The Grouch: Keeping The Independent Spirit Alive

By Pants  |  05/12/2008

The GrouchA decade plus of grinding has kept The Grouch and his Living Legends at the top of the independent hip-hop scene. Legendary Music is the collectives imprint, and in an effort to future solidify their status, two recent releases dropped to remind the rap world that the crew is still on it. The Grouch's solo Show You The World, and The Gathering, which features each member (on each track) build on their shared principles -- artistically, intellectually and in terms of their do-it-yourself attitude.

Ballerstatus caught up with Grouch to discuss both projects. One of the cool things about the new Living Legends set is the shout to all the California independent groups and crews. Not just those that are immediately understood as part of your peer group, like a Hiero, but cats like Too Short and E-40 as well.

The Grouch: Basically, up North we grew up listening to those artists. The scenes were a little bit separate, but the spirit, the entrepreneurial spirit, was all the same. JT The Bigga Figga came up with a good phrase and that's "Game Recognize Game," and I think that's what that is all about. Its come to a time when everyone is starting to do that and recognize that for the most part, everyone's mind-frame is in the same spot, everyone wants to be consider a musician and showcase their artistry in a way that is creative and free. Be able to sell their music and not be locked into some crazy contract. I think that goal ties people together. Aside from that, the Bay is a small place, and if you stay there long enough, you'll interact with all the people doing something similar to you. I want to touch on two things from that. One thing is you touch on being an independent artist a lot in your work, "Yard Work," from the new album is a song I really like, and the second is, with the changing of platforms in the music business, has it been difficult for your crew to transition?

The Grouch: I think it's been really easy for us to transition to this new way of doing things. We're pretty much already set up to make deals with whomever we need to, because we've never been locked into a crazy contract. Doing things with MySpace and iTunes, and all the other online retailers, trying to transition into the new digital realm has been a no brainer for us. As far as the songs, it's kind of a trip because if we just started now, there'd be some issues facing us that would be easier, and some that would be harder. For instance, back when we started doing the independent thing, the majority of the artists were making demos and trying to get signed. We were making demos and calling them albums and selling them. It put us in that do it yourself, independent mind-state, making our covers at Kinkos. Just being totally self sufficient. Dubbing our tapes at home and selling them on the street. We brought them to Amoeba before it was known as the greatest independent musician's record store, back when it was just a record store, we were hitting them up saying "We're local artists, can we put our tapes in your store?" They said "Yah, that would be dope." I'm not saying we were the only ones, but we were doing it when it was not the norm or trendy. Everyone was learning -- the artists and the record stores. Nowadays, I would say it is a lot easier to make yourself some music on a $100 dollar program and upload on Myspace. Boom you're in the game. I feel like it is harder to get people to take you seriously and to stand out from the crowd. Luckily we've been building a following for years. Do you think the nature of an independent album has changed with the way people shift mixtapes these days?

The Grouch: I mean, there is a lot of over-saturation with that stuff. I just think there is a lot of independent music out there now. A lot is not so good, and a lot is really good. You just have to do more homework. There is a ton of music, period. One of the things that's crazy to me, when you think about it, recorded music has only been happening a little over 100 years, and so the amount of music that is going to exist in the world is going to be tremendous from here on out. We used to be able to keep a handle on it, but I don't think we will be able to do that how we did in the past now. As far as, I used to know, or be able to filter through all the hip-hop releases, but now there is no way I can stay up on it all. I don't have the time. I think that is what makes it harder for the great independent releases. It seems you guys have understood the value of marketing material, and merchandise, outside of music. You've got an LRG collaboration for example.

The Grouch: I've worked with LRG since they were doing black and white ads. I did an ad with them, and it was, you know, Jonas came over to my house with a t-shirt, sweatshirt and some shorts, and we took some flicks. He brought some wallabies, and put tape on the bottom, because after I wore them, he was going to take them back. That's how LRG started. They were independent, and were just trying to spread the word grassroots style back then. I was fortunate enough to meet them and get down with those dudes and create a relationship early on. I've been supporting them, and they me for the last 8-9 years. This time I wanted to make sure I got LRG involved, because they are a big name. Like you said, with all the other forms of marketing going on these days, it really helps. I wanted to make sure to reach out to them this time. One of my favorite songs on your new album is "Artsy." I don't know if the intention is to make the listener laugh, but I sure got a chuckle out of it. What was the inspiration behind it?

The Grouch: That song is a very sarcastic song. I chose the word arts, but it could be a lot of words. You're not smarter, cooler, more of a man. It is pretty much looking at how when people click up and get into trends or scenes, some people always think they are the coolest in that scene. In the fashion scene, there is always someone who thinks they are the most fashionable -- "Look at me, I got the loudest colors on, flyest hair cut." In the healthy eating scene, people are competing. Someone will be like, "Well, I do yoga six times a day. I drive this kind of Volvo and its electric, I do the most for the environment." It just seems people always want to compete a little bit and show they are the king of their scene. I just wanted to make fun of that. Everyone has a little bit of that I think, including myself. Have the stuff I say on the song, I do. Sometimes people can't see it, and there like, "Why is the Grouch talking sh**?" I can't believe some don't get it. I thought it was really well done. It also relates a bit to what we first talked about. Sometimes the "underground" scene will deride like a hyphy movement, saying "our stuff is artsier than your stuff."

The Grouch: That's got to be one of the main inspirations actually, even though I don't mention hip-hop. The hip-hop scene is something I've paid attention to for a long time, and it definitely exists there -- "Hey, I've got the rarest records in my crate. I don't sample anything past 1980." So many rules and reasons why some people are cooler than others in the hip-hop scene, it's ridiculous. It's funny and fun. Let's talk about Living Legends and how you all work together. The new one is The Gathering. Did you all come together to make it?

The Grouch: That particular album there was recorded over the course of a few weeks at Encore studios in Burbank, CA. It's the first time we ever rented out a big studio. The idea was, let's have fun and go record an album like regular rappers do. We'll have some engineers in there who handle the equipment. We'll stay in for 12 hour blocks, order food in. Not go anywhere, just stay in and kick it, making music. That's what we did. It was a great experience. I don't think we'll do it exactly the same again, perhaps sometime, but there is always a different way to do things. We've pieced albums together where I'll lay a verse and then bring the machine over to someone else's house. We'll record in hotel rooms. One time we went away and recorded an album together on Maui. We always have a creative idea about how will get together and make an album. It's not easy for us to all get together at the same time. From the seven tracks I've heard -- and I don't know if there's more than seven, that's all that was sent to me -- it sounds like you all had a lot of fun.

The Grouch: It was fun. It is only a seven track EP. There is supposed to be a full-length coming, but like I said it's difficult getting eight people together. We'll see how it goes. Every song on this EP has every member of the crew on it in some way, shape or form. We wanted to try and do that, because we haven't been able to before. Seems like it's a pretty summer for you all. Your album, the EP, Murs' has his project.

The Grouch: We dropped my album and the Legends on the same day because we wanted to make a statement and say, we're still out here being creative. Take notice, here's two legendary music titles on the same day. You guys drop in batches pretty regularly.

The Grouch: There's eight of us. We don't run a tight ship in the sense of we got to plan. One album will drop this month, so Sun Spot, you'll have to wait a few months before you come out. And, Lucky, you wait till next year. We don't do it like that. When people are ready, then they're ready. There's no telling when the next guy is going to be ready. With eight people there is always something fresh. As far as I'm concerned, I'm trying to stay fresh, put out the Grouch album, this Legend's album, and move on to the next thing. Has it been exciting to watch everyone develop over the last 10, 12 years?

The Grouch: I think Legends was official by '97. All of us have been doing things since '95. It's crazy, you know Murs signed with Warner and throws these big shows. All these subgroups and collaborations happening. Lucky.I.Am on solo tours. Living Legends just got our first video played on MTV the other day, after that long in the game. What song is the video for?

The Grouch: The weirdest thing is that somehow they picked up a video from one of our older albums, they played "That Looks Good," a couple times on MTV. Just recently they picked up the "Artsy" video on MTV 2. I saw that on MTV 2. I'm pretty excited about that. Not that MTV legitimizes anything for me, but it's a big staple and it feels good to have them play something that is independent, something I created by my standards. They made me blur one or two things, but we didn't have to get into any payola politics. They finally recognized that something from our camp was good and started to play it.