Last week the label Illegal Art did the world a great favor and released a nicely packaged comprehensive retrospective of the best of hip-hop cut-n-paste pioneer Steinski -- something that has never been easily available before, and not all nicely presented together like this.
But this great collection beautifully showcases the legendary producer who, both along with studio partner Double Dee and as a solo artist, directly influenced so many artists, including most notably DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist and Coldcut.
Steinski: What Does It All Mean? 1983-2006 Retrospective is something that belongs in every music collection. The 2 CD set comes with a nice booklet and liner notes by Hua Hsu that include Steve "Steinski" Stein's comments on each of CD 1's fourteen tracks. Included are the three legendary "Lessons" with Doug DiFranco (Double Dee) -- the first one originating as an 1983 entry in a Tommy Boy Records remix contest -- plus the artist's most important solo outings and remixes including the JFK assassination-themed "The Motorcade Sped On," recorded under the name Steinski & The Mass Media that came as a track on a free 7" EP compilation given away with UK mag NME in 1987.
The second CD is the artist's relatively recent Nothing To Fear mix made for BBC London's Solid Steel radio show a few years ago, with song titles for all 28 tracks in the CD booklet.
For more information on the artist visit Steinski's main web site and also his MySpace, where you can hear, in full, each of the three Double Dee & Steinski lessons, including "Lesson 1: The Payoff Mix," "Lesson 2: The James Brown Mix," and "Lesson 3: History of Hip-Hop." Recently I caught up with Steinski to ask him about the new album and his influential career.
AMOEBLOG: This is the first time that many of these songs have been legally released (many of them were only released as bootlegs before). Why?
STEINSKI: Well, the legality of most of the pieces has always been problematic, obviously. Illegal Art is generously taking a chance at reissuing them in such a luxurious package. It means that for a limited time, this material will be somewhat available.
AMOEBLOG: How different would your life be if you and Double Dee had not done that initial Tommy Boy remix for that contest?
STEINSKI: Lord, that's a good question. I'd likely be a somewhat unfulfilled advertising person with a taste for music. And I'd probably have more money.
AMOEBLOG: When you did that very first (Payoff) mix, what recording techniques or practices did you draw from?
STEINSKI: We drew on Douglas' colossal expertise as a mixer and producer who used audiotape exclusively. We also drew on the shared vocabulary we'd developed from hanging out listening to music in Doug's studio, hanging out at the Roxy, and eating a lot of sushi.
AMOEBLOG: What specifically was the song structuring process you applied for the first mix; was it all pre-planned before recording or was it a trial and error process whereby you tried out various samples at various points in the song?
STEINSKI: Very much trial and error. I think we might have had the countdown part in mind when we started, that's it.
AMOEBLOG: Your music has been labeled "cut and paste" but is or was that an accurate description? Did you literally cut and paste off of reel-to-reel or did you use other recording equipment when you began?
STEINSKI: Reel to reel exclusively, with Douglas wielding a razorblade like a Shaolin master.
AMOEBLOG: The new 2 CD retrospective includes your more recent Nothing To Fear mix. How have your recording/producing methods changed from your earliest work up to pieces like Nothing to Fear?
STEINSKI: Well, now there's digital technology, thank goodness. I could never have made Nothing To Fear without a Mac, Protools, and a lot of past experience with both of them. By the time I did that mix, I'd been using ProTools for almost 10 years, and I'd been looking over the shoulders of some very skilled people (Danny Caccavo and Douglas, primarily) for a long time.
AMOEBLOG: When you got signed as an artist by 4th & Broadway/Island and had to
adhere to the copyright & licensing restrictions of the music biz, did it stifle your creativity in any way or did you consider it a challenge to work around it?
STEINSKI: I doubt they'd have signed me if, when they asked me if I could make a legal record, I'd said "no." Coincidentally, when the A&R executive, Joel Weber (RIP) approached me, I had an idea for a record that turned into my first 4th & Broadway release, "We'll Be Right Back." I was still writing ads, and I worked with a lot of great voice talent, so it seemed like a natural progression.
AMOEBLOG: "The Motorcade Sped On" is still one of my favorite pieces -- not just of yours -- but of all music out of the collage/sample-driven school. As a listener, I feel it packs so much emotion it is hard not to be moved by this piece, just as it sounds like you were while making it. Did you feel particularly passionate about the piece and its subject matter?
STEINSKI: I wanted very much to make a record that had a lot of emotional impact, so I was drawn to spoken material that packed a wallop. The Kennedy material, at the time I used it, had a lot of emotional resonance with people who were discovering hip hop, so it seemed like the right stuff to begin with. Plus, it's not done by actors; the emotion of alarm, sadness, bewilderment that the voices contain is
real, and that's a quality fairly hard to come by. A fair amount of Americans who heard it were offended that I'd done it; the record did much better in the UK, where they were a bit more removed from the initial incident.
AMOEBLOG: You and Double Dee reunited to share a bill or two with Cut Chemist and Shadow-- how was it? And did you guys ever perform back in the 80's when your Lessons were coming out?
STEINSKI: Our performance opening for the Hard Sell Tour was only the third time we'd played together. The first was opening for Shadow when he played at Roseland (NYC) several years ago. The second was a lovely, low-key gig we had providing the walk-in music and ambiance for a Negativland appearance last year at the Highline Ballroom, where we essentially improvised for about 2 hours, and it was a gas.
AMOEBLOG: Nowadays the whole sound sample deconstruction approach to popular music and art is nothing unusual like it once was. Where do you see it going in the future of music?
STEINSKI: Since every kid in the world can now screw with existing material via free software on a laptop, I hope we're all surprised at the wonderful things that stem from that.
AMOEBLOG: Anything to add or shouts?
STEINSKI: Hi Mom!