As Beck's DJ for the past 4 years, DJ Swamp is already a heavy-hitter in the scratch/remix world. With Never is Now, Swamp steps behind the boards and up to the microphone to produce and rhyme. What has resulted is an album that reflects Swamp's love of the evil, sinister, and dementia. Swamp looks more like Rob Zombie and Evil Dead than The Chemical Brothers.
"Ring of Fire" smashes out of the gates with its creepy bass undertones, and pyrotechnical battle rhymes, all sounding like something straight from Hell Records. It's not completely Horror-core, though tracks like "Worship the Robots" utilize a fantastic electro bass line and computer generated vocals, reaffirming the notion that machines are indeed funky.
"Demons in the Suburbs" and "Swamp Cuts" find Swamp calling out fake DJs coast to coast, backing up his boasts with clever vocal snippets and sick scratch freak-outs on the breakdowns. Throughout the record, Swamp brings his level of turntablism to new heights, utilizing cuts of obscure vocal samples and tones to create guitar-like "leads" and textures around the many funky instrumental tracks.
I met him in New York City right before 9/11 to talk about his first album.
AL: Do you have a big shout for anyone?
DJ Swamp: Right now, you are listening to my man, Alexander. He's on the interview. 2001. In the offices of Girlie Action. Even though I haven't got any "girlie action" yet. I don't know. I thought that is what it was all about. It's all good. The night is young. I am just left coast hustling.
AL: Have you worked with the Dust Brothers and Sukia?
DJ Swamp: Yes. I did remixes for DJ Me DJ You. I worked in the studio with the Dust Brothers for six months. They showed me how to rock Pro Tools and mix fat beats. I was on tour with Sukia and Beck in 1997 for a year. I was kicking with them.
AL: What do you think of DJ culture? You seem to be hooking up with bands.
DJ Swamp: I'm down with everybody. If you look at the DJ scene: that is so diverse in itself. You have house DJs, club DJs, and radio DJs, turntablists, and then you have your studio DJs. There are so many kinds of DJs. They are very diverse. And the bands are so diverse. I am down with anyone. I do whatever it takes to make money.
AL: How did you hook up with Beck?
DJ Swamp: I grew up in Ohio. I won the DMC DJ battle in 1996. I was the US champion but I was still stuck in Ohio driving a street sweeper. I figured that I was not going to wait around for people to find me, so I started to make calls, trying to get with this and that. I got some offers. But with Beck, I lied and said I was a reporter. I got an interview with him. Through that I got a demo tape to him. He was impressed enough to ask me to go on tour with him. So I went from being a street sweeper to being on The Grammys within in a few months.
AL: You do a lot of scratching?
DJ Swamp: Turntablism. The tricks. More people know me from that world than playing with Beck.
AL: At what point did you start thinking about doing your own records?
DJ Swamp: I always wanted to do a record. I wanted to be in control of it. I didn't want to be in a situation where someone else was putting up the money. So they could tell me what to do. I didn't want to have the pressure of having someone else's money being invested. And possibly lost. So it came to a point where I had enough money and equipment. After I did the Midnight Vulture's tour, I had been on tour with Beck for four years. I felt it was time to do my own record. That's where we are right now.
AL: When did start doing this record?
DJ Swamp: It was sometime in fall 2000. I did all the vocals except "Worship the Robots." I wrote the rap and I typed it into the computer. There is a girl doing French vocals, which is a sample. That's it. It's all me. All the producing and vocals.
AL: There is a lot of boasting on this record.
DJ Swamp: I don't make up the rules. I am just a musician. I will just walk along with what is going on. If others are doing it, I do it too. There's a lot of ego in everything. It's not that bad. If you listen, it is just mainly DJ bullshit, which is rare. You don't hear DJs rapping about how dope they are. Or how other DJs suck. So it's real original in its own way. Rappers do that all the time; "Other rappers suck and I'm the best." Whatever. Let me jump in there and do it too. I have been rapping forever. I never thought I was any good. It's just that everyone sucks right now. So fuck it. I ain't the worst.
AL: What about getting the robot voice to work?
DJ Swamp: Man, I never even knew if I was able to do it. It was the first time I heard anyone do it. Where you type in the entire rap. Then you have to chop every single syllable and beat on Pro Tools. It took me a year but it was worth it. I like how it came out. I was sure someone was going to beat me to it. Luckily, I have the record out.
AL: I think Radiohead used the same computer voice on OK Computer.
DJ Swamp: That is so easy. Just type the shit in and say it. I made it rap. I used the same voice because I knew people would know the voice because both Radiohead and Beck used it. There are twenty voices you can use. People know that the "Fred" voice is in Simple Text. But I am going to make the motherfucker rap. That is what is hard to do. "Fred" is a legend now. He has a career ahead of him. If I called him, then I would have to pay him. I don't even know if "Fred" exist. It might be all computer generated from day one. If it is a sample, Word is not big enough file to carry that big a sample.
AL: How much playing did you do on Midnight Vultures and what was that like?
DJ Swamp: I did a lot of playing on Midnight Vultures but it didn't get used. Midnight Vultures was basically two albums. Beck probably did 30 or 40 songs. Most of the ones that I was on ended up not being on Midnight Vulture. I thought that stuff was better. They might be still used at some point. They are more hip hop based. I think that Beck thought that there was already some hip hop that was better than the stuff he was doing. He discredited himself. But I thought his stuff was dope. He wanted to go a different route.
AL: Did you have some wild ideas that you finally got to on your own record?
DJ Swamp: I met this girl in Paris, France who was a breakdancer. I am a huge fan of breakdancing. I used to it when I was younger. There was a breakdancing contest when I was on tour with Beck. I met this girl who was gorgeous. She's actually on this other DJ videotape that I put out. She had the coolest voice. She hardly spoke any English. I wrote down some ill dark poetry and had her translate it and record it right into the laptop. Just like that. When I get more money you will see some crazy stuff with my recording techniques and me. I'll climb on top of a volcano and record it into a laptop and it will sound like it was in a studio. We'll have videotape footage of it.
AL: What about the beats?
DJ Swamp: I just start banging on shit. Making noise. It sounds like bullshit. But sometimes you just luck out and you just grab those things and save them. Then you take all the good pieces and you have a song. Ring that bell. Smash those lights. I don't know how to play keyboards. I just bang on them and luck out. Chop it up. As far as lines and the rhymes, I have my palm pilot. I just throw one liners into there. You just come across stuff if you are smart enough to write them down. Put them on a computer and cut and paste. There's nothing to it. I wouldn't be able to do it before this stuff came out because I was too lazy. I'm always doing stuff. Did you see the video?
AL: Not yet?
DJ Swamp: We just finished it. We shot it on digital film. I edited it. I just figured out that I was pretty good at editing. I would have never known how to edit video. But because I already knew Pro Tools. It's similar. Same concept. Check out this video. It's like some low budget Spinal Tap shit.
(Watches "Ring of Fire" video)
AL: You look Goth. It looks like Cradle of Filth doing a hip hop song.
DJ Swamp: I am stealing hiphop moves from everyone. It would be even stupider if I tried to dress like some New York rapper. So fuck it.
AL: Snoop Doggy Dog wears black clothes.
DJ Swamp: I'd give more credit to him than to Cradle of Filth. (Laughter) We have another video almost done for "Worship The Robots."
AL: Are we supposed to laugh because you are having a laugh and not taking yourself so seriously?
DJ Swamp: I guess. It's meant to be brutally harsh. When you throw the turntables in it, it makes it wacky. There's no way you can be serious. We rented the limo for one hour. I called my friend Wicked. I said, "Bring you boys over." They did all the breakdancing. The skateboarder is my friend, Pablo Diaz. He's a professional skater. In this video for "Worship The Robots" I am the DJ and the guy with the cans. Most of the time I am filming and directing. I don't think that they will show any videos with fire on MTV. Ever since Beavis and Butthead. I know Beck had some fire in "Loser." They had him take it out.
AL: Do you get searched at airports because of the way you look?
DJ Swamp: All the time. It doesn't matter how much I straighten up. I don't try. You do this every time, just go ahead. When I am with Beck, people know who he is, so they let us pass through. It's cool. It's Beck. Let him go. Can you sign an autograph for me? Sure. Whatever. It's not like that for me when I am by myself. Japan is stricter. Sometimes they want to make an example of a rock star. People like Paul McCartney may be arrogant when he goes in there. It might be the wrong day to show up. Someone is having a bad day. I have been to Japan seven times and nothing has happened to me. I was never in any trouble. At the same time I was not aware of the consequences. It's all under the table now.
AL: Do you have anything to say to younger people who want to get involved in music?
DJ Swamp: Be original. Just look
around at other people and look what they are doing, and just don't do