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Mumbles
Freedom Now
Nearly a decade after their initial collaboration, Mumbles recently reunited with Acey, as well as fellow beat maker Cut Chemist on his debut solo LP. Filled with lush arrangements, solid production, and classi..
Mumbles: Freedom Now         by DJ TREW
Return from the mountain top...

In 1994, Mumbles met Aceyalone through an A&R of Grand Royal Records, and together they recorded three tracks, two of which appeared on Acey's first solo release All Balls Don't Bounce on Capitol Records. In 1998, Aceyalone and Mumbles then decided to collaborate on a full length album together, A Book of Human Language, which has since been widely acclaimed as an underground Hip-Hop classic.

Nearly a decade after their initial collaboration, Mumbles recently reunited with Acey, as well as fellow beat maker Cut Chemist on his debut solo LP Transformations / Illuminations. Filled with lush arrangements, solid production, and classic boom bap, Mumbles delivers a future classic that walks the fine line between Hip-Hop and Downtempo.

Ground Lift had the chance to speak with the California-based producer. Topics covered are his remix project of Russian Classical music, how his spiritual journey to India affected his music, and his tales of digging with Cut Chemist and Marvski…

After you and Acey dropped Book of Human Language you left for India, what prompted that trip?

I must first say that Book of Human Language had not yet been released when I left L.A., and had not yet risen to the success it would garner in its coming years. So it wasn't like I walked out on a hit album/career. In fact, I only traveled in India for about 4 months in 1998, so the rumors of an extended hiatus in India are definitely exaggerated. I had moved to the San Francisco bay area just after college, and wasn't as directly involved with the L.A. hip-hop scene for a while. During this time, I almost signed a solo album deal with Ubiquity in 1998, but ended up backing out at the last minute.

I guess you could say that a number of life changing events went down for me between the ages of 21 and 22 years old, some good and some bad. I had a spiritual awakening while in college that opened up new doors of perception and understanding in my life that were yet unknown to me. As I began to explore the spiritual path, new things unfolded in my life and an opportunity arose to travel to India for a while, and so I jumped on it. The trip on a whole was good for me, it broadened my perspectives, cleared my mind of a lot of things, and I returned a better person.

So after you returned it wasn't until your 2005 release of "S.E.V.A." with co-producer Gone Beyond that we heard from you again, what was going on in the time between?

I started some early work on some of the beats for Transformations/Illuminations in 1998-99. "Rise '99," "Courage Under Fire," and "Laksya Bodha" were drafted during this time, without the live elements added in. I also recorded and arranged the whole of "Prema's Dilemma" during that year as well. I lived in the Bay Area for a while and focused more on the spiritual path during those years. I became a devotee of Ammachi and broadened my perspectives and studies on the world's religions and spiritual philosophies. In 2000, I moved out to Santa Fe and starting teaching music in the public school system. I had about 600 students one year and taught 44 classes per week, which wasn't easy. Later that year I met Gone Beyond, who was involved with a Santa Fe rap group called The Unknown, and we started kicking around beats together for a while. I had an idea to produce a hip-hop symphony from all samples and loops in 2-3 movements, and the result was a meditative odyssey called "Crossing the Ocean of Transmigration" which lasted 28 minutes long in 2 movements. I was considering adding a 3rd movement, but haven't gotten back to it since then. It is still unreleased material to this day, but I hope to finish it at some point, maybe for a film score.

I started sending demos out to some record labels for a solo project. A kid named Jon Ancheta, who was an intern at Ubiquity and started up the label Sound In Color along with Louis Yakich and Chanshine Nabangzang, liked my songs and loved the Book of Human Language, and within a year I had moved back to L.A., signed on with Sound In Color and started work on my new album Transformations/Illuminations. I also worked on the S.E.V.A. album with Gone Beyond for Mush Records during the same year (2003). S.E.V.A. was inspired by Ammachi's charitable works and features Hip-Hop production laced with world beat rhythms and some contemplative teachings from different spiritual traditions. It was supposed to have lyrics from a bunch of different rappers, poets and singers, but the funding was cut a little short on the project, so we just decided to release it as an instrumental album. It was released just as [the group] S.E.V.A. instead of "Mumbles & Gone Beyond present..." to avoid any conflict with the forthcoming Mumbles album that was about to be dropped on Sound In Color (Transformations/Illuminations.)

You name classical music as an influence, which makes sense from a compositional standpoint, but it's surely an anomaly amongst Hip-Hop producers. What about this style of music speaks to you?

The introversion, the emotionalism, the expressiveness ... all qualities that you will hear in my tracks as well. My step dad used to play Beethoven's piano sonatas in the house when I was growing up, and I had some piano lessons myself when I was about 8 years old, so the early exposure was definitely a factor in my case.

One day while I was in college, I heard someone play the same Beethoven Piano sonata that I grew up with, and it just opened me up to the emotional charge and vibrant power in his music. In our culture today, especially Hip-Hop culture, we are more accustomed to hard-edged, aggressive, competitive and attention grabbing music, which I think has de-sensitized us somewhat from our full capacities of sonic/audio comprehension and interpretation. So naturally one must adjust and tune one's mind to the more subtle frequencies and characteristics of Classical, Jazz or any other older style of music to truly develop an ear and taste for that genre and time period. It offers a richness and depth that is unique if one is open to it. It generally requires sensitivity, patience, openness and a slowing down from the high-speed culture that we all live in today. It also allows you to relax more deeply into the fullness of your human nature.

Recently you were asked to perform remixes of Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Mosolov. For those of us not able to attend that performance, can you describe the experience?

It was a great honor to perform at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the home of the LA Philharmonic. Many very talented musicians would love to have a chance to perform there; it is a place where new works are often premiered to the world. So it was befitting that Cut Chemist, Peanut Butter Wolf, J-Rocc, Amon Tobin, Gone Beyond, and I all got to delve into this subject and present our "remixes" of Classical music to a sold-out audience of over 2,000 attendees. It so happened that I was already a fan of the works of Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and had even heard a lot of potential samples and loops in their compositions over the years. So I had the opportunity to prepare a show and make new tracks that I had always secretly wanted to make. I also helped Cut Chemist with his performance, giving him samples and tracks to use. I got to perform an original piano composition during Cut Chemist's set called "Gravity" that I had written over his house on his grand piano back in the late 1990's. "Gravity" is a fusion track of jazz, hip-hop, turntablism and classical, and was performed with a live harpist and Hymnal on the mic. Our set that night consisted of 25 minutes of newly remixed music, all laden with ill Russian samples over tight beats and arrangements, and set to film clips of old Russian movies and propaganda footage. It was a rare event that you had to be there to fully comprehend, especially the 12-piece theremin orchestra. A once in a lifetime experience for sure. There was some talk of extending the show to become a tour after that, but that hasn't happened yet.

What are the common threads between what you do as a Hip-Hop producer, and what those composers did within the realms of Modern Classical music?

In general, progression and development of the song are important factors that I focus on, and that can be said of the Classical composers as well. They truly have set the table for most modern music to follow in their footsteps. The chord progressions that are common in most modern, popular music, that is radio friendly, was all originated in the Classical or pre-classical era of music. Just check out Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach, and you'll hear what I am talking about. They used music in terms of its power of expression, imagination, and storytelling, and I try to capture these elements in my production as well. The main thing I focus on is the depth of feeling and development of the song. Creating music is like a process, and carries an intent and power all of its own. If the purpose of the music is just easy listening, you'll remain on the surface of things, and it won't penetrate and engage you so deeply on many levels. Conversely, music written from the heart of a composer will resonate in the hearts of the listeners as well.

So you came up under DJ Marvski and Cut Chemist, what was it like being 'mentored' by these guys?

It was definitely a blessing being mentored by these two top notch DJ's. They knew Hip-Hop music inside and out. If it wasn't for DJ Marvski, there definitely would not be a Mumbles around. We listened to all the east-coast Hip-Hop records together growing up, even the obscure stuff from the early and mid 1980's. We loved the sound, and had every rap memorized. Then the day came when he started collecting the original breaks from all the early classics, like "Good Times" by Chic, the Jimmy Castor Bunch, Genius of Love, The JB's, Funkadelic, etc...

When he started playing me the original samples, recognizable from the Hip-Hop cuts I knew so well, I was blown away and was sold. Then suddenly I was like 'Play that Jimmy Castor record again.' I was probably like 10-12 years old at the time. I used to go with Marvski digging in ill spots in LA, like Rockaway Records and World of Records, long before I knew anything about vinyl or had any interest in buying my own records. I was just along for the ride. So you could say the lifestyle of digging for records was introduced to me in this way. He used to bring home sick sample tapes of straight loops that he found of records, and played them at our house. I think that's probably what got me first interested in sampling. He had a good ear for catching a loop in just the right way.

It wasn't until a few years later when Marv first gave me some record lists to go look for in the Bay Area, that I suddenly got interested in collecting my own records. I was always a collector of one thing or another; comic books, baseball cards, Transformers, but when he led the way to records; it became the ultimate habit of my life's collecting history. Marvski was also an ill breakdancer/b-boy, and I used to practice with him too. Whatever he did, I wanted to do it also. That's how it is being a little brother sometimes. We used to go out and tag our names in LA when I was like 8-9 years old. My name was PYRO, probably because I had a fascination with fire, and he was first FAZE then DOONZE, and finally T.O.M.B. an acronym for THE ONE MAN BAND. He was an ill b-boy, breaker, DJ, MC, and tagger too. He lived the fullness of Hip-Hop culture all through the 1980's. He almost had a vinyl single put out in 1985 or so that would have been a classic today if it had been released, it was called "All by Myself," and he was producing the beats, cutting on the turntables, and rapping. That's why he was known as The One Man Band.

As far as Cuts' influence goes, he and Marvski were DJ friends and used to go digging together. I think they taught each other some different things in the beginning. I used to just go listen and hang out with them at Cut's house. When they started putting together tracks for the UNITY Committee with Chali 2na and Marc7, I started paying attention to the beats they were using, the way they were sequencing tracks, etc. Their early work as a crew was amazing, and should also be a Hip-Hop classic today. Chali 2na was one of the most gifted MC's I had ever heard. They were almost signed to Jive in the 1980's, around the time when De La Soul and Tribe were first introduced, but something didn't quite click for them at that time. The infusion of the new jazzy style of music production and deep digging, from greats like De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, Diamond D, Pete Rock, Tribe Called Quest, and Main Source, along with the continued influence of the UNITY Committee inspired me in my early production days to dig and find my own style/voice as a producer. I was inspired by Cut and Marv to keep making dope tracks. Over time, I spent more time with Cut making music, and some of the beats we made together were on Book of Human Language, namely "Guidelines" and "The Hurt". We have inspired each other musically for the past 15 years or so, more than anyone else I know. It's like a tradition; we get together, play the latest digs, listen to some beats, and catch up. I never became a DJ like Marv and Cut. I was always most comfortable behind the boards, the sampler, and diggin' in the crates.

The digging scene was blowing up back then, I'm sure you've got some interesting stories from the field...

The things that always stand out in your memory are the ones you scored on, and the ones you slept on. I think most other producers/record diggers can relate. I used to go to this ill spot in Albany, CA called Baytown Records run by a guy named Mark, and there were ill records and 45's all over that place. Unfortunately at the time, my knowledge of records wasn't that deep, so I slept on some good stuff. I used to always look for the Westbound label and when I would come across the Eastbound label, I used to think, 'What is this cheap rip-off label?!' and not even bother to listen to it. The whole place was stocked with that type of stuff, and I used to bring like 10 dollars in and try to buy 2-3 records. He even had a whole box called "Rare Funk 45's" and I used to remember flipping through it and not knowing what anything was. We sort of had a stigma or pride around spending too much on an album. Not only were we out to find the albums, we had a competition to see who could spend the least amount on them as well. I remember the whole Roy Ayers original collection coming through there, and passing on He's Coming 'cause it was like 8 dollars, too much for me at the time. One good thing I did pick up at that store was a sealed copy of the original Look-Ka Py Py Meters album on Josie for $35. That and the promo of Struttin' for $40 were the most money I ever spent on a record I think. The owner of the store passed away one day, then his son closed it down. DJ Shadow went in after that and cleaned through all the 45's that were left over. Groove Merchant was another great spot in the old days (and still is). It was run by Mike and Jodi McFadin of Ubiquity in those days, then they later sold it to Cool Chris, who is the current owner, and who has one of the best collections I know of. In general, I had good luck at the records fairs and swap meets in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, and quickly built a solid collection that even Cut and Marv were trippin' off of.

We used to hit up the PCC fare regularly, Buena Park, one in Emeryville, and Rhino Records used to have a monthly parking lot sale where everything was under a dollar. One of the illest finds ever was 3 mint copies of the original "Catch a Groove" 12inch and 2 copies of the Dee Felice Trio album on King at Rhino, all for 25 cents each. Cut was sweatin' me for the "Catch a Groove's" for a long time after that. I ended up trading 2 of the copies to Biz Markie for the S.O.U.L. What Is It? album and a 45 of "Iron Leg." That had to be the illest trade of all time for me, mainly because of having to haggle with the Biz on the phone. That was one to remember. I slowed down in later years because it was so endless, and I didn't like all the greed and competition at record fares and swap meets, with guys sticking their hands in your row ahead of you, and trying to push you out of the way of a stack of LP's. Plus the internet and eBay changed the whole game, everything was reissued and you can find almost anything you want online nowadays.

You grew up in a musical household, how did that affect you as a kid, and subsequently as an adult?

I was raised by a jazz musician, Steve Fowler, who was one of 5 musically talented brothers, collectively known as the Fowler Brother's Airpocket. They were part of Frank Zappa's band the Mothers of Invention in the 1970's and recorded with many other artists in between. My grandfather, Bill Fowler, was a writer for Down-Beat Magazine for many years and a Ph.D. of music who taught at the University of Denver for many years.

My uncle Bruce Fowler is Hans Zimmer's main orchestrator for Dream Works pictures, and he and some of the Fowler's usually work on orchestrating cues for a lot of major motion pictures that come out in theatres. So you can definitely say there is a strong tradition of music in the family.

My dad spent about 4-5 hours a day practicing his flute and sax, and set a good example of discipline for Marvski and I, one that I can't say we followed, but perhaps it is there in our subconscious. He was the band director for the Brian Setzer Orchestra up until the time when he was diagnosed with ALS. My mother was also a good singer, and Marvski's mother was a jazz singer as well, who lives in Providence.

All in all, we developed our auditory faculties to a heightened level, and were exposed to rich and complex music from an early age. I'm still a very auditory focused person, really in all ways. It's a training that has enhanced the way I experience life. In college, I took a year of music theory and learned the art of ear training and pitch/interval recognition. I can usually play almost anything I've heard on the piano or a keyboard on the first try, at least the melody. I've also got almost a perfect phonographic memory for what I've heard. As an adult, I can usually tell a lot about a person from the quality of their voice. I do a lot of singing, chanting and toning in my spiritual practice, and continue to use sound as a principal way to commune with life and to understand myself. In the East, Aum (Om) is considered the first vibration which gave rise to the entire universe, and always exists as a very subtle hum resonating at the substratum level of our being and existence. The Bible sums up the same idea in saying "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God." Such an important role sound has played in all spheres of life. To be attuned to the deep meaning of sound, is to be connected deeply with all of life.

How has being more spiritually centered affected your production style and/or creative process?

I'm much more aware of the energy and vibration of the music as a whole, the individual samples, the environment in which I am working, etc... I have become more subtle and thus prefer music with a lighter and more harmonious vibratory field around it. Music is pure vibration, and carries a pure intention of whatever was in mind during it's creation. It's so subtle that it generally goes unnoticed. More and more, I resonate with higher frequency patterns that allow greater amounts of light to penetrate the structures of sound design. So in short, although I made Transformations about 4 years ago, it has a lighter overall feeling than the Book of Human Language for instance. I think my overall creative approach is still the same, I get amped, motivated, and am led to find certain samples and approaches in the sequencing architecture.

Music has always been considered a way to speak with God (or vice versa.) How have your perceptions of music as means to connect with the 'One' changed since your return?

I think in all spiritual and mystical traditions around the world, music has a special and sacred place that has been used as a way to connect spiritually to the 'One' or 'Oneness' you might say. It's important to understand that we are not separate from the 'One', otherwise there would be 'Two.' Oneness is all inclusive, through all spheres, dimensions, and realities of existence. It is all made of the same essence in its substratum, and we are part of that also. When I listen to music to sample nowadays, I'm not as attracted to certain things that I might have been before (i.e. the common baseline, horn riff, etc.). Instead, I find new ways to open up creatively and tap into deeper aspects of my being, and find ways to convey it musically. It can be like an exploration, vision-quest, or just pure Self-expression. I can also say that outside of Hip-Hop production, I've also taken up a practice of devotional singing and chanting since the BOHL was created, and this has been my principle way of staying connected in spirit to the Oneness.

In which directions do you foresee your music evolving?

I'd like to use more live instruments, do more composing, feature a variety of vocalists, singers, rappers, and spoken word artists. I would like the musical tapestry to be rich, deep, transformative, intriguing, transporting, and everlasting. It should convey a sense of the sacred without being overtly spiritual. It will reveal a depth of soul, feeling and character expressed in the music, but the character will be transparent and will allow others to feel deeply into their own souls.

On that note, what's your advice for artists trying to balance a financially prosperous creative career with a spiritually significant inner existence?

Trust in your Self, the integrity of your inherent spiritual connection with the universe. Goethe said, "Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it now. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now." When you take one step forward in this way, hidden resources will suddenly flourish to help you along your way, and you can live a more authentic, purposeful life. So just trust in the goodness of your Self or God and follow your heart and inner voice, guidance or whatever works for you. But you must discriminate between what is coming from your authentic self, and what is just a mask of ego trying to maintain a certain image, keeping your real self hidden from the world, in order to gain temporary pleasures. Stay true to what is real, and it will protect you, nourish you, and provide you with all of the financial prosperity that you need. Trust this principle and you will find that you can stand on it and that it will support your life.

 

Mumbles's latest release, Transformation / Illuminations is available now through Sound In Color Records.

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