Pre-Record Store Day chat with Icebird (RJD2 & Aaron Livingston)

RJD2 & Aaron Livingston
RJD2 & Aaron Livingston in our record library. Photos by Gabe Coffey (lostalgian.tumblr.com)

Everyday is Record Store Day for a lot of us, including RJD2 and Aaron Livingston, who recorded a brilliant album together in 2011 as Icebird. I had the privilege to sit down with them in our studio last week to chat and play some records ahead of the Record Store Day vinyl release of their album The Abandoned Lullaby.

“I feel weird saying I have a lot of records when I’m sitting next to RJ. I have a few records,” said Aaron.

RJ responded, “But I don’t have a lot of records, I don’t have records like Rich Medina. I have a modest record collection when I consider the heavy duty record collectors. I don’t have a storage unit -there’s a defining line and I’m a non-storage unit guy.”

CB: “Are you still actively collecting records?”

RJ: “Yeah, but I’m not a fiend like I once was. In the mid-to-late nineties, I would hit some kind of record store six days a week. It got to the point where I distinctly remember there were sections of this place called Used Kids in Columbus, Ohio and I knew the order of the records that I hadn’t bought, so I could skim through certain sections in like 10 seconds and just move on. Ohio in ’96 you could count all the “digger kids” on two hands in the whole city, there was a whole lot of records to be had.”

CB: “So why now did you decided to put out the vinyl for Icebird, The Abandoned Lullaby?”

RJ: “When I put it out on my label, we didn’t know what to expect at the time. Vinyl can be a big risk on the label side, especially when you’re rolling out a new group, so we just went with CD and digital when it came out. I had a lot of people saying, “This is one of my favorite records you were a part of,” and at one point in time a discussion got started by Ryan Schwab about working with Mad Dragon and doing some co-projects. One of the things that was put on the table was doing a vinyl of the Icebird record. It was always kind of a thorn in my side that there wasn’t a vinyl version of this record, so when we saw Record Store Day was coming up, it just made sense to go for it. It’s got two bonus cuts, double vinyl, gold records, nice gatefold, expanded artwork. As far as vinyl releases on my label, it’s by far the nicest one that I’ve put out.”

AL: “It’s orange by the way.”

We avoided a “dress”-like discussion, but a discussion of orange vs. gold did occur.

RJ: “We were deciding which track from our project to play, and this was the first track we were both thinking.”

Icebird – “King Tut”

CB: “Do either of you guys have a good digging or sentimental record story?”

AL: “Records are how I really got into music deeply. When I was 12 or 13 years old I was bored at my grandparents’ house and I found this closet that was full of records. The thing that sticks out to me is that I saw Parliament Mothership Connection and I just remember staring at this picture and it made me see my family differently. They were hanging out listening to this dude with silver boots jumping out of a spaceship.”

Parliament, Mothership Connection cover
Parliament “Mothership Connection” cover, silver boots and all.

RJ: “This story is what I call the “big dig”. I’m gonna put the year at ’99, there was a place on the Southeast side of Columbus, Ohio called Robert’s Records. It was a distributor for all the retail shops in Columbus, but it was also its own store. At some point in time, the guy decided to sell the store, so all the LPs were $1 and all the 45s were $.25. I started going to this place and I was doing five-six-seven hour days and I went through all the LPs and pulled out everything I wanted. Then there was this room that was 12′ X 15′ and it was just boxes of un-arranged 45s stacked up to the ceiling with no rhyme or reason to them. I start in on them and I’m pulling a bunch of Ultimate Breaks and Beats caliber things out – Eddie Bo, The Meters, stuff like that. I think that I’m killing it, everything’s a quarter and it’s all un-played records. I’m walking out of the store one day and there’s a three foot counter on a hinge, and I’m like “What’s behind there?” And the guy says, “Oh that’s the 45 room.” I thought I was in the 45 room! The 45 room was alphabetized and it was damn near the size of a basketball court. There was one six foot high, four foot wide shelf that was just the James Brown section of the B’s. At that point, I completely lost it. I start in on that room and then like four days later I go back at 11 am and the door’s locked. There’s a dude on the other side of the door and he’s just shaking his head going “Nope!” I came back another day, same thing – somebody came in and bought the stock of the store when I was in the process of trying to clear it out.”

RJ Aaron 3
RJ & Aaron in storytelling mode in our studio.

Amy Winehouse – “You Know I’m No Good”

RJ: “I picked this Amy Winehouse tune because to me this was kinda like the pace car for a modern drum sound. When this record came out, I said this is arguably the best modern drum sound I’ve heard on record in the last 20 years. Those things are really important to me as a hip hop breakbeat nerd. Every time something like that happens it’s kind of like a significant moment for me.”

CB: “Do you remember the first record you bought?”

AL: “I didn’t buy records for so long. The first CD I bought was Santana’s Greatest Hits. I was taking a stab at it and I feel like there weren’t that many CDs or something. I knew about CDs a long time before I got one.”

RJ “I have very very vivid memories of listening to the first UTFO cassette tape in the alley behind my house where I lived in Columbus, Ohio memorizing the words on a boombox. Maybe I was scared that my Mom was going to say, “What is this nonsense?” Records were out at that point, but I was mostly buying cassettes and dubbing songs off the radio.”

UTFO album
Cover of UTFO’s self titled first album.

CB: “Some of the records from Record Store Day this year have already been seen on eBay. What do you guys make of the record buying / selling market?”

AL: “Sometimes with a lot of the records you want, people have them and they’re not letting them go.”

RJ: “That’s why you need to support your record store, mostly to just buy the records that you want. Because you never know when stuff goes out of print or it’s just not gonna be available. Before Diplo got a deal or anything, he was basically a record dealer. Prior to moving to Philly, I used to do flea market trips with this guy Tony Larsen, and he had this crew with him which included Wes (Diplo), Ben and another guy.  We’d all cram into a Nissan Altima at 6 am and go out to flea markets. That was their thing, they’d buy and flip records.”

De La Soul – “Rock Co.Kane Flow” feat. DOOM

RJ: “One of, if not my favorite, working hip hop producers, Jake One with De La Soul and Doom.

Nas – “It Ain’t Hard To Tell”

RJ: “I put this in the playlist because it was a record that dominated my senior year of high school. When it first came out, I didn’t run to the store, it was one of those things that I kind of got beaten into submission if I’m totally being honest about it. It’s not that I didn’t like it, it was just culturally inescapable. You would hear it in every car. Then through sheer repetition, it kind of just sunk in.”

AL: “I think Illmatic is a pretty perfect record. I was living in New Jersey at the time and I would go up to New York and it was months before it came out and everyone was talking about it. People would be like, “So it’s cold out here today. Yo, when’s that Nas record dropping?” It was like “Hello”. So I was kind of prepared for it and caught up in the hype. But I’m still listening to it now.”

Bob James – “Night on Bald Mountain”

RJ: “This record has done so much for me – from engineering, to composition, to playing. It’s another one that I didn’t discover when I was a kid, but is just baked into my musical DNA. There isn’t a 45 second stretch in that song where I can get bored and that’s the thing that I’ve taken away from it. Going back to “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” and the mid-90s where I started making records, the guys at the top of the heap were DJ Premier, Large Professor, Prince Paul. Those guys could make a beat that was so effective and so good, like “NY State of Mind”, where it’s just a loop and it works for three and a half minutes because it’s so good. It’s virtually impossible to do that if you’re just a normal human being. So very early on I realized I’m gonna have to have some bells and whistles or something. When I first started making records, my approach was “Premier’s one dope loop can be a song. I’m gonna need five of my best loops to make one song.” The other part of it was I saw a lane where you could take the nuts and bolts of how rap records are made but envision it in a way that was more intricate in terms of arrangement and composition.”

RJ Aaron 2
The guys taking in some of our record library. Maybe we can get them to come back later for a more extensive dig.

CB: “What is some music that people might not expect you to listen to?”

AL: “Black Sabbath maybe? Not sure what people would expect from me.”

Black Sabbath – “The Wizard”

RJ: “When I’m in the mood, definitely hard metal like Mastodon. There’s a group from Columbus, Ohio called Dead Sea that would probably qualify as death metal and they’re awesome. I don’t know what people expect me to listen to. My son has thoroughly ran Songs In The Key of Life into the ground – and I’m happy about that. I’ve listened to it, including the bonus 45, probably over 300 times in the past 4 months or so. We went to the Stevie Wonder concert in the fall and then after that, literally everyday, we would do the whole record front to back between four to seven times a day, seven days a week. He’d skip around too – he doesn’t like the first song. We’re not a religious family, but his favorite song is “Have A Talk With God”. So then he gets to a point where he starts asking, “Hey, what is “Have a Talk With God” about?” He’s three.”

Nick Drake – “Things Behind the Sun”

RJ: “From an engineering standpoint, this is probably my favorite acoustic guitar sound of all time.”

We wound down the show with an eclectic mix of some classic records before ending with “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane.

John Coltrane – “A Love Supreme Part 1”

So in conclusion, RJD2 & Aaron Livingston are the shit – super nice guys who definitely know their music and are super passionate about it. The Icebird record is really awesome and I highly recommend you check it out and purchase a vinyl copy of it on Record Store Day if you can beat the diggers to it. The guys were even nice enough to record a station ID for us!

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TONIGHT (4/16) on Drexel’s campus is the vinyl release party for Icebird’s The Abandoned Lullaby. Free refreshments, merch and a chance to win signed vinyl!

https://www.facebook.com/events/941891782517467/

Support your local record store this Saturday (4/18) for Record Store Day!

WKDU Philadelphia

91.7 FM | wkdu.org

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Author: chrisburrell55

Wassup.