A FAMILY AFFAIR
“There are no lines in the sand, and while there have not been any boundaries before, really anything is possible now. The masses
appreciate the forward thinking.”
(Prologue: This interview took place five years ago, back in 2015 and was in the print issue #42)
It seems like every day you hear about artists who are putting out an album together. Hoping to build off of the collaborators’ respective brands, the collaboration is more about the moment than an exploration of what the unique talents can create musically. Thankfully, in the case of the new self-titled project from Big Grams (Big Boi and Phantogram) this is a collaboration that reflects the latter of the two scenarios. Recently, Ghettoblaster had the opportunity to sit down and find out more about the influential nature of this project, the importance of family and the benefit of doing collaborations like this.
GB: A lot of music is carefully marketed and positioned. What were the benefits of making an album just for the fun of it?
Josh Carter: The benefit is music just can be music. We can have fun and just be creative. When you are a little kid, and you are starting to draw, you
don’t worry about how you are making the lines. You just do it because it is fun, and that is what we are doing with Big Grams.
Sarah Barthel: The main reason why we wanted to do it was to get together as best friends and work on a record, not stress about it. Sometimes the intentions of what the next record has to sound like loom heavily, so we had some time, because all three of us had just finished our tours. We finished
our last Phantogram tour, and Big just got off the Outkast 20-year anniversary tour. It just seemed like the perfect time to get together and make some art, music, and just not worry.
GB: It sounds like the songs from this musical vacation are your photos during the time off.
GB: Skrillex and 9th Wonder are two of the collaborators featured on this project. How did that come about?
SB: Skrillex has been one of our friends that we have met through playing a bunch of festivals. He is all about experimenting. He has like three different
projects of his own! The whole Jack U thing was really inspiring to us because it doesn’t sound like anything else that he has done, and we wanted to be a part of it in a way.
Big Boi: I have been trying to get together with 9th Wonder for some time now, and he has been circulating beats to me. I came across this one beat
of his, and when we first started recording when I went to L.A. back in October, we had like 80 different songs and beat ideas, but the 9th Wonder one was one that we carved out. I have been a fan of his for a minute, and to be able to make this happen is extra special. It was dope to bring all of those energies onto one track.
GB: If we look at this album as the set list for a concert, “Drum Machine” seems like the perfect high-energy song to close a show out on. When you were sequencing the album, did that idea of wanting to mimic the concert experience factor into how you arranged the songs?
SB: Yeah, I think visually, in general, we connect to our sound. Since every song is so different, that was just the banger that we felt that should go at that end. We will figure it out once we get the set list going. We could play it first, and then maybe again in the middle. JC: We are just planning to just play that song for an hour. [laughs]
GB: You debuted as Big Grams on The Tonight Show. What was it like to have your first performance for such a large audience?
BB: We did Jimmy Kimmel before… We were “Undercover Grams” back then. Coming out as the Grams was great. It gave us a chance to really showcase the music. The backdrop was dope, and I am excited to get out and start touring.
GB: Josh, since you handle production, who are some of your favorite producers? People that you admire and might want to work with?
JC: JDilla, Stones Throw artists like OhNo and Madlib, Alchemist, 9th Wonder, Kanye—I love his forward-thinking. All of the Def Jux stuff with El-P is dope. It has been a really cool experience to be able to work with and pick the brains of the Dungeon Family production team. Being able to work out of Stankonia has been really great!
GB: Sarah, you provide the beautiful vocals on this album. Who are some of your influences?
SB: Growing up I listened to a lot of ridiculous Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey and how they hit all of those notes, and I think that helped me to develop my voice. Then it was Aaliyah, Fiona Apple—she really helped to influence me with songwriting, but then there is James Brown, Prince, Led Zeppelin; I think there is more male influences in my writing than women.
GB: Spending more time with each other for Big Grams, what did you learn about each other that you did not know before?
SB: That we are such goof-offs.
JC: Big taught me how to make it rain.
SB: He taught me how to do it too! [laughs]
GB: Big Boi, on “Light On” you talk about materialism being a prison and a person being sadder when they had it all. What are some of the challenges that come with success?
BB: It isn’t really challenging when you have that family foundation. Music is what I do and love, but my family and friends are what we keep me grounded. You can get caught up in all of these lights, but the money and power will make the lamest person super lame. But if you were cool before the money, then it doesn’t really affect you like that. I take pride in my relationships because you can’t let it define you in that way.
GB: On “Born to Shine” you feature Run the Jewels. As a legend from Atlanta, what do you most appreciate about the legend-in-the-making
that is Killer Mike?
BB: It makes me proud. Killer Mike and Janelle Monae are two of my signings, and to have them successful is gratifying that I have an eye and ear and talent to be able to see that growth in them before they even grow. To be able to see what they have done over the years, it makes me really proud. I love what they are doing with the craft, and they have more to go.
GB: At the start of this project, did you know you wanted to do something with Run the Jewels?
BB: Sarah and Josh might have brought it up first. When I played it for Killer Mike, he just said he had to get on that record. He wrote two to three
verses for it that night. Then El-P came on and did his thing. Everything is organically created. Nothing is genetically modified, you feel me?
GB: “Dope is dope, from ATL to New York,” is a line from “Fell in the Sun.” In what way does that reflect on how this project has been so successful?
JC: “Dope is dope” is something that Big said to us when we first started working on the project and started to hang out with him in Atlanta. When we started to talk about music, it was something he said, and it just stuck.
SB: It was the best advice that Big gave us. Don’t worry about it. Do what you are doing. It was just that simple, and we wanted to put that in a song.
JC: It’s encouraging to keep doing what we like.
BB: There are no lines in the sand, and while there have not been any boundaries before, really anything is possible now. The masses appreciate the forward-thinking.
GB: What has allowed the Dungeon Family collective to be so successful?
BB: It is about making timeless classics. It is not about making music for the now. It is a discovery period. You won’t get everything on the first listen.
You will learn new lyrics and instrumentation. Not everyone can do this shit here. You just have to stay in the groove, stay with your craft, stay with your craft, and not worry about getting your groove back like Stella, because you will always have it.
Words: Jason Kordich | Photo: Ryan Hunter