Meet And Greet: Cassettes Won’t Listen
Jason Drake is having a hard time concentrating.
It’s late July 2009, and he’s chatting with me on his cell from a Whole Foods parking lot somewhere in L.A.
A car alarm just went off nearby.
Random people are shouting in the street.
Bouncing around in Drake’s mind are about a million or so songs.
All the while, he’s trying to focus on my questions and provide satisfactory answers.
This is exactly why he fled the East Coast for the West: To get away from … this.
“The music scene in New York is amazing. There are so many venues all close together, and there’s always something going on. [But] there’s so many distractions in New York,” he vented, “and I work really well when there’s no one around, and I have a place to myself. I came here to … get a little more focus, ’cause it’s easy not to focus.”
Especially when you have so many melodies and concepts spinning in your brain like hamsters in wheels.
If the nom de plume Cassettes Won’t Listen doesn’t ring a bell, then open wide for a quick dose of history. Since the mid-aughts, this electronic-music whiz – who was actually born in Southern California, then relocated up north and eventually landed in Brooklyn – has been pumping out music under that mantle.
It’s Drake’s remixes and cover songs that have drawn him the most notice. In his re-imagineering sights have been El-P, Aesop Rock and other erudite hip-hoppers, as well as ’90s indie-rockers Pavement and Liz Phair, and ’80s pop-rock linchpins INXS and the Cure. He covered the latter bands for respective tribute albums on American Laundromat and Engine Room. And with URB and Spin among those bowing down in front of his growing oeuvre, he’s no doubt made the grade.
Somewhere along the way, Drake – who classifies himself, maybe ironically, as “emo/crunk/tropical” – slinked onto MTV2 to host an edition of “Subterranean.” Oh, and one of his songs slipped onto an episode of that show “Chuck,” too.
Clearly, this is a guy who has learned a lesson or three about maximum exposure. And the dividends have clearly been paying off.
Maybe that’s why Drake is doing his damnedest to take a step back, reassess, collect himself, get some perspective – whatever you wanna call it.
“I’m living up off Coldwater Canyon in a guest house, and it’s really secluded from everything. It seems I’m able to get a lot more [done],” he said.
God knows Drake has been getting stuff done, despite his intermittent difficulties concentrating. Last year, he released an instrumentals LP called Into the Hillside (recorded in L.A., logic suggests its title refers to Coldwater Canyon). After that, he quickly moved on to a related, but vastly different, project: an iPhone app that allows fans to mix up Hillside songs however they please. Admittedly, when Drake devised his game plan, he was taking a tip from house producer Deadmau5, having teamed with the same company (Future Audio Workshop).
Genius nonetheless – from a marketing and promotions standpoint, but also in terms of bridging the gap between artist and fan. After all, it’s one thing for Hootie & the Blowfish to poll their audience when brainstorming an album title; it’s another thing altogether for an artist to dissemble his songs and hand over the pieces to his fanbase for re-creational purposes.
“My interaction with fans is more than just answering people’s questions [and] thanking them for their support,” said Drake, who has taken the connection up a notch. “People can interact with the music and pick it apart.”
Still not impressed? Here’s some gravy for ya: Shortly before the release of Hillside, Drake reached into his chest and dug out some additional remixes and gifted fans with them, free of charge. (F)remix – which included remixes of tracks by the Dears, Mr. Lif and more – was issued in partnership with Wired.com.
“Especially since I put out all the music myself, I don’t have a big marketing budget,” Drake said, adding that he regularly conspires with all the usual social-networking suspects: MySpace, Twitter, etc.
On the flip side, Drake was careful not to overhype the platforms. He also had a critical word or two about the all-too-accessible mediums, and how they might grow obsolete as quickly as they arrived: “You have people basically saying they’re artists by just putting a song or two up on MySpace. … [But many of them] haven’t really spent any time learning how to make music.
“In some ways, it hurts the art form,” continued Drake, who has surely given the issue some serious thought. “I can see it in both ways, really: In one sense, it hurts, but in one sense it helps. … It’s hard to tell what will happen. Right now, the market is just flooded with people making music.”
Oh well … out of sight, out of mind, as they say. “Making music for me is a much more personal endeavor,” Drake distinguished.
This is a guy who takes his craft so seriously that, even though he grew up dreaming of the day he’d be signed to a major label, now finds himself waving off record contracts because the labels want too big a piece of the pie.
And for someone who might find it hard to concentrate at times, he sure does seem to have his priorities straight. With more remixes and live dates on the way – in addition to “Perfect Day,” the new single he just dropped a couple of months ago – Drake is nothing if not driven.
“If my music isn’t around 10 years from now, so be it,” he reasoned. “It’s something I wanted to get off my chest and create now.”
Check out this past editions of “Meet and Greet”: