Saturday, July 9, 2016

Legend of the Wet Gorilla: An Interview with Koobaatoo Asparagus

    Following Red Lotus Klan's reissue of the Android Masters tape, I got in touch with Koobaatoo Asparagus, the other half of the Android Masters crew. Aside from producing and rapping on the Android Masters tape and contributing beats and rhymes to most of the stuff on Zombie's soundcloud, Koobaatoo, also known as Bomedy Beats and Mike Swift, has been very prolific as a solo artist, having crafted his own unique sound and produced several hip-hop compilations as well as hundreds of experimental noise albums released through his NoSkinnyJeanz imprint, which can be found on his bandcamp and We discussed his earliest experiences with music, as well as his influences, his work with Zombie619, his spontaneous approach to music, his forays into experimental/harsh noise wall, and more in this in depth interview.

What were some of your earliest experiences with music and what inspired you to start making music yourself?

     Let's see, I started when I was like six years old. My grandma and them had records with the old radio - remember those old stereos that was made out of wood and it they used to light up? You had to lift 'em up and they had the turntable in there and it was an 8-track back then. So those days, that's when I started to get interested in the album covers, you know, Earth, Wind & Fire album covers, Sun Ra. I just used to be amused by those albums covers. My first instrument was a tape deck - really a tape recorder - and I started to do, like, tape manipulations, record my voice. I called it "pause button productions." I used to loop certain beats with two tape recorders. So I started to get into that. This is the early 80s. My grandma and them had a record called the Sugarhill Gang and that's when I started to get into that. That's when I started to scratch on the turntable. I didn't have no technique then but back then, in the 80s, our grandparents and parents and them had Technics turntables with the s-arm and all that. I didn't realize those were popular turntables. They used to have little house parties and break out the turntables and next thing you know, I see the mixer. So I was like, "Alright, I like DJing," and I started DJing in the early 80s. That was my first encounter with the music.

I found a bio where it said a guy called DJ Slo Motion helped you get started DJing.

    Yeah, now we're going into - 'cause that was '80, '81 - then in '85, Troy (Slo Motion) showed me how to scratch with the mixer. We went to the thrift store, the Goodwill and we got us some turntables. I had a Pioneer and a Technic, it was mismatched, and we went and got a Radio Shack mixer with the cross fader. Then, after that, he got me doing parties for schools and stuff. That's why I named my self DJ Mike Swift and he was DJ Slo Motion. Kenny (Zombie) and all them, they're from a different side of San Diego. We're from Bay Vista. I dunno if you've heard of Bay Vista but that's where Mitchy Slick and all them grew up at. Mitchy Slick is a real popular San Diego rapper. We grew up in those projects, started doing house parties, started doing high schools, Sadie Hawkins. This is about '86, '88. Then I started to get into beat making after that. I got my first sampler, an Esoniq Mirage. It only had like 12 or 8 bits and gave you about 12 seconds of sampling. And I never turned back.

I know too that break dancing was a big part of the 80s for you. Were you part of House Klan as well or were you more just affiliated with them?

     I was just affiliated with 'em. Once again, they're more from the other side of San Diego. Breaking, too, along with my DJing was part of it. In '85, I was in the break dancing then. We were called the Juice Crew [laughs]. We was the little Juice Crew. 'Cause what happened with San Diego - it was kinda like, gangs was out but those were older homies, but then a lot of our generation got into dancing. It was the O.G. Dark Boys, the Fila Boys, the Gucci Crew. This is when Fat Boys was the shit and Run-D.M.C., "send me back in 30 days." But we started to do a little bit of break dancing when we saw Beat Street and all that. It was fun times.

When I talked to Zombie he was telling me about how he came up with the name Masters of the Universe when you, him and Orko were hanging out one day, and had just had some weed cookies. Do you remember that day?

   Oh, yeah! Around that time - that was the early 90s I would say - I was a DJ then too. While they would dance, I would sometimes DJ while they be battling. I was also dancing too. But around that era, I was gettin' known for my beats. People were like, "That dude be makin' some tight-ass beats, sampling." I had been doing music for a while. I was doing experimental hip-hop. It was sounding kinda like - one of my favourite producers was - you remember Showbiz & A.G., Diamond D and them? And Buckshot Shorty? How they beats be muffled? Yeah, I used to make those kinda beats. Like the Buckshot Shorty "Buck 'em Down" song! So my beats was sounding like that with a little bit of Prince Paul, De La Soul. So people were very influenced by how I made my beats, very abstract and original.

    But I don't wanna miss out on the weed cookies. Long story short, they came over. They knew I was producing and stuff. We was in my room, I was making this beat, and we was just fuckin' tripping, eatin' weed cookies, and Zombie was like, "Dude, Android Masters, Masters of the Universe," and we just ran with it. That's when I started hanging with them more and more. We'd go from Orko's studio to my little production room, back and forth, making beats together, producing for West Kraven, producing Odessa Kane - back then they were called D.N.A. - Odessa, Atom 12 and Kontroversial. So I pretty much worked with all of 'em, Bennie (Eclipse Heru), DJ Looks One (aka DJ Third Rail). So basically I produced with everybody from Masters of the Universe at some point.

Is all that stuff lost now?

    Yeah. I was tripping out how Android Masters came back. I was like, "Wow! Who had this tape?" [Peace to Dylan for ripping his tape and sharing it with the world!] When I saw that back in rotation. That was from the lost archives. I still have some beats that I made around that era.

Can you talk about any memories you have recording Android Masters?

     It was in Atlanta. Zombie had to get rent paid so he had to sell his Nintendo, at the Game Stop. We were kinda bummed out - he was on his way to go back to San Diego - so I was like, "Dude, let's finish this and put this tape out." Back then I was a big acid head. I used to do acid, shrooms. So he had did shrooms with me one time - we had got some funny weed from them Georgia dudes - and we was both fuckin' trippin' out. We started laughing at the same time and next thing you know we started vibing on that album and finished most of it that day. Then he moved back home. I was still in Atlanta, producing other acts, and he pressed it up and was selling it. I was like, "That's awesome!" So when I went back to visit San Diego, there were already 100, 200 copies of that tape floating around. So Zombie did the distribution, putting it out there, and I did the beats.

Were you involved in Zombie's Optimus Crime album too?

    No, I wasn't on that one. I think that was mainly Orko production, and Puddi. Puddi, me and him were producer partners too. That's around when I got down with Masters of the Universe. First we was all buddies, but I got down with their team when I got down with the Black Bradys. You heard of them?

Yeah, that was Puddi and Blacky, right?

   Yeah! Puddi and Blacky. I came along right around then. We were signed under a label, with Orko too. Whew, that was old times! You could ask Puddi, he'd remember the name of the label. We had some posters and stuff. We did some shows. This was before Kenny and I did Android Masters, not to confuse with the timeline. Then me and Kenny clicked up in Atlanta, unexpectedly - I didn't know he was living out there - and when we united we dropped that album. Then I came back to San Diego and me and Kenny just never stopped collaborating. We have a couple underground [recordings], back when CD-rs came out, we started up that Android Masters again.

In 2005-6 you dropped a couple hip-hop compilations (Mike Swift's Giggin' Shoes and Legend of the Wet Gorilla) and I also found a Bomedy Beats instrumental project from around that time. Was that a time where you were really pushing with the rap stuff?

    See, now we're going into 2000, 2005, 2006-7. What happened was, I came back from Atlanta and I was back in the hood, so around that time people started getting into the gangster era, I guess the G Funk started to take over. Being me, I grew up under the funk anyway, you know, George Clinton, Parliament/Funkadelic. And then, like I said, I used to be a little drug head and I'd always do the sherm. That's why you see Legend of the Wet Gorilla. I used to get wet and then make those beats and having people rapping in the studio while we all wet and shit. And we used to come out with albums, just song after song after song. I was making like 5-10 beats a day. And people were like, "Dang! Mike Swift is makin' a lot of beats!" So as the years went by, Alex, a lot of people started to be like, "A lot of people are being influenced by your style of beats, from E-40 to Kanye West, now San Diego's trying to grasp it," so I just started to make more funky beats.

   I was, at one point in Atlanta, I was with LaFace Records as an intern, and they wanted to pick me up on their production team, and what happened was, they were like, "Dude, you're tight, but we can't get a lot of these samples cleared," and that kinda broke my heart. That's what made me start doing what I call the Too $hort beats, 'cause if you notice Too $hort didn't really use samples, he was using a keyboard. So from the 90s, I went from a hip-hop/De La Soul type of sampling then in the millennium I started making funk beats so nobody could really claim that it's copywritten, ya get it? And I was really at my prime, trying to get the hip-hop thing going.

    The funny thing is nobody really rapped in San Diego and now everybody and they mama rap, and everybody's a DJ. You Can DJ on your phone. I would say we the pioneers of San Diego hip-hop, but also I'm a best kept secret, you know, people kinda forgot about me on the low. I did that on purpose. Hip-hop was becoming a trend so I wanted to kick it with this experimental music on the side. Next thing you know, I hear Kanye West messin' with experimental noises and stuff. I'm more of an innovator, like Orko. We always come up with ideas. Peacez (Zombie) is the same way, he always has ideas.

You mentioned Funkadelic and I can hear the influence there, but when I step back and look at all your stuff, from the rap stuff, to the funk, to the experimental noise and a lot of your lyrical content, I'm guessing Sun Ra was a big influence on you as well?

    You're correct. What happened was, when I came back to San Diego, like I said, everything was gravitating towards gang banging, with Dr. Dre, Chronic and all that. What happened with me, being that I'm from Bay Vista - that's the projects - what was going on with me, Alex, I was producing a lot of talented gangster rappers. But next thing you know, my cousins, my friends, they gettin' locked up in jail, and we have all this material just sittin'. It got so bad, I'd be in the studio with one of my friends and next thing you know they're going to the store and they get shot, they're dead. I started to think, "What the hell am I putting out here?" The beats are smashin', but I started to notice, "Man, lyrics are powerful!" 'Cause my friends were rapping about killing - killing, destruction and all that - and they basically manifested what they said. I was feeling heart broken because I wanted to be, like, a Steve Viscious, another dope producer out of Diego. But it just started to get boring. The same, "I'll kill you, shoot 'em up, bang, bang," I couldn't go no further. To me, Snoop Dogg got it locked down. 2Pac got it locked down. Game got it locked down. But you can't do no more. You can't keep rapping about killing and killing and killing.

    Now, what happened was, my man Joe, rest in peace, we were in the studio and he died while we were recording. And it's kinda weird how I can play his tapes and listen to his verse but he's gone. That's when I started to search for the old mic again, the House Klan, Boot Without a Soul days. Next thing you know, with Sun Ra, I hit the lil' sherm again. I was outside. And something just said, "Man, go with the Sun Ra. Fuck if people think you're weird. Go with Sun Ra because you're not a gangster rapper. You're a musician." And I never went back. I still be rollin' with the Sun Ra. I still make funk beats here and there. I really don't support gangster rap that much. But people liked my beats so much they be, "Hey man! Just do one beat for me," shit like that. So I did a couple beats for some San Diego cats. But as far as that, that was my journey, man.

I was talking to Zombie about how the Android Masters stuff has a really spontaneous vibe, like you guys just get inspired and put it together. It sounds like that's true of all your stuff too, is that pretty much the case for all your music, that you just work when the inspiration hits you and keep it spontaneous? 

    Yeah, because back in the day, in the studio, when I used to record - to me, you either got it or you don't. And what I mean is, I'd encounter cats in the studio and we're doing a 16 bar take for 3 hours. And it's like, "Dude... c'mon." Like, did you do your homework? 'Cause now you got me doing your homework. I gotta cut, paste, overdub. In the long run, you either got it or you don't. So just like Sun Ra, when I'm recording, if I mess up, I keep recording. I want to get it over with, put it in the archives and move to the next song. You have some cats who be like, "Nah, put that back. Take that out. Put that snare in." You lose the creativity and it becomes homework. So I was always spontaneous and whatever I made, I put it out. Like, if this person can't rap on it, this one can. That's why I like Peacez. We're like peanut butter and jelly. He can rap on anything of mine and get it done. And Zombie, he's one of my best artists. He don't rap about gang bang stuff. He's like a Marvel comic enthusiast. He's the type of cat that'll go find vocabularies from a NASA glossary and throw it down on paper. That's what I like. Me and him have an infinite possibility of imagination.

Can you break down the name Koobaatoo Asparagus?

    Koobaatoo came out around - that was when I decided, "I'm Sun Ra all the way. I'm not turning back." So this was around 2010, 2011. I ain't gonna lie, I was on ecstacy, in my room. I had become a circuit bender and I was getting more interested in that. I started to discover more unfound sound. And with Koobaatoo Asparagus, I was high as fuck, and I wanted the name to get stuck in your head. It doesn't really have a meaning to it. I tried to go research meaning. It's funny, if you look at asparagus, it's a plant but it also means genius. So I was like, "Cool, okay." I tried to kinda be like the Egyption gods. I was just trying to be more original with the Koobaatoo. Make it stick in your head, you know? [laughs]

You've done a lot of stuff with a couple guys, Sharpe J and Young Mantre. You were saying to me Young Mantre is your cousin. Is Sharpe J a relative of yours too?

    Yeah, Mantre's my cousin. Jason's my friend. See, in Bay Vista, you had Wrongkind, you had Back Gate Records. It was gonna be a takeover. 'Cause Bay Vista is known for a lot of talent. Kevin Mitchell from the Giants baseball team came outta there. Mitchy Slick, the Notorious Syndo Mob. Terrell Davis (former football player for the Broncos). We had some real good talent. So with Mantre and Sharpe J, we had formulated - with Young Reef, my cousin - Back Gate Records and basically that name was from the back gate of Bay Vista, a popular area where there was a lot of shootings and stuff.

    The main rapper, Young Reef, he got locked up for conspiracy to a homicide. So we started to push it for him, while he was in prison. We really started to pump out CDs, doing shows, making it a whole movement. As time went on, people started having kids, growing apart, homies dying, everybody started doing they own thing. Not to mention, Wrongkind Records are now the biggest Diego rap label going on right now. And we're sub-affiliated with them sometimes, but like I said, everybody's doing their own thing now. We almost had a takeover. A lot of the beats that I did, people were gettin' in trouble with the police because people were rapping about murders and now they wanna do an investigation. That's pretty much when I was like, "I'm out of this y'all. This isn't going anywhere." The music almost started gettin' my ass in trouble. I was like, "Nah, I can't do this one."

You mentioned the experimental noise, and I know in particular you've done a lot of harsh noise wall, which I wasn't familiar with before I heard your stuff. Can you explain what the idea of harsh noise wall is and how it appeals to you? I've heard it described as music for nihlism.

     I stumbled upon harsh noise wall - it was this guy on YouTube. His name was Bomir. He had a bag over his head in front of a crowd, performing live. And all you hear is this low tone rumbling, like, noise of wall, almost sounding like an airplane turbine. See, back in the day, I had got shot, when I was in the hood, and I had developed post traumatic stress disorder. So, you know, I'm on social security, disabilities, for PTSD. So what happened was, as I'm listening to it, it made me settle. So it's really not music to me, it's more of an anesthetic, like a state of trance, a state of calmness for me, you know what I'm sayin'? That's why I make a lot of it. And to me, it's not giving off a bad message, 'cause, like I said, I used to be a producer for guys who would be rappin' like, "I'ma kill your dog and I'ma gang bang to this," and it's kinda like, they're really putting that out in the universe and it comes back and bites them in the ass. So I was like, "Do I want to be that type of image? Nah." So harsh noise wall is like - you know, Alex, I don't do all them drugs no more. I got too old. So I might just go ahead, have a little beer, set up my little equipment and make a wall and just sit there, just in a conscious, relaxed state. And I thought it was just me but I started to see more people all over the world doing harsh noise. So my mind is conditioned to it now. It's like a canvas or painting somehow. It's visual to the ears.

Well, like I said, I hadn't heard of it before, but one of the things I think is really cool is the DIY aspect and some of the artwork people are putting together. Like a lot of that stuff, the stuff you sent me, has really great artwork.

    Yeah, 'cause I'm like you, Alex. I love tangible items, like the tapes, like back in the day you put 'em in the deck, you stare at 'em, you look at the credits. I was a big fan of that. As I got older, everybody wanted to be a big star on a label, like Wu-Tang - everybody had that dream - but as I got older I saw I wasn't getting any closer so what I did was, I took the DIY route. So right now, as we speak, I told myself I'ma catalogue my stuff and I can imagine Sun Ra did that. You know how he has all kinds of records and I always loved his stuff. So right now, I'm 41, and I'm sitting on a vault of about 7000 CDs of all my stuff.


    That's what I'm saying. As I get older I just keep archiving. And if I pass away, hmm, I might just give it to the Library of Congress, or like a library so people can say, "Who was this guy who put out all this stuff?"

You mentioned the circuit bending. Is that how you got into the experimental noise? Is that what started that journey?

    The experimental noise - I didn't realize it but I was already an experimental artist in the 90s, me and Orko and them. After I seen it on Facebook, I realized it was a whole family of us, we just didn't have communication like right now. There was a whole spectrum of people who did experimental music. Like tapes never left, but to people, they think they're gone. So thanks to Facebook and social media, it made me see people like you - you're a true old school collector - I see other people that did experimental music and put 'em on tapes. Home recording is still around, DIY, the trades. So I didn't realize it was still here. I thought I was the Last Mohican. So experimental music was me from the beginning. Like in the early 80s, I didn't know it was circuit bending Alex, but I used to take apart my radio and mess with the resistors and transistors and see what I could come up with. I used to put the TV on white snow and just listen to it [laughs], so I was already with it!

Do you have any new rap-related projects in the works? Zombie was telling me you guys are wrapping up the Anunnaki Brothers album.

   Yeah, we're gettin' ready to get right back in the studio. I got my little court thing goin' on with me, and after that, me and Zombie - and Orko is supposed to be part of it too, so it's probably gonna be all three of us. We was gonna go ahead and get some production from Orko. 'Cause me and Kenny drop stuff around our favourite time, which is like the end of the year. See, me and Zombie's best time is like October, November, so we're lookin' at putting it out then.

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