Louder Than War Interview: LA Noise / Rap Trio clipping.

A month or so ago Louder Than War sent off some questions to one of our favourite new (to us) artists of the year, clipping. We wanted to try to get a handle on the self styled “noise rap” trio & to try to find out where their music comes from. We were asked to hold off running the feature until we could accompany it with their UK / EU tour news. We now have those dates & by scrolling to foot of this interview you will have them too. We totally recommend you hightail it along to at least one of these shows. We will be doing so.

Rallying behind the clarion call “It’s clipping., bitches” the experimental rap come noise trio have had quite a year so far. First came their debut album, midcity, which has been pretty much universally lauded around the internets, (and easily earned itself a spot in our mid-year albums of the year list). Rocking it out to both ‘slick, elegant & catchy’ but also ‘harsh, abrasive & difficult’ extremes it’s the biggest breath of fresh air you will have heard all year & it provoked thoughts (in us at least) along the lines of “these guys could be massive if they got picked up by a major label”. Cue the mighty Sub Pop stepping up to the oche & proving once again they’re as current, daring & forward thinking as any label out there by offering to welcome them aboard “the Sub Pop train,” an offer which was duly accepted. The future is bright, the future is clipping., bitches.

You will be forgiven if my bandying the expression “noise-rap” around conjures up sonic images of Death Grips. However clipping. are no Death Grips copy band. Far, far from it in fact. Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe clipping. as a band for people who find Death Grips too challenging, but who like the idea of someone doing something different with the traditional ‘rap’ model. Front man Daveed Diggs raps in pretty much traditional rapping style with some of the smoothest, sweetest flow you will have heard from any hip hop artist. It’s precise, clean & as smooth as your favourite babies bottom (© trad). The raps are laid down on what’s most easily described as ‘noise’. Industrial sounding interference, it’s what raises the sound of clipping. to new levels. If the flow of Daveed is the beating heart of the band, the work of William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes is the dark, slightly scary soul of the band. Employed judiciously (e.g. there are many moments on the record when it takes a backseat) it’s when their distorted, twisted sound overtures of drums & electronics (based on the traditions of “Musique Concrète“) come to the fore that the record really makes your pulse race. Magpie like they’ve both caught sound effects from their environment & created new sounds, which they’ve then twisted & played with them until they meet their ends, until they meet clipping.’s ends. It’s unsettling & the whole leaves the impression of a schizoid beast; logically you think these two sides shouldn’t come together & work so well, but they do.

Boy do they.

If effortless flow & raw, distorted interference come noise sounds like your bag give the album a listen below. If it doesn’t then you more than the others should check it out. I’m pretty sure you will be pleasantly surprised. Here’s Midcity:

clipping. is daveed diggs, william hutson & jonathan snipes & collectively they’re the dopest motherfuckers ever tumbled out fallopians. Fact.

Louder Than War: So, let’s begin at the beginning with who you are & how clipping. came together. i believe it was 2009 the band was formed right?

Jonathan Snipes: Something like that, yeah – Bill & I started making remixes using existing acapellas, replacing the beats. When Daveed moved down to LA we decided to try out making original tracks in the same style. All those early remixes are still on the soundcloud page.

Louder Than War: Although obviously Daveed’s got some amazing rapping skillz you’ve also got this sick noise thing going on too. Have you received any feedback from, like, ‘regular’ rap fans, whoever they may be? What would you say your “fan-base” is?

Jonathan Snipes: We played at the Sup Pop records Silver Jubilee over the weekend & someone came up to Daveed after & said, “Amazing flow man, but what was up with the sound? There was so much feedback!!” And Daveed said, “Yeah, that’s what we sound like; those are beats”

William Hutson: I guess what we’re learning is that there are no ‘regular’ rap fans. Everyone has a different idea of what rap should be. So we have some fans who only listen to rap, but who understand what we’re all about, and we also have fans for whom we are the only rap music they listen to. We aren’t too choosy about who likes us. We’ll take what we can get.

Daveed Diggs: I think when we started making this music we kind of assumed we would be the only three people who actually enjoyed it. It seemed like such a specific cross section of the things that we are all into. So it has been a welcome surprise to find that there is actually an audience for this stuff.

Louder Than War: Mid city’s possibly my favourite album of the year. Did you know when you’d recorded it that it was such an amazing record? Did you expect it to do as well as it has done?

Jonathan Snipes: I’m pretty used to making things I’m super proud of & happy with, putting them on the internet and never hearing a word about them ever again. We all loved the midcity album, but were absolutely expecting it to disappear into the black hole of the internet. I think its success is due to a serendipitous combination of the music itself being appealing, and the efforts of Brian Kinsman, who’s been doing a fantastic job running our PR campaign.

William Hutson: Yes and no. Yes, we thought we were doing something that other people should hear; and no, we didn’t really think anybody would like it.

Louder Than War: In one of the early newsletters I got about clipping. it said:

“This is not an exercise in anti-music. it just is rap …. a return to a philosophy popularized by Bomb Squad’s production for Public Enemy: to make music that sounds as threatening as the the environments we live in.”

… can you shed a bit more light on that please? i was going to ask if you’d consider midcity to be first & foremost a hip hop or noise release so mebe riff on that in your answer too.

William Hutson: We think that we’re a rap group. I think that that quote is an attempt to remind everyone that what we’re doing is not new— that rap music used to incorporate noise and concrète sounds all the time. Think of the baby cooing in that Aaliyah song, or anything off AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. Harsh atmospheres and weird field recordings are nothing new to rap music. But I also want to say that that quote implies a criticism of contemporary rap that we don’t actually feel. Even though we’re doing something people are calling ‘experimental’ it does not mean we’re dissatisfied with the state of rap music, or that we’re trying to fix it. We weren’t pushed to make music like this because we hate contemporary rap music— we love it. Doing something unusual always carries this assumption of criticism. We’re not haters, this is just how we make music. This is what we can do to contribute— doesn’t mean I don’t still listen to the radio, and check out every new rap album that comes out. Shit, I downloaded, like, six new mixtapes just today.

Louder Than War: Have you all always been big rap fans? I guess this is more directed to jonathan and william – it’s assumed with daveed right?

Jonathan Snipes: I was always a sort of passive fan of rap music growing up – I never exerted any energy into research until probably the late 90s. My musical taste developed in a very insular sort of way. I wasn’t allowed to listen to the radio growing up, and my musical knowledge was mostly limited my father’s record collection. He died when I was 8, so I went through it on my own, letting him teach me about music without actually getting to talk to him about it. He was mostly interested in classical & romantic music and opera, but I ended up finding the weird outliers buried in his collection (Wendy Carlos, Philip Glass, Don Dorsey, Yes, Lalo Schiffrin) and letting those inform my taste. I think the first rap song I heard was “The Humpty Dance” which I heard on the radio secretly in 4th grade when my mom was out of the house. My mind was blown, and I have a very strong memory of hearing that, but I didn’t get actively interested in rap music until late high school.

William Hutson: I grew up listening to rap music. The first song I memorized was “You Be Illin’” by Run-DMC, the first CD I ever bought was The Predator and the first concert I ever saw was Digable Planets. Rap music is the most consistent passion I’ve maintained over the last thirty years.

Daveed Diggs: Why would you assume I’ve always been a rap fan? That’s hella racist… kidding of course. Yes I have always been a rap fan. But my mother was a DJ during the late 70s and early 80s so my first musical obsession was really 70s funk and disco. But I grew up in Oakland in the era of MC Hammer and Too $hort so my taste in rap has always run the gauntlet from the most pop to the most gutter.

Louder Than War: You can pretty much spot everyone’s input in the record, but I’m curious about the recording process. Was it a lock yourselves in a room & work it out together job or did you just work it out at your respective homes then forward the baton onto the next guy as it were?

Jonathan Snipes: Usually Bill & I work together on a beat for a while, then Daveed comes over and writes a verse & a hook. We record that, then lay out the rest of the beat, sometimes changing things depending on what direction Daveed wants to take the song. Sometimes we work the opposite way – with Daveed starting, recording a demo to a click track, and we fill in the beat later. Also, sometimes the beats are mostly just Bill or mostly just me – or one of us will start & bring it to the other one when we’ve run out of ideas.

Daveed Diggs: A big part of the process is getting on the same page about the stylistic choice of the song. What sort of rap song is this? This again goes back to the idea that we really aren’t doing much that is new. We reference heavily. Certainly from rap songs, but really from all genre.

Louder Than War: Congratulations on signing to Sub Pop! They’re obviously neither really known as a home to hip hop artists (shabazz palaces aside) or noise artists so how did that come about & how hard was the decision to join them? I presume they’re just gunna let you do whatever you wanna do?

Jonathan Snipes: The decision was incredibly easy – they made it very clear that they just want to let us continue doing exactly whatever we want to do, they just want to help it reach a wider audience and give us the support we need to accomplish what we want. They’ve been incredibly supportive, and are just the most delightful group of people to be involved with. I’m just excited none of us had to learn to play guitar to get into this club.

William Hutson: Also, I think Sub Pop has always been more diverse than they’ve been given credit for being. It’s not all grunge, and quiet white guy guitar pop. They’ve had a bunch of weird bands over the years: Earth, Six Finger Satellite, Wolf Eyes— even really popular things like Reverend Horton Heat and The Postal Service don’t necessarily fit the image of, y’know, Mudhoney and Nirvana. So they’ve taken some weird risks in the past. I think we’re just the latest risk in the impressively brave lifespan of a label.

Daveed Diggs: They are great people and really responsive to all questions and concerns we’ve ever had. It seems like the best working relationship we could have asked for.

Louder Than War: midcity came out as a free download. I know Brian (Kinsman, of Deathbomb Arc RecordsKinsman And Meng PR) has said it’s been the most successful release he’s been involved with so far (he’s obviously put out stuff by the likes of Death Grips & Julia Holter & many more) so that must validate your decision to make it a free download? Do you feel this is the future for music?

William Hutson: All three of us grew up hanging out in record stores, collecting CDs and tapes. We have a very out-dated relationship to physical media. As a fan, I miss the days where it took a desperate obsession to follow all the artists you loved— searching through used record stores for deleted singles, etc. Now you can just download every rare B-side and compilation track. It’s nothing. As an artist, however, I like that people can easily discover our music. Considering we never assumed we’d make a dime off of this stuff, I appreciate everyone who finds something valuable in what we’re doing, whether they paid for it or not.

Louder Than War: Is there a message behind clipping.? What do you want people to take away from listening to midcity say (other than “shit this is good music” of course)?

William Hutson: I absolutely think there’s a politics to what we’re doing, but we’re trying not to be too prescriptive about it. I think it’s made clear enough in the music itself. If people don’t understand the next album, maybe we’ll staring speaking more explicitly in interviews.

Louder Than War: You’ve all got your own individual projects so what’s the future hold for them? Are they going to take a back seat for the time being? You’ve obviously got at least a one album deal with Sub Pop but do you consider clipping. to be your future?

Jonathan Snipes: There’s no reason why we’ll have to do only one thing from now on – of course we’ll continue to do other projects. I’m hoping clipping. can start to supersede some of the projects I actually *don’t* want to take up my time. I’ve been working in music for my living for years now, mostly for film, theater, tv and video games. It’s great & I can’t complain, but it’s really exciting to think of something like clipping. becoming a bigger and bigger part of my “day job.”

Daveed Diggs: I’m still making music under my own name. And working on tons of projects with my squad The Getback. But I love working on clipping. and am certainly going to put in as much time as is necessary to keep making the music that we want to make. Another hope is that some of the success we are seeing will shed some light on the other artists we all collaborate with. Anybody who ends up featured on a cilpping. track is somebody we hold in pretty high esteem.

Louder Than War: What’s with your interest in distorted Betamax imagery like on the “bout.that” video? 

 

Jonathan Snipes: I have an old working betamax camera that my dad bought in the 80s. I managed to find a working deck on Ebay to transfer our old home movies, and realized that we could be filming new stuff with the camera, and we’d get an effect that was similar to VHS, but different enough to feel unique. I love that we’ve all started to figure out that format changes and developments in audio and video technology is not necessarily a progression – new isn’t always better – but rather simply a shifting of aesthetic. We can see people returning to archaic formats for different reasons, and the choice of medium is becoming part of the creative act, not simply a product of the times. I view the betamax not so much as a nostalgic decision, but a choice in the same way that we might pick a specific distortion pedal or type of effects processing for a sound.

William Hutson: Also, Daveed and I used to watch a lot of BET Uncut. I used to tape it. Old, cheap video just looks right to us.

Daveed Diggs: There is definitely something about it that feels like what gangster rap videos looked like to people our age.

Louder Than War: I guess that’s about it but I shouldn’t sign off w/out asking about the name. I’ll save you explaining the “clipping” bit by pasting in your reply to the guys at Bassifondi:

The name refers to a specific type of distortion in digital audio, wherein the tops & bottoms of a waveform are cut or “clipped” off, introducing harmonics — it’s a pretty nasty, unpleasant distortion and the first thing you learn in audio work is to avoid clipping at all costs. Ironically, we’re very meticulous about avoiding clipping in our recordings.

…but what’s with the lowercase / period deal?

William Hutson: We don’t really insist on that or anything. It was how our logo was drawn so we started stylizing it that way. But it’s not a big deal.

~

As mentioned above clipping. are about to tour the UK & Greater Europe. Here’s a quote from the press release announcing the tour:

“Los Angeles noiserap trio, clipping., will be making their first trip to Europe and the UK this October. Playing in support of their self-released debut ‘midcity’, audiences will also get a chance to hear some of clipping.’s new material for their two upcoming 2014 releases on Sub Pop and Deathbomb Arc. In addition, clipping. will have a tour-only 10” available at the shows with two previously unreleased tracks, “Chain” and “Jump”.”

If you want an idea of what clipping. live might sound like check out this video:

 

~

clipping.’s website is here. They’re also on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Tumblr & Bandcamp. You can also now find them on Sub Pop’s website here.

All words Guy Manchester. More writing by Guy can be read here. He tweets as @guid0man & uses Tumblr.

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