You are generally perceived as being pioneers of the “Rap Metal” genre. Can you tell us as to how you were able to successfully fuse what appear to be two totally disparate and unconnected music styles?
The answer is rather simple. We all had a love for Hardcore and Punk, as well as Hip Hop. Prior to downset, we had a band called Social Justice which was even more tuned to crossing over these styles and we just threw in a pinch of Classic Rock, and Metal, and we came up with the Downset sound. Fuse influences by early Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies along with Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, and throw in some Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, and you have downset’s theorem. There were a handful of bands that did what we were doing; we just made it a recognizable form.
What was the surrounding rap and metal scene like before you started and how do you think it reacted when your sound was finally formed?
Well like I just said, there were only a handful of artists doing what we were doing at the time. No one was really paying attention as far as mainstream is concerned; bands were just doing their thing and performing with like-minded bands from the hardcore scene. When we started to perform this style even back in Social Justice, people were taken back by what they were hearing… Hardcore? Hiphop? Metal? No!!!… MUSIC! The style caught on very quickly and many people tried to copy the formula. When we came out with the first downset demo, everyone was awed! We had found a NEW thing.
You’ve obviously been around since the late 1980’s and have seen a lot of musical styles come and go and yet have been able to not only survive but have also thrived in the face of dangers that would have crippled a lesser band. Based on experience therefore, what ingredients do you think are important for a band?
Teamwork and brotherhood are very important, but staying true to what is in your heart and not letting nay-sayers throw you off is the most important. This band has been through almost everything you can toss at a band. We have had fights, label wars, car accidents, all kinds of horrible stuff, but we are STILL here! I think teamwork is second to being true to yourself and your beliefs, as you always have to be there to support the other guy if he isn’t 100% for that night. Teamwork has been a valuable virtue since the dawn of civilization, and it’s something we as all bands struggle with to keep the unit intact. There is no I in team, and brothers are the keepers of their own.
You were enjoying success at a time when other scene stalwarts (such as Biohazard) were hitting their commercial stride. Why do you think bands like Rage against The Machine and Biohazard have floundered whilst you’ve been able to remain fresh and vital in the eyes of both peers and enthusiasts alike?
Most importantly I believe that we have something special and magical in our music and message that all of the other bands from that ‘scene’ failed to hold true to. Money and fame are hard for some to deal with, and even harder for some to keep their egos in check once status has been achieved. I think that also music critics and fans alike found the magic in downset as captivating and not just another passing fad. downset spoke of the world’s issues with ease, and the music was inspiring to some as well. downset had a good foot on solid ground from the get go, and I feel that has always helped us maintain. In simpler words, downset has always held true to what we stand for and believe from music to ideology to lifestyle in general.
What do you think of the commercial metal scene today? Aside from Linkin Park, are there any bands which you admire that are doing something different beyond the trademark metal sound?
Remember this… Without downset there wouldn’t be bands like Linkin Park, and I find that somewhat amusing, as we have never tried to influence anyone or anything, we have just written and played what we feel! As far as new talent, I really like Skindred from UK, and Slipknot. I admire what they do, and their approach. I feel a new musical horizon is closing in, and soon there will be bands that awe everyone once again. The commercial metal scene today is pretty bland in my opinion with the exception of a few bands. The bandwagon thing is worse than ever now too. Who cares what band x and y are doing!! Do your own thing and keep it true to what is inside of you and motivates you.
What bands are you listening to at the moment?
In my CD changer right now is Damian Marley – Welcome to Jamrock, Asian Dub Foundation – R.A.F.I.’s Revenge, Too Rude – Reinvention, Green Day – Kerplunk, Suicidal Tendencies – self titled, Public Enemy – New Whirl Odor.
How do you think the underground music scene will be affected by the closure of CBGB’s?
I am really bummed about this. A classic hardcore hangout and outlet for countless bands is going to waste. Shame on the owners for not rewriting the lease!!! I have heard talks of re-opening in 2007 in a new spot in the Bowery, as well as rumors of opening a CBGB west in Vegas. I just hope the bands that have helped shape and form this monument of the scene are all welcomed to the new if any locations!!
CBGB – RIP!
Do you have any heroes/role models?
(Laughing) The kind of role models and heroes I have are not for the weak hearted or stomach for that matter. My heroes have to include Ras Ta Fari, Gandhi, and Hitler. I admire these people for their ability to overcome their personal obstacles by any means. I must state that I do NOT agree with the ideology of Hitler but find him as a hero, none the less. I do not have any role models per say, but I can say I admire Bam Margera and Steve-o for not giving a shit about what anyone else thinks about them, and doing their thing at full throttle. These may be hard to figure out coming from a guy in a band that talk so much about love, peace, and social awareness, but I find qualities in these people that have almost been lost in general population. Oh yeah and oh course… Jah!
Can you please tell us as to what inspired you to utilize the sampled speech of Martin Luther King on “Empower”, the track that features on your seminal “breakthrough” album ‘Do We Speak a Dead Language?’
That’s too simple. Martin Luther King is a pillar of social equality and humane love. As downset, we find his words and speeches very admirable and true to light! We hope that by meshing the words of MLK with heavy music that we can enlighten others to his works!
Moving on to your most recent album, what was the genesis for downset’s latest work being titled ‘Universal’?
We started coming up with this concept in early 2003. Rey had the idea to spread the word globally if nothing else through the title track and lyrics to it. “Universal” is a word that when brought to mind reveals a vastness, greatness, and within that greatness you have multiples of nations, cultures, and lives in general. We want to bring our message to all universally, and not just within our music scenes, and genres. We want all to give our music and our message a chance in real-time.
What themes and messages underpin your most recent work and what are you trying to communicate to fans and newcomers alike on your most recent album?
Universal was geared more towards personal turmoil and reflections rather than the substandard downset formula of writing about the world’s strife and plight. We all have a civil duty as human beings to grow in the path that is just and right according to our higher power whoever that may be.
If as you say music affects the “heart and soul”, how successful do you think Live 8 has been in accomplishing its objectives? Do you think it was a “universal” success in unifying the world against poverty and alleviating debt in Africa and Third World countries?
First I think the Live 8 was directed more towards African relief, than towards third world or even global relief. Live Aid, Farm Aid, Live 8, These are all great ideas, but the biggest problem is that after the event everyone goes about their lives, and what does that accomplish? We “knew” about the problems before the events? We already knew; we need to be doing something about it. If everyone who attended make a dedication to stand true to what they are all there for things could have more impact. I think Live 8 was a great feat, but on a small scale. With poverty, homelessness, and overall oppression in our own backyards in America, I think there needs to be MORE focus on what can be done to help ourselves in addition to helping globally. I guess the answer is No.
What measures would you take, and against what cause, if there was a music event to again re-unite the world against the same / alternative cause?
I think Live 8 was on the right track to attack the humane issues that affect us all! I think it needs to be taken seriously and that North America has just as much of a problem that NEEDS to be addressed as anywhere else. I would like to achieve a variable of Live 8 that addresses the issues of humanity on a truly global scale and that ALL musical genres should be invited as well as artists, politicians, AND the poverty stricken themselves. downset has been involved in numerous small scale efforts such as food drives, benefit shows and so on. More artists of all mediums need to do the same, as well as large corporations and the like. I recently did a Hurricane relief show with my other band, Jodoh, and noticed an insincere vibe from other artists. Sincerity is the key!! Remember that!