The Grown Folk Interview
In the age of the internet, cross-continental collaborations are commonplace, web lingo pervades daily speak and everyone and anyone virtually has a how-to-produce kit at their fingertips at all times. If you’re looking for an act that defines this age of mass information intake, look no further than Drew Kim and Brendan Neal of Grown Folk. While Drew and Brendan met and began to work as Grown Folk at McGill University in Montreal, they’ve rarely been in the same place at the same time. Whether because of family (Drew’s live in Hawaii while Brendan’s live in Vermont), or visa issues, they’ve been forced to use Skype, iChat and Dropbox as a means of sharing long-distance ideas. With critically acclaimed releases on Australian label Templar Sound and San Francisco’s Icee Hot, the duo has completed collaborations with artists from across the sonic/geographical scale, including everyone from Oakland’s Main Attrakionz to Sydney’s Dro Carey. Unlike other acts grouped under the internet label though, Grown Folk have a strong affinity to the hip hop community (Drew has functioned as Main Attrakionz’ tour DJ in the past) and to visual art and fashion (they both would like to soundtrack a runway show). Grown Folk is that rare act that blends the stream-of-consciousness creativity of the file-sharing era with a distinct IRL grounding, whether that manifests itself on tour, in their fashion choices, or in their kaleidoscopic production approach.
Hit the jump for more on Main Attrakionz’ tour habits, the cohesiveness of the Montreal scene and, of course, aliens…
What SXSW showcases are you performing at?
We’re doing the Friends of Friends day party, Live For The Funk, XLR8R and Icee Hot party, another Live For The Funk night party, Keep On Repeat, and this thing called Pelligroso on Saturday night. Everyone plays it at one night during the week, so it’s a fitting end.
How is your second time at SXSW going to be different approach-wise?
Brendan: The biggest thing is that we’re playing a lot shows this year. Last year, it was just me DJing for Main Attrakionz and we only played one show that was actually Grown Folk
Drew: And just knowing more people. We met so many people last time and now we’ve had a year of keeping in touch with them. Also, just knowing what it actually is. SXSW is totally more overwhelming and crazy than you can even imagine. Just so much is crammed into two streets.
Brendan: Basically too much is going on.
Drew: Because it’s not just one scene’s music, it’s every scene having parties on the same night taking over all of Austin. Every company is there too doing promotion. It’s chaos, but it’s fun.
Brendan: The other thing is that we’ve been making a ton of new music so we’re just excited to play it out.
You two used to be the go-to opening act for a Montreal production company when you first started DJing. How did you get that gig and how did you get into DJing electronic music in general?
Brendan: Basically, we both have a pretty similar story for this. We came to Montreal from the States and neither one of us had been very exposed to electronic music, at all really. We got to Montreal and there’s just such a strong culture of that here and we started going to parties and just hearing that. We both got it and started DJ a bit. We were playing stupid dorm parties and started meeting people who were promoting huge electro parties in Montreal. I couldn’t even really DJ yet, but they knew I was into that kind of music a bit and asked me to start opening up. The next thing I know and we’re opening up for Calvin Harris at 2,000 person venues.
Drew: There were all these guys from Toronto who go to school here and for that reason I think they wanted to get openers from our school [McGill University], so I don’t think there were that many people into it when we first started. I played a black light party in one of our floor’s common rooms and met the younger brother of a guy at a production company. It was the craziest way to get into it.
Brendan: It’s funny, because now we never play parties that big. It’s not like we really want to, but we were just initially thrown into these enormous over-the-top parties and after we started growing out of that type of music, we were playing in front of 50 people.
A lot of American kids our age got into electronic music and dance music through that in-your-face, Ed Banger-style electro shit.
Drew: 100%. We’re not ashamed of that.
Brendan: We came out of high school in 2008 and 2009, maybe a little of 2010, was really the peak of all that style of music. As an 18-year-old kid at that time, the energy in those clubs and those DJs was definitely exciting. I think that’s what originally drew us to that.
Drew: Fond memories.
Brendan: Yeah, it was fun.
Stream: Grown Folk – “The Boat/Keep Few Near”
Was it a conscious decision to turn towards more understated forms of dance music, both listening and production-wise?
Brendan: I don’t know if it was a conscious…
Drew: I think it was; we decided to break off.
Brendan: I think it was a natural progression of our tastes, because we basically came with no real conception of how big the dance music world was. After hearing these electro sounds, you just start distilling it down and hearing other stuff and older music. We started hearing a lot of stuff coming out of London and just the UK in general and that kind of changed our tastes. Around 2010, we decided to leave this production company because we wanted to do something else and that’s when we started producing. Drew was a little bit, but I wasn’t really making music until 2010. We weren’t together at all.
Drew: The music I was making would never ever be played at the parties we were doing. I was really into Flying Lotus and beat music like Nosaj Thing, but we were still playing these huge parties. The last party we played at was Laidback Luke and Calvin Harris and those were the sorts of parties we were playing at. We’d have to get songs ready for these sets versus what we were trying to be into. We started to send stuff back and forth.
Brendan: The cool thing was that Drew was into all these beats and I had started to get into house in general and especially 90s stuff like Chicago and later more Detroit stuff. At the time, Renaissance Man was really big, and Zombie Disco Squad and that tech-house-y so I started to get more into that as well. I started getting into that and Drew was doing the beat stuff so we just thought it might be cool to start working together and combining our influences.
Drew, how did you hook up with Main Attrakionz and become their tour DJ?
Drew: That happened after we completed the EP that’s out now, which is kind of crazy. It’s been over a year I guess
Brendan: The Main Attrakionz EP that came out today has probably been done for a half and a half. It took a while for the vinyl distribution deal to get all worked.
Drew: We had done that collaboration over Twitter and email, but their manager at the time was actually a graduate of McGill, which was the craziest coincidence, so we had a lot of mutual friends. He’s actually really good friends with Jacques Greene so when we were first reaching out to Main Attrakionz to do the collaboration, our friends were like “we know their manager Walker.” Through that, we’d already been talking to their manager and he mentioned that they needed someone to help on tour. During that time, I wasn’t going to school because I got deported for a really crazy visa issue. I was in London doing nothing, just going to parties and making music so I figured why not. All I had to do was pay for my flight to Boston and they had the lodging and travel figured out for the rest. The first day that I flew in, I met both of the guys, played a show at this club near Harvard and then right after that we had to get on the road to go to Sarah Lawrence. At first it was very sudden, but then we fell into the groove of tour life.
Stream/Download: Main Attrakionz – “Cloud Body” (Prod. Grown Folk)
What are Mondre and Squadda like on tour?
Drew: It was crazy because they were seeing a lot of the country they hadn’t seen before. We started playing small Northeast liberal arts colleges in New England and then came down through Virginia and then Alabama to Texas. Everywhere we would go, after checking into the hotel, they would want to go to the mall and just hang out at the mall and buy stuff, but not like expensive stuff. Just a million different $5 t-shirts and so many different snapbacks. There’s a Squadda release called My Room Look Like A Mall and that’s because every hotel room that they would stay in would literally look like someone had a huge wholesale of really low quality stuff. They had so much they couldn’t even fit in the van towards the end, so they had to Fedex it back to Berkeley.
Brendan: I remember I got to SXSW and Squadda was in a pink Dallas Cowboys hat with like five pairs of football gloves on…
Drew: Cartier glasses…
Brendan: Four t-shirts on, just the most ridiculous shit, but all from the dollar store. They’re pretty crazy.
Drew: They can definitely get pretty zoned out. There’s a state where they get to where you can’t through to them at all. Sometimes on tour, their manager would always be like: “ ok, have as much fun as you want after, but let’s be cool until the show happens.” There’s a video on World Star Hip Hop from an ASAP Rocky show at SXSW and they [Mondre and Squadda] each have a bottle of Hennessey that ASAP Yams gave to them. I guess someone took Squadda’s bandana, this green bandana, and he got on the mic like “give me my bandana back” and Rocky finally gets the bandana back, but someone threw some water or something and then they just jumped into the crowd and the entire ASAP Mob just jumped into the crowd. It’s a crazy video.
What was it like to have Ben UFO include the Kuedo remix of “I.C.E.” in his Fabriclive 67 mix?
Brendan: That was really sweet, especially because I got to play a show with Ben and he ended up staying at our place and we ended playing an after party and got to know each other. He’s the nicest dude in the entire world. It was really cool for him to include that track. I really respect him more than any almost anyone else as a selector. I just respect his ear more than almost anyone else in music. He’s got such great taste and the Fabriclive series is just so distinguished.
Drew: We’ve both now gotten to go to Fabric. People say it’s just hype, like “this is a Mecca of dance music,” but it actually is true. Fabric is something else and so is Plastic People. To be even a small part of that legacy is really something else.
Stream: Grown Folk & Main Attrakionz – Cloud City EP
Your careers really took off after you moved to Montreal and went to McGill. How cohesive is the Montreal scene?
Brendan: There’s a really supportive group of people here. One of the first people we met when we first got here was Max and Zack who are in Prince Club and we’re not really in the same musical realm as them, but we talk to them and just send music back and forth. There are a lot of people who, even if they aren’t making the same type of music as you are, they’re just supportive of what you’re doing, interested in what you’re doing and will go out to shows that you’re playing. We found in to be a really great place to grow as an artist. We got here and didn’t really know anyone and Jacques Greene sounds like this huge name, but he’s just such a nice guy and same with Lunice and the guys from Prince Club especially. They all just want to hear your music and if you’re doing something creative, they’re going to be supportive of you. There hasn’t been any sort of hostility between anyone.
Drew: When someone sees that you’re genuinely interested and you have a certain type of fire or desire for doing something in music, arms open up from the whole community even if they’re not making the same music.
You’ve spoken a lot in the past about how you include a lot of both contemporary and old school house music in your DJ sets, as well as hip hop. Hip hop and dance music were intrinsically connected in the early years, separated, and have come somewhat full circle over the previous three decades. How do you reconcile the two seemingly different styles in your production work?
Drew: I’ve always thought that what we’re doing is in the legacy and the vein of hip hop. How we make songs by sampling stuff and then sequencing beats and using whatever we find from other songs that we think is cool — we like how that synth color is or we like how that bassline sounds — we have a very hip hop attitude in our production. Growing up in America, we said we didn’t have any experience music, but hip hop is dance music for kids our age and especially the stuff coming out of Houston or Memphis…
Brendan: Especially out of Atlanta…
Drew: Or the Bay Area with hyphy. We have been listening to that stuff. We always think that Grown Folk music, no matter what tempo, has to have a certain sound to it, and we don’t really worry as much about whether we make a hip hop tune or a house tune or something at 140, because of the fact that we are always conscious of the fact that there’s a single strain that runs through everything.
Brendan: People have definitely been asking whether we’re going to make hip hop, or make house music, or make this or that. When we play a DJ set, we play a pretty wide range of stuff, from slow house stuff up to even 140 UK stuff, or rap music. We also want to produce across that spectrum, but have a common sound and aesthetic through everything. A nice atmosphere around the beats and a bunch of synth layers. I hope that people can hear that there is a commonality between the house music and the rap beats even if they’re different tempo.
Do you take different audiences into account when you’re producing house tunes versus your work with Main Attrakionz or any other hip hop-oriented work?
Drew: I’ve never made music with an audience in mind.
Brendan: You are a little bit, because when you’re making a dance song and making a break into a drop, you’re thinking about how it will work in a club, but I don’t think we’re ever catering our sound to a specific audience. There are times where it’s more of a hip hop show or it’s more of a straight up house and techno set depending on the lineup and what the show is billed as, but even then we’re trying everything. I guess we want the audience to enjoy it, but I don’t think we’re ever trying to produce our music for a specific set of people.
Drew: We almost never say, “let’s make this kind of song.”
Brendan: We’ll hear a drum pattern in this song or a bass patch in this song and try and do something similar to that, but in our own way. It’s more about pulling elements we like from different styles of tracks than trying to make a future garage song or a UK bass song.
Drew: I really think we make music in the hip hop way in how we sample, not necessarily literally sampling, but how we borrow ideas and are influenced by a lot of different things.
Are you looking to work with more MCs in the future?
Drew and Brendan: Definitely!
Brendan: We have plans to work with Deniro Farrar, we’ve been sending some beats back and forth with him. We’re talking about working with this guy Martin Sky from Chicago who’s pretty cool. We just finished a remix for Deniro Farrar that should be out pretty soon. Sinden played it on the radio the other night and it came out pretty cool. It’s somewhere between a slow house beat and a rap beat. It’s definitely different, but I think it came out pretty cool.
Do you have a dream collaboration?
Drew: I think Drake (laughs).
Brendan: I know you want to say Future.
Drew. Maybe Future. It would be Drake, Future. I don’t even know if I want to work with Kanye. He’s my all time favorite, but it’s almost like I don’t want to work with him, because the only thing that could happen is it would ruin my mental image of him. Definitely Future and Drake. I’m all about to Future right now. I would actually love to work with Mike Will as much as Future. He has some amazing ideas in his beats and if he could just work in an instrumental context, he would be huge. Why would he ever do that though?
Brendan: I definitely feel the same way about Harry Fraud. Some of the stuff he does is pretty crazy and he’s not afraid to get a little bit out there. Stuff you hear and think, “that shouldn’t work,” always completely works.
You’ve engaged in a lot of long distance collaborations in the past with LOL Boys, Dro Carey, etc. How do you feel about working in that Internet medium?
Brendan: I think that’s one of the reasons why we found it pretty easy to do that. When Drew had to go to London for a year basically, we were working completely long distance. We set up a Dropbox folder and were sending project files back and forth every day. It’s not exactly the same as being in the studio, because you can’t go through those ideas in real time. Sometimes you have a spark of creativity when you’re together that you can’t really get over the Internet, but with iChat, Skype and Dropbox, you can come pretty close to doing that from far away. It’s kind of cool to do collaborations like that, because you’ll do something and send it to the other person and they’ll work on it and send it back and do something you never would have thought of and that’ll spark an idea in your head and the song will move in a direction it wouldn’t have.
Stream/Download: Dro Carey & Grown Folk – “Limbo Limbs”
What’s your creative process with Dro Carey like?
Brendan: It’s pretty much just like that. Usually if we have some little, bare bones stuff we’ve started to work on, we’ll send it over to him and be like, “Hey do you like this? Send us a few things,” and if there’s something he likes, he’ll work on it and send it back. Usually it goes back and forth three or four times…
Drew: And then he’ll send it us so raw. Usually he’ll do the last step and it will be so raw, it’ll all just be audio stems of everything super turned up and we have to bring it back in. He’s got the craziest…
Brendan: He does some of the craziest stuff you’ll ever hear. He’s definitely the best example of someone who, you send them a track and he sends it back to you and does stuff that you just never would have even thought of, but it works so well
Drew: I think we actually have, weirdly enough because we’re from very different parts of the world, a lot of similar reference points, although he’s a little more into grime. It’s a lot of the same moody type of rhythmic rap and stuff like that. Because of that, I think the collaboration works very well. The latest one, “Limbo Limbs”, has a lot of grime drum patterns that I still haven’t wrapped my head around. It’s taking me a while to wrap head around grime. I love hearing what he does with us or without us. He’s one of my favorite producers.
Brendan: And his Tuff Sherm is really amazing too. Some of the stuff that’s coming and isn’t out yet is huge.
What do you find inspiring in the worlds of visual art and fashion?
Drew: Everything. Especially now that I’m not going to school, I spend a lot of time looking at other things. I have a problem where I can find value in everything almost, so I spend a lot of time looking at everything. Experiencing as many other mediums of art outside of what we do is really important.
Brendan: Even other genres. Lately, I’ve been listening to more bands and listening to tones on guitar, or reverb on a guitar, and trying to think about that more and apply it to a synth or the rawness of a snare. It’s important to hear music outside of a club track to bring it into a club track and that’s what makes it interesting and special.
Drew: It’s bad if you get too stuck in only listening to the kind of stuff you make. You have to go out and do some crazy stuff in the real world or just try and listen, watch and read to gather influences. I definitely have a problem where I’ll watch a show and think, “this is definitely going to help me make a song later,” but really it’s not.
Would you like to extend your production work into those worlds in a multimedia fashion?
Brendan: I’d love to work on some sort of film score or something like that…
Drew: It would be an honor to work on any sort of runway show, or even a more collaborative thing. Jacques Greene just did this thing for Rad Hourani, this Montreal-based designer, for his Paris Fashion Week show. He did an original eight-minute score, a piano piece, based on the line itself. He got images of the pieces from the line and talked to Rad about the ideas behind it and then went and made a custom tailored song.
Brendan: I think I’d like to do that more than a movie score.
Are there any specific designers that are especially influential to you?
Drew: For me, it’s definitely Raf Simmons. I love Ralph Simmons and now he’s at Dior, which is my favorite high-end fashion house. It changes a lot though. Whenever those fashion weeks occur, it’s cool to just watch all the Youtubes at once and watch even the last part when all the models walk down really fast, you can just watch all that in a playlist. Sometimes I don’t even know who the designers are. We like a certain type of grayscale aesthetic…
Brendan: Damir Doma is perfect for what I see as a beautiful, synth-y, and atmospheric body of music. It’s just incredibly simple, really drape-y, definitely gray scale, and solid color stuff.
Drew: Damir Doma definitely. Rick Owens. This guy Gareth Pugh who is Rick Owen’s protégée and is just amazing.
What do you think about high fashion melding with and infiltrating the pop/hip hop world? Kanye is wearing leather skirts and whatnot.
Drew: On one hand, it’s cool that it’s now going to become more acceptable to wear this stuff, but on the other hand, it’s causing people to wear some really crazy, bad stuff.
Brendan: It’s weird for people who have been really interested in fashion for a while and have been following it and wearing these pieces and now, maybe you see a guy in a skirt and you think, “is he just wearing that because Kanye wore it.” It’s a good and a bad thing. It’s similar to underground music becoming more popular in North America. It’s got its ups and its downs.
Drew: The way I always look at it is that when things go mainstream like that or overground, you always have a chance to find the next great producer, or designer, because of that. If electro hadn’t blown up the way it had, we would have never found out about dance music. Drake is a kid who, if hip hop hadn’t blown up and gone mainstream, he wouldn’t have had the same sound and crew that he does. The more people that are exposed to it, of course you’re going to get bad, shitty stuff coming out of, but also you might get the next great artist out of it.
How do you feel about aliens?
Drew: That’s awesome (laughs)! How do you feel about aliens Brendan?
Brendan: I don’t know how I feel about them, but I believe in them for sure.
Drew: I think that when we find something, it’s going to be so foreign, it’s not even going to be what we expect. We think it’s going to be some carbon-based animal, but I think it’s going to be, like, a stream of information and energy or something like that. It’s going to come through the computer!
Brendan: I just like thinking about the idea that somewhere, there’s another planet with, not necessarily people, but something on it living their own reality and life, not knowing that we exist and us not knowing that they exist. I feel like it’s weird to believe that there couldn’t be anything else out there…
Drew: It’s also weird to really believe that they’ve already come here. Both sides of the spectrum are pretty crazy, but there’s definitely something out there…
Brendan: I agree…
Drew: And I can’t wait.
What can we expect from you two after SXSW and for the rest of 2013?
Brendan: We have a track coming out on a Young Adults compilation that’s coming out in April [House Slippers is out on April 23]. It’s going to be one CD with separate songs on it and then another with everything mixed together. It’s going to a mix and a compilation as well and there are some really good artists on it like Mark E and Permanent Vacation. We have this Deniro Farrar remix and then hopefully some beats for him. There’s definitely going to be another Icee Hot record. Basically we’re just trying to figure out what to do with all the other songs we have, because we have a lot that aren’t signed yet.
Drew: I think we’re going to a few more collabs too. There are few artists who we really want to work with and have talked to. It will be all over the place. We have a lot of stashed unsigned originals…
Brendan: We wanted to branch out a little bit and work on some collaborations and stuff like that. I don’t know we’re allowed to talk about that, but there should be some cool stuff coming for sure.
What’s your favorite song to play out at the moment?
Brendan: Mine is a song by this guy named Kresy called named “Day Into Night” that’s on John Talabot’s label, Hivern Discs. It’s got a Chicago house feel to it and then this crazy acid line comes in and, like, five different parts to it. To me, it’s a perfect house song and it feels like a house party jam.
Drew: Mine is Victoria Kim’s “Here’s My Number”, which is actually so good. It’s a “Call Me Maybe” sample tune.
Brendan: Cover almost?
Drew: Almost a cover, but I’d say it’s more Blawan
Brendan: It’s actually sick.
Drew: It’s going to be big. It’s a girl, Victoria Kim, and a guy named Justin and they’re from Australia. They’re now signed to Templar as well.