Posted On 24 Jun 2015
Tag: #ikeamonkey, Alison Krauss, All Access Music Group, Artist Interview, bowling for soup, Brand New, Chris Hardwick, Chris Rock, Coheed & Cambria, Daenerys, Diplo, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, Dragon Blood, Family Force 5, Fugazi, Game of Thrones, Grand Buffet, Grieves, Hand Job Academy, Hearts That Hate, Heavyweights, Horris Records, ICP, Iggy Pop, Jaret Reddick, Jon Longley, Kool Keith, KRS-One, KZSU, Lars, Lars Attacks, Martin, MC Chris, MC Frontalot, MC Hawking, MC Lars, MC Lars Horris, nerdcore, Nerdist, New Beat Fund, Piebald, Rapper, Riff Raff, Robot Kills, Sage Francis, Signing Emo, SiriusXM, Snoop Dogg, Sole, Stanford, Star Wars, SXSW, Top Five, Violent J, Warped Tour, Watsky, Weird Al Yankovic, Weird Science, Wesley Willis, Zombie Dinosaur
Meet the Northern California rapper, MC Lars! He is set to release his 4th full-length studio album, the “Zombie Dinosaur” this Fall. He has returned home to the Bay Area after living in Los Angeles these past three years, and is self-producing his new album with help from friends in Berkeley and San Francisco.
Learn more about this very talented rapper in the following All Access interview:
Can you tell what it means exactly to be a nerdcore rapper? Did you start out with that intent?
Great question. The term / movement was actually something that I got attached to around 2007 when I started working with this Brooklyn rapper named MC Frontalot. Frontalot coined “nerdcore”, obviously a portmanteau of “nerd” and “hardcore”, but I’d first heard of “nerdcore rap” in 2003 while I was DJ-ing at the Stanford radio station, KZSU. A fan of my show and I became friends, this kid Tyler, and he’d burn me CD-Rs with people like MC Chris, MC Hawking and this underground group 8-bit rapping about geeky stuff, weird hip-hop stuff I had never heard. I loved chris’s early EPs, they sounded so dope and different. His new stuff is good too, but his first EPs were just so groundbreaking. So it was something I was aware of for awhile. Around 2008-2009 when my “Robot Kills” album dropped, I shied away from the term though, I made a point of distancing myself from it. I wrote some blogs that caused some controversy, stuff about hip-hop needing to recognize that it came from a specific cultural background, and that forgetting this was dangerous. One of my biggest influences starting out was this Pittsburgh group Grand Buffet, they were super underground and toured supporting people like Wesley Willis, Sage Francis and Sole. Grand Buffet is not really active these days, but I loved how energetic they were, and their shows were super inspiring. Weird white dudes rapping with alacrity and hilarious in-between song commentary, but they never self-identified as nerdcore. They had simple beats with strange performance art, antagonizing the crowd or climbing up to crazy places in the venue while they rapped. I read a review of one of their shows or albums as “post rap” back in 2003, so since I was sampling punk bands and using my laptop back in the day, I decided to call my self “post-punk laptop rap”. I guess being a nerdcore rapper means being a hardcore nerd who raps, so the distinction between this and being “post-punk laptop rap” is essentially pretty minor (mine being more of a musical definition), but it’s something I’ve finally made peace with. So no, I didn’t start out with the intent to be a nerdcore rapper, but I was aware of the movement.
Where did you come up with your rapper name? What other names were you considering?
The name “Lars” came from a Disney movie called Heavyweights. There’s a strange German counselor who scares the kids with his intensity, and there’s a scene where he DJs the awkward summer camp dance. I took the name because there were no Scandinavian-named rappers I knew of back in the late 90s, it was like “Hey, I probably shouldn’t be rapping, but here you go”. I used to call myself “MC Lars Horris”, my first commercial release was under that name, but I dropped the “Horris” (which was a different spelling inspired by a minor character from the show ( Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman), and became MC Lars in 2004. Probably the best decision I’ve ever made. Horris Records is the name of the label I run, we put out Weird Science’s second album (the drummer for Coheed & Cambria, who also happens to be a dope rapper).
Let’s talk about your Game Of Thrones inspired track, “Dragon Blood”. Have you always been a fan of the show? Why did it influence you this way?
I love the show because it’s become like Star Wars for our generation. I’m fascinated Martin’s real-world premise that good and evil are ultimately arbitrary constructs, that first episode is so shocking, intense and crazy. I saw the pilot in 2011 when I was on Warped Tour, a rapper I was working with named Grieves had it on his laptop and showed it to us one night on the tour bus. The whole premise of my upcoming album is the underdog surviving and surprising people with their tenacity and brutal intelligence. Daenerys is such a great character because her beauty comes from her strength. Girl power, I’m with it!
“Dragon Blood” premiered on Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist. How that happen? Have you been always been an avid listener of his show?
I got into the Nerdist after hearing Rollins on the podcast a few years ago and was hooked. They reached out to be about doing a showcase with them at SXSW, but I was in LA shooting the “Dragon Blood” video that weekend so I had to pass. We still wanted to collab on something though, so we came up with the idea to have them premier the video. Shout out to Hardwick and his dope and nerdy empire!
How excited are you to be performing at this Summer’s Warped Tour? Who are you looking forward to seeing play there?
So excited. It will be my third summer, there’s really no tour on earth like it, it’s a fun, young celebration of the arts / culture / non-profit world the people who run it and perform there have become my extended family. Family Force 5 are one of my favorites playing this summer, New Beat Fund are awesome too. Of course everyone’s talking about Riff Raff being on our stage also, he’s crazy and I loved the recent album he did with Diplo. It’s going to be awesome. My drummer Jon Longley is such a beast, we are going to bring that crazy energy and provide something a little different.
You are regarded as one of the first underground rappers to sample and reference post punk and emo bands. How did you get started doing that? What bands were you sampling in the very beginning?
The first few bands I sampled were ones I had made friends with touring in the punk scene, guys like Piebald, Brand New, and even classic artists like Fugazi and Iggy Pop (who I didn’t tour with but met through being in that world). They were all cool enough to let me commercially release my tracks sampling their songs, which was a huge help to me. It all started because I used to play in a post-hardcore band near Santa Cruz when I was in high school and I’d take the riffs I’d written for that project and put breakbeats under them and put them out as early “MC Lars Horris” tracks. I’d open for my punk band rhyming over these beats, and when my rap project started getting more attention, I started sampling other similar bands, and that became it’s own thing. I was lucky to be doing what I did when I did, you feel me?
My first manager told me if I retained the rights to my masters, I’d never need to have a day job. He was right. I’ve always owned every album I’ve ever put out because I never wanted to be in debt to some corporation telling me what kind of art to make or racking up huge unnecessary expenses. I’ve seen a lot of friends sign to major labels and have their dreams crushed. I decided to create my own small thing; longevity is better than blowing up quickly and getting forgotten just as fast. It’s all working out so far. I still have a bunch more albums I plan to drop. Stay tuned.
You have toured and done a ton of one-off performances with so many incredible artists. What experiences have really stood out to you?
When we opened for Snoop Dogg, he came and hung out with us and was really sweet and funny. He’s a down to earth dude with a really great band, he’s humble and it was cool he brought us out. Bowling for Soup really went above and beyond for me too, they took me on my first international tours when I was just a college undergrad and taught me a lot. Jaret Reddick (of Soup) helped me put out my second album and has always been a close friend. They used to come out and play as “Hearts that Hate”, the fictional emo band on my song “Signing Emo”, and the audience would be surprised. Meeting and working with Al Yankovic was a thrill too, so was collaborating with KRS-One. I can’t believe how ridiculously fortunate I’ve been to have so many of my musical dreams come true. Seriously!!
This fall you will be releasing your 4th full-length studio album. How will this music be different than anything else you have put out?
Great question!! I feel like I’m really refining my sound. There are heavier guitars on this album, but also a bigger breadth of emotion and different cadences and flows. My last album “Lars Attacks!” wasn’t particularly funny (see also, quarter-life crises), but this one has a more lighthearted vibe. I recorded most of it in the Bay Area (San Francisco and Berkeley) and it has some really amazing guests. It’s my favorite release to date. Thanks for asking about it and doing this interview.
Who are some of your all-time favorite rappers? Who are some new ones that you are excited about today?
I recently saw the Chris Rock’s Top Five movie, which made me think about my top five favorite rappers. They would be (1) KRS-One (2) E-40 (3) Violent J (from ICP) (4) Watsky and (5) Kool Keith. Watsky is a young MC from San Francisco who has crushed it on YouTube and on tour these past few years. He’s on my new album, so is Kool Keith. Also, shout out to Hand Job Academy, they are a Brooklyn group of three female rappers that I played with at SXSW really like. Their album “#ikeamonkey” is one of my favorite rap releases of recent and I’ve heard they may have new stuff coming out soon. Check out their stuff on YouTube, no one in hip-hop has ever sounded like them and their song and video concepts are all really funny and surprising. I’m a huge fan.
Just that my main dream and hope is to be inspiring to people and teach them that if you respect and believe in yourself, work hard, and treat people well, you can do awesome things and inspire the world. Chase your dreams!! Punk rock is about breaking down barriers between the stage and the audience, the spirit of that movement and culture is so palpable and relevant with the way the internet has flipped the script on us all.
Peace and thanks for doing this interview!