‘This Is The Appetizer’ – Tech N9ne Talks ‘Therapy’ EP And Doing More Rock And Roll [SM Exclusive Interview]

Nov 11 2013

Tech N9ne1
Photo By Dennys Ilic

With the Therapy EP, Tech N9ne took a leap into the unknown. Did it pay off?

To hear Tech N9ne talk it: hell yeah it paid off. Tech N9ne’s adventure into an album of complete rock and roll has yielded songs that fans are already referring to as classics–and according to Tech, this is just the beginning.

We got the chance to talk to Tech about his most daring and ambitious project to date. In our exclusive interview Tech breaks down the recording process with Ross Robinson, how the EP almost stopped before it even began, and why this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Tech N9ne foray into rock and roll.

With this project in particular you’ve been pretty nervous about the response because you’ve never done anything like this. What has the response been like so far from what you’ve seen?

I’ve been on Twitter on and off all day. I’ve seen nothing but positive feedback. I was worried because this thing was so different for me. I put myself in a different environment and I took myself out of my comfort zone. My comfort zone is here in Kansas City on my couch writing or in the studio or whatever. This time I was taken out of that comfort zone and put on Venice Beach in a place I’d never been. It was already set up to be different and as it was coming out I was worried like “Oh, I’m singing on the chorus? Maybe I get somebody else to sing it.” Ross Robinson was like “No, this is going to work. You sound wonderful. Just keep it like that.” Like on “Hiccup” or “Head Now”, I wanted other people to sing it. I was doing a lot more singing on this like on “Stop The Sailor” and the acoustic one “When Demons Come”. I was just worried what people would think about my singing voice.

Now, keep in mind that I’ve been singing throughout my career, but this was a little bit different. “Stop The Sailor” was realy different. Some similarities (recites verse rhythm). You probably heard me do that voice before like (sings “Delusional”) but when I’m going (sings “Stop The Sailor”). That’s something that I don’t really do like, all the time. I was worried about what the fans would think because it’s totally different from the rock stuff that I’ve done throughout the years.

Lynyrd SkynyrdFrom listening to that I got a hint of 70s rock, some bits of Skynard in there.

Yeah totally.

But you pulled it off though. Not only did you pull it off but people who are listening to it, that song in particular, a lot of people really love that song. That’s gotta feel cool that such a daring thing for you paid off.

That was the song that I thought people would be like “I don’t know….that’s weird Tech” but everybody’s “Stop The Sailor”? I’m like “Wow, it worked! Ross was right!”

It’s interesting you talk about the comfort zone thing because not only is this a different genre you’re taking on but it was a different creative process for you. What does it feel like to take such a leap of faith and for it to pay off? What does it tell you about making music?

It tells me that I’m doing it the right way man. If I was a little youngster in a house where gospel was played, R&B was played, hip hop was played next door and rock and roll was played in the house as well and it stuck with me, and I put all these types of styles of music in my music. It makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing. I didn’t do something that I wasn’t familiar with. This was what was inside me. This was my way of doing it. I was skeptical about it because the style of it was different and every time I go into something I try to make it different. This was extremely different.

It’s telling me that I should relax and just let it come out, and not be cocky and like “I know they’re going to like whatever I do.” Not that kind of shit, but to just trust my spirit. Even when I did Something Else, when I go in I always say to my engineer Ben, I say “Ben, I’m going to go in here. I don’t know what tone I’m going to use but I just pray that it works.” He says “It’s going to work Tech, you say that every time you go in the booth.” I’m like “I know but I’m trying new shit all the time!” So I’m not sure if it’s going to work until I come out of there and we tweak on it and I’m like “Okay, maybe I don’t like that,” but every time I come out, thank God that it works. Now when we were at Ross’s, I didn’t have Ben there. When I have Ben I’m spoiled. I go in there and do my shit and I get a slight mix on it to see if it’s going to work. “Let’s put this on the hook. I want my overdubs to be down in the mix. I want my grimys to be kind of up on this one like ‘urgggh’.” At Ross’s it was just straight I record it, no effects, no nothing afterwards and we’d move to the next song. Wes Borland comes in and Sid Wilson comes in and he’ll play it for him and it’s all raggedy and I’m just like “ehh.” But they’re looking at me like “Whoa!” I’m like “No! That’s not it yet!” Ross was like “Trust me, it’s going to be good” and he was right.

Now when people say they like the songs that I was worried about – I was worried about “I.L.L.” as well. “I.L.L.” was my idea off of there. My beat idea and everything. I said “All these other songs are pretty serious or straightforward. I need me a party track. It can’t be a Tech N9ne EP or CD if it doesn’t have something that’s partyish.” That’s my persona. So I wanted to do “I.L.L.” I said “I want to do a song called ‘I.L.L.’ and I want to make it stand for ‘I Like Ladies.'” I said it on “Dwamn”: “You like Bailey’s, I like ladies” and I’m like “Yeah, I want to do ‘I like ladies…I like ladies…'” I said I want the beat to go (imitates beat). Seven said “Yeah, I love that! (imitates gutar riff)” It turned into that when we got out to Ross’s. It transformed. At first I wasn’t sure about it. I was like “Ehh.” (Imitates flow) It’s just me being like, fucking with the rhyme a little bit. I’m like “Yeah it’s cool,” but as I got the master back and I was like “Oh my God, I love it!” It’s a strip club anthem! I started to like it man, but I was worried and I’m starting to see a lot of people talk about “I.L.L” and they love it. Shit that I hear in my dream (sings “When Demons Come”). I hear that in my dream like “Happy Halloweeeeeen!” It’s shit that I hear and I’m telling Ross “Okay, I’m going to do this thing at the end that I heard in my dream. One track is going to go ‘Hiiiiiiiiiiide!'” Now when you’re recording that you have to double that so you have to count when you bend it, which is hard. It’s a trick that I do. (Sings part) and stop on that so when you double it it goes (sings part again). So it’s perfect. But my dream tells me to do a shivery one, a higher one, so it’s “Hi-i-i-i-de!” I’m hearing this in my dream and it’s kind of creepy. So I say “Listen’, I’m trying something new, I don’t know if it’s going to work Seven, Ross.” Then when I do it they’re like “Oh shit, that’s wonderful!” I’m like “Yeah? No, I’m not sure,” but when I got the master back I’m like “Oh shit, it worked!” It came right out of my dream and it sounds like some spooky, crazy, Halloween, kiddie-dark-book shit. It worked!

I was worried about a lot if it because I’m trying new shit. I’m not sure that it’s going to work and now when I see people saying “‘When Demons Come’ is my favorite!” I’m like “Yes! I can do more of it now!” because this was actually the appetizer. Like “Okay, if you like this, what I’ll do…” I can do more but I just had seven songs I could do. I had more songs that I had to do for this. I’m like “Travis, can I have 12 songs?” and he’s like “That’s a fucking album Tech. We can’t do that for an EP. To call it an EP you can’t have more than seven songs.” I’m like “Damnit!” So I could actually do more rock shit that sounds different than this, but this is the appetizer. If you like this I can move on to KABOSH and assemble the band and go full blast. Because this is me and Wes Borland and Seven and Sammie Siegler and Ross Robinson and Alfredo Ortiz and some other bass players – I don’t know their names off top – that came through. Caroline Heerwagen. We all just came together and I did a song a day. I wrote a song a day.

I was there, but I’m in the midst of doing press for Something Else because Something Else is blowing up. So Ross is upset at my publicist taking me away. We had to go to this party and “Tech has to be seen. We’re going to these radio stations. I’m sorry I have to take him away.” I got kind of angry at one of the things we went to and I came back and Richie was like “Ross man, just not right now, this isn’t a good time for Tech because he’s upset.” He’s like “No, this is the perfect fucking time. This is what I do. Emotion, I need that emotion.” So I’m loving that the shit came forth and he brought it forth. I’d do it again brother.

I always felt like I was a psychiatrist. That’s what I wanted to be before I started rapping. Whenever somebody around me paid to go see a shrink, I was upset like “Just talk to me! That’s me! I got you!” But for me to hire another one and to trust him is a big thing for a motherfucker like me. It felt funny at first. It was uncomfortable because I’m kind of like a shy dude. People don’t think that. When I put on that face paint I’m so vulgar or whatever, but I’m really a shy dude. I’m used to governing my own shit. So I’m sitting at the house. If I think of something out loud I don’t want nobody to be in the room because it might be stupid. So I had to think out loud in front of Wes Borland, in front of Sid Wilson, in front of Ross Robinson, in front of Dave Weiner, in front of Shawnee, in front of Jackie, in front of Rashond, the next door neighbor of Ross Robinson, Sammie, everybody’s like looking at me and I have to think out loud and I’m like “ugh.” Ross is like “What are you going to do on this one? What are you going to do?” “Umm…I’m gonna…” I had to speak it. I’m in a therapy session my dude, but we’re doing music in the studio.

When I first dreamt “Hiccup” and I said “The beat goes (does beat).” Ross said “Do that for me on my phone!” because I was just about to go to lunch. And Wes was right behind me, sitting down right there and he’s got his legs crossed, smiling and I have to do this in front of Wes, in front of Sid. So I’m like “You want me to do it right now?” He’s like “Yeah, like in your dream! Do it for me right here!” So I go (does beat). “I wanted it to go kind of like that” and he taped it. I go “Okay, I’m going to leave.” I was embarrassed. I had to do this fucking ham bone shit in front of everybody. I came back and they had a skeleton of the beat! They took it out of my dream and pow! Beautiful song man! It’s loud, it’s oooh! I played it at my house for the first time since we got off tour, and my system is a fucking stadium system for real. I turned that shit up and was like “Wow! That shit is loud!” If you don’t like loud music, if you don’t like shit that can possibly be irritating, don’t buy this shit. If you like loud shit and you want to piss your parents off, buy this motherfucker.

I know you’ve been wanting to do rock and roll for a minute now, we all know that. What was going through your mind as you were on that plane on the way to LA to record this?

I’m sort of cocky in a way. Like I told Rolling Stone and they printed – not Rolling Stone, but the guy who was writing for Rolling Stone at the time was like “So…you have a song with The Deftones on the last album. Is that your first dabble into rock?” I’m like “No!” He’s like “What do you mean?” I’m like “Since I started, if you knew who you were talking to–” you know, I was offended. He kept asking me questions like “So this your first time getting into rock? This ‘Love 2 Dislike Me’ song you have on the new album.” I’m like “Motherfucker try ‘Tormented’ on my first major release and before that on songs from The Calm Before The Storm.” So I said to him “I’m the rock and roll nigga, you don’t know what?” I said it to him and the motherfucker printed “I’m the rock and roll nigger,” and I had an attitude. Shame on me for even saying this to the motherfucker, but I say that to say, I’m kind of cocky in a way like I’ve been doing this within my music. It’s seeping through with “Little Pills” and everything we’ve been doing throughout the years.

I was fearful because they didn’t want me to have the beats in advance and they just wanted me to create on the spot. I’ll do that and I knew I could do that, but I didn’t know what was going to come forth. I didn’t know what the music was going to say to me so the first day Ross had us all in the studio together. I just met Wes that night. Wes is in there playing it, like “How does the song go? Play it again.” I’m writing the shit and Ross throws me in there with Wes playing. Sammy on the motherfucking drums. Seven elbow to elbow with me. The mic’s right here and he’s playing the Moog. Ross is right there working the fucking EQs and shit. He’s trying to make us into a band and I’m trying to sing my shit and he’s like “Louder!” and I’m like “No, it’s a softer song.” It was “Stop The Sailor” and it was the first one we tried to do. I’m sweating because Wes is looking right at me and I’m fucking up and I’m sweating like “If this is how we’re going to do this, this shit is not going to fucking work.” I was so depressed. We went out there after doing it a million times dude, over and over ’til like 4 in the morning. Went out there and listened to it and I’m like “I don’t like it you guys. I don’t like it. We’ll try something else tomorrow.”

Did you feel defeated?

Yeah, I did. I felt defeated man. I went next door. I didn’t want to stay at Ross’s house. I wanted to give him his privacy. I know he wanted me to stay there. I stayed next door at a quiet-ass hotel so I can go be myself because I am reclusive. I went in there and I’m like “Oh my God…” Me and Seven were like “This is not going to work.” But the next day – Ross, he knows how to feel shit out. He said “We’re going to move the mic upstairs so you can see and we’re going to have you separate from everybody else and we’re going to put candles up” and came back the next day. It was so wonderful. We cut it and it turned into a fucking song, “Stop The Sailor” did.

It was a personal song for me. We did a lot of therapy talking about “Stop The Sailor”. He got a lot out of me. I was like “I don’t want the world to know this.” So I didn’t put that on the EP. I know people would probably appreciate it, but it’s a really personal song. There are people involved that if I exposed that shit could be slightly embarrassing or hurtful. You gotta be careful of that when you’re a person like me who spews everything. Some things you ain’t supposed to say, like that story at the beginning of “Shame on Me”. “I was at her house and ready to bring me some food. She was taking a really long time so I crept upstairs to startle her and I heard her on the phone saying ‘I know it couldn’t be Donny’s baby because me and Donny use condoms.'” I couldn’t walk. That’s a story I would never tell anybody about when I first got my heart broken. I can’t really say who it is but if people put it together they’re like “Wow, that happened to Tech. Who could that be?” But I had to call that person and say “Listen, I told this story, I just want you to know” because the subject was about me getting my heart broken for the first time. That story at the beginning of “Shame On Me” shouldn’t be on there out of respect. There’s a lot of things about “Stop The Sailor” that I probably shouldn’t say but I am transparent. I’m inside-out. I had to. Ross has a way of bringing that shit out of you and everything worked perfectly after that first day.

Tell us about Ross Robinson. We had the opportunity to interview him, very fascinating guy. He’s a vibe person.

Oh my God. I’m going to tell you what I think about Ross Robinson. He is a muse…just like me. A muse: a person that gives inspiration and ideas and stuff. He’s a muse and so is Krizz Kaliko. When you get me and Krizz together and you get two muses together “Anxiety” happens or “Riot Maker” happens or “Public School” happens when you get two muses together. That’s grand.

Ross, he’s just like this zen master. You hear him at the beginning? He’s like “Somehow I want you to conjure up that ghost.” We had talked about it prior, because I don’t believe in ghosts. But he explained to me that ghosts is that thing inside of you that you don’t know is there until it comes through on the mic! “Conjure the ghost Tech!” I’m like “Dope…the fucking ghost. How am I going to do this?” “We ready for iiiiiit!” Or the shit that I didn’t know I had “We ready for iiiiit (sung lower).” I didn’t know I had the ghost and he found a way to make me understand how to conjure the ghost.

He’s the dude that makes you think about things differently. Like, I’m cocky in the head. I’m so in tune with myself that I know where I want to go and I know what I want to do and I know what I want to say and “Yeah, nobody can tell me shit!” But he’ll show me something else like “Oh, you’re from Kansas City right?” I’m like “Yeah.” He says “What does it taste like? What does it smell like?” I’m like “Damn!” So when I said that in “E.B.A.H.”: “My heart smell like vanilla icing.” He said that to me when I first met him. He taught me to think and I told him he made me write that lyric. Like if I were to describe my heart, that’s what it smells like. Then I say my brain smells like something else – it’s not cool! I started tapping into what it might smell like or taste like or whatever and he made me think that.

He is the kind of a muse that will bring – if you have something in you that you hold back, he’s going to extract it onto that mic. That’s why motherfuckers like Jonathan Davis say he made him cry and all that kinds of shit. If I could cry regularly I probably would’ve cried on “Stop The Sailor”, but it’s hard for me to do. I thought I was sick. Like, “Why can’t I cry at funerals?” Just things like that. It’s ultra-emotional. He is something special man. Like, he’s so relaxed man, just like Serj was. He’s always thinking. His eyes are always open like this: “Why don’t you do this?” (Imitates laughter) When he laughs he’s like “Heh…heh…heh…I think that’s funny.” “So, you want to go see where Jim climbed up in the tree and kissed Pam for the first time?” and he took me right around the corner. I took a picture of it. I’m like (gasps). I never put it up because it’s dark. “You wanna go see that? I think that would be good for you.” He’s putting me in a head space like “Damn, Jim was writing around here just like I was.”

Tech N9neI was writing on the beach man! People just started noticing me like “Oh my God, you’re Tech N9ne. Oh my God.” Bitches were skating by in their short shit. “Oh my God, are you Tech N9ne?” I had on my clear mask, just writing. I’m trying to be transparent but I looked like a fucking weirdo. People are going by like “Hold up…aren’t you Tech N9ne?” I’m taking pictures as I’m writing so I had to go back to my hotel in the patio. It’s glass and it’s just like me being on the beach, or I go up on his roof and write on his roof. I was all over that motherucker: on the beach, in my hotel, like on the patio with the glass and people could still see me. I’m writing. I wrote “Shame On Me” right there and people were like “Can I get a picture?” I’m like “Yeah, hold up” and I had to come out there. You had to open the door and then go out there on the walkway and take pictures with people. It got hard so I had to come inside and start writing in his house and shit because Something Else is blowing up and people are recognizing me like everywhere that I go now.

He’s a wonderful dude. I can’t wait to do it again. I would do another therapy session. It was hard for me, don’t get me wrong. It was uncomfortable at first and it’s always going to be uncomfortable to a person that holds shit in and just governs himself. He made me want to get help from somebody else. It’s a wonderful thing and he’s a wonderful dude. If you have the means to get a therapy session with Ross and he accepts you, I would do it if I were you.

So this is something you want to do again, some more rock and roll?

Oh I’m going to do more rock and roll. It’s in my blood. I’m not the best singer at all. I wish I could sing like Corey Taylor and Krizz Kaliko and Tyler Lyon. I can’t. I wish I could. I’d be singing to bitches all the time. But I use my voice: I know harmony. I know octaves. I don’t have vibrato like (imitates vibrato). I can’t do it that good. Krizz can do it. But I can do certain things with my voice like (sings beginning of “Blackened The Sun”). I got it! I can do shit! That first part kind of remind me of Tenacious D because I’m a fan, like Jack Black. I’m a fan of that shit. I can do certain things with my voice but if I could sing like them motherfuckers. I’m going to do it though. I’m going to do rock and roll. I’m going to push myself to do even harder. I can get loud like Axl Rose (screams like Axl Rose). (Laughs) I can go real high if I have to.

At this point it’s got to be exciting. I know you’re pushing to expand but here it’s gotta be a great confirmation for you to try something like this and for it to come out well. For you that must feel like “Man, there’s still so much more to explore.”

It is. I’m going to push it as far as I can. We’re the guys who took Rat Pack music and put it to hip hop (sings “Welcome To The Midwest”). It’s like, nobody does that. We did Leonard Cohen on “Turn”. (Sings Leonard Cohen) We listened to all that shit and was like “Let’s do some shit like Leonard Cohen!” We visited a lot of shit.

Music is music. Motherfuckers are talking about genres and that’s cool but music is music. If it makes you feel good then do that shit. Fuse them together. Do whatever it is you must do because man puts labels on shit and if they want to say “Okay, this is rap, this is rock, this is jazz, this is blues.” I’m a Klusterfuk! Let’s put all that shit together! (Sings “Slave”) That’s some old negro spiritual shit! We rapping in the pocket. It’s like jazz (sings some more). “Everything depends on Nina” like I turn into Michael Jackson real quick. You know what I’m saying? Just listening to all sorts of music inspires you to do that shit.

I just want to keep finding out about new music. When I hear Alabama Shakes I’m like “That’s beautiful!” Just all kinds of music and taking that shit in and putting it together and making music. I’m just a rapper, a hip hop artist, but I love all types of music so it’s going to keep going and I’m just waiting to see what’s going to come out next.


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