Bernz is what you call a ¡MAYDAY! O.G. As one of the founding members of the group, he’s seen it in all of its various mutations, leading up to what is promising to be one of the best albums of 2015: Future Vintage.
We talked to one half of the rhyme duo in ¡MAYDAY! and the unsung hero behind the scenes to get his take on Future Vintage and what went into the making of it. To hear it from Bernz, this promises to be ¡MAYDAY!’s most eclectic and musically expansive album yet. Given that ¡MAYDAY! is already both of those things, we don’t know what to expect except for one thing: greatness.
Future Vintage. Did you guys start out with this title or did it take shape as you guys worked on the album?
It definitely took shape as we were working on it. Once we took a step back, felt everything we were making, and surveyed it, then we started to think where we were personally as a group and everything. It felt, musically, like we were harping back to an older ¡MAYDAY! at times, like a Stuck On An Island kind of ¡MAYDAY!, and at the same time we were also kind of delving into these new kind of sonics that we were playing with and these new ways of producing and people we were producing with. It just kind of felt like we were toying with the idea of the past and the future, just to begin with. We’ve also loved the idea of the whole “this is a stamp on time for us.” This is the futuristic shit for us right now, which tomorrow will be your vintage shit.
Did you guys have any pre-set goals as far as themes or sounds that you wanted to explore on this album?
We definitely wanted to turn up the tempo a lot. Also, we wanted to give the music more space to breathe per say. ¡MAYDAY!’s always been really good at writing songs and sometimes, when it comes to writing songs, you can get caught up into formats and formulas and styles. One thing we really wanted to do on this album was break free of that and play a little bit more with instrumentation – let the songs breathe a little more, kind of show some musicianship. That was the approach entering this album as well, also because we just came off of the ¡MURSDAY! album. The ¡MURSDAY! album was also very traditional. Very fast paced but kind of just… hip hop, you know what I’m saying? On this one, we wanted to expand our listener’s boundaries a bit more. We wanted to get our Pink Floyd on a little more, basically, is what I’m trying to say.
Do you reflect upon your older work when you’re about to create something new?
I can’t say me, personally. I don’t reflect too much, you know? I’m waiting to savor it all one day when I’m really, really old. I’m not one to look back. There’s other people in my band that definitely are people that collect things. They’re going to be people that I look to when I’m 80 years old to remind me what the hell happened. That’s just kind of the way I live my life, for better or worse. Every now and then I’m reminded though, especially on this last Canada tour, when we went out and were able to actually leave the country as a band for once. It felt really dope to see people with all the older catalogue and talking about how long they’ve been fans and waiting for us to get there. It was a nice way to rehash some old music and play it for them and everything. So it was dope.
You and Wrek write songs together often. Do you still have that same vibe where you sit down and talk about songs and talk about what you guys want to do?
At this point me and the homie, we’ve written hundreds of songs together, so we have a bit of a second hand to each other. It might take another duo like five or six hours to come up with an idea. We’re pretty quick and to the point.Wrek definitely reflects a lot more than I do, and I move forward, so maybe the combination of the two makes us never repeat our tracks too much and keep forging ahead. It’s definitely been a really fruitful business and creative relationship between me and Wrek. We don’t really talk much, we just understand each other. We trust each other’s decisions and that’s just how it goes.
I saw on the credits that you and Wrek have separate songs where you play bass. Is this a new thing for you guys or is this something that’s been a secret?
Instruments are always around. We’ve always kind of played instruments and messed with them. It’s just like me and Wrek are starting to produce more. You’re definitely going to see more of that. That’s just because as I get older as an artist and a musician, I’m really intrigued not just by the songwriting process, but the production process as well. I just want to be well-versed and dope at everything, basically. That’s just one of the things that, in the last six months to a year, I’ve really kind of sat down and tried to produce a lot. I’m hoping to maybe produce a few tracks for my own solo album as well. That’s just how it goes.
Speaking of that, I also saw that you have a solo production credit on this record. I know you’ve always had a good producer hat on. I don’t hear that from you ever though, it comes from everybody else. So what prevented you from having a solo production credit before, or being a solo producer?
I’ve always believed that ¡MAYDAY! was a team effort. Even that song there, that beat, I couldn’t of made it without my homies. It’s just one of those things. I’m a little uncomfortable with the credit process and all that kind of stuff. I’m not too good at that. I feel like at the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, we’ll know who did what, and the fans kind of feel like who does what. That kind of stuff comes intrinsically.
And at the same time, I was busy writing songs. I didn’t have to sit behind the boards and start a beat or start an idea, which a lot of times, the guy who produces the idea is the person who starts the idea. I’m one of those kind of guys that has to look at the whole picture, what all the producers bring, not just Gio, not just Plex, not just Wrek. We have to sit down and look at all those beginnings and all those endings and all those little noodles. They start to form what is going to be an album, or what is going to be a thought pattern. I’ve always played those two roles where I have to be the songwriter, and at the same time, I have to take a step back and be kind of like a band leader. That’s also why the credit thing is uncomfortable, because everybody plays so many roles.
It seems like everybody is like that to an extent.
One hundred percent dude! Nobody does one thing in here. Everybody has to try and do a lot because we’re an independent group. We just got to make it happen. If you want to make it happen, you got to make it happen.
Is it rare to get that many heads together with none of them really caring about anything except the bottom line?
I can’t say it’s rare in my life because I’ve been doing music since I was fifteen years old, so from the moment me and Plex met, we always connected with like-minded people that were very military-minded when it came to their art. It’s like, to me, I’ve always been used to that. When people first came into ¡MAYDAY!, that was laid out pretty clear and simple. We work here. Hard work really works. You have to just put your nose to the ground, do it, and be consistent. That’s the only way you’re going to get out: get out of your town, get out of your situation, get out of being a local band – all of that bullshit. We had a mission, you know?
How do you guys think you stretched the most artistically on this record?
Well there’s this one song called “Against My Better Judgment” which I really think is us taking our artistry as songwriters to the highest peaks that we’ve ever been. It’s kind of like ¡MAYDAY!’s “November Rain”, if I were to put a label on it. It’s us really trying to express some personal demons and some personal things through song. It’s not a song where we’re trying to sell the song to you, it’s kind of like a beautiful song that stands on its own. We kind of wanted to get back to that age in music where you can play a five minute power ballad, power rock song, whatever the hell, and really get through it and have people connect with it in a real way. Right now music is just so compartmentalized into three and a half minute “This happens, this happens, this happens,” and everybody’s working with the same kind of chemicals right now and the same formula. We wanted to break off of that. It’s tough for somebody who’s labeled hip hop to do shit like that, but fuck it, we’re hard-headed motherfuckers and that’s what we do.
Do you guys ever feel an apprehension or a hesitancy when you do songs that are so outside of your genre box?
We’re lovers of music at the same time. Our first instruments were samplers. I think the bottom line is, when you really try to break down production, is that we’re just trying to make the music that we wanted to sample when we were kids. That ranges from everything – from every single genre that you can think of. That’s just kind of the gift that hip hop gives you. If you’re a kid that’s into production and what goes into making those beats that made hip hop so amazing, that’s really the gift that it gives you. It makes you a fanatic for music, all sorts of music.
I was a kid and listening to crazy old music while my contemporaries were listening to whatever was popping at the day. I was a fifteen year old kid listening to jazz and shit like that. Why? Because Pete Rock sampled it and I wanted to know what to sample. So it’s just that kind thing. That grew into us as adults, as we started to learn our instruments and could become like musicians. We didn’t want to lose the hip hop, but at the same time we wanted to make crazy shit. That’s where ¡MAYDAY! comes in, you know what I’m saying?
You guys worked with other producers on this album. What led to that decision?
Well we’ve always worked with other producers. Almost all of the producers on this one haven’t been on a ¡MAYDAY! album before, but if you look at all our side projects and the people who produced Wrek’s album, we’re always working with everybody because we just love making music. It was one of those things where we built a relationship with a few of those producers like Seven. We’ve been kind of wanting to put Seven on an album like for real hardcore for awhile now, so this was a great opportunity to do it.
The same thing with K-Salaam and Beatnick. They’ve done some of my favorite music on Wrek’s album so it was only right that we called them and see if they wanted to throw their hand into the ¡MAYDAY! thing. Everytime they would send us beats for our solo stuff or whatever, we always get the “Hey man, when can I produce something for ¡MAYDAY!?” So we’re just like “You know what? Let’s see.” And it ended up working out to our favor.
You don’t even notice who’s not on a ¡MAYDAY! production and who is. It’s one of those things that we were able to pick the right music so it all just kind of blends together. You have to pick tastefully, and I also believe in being friends with the people you make music with – I think that makes the best music, is what I’m trying to really say. I’ve done it the other way, and while maybe I got some good tracks out of it, I think that the most magic moments happen when there’s a real kind of camaraderie going on. I think that’s the case with all the producers that we used on this album, as well as the ones on Believers. I mean you always have exceptions, like Foreign Exchange. They didn’t know each other when they started to really interact and make music. You do have like-minded individuals out there and thank God for the internet, but I feel like those instances are few and far in between that actually work.
What do you need a producer to possess for you guys to be open to working with him?
I just feel like we’re cut from a certain cloth and some people are on the same vibe and some people aren’t. It’s really that simple. It’s like, some people just kind of just get it and they understand us. I have to say with K-Salaam and Beatnick, they’re the kind of guys, from what I hear in their production, it feels like they went through some of the same things that we went through musically: loving hip hop and them being amazing musicians on top of it. If I were to say a formula, if we had one, it’d be like: we need musicianship, we need creativeness and at the same time we love people that have their foundation right and never lose sight of the boom and the bap.
What is it about the boom bap? If there’s one thing that I can pin on a lot of your guys’s production, it’s that. You guys have strong roots in that.
That’s that thing that people fall in love with hip hop. It’s the one thing if you’re someone from another genre, that you automatically know that it’s hip hop. At the same time, as a hip hop person, that’s just the thing that melts you when you hear it – that attracts you. It’s that thing. If your head doesn’t crack to it, it’s just not there. It’s a feeling. Some people understand it and some people just feel good and don’t know why. That’s all good too, but I feel like there’s a reason you hear some of these classic things, no matter what time it is, and you’re just like “Ahhh.” It’s so amazing! You can bend time and space man. That’s it. It’s gotta have that in it.
Tell us about some of the features on this album and why you guys chose them. There’s not a whole lot.
No, there’s not. We tried for a few more but right now we’re on a crazy schedule, we’re touring, we gotta put stuff out, so it’s like one of those things where we reached out to a few people. Luckily, Femi Kuti was one of the people on that list, high on that list, and we were able to get him on the album. It was a really great thing and kind of a dream come true.
We also wanted to showcase some of our Strange homies you know? We got CES, we got Tech, and we got Stevie on there. It was cool. I think it was…tasetful – all of our features. I think we kept the music first and didn’t just try and force features down people’s throats just to sell an album. I don’t really think that’s what people will want from ¡MAYDAY!.
What are some of your favorite songs on the album or songs that you’re the most proud of?
My favorite tracks are the intro, “Jettison”. I really love that. I think it’s classic ¡MAYDAY!. Takes you on a journey kind of thing. I also love “Against My Better Judgment” because a) it’s us going back to the craziest place we’ve ever gone to creatively and b) the damn thing was recorded in a hotel room on tour so it just makes it even more poetic. I also like tracks like “Space Cadet” and “Antenna”, because I just like them. They’re just boom bappy and classic ¡MAYDAY! shit. That’s just kind of the vibe I’m on.
What do you think your fans are going to love most about this project?
Number one: we really tried to give them a lot of material. I think that they’ll be pleasantly surprised we basically filled up a god damn CD to the most that we could. We just gave them everything we did. Songs that, maybe in the past when we were trying to create a “perfect’ 13 track album, might have gotten cut out, we decided to keep in, so I think it gives the listener more of a voyage as to what we were doing at the time. You get to hear kind of extremes in our shit too. You can hear in “Against My Better Judgment” which goes completely one way and then “Antenna” which is completely the other way, which is boom bappy rap shit. It’s truly a journey and it does feel Future Vintage. It turned out to be a really cool album.
I’m always worried at the end when I turn in albums because it’s only music that I’ve heard in the last six months. It’s been really cool to hear all the reception so far: from “Fuel To The Fire” to “Ten Thirty Three” I’m like, “Oh cool!” Because I’ve kind of been in a bubble for the past six months. It was a warm reception and it was nice to see that people were thirsting for that shit.
Anything you want to say about the record before we close out?
Nah man. Just strap on your seltbelts. I hope you all enjoy it because it’s going to be definitely a ride. We’re about to be on the road to promote this record. We’re going to be on the road for two months all over the country. If you want to hear some of the tracks off the album, we’re going to be playing them live. Come check us out! Come get a drink and smoke sum’n with your boys.
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