Last night at PhilaMOCA, Stones Throw Records screened their documentary Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton. Two lucky Music Without Labels contest winners were in the building, as well as this writer and a photographer, whose shots of the show are forthcoming. The film itself is a revelation, connecting the dots between disparate Stones Throw releases, providing depth to the label backstory, and revealing details of its inner workings, especially the relationships between artists. Dedicated to the memory of both Charizma and J Dilla, it honors those artists particularly, with poignant interviews with their surviving friends and family flawlessly interwoven with archival footage from various sources. Director Jeff Broadway is an excellent documentarian, bringing a strong visual style to his own footage as well as a sense of comedic timing that really conveys each interviewee’s sense of humor, keeping the audience both interested and (often audibly) amused. Perhaps of most interest to the general music fan, the clips of Kanye West showcase him at his production-nerd best, raving about the drums in Dilla’s sampler, showing the childlike humanity that drew people to him in the first place in contrast to some of his recent interviews. After the screening, there was a brief question and answer time with label founder Peanut Butter Wolf, transcribed here:
Q: Is there really ever going to be a second Madvillain album? Is that for real, is that folklore, or what?
A: You’ve gotta ask Doom. Next question. No, yeah, I wish. I mean we’ve… he sent… last time I talked to him he said it’s 85% done, so… I don’t know. We’re still waiting. Madlib’s given him a lot of tracks, but yeah that’s obviously one of my favorite records in the history of Stones Throw, so we’re all hoping that it turns into something, number two.
Q: Have you heard anything?
A: Yeah, I’ve heard a lot of stuff, but a lot of it is really short, 30 second songs, so… I mean that’s kinda what Donuts was too, I guess, in a way, so…
Q: Where’d you get the name “Stones Throw”?
A: Stones Throw, um, it was something that my mom, she would have… Basically I was hanging out with Charizma one day at my house. I used to live with my mom when I was working on that stuff with Charizma and, uh, we were asking her directions somewhere and she was like, ‘Oh, it’s just a stones’ throw away!’ and I’d never heard anybody use that saying, like, in real life, it always seemed like textbook slang from the 1930′s or something. So Charizma and I used to kinda make jokes about that. I always wanted my label to have some kind of significance with Charizma, so that was kinda the first thing that came to mind… mom joke.
Q: If you were to re-start Stones Throw tomorrow, what are the steps you’d take to do it?
A: I wouldn’t do it. You know, the music climate’s changed so much, that if I were to start now, I think, I don’t know that I would have the confidence in myself if I were to have to start something new right now. I think, um, when I did it, it was a different time in my life when I didn’t have as many responsibilities, and it was something I was really passionate about, you know, obviously I’m glad I did it, but, um, yeah. Music’s just… I can’t figure out the industry anymore, like, I’m kinda almost fed up with it. You know, I’m thankful for where I’m at and stuff, so… don’t do it.
Q: To your point, I’m just curious, as you go along, do you find it harder to balance the creative and the business? Does it get easier? Could you talk more about the struggle, how you do it? How do you keep creative and fresh, and in the red?
A: Yeah, I mean, what’s tough for me is putting out stuff that’s, like, not what Stones Throw was originally known for and stuff. You know, Madlib, Doom, and J Dilla are kinda like the three gods that Stones Throw is associated with and I’m actually very thankful that we’re associated with, but there’s a lot of other music that, I mean, I’m personally into and stuff, so that’s always tough. I mean, it seems like, especially, Aloe Blacc and Mayer Hawthorne are two examples of stuff that are neither of those artists and we did really well with those records but not to the Stones Throw core audience, like, if you go to the Stones Throw message boards they’re never really talking about those artists. They’re talking about the three I mentioned, and then maybe Dam Funk, so yeah, it’s been interesting trying to find that balance, and find, like, new talent as well.
Q: What have you been listening to a lot lately?
A: Um, Vex Ruffin? Yeah, I don’t know, there’s a lot. There’s a lot of new artists. There’s another group, Mild High Club, that I’m listening to right now that’s not really signed yet. But there are so many, like, I find a lot of my time listening to albums that aren’t out yet by people like Guilty Simpson, people that I’m already working with. So, Homeboy Sandman just finished his second album, so, how about you? What are you listening to?
Q: A lot of old stuff.
A: It’s a hard question, right?
A: It’s hard for me. You know, the one thing that’s really changed is, like, there’s so much music coming from everywhere now, like, I can’t remember. You know, i have like, probably 30 or 40,000 songs on my computer. A friend of mine, who’s, like, a film producer, had like 800,000 or something ridiculous like that. I was like, ‘How do you? You’ll never, ever hear a fiftieth of that.’
Q: Thanks for coming through in the snow man! So I came across a lot of your styles through the Adult Swim curated mixes, and I was just wondering how that came about, and where you say that trippy cartoonish vibe intersecting with the world that embraces Stones Throw so well?
A: Well, they came to us originally, and I mean, to my discredit I didn’t really know anything about Adult Swim when they came to us. I had to do my homework on it, and, um, it was cool because everybody, I mean, like you said you discovered Stones Throw through Adult Swim. A lot of people, it definitely seemed like a natural fit, you know? We started giving them our music, and they allowed us to do this album Chrome Children. We travelled around with a huge bus, with Madlib‘s picture on it, just silly, over-the-top bullshit almost, but, um, yeah… Without people like that, we probably wouldn’t still be doing this.
Q: Is Chrome Children Vol. 3 gonna happen?
A: No. Maybe! I don’t know, it’s not on the release schedule right now.
Q: Does Guilty Simpson have anything in the works with you guys, and have we heard the last of Percee P?
A: Guess what? Guilty Simpson, that song at the very end was, um, a group called The Quakers, which is Geoff Barrow from Portishead, and Guilty Simpson was on that track. The Quakers actually just finished an album with Guilty, so that’s, you know, that’s something that we’re putting out soon. Percee, um, I haven’t heard any new recordings from him, yeah. I mean, he’s really active; more active with, like, doing live shows than recording and stuff. That’s like a lot of the emcees, like Madlib, I don’t really hear rap songs by him anymore. It’s more, like, making beats and stuff.
Q: Can I have your autograph?
A: You’re gonna laugh when you see it… oh, you wanna have it now? How could I say no to that? Alright, what’s your name? Sean? Ok, excuse me, guys. How do you spell it, like, ‘un’ or ‘wn’? What is it? Oh, I messed up… Alright, give it up for Sean everybody! Alright, that’s gonna be a hard one to follow. And Sean’s gone? Bye Sean!
Q: So can you tell us more about Folerio and what he means to you?
A: Oh, Folerio? Well, he’s my cousin, but not blood relative. He was adopted. Yeah, he gives my dog massages, and, well, actually takes bubble baths with my dog, so that’s really all I know about him though.
Q: Does Madlib catalog any of his stuff, or does he just pile it up day after day?
A: He has so many CDs that don’t have any writing on them so I don’t know how he does it. Yeah, he, that guy has so, so, so much music. He doesn’t want anything released after he’s dead. He says that he won’t allow any of his stuff to be multitracked because then people will remix it when he’s dead. Actually, I asked him if we could do a boxset of all his stuff and he said, I said ‘Well, I wanna do like a greatest hits of Madlib,’ and he said ‘Well, only if we can do a boxset of all the worst Madlib stuff.’ All the people that remixed him in the past and all the songs where he had to rap over somebody else’s whack beat just to make 500 dollars that day because he was broke, that was kinda his early days and stuff, so…
Q: I was wondering if you could talk about The Funky 16 Corners?
A: Yeah, Funky 16 Corners was a compilation we put out ten years ago, and, um… Egon, it was kinda his idea and at the time he was just out of college and he came to work at Stones Throw and, you know, he was gonna put it out, I guess, through this other distributor, and when I heard it I was like, ‘We should do this for Stones Throw.’ He gave me maybe, like, 50 songs and I listened to them and picked 20 favorites out of those and we just put it out.
Q: I learned tonight that Flying Lotus was an intern for you, in the movie. Did he ever play music, and did you ever try to sign him, or did that not really happen ’til he left?
A: Well he did, yeah, he played a lot of music for me, and in the early days, I wasn’t interested in that ’cause it sounded really too derivative of Dilla at the time, I felt. I was working with Dilla, so, you know, I didn’t see… I guess, yeah, I just… It was kind of not anything I was interested in. Then, he started getting better, and then he started doing kind of his own thing. You know, he actually really encouraged me to start making beats again. He came to my house one day and showed me how to use a lot of these new programs and stuff and it was just totally over my head. He’s definitely, like, a genius, like, you know, to me. But actually one of the artists that I was working with at the time said that if I signed Flying Lotus that they would leave Stones Throw, so it wasn’t worth it to me either, but that’s another situation. You didn’t hear that from me.
Q: How do you organize your records? When you record shop, do you ever pick records based on the cover art and what’s the hit-and-miss ratio with that?
A: Well with the record art thing, I do but I always, like, listen to it pretty much. So, after, like, looking at it, like… We were at Val Shively‘s store today, I don’t know if you guys know that store here in Philly. It has the most 45s in the world, supposedly, like 6 million or something. When you go to the store, he’s like, ‘What are you looking for?’ It’s like, ‘Well, I don’t know.’ Like, I just look at what’s there. He’s like, ‘Well you’re just wasting my time, get outta here.’ Then I told him, ‘Well Jazzy Jeff told me…’ ‘Oh! Come right in, any friend of Jeff is a friend of mine.’ But you know, he has so many records, yeah, it would be a waste of his time, I think, having people… I don’t know, it’s weird, how he runs it, but he’s got one of the best record collections. And as far as how I organize mine, right now, I don’t. Actually, um, I just moved, like when we did that 12/12, and the very end of the movie is me taking the records out of the boxes with people that work for Stones Throw and that was, um, my house before that they were organized but now they’re totally unorganized. I kinda like it that way.
Q: Why’d it take so long to sign Knxwledge, and if he was around at the time of Dilla, do you think you would have brought him on as well, or would it have been the same scenario as with Flying Lotus, as far as the sound?
A: Um, I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for that. I love Knxwledge’s stuff, though. Hopefully you guys can come to the after-party. He might be playing right now, though, like, maybe we should get over there. Two places at the same… how many people are going over to the thing after? Oh wow! Nice! When should we go?
[Moderator: One more question!]
Q: In terms of like, what we’re doing now in West Philly, what do we do with our physical selves to cultivate these scenes like that? Day-to-day, like, where do we put ourselves to make these things happen?
A: In LA, you know, I was drawn to Los Angeles because of the things that were going on there. Yeah, it usually only takes a few people, like, I’ll go to different cities, and I’ll have a great show there and then I’ll go back and have a horrible show because it’s a different promoter or whatever, so… I really do feel it only takes a few people, a lot of confidence, and a lot of heart to make a scene in a city, so you should just be that person and convince everybody that you’re that guy.
His sense of timing was correct, we had in fact missed Knxwledge’s set at Boot & Saddle, arriving in the middle of Jonwayne‘s performance, but we’ll have more coverage of the party later. It remains to be seen if the documentary and Peanut Butter Wolf’s advice will have a transformative effect on the Philly scene or any other, but it is certainly food for thought. I highly recommend you catch the tour if it’s coming to your city, and regardless go see the documentary when it is more widely released after SXSW.
By Dave Fox | Philadelphia Ambassador | @philosofoxthedj | Beat-Play and Music Without Labels, LLC