Interview: Th1rt3en

A lot of what I was seeing was very overt and it became very nasty and evil. Coming up with a title. It was like, we need to exorcise these demons. Not one individual, but a country of policies and politics.

With their album A Magnificent Day For An Exorcism, Th1rt3en channel the ferocity and creativity of hip hop with the sheer power of rock and soul to create an album that is as uplifting as it is incendiary and provocative and the results are undeniably powerful. A Magnificent Day For An Exorcism sounds like the perfect soundtrack to the chaos that has engulfed the world over the past year and is one that the group are rightly proud of.

The group consists of one of the greatest rappers ever in Pharoahe Monch alongside two of the world’s finest musicians in guitarist Marcus Machado and drummer Daru Jones and the trio create that unholy combination of hip hop, rock and soul that unleashes all its fury on the ills of the world with police brutality, racists and the government all coming under fire. This is a very important record and Gavin Brown had the privilege to talk to all three members of Th1rt3en about A Magnificent Day For An Exorcism and insights into how the album was created and the subjects it deals with as well as the influence of rap groups like Public Enemy and their ethos on the group, how important the visual element of Th1rt3en is and recording with the very instruments that Black Sabbath used on Th1rt3en’s version of the metal legends ‘Hand Of Doom’ that appears on the album.

E&D: Your phenomenal new album A Magnificent Day For An Exorcism is out now, how was the experience of making the album?            

Pharoahe: For me, man, it was amazing, It was everything that life is in the sense of some great ideas and some hard work it took to get it to come to fruition but in between there were some really difficult moments that you got to persevere through. One of them being the issue of that we’re all living in a different city and getting in a studio and trading music, thats the execution of things and the timeliness of it, obviously the latter being the pandemic in quarantine and finishing out during that whole debacle but through it all, I think it made the three of us focus on our personal lives as well as functioning inside of this efficiently.  I definitely wrote a lot of the music to be performed on stage, so when that was taken away from how we would be able to market the album, we had to be innovative with a lot of the visuals and getting a lot of in-studio performances. For me it’s just a beautiful experience and seeing that when faced with these kinds of challenges, I was able to strap up and persevere and push through, so it was a beautiful experience and I came out on the other side and I’m grateful.

E&D: Was it all done remotely or did you all work together on the record?

Pharoahe: It was a combination of both. When I would have the guys in the studio, we worked on ‘Amnesia’, a couple of different times, on a couple of different versions. Actually the original version of Amnesia was an interpolation of a McCartney record and we didn’t get it cleared, so we had to rewrite the entire chords. Me and Marcus got together. I was like, we gotta write the song again because the melody didn’t get cleared. Originally we had Rag And Bone Man featuring on the song, on the chorus, which I was so excited about, but then when we had to write the melody and everything over, I decided to do it myself, so songs like that, we were in the studio for. ‘Cult 45’, we were in the studio for, but then for other songs on the album, we were sending stems and things of that nature.

E&D: I interviewed O.C. back in January and he mentioned the album and said that it’s been a long time since he has listened to something that gave him goosebumps and it took him back to the first Public Enemy and KRS One albums. Did you feel that you wanted to have the same incendiary feeling like those artists in terms of the music and message with this project?

Pharoahe: Absolutely, absolutely in the sense that A Magnificent Day For An Exorcism speaks to you, there’s a lot of atrocities and trauma and history in America and globally. I just felt that the trajectory that the temperament was going was pretty ugly and pretty evil. A lot of what I was seeing was very overt and it became very nasty and evil. Coming up with a title. It was like, we need to exorcise these demons. Not one individual, but a country of policies and politics. I’m thinking the way to do that is to outright get down in the darkness where this stuff comes from, to kind of combat it at the root, and then the likes of Public Enemy, they were very verbose about their message. It wasn’t quaint, it was aggressive and loud and in your face, you know, these are the issues, and I’ve always taken a lot of my cues from Chuck D as an emcee, as a writer, as a performer, as a vocalist where to choose to use the power in the vocal. I’m such a huge fan of theirs and their production as well, in this sense, songs like ‘Fight’, songs like ‘Cult 45’, it’s just like, let’s get ugly with it and let’s get blatant with it. They want to be overt with racism now, let’s be overt about combating it and I definitely took those cues from Chuck D and KRS One and a lot of my mentors rage.

E&D: What’s the reaction to the music of Th1rt3en been like so far?

Marcus: It has been great. I mean, this thing for all of us has been overwhelming because of the timing of everything that came up, it was right on time. You know what I mean? This is a project that we’ve been working on for like four or five years. Everybody’s been really supportive and we appreciate everybody taking the time to listen and really showing us love because we put a lot into this project and we wanted to create something experimental and deep at the same time and also good music for the soul.

E&D: When you were making the album with everything going on, do you think this is like a soundtrack to to those dark times, but one that ultimately gives hope, despite the chaos?

Pharoahe: Yeah. I tried to write the record, like our lives, like each song, the sun sun rises, and you stretch, you yawn and you get up and you get some coffee, and then you get going and then you need a little push throughout the mid day to finish it off and then it winds down. I wrote a lot of the lyrics in the gym and it’s kinda like the same pattern for anyone who runs or who works out. You kind of start off at a nice pace and then you get into a groove and you need that energy to take it through. We were trying to carry that on throughout the album as well, so a lot of the approaches, like old-school songwriting tactics man, this is your intro, this is your body, this is your bridge.  It’s the reason why it’s a dream come true to work with these assassins, Marcus Machado and Daru Jones in terms of, I knew I needed the records to kind of scale and build, and you could do that in the old hip hop sense, obviously by stacking, but it’s another thing to do that with rides and builds, the crashes of cymbals, building up tension, it’s just good songwriting. I knew it would be places where you’re saying in the prior question, where it’s a political song, but it needs to be this tension and we were able to do that. I think people are feeling that.

E&D: Did you all find making the album a cathartic experience at all?

Pharoahe: Yeah. I mean, I’m going to jump in, but that speaks to me because getting these sentiments out is cathartic. Some of the musicality is cathartic. It just speaks back to the prior, thing I was saying, to have these guys play out and have Marcus do these solos, it’s kinda like the portion of the song where there’s some redemption and hope and there’s is a time to stop fighting and take a breath or to even keep fighting and get these things out of my system was very cathartic, especially during this time, even from the visuals, as well as the song writing and production and mixing and all of those things, it was very cleansing and healing in that sense.

Marcus: Same as what Monch was saying, these are songs that we’ve been working on, just with the pandemic and everything that we went through last year, it’s very therapeutic to get all this stuff out because people, when they look at stuff and they see the images, they think everything is Satan, you know, it’s a little bit too much, but when you dig deep, the world that we’re living in is not so pretty and everything that is happening right now, it’s like it needs to stop, there needs to be some type of cleansing and you need a reset, just to add what Monch was saying, that’s all it was, a very cleansing experience. You want to make music that lasts for years and years that people can go back and say, yo, this was a record that that really did something, that meant something to me. That’s all it is, wanting to create the best music you possibly can during these times, because I feel like the world needs that, you know what I mean? There’s not a balance. Everything is all over the place.

Daru: Just to add to that too. Just being a fan of Public Enemy, thanks a lot Gavin for having us on your platform, but yeah, just being a fan of Public Enemy growing up, what I admired about them was they were speaking of speaking up on topics that was happening then and they’re still happening now, but the the music was so dope, It made you want to listen to it first. They had records out, like Fight The Power and 911 Is A Joke, those were real things and hopefully we’re continuing what’s been done, but we also got our own stand on it. It sucks that we’re still dealing with some of these issues right now and we’re hoping that we’ll be able to change and take what we’ve done to help change the narrative, because at the end of the day, you want to treat people how you want to be treated. That’s what it starts with and some of the things people do, if somebody was doing that to them, they wouldn’t like it so it’s just about going back to the basics and we hope that with the material, we can look for ways to change the narrative.

E&D: When you were making the album, was there an instant chemistry between the three of you working on the music? Marcus and Daru, obviously you have worked together before.

Daru: Yeah, prior to this situation, me and Marcus, we’ve already been playing together, We have a dual project called D.Stubs and M.Drix and that’s just us as a duo. D.Stubs, that was Marcus’ nickname to me  to represent Clude Stubblefield because he was basically one of my influences, one of my idols and then Marcus, his nickname was M.Drix meaning Jimi Hendrix, so with both of our backgrounds, it was very diverse from rock & roll, hip hop, soul, we’ve already had a chemistry because we worked together as a duo. We’ve also played in other bands together with Jamie Lidell and with Monch, we already had history because we shared a stage by default years ago, when he would guest with some artists I was playing with like Black Milk from Detroit, he would bring Monch out to perform. I’ve also had honour of putting together a band for Monch a couple of times, it’s, it’s a small world and we all have kindred spirits. We all have like spiritual background, I don’t even know how to explain it, but we all feel like we’ve been knowing each other for years. I’m thankful that it wasn’t hard. We’re just brothers from another mother coming together for Pharoahe Monch and his mission and his concept. It just worked, it worked well for what he wants to do to bring the hip hop and rock & roll worlds together with a message, so yeah, we’ve definitely had chemistry for sure.

 

E&D: You have done some amazing videos so far like the one for ‘Fight’ and you’ve got the video for ‘Kill, Kill, Kill’ coming out soon. Did you always want to have a strong visual element for Th1rt3en?

Pharoahe: Yeah. I mean the visuals, that’s everything. I would hope that you feel the artistic value in the song and we wanted to convey that with the visuals as well. I was in a session with Nas and I was playing him the songs. I played him like two songs and he was like, “stop, stop, stop, stop, stop” and I was about to play the third song and  I turned around and he was like, “yo man, how long, how long have y’all been working on this?” I just read in that moment, that’s a statement that lets you know, he hears that there are layers there and that’s something that couldn’t have been done in thirty days time. I was like, I lied to him. I was like, Oh, we knocked it out in like two months, you know, knowing that it took us like three, four years, five years, not continuously, but going back and reworking music and we wanted to continue that with the visuals because you don’t want to work that hard on songs and then skimp on the visuals. In that same vibe, the second half of this rollout, we got an animated visual for ‘Kill, Kill, Kill’, but also doing something really special for ‘Racist’ something really cool with ‘Amnesia’ and just pushing the visuals because you know, it’s a visual content world, the music industry with all of the social platforms, you know, you hear kids say, Oh, I haven’t seen that song yet. You’re like saw the song? Okay, so what does that mean? It means they’re looking to watch it sometimes before they even hear it so to speak, even if it’s just on YouTube and it’s a blank screen, you know, that’s where people go to get their music sometimes, so I wanted to pay close attention to the visuals and make that even a part of our brand. Even before the pandemic, we were thinking about what the stage visuals would be in honour of just taking it back to those shows from the seventies like Funkadelic or Zeppelin or what have you, where they would pay attention to lighting and the stage show.

E&D: In terms of playing live, when it is safe to do so. Will you be taking Th1rt3en out on the road for live shows? Hopefully you’ll make it over to the UK!

Pharoahe: Yeah, absolutely. We just saw that Tom Morello announced the Rage Against The Machine and Run The Jewels tour and I saw somebody comment please put Th1rt3en on some of these dates. I was like, hell fuckin yeah, let’s do it! I took a screenshot and i’m gonna text it to El-P later tonight, you know, like, come on bro, put a good good word in! These songs were written to get on stage raw and perform it for the people and campaign for the people, get these votes and they ask for your fandom, they’re written with a lot of heart and character to take to the stage and show people what we could do.

E&D: Can we expect any new material from Th1rt3en in the future and have you thought about that already or are you just concentrating in the now with this album?

Pharoahe: We’ve got a lot more of A Magnificent Day For An Exorcism to release, but we’ve already got songs that we recorded, stuff that I’m writing now, things that I’m thinking about. We’re all so eager to get into the studio collectively, once it’s safe and we’re together and just lock out a bunch of time and just really work on the portion of a band when they get really, really familiar with themselves and writing a lot of original music. We’re excited and it’s a dream come true because this project in itself, it’s really my own all star lineup but to finish the project and to still be excited about doing new music, says a lot. I’m thankful for that because I hold inspiration in high regard and whenever I get it, I give grace and blessings because to be uninspired for an artist, is just the worst thing in the world and I’m super inspired right now to do new music, you know?

E&D: Pharoahe, are you solely concentrating on Th1rt3en at the minute or have you got any plans for any more solo stuff, maybe including Marcus and Daru as well, on more straight up hip hop?

Pharoahe: Yeah, even if I work on something outside of this construct I’m going to always have them in mind, in terms of, who I call, So, yeah.

Daru: You said it was Th1rt3en and Th1rt3en only til the end! Hahaha!

Pharoahe and Marcus: Hahaha!

E&D: On the song ‘666 (Three Six Word Stories)’, rather than sampling Black Sabbath’s ‘Hand Of Doom’ on which the song is based, you recreated the track organically. How was the experience of doing that song?

Marcus: That was crazy. That was, I think for me, one of the many great highlights of being in the studio with my brothers and stuff. We had basically all the original instruments Sabbath used in the studio here in New York and the way it came out was just crazy. It was really mind blowing to play ‘Hand Of Doom’ and our record together exactly. It sounds like a sample, but we really played it live. They had the actual Les Paul guitar in this studio, the Mustang bass. I actually played bass too on the record. Daru sounded like Bill Ward crossed with John Bonham on the drums!

Pharoahe: We also put the guitar and bass to tape and then came off tape and went back to digital.

Marcus: it was crazy!

Photo by Zoi Ellis.

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