Cage Interview

2 September 05 words: Jesse Keene
"It's an old story, but it's my take on it, you know? Rather than sitting in the same box and making the same old music over and over"

It is not often that I get the chance to talk to an artist in such depth. Cage is an articulate rhymer whose take on life and somewhat twisted life experience have been reflected in his music for some years now.
He has recently moved from Eastern Conference records (home of High and Mighty) to the independent label Definitive Jux which houses some of Hiphops rising underground artists, from Aesop Rock through to RJD2. His new album sees a change in his mind state but yet is still brutal in its subject matter, co -produced by El-P it’s set to make a big impact with underground and mainstream heads alike, it features guest appearances from artists including Jello Biafra and also has production from Dj Shadow, Blockhead and Camu Tao. I caught up with him for a long chat about tours, life and the bitterness of Hell freezing over, confused? Good let us begin…..

So you played a one off show at Londons 93 Feet East and by all accounts it was packed out. How did you feel the show went and also how was the response you got from the UK
“Man that show was great, it was sold out, 93ft East sold out in the middle of the Muslim community and we made a whole New York-London set. El-p wrote a really beautiful, in my opinion, intro about how we were approached to do the set… we got a letter in the mail, which bore the queens image so we were a little shocked that it was all happening so quickly, so we jumped on the plane. And the strange thing that we noticed when we arrived was that we were right back in New York, as both the cities were almost identical in their vibe. So El-p put that across in the beginning of the set using references on how both our governments are corrupt and crazy with their weapons of mass destruction.
The show itself went off, it was nuts. I felt like Paul McCartney with all the people in there taking my photograph and wanting me to sign autographs and shit, I did like twenty interviews while I was staying in London, I really can’t complain. You know the album leaked about a week after it went to press but instead of having a negative effect it worked in our favour because the kids were really responsive to the record and the set that we did. It was good to see that people were feeling it in the UK as well as back home in New York”.

So was that the only show that you did this side of the Atlantic?
“It was strictly London, I came over there to do that show then it was back to NY, I have been trying to do a lot of stuff before the album dropped, like I went out in the US and did an 8 city West Coast leg of the Aesop Rock tour for his Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives E.P and that was crazy. There was a lot of sold out crowds and I got to play for a lot of people who would not necessarily be listening to my stuff.
Also I got a few spots coming up in Norway and Brussels and I have got a full European tour planned for October I believe so that’s gonna be crazy. I feel that this has been the height of my career thus far and its never been of this magnitude, I’m getting lists from my publicist with all the press that’s coming out and its just retarded man”….

With that said how do you feel the transition has been from moving from the Eastern Conference label to Def Jux?
“The transition was like a nice shower, it was like taking a really nice shower after being covered in mud and fat. It was a real refreshing feeling to wash that crap out of my system. It was a beautiful transition mentally, financially; every aspect was good in my opinion. As far as the art of making music is concerned it was perfect and that’s the most important part for me. I felt that with E.C. I had hit the ceiling with them for years and I was going nowhere, now its different its like take the bull by the horns and slam it on the ground and basically and that what I was attempting to do with this release”…..

So take us through the Album Hells Winter what does it mean to you and how does it deviate from what you have done before?
“This record is a personal project for me, if you ask me what it’s about its about drug addiction, most of all heroin, child abuse, despair, depression, love, all the things that make up life. It’s an old story. People live it every day and have for hundreds of years. It’s not necessarily a new take on it but it’s my take on it, you know? Rather than sitting in the same box and making the same old music over and over, this time around I wanted to make a real record. Everybody’s real, right, from me, to you, to the man down the street - well at least they say they are... and I wanted to portray that with this recording”….

I would like to ask you where the title came from, was it off the cuff or is there a deeper meaning behind it?
“That’s the beauty of it. Originally it was an off the cuff idea after I made the Movies For The Blind Lp. I wanted another play on words title for my next album and that’s where I came up with the title Hells Winter and I made that decision and stuck to it. It’s funny because I say Hells Winter but the T is silent so it’s really Hells Winner. Basically it started off as a rough idea but then gave itself meaning through time.
See I had the idea but no idea if you understand my meaning. A lot of people knew that I had this title so I decided to keep it for the project. Seeing as the record itself was going to be about how that I had changed my life in terms of wanting to live as apposed to trying to kill myself and make the record with the concept of like ‘look I’m not trying to yank myself off the planet right now, so lets get serious with this record’. Before I was making music cuz I wanted to kill myself, I thought it would be a great piece of poetry because all the music was leading to the end of something. So the idea of me actually fixing my life is like the turn of phrase when pigs fly or in this case when hell freezes over and so you get Hells Winter and the real meaning behind it”…

You have worked with a whole range of artists on this project including Jello Biafra, no less, how did that come about and how did it feel working with such a diverse range of musicians?
“There are so many reasons why the record is so crazy, everybody on their is either a friend or a friend of a friend and that’s how everything kinda happened from DJ Shadow, through to Darryl Palumbo, to Matt Sweeney and James from Ya lo Tango. Its all been through connections. It was like when we 1st heard we could get Jello on a song our reaction was to send him a copy of the tune to see if he would like it and amazingly he thought it was shit-hot and that alone was a tribute, that alone was great, I was buzzing of that. Then to even have him feature on the track was ridiculous it took me a minute for that to register you know. When I was twelve I would have mix tapes with punk rock mixed in with rap so for instance I’d have EPMD next to the Dead Kennedy’s, then the Misfits next to Big Daddy Kane and so on… So it was a real on honour to have Jello on there plus he was doing a take on George Bush, plus this is all going on over a Dj Shadow beat, it was just retarded you know!”…

Cage on LeftLion

El-p was heavily involved with this project, how was that and how do you feel you bounced off each other in the studio?
“El-ps input as far as this is concerned was much more than just production; see El-p is one of my best friends, he is one of the few people that I speak to on a daily basis. Because he is such a good friend there was trust in each others ability to make this project happen. This was was like in some peoples eyes a career suicide and basically through me and him talking about the album at least a year before we recorded anything. It was a lengthy process with me being still signed to E.C, then when I did move labels it took three months for all the legal stuff to pass through so it was a while before we really started going at it in terms of tracks and content.
El had a hand in every single song that was recorded. He produced half of the record himself as well as co-producing a couple of tracks. It was mad because like with every song we did together he was fully involved. See beat wise El is a musical genius in my opinion he does shit, where songs will have four different beats for them he will do a track and you’ll listen to it for the first time and be like yeah that’s the track, then he will turn round and say nah you aint hearing it right! three days later he’s like check this out and it’s a new beat. It’s crazy, Hell’s Winter as a track itself has four different beats and each one was a variation of itself. We worked close on this record, there were a lot of takes in the studio, there was a lot of rewriting of verses and taking tracks apart, there was a lot of going over it with a fine tooth comb but with a couple of broken teeth”….

When you listen to the album you do get the sense of honesty within the lyrics and the music plus the fact that you both work tight as a unit. I myself feel that is what’s lacking in a lot of the Hiphop that is put out today; do you feel that is a relevant point?
“You know it also helps that El is a lyricist as well, there was a lot of things where he was changing the music because the content needed a lift, like it was a movie. The music would compliment what the imagery was trying to show you. If this is a moment where what is being said lyrically puts your guts in yer throat so to speak! It’s like the right type of music is going to enforce that point even more. There were even parts where the music was so dramatic that I thought what I was saying was not dramatic enough.
Then there were parts that we cut because it was too dramatic. It was a lot of trial and error with the record. But the things we were cutting were being re-done. I just feel that if you do an album and you have like 30 songs and you pick out the best of the bunch I don’t think that that’s the best way of doing it. I personally feel that if you record that many songs and a lot of them are getting scrapped it means that you did not make your songs right in the first place. Each song should be a finished piece of work.
Like a lot of people just whip songs together, I have been guilty of it myself in the past, Me an Camu Tao, we wrote the Night Hawks record in a week, literally, so I know I have the ability to make songs in an hour. They might not be great, but through my career I have noticed that there has always been a lot of that, the song that I put a lot of thought into or that’s what I thought at the time would be kind of overlooked by the fans and they would have more enthusiasm for a track that took me an hour to write. So when you’re throwing stuff together it can only be so complex and has a simplistic feel to it you know. That’s how Jay-Z makes his music, kinda like freestyle, he just does it over and over again until its right.
It’s a tricky process when you actually go into the studio to make music that has some worth, I feel on this album it’s the first time that I have really opened my eyes, it’s fun to really take what I am creating as an artist seriously because I’m not on every other drug. I’m not chasing that high any more. It’s like when you go after the hottest woman in the world and you follow her all over the planet but when you finally catch up with her you realise you don’t even like her. That’s how it got with me and the drugs I was not getting high anymore just getting paranoid and Schizophrenic, the last 8 or 9 experiences on drugs were just horrendous, I barely drink now just smoke the weed because it keeps me on a level. This lifestyle change has really helped me in the process to make better music. I feel that every thing up to this point has been half-arsed because when you don’t care it shows, but now that I have wiped the shit out of my eyes and realised what I have got and that is a career with out really trying and I really have to step up my game now although I could have done more with Hells Winter. It’s still crazy to have people know more about me and some times they seem to know more about me than I do”…..

To bring things to a close what are your plans for the future, are there any projects that you have in mind that you can talk about?
“We are definitely talking about doing a Weathermen album. That’s very serious, it’s gonna involve a lot of touring, cuz that’s the ultimate fantasy, the Weathermen tour. It’s interesting because the whole weathermen thing is just like a backwards Wu-Tang Clan, its really backwards like the Wu started off with this incredible first album and they all went off and did their own separate things then got back together dropped another couple of albums and the focus was less on the group and more on the brotherhood of the Wu if you know what I mean?
However the Weathermen project has worked completely the opposite way. We started off as a brotherhood in the way that we pushed it forward. We all had our different ideas about what the concept meant to each individual that was involved. And now there are some cats that are no longer down. It just all worked in reverse, but hopefully the end product will be a heavy piece of musical material.
I only see two albums myself, the first record stating what we are all about and the second being a follow upand that’s all that needs to be done in my opinion. As far as projects that just involve me are concerned I have been working on a DVD and have just finished filming the video for the album track Shoot Frank which was quite a big budget project, and I am also doing four other videos which I am writing and directing myself. The DVD is going to be called A Departure From This so watch out for that, and all the art work from the menus through to the animation is going to be done by Alex Pardee who’s ridiculous and he has done art work for the Bunny With comics and has designed a range of toys for Kid Robot etc… he’s really ill in terms of creativity. So check for that it should be out by March next year it’s just hard to find the time when there is so much touring going on but I’m not complaining that’s for sure”…….

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