JAMES: Haha, I end up naming everything for some reason.
neonpajamas: If you could tour in one country?
DYLAN: Japan. Followed closely by Europe. Really exciting stuff coming out of the electronic scene over there.
JAMES: Need to go back to Japan as soon as possible. One of my dreams is to play a DMZ party in England.
neonpajamas: Dragonball Z or Pokemon?
DYLAN: I was into Sailor Moon.
JAMES: Tenchi Muyo and Love Hina.
neonpajamas: Sampling Tears For Fears (“Women We Chase”) and Sigur Ros (“Automatic”) is virtually non-existent in hip-hop. Are your intentions to change the game or do you simply craft what your head wants?
DYLAN: We make the music we want to hear. To achieve that we have to be unafraid of being different.
JAMES: We never have intentions like that when it comes to making songs, we just do what feels right. Like Dylan said, don’t be afraid. When it comes to music, you are your worst enemy sometimes.
neonpajamas: Do you have a voice in choosing which tracks go where on Main Attrakionz’s projects or do they throw them where they please?
DYLAN: It is always a mutual decision. We engineer all of our songs with them ourselves, so we have a lot of control.
JAMES: They come out when the time feels right.
neonpajamas: Any plans to work with a male/female vocalist for an entire album in the future?
DYLAN: I’d love to do a pop record. We really enjoyed working with Lo Fi Fnk on a couple songs and will probably work with them again in the future.
JAMES: We’re throwing ideas back and forth with How To Dress Well right now. Tom is a great guy. We met him when he played San Francisco and we connected right away on our mutual love for Xiu Xiu and other music. I’m sure whatever we do will be special.
neonpajamas: Thoughts on touring.
DYLAN: DJ sets and stuff in the near future. A more fleshed-out live show sometime later this year.
JAMES: When we play live we really want it to be special. I also want to include a visual element into our show.
neonpajamas: Favorite convenience store food.
DYLAN: Protein bars.
JAMES: Salt and vinegar kettle chips.
neonpajamas: Favorite book.
DYLAN: Brief Interviews With Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace. Takin’ Over by Lil B.
JAMES: Lord Of Chaos by Michael Moynihan.
neonpajamas: What will you listen to before you go to bed tonight?
JAMES: Probably a podcast.
neonpajamas: Any final words of wisdom/thoughts/shout-outs?
JAMES: Shout-out to Winky, the luv of my life (your my muse). Shout-out to my parents and grandparents for being so supportive. Shout-out to Ben Gaffin and the Life and Death crew for believing in what Dylan and I are doing right now. Don’t second guess yourself when doing this music stuff, just believe in yourself and be confident in your art. Sometimes releasing the final product and being okay with it is the hardest part, but you must move on and constantly create. It’s the key to success.
DYLAN: Don’t let preconceptions limit your creativity. Keep exploring.- neonpajamas