From Folk-Punk to Hip-Hop: An Interview with Ceschi
“For me, why not experiment? Some of my favorite bands were genre bending bands.”
During Treefort you might have noticed that the Pollo Rey you go to everyday has been converted into a venue. (Burritos AND beats!?) Some of my highlights there during the festival were Cavegreen and Elvis Depressedly. Recently they hosted Ceschi and Serengeti, two indie hip-hop heavyweights. The show suffered from the typical lightness wrought by a Wednesday night, but there were a grip of teenagers and even families with kids that came out for some. Boise All-ages Music Project is doing some hard work to provide musical options for the non-alcohol drinking population. The children were even setting a good example for my friends by wearing some ear protection (seriously, buy some now). There were some struggles with the sound in Pollo Rey, but overall it is wrapped in potential. I definitely look forward to attending more shows as it transitions into a more permanent venue.
Chisme opened the show, a duo from San Antonio, recently released on Ceschi’s own Fake Four Inc. The group focuses equally on their live beats and their lyricism. The show was closed out by, Serengeti. He has great collaborations with Yoni Wolf of Why? as Yoni & Geti and with Son Lux and Sufjan Stevens as Sisyphus. He has a witty style that felt both silly and personal. Between these two artists, Ceschi took the stage armed with a guitar and a laptop. Something about intimate shows brings out the true rockstar in him and his blend of hip-hop folk-punk. A couple songs in he decided to stand on a chair in the middle of the crowd and perform an entire song. He bounced back and forth between the stage and the middle of the crowd even doing a couple completely acoustic songs on guitar. Sometimes you want shows to be packed so as many people can hear all the great music. Yet, in this up close and personal performance it felt like we were witnessing a unique passion that you don’t get in packed houses. Ceschi’s music raged through the entire set. His chest beating emotion is already evident in the lyrics that line his albums, but the live performance, with his sweat drenched vocals, channeled all those emotions straight into your bloodstream. I had the tremendous pleasure to sit down with Ceschi before the show. The ultra talented musician and Fake Four Inc. founder was filled with stories and wisdom, and I hope that he’ll be back in Boise before too long.
Earthlings Ent: Alright, let’s start off with some questions to make sure you’re not a robot… Dogs or Cats?
Ceschi: Dogs, I’m allergic to cats. I love all animals but yeah, so that’s an easy answer.
EE: Pepperoni, Macaroni or Balogna?
Ceschi: Macaroni. I’m a vegetarian. Easy answer again.
EE: Johnny Cash or lots of cash?
Ceschi: Johnny Cash, definitely.
EE: Donald… Duck or Donald… Glover?
Ceschi: Ooo, I’m gonna say Donald Glover. I love Atlanta. He’s talented.
EE: Alright you’ve passed. Now onto the juicy stuff.
In previous interviews, you’ve mentioned that you started music at a really young age. You’ve said that you had a whole studio album at the age of 14 with your brother. Do you still have that recording?
Ceschi: Hahaha, that is true, but the studio. It’s not a very professional studio. But yeah, I lost that recording. My friend, David Rodriguez, out in Berkeley says he has a copy and he emailed me this year about it. So maybe I’ll find it one day.
EE: So you recorded that album around 14, when did you start playing shows?
Ceschi: I think we played little shows, like one or two a year around that time. Around 15 or 16 years old. I remember we played this place in Connecticut called the Madison Arts Barn. It was in a town that was up north from us, but it was the all ages place to play. I have a cousin, he’s been in punk bands since he was 15, and he’s ten years older than me. He kind of helped us get our start. We played a few weird little shows, weird all ages clubs where we would play our whacky experimental, whatever-the-hell kinda music it was. Then there would be like full on dance parties, with full on grinding teenagers.
EE: This venue tonight is an all ages venue, and these promoters are trying to provide more opportunities for all ages venues here through the Boise All-ages Movement Project. From your experience, how important do you think venues like that are?
Ceschi: Very important. It’s so hard. I live in New Haven, Connecticut, we have only one major all-ages venue space that’s available. My friend Pat the Bunny, when he used to tour, he only played all ages venues. That was the only option we had. There would be some community center like places we could get, we could have alternative spaces but as far as a venue venue, there’s only like one. Every other place survives off alcohol sales. So yeah, I think it’s very important to have an all ages venue and to have that kind of option.
You know, even if you do serve alcohol try to find a way that you can invite kids because kids are what keep our scenes alive. You know, when I see a group of 16 year olds just finding out about my music it’s just wonderful. It lets me know that maybe I still have a future. If all my fans are 40, they’re all having kids and can’t get out of the house on a Monday night, my career is screwed.
EE: Throughout your life as a musician you’ve played a ton of genres from hardcore jazz fusion and of course folk punk and hip hop. You’re well known now for crossing these two genres in your music. Do you think the indie hip hop scene and the independent music scene in general would benefit from more of this cross-genre experimentation?
Ceschi: Yeah, well I think it came really naturally to me just being a music nerd. I just collected all types of music and got into things really deeply. I figured music benefits from it. I think bands and artists come out and they have elements of different styles in their music, it makes it interesting for me. I think we’re in an era where you don’t necessarily have to sound like one thing. People aren’t expecting you to sound like Boom Bap every time you fucking rap. You don’t have to be the exact traditionalist KRS-One style rapper or something. Hip-hop as it is, feels like it’s ten genres underneath the umbrella of hip-hop. It’s splintered it to many genres just like saying rock n roll could be the Rollings Stones all the way to Radiohead. They’re very very different genres within that category. For me, why not experiment? Some of my favorite bands were genre bending bands. Mr. Bungle blew my mind as a kid. It’s Mike Patton’s first band actually. That made me think of music differently. It made me approach everything I do differently, still to this day. It’s also one of the most important concerts I’ve ever gotten to see in Cali in 1999.
EE: At Fake Four Inc. do you try to curate artists of that experimental style?
Ceschi: Yeah. We have certain tastes. It can be based in any genre, but it has to be progressing it in some way. Or pushing the envelope in some way. For instance, I work a lot with an artist called . He does indie rock, like power-pop kind of stuff, some of his stuff might sound like might sound like weezer. Some of it sounds like sludgy black metal influenced pop. Some of it is kind of based on hip-hop. I like artists that you could maybe loosely say it’s hip hop, but it’s progressing it in some way. Like myself. It just fits with our sound. It’s about pushing those lines.
EE: I’ve noticed how you pushed those lines by collaborating with a wide variety of artists. Are there any artists out there that would be your fantasy collaboration?
Ceschi: Oh man, I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I would really love to work with Yoni Wolf with Why? And now I’m on tour with Serengeti, and it’s becoming more and more apparent that that’s going to happen. I mean, I know him, but it seems like it’s hard to get him into the studio. We were supposed to do something like ten years ago together. It just didn’t work out. I would love to work with him. I still haven’t worked with Open Mike Eagle, believe it or not. He’s one of my favorite artists. There’s Milo, I haven’t gotten him on a track. These are all people I know. I’m not saying like I would love to work with Bryan Wilson of the Beach Boys. Yeah, sure. That would be a dream. Ol’ Bryan and I in a sandbox with a piano. But for real, all these guys are somewhat accessible to me in my world and are homies and friends. I would love to work with any of them.
EE: I would love to see those all happen, specifically with Milo. That would be really tight.
Ceschi: Yeah, that’s my boy. I just haven’t figured it out yet. I don’t really do a lot of collabs except for other people’s albums. On my albums we don’t do a lot of collabs. He was supposed to be on Beauty for Bosses, but if it’s not the right time, it just doesn’t happen. Some things just have to happen naturally. I don’t ever get mad about it. He’s got a beautiful vision of his future.
EE: I was particularly impressed with your split LP with Pat the Bunny. Can you describe how that even happened?
Ceschi: It’s a bit of a long story. In 2006 I played my first show with Pat the Bunny. He had the name Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains and his brother Michael was also there. We played in this weird art space warehouse in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Most people don’t know what Connecticut is like but it’s a real run down city. It used to be home to a lot of factories. Now it’s this real impoverished place. So these artists took over an old factory space and they would be doing these amazing shows I remember seeing The Microphones there and a bunch of other shows over time. One of the shows, the DIY Bandits booked me to play with Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains and I met them through MC Homeless, who’s kind of out of the game. We met, we traded CD’s. It was a small show, it was fun.
Then the next time I played with them, it was like a year later. There were like a hundred kids singing all of Pat’s words. And this was only a year later. I remember because he had to jump on a train back to Vermont. He couldn’t even stay. I had to play after him. I was like, that will never happen again. I’ll never play after Pat again. Cuz like all the kids walked out as soon as he was done. That’s how we met and over the next decade we became very close friends with Pepe from DIY Bandits. He was saying that they were closing the DIY bandits and his last dream was to have this split LP happen. That was his idea. He set up a tour together and a recording session together. We reunited and became really close friends quickly. We did multiple tours after that.
I brought him to my release party for the Broken Bone Ballads album. For a while before that we would communicate through song. We would shout each other out. Like, I named one of my songs Love Song for the Apocalypse. He’s used a lyric from my song, Bad Jokes, on one of his albums. We would just be doing these little sort of odes to each other, shout outs through song. It all made sense, it all came together. I’m really proud of that work. I’m really happy that we did it.
EE: I’ve personally seen a lot of my friends cross over from the folk punk to hip hop genres because of that album. Have you noticed that kind of diversity in your shows?
Ceschi: Oh yeah, especially in this tour. I’ve been noticing younger people coming out. I remember there was this really young lady with an ukulele that came with her parents to the Chicago show. There’s been a whole new group of fans and it’s been really cool. I definitely have to thank Pat for that. The show in Denver was another highlight. It was a place where Pat used to play a lot called the seventh circle. It was a nice mixture of the crowds too. You’ll see a lot of hip hop heads coming out and thanking me for introducing them to Pat the Bunny. And they were people that never listened to music like that. They were like, at first maybe his voice rubbed me the wrong way but I got into it because the lyrics had so much depth.
EE: Do you think there’s a similar message or style that makes the folk punk scene uniquely similar to the indie hip-hop scene?
Ceschi: You know a lot of my friends in independent hip hop have similar politics to the folks in folk punk. As people, we want to be incredibly inclusive. We all come from way different backgrounds. We are a diverse group of folks.
Anarchism is also an idea that gets thrown around a lot in the hip hop world. I think politics and hip hop, politics and punk, and politics and folk have all been there. It’s not just about one way of thinking. It’s about being open minded and questioning standards. Especially in the alternative hip hop community it’s been all about pushing standards. It makes sense. One of my friends, Sole, he’s known as an anarchist rapper. He was pushing standards in hip hop way back when I first met him.
I was 18 years old. For him it made sense when he started connecting with that folk punk scene. As an activist in Denver, he became quick friends with a lot of people that are associated with that kind of scene. Musically, you know what it is, more than anything, I think the focus on lyrics is so important in both of those genres. They are genres that are lyric based. They might have the simplest beat or the simplest chord structure but what’s going to move you is the depth of the lyrics. The poignant lyrics, like lyrics by Eric Peterson, or Pat the Bunny, or Andrew Jackson Jihad or Alyssa Kai. There’s a whole bunch of good writers.
EE: A few years ago, in an interview with Earthlings, Sadistik mentioned some of the legal troubles you had to go through. He said “it was all pretty sideways”. You’ve mentioned elsewhere how that whole experience really affected you. How was it running Fake Four during that time?
Ceschi: It was frightening. We had to plan things way in advance. I could not have planned for my prison time accordingly, without shutting down everything. I didn’t know if I was going to prison or not. I was just in Limbo. I had so much help from the Fake Four family, the artists the fans, the other artists that just supported out of nowhere. It became a major thing.
The fans and artists kept us going. It was hard. My brother took over a lot of duties. My brother and Jeep Ward, John Wagner, and my partner Amber. They all did a lot for that campaign while I was away. I was lucky enough to have the right lawyer to guide me through the department of corrections. And tell me about options for programs to get me out of prison way earlier than I expected. So when I started to trying to save Fake Four, we did an Indie Gogo campaign that was successful. I thought I was gonna be away for a like a year or so, and I ended up doing a lot less, about four months. It sucked and it was like the slowest four months of my life but things were handled and we were able to release every record on Fake Four that year because of the people that were helping.
EE: In Broken Bone Ballads you reference that experience a bit and a lot of other personal struggles. Do you think it’s important for artists, through their music, to reflect on their personal and societal issues that they experience?
Ceschi: Every artist is different, and I appreciate all types of writers and artists. For me, it’s important. For a long time I would mask my very direct personal issues. I’d mask it under characters and other names. It all stemmed from real places though. It might have been fictionalized reality but it was all stemmed from real places though. Broken Bone Ballads was the first album where I was really blatant about honesty. I don’t think that’s for everybody. I just feel like I needed that at that time. Two years later, I’ve seen that it’s important for people to feel like there are other people who have gone through similar situations talking about it. People have related to it and it’s cool, and it’s great. But I don’t necessarily know if it’s important for everybody to be like that. I’m not gonna say that you have to talk about politics or your art is worthless. I think all types of art are important.
EE: It’s been a couple years since that release, what do you have in the works in the next few months?
Ceschi: I’ve cooked up a few new songs with Factor Chandelier. A couple little collaborative things with Astronautalis. Aside from that, I might be doing some real raw four-track folk stuff. I have a lot of little things that I’m doing, but the next big project is gonna take me some time.
EE: What’s in store for Fake Four Inc.?
Ceschi: Fake Four is going strong. This year we have a ton of releases. We just released the Serengeti, Dennehey, vinyl. First time ever on vinyl. To me it’s an underground classic. For me, as a collector of vinyl, I really wanted to do that one on vinyl. It came out awesome. We got this really good record from this really good fella called Kay the Aquanaut. Kristoff Krane has an album coming out through Fake Four. He’s self releasing, but we’re doing the vinyl. Been working with this lady out of Austria called Squalloqscope which was really neat. Really genre bending, like what I do or what Why? does, but she makes the beats herself. We have a lady out of Orlando Florida called E-Turn. We have a lot of cool projects coming out this year. Moody Black is working on a new one. It’s a really busy year. Also we are hoping to possibly open our own space at some point. That’s been a big thing.
EE: The music video of your collab with Sixo, Christmas Past, is coming out tomorrow and you said that it was a really special song a video for you, would you like to talk about that?
Ceschi: It was really intense because when I wrote the lyrics it was all at a really dark point in my life. I was having serious relationship problems and I didn’t know where the fuck I was gonna go. I basically just wrote the first part about this dark period. The second half is about spring returning after a tough winter and finding love again. I really like how the song came out. The video we wanted to do something special but we didn’t know how to approach it.
We did this thing where it was based on these Santa Clauses, and I was using these metaphors for performers that aren’t musicians. I can look at a mall Santa as someone who is also grinding the job. There’s this miserable mall santa, he’s got a lot of shit going on in his life. It’ some ridiculous shit. But as ridiculous as it sounds, it’s one of the most emotional things I’ve ever done. The whole beginning part is me getting kicked out of my apartment by Mrs. Clause, who is played by my actual partner in the video. I mean, in real life we were going through some crazy stuff. Our dog was in the video, and he just passed away two weeks ago. It’s captured a lot of moments. Towards the end, the character Krampus comes in and steals Mrs. Clause and you know their grinding on the dancefloor while my band is on stage.
It just felt a little too real in some ways, even though it’s played around with Santa metaphors and images. This guy Shay Mclellan from New Haven just made it beautiful. Even my cousin’s son is in the beginning too. We just took a lot of time to make it and hopefully people will notice and enjoy it.
[Check out that music video right now!]
A: One final question, what state are we in, Iowa or Idaho?
C: Idaho! I’ve been stuck here on a real dangerous trail before. It was like two years ago, I had borrowed a car from a friend and the gas was pushed all the way without me being able to control it. I’m hitting the breaks and this is down this really windy little path, I don’t know if you know, but it’s in the middle of the woods, only two lanes and you can see rushing water to the side. No cellphone reception for a hundred miles, nothing. This car is just flying down and I can’t stop it. It’s one of the freakiest things to happen on tour ever. We end up figuring out how to stop it. I end up getting a ride from a horse driver down to the next town which was 60 miles away. We had to miss our Boise show on that one. Yeah, I’ll never forget Idaho.
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