Cut Chemist on his new album, Michael Jackson and Metric's 'Help I'm Alive'
Consider it a testament to Cut Chemist’s prodigious ability that the Los Angeles native first made a name for himself as one of Jurassic 5’s DJs. No disrespect to the seminal backpack rap crew, but even the most talented turntablists rarely spin off successful solo careers. Don’t believe me? Search the Amoeba bargain bin for post-Beastie Boys DJ Hurricane records.
But since debuting with the Steinski-homage, “Lesson 4: The Radio” on the B-side for Unity Committee’s “Unified Rebelution,” the man born Lucas MacFadden has proved himself to be far more than just a Technics titan. His collaborations with DJ Shadow, “Brainfreeze,” “Product Placement” and “The Hard Sell,” are rightfully regarded as classics of the live-mix genre, and his 2006 debut solo album, “The Audience Is Listening,” revealed his producer and musical director bona fides.
Local live sets from the inveterate crate-digger have been rare in recent years, but in conjunction with the Getty’s Saturdays Off the 405 series, the Chemist will alchemize alongside his emcee Hymnal and Cinefamily’s VJ Pimpadelic Wonderland. In advance of his performance, Pop & Hiss spoke to MacFadden about his forthcoming new album and his favorite songs of the summer.
You haven’t played very often in Los Angeles lately. What led you to decide to play the Getty show and what sort of set can people expect?
I’ve started seriously working on another record within the last few months, and the idea was to do a special farewell to the old set show. I haven’t played in L.A. much lately — I think I can count on one hand the number of my local performances over the last three years.
I’m friends with Liz Garo, the booker of Saturdays Off the 405, and we thought it would be a good idea. It’s outdoors, it’s the summer, it’s the perfect way to do the set and clear the desktop off for the new album. That’s pretty much the purpose. I’m going to be unveiling a few new songs. I recently did a French tour with my emcee Hymnal and that went really well, and we thought it would be a good idea to do that set for L.A.
Was there a genesis for the new album?
I always want to reinvent myself on each effort, and I’d really concentrated a lot with “The Hard Sell,” which took up a steady year of touring. It was a lot of effort and energy, and it took me a while to shake it off where I was inspired to do something else. I probably started working on the new album about a year ago. I finally got a concept and overall sound, which is a lot more electronic and a lot more melodic. My last album was more noisy and experimental, except for “The Garden.” There’s still a lot of melody and noise stuff on this album, except it’s more extreme: the noise stuff is way more noisy and abrasive; the melody stuff is more melodic, pretty and ambient.
Had you been listening to a lot of electronic music?
I was listening to a lot of early industrial French stuff from the mid-1980s — that was my muse for this. I don’t really want to divulge names specifically because I’m planning to do a simultaneous release and reissue, and I don’t want to reveal that until it’s all ready.
Do you have a label yet?
None yet. I’m going to go around and see who responds to it the right way. It’s going to be a hard sell.
What songs have been soundtracking your summer?
“Help I’m Alive” by Metric. That’s just a crazy song. I like it a lot and have been playing it out. There’s something about the unpredictability of the chord progressions, and I love how the chorus explodes. It just makes me happy. Metric have a post-punk, electronic, industrial vibe without being overly gothic or dark. That’s something I try to do — if I’m referencing something dark, I want it to have a point and resolve it with a happy ending.
Is there anything that guides your listening habits?
It’s all situational. I’ve been pulling out a lot of Michael Jackson stuff like anyone else, really going through it with a fine-toothed comb and being inspired by a lot of his work with Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton.
Any particular favorites?
“Rock With You” and "Billie Jean.” I’ve been listening to those two over and over again, looking for subtleties. I think what I respond to is how overly meticulous he was with the details in his music. It’s the sort of thing that makes me remember it’s OK to do that and it’s what made him so successful and why people respond to it. He cared so much about every little piece and tried to make every part great. He was obsessive about it.
-- Jeff Weiss
Cut Chemist and We Are the World at the Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive. 6-9 p.m. Today. Free.
Photo: Vladimir Radojicic / EMI