'It's Got A Lot Of Layers' – Bernz Talks 'Thrift Store Halos' [Interview]

Aug 16 2012

The babies that were left on the shore had no idea if they were ever going to be able to leave the island, but the ship with EP written on the side came back for them and swooped them from the shore. As a result, the Thrift Store Halos EP is upon us.

We had the opportunity to speak with Bernz, one of the two emcees and founding members of ¡MAYDAY!, to get his perspective on the rescue mission that turned out to save some of the group’s most treasured songs.

How excited are you to push some of these songs that, for one reason or another, were not able to make it on the album Take Me To Your Leader? Cause from what I understand, some of these songs the guys in the band really really loved, but because they didn’t fit that overall vibe of the album they couldn’t make it.

Well, shit, we were really excited, man. We have a lot more stuff too. Luckily for us, we have a pretty big vault of stuff that we work on, and we basically work everyday that we can, so there’s constantly great music being made. So, I was real excited to put together a small project with some of the vibes that were the same.

Yeah, cause it’s like sacrificing babies, so now you guys got to go back to the shore and retrieve some of those babies that, you know, you didn’t know if you were gonna see them again.

Exactly, man, exactly. And what I tell people about the meaning about Thrift Store Halos is like, these babies or these songs, they were left behind. Kind of like second-hand, you know, but then a lot of people, sometimes they do all their shopping at thrift stores and you get all that like-new, fresh, dope shit out of a thrift store. So, that’s kind of the vibe, like you go back there and you can pick out all this dope new style out of what’s left there, you know what I mean? So, that was kind of a little bit what happened with Thrift Store Halos.

Do you still do your fair share of thrift store shopping?

Hell fuck yeah! I love goin’ to thrift stores, man. I’m always buyin’ dope shit over there, dude. Actually, I hate buying shit at the mall cause I feel like everybody buys their shit there, you know what I mean?

What’s the one song…just to pick one on here that you were really, like, kind of pissed off about because it wasn’t able to be on the album?

“The Ride” with Del. That definitely is probably like, tops that list and for whatever reason it couldn’t make the album. And then also, I’d say “Letter to the Lost”. It’s something that we kinda went back and forth with a lot with, you know, the power to veto where kinda everybody’s putting the album together, you know, and that would like – it would hop in the track list and then hop out of the track list. It was a constant motion.

I’ve asked this to the other guys, but when you go back and listen to Take Me To Your Leader, does it still stand up to you and how do you feel about it?

¡MAYDAY! - Take Me To Your LeaderIt’s dope. I have my moments, like sometimes I tend to listen for flaws. It’s fucked up, but whenever you do something yourself, I know how it was made, the process it was made, so I’m always thinking how it could have been better. I love Take Me To Your Leader, and every time I go back, there’s a different song that will pop out to me at a different time. So, it’s cool. It’s just kind of the process. I don’t like to really go back until it’s been like a good year or two to be real with you. I don’t really pump my shit until it’s really been forgotten out of my own head.

I asked this to Plex, and I was like “What role does Bernz play?” cause I asked him to label everyone. He was like, “Bernz is like the inertia,”. Now, does the group expect that from you, for you to come in and be like, “Well, wait, hold on. Before we all start poppin’ bottles and shit or whatever, this this and that we fucked up.”

I don’t know, dude, it’s just kind of the way it works out with us. Maybe it’s because me and Plex kinda started the band, and I feel like a lot of what is the culture of ¡MAYDAY! is defined by the shit that me and Plex kinda grew up on as kids – our friendship and our ways of being. The process and the approach is permeated to the other members as part of what the culture of ¡MAYDAY! is. So, maybe it’s just because of that. You naturally kind of fall into that position. I would never dare call myself a captain or anything like that, but I guess that’s part of the whole thing, as well. I always consider myself to be like a soldier. I just feel like it’s my baby, and I feel like it’s my baby because of the fact that we’re the oldest members in the band, or the founders of the band, so it’s just maybe also as that, you feel like you have to kind of be the person to constantly keep pushing the envelope, and not to say that all the other members don’t do that as well, but I just feel like I try and always be like, “Okay, what’s next? What’s next for us?” Since I was there from the beginning I’m also a bit of a barometer of what we’ve done in the past. So, I’m also that person to be like, “Okay, well we did this, we did this. Now, what’s this, what’s next?” You know what I mean? The whole vision of ¡MAYDAY!, the videos and shit, I feel like I know what we should look like and how we should be portrayed.

¡MAYDAY! - "Darker Shades" Music Video

It kind of seems like you and Plex are, in a lot of ways, the – I wouldn’t say the leaders or whatever, but the guys who kind of set the philosophical tone. If nothing else by default, because you guys were the first two.

Yeah, I think that’s a fair analogy. What’s dope is I feel like through us knowing ourselves, me and Plex and ¡MAYDAY!, we were able to pick up these other members, also knowing what we couldn’t do and what they could bring to make us better. I feel like that’s a big thing. I feel like me and Plex have always – the people that are in ¡MAYDAY! all bring something unique to ¡MAYDAY! and make it better, and I think that that’s real important of our process of how we kind of came to be, you know what I’m sayin’?

Definitely. Now, back to the EP real quick, Thrift Store Halos. What are some things that you think the band was able to do and explore musically on this EP that maybe fans have not seen before?

Damn, I mean I wanna say this is – this shit feels kind of like it’s introspective. Whereas Take Me To Your Leader is dark, this one isn’t as dark, per say. It’s just a bit more, it’s just grey, you know what I mean? I feel like if I were to put a color palette on Thrift Store Halos, it’s painted with like a grey brush. Not necessarily because it’s a dark album, it just has that kind of – like a rainy day almost. That’s the vibe I get with Halos.

Definitely. One of the songs that stuck out to me was “Darker Shades”. Very interesting, if for nothing else, because of the lack of drums, you know, which makes me ask, how much of a blessing is it to work with producers that give you such original and interesting shit to rap over?

It’s fucking great dude. I mean it’s like, the funny thing about that song is I guess it started like that. Like, the way you hear it now, when I originally kind of hopped on it and started to fuck with it, that’s the way it sounded. And then we kind of started to second-guess ourselves like, “Man, do people wanna hear drums on this?” and we went through that whole process and maybe might have tested out about fifty-thousand drum tracks on it. Eventually it just kinda all came back to square one again. We were like, “Man, this shit just sounds cool and vibe-y like this. Let’s just go with it.” So, it was definitely something that was talked about. And there are also versions out there with drums that are pretty fucking cool that you might hear one day, like remixes or whatever. But I don’t know, it just, to us it was more original this way, and it was just a bit more quirky this way, you know what I’m sayin’?

Definitely. Very cool. From talking to you guys, it seems that your guys’ best moments musically are when you just flow and when you guys do mess up or look back and you’re like, “I don’t like that as much,” it’s when you guys were over-thinking it.

Yeah I think that’s a safe bet. I mean, because we are so just adept at playing our shit, and playing instruments and getting into it like anything else, I think we can have a tendency to maybe over-produce our own shit because we’re so able to just take it to so many different places. The whole magic of what we do is like redacting. If you hear Plex’s beats a lot of times, we start off with a lot of shit. Plex makes huge soundscapes, man. They change and have a lot of different dimensions to them, and because the format of hop hop leans towards a more minimalist kind of beat, a lot of times we’re stripping Plex’s shit down just to even start off with because it’s got so many layers to it, and a lot of times for hip hop that just doesn’t work, or the approach that we’re using doesn’t work. But other times it’s great. I can say songs that are big – it also gives us that big sound when we want it, which a lot of people can’t really achieve. They don’t really know, because they’re so limited to, you know, samples or whatever the fuck, it’s hard for them to really raise a song up to a whole other level, which for us it’s like fuckin’ nothing.

¡MAYDAY! - "Darker Shades For Brighter Nights" eBookNow, the phrase “Darker Shades for Brighter Nights”, what does this phrase mean? I’ve been wanted to ask this since we put the eBook out. What does that mean exactly?

I mean, it’s self-biographical about, kind of, how we’re living our life right now. We livin’ at night right now, and while we always have been night-dwellers as creative people, now when we go out, like, the lights are a bit brighter. Like, the flashes of the camera, and you know, the lights on the marquee, and the lights on stage, thanks to Scenario of course. So it’s kind of like it’s us taking the changes in our life and becoming a real act and getting a little bit of notoriety and fame, and I don’t know that’s basically what it’s about. We wear our sunglasses at night partly because we can.

The entire EP seems to have this vibe of, I wouldn’t say escapism, but it seems to be reactionary to a life that has changed for you guys. Are things different for you guys now that you’re a touring act, you got a national album, you’re signed to a great label, I mean how does that change things for you guys?

It’s like you said man. It makes you look inward now, and because things are changing around us in a quick pace, people are changing around us as well. Our surroundings are changing, and it’s kind of a way of you trying to hold on to something familiar as all these things are happening to us, and it’s just blessings as well. When good things happen to you, you also have to sit back and question “Why?” What good things have I done, positive things, what negative things, as well. You really start to analyze yourself as a person also when you kind of step into the spotlight, let’s say, and become a person who people are actually listening to what the fuck he’s saying, you also start to question, “What am I saying?” and you wanna really hone in on who you are, because people wanna know who the fuck you are so you better know who you are, so that’s kind of the vibe with that.

If you were to pick an activity to do with the EP being the soundtrack, what would that be?

Damn, that’s a good one man. Oh man. I would probably say smokin’ a fat doob, I mean to be real with you man. Smokin’ a doob, drivin’ with the fuckin’ nice dark night. That’s kind of the vibe to me, would probably be the best way to listen to this fucking EP, man. Just chill out on a nice night drive and let it bump.

Now, one of the great songs on here that was also able to get an official push was “Strange March”, and you just said you guys were planning on shooting a video. What can you say about CES Cru and their contribution to this track?

CES CruOh man. CES Cru is just like – you know, CES Cru reminds me about everything that’s dope about rapping, man. That’s what I like about CES Cru, man. It’s like, they’re those dudes that I hang on every word cause they’re always spittin’ some crazy shit, man you know? The contribution I think also was it just elevated my game and make sure that I came with it because, fuckin’, they’re beasts man. Everybody on this track lyrically’s a beast, so I was just like, their contribution is raising the bar, basically you know?

I know you went on Twitter and said that you wrote a treatment for the Strange March video. Are there any hints that you could give to us as to the vibe or where you wanna go with it?

Ah, this one. What do I wanna say about this one? Considering the people that are on it, just know that it’s gonna be a little twisted, you know what I’m sayin’? That’s probably, without revealing too much, I feel like – how about this… Strange Music is like a virus – it’s taking over the fuckin’ world, alright? That’s basically what I’m gonna tell you.

Now speaking of videos, how long have you been directing videos and how did you get your start?

I went to film school when I was trying to come up with Plex and we actually both moved to New York early in ¡MAYDAY!’s inception. We recorded a small little EP here in Miami and then we basically bounced, and we went up to New York trying to kinda seek better fortune up there and try and test our luck. While I was up there I basically went to film school as well because I’ve always had aspirations as a director and an actor. Unfortunately, I got my record deal midway through schooling, so I wasn’t able to finish the rest of school, which is something that I always kind of regretted. So, I was able to take some of the few things that I learned in school and just – I’ve always been directing like – since ¡MAYDAY!’s inception, we’ve always been doing it, so you could kind of chart my own kind of learning curve, as well, with film just by watching ¡MAYDAY! videos. If you watch the earliest videos up until now, you know what I mean? It’s always been the same process. It’s been me trying to figure out shit with whoever’s with me at the time, you know, sometimes it’s Wrek, it’s been my homie Garcia since the beginning, as well. Sittin’ there with an idea and just tryin’ to do it, tryin’ to figure it out.

Bernz Directing

Yeah, I kinda felt that you probably learned a lot just out of necessity, I would think.

Yes. I mean, when I was in film school, the one great thing is I had a really great film history teacher, and he always – we watched a lot of movies, but at the same time he always kept on putting into us that the equipment that we have now is far superior than any of the equipment than the people used in movies that we’re watching right now. And we have it at access in our bedrooms, you know what I’m saying? He’s just saying that, you know, you look at these things now with a different eye. The rules are different. And don’t get me wrong, I’m only doing music videos. Like, I know if I ever start incorporating real dialogue and all sorts of other shit, those are whole other beasts that people take years to even learn and get good at as well. A music video has a certain amount of, like, easiness to it. When it comes to film, it’s just more about your own creativity visually. You don’t really have to worry about a lot of other factors, you know?

Right, like plot development…

Plot development, character development – there’s tons of other things. So, I’m never gonna sit here and toot my own horn like I’m some crazy dope director. Yo, If you wanna talk to a real director on Strange right now, talk to fuckin’ Prozak. He’s sat there and done movies. That right there already puts him in a whole other league, you know what I mean? I think where I get lucky is that I have a good eye, and I have a good subject in ¡MAYDAY!. The one thing that has to be said for the creative process is to have an inspiration. There’s a lot of great directors out there and a lot of great people with great eyes. The problem is sitting there and having shit to work on that is original all the time. I’m lucky enough to have a subject in ¡MAYDAY!, and a subject that is rich in back story that I could tell, or in fantasy that I can go into, or all sorts of metaphorical shit that I can go into. It’s rich, man. For a person like me, that wants to do this shit, it’s easy.

When you listen to a lot of your verses, they have this very evocative quality that you really picture something. It paints a picture, and your name is mostly attached as director on a lot of your videos, so it makes me wonder. Do these bleed into each other? As a musician, does it bleed into being a film maker, and as a film maker does it bleed into being an MC?

Wow, I mean that’s something that I’ve thought about, but yeah, I’d say that when I write I’m pretty visual with what I try and do, or I try and put myself in situations in my head when I’m writing that are very precise, almost like a little scene. And then I react to what’s going on inside of what I’m picturing or however I’m feeling. So, that’s an interesting way to put it, I haven’t really thought about it, but yeah. I mean, I don’t know man, I just feel like ¡MAYDAY! had a lot of – it’s a heavy fabric man, and the music that we make, it’s like an onion, man. Just like the videos and all that shit dude – it’s got a lot of layers to it.


¡MAYDAY! - Thrift Store Halos

  • What do you think of Thrift Store Halos?
  • How does it stack up to Take Me To Your Leader?

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!