Interview: Kool Keith X Thetan
Keith's a pro, so it was really easy. We stayed in our lane, and just focused on the music, and gave Keith full reign to do whatever he wanted to with the lyrics. The outcome was exactly what I had hoped it would be plus a little bit extra.
Purveyors of some of the finest hardcore and powerviolence on the planet, Thetan have just teamed up with the legendary Kool Keith for their stunning new album Space Goretex, which sees Keith rap his trademark rhymes over dystopian soundscapes that is a fitting mix for these unknown and uncertain times we find ourselves in. Powerviolence or hardcore it is not but immense is most certainly what it is and the results are a match made in heaven. Gavin Brown caught up with Thetan members drummer Chad L’Plattenier and bassist/vocalist Dan Emery to hear all about the album and how it came together, working with the musical legend that is Kool Keith, hip hop, what Thetan are up to next and keeping busy during the lockdown period.
E&D: Space Goretex, your new album with Kool Keith is out now, what has the reaction to the album been like so far?
Chad: Mostly positive. I think some people went into thinking it was going to be some rap metal or power-violence record with Keith rapping, but it’s obviously not. So it either made them like it more or less I guess.
Dan: Yeah, most of the reviews have been good. There were a few where you can tell that the reviewer didn’t know what to expect. So much has been happening in the world in the time since the release, that it’s hard to gauge what the response should be though.
E&D: What was the experience of working with Kool Keith on the record?
Dan: Keith’s a pro, so it was really easy. We stayed in our lane, and just focused on the music, and gave Keith full reign to do whatever he wanted to with the lyrics. The outcome was exactly what I had hoped it would be plus a little bit extra. Filming the video for ‘Hallucinations’ was awesome too. He gave my son the hat he wore for the shoot.
Chad: Keith rules. His rhymes on these songs are bad ass. Shooting the video with him was a blast.
E&D: How do the creation and recording process of Space Goretex go?
Chad: We demoed the basic ideas in our practice space on a tape recorder. We then went into Dan’s home studio and recorded those and made some more up on the spot. Keyboard, Theremin, and other sounds were added later on. We’d send rough tracks over to Keith and he’d send his vocals. After that, we’d add more sounds on top.
Dan: All of Keith’s parts were recorded in NY with Fred Ones. We wouldn’t even hear any of the ideas until he would finish a song, and send it over. It was pretty exciting doing it that way actually. Like Christmas in my email. The tracks that we sent over to him were stripped down rough ideas. We would write additional parts and change things in the songs based on what he would send us. So the songs would go through a few different stages. The final result of the song would be completely different from what Keith heard when he did his vocals.
E&D: How did you hook up with Keith for the album in the first place?
Dan: We did a single together in 2019 for Record Store Day. The song we did for that is actually on Space Goretex. It was too good of a song to leave off the album. We were all really happy with the outcome of that single, and decided to expand on the concept.
Chad: Dan asked Keith if he’d do a single for Record Store Day last year and Keith agreed but he wanted the track first, so Dan thought we should try coming up with something. Everything went great and Keith was down to do more.
E&D: Were you fans of Kool Keith beforehand and what are your favourite Kool Keith / Ultramagnetic MCs / Dr. Octagon / Dr. Dooom etc songs / albums?
Chad: Yes! It’s almost impossible to narrow it down, but my favorite albums are Ultramagnetic MCs – The Four Horsemen and Matthew. Matthew was the first Kool Keith album I ever heard. The beats, sounds, and of course Keith’s delivery and lyrics blew me away and I was hooked on anything Kool Keith related.
Dan: Most definitely! Dr. Dooom First Come First Served was the one that sealed the deal for me. I was on tour with a band back in the day, and the guitarist would blast that album at top volume in the van. I was hooked. ‘I Run Rap’ is the hardest shit talking song ever recorded. Aside from that, Dr. Octagon, Sex Style, Matthew and Spank Master are all classics.
E&D: The album features guest appearances from Gangsta Boo, Blag Dahlia, Casey Orr, DJ Black Cat Sylvester and Ashley Mae. How was it working with such a varied selection of musicians wand what did they each bring to the sound of Space Goretex?
Dan: Each one was brought on for very specific reasons. First off, Three 6 Mafia, The Dwarves, and Gwar are all at the top of the list of my favorite bands since I was in high school. So, it was kind of my way of tying all those things that developed my taste in music into one project. I’ve always loved Blag’s spoken stuff, so having him do the narration on ‘Accolades’ was perfect. Plus he’s a huge fan of Keith and was very into doing it. The monologue that he recorded for that track is actually about twice as long as what we used for the track. He was very thorough. Ashley from Lost Dog Street Band played the violin part that makes up the melody to that track. I work very closely with LDSB as it is, so she was more than happy to do it. The crazy part about her performance on there, is it was the first take. When she played the intro, the beat hadn’t even started in her headphones yet. She just busted that out from thin air.
When Keith sent over the vocals for ‘Nite Heist’, I knew I wanted to do a skit with a female cop doing a traffic stop, that just gets raunchy as hell. Gangsta Boo is the only artist I can imagine doing that part. There is no other woman in music who could domineer over the perversion that is this album. Getting Casey to bring back Sherrif Tubb Tucker was the cherry on top. That was actually the last thing that we got for the album. That’s when I knew the album was complete.
E&D: Are there any tentative plans for any Space Goretex live dates, obviously when all this madness is over?
Chad: I’m not sure, but it would be great if we could.
Dan: Before the world shut down, we had been in talks with some festivals about having both Thetan and Keith play. Not necessarily as a collaborative set, but It’s not completely out of the realm of possibility. It’s all about coordination I suppose. We’ll see.
E&D: Are Thetan big fans of hip hop and do you feel that it influences your music?
Chad: Yes, we are huge fans of hip hop. Whenever we are driving to shows, it’s pretty much hip hop that’s always on the stereo. It shows up in our songs when we slow it down. We have some more tripped out grimey sounding parts that are kinda hip-hop influenced.
Dan: I have drawn inspiration from the cadences of hip hop artists a lot in the lyrical delivery of Thetan. Probably more-so than I have from the singers of punk bands.
E&D: Who else from the hip hop world would you love to work with in the future?
Dan: Actually we have something in the works right now. I can’t say too much, except maybe TYBG.
E&D: How are you keeping busy during this lockdown period and can are you working on any new musical ideas?
Chad: Just working from home, going in to work when I need to. Other than, hanging out with my family, reading, and listening to music. Dan’s been coming up with some riffs.
Dan: I hang out with my kid mostly. He’s learning to play guitar and skate, so I get to do all the things I’d rather be doing anyway, just in the name of education and the cultural development of my child. It’s basically saving the world to be honest.
E&D: Have you any plans to follow up the Abysmal album yet?
Chad: We are writing for a new LP. We have about four songs done right now.
Dan: Definitely. Who knows what other stuff we’ll do. I like that we keep it interesting and do unconventional things, but we will definitely still make some gnarly, ugly music. I don’t want us to follow some cliche path of reinventing ourselves, where all of a sudden, now we’re exclusively a hip hop band, or we only play slow chill music. Right now is high time to fuck with the expectations of any of the people who listened to Space Goretex and thought that meant we were done making hateful music. The next album will probably be way darker than Abysmal.
Chad: To me we’re a hardcore punk band, so whatever we do will come out of that world. All of our records have been written almost as a reaction to the previous record. Before Abysmal, we had been getting weirder and we were wanting a record that was mostly non-stop pulverizing songs. I think we achieved that for the most part so now I think we are going to try and stretch out while still being ourselves.
E&D: How has the Abysmal album been received?
Chad: We got some good reviews from MRR and some websites.
Dan: It was still pretty mixed though. I don’t think I’ll ever be completely happy with anything. I guess that’s a good thing. My problem is that I read the reviews. I let the opinion of a single person corrupt the perception I have of my own creation. It’s kinda stupid to be honest. If there is any takeaway from this for the people reading, it’s don’t let other people put value on your art. That’s for you to do. If you spent years of your time and thousands of your dollars making something, and you’re proud of it, don’t let someone who listened to it once tell you that you could have done it better. Fuck that person.
Chad: I don’t know, aside from a a couple bad online reviews it got really good reviews. With the bad reviews, you could tell that it wasn’t their preferred style of music or whatever. It’s always interesting to see what people say about your music because you get so wrapped up in it for so long, that you can’t look at it with an outsider’s point of view. It was cool to get reviewed in Trust from Germany and to get a great review in the last print issue of Maximum Rocknroll. That zine has always meant a lot to me.
E&D: How did Thetan start as a band in the first place?
Chad: We were in a band called Sanctions and the guitar player, Ryan moved to Seattle. Dan and I decided to start a new band without a guitar player. Our first practice was January 2011 and we played our first show in March of that year.
Dan: Yeah, we thought about getting a guitarist and starting a new band in a traditional way, but the chemistry in Sanctions was just too good. We knew it wouldn’t work the same. Plus I had a bunch of extra amps, and I love to torture myself with staircases and weird load ins. So, we just kept it a two piece.
E&D: Who have been the biggest influence on the music of Thetan?
Chad: Initially, it was probably bands like Dystopia and Capitalist Casualties. Basically, fast or slow ugly bands we grew up listening to in the 90s.
Dan: Definitely Dystopia and Capitalist Casualties. I like to find inspiration in weird places and just fuck it all up with our style. Stuff like old style country bass progressions and weird traditional sounding stuff, and just bastardize the hell out of it. Even lyrical themes and song titles come from some weird places for us. There is more than one Trailer Park Boys reference buried in our catalog, a Notorious BIG reference. The title of our first album is an Amy Winehouse nod.
E&D: What have even some of the highlights of your time with Thetan so far?
Chad: Playing with Capitalist Casualties in Nashville. Anytime we’ve played Jackson, TN or Cincinnati, OH. Shooting a video with Kool Keith and playing in New York before the world shut down.
Dan: Mostly just having fun with Chad, and not having to pay a therapist to let me scream like a lunatic.
We also had the privilege of chatting with Kool Keith about working with Thetan on Space Goretex, insights from the making of the Dr. Octagon albums, the Ultramagnetic MCs, and tales from the Bronx MCs storied career.
E&D: Are you working on any new music at the minute?
You know, I’ve got a few little side projects. I’ve got the Saks 5th Avenue album out. I’ve got a few side project albums coming out, I just did the Keith album too.
E&D: How was the experience of working with Thetan on the Space Goretex album?
It was cool, I hooked up with the guys and they wanted to do a project and that was good for me. I just collaborated with them, they had beats that were more like loud basslines so it was all good.
E&D: Space Goretex feature your Dr. Octagon, Dr. Dooom and Black Elvis aliases, how was the experience of all three personas featuring on the same album?
It was just a little bit of everything, you know and it worked out for the best. It felt more like a band.
E&D:Is working with those three different aliases something you’d do again on a track or even an album?
E&D: How was the experience of working on the Dr. Octagon albums?
With the Octagon thing, it was the collaboration with me, Q-Bert and Dan The Automator and the chemistry for the second album wasn’t the same as the first album. We did it together then, I played basslines on Blue Flowers, all of that stuff. The last album, I didn’t work with them, Automator, he was more into his own sound and trying to be too different and less collaborations so the first album came out and we worked together, all the beats were done like Automator laid the tracks then I’d put the basslines on too Of them but he didn’t want me to have a hand in the production of something and that’s what happened, it was just too different, the beats were just too different. Me and Q Bert were talking and it’s cool to be distinctive but it’s not cool to be too different. The tracks that I rapped on, on the second album, he changed to what I tapped on the record. Automator’s funny, you can rap on a record with him and the beats you rapped on won’t be the same beats by the time it’s mastered! He works on all the music under your vocals and then after that it sounds like a total remix! He’d have a dope beat in tee studio but then by the time it’s finished, it’s like what the fuck is this! It’s a total surprise but it’s already mastered and done. The second album was not like the first album. We had a lot of bad experiences you know, we should have toured Octagon, should have come to Europe and everything but it just got too personal like who created the name and stuff like that. I created the name Octagon and you know the creation, people forgot from where it came from. That’s why with this Thetan thing, it’s a different project but still featuring Octagon.
E&D: Would you work with Thetan again at all?
Yeah, I’m all about different things so that’s no problem you know. I got other stuff too though but if there was time between projects. I just keep moving. They were impressive with different things to work on.
E&D: What have been some of the highlights of your career so far, would you say?
Highlights for me are doing some of the things I wanted to do like making records at the studio on my own because when you’re doing projects with people, you are conformed into the concept that’s Bowen. It’s cool to be conceptual and everything but my life is more like I like to different things. I like to do music at home and do all kinds of new beats. I have that ear for listening to other stuff and I like to collaborate with other artists. That’s the highlight of my career, me making my own stuff and doing my own productions. Rapping over beats without being controlled, not being on a record label and stuff like that. That’s a highlight, not being attached to a label and not confirming to a deal.
E&D: Will you do anything with Ultramagnetic MCs again?
Ultra, it’s a hard process for me. I just did a project with Ced Gee, he did an album and I was on a couple of tracks but overall with the group in general , everybody went their separate ways. I still see Ced but one person is over there and one person is over there so the adjustment of telling them what to do now is kinda hard because it’s like they don’t want to listen. It’s hard to fight them to do something brand new. I tried, you can’t say I didn’t try but it’s a fighting cause to get them to adjust to what’s going on. A lot of people are stuck in their ways from the past in their own ways of how things should be done. They’re stuck with a personal view of what the streets are about and what the music is about. It’s like their stuck in a time zone, they can’t get out of the 80s.