An Interrogation of Insane Clown Posse's Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope
Mike Ragogna: So, who the heck's on the phone?
Violent J: This is Violent J! The Duke of the Wicked.
Shaggy 2 Dope: What's stranglin', it's Shaggy 2 Dope. I believe the festival you're talking about is the highlight of our life every year, which is known as the Gathering Of The Juggalos.
MR: Let's get some details, when is this happening?
S2D: It's happening August 11th, 12th, 13th, and 14th. It's four days and four nights long. However, on August 10th it actually begins. Many, many, many Juggalos like to show up the Wednesday before and tail gate it out in the parking lot and get the party started a day early.
VJ: Get the burgers cookin'.
S2D: Right, so we've opened the doors early the past couple of years, so it's actually kind of a five day thing.
MR: The list of acts is incredible, for instance, Charlie Sheen? I know some of these guys are friends of yours, like Busta Rhymes, but how did you get this batch?
VJ: We sit around at a big round table with our company Psychopathic, which is made of people like us. Not all of us have finished high school.
S2D: Not all of us have finished middle school for that matter.
VJ: Not all of us come from backgrounds where we used to run festivals or work for other record labels. Psychopathic is made up of childhood friends that learned this whole business together as we came up, which is a cool thing for Shaggy and myself because we get to work together with our friends from school days. Everyday, we are still together in that same click like when we were seventeen.
MR: Let's talk about that for a second. You were listed as hardcore hip-hop but there is also horrorcore involved here. Where did you guys get the idea to put those together?
VJ: Quite honestly, Detroit. When we came up in rap in about 1990-1991, this is what they were doing in Detroit.
S2D: Everybody had a gimmick to them, everybody had a story to them. It wasn't just sitting on a stool on stage with a microphone and guitar, it was about performing.
VJ: It was about showmanship, this is what Detroit was doing. It wasn't nationally popular, but cats from Detroit were coming on stage out of coffins. Then you had Kid Rock. In his videos, he was riding around on a tractor in a big cowboy hat. It was like pro wrestling, all the musical acts had a gimmick. That's being real with you; all the acts in Detroit then had a theme, they were character driven. When we came up, we were the wicked clowns, that was our deal. Looking back on Detroit music that's been around a long time, looking at Alice Cooper, even KISS, Detroit was one of the first major cities they were successful in. You've also got Iggy Pop...you've got a lot of craziness coming out of Detroit for a long time. I think Detroit is just a little bit deeper into the music, they need more entertainment, they need a show as well.
MR: Yeah, even as far back as Mitch Rider, and you guys were obviously fans of pro wrestling?
VJ: Huge fans of pro wrestling.
S2D: And we still are. Honestly, wrestling connects us to our childhood. It's been there since we were little kids, we used to do it in our backyard. We used to take it serious too, we used to hand out fliers all through the neighborhood and have our moms cook hotdogs for everybody for free.
VJ: It was as professional as little kids could be, our organization N.A.W.--National Allstar Wrestling. All of our friends would wrestle, even if they couldn't wrestle.
S2D: We were little entrepreneurs in our backyard promoting shows, now we do the same exact thing except we're grown-ass men. We still do the same thing, we book wrestling shows, we advertise them. We run our own promotion, which is called Juggalo Championship Wrestling, we run internet pay per view out of Detroit or somewhere else in the country. Juggalos log on and they watch and it's like our own TV show we produce. It has story lines, it has characters. We love wrestling.
VJ: It can hang with any promotion out there, but our goal is to not beat them or compete with them. We're just there having fun.
MR: Cool, okay let's get back to your Gathering Of The Juggalos.
VJ: Yeah, sure, like how you asked how we came up with those names. There is no method to the madness, other then our friends that we grew up with sitting around brainstorming. We assume that our fans are just like us, so anybody that Shaggy and myself, and the guys we work with at the record company would want to see, we just assume the Juggalos would want to see as well. We sit there and we say, "You know who would be awesome? Busta Rhymes." "Oh hell yeah, Busta Rhymes would be the bomb!" So, then we go for Busta Rhymes. It's not a marketing tool, there's not any strategy to it, it's all about creating the best, coolest, funnest thing we could possibly do. I believe other festivals put together their shows by looking at who's touring at that time, they look at who's already on the road. It's much cheaper to bring somebody into a festival, when that band is already out touring.
S2D: It's a part of that tour budget, so you don't have to specifically fly them into that city. They are already going to be coming through that city.
VJ: We pull our guys out of all kinds of places. We pull some artists out of obscurity and we talk them into coming back and playing at the Gathering. It's all about that good time, that dream show, that dream atmosphere. I can't believe all of these guys are going to be in one place all weekend. We create it each and every year to be a Juggalo paradise, a Juggalo Shangri-La. Yeah, we miss sometimes, we don't always nail it. Some groups we pick that the Juggalos don't want to see. So, besides that, we do pretty good.
MR: Why, it's a Juggalo Woodstock. And it's scheduled like a marathon.
S2D: It just don't stop.
VJ: But a lot of people sleep from about 7 in the morning to about 2 in the afternoon. Those are sleeping times for the most part.
MR: You have concerts going on as well as wrestling, and you have sideshows. What are the sideshows about?
VJ: Oh man. Some of them we can't talk about, some of it is exactly what it sounds like, a sideshow. Somebody pounding nails through their lips, or somebody eating fire, or somebody walking around on stilts and juggling chainsaws, or somebody hanging from their nipples out of a tree, I don't know.
S2D: They have groups of Juggalos that set up there own sites and have their things going on. It's festivals within festivals within festivals. It's pure organized confusion at it's best.
MR: As far as wrestling, you guys are going to get back in the ring, right?
VJ: We always get in there and hurt some people, absolutely. (laughs)
MR: You guys are pulling acts out of retirement, like Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer. They're the two that come to mind that have been "retired," but you also have one of my favorite artists ever on the bill, George Clinton.
VJ: Vanilla Ice plays the Gathering every year and he kills it, they love Vanilla Ice. People like MC Hammer and George Clinton still tour they are just below the radar nowadays. Yeah, ICP isn't the most favorite band on the planet, we're the most hated band on the planet. It's not easy being a Juggalo, if you walk around with an ICP tattoo or an ICP shirt on, people mess with you for that alone. "What are you doing listening to those idiots? Blah, blah, blah."
MR: Uh-oh. Am I in trouble for doing this interview with you?
VJ: Amongst your friends and peers possibly. (laughs) So what seems to go over at the Gathering is other groups that don't maybe have the best reputation. Like, in other words, if somebody is picked on by the mainstream, if the mainstream is pointing their finger at somebody and saying things about them, they come to the Gathering and they do great.
MR: You've got another infamous person on this list, Bobby Brown.
VJ: That's a perfect example. If Bobby Brown goes over good, then we can have more R&B at the Gathering, we love R&B. It kind of works. If you're on top of the charts right now, it probably wouldn't work, but if you had your time and now people are looking at you funny, you come to the Gathering and they love you. And people blame Bobby Brown for Whitney Houston's downfall and all this other s**t, and the deal is the more the mainstream points the finger at Bobby Brown, the more Bobby Brown can come to the Gathering and be accepted, because we feel his pain. Juggalos feel his pain and there is no finger-pointing going on here. We accept anybody who gets shunned by the rest of the world and come right in.
MR: Even Chris Brown?
VJ: I don't know. He's too popular. He's back on top again.
S2D: Well, Juggalos also don't like woman beaters. They don't like that.
MR: Now, one of my favorites on your list is Jimmy "JJ" Walker.
VJ: Yeah, JJ, hell yeah. Weird pairing right? You wouldn't think JJ and the Juggalos would be something, but JJ has come out for us a couple of times. He hosted something we did in Philadelphia called The Oddball Bonanza, he was our comedian on that show. Juggalos love him and he loves Juggalos, it's so hard to figure them out. The weirdest pairings and the weirdest connections happen in the world of Juggalos. That's why I find it interesting every day of my life because it's definitely not up to me and Shaggy, because sometimes, me and Shaggy put something up there and it isn't good.
MR: Which brings us to Charlie Sheen. How'd you get him signed up?
VJ: Well we did The Howard Stern Show, and somebody mentioned that it would be awesome if we got Charlie Sheen to do the Gathering. We started saying, "Oh man, that would be great, that would be awesome." Then, when we got back to Detroit, somebody had called us from his camp and said, "Hey man you should call this guy, he manages Charlie Sheen and try to work it out. It might actually be cool," and we're thinking we could never afford Charlie Sheen type of money, but we called and started talking to his manager. It turns out he's not doing it for the money, he's doing it because he wants to do it. He's doing it because Charlie Sheen recognizes that this is something unusual, that this is something different. I know when things are different people sway away from it, but we believe that the Juggalos and the Gathering will go down in history. I don't think there has been anything like Juggalos in the history of rock 'n' roll, I don't think there will be anything like Juggalos again. You can't compare Juggalos to Deadheads, you can't compare Juggalos to anybody because Juggalos are bigger than a fan base, they are a movement. They're a way of life, they're more personal, they're more serious, and they're way more devoted to what they are. Charlie Sheen? You've got a guy that's seen it all and done it all, but yet when he looks at the Juggalo Gathering, he sees something he's never done. He sees something that is truly different, and to the best of our knowledge that's why he wanted to come do it.
MR: You just booked him because you wanted his goddesses out there.
S2D: There's nothing wrong with that, come on. (laughs)
VJ: That's what we said on Howard Stern, that's how we got on the subject of Charlie Sheen. We were talking about his goddesses.
MR: You're going to have so many acts. You're going to have Busta Rhymes, Flavor Flav, Vanilla Ice, Xzibit, MC Hammer, CKY, Kottonmouth Kings. Love them, by the way.
VJ: Kottonmouth Kings are huge! They are Juggalo icons.
S2D: We've been down with them for many moons.
VJ: We've toured with them probably five or six times. They are very large in the Juggalo community. People love the Kottonmouth Kings.
MR: You also have DJ Quik, Charlie Sheen of course, Ice Cube, Bobby Brown... who am I missing?
VJ: Ya know, we've got Lil Jon. The main thing about the Juggalo gathering is if you're into what we do, which is underground horrocore, we have taking place in the woods after midnight--after the main stage shuts down--the best of who's who in horrocore. They come from all over the country, all over the world even. We have the best, scariest, coolest, freakiest, funkiest acts you'll ever see. There is something surreal about walking around those woods at night, seeing those artists up on stage.
S2D: It's a great setting for a great set of people.
VJ: It's just unbelievable, there is nothing like it ever. There's like four stages out in the woods. We also have comedians like Brian Posehn, we have Harland Williams. Over at wrestling, we have the biggest legends of wrestling show that we've ever heard of ever going down anywhere. If you're into nostalgic wrestling, we have some of the greatest matches that ever happened in history, they are happening again, some of the biggest rematches in history too. Also, some of the biggest and best dream matches, matches people have always wanted to see their whole lives. They are actually going to see them happen on wrestling stages. I'm telling you, for wrestling fans, there is no place they would rather be than the Gathering.
MR: It sounds like you also will be having new artists at this even too, right?
VJ: Yeah, like I was telling you, we have the best acts of tomorrow. We have acts that are bubbling under and on the verge of becoming huge stars. Acts like Tech N9NE.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
VJ: My advice is YouTube. It's hard for us to say because the way we came up was the exact opposite way to do it nowadays. With the computer and YouTube and all of that, now you have to be a Justin Beiber and be a YouTube sensation. The good thing about YouTube is that it's the TV of today, and the best thing is there is no program director, there's nobody telling you no. You don't have to go there and solicit your stuff and have somebody say yay or nay to playing it on YouTube. YouTube is straight from the people to the world, so if you can come up with a three-minute video that's interesting or clever or exciting enough and stick it on YouTube, you can become a star, just like the homeless radio guy voice, or Justin Beiber, or like every other thing that exploded on YouTube. You can become a star overnight on YouTube. Of course, that's how we make our noise, we make videos and post them on YouTube, that's our direct link to the world. It's making corporate giants like MTV and VH1 more obsolete, it's become a direct route from you the musician to the people of the world. Put it on YouTube. If it's good, people will start to notice it, it's a wonderful thing. Nothing sucks worse than having another human being in charge of your destiny. If you work hard and make a whole album, and then you take your first single up to MTV and some guy in a suit...
S2D: ...he don't like it. It's done, that's your career.
VJ: If he didn't like it, that's it. Thankfully, because of places like YouTube, you now have a shot, with no middleman about it. You have a shot and I think that's great.
MR: To heck with program directing.
VJ: To a certain degree, yeah.
MR: I actually worked at Universal for a while and assembled an Insane Clown Posse collection that I guess was never released. It was a lot of fun listening to your albums, but I felt we should've gotten you guys to do it yourselves.
VJ: Exactly, I can imagine to not be familiar with our music and then start going through our music to find the best songs, it had to be quite an adventure.
MR: It was fun, and around the same time, there was a Rob Zombie collection.
VJ: He's playing here in Detroit tonight. It would be a dream come true for him to play the Gathering.
MR: Did you reach out?
VJ: Oh, yeah, but some of these prices, man, we can't meet.
S2D: We have to set our losses somewhere.
VJ: We're not really making money on the Gathering. We're losing, but it's worth having the event.
MR: Let's go through where it is and when it is one more time.
VJ: It's in Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, which is, believe it or not, in the middle of nowhere.
S2D: I don't even believe it exists on a map. It's somewhere in the state of Illinois and there is no phone reception, it's literally in the middle of nowhere.
VJ: If your cellphone gets reception, you're a very lucky individual. You're going down dirt roads, you think you're being set up and trapped or something, then there they are--15,000 tents and a mist above the fans. It's just a site you've never seen. It's unlike anything you've ever seen.
S2D: Beyond magic.
VJ: You can check it out at www.juggalogathering.com. And you can see it on YouTube.com, of course, you can check out the Juggalo Gathering 2011 infomercial. You will see two infomercials hosted about Vanilla Ice and a few other people. It's great and it's funny and it gives you a rundown of everything that is happening at the Gathering. It's the 12th annual Gathering.
S2D: The actual festival goes from the 11th to the 14th.
MR: But people should get there on the 10th to get to the tailgating, right?
VJ: Oh, man, yeah. Put it this way...if you go to the Gathering, it's an event, it's an experience you will remember for the rest of your life. That's what life's about, racking up cool experiences and cool memories.
S2D: A lot of people, that weekend, will go to a water park, and a week from that weekend, they will forget all about it. But anybody that goes to that Gathering that weekend will remember it for the rest of their lives.
VJ: That's the real deal. The last thing I want to say about it, it's not so much about who is playing on the main stage as much as it's about the feeling between the Juggalos. Those people together all go through the same stuff in life, they all feel like the underdog or not wanted or something. When you get together with thousands of people that are just like you, it just creates a euphoria, man. It's just wonderful, there has never been one fight at the Gathering. People think that if they go to the Gathering and they aren't a Juggalo, then they are going to get beat up. It's exactly the opposite. You get welcomed with open arms. I can't say enough about it, I'm so excited about it.
MR: I really appreciate you guys doing the interview. Maybe we're going to need another one to talk about how it went.
VJ: Hell yeah, brother, anytime.
Transcribed by Theo Shier
The Business Of Music: A Conversation with Audio Fidelity's Marshall Blonstein
Mike Ragogna: Marshall, how are you?
Marshall Blonstein: Doing well, how are you Mike?
MR: Very well, thanks. Tell us about your label, Audio Fidelity.
MB: Sure. Audio Fidelity is an offshoot of DCC Compact Classics. I was with CBS Record for a number of years and then I left CBS and joined Lou Adler at Ode Records - which was Cheech & Chong and Carole King's Tapestry into The Rocky Horror Picture Show. We had about a ten-year run with that, then we sold the company. I became President of Island Records where we had Bob Marley and Steve Winwood, and it was just before U2 emerged, so we had Third World and Grace Jones. After that, I started DCC Compact Classics, which was one of the first CD only labels. It was in 1986 when CDs were just becoming available, so we built up a nice reputation for our compilations and the quality of our sound. Then in the '90s, we were able to move into an area that I was really comfortable with - the audiophile, high end of our business. I was able to do 24 karat gold discs and 180 vinyl, which is a high end thick vinyl, and we had a great group of people working there that had wonderful taste and a great knowledge of music. The titles that we were putting out from The Eagles and The Doors, for example, were titles that we not only loved as a group of people, they were titles that had not been remastered in a number of years, and after 15 years with DCC Compact Classics, I left and formed Audio Fidelity--that was ten years ago. I started it with the same idea and intentions that I had at DCC Compact Classics, which was to take classic artists and make them look and sound better than ever. So, we're still doing 24 karat gold and 180 vinyl. It's a nice life to lead, getting to listen to and work with artists you love. And to this day, we're putting out titles like The Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel, etc. We like to say, "It's for people that can hear the difference." That's what Audio Fidelity is all about.
MR: Can you explain to us how you get that sound?
MB: First, we select a title that we feel is viable and commercial enough and we see the last time that that title was remastered. If something was remastered in the last 2 or 3 years, no matter how good we think we are, we can't make it sound that much better. So, we try to go back and get something that hasn't been remastered in the last 10 or fifteen years, and if it's been remastered in the last five or six years we just sit down and access whether or not we can make it sound better. Then, we work with Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray, our engineers, who are two brain surgeons when it comes to this stuff. They're the best in the world when it comes to getting the best sound possible. We're not heavy-handed in our approach - we don't try to impose our sound on the recording. What we do is open up the sound so that it sounds like when it was originally recorded. Then, we go back and recreate the original artwork for each album. An album like James Taylor's Sweet Baby James had different artwork when it was originally released than it did when it was released years later on CD, so we go back and recreate everything to restore it to its original state.
MR: What are some of your favorite projects that you've worked on over the years?
MB: Well, one was a project that I worked on in the mid-'80s called Toga Rock, which was a bunch of classic rock songs that we put together for people who were throwing a Toga party. Another favorite for me was The Best Of Tragedy where we put together a bunch of tragic songs--we even put a warning on that record because we realized after listening to 5 or 6 songs that if someone were to listen to that album alone all the way through, they were liable to end it all. (laughs) Another favorite was the Club Verboten box set, which was a compilation of contributions to music by gay artists and writers. That turned out to be a labor of love because once you opened that door, you found out some very interesting and fabulous things about a lot of artists. Then, or course, getting to work with artists like The Eagles and The Doors and getting to know their music and how they recorded. At one point, we worked with the Sinatra family and created a line called Artanis, which is Sinatra spelled backwards. Frank Sinatra recorded every performance he ever did with Wally Heider, so the sound quality was fantastic, and thanks to the Sinatra estate, we were able to go in and remaster a great collection of songs for Sinatra 57 for his 57th birthday. A lot of those types of things were the things that I most enjoyed working on. We also did some Paul McCartney stuff that was amazing. It was recorded in Ghana and when we heard the tapes, it sounded so raw that it was amazing to listen to the sound that he got from a small recording studio in Ghana. We also did Ringo, and we couldn't find the master tapes, we looked all over, and Capitol records couldn't find the master tapes. So, one day, Steve Hoffman was in the office and he walked into my office and told me that Ringo was on the phone, and I asked, "Ringo who?" and he told me that it was the Ringo and that he said that he had the tapes. So, we had Ringo Starr calling us to let us know that he had the master tapes and was willing to let us use them.
MR: Didn't you have a similar or pretty interesting incident with a collection you put together of Ray Charles' music?
MB: (laughs) Sort of. What happened was that we asked for master tapes from his people and they sent over cassette tapes that sounded absolutely horrible. I had to call them up and tell them that we need the actual master tapes because we were going to be making CDs, which was a completely different sound. So, Ray called us up himself and said that he was doing an appearance in New Orleans and he would be back to his home soon, and that we should meet him in his studio in South Central, Los Angeles. We went over to his studio and while we were there, we got into a little debate. He was walking around with a cup of libation, and it was his studio so he could walk around fairly easily because he knew where everything was. Well, he took one wrong step and fell down and he managed to hold on to his cup firmly and not spill a drop. (laughs) After helping him up and spending hours debating with him that those weren't the original tapes, what we found out was that the studio where a lot of his tapes were stored were labeled in Braille. So, years and years ago, someone pulled out a master tape, but it was for the 8-track master and it was compressed to death, and they had been sending that around the world as the master for about 10 or 12 years. Steve Hoffman finally went in there with their engineer and found the actual masters and we played them for Ray, then played the masters that they sent us. It was a world of difference, and of course he said, "Why didn't you just tell me that's what you wanted?" (laughs) He was an absolute joy to work with and we became friends and there was even a point in our relationship where he would call me up saying that he needed to talk to me so I would drive down to South Central only to get there and realize that he merely wanted to see what was going on with me. Sometimes, we would even play chess, so I can honestly say that I used to play chess with Ray Charles even though I never won. (laughs) And the label was able to put out Ray Charles that sounded the best it had sounded since the songs' original releases.
MR: What are some of your upcoming releases?
MB: Well, this month, we have Bad Company on 24 karat gold, and we also have Carly Simon's No Secrets coming out soon. Both of those sound just amazing and they're all terrific people to work with. Then, we have James Taylor's Sweet Baby James coming out soon and A Space In Time by Ten Years After. We also have some Bryan Adams, Sade, Lenny Kravits, Marianne Faithfull, The Wallflowers, The Roches, and some other coming up on vinyl. And on 24 karat, we have some Rush, Elton John, and Heart's Greatest Hits. So, we have some pretty great stuff coming up.
MR: Because you've been in this industry for quite a while now, can you share your thoughts on the current state of it?
MB: Obviously, because we're in the audiophile high end, the idea of downloads is less a factor for us because the people that make an actual investment in 24 karat gold and 180 vinyl are less likely to want downloads for their iPod's. That's what the industry is coming to - it's not so much about quality as it is mobility. People want to be able to take 200 songs with them and listen to them wherever they'd like. But the people who are in the audiophile world are ones that still want to sit down and listen to music - they don't want to be moving, they don't want to be in their cars, they just want to be sitting down and enjoying a cigar and a glass of wine and listening to an artist. Those are the people that we deal with. They don't mind spending more money if you can give them what you want. So, the state of the music business is one thing, but the state of our business is another. It's changed in the regard that the person who first started buying our stuff in the '90s when he was 20 is now 40. The audience has changed, so we cater to a select group of people and we know what they like and we know what they don't like and in most cases, we're close to being on the same page with them. So, you have the traditional record business, which is going through a whole bunch of changes, and then you have the audiophile business, which is going through less change because it's more specific. It's two industries. People are now talking about how the growth of vinyl now is incredible. Compared to the decline of traditional CD's, the growth of vinyl has grown 2 or 3% of the real marketplace, but it's not going to change anybody's life financially. The artists themselves are starting to take control and wanting to put their stuff out on vinyl because it's such a wonderful sound. Our 24 karat gold records come as close to that warmth that you expect to hear from vinyl as you could hope for. There is also the issue of many music stores closing so that we have less places to ship to. But those stores that still exist aren't just surviving, they're thriving. They've chosen to do things differently - in other words they carry titles like ours and things that Walmart and Best Buy won't necessarily carry. They've built up an audience and a group of customers who trust them. The online industry has also been fantastic for us because all of a sudden, we can sell records to people in Siberia. (laughs) These new markets that we've never been able to get to before are now opening up to us. They're looking for a quality sound, and we've got it.
MR: What advice would you give to new artists?
MB: I would say approach the industry with the attitude that you are going to make it on your terms and in your own way. I wouldn't think of things in the old terms of needing a record company behind you to make it. In this day and age, you can pursue a career from wherever you are - you don't want to hop on a plane to New York and start banging on the doors of record companies, it doesn't happen like that. The best thing you can do is find a club and go make your chops at a club - get used to singing in front of a crowd, and get comfortable writing songs. Just play anywhere and everywhere you can, then, when you get the chops, go find a place where you can play a gig. Go 50 miles from your house, then go 100 miles from your house. After that, try setting up a tour where you can open for someone. Make some money and try to survive doing this and I believe eventually you'll find your niche. There are artists now who only have their material available at their concerts and online and they can sell 100,000 albums a year - it's not unusual for artists who don't have record contracts to sell 50,000 to 100,000 records on their own. When you sell that many records on your own at $14 apiece rather than the $2 you'd get from a record company, all of a sudden, it becomes a wonderful way to spend your life on the road. Plus, you're doing what you love to do. At that point, the record labels will find you, you don't have to sit and wait in some lobby for a record executive to say no for whatever reason. So, I would suggest forgetting the old way of thinking about going and seeking out the record companies and instead, go through the internet and through YouTube because now you can do it on your terms and better than ever before. If you're still thinking you can send a demo into a record company and have them be impressed and contact you, it's not going to happen. We still consistently get checks from iTunes for blues compilations that we created years ago, so the internet has become an incredible tool in getting music to the masses.
MR: Great advice from someone who has had such a great career in the music industry. Marshall, thank you so much for spending time with us today.
MB: Thanks, Mike. And I just want to say that the music industry is still such a great place to be, and if I had to do over, I would do it the same way and I would do it in the music industry.
Transcribed by Evan Tyrone Martin
A Conversation with N.E.D.'s John Soper, William "Rusty" Robinson, and Will Winter
MR: What is N.E.D. and why is your album titled 6 Degrees?
John Soper: N.E.D. is a rock 'n' roll band comprised of 6 gynecologic oncologists from around the country. We all specialize in the care of women with cancers of the female reproductive tract. N.E.D. is an abbreviation for our formal name--"No Evidence of Disease"--and is used in a medical context to describe a situation where there is no detectable cancer in a patient. We hope we could say that to all of our patients.
Will Winter: N.E.D., or "No Evidence of Disease," is what we hope to tell every patient at the end of their therapy. That is a complete remission. 6 Degrees has multiple meanings, but perhaps the most important is the idea of six degrees of separation. In its most general description, this refers to the fact that a person is associated with everyone else in the world through a string of six successive people. The idea with N.E.D.'s CD title is that everyone knows someone with a gynecologic cancer through that same concept. No life is left untouched by cancer.
MR: How was the band formed?
JS: N.E.D. was initially assembled to play cover tunes for a medical convention. We meshed through that experience, enjoyed making music together, and decided that we could have a higher purpose by making a noise for women with gynecologic cancers. We thought we might be able to raise awareness for gynecologic cancers and through sales of music, fundraising events, and concerts raise money for the Women's Cancer Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that promotes education and research for these malignancies, and Marjie's Fund, another not-for-profit organization that promotes raising awareness for these cancers.
We are all practicing physicians with a full-time clinical practice of medicine. Gynecologic Oncology includes complex cancer surgery, administering chemotherapy treatments, and participating in radiation therapy planning/treatment for our patients. We all also have a love of music and have performed in various types of bands and musical projects in the past.
MR: How do you create and record one coherent project while working from six different locales?
JS: With difficulty! The initial 6 songs on our original EP N.E.D., released in 9/2009 on the Motema label, were selected from demos of song ideas that members of the band submitted via MP3s of the basic song concept. We initially got together for several long weekends to develop the songs with our producer, Mario McNulty, and reworked the song structures, lyrics, and arrangements before recording the EP. For our second CD, we circulated song ideas...often sketches or rough demos via MP3s that were emailed to the group. We all collaborated on getting together rough arrangements and learning our individual parts. Following our first CD, we performed several fundraising concerts in venues at each of our hometowns and would build in one or two days rehearsal into the event. During the year, we would learn and rehearse new songs before each gig, then go out and perform them at the gig. Our most ambitious gig was our first fundraiser in Portland, Oregon in October, 2009. We learned and performed 6 new songs!
After a year, we had enough songs that we had performed and developed in performance that we could select from to put together our second CD. We got together for a long weekend with our producer, and refined the songs; rewrote lyrics, chopped verses, worked out arrangements and tempos, and recorded demos of our 12 best new tunes. These were used by each of us to practice our parts individually and formed the basis for the scratch tracks that were used for our second recording project. We still have some songs that we've performed that aren't in "final" form yet, and there are several tunes that haven't yet made it past the initial demo stage.
William "Rusty" Robinson: It probably couldn't have been done prior to the digital recording era. We depend on computer software like GarageBand to create and share music files. Basically, one of us gets an idea for a song and records it on their home computer. Then, we send it around to the rest of us who add our particular instrument and musical thoughts. By the time it gets to everybody, we have a song. Plus, none of these songs were recorded in the studio as a group. The drums were recorded first in New York. The guitars and basses were recorded next in North Carolina. The vocals and extras were recorded later at various places. It was all then mixed and mastered in New York.
MR: Will this album mainly be offered as a digital download?
JS: N.E.D., our first EP, and 6 Degrees, our new release, are available as a physical hard-copy CD and in digital download form. Previews of the individual tracks on 6 Degrees and links for purchasing in either format are available through our website http://www.nedtheband.com and are available through CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon, etc. We find that many of our patients want a physical connection to the band and prefer the hard copy CDs.
WRR: No, please buy hard copies of our CD! The artwork and liner notes are great.
MR: Is the material unified topically?
WRR: Only in the sense that all the songs come from human experience. We think they are universal in that they evoke common emotions. However, the specific topic or story of each song is different. Just like with any other songwriter, they come from our personal experiences. Some of those experiences are with patients and hospitals, even chemotherapy, by the nature of what we do, but others are not. In fact, I would challenge the listener to figure out which ones came specifically from a medical background. I bet most people can't tell!
WW: Yes and no. We do not strive to write songs strictly about cancer in literal fashion. Our songs are meant to reach out to the general public. We also want to reach those who do not have the awareness of gynecologic cancer that our brave patients and their family and friends have. Our patients are all too aware. Again, success is measured in bringing folks into the conversation who might otherwise have never had a clue what is going on with gynecologic cancers. That is to say, we really strive to make our music and lyrics generally applicable and appealing; dealing with life issues in general, rather than strictly about cancer. Our patients will tell you that they hear enough about their cancer everywhere else in their lives. We want our music to be a beautiful escape for them, while catching the ears of the unaware.
MR: Did you always see the band as one with a mission and if so, what is it?
JS: When we decided to write and perform original music, our goal was to make a noise for our patients with gynecologic cancers, raise awareness, and hopefully, generate funds for the not-for-profits that were referenced above. As doctors who have a passion for our work and a passion for music, this also worked out to be somewhat therapeutic for each member of the band.
WW: That was the inception. That is what we will always be, but I can tell you it is a great deal of fun connecting with our patients and other fans through music. The enjoyment and the mission go hand-in-hand.
MR: Do you see your mission changing to accommodate other concerns?
WW: Not really. Gynecologic cancer is our main concern and real passion. We will continue to address all facets of this. Our ultimate goal is to help other fledgling organizations such as ours launch their efforts. You have to be passionate about your mission to make it successful. It is very hard work, but our passion drives this band and its mission.
MR: What was the focus behind your 2009 EP debut and did it also include a humanitarian element?
WW: Same mission, same band, two years younger, age and musically.
MR: Where exactly do the proceeds go?
WW: The general concept is to raise gynecologic cancer awareness and to promote education. We have had two organizations with whom we have partnered: Marjie's Fund for Gynecologic Cancer Awareness and Education and the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation (GCF).
MR: With N.E.D.'s members spread out geographically, is there a plan on how to make your tour work from a practical perspective?
JS: Currently, we have focused on performing in events that are close to our hometowns. Logistically, this lowers overhead costs. We try to structure gigs and fund-raising events so that travel, lodging, and rental of the back-line equipment are covered or likely to be covered. In Portland, Oregon, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, we incorporated fund-raising events with gigs and were able to donate a portion of the profit to patient support funds at the local cancer centers. We have also participated in fund-raising events that benefited other groups, such as the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, the Ogilvy Group, and will be performing to benefit the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance in Washington, DC this summer.
WW: That is the 64 million dollar question. If we did not have fairly time-consuming day jobs, we would love to tour 100 days a year at least--please don't repeat that to my wife. That said, we love our day jobs and will not give those up. Our focus will be on starting to do mini-tours throughout the year. We would like to plan 4-6 dates in a specific geographical area each time. As you intimate, that is going to take planning, a few PhDs and a great deal of calculus to work out. NASA will likely have to help us with that. We will just need to make sure that all the teams are using the same system of measurements.
MR: Will the show's proceeds also go towards charitable organizations?
WRR: Yes, we typically split the proceeds of all live events with a local non-profit that acts as the sponsor/promoter.
WW: Marjie's Fund and the N.E.D. Fund at Marjie's Fund. We do not make a profit off of our sales and concerts.
MR: Do you see this as an ongoing series of releases?
JS: We were encouraged by the response to our initial EP. If we continue to build on that success with 6 Degrees, we have additional material in development and would hope to continue to perform and record in the future.
WW: I certainly hope so. I still have a lot of music pent up and a lot to say.
MR: What is your advice for new artists? And from your perspective, should they be thinking about some humanitarian element?
JS: We are the prototype for the saying "don't give up your day job"...our patients wouldn't allow it! We also aren't the typical business model for aspiring musicians. It is hard to make a living when you donate your profits to a worthy cause. We're doing this because we love to make music and are able to marry our passion for our work with the music in a way that is very rewarding on a personal level. It makes my day when I've finished seeing a patient in clinic and she asks about the band or comments that the CD hasn't left her CD player in the car since she got it or talks about sharing the music with other people because she felt a connection to a song on the album. It has added to the quality of her life, and I believe that I've shared part of myself with her in a way that most physicians can't.
WRR: LOL. We still think of ourselves as "new artists," but if there's anything that we learned, it's that if you want to do something in the music business, don't be scared. In some ways, there's never been a better time. A new artist doesn't need a label anymore. They barely even need a studio. Anyone who gets good enough with digital recording software on a computer can create their own studio in their home. If WE can do it, then anybody truly can! And should they be thinking about some humanitarian element? Depends on what you mean; all music and all art are "humanitarian." Art is an attempt by one human to evoke an emotion from another human by means of a created product--words, music, paintings, etc. If you mean should they consider adding a non-profit aspect to their work, I think we should all do that in our own way. Virtually every organized religion and ethical framework calls for some sort of financial sacrifice on behalf of the less fortunate.
WW: Well, that is interesting. We still see ourselves as the new artists. That said, from our experience over the last few years, you just need to be true to who you are. Sing and play from the heart and people will get it. The humanitarian element has to come from a passion. We are still learning everyday.
1. Celestial Visions
2. What I Meant to Say
4. Good Enough
6. This Day
7. Let the Singing Begin
8. Running in Circles
9. If You Want Me
10. We Never Mattered
11. Tears of Gold
12. Don't Start the Party
Follow Mike Ragogna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ragz2008