Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
“It’s time to shift into something different now” : Best Fit speaks to El-P

“It’s time to shift into something different now” : Best Fit speaks to El-P

25 June 2012, 09:50

Jaime Meline is a man of understanding. He’s understanding about the music he makes, he’s understanding about the music business and (record sales), and he’s especially understanding when I have to hang up during our phone interview twice because my phone decides to cut out the sound on my end.

Over the course of our conversation, it becomes quite clear that the man better known as El-P has no problem expressing his opinion. It should be no surprise that this is especially true concerning music. I note in my review of his latest effort Cancer 4 Cure that there seems to be more anger than previous outings. He agrees, to an extent. “It’s a little bit of a starker record,” he states. “I think people identify anger depending on how you deliver it, in terms of the vocals and the way the music sounds. But I think I’m employing demonstrative anger in a way more that I usually do, and I do think there’s a healthy dose of gallows humor throughout.”

I then note that this record appeared less dense production-wise. To Meline, the compositional process for Cancer 4 Cure is no less dense or less complicated than on previous records, but he understands how it would sound that way. “I don’t think it’s less dense, I just think I figured out a way to present it that’s a little bit more streamlined,” he explains. “I’m trying to take what I do and mould it. I did make a conscious effort to give myself a little more space, a little more room musically. I was able to pick and choose the places where it got dense.”

The fact that El-P is able to discuss his new record at all is something to marvel at. When asked about a tweet concerning his wanting to retire six months ago and now having a universally acclaimed record, he first concludes that the tweet was “a moment of extreme stress.” He simply had some momentary self-doubt, not unlike the sentiment expressed by Cancer 4 Cure’s ‘The Jig is Up.’ “I felt like, if the record didn’t connect with people, if I wasn’t taking a step forward in what I was doing, I started to feel a little bit mortal in terms of my career. It’s like, ‘Well, now I’m 37. If I’m making a record now and people aren’t into it, then maybe it’s over in terms of making albums. Maybe I’ll only work on producing.’”

Thankfully, it was just a fleeting lapse in self-confidence, and not a more permanent mindset. “It wasn’t in terms of being depressed or anything, it was just a moment of facing that possibility – ‘Oh shit, I’m about to put myself in the hands of the public again, and if it doesn’t go well I don’t know what’s gonna happen next,’” he clarifies. A crossroads in his career, I suggest. He acquiesces, “I feel like I’ve gotten to the crossroads and went straight. But at the time, yeah.”

It is his patience and adaptability – especially about the current state of the music business – that really gets Meline talking in our encounter, however. I again inquire about Twitter, this time regarding his stance on illegal downloading. To record execs, he takes a rather blasphemous approach: As long as it leaked and you grabbed a copy, give it a listen; if you like it and you can afford to support him, great. That said, he finds the fact that Cancer 4 Cure leaked a month early to be “frustrating” as an artist. “I didn’t want the record to be leaked, but that was more out of the fact that I had a vision of how to unroll the record. I had shot all these trailers and I was trying to build something cool. So it takes the wind out of your sails a little bit when people have the record a month before it comes out.”

The leak was also frustrating for Meline in terms of actual sales, though he acknowledges that sales don’t mean what they used to and that even if they did, the possible impact of illegal downloading perhaps wouldn’t affect his career as much as others. “There’s no question in my mind that if my record wasn’t leaked a month ahead of time that more people would have bought it the first week,” he asserts. “But does that matter? I don’t think it matters. I’m not really sweating it. I want people to come to the show. I want people to have fun. I want people to hear my music. That’s my main focus.”

It’s this optimism and genuine desire to entertain, and his realistic view of the world that makes El-P a survivor in the music business. “It’s our job and goal to create a relationship between the people that support us and ourselves,” he explains of his view of the entertainment business. “And a big part of that job is help inspiring them to support it. You can’t sit around and pout and shout at the reality of the way technology has affected the roll out of records or the business in general. I just refuse to be one of those people that get angry at fans for simply being involved in the culture that’s around them.”

El-P also believes that this same culture – the one where the internet has allowed iTunes collections to become People’s Exhibit A, if government were so inclined – might have a positive impact as well. “The reaction to my record was really positive, and that helped create a buzz for albums in general. So, the argument that can help is, in some ways, true. Does it help with record sales? I don’t think so. There’s no questioning the fact that when tens of thousands of people – maybe more – have your record already, there’s a large percentage that aren’t gonna buy the product. That’s just common sense. But, if you make something people really like, you have the chance at engendering real good will where people will come out to your shows and people will support what you do. And in my case, people were pledging to buy the record because they liked it so much. I can’t look at it any other way.”

The moderate position that El-P takes on this issue also guides his mostly constructive take on Cancer 4 Cure debuting on Billboard at 69 and selling 6,600 units. I ask him if he is happy with those numbers. “Let me put it to you this way: I’m happy to be doing music, and I’m happy to be getting a good reaction,” he beams. “And record sales don’t mean as much as they used to mean because at this point who even knows what record sales are anymore? Five years ago, I sold 12,000 [copies of I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead] in my first week. Does that mean I’m selling less now? Proportionally, no. And, honestly, to some degree I don’t really give a shit. I don’t think that’s what it’s about anymore. I think that ultimately it’s like, ‘Do people like the record?’”

For El-P, that appears to be the one thing that truly matters: the music. That’s even the case if Def Jux – his record label from 2001 until he put it on hiatus in 2010 – doesn’t have a future, which is a distinct possibility. “I will always leave the door open to some degree. Right now, the door is open but I’m ignoring it. I’d really like to move forward. I don’t want to put my head back into an old space. That being said, if the inspiration hits and I can figure out a way to do it that I think is cool and transformative into something else, then maybe I will. But right now, it’s pretty much dead.”

It’s a tad depressing to hear a (former) record label owner calling his own label dead, especially given the pool of talent under its umbrella. El-P is quick to point out though, that everyone on that label is still putting music out, basically making the point that it’s just a label, not an end-all, be-all. “I get what Def Jux meant to be people, but it’s really about music,” he concludes. “Def Jux was only created for music to exist. It did its job, and it was great. But it’s time to shift into something different now. Right now, I just have plans for being an artist and making music.”

Which is all El-P fans want him doing, anyway. When asked whether it’ll be another five years for a follow-up to Cancer 4 Cure (as there was between Cancer 4 Cure and I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, and between that album and Fantastic Damage), El-P replies, “I fucking hope not.” The five year gap is quite reasonable given El-P’s work ethic, however. He spent most of the time between 2007-09 touring in support of his previous album I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, put out an instrumental record (2010’s Weareallgoingtoburninhellmeggamixx3), put Def Jux on hiatus, and produced music for other artists. Then, last year he spent a good chuck of time producing an entire album for Killer Mike (R.A.P. Music, released a week before Cancer 4 Cure).

As to whether El-P can release his fourth proper LP before 2017, there is hope. “In the last year, I got more done in terms of producing and making music than I did in the last five years, or even the previous five years before that,” El-P assures. “So I think it’s looking good for me to do records at a faster rate. I certainly don’t wanna end up being in my early to mid-40’s when my next record comes out.”

Cancer 4 Cure is out now through Turnstile.

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