Star Persons: The Almost True Story of Electro-Rap’s First Intergalactic Pioneers
Posted by Garrett Heaney on Mar 03, 2011
I had only heard of a few of these guys when I first got within earshot of this project, but no lie, Star Persons are on some next level. As much as I hate that phrase, it’s entirely accurate for this set, because nobody is doing anything like them. Luckily I had one of their producer’s info in my rolodex and he was kind enough to do an interview with me when I name-dropped Audible Hype. And yeah, you heard me right - these guys have multiple producers. In fact, their extended roll call is pretty deep, so that’s where I started my questioning.
(enter Man Mantis stage left)
Heaney: Is there a structured roster or is this more of an ongoing project with a melange of vocalists and producers behind it? Who’s involved right now, it sounds like you’re having a lot of fun.
Mantis: There is somewhat of a structured roster. The core of the studio arm of things consists of MCs Deken Frost (Jermel Randolph) and Mic Douglas (Doug Taylor) with a majority of production handled by myself (Man Mantis aka Mitch Pond) and J Koolaid (Justin Granberg). In addition to this core unit, we’ve been able to get a number of other MCs, singers and producers involved, including DLO and Dudu Stinks from dumate, AD from The Crest, and singer/songwriter Katie Scullen from a local band called Rivalry. When we play live, we are fortunate to be able to add keyboardist AKeysE (Aaron Konkol) from Natty Nation and drummer Agent Smith (Alex Barrett) from Black Out Jack.
Heaney: Is there anything at all similar to this right now? The beats are reminiscent of some electronic music from out in L.A. or NY, but I don’t think I’ve heard anything like this with emcees on top of it.
Mantis: I think we’ve all pulled our own influences into this project. Some of the beats I’ve produced for Star Persons actually predate the band by about two or three years, and I could never find a home for them. I was getting a little burnt out on sample-based hip hop shit, so I started to make some more upbeat, synth-based stuff inspired by bands like Ratatat and Honeycut. When Jermel and Doug approached me a year or two ago about starting a dance-electro-rap type of project, I had a set of stuff already put together. Justin (J Koolaid) had his own arsenal of beats, which sound a little more like NERD and Gnarls Barkley. The rise or continued popularity of progressive house, chill wave and dubstep have helped our cause, but we don’t really fit in with any of those categories I don’t think.
Heaney: Actually, you know who I just thought of, Camu Tao. His last album King of Hearts. The beats have a similar vibe, but even Camu, who was a nasty emcee, doesn’t really rhyme over them. I think he’s only got like 3 verses on the whole album, the rest of the time he’s singing. I can’t help but wonder what the album would have sounded like if he was still here. Do you see the likeness or am I way off?
Mantis: I’m embarrassed to say none of us had really heard any Camu Tao before we read this, but in checking it out I do see some similarities. We’re playing with some of the same ingredients, like 80s synth rock, disco, underground hip hop, etc., and Deken Frost in particular has proved he has a nasty talent for hook writing that not many people knew about before we started doing this stuff. But we’re definitely trying to be accessible, I think one of the goals of this project was to create pop music that we weren’t embarrassed to play, which is actually pretty difficult. I’m not sure if that was Camu’s goal, but to get that real mainstream sound you have to dumb things down a lot more than I think Camu did, or that we are capable of doing, so maybe that’s part of the similarity.
Heaney: I can definitely see this as a tastemaker style in hip hop though. I wonder how long until people start biting. Are you guys doing any live shows?
Mantis: We’ve actually been doing a lot of live shows, and that was a big part of the original idea of Star Persons. We’ve all played in live hip hop bands before, and the lesson in that was pretty much that a live band always trumps a DJ in a live setting unless the band really sucks or the DJ is really good. So being able to recreate music that was produced entirely inside of a computer was our challenge to ourselves. We’ve been lucky enough to have some talented cats like Joe Ramos at JoeGuerilla.com shoot some of our live shows, which are all at starpersons.net.
Heaney: As a producer, what’s the process like? How is it different than putting together typical Mantis beats? Same equipment? Or have you added some tools to your arsenal?
Mantis: The typical Man Mantis beat always starts life on the MPC 2000XL, and I have been sampling my whole career. This project is definitely different. As I mentioned, a lot of the original Star Persons material I produced began as personal experiments in trying to make super up-tempo electro stuff. I was inspired at the time (around 2006) by the 8-bit movement that was just getting popular, and was trying to play with some of those ideas but never expected it to see the light of day. So those experiments kind of set the aesthetic for my approach to producing for this group. I still use the MPC and a few songs, like Wordplay and Big Bang, still incorporate samples. But I’ve also made heavy use of Logic Pro’s software synths, as well as third-party plug-ins like YMCK’s free 8-bit Audio Unit, and I’ve been able to experiment with some effects that I never would have touched on a straight-forward boom bap project.
Heaney: What’s with Treat Yourself To Tuesday? You’re releasing a track a week? How many are left until the album is a wrap?
Mantis: That’s a great question. We have actually had our “first” LP figured out for a while, and have spent probably a year just mixing it and trying to strategize its release. We wanted to do it right, but in talking about how to get funding for a legitimate release, and legitimate mastering, and legitimate promo, we started getting frustrated that music we had been done with for a while wasn’t getting heard. So we decided to start releasing free tracks on the side to reward people who were already excited about the project, and give us some time to perfect the LP without falling into the creative doldrums that post-production can produce. The idea is that once we have about 13 or 14 of these Treat Yourself tracks out, we’ll package them together as an LP that tells a distinct story, and then begin a new run of tracks to tell a new story. This first run is sort of leading up to the drop of “Just Visiting,” LP and after that we’ll keep releasing free tracks as long as we can stand to make them.
Heaney: Do you have any favorite tracks so far? Where should we point new listeners for their first taste?
Mantis: Personally, I think Wordplay and Big Bang are good places to start. They reflect all the places that we’re coming from musically, and we worked particularly hard on making those songs. And they’re all free! The first single from “Just Visiting,” called Supernova is also a pretty good introduction, and is also available as a maxi-single on our bandcamp.
Heaney: Did we forget anything?
Mantis: Nope. Thanks again, Garrett!