Just when you think you have the Strange Music Sound pinned down in your head is usually the moment when you hear a new Seven-produced song that makes you think “How did they come up with that?” With Tech N9ne Collabos – Strangeulation, prepare for a lot more of those head-scratching but head-nodding moments.
With Strangeulation on the near horizon, we talked to the producer who was responsible for the production on nearly the entire project (with the exception of a bonus track). To call Seven prolific would almost be an understatement. The soft-mannered producer has consistently churned out production that has not only challenged the boundaries of the genre, but has also provided the soundscape to some of your favorite and most memorable tunes. These two ends of the musical spectrum rarely meet, but the dextrous style-shifting producer is seemingly able to do it with ease and consistency.
Tech N9ne Collabos – Strangeulation features some of Seven’s most groundbreaking production to date, featuring a plethora of live instruments, unusual changes and abstract sound effects which combine to make an unforgettable experience. To get more insight into the direction of the album, we sat down with Seven in his Strangeland studio control room to chop it up.
Looking at the credits, Tech gave you a huge shoutout because you guys were pretty hand in hand with the making of this album.
Yeah, I mean it was me and him every day. That was sort of the process. We made a new track like every single day.
What was the initial conversation like when you guys were talking about the sound of this album. Did you have a conversation like that?
We actually just started kind of working on songs more than even talking about it. I actually started working on stuff for Special Effects, for the album, like a week before we were supposed to work on Strangeulation. I was a week into it and Travis was like “You need to do Strangeulation now,” so I’m like “Okay, I’ll stop working on Special Effects.” The mindset for Special Effects was like what Strangeulation was, I was already in Special Effects mode and I was just like “Alright let’s just work on Strangeulation.”
The first beat that I did that was officially on that album was “Over It”. That was one of my Special Effects beats and then Tech heard it. I was in Las Vegas at the time and he called me and was like “Yeah, that one. I have to have that one. The only problem I have with it is that it sounds like what Special Effects is supposed to sound like, but let’s just use it. Fuck it, let’s just go for it,” and we just went from there. That was sort of the mindset, like “Let me just create this like I’m building an album for Tech, like it was Special Effects.” We got done with the album and we’re like, yeah it is very Special Effects-ish but now that just means that it’s sort of a warm up for Special Effects, because now with that we can just take it to the next level. That was really all it was. I just followed the lead of “Over It” and when Tech said that we should use that for Strangeulation I was kind of like “Okay, I know what Strangeulation needs to be like then.”
So the tone and feel was set from “Over It”, which I believe was the iTunes instant download and the first music video they’re releasing for Strangeulation. So from then on did the album take on the sort of dark, sinister vibe of “Over It”?
Yeah it definitely is darker for sure. Even the ones like “Which One”, which is in a way more upbeat, even that one has a darker vibe to it to me. Once Tech told me the name of the album was Strangeulation it felt like it sort of needed to be that tone. To me that’s what that meant. It’s experimental, however I think it’s sort of tame in that area compared to what we’re going to do to Special Effects. Having said that it’s very experimental compared to everything that Tech and I have done up until this point. It’s sort of an experimental, kind of dark album.
Were there any albums as of late that inspired this direction?
I always try to reinvent the sound with every album. I mess around with stuff until I figure out what I want to do with the album that I’m working on. Tech kept bringing up breakbeat-type drums and stuff that kind of feels a little more hip hop than what we usually do. I always want to do that, but I don’t normally have the platform to do that. I started out thinking about how to incorporate more of those elements into what we do, but still kind of keep it a step ahead of the game. I don’t want it to necessarily sound like old school hip hop, but I incorporated those elements into something that sounds like it could be something 2015 or whatever – futuristic. I tied those things together and kind of did those things on every track. There’s a few of them that kind of sway more towards the hip hop or more towards something else. “Nobody Cares” I didn’t really incorporate those elements. “Which One” on the other hand is all the way over there. Then a lot of the other ones I just figured out a way to put it all together and bridge those areas. “Over It” is one of those ones. It’s got breakbeats in there and 808s in there and all kinds of shit. I just sort of figured out my palette of tools I wanted to use and once I had it, I used it on every song.
It seems that there’s a lot more live instrumentation with a lot of the production. It must have come naturally from having the studio here and the resources that come with it. How has that enhanced or affected your production?
This album has all kinds of live stuff on it. Anywhere I could fit something live on it I did. Everything short of recording live pianos. If we had a piano at the studio here that’s what I would have done. There was even a time when we were working on the album where I was calling around to studios trying to find out where we could go to have a day of just re-tracking the piano stuff with real pianos. It didn’t work out because of time, but anything that could be done live was done live and it had a lot to do with just being here at the studio now. I can just get in the zone now and just bring anybody and everybody up whenever I want to. If there’s a guitar part that I hear that I need done, even if it’s a small part, I can just have somebody come up and we can knock it out that day. Plus everybody that I’m surrounded with also is very creative and can play instruments and stuff. I can have everybody just do it. If I need a crowd of people shouting and yelling, I just have everybody from downstairs come upstairs and we just do it, just shout a phrase and then we can sample it and turn it into whatever. Drums, if there’s something that needed a certain kind of feel that I knew I didn’t want to program I would just have someone come play the drums. I had Tyler play them and Gogo Ray play them on the “Strangeulation” cypher, which everything is live on that by the way. It’s live guitars, bass, drums, everything.
How do you think that enhances the production?
I think it enhances everything when you can use live shit. That’s the kind of producer that I am. I’ve always incorporated live shit but now I can just take it to a different level. It’s just different now. This facility allows me to be able to do that. Before I would track live drums on stuff for Tech but it was way, way more difficult. It was a thing where I’d have to have several ideas laid out and we’d knock them all out at one time, like in a day. I would just go to a different studio and track drums in a day or two and just try to knock out all the ideas and hope that they’re right. It was a very tedious process. Now if I have this idea and I need someone to come play the drums it’s just like get somebody up here, let’s figure out who can do it to come and play that day and they’re out. Then we move on to the next idea.
It sounds like it’s a lot more fluid basically.
Yeah definitely. A lot more people are involved now because there’s so many musicians and stuff. I think that’s kind of how music should be. I think there should be a lot of people involved.
Speaking of that, when you are working with other musicians, how does that work? Is it a “Do this and exactly this” sort of thing or do you guys collaborate and come up with something new? I would suppose it goes both ways.
Yeah and that’s kind of what happens. Sometimes I’m extremely specific. I know exactly what I want done and it has to be done exactly the way that I hear it in my head and I just find out the appropriate player, whoever can knock out that style and have them come up and nine times out of 10 they knock it out. Then there’s other days when I know I want something, but I want to start with guitars or I want to start with a bass line. I never really start with drums. I’ll just have someone come up and play guitar parts and I just basically record everything that they’re playing and we just talk about ideas and record for four or five hours and then I’ll go back and listen to it and pick out pieces of things I want to use from that and then build the whole idea around what they played. It’s not very specific working like that, it’s kind of like whatever goes.
What are some of the things about your production that you wish you had at the time before that you have now?
Definitely having an outlet to having some of the musicians that I’m able to work with now. Before, when I lived in Wichita, I had my friend Jayce, who’s an amazing guitarist, do a lot of stuff for me. I worked with him on a lot of stuff. I knew a few other people there that I could work with on a regular basis but in Kansas City, this is where everybody that I know who does music lives. It’s much easier to work with them so it’s a huge asset to just be able to work in a city where I know everybody and I know all these musicians and I can use different players on different song. That’s huge. Just having this facility now too. We can do everything here. Just being able to be in the same building with Tech while we’re working on shit is huge. It’s added so many more dimensions to the music because the way that we can talk about stuff and communicate ideas – it’s just different. It’s all on the spot and what we’re thinking right then and there. Then there’s also this building. We can record everything here. We can record drums here and they sound amazing. We have all these different options for ways to record shit that we never had before.
Do you have any favorite songs from this album?
“Fear” for sure. My favorite verse that Tech did was on “We Are Free”. That verse is amazing. “Which One” is one of my favorite songs. That was one that we just made at the last minute because, I don’t even know why, I think we needed a bonus song or something like that and Tech had the idea to do this song “Which One” with that kind of vibe and I made it the day that he told me the idea. Immediately after I made it and I heard Godemis’s verse I told Tech “Oh man, this can’t be a bonus song. It has to go on the album. It’s too crazy.” So that one for sure. Those two songs are definitely my favorites.
As far as production goes what songs are you the most proud of production wise on this album?
“Fear” I love the way that the song came out. It has all of the elements that we were talking about plus it has live shit on it too. We added the live bass on that song last. When it comes to the hook the live bass part comes on that Chris Handley played. When he came in and did the bass on the hook, at that point it was like the icing on the cake. I was like “Man this is amazing on this.” Ben played acoustic guitar on it on the breakdown before the last hook. All the elements of that song are everything I wish I could put into every beat every time I make a beat.
I hear on that one and “Over It” and a few other spots there are a lot more changes, sometimes within the verses, sometimes at the choral parts. Drastic and dramatic changes like in “Fear” when it goes from the hook to the verse.
I wanted everything to contrast everything. I liked the beautiful hook with a very aggressive verse and these kind of things that make you feel weird that they both exist in the same space. When things like that happen, like when you watch a movie and they have a scene where everyone is getting shot up but there’s beautiful music playing and that’s the soundtrack to what’s happening at that time, there’s something emotionally that happens to you there. It makes you feel a certain way that you wouldn’t feel if it was a really violent scene with really scary violent music.
It’d be a lot more one dimensional.
Yeah, but it does something different when something unexpected happens at that time.
What led to that decision to take those risks on this album more so than a lot of the previous work?
I think that it’s a combination of Tech saying “Let’s try some new shit and be experimental” and then me just being in this environment now. It’s different when I get to be face-to-face with an artist every day and we can talk about vision. We would talk about what we want to do with the album like we want the sound to be like this, or that. We did that for years, but it’s just different when you’re around people every day and you can just talk about these things. I can see people’s facial expressions when I tell them my ideas and stuff and I tell them my vision. I can see how they react to it and we can feed off of each other. There’s just an energy, a natural energy. I really felt comfortable for the first time on this album getting to do whatever I wanted to do. “The Calling”, that song I worked for on a week here. Everybody was gone. There was nobody here except me and Ben and everybody was just out traveling and I was like “Man, let’s just make a song for Strangeulation.” We just went crazy with it. If you listen to the production on “Calling” it’s pretty in depth. I did everything that week. I brought different musicians in every single day to work on shit for that song and it just became this thing. That was really early on in the album too and I think when Tech heard “The Calling” I think that he understood my vision for the album at that time.
There’s a lot of songs that feel like more of a journey, which doesn’t necessarily make them better or worse than songs that don’t have that quality, but it’s definitely interesting.
Yeah and songs don’t always have to be a journey. They shouldn’t be. “Which One” isn’t a journey and it’s one of my favorites.
There’s some instances on this album where you said you guys put people on songs that you wouldn’t normally instinctually think to put them on. How did that work out and what are some notable examples of this?
I mean that was sort of the approach through the whole thing because from the beginning, when we decided what the cypher was going to be like and the tempo of the cypher and the idea for it, we already knew that we were going to have everybody on that song. Some people are known to be able to do that tempo and that vibe and other artists don’t do that. We were like “Oh wow it would be really cool to hear Rittz on a track like that,” and not that Rittz can’t kill shit on that type of track because he did and I know that he’s overly capable of doing that, you just don’t get to hear him on a track like that all the time. Lynch, who also killed it. I guess Lynch does do some stuff like that, we’ve done some stuff like that for him before but it was still interesting to hear him on it. Like mixing up Godemis and MURS on “Which One” was an interesting thing and “Over It” we have the hook from Ryan Bradley. That was right from the beginning an already very interesting song. Tech said he wanted to do more of a pop hook for that. I was like “Okay, I can hear that.” That was already experimenting with putting people on shit. MURS on “Hard”. He killed it. ¡MAYDAY! on “We Are Free”. I think the biggest one was “American Horror Story”, putting CES Cru on that and they fucking killed that.
Ubi was the first to hop on that too wasn’t he?
Ubi created the whole template for the song.
Which is crazy to me because that’s not his usual style of record or a subject he delves into very often.
Yeah I think that one happened like, Tech was gone and I was just working with CES Cru. We were just putting together songs for Strangeulation so Tech could check them out. So we just worked for a week and I made tracks. We recorded a bunch of tracks but that particular one, I was working on that beat when CES Cru was here and was like “Yeah, we should do something like this. You guys should get on something like this. You could kill it.” Ubi was really into it and he recorded his verse to that and that was all that existed on that track for a really long time was just the way he did that pattern and everything and that direction and even the idea of it. “American Horror Story”, that was all him. When we were listening to it we were like “That sounds like American Horror Story. Do you watch that show?” and I was like “Yeah I have but I definitely don’t fuck with that show because it’s a really scary show to me.” He was like “Aw man I’ve been watching that show every night now for a couple of weeks. It’s all I watch now. That’s what we should call this shit. I have this idea for it.” Then he wrote that and we laid it down and Tech loved it. Of the songs that we recorded that week with CES Cru for Strangeulation, that was the only one that made it. We recorded a ton of shit for this album that we didn’t do anything with. A bunch of shit. More shit than ever on any other album that we didn’t do anything with.
Was the other stuff either not good enough or not fitting? What was the case?
I think a little bit of everything. There’s a couple of songs that are just like whack! I made a whack beat you know and then we made a whack song to it! I know that that’s not a common thing that people like to say or anything, but I mean man you’ve got to be able to make shit that’s whack every now and then otherwise how do you know when it’s good? I think it’s important to be able to step back every now and then and be like “Yeah, that’s not it” or whatever. I hate to say “whack” and be that brash about it but that’s how I look at it. I’m sure Tech doesn’t think it’s whack.
Tech admitted to us that some stuff wasn’t up to par to make it on the album, even some of his solo songs.
There was a lot of other stuff too. We took people off. Tech made the calls or whatever about lyrically and the verses. What people laid down and what was good enough and what wasn’t. He only picked out the shit that was the best. We even cut shit of his. Me and him got into it over a song of his that was a solo song that I was like “Dude, that needs to be on there.” He was like “No! It’s not good enough!” So yeah when I step back and look at it and I compare it to the stuff that we did put on the album, that track or whatever, and I look at the album as a whole, I’m like “Yeah okay. I can see why Tech doesn’t think that’s good enough.” It wasn’t good enough, you know what I mean? And other people that laid verses, we had to take their songs off and take their verses off and all kinds of shit because it wasn’t always good enough. It had to be the elite of the elite.
How do you think that made the album as a whole?
I think it definitely is a good example of what Strange Music as a label is capable of. I think that’s what it was supposed to be. We have the studio now and we all work here and everything. It was a good starting point to show what Strange as a label is capable of doing with a facility like this. We’re all together all the time. Now we can just make whatever and this is a good example.
What are some of your favorite artist contributions to the album? I know you said your favorite Tech verse on it was on “We Are Free”.
Yeah that’s my favorite Tech verse on the album. Man everything that CES Cru did they fucking murdered. Wrek and Bernz fucking destroyed the cypher, fucking killed the cypher man. Those verses are so crazy. Everybody really killed the cypher for sure. What everybody did on the “Nobody Cares” remix is amazing. Stevie Stone’s verse on the original is amazing to me, but so is the second one he did where he and Krizz kind of played off of each other. It was all so good. What Rittz did on “Make Waves”. So many crazy tracks on this. Godemis’s verse on “Which One”, that shit is crazy the way he comes in. There’s so many standouts. MURS, he killed “Hard”. The cypher’s my favorite shit though on the album. I always kind of forget about that one but everybody’s verses on the Cyphers are really dope. Tech’s verse on the Cypher. I think I might like that one better than “We Are Free”. I can’t decide.
STAY TUNED FOR PART II OF OUR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH SEVEN, WHERE WE TALK IN-DEPTH WITH SEVEN ABOUT HIS LONGTIME WORKING RELATIONSHIP WITH TECH N9NE AND HOW IT’S EVOLVED SINCE THE BEGINNING.
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