“I’m Going To Make Records Until I’m Dead”: An Interview with Daddy Kev

In an epic interview, the Alpha Pup founder and Low End Theory co-founder discusses his life, music, and career.
By    May 16, 2016

 

scale-400x0x0x0-0207fflam-1453421695-47

Daddy Kev isn’t the type to catalogue every studio session on Snapchat. He instead moves with understated confidence and self-assurance, agilely traversing the blurred line between the “mainstream” and “underground.” Born Kevin Moo, the founder of Alpha Pup and co-founder of Low End Theory, is the nucleus of L.A.’s internationally renowned beat scene and all the progressive music that orbits it.

A producer, DJ, mastering engineer, and Grammy-nominated mixer, he’s been involved with some of the biggest artists (Flying Lotus, Gaslamp Killer, Kamasi Washington) and albums (You’re Dead!, The Epic) to emerge from the city since the early 2000s. Hyperbole is the name of the music writing game, but Kev has been the go-to sonic guru for enough classic albums to already rank among the greatest mixing and mastering engineers of all-time. 

This Wednesday, Low End Theory will celebrate its 500th week anniversary. In a city with seemingly endless entertainment options, it’s an unparalleled feat. For their role in creating a haven for left-field musicians, Kev and the rest of the Low End residents (Nobody, Gaslamp, D-Styles) deserve the key to the city.

To celebrate, I’ve included the full-interview that Kev and I conducted for my recent profile of him in L.A. Weekly’s 2016 People Issue. There aren’t five hundred questions below, but we came close to a fifth of that during our two-hour conversation at the Cosmic Zoo. If you ever wanted to learn everything you possibly could about Kev from one Interweb link, look no further. Low End, Alpha Pup, the hazards of smoking a DMT joint, the L.A. rave scene in the ‘90s, his thoughts on the beat scene, mixing/mastering philosophies– it’s all here. This is that long-read, Paris Review “Art of Fiction” type shit. – Max Bell


What’s on your schedule for today?


Daddy Kev: Today we have a Low End Theory meeting coming up. My studio schedule is relatively chill today. I’ve been working on the new Gonjasufi record for Warp. I finished that yesterday, I think. There’s been a few revisions on that one. Tomorrow I’m doing this record with a new kid on Alpha Pup, Nick Leon. I think tonight there’s something happening here. Last night they did a Kinda Neat episode after I left. Jonwayne is coming in at two today. I’m mixing the new Kleenrz record. I might touch some of that later.


Do the Low End Theory meetings occur every week?


Daddy Kev: No. We don’t do it often enough. Usually it’s me and Elvin talking over the phone, but today we’re doing a resident meeting to go over the festival for this year. And we’re coming up on the ten-year anniversary, so there’s some talk of maybe doing some dates outside of L.A. for that. We’re trying to plan a Japan thing this year.


Is this an average day?


Daddy Kev: I’m usually a little more busy. I kind of cleared it out, knowing we had an interview. I’m usually working on music half of the day. Yesterday I had royalty stuff. It’s a monthly thing. I was doing all the direct deposit stuff and cutting all the checks. We got like close to 200 people on the payroll, so it’s a little bit involved.


How many labels are under the Alpha Pup umbrella?


Daddy Kev: I would say that we’re probably getting close 80. Some are bigger than others.


How many do you handle digital distribution for?


Daddy Kev: For all of them.


For the uninformed, what exactly is digital distribution? Has its definition changed over time? Is it constantly changing?


Daddy Kev: Technically it’s just about having the music available at as many retailers as possible. That would include downloads and streams. Itunes, Spotify, Amazon–there are so many retailers. At this point, there are probably still over 100 digital retailers all over the world. We just try to make sure that everything is available the day it’s supposed to be available and that hopefully we’re seeing placement.

The business has been in flux for a while. If you look at the overall sales charts of recorded music at large, it’s been going down and down and down. Most research I’ve read [suggests that] 2015 was the bottom. It’s a business that’s been in decline for almost 15 years. 2001 was the height of it all and it’s just been lower and lower.

The idea that we’re finally rebounding from that and that we might see growth in recorded music is good news for us. But we’ve been able to maintain and make a business out of it. There are still records that sell well, versus what you might read. Today, most independent artists are making their money from touring. It’s not from record sales. I get it. Luckily, I’m involved in live music too. It’s just about balancing that. The reality is that I came into this making records, and that’s my first love. I’m going to make records until I’m dead.



How many hours a week do you spend in the studio?


Daddy Kev: At least 30 hours a week. Maybe more depending upon what’s going on.


If you’re here that often, then you’re probably spending about 20-25 hours doing managerial stuff, no?


Daddy Kev: Around there.


That’s a long work week.


Daddy Kev: Yeah. It starts for me early in the morning. It starts for me at my house at like 5 AM. That’s when my business day starts. I’m dealing with Europe, maybe catching some people in Asia, and getting a jump on the east coast stuff. Just answering e-mails. I spend a lot of time doing that, whether it’s a record related thing or booking related thing for Low End Theory. It’s pretty structured now. I try to get all of that stuff done pretty early.

When I’m working on music, I can’t be checking e-mails. I have to really focus when I’m doing that kind of work. It’s the only way I can operate. I’m not a good multi-tasker. I have to kind of tackle one thing and keep it moving.


How many emails do you answer every day? Hundreds?


Daddy Kev: I probably get hundreds, but I’m probably answering 50. I’m usually pretty quick with it. A lot of it is a really specific thing someone needs and doesn’t require more than a few sentences. It’s just about staying on it. I don’t like getting behind on stuff.


Is your wife okay with your work schedule?


Daddy Kev: Yeah. Since my day starts so early, by 7:30 or 8 I’ve already got three hours in. At that point I’m taking my kids to school. I get over here by 9. I usually spend an hour downstairs in the beginning of the day. Then sessions will start up here at the earliest around 10, but usually 11. Then I’ll grind until it’s time to pick up my daughter at three. Sometimes I’ll come back. It depends what projects are going.

Luckily, mastering doesn’t take me very long the first session. I can usually knock out a record in three or four hours. But then there’s usually this additional time that goes in if there are revisions to the record, and there typically are. Then it’s the bounce time. There’s a lot of analog stuff here.

It’s technically a hybrid process because I do use a computer. But because I’m using all of this analog gear, everything takes real time to bounce down. You can’t do an offline bounce. If people are mixing on the computer, once they’re done with the mix they just hit bounce and then within ten seconds the file is rendered. When you’re doing analog, you have to wait for the whole length of it when you’re making a master or mixing. If it’s an hour record, it takes an hour to bounce. Then you’re cutting it apart, so there’s the extra time to cut the songs apart, then you’re zipping it, then you’re uploading it to send it to the client–that’s another 30 minutes.


There’s a lot of waiting involved.


Daddy Kev: Yeah. It is a lot of start/stop. When songs are bouncing I’ll go downstairs. Or if I’m bouncing a whole album or a long record I’ll just set it, walk away, come back in an hour. The proximity of the label office to the studio is just stairwell.


How many kids do you have?


Daddy Kev: I have three: a seven-year-old, a four-year-old, and a nine-month-old. The girl is my oldest, and then two boys.


Are they already into music?


Daddy Kev: Yeah, they love listening to music. My daughter plays piano. She’s been playing for three years. She’s getting better every day. I make her practice all the time. I think we’re going to get our middle child started pretty soon. You can’t start them too early, especially with an instrument like the piano. They have to have the attention span to do that right. It’s good for their brains.


You live in Eagle Rock. How far/long is your commute?


Daddy Kev: At the worst, fifteen minutes. Sometimes I can do it ten minutes. Quick.


Where did you grow up in L.A.?


Daddy Kev: I grew up in Harbor City, which is just off the 110 freeway. It’s the South Bay. I lived in the same house from birth. My mom still lives there. I went to LAUSD K-12…Narbonne High School. That was an interesting time. I graduated in ‘92.


The L.A. underground rap scene was about to…


Daddy Kev: …about to crack. The rave scene was cracking. That’s kind of what sparked my initial interest in getting into music professionally. I had an internship at Urb magazine, which started in the spring of 1992. I was still in high school.


You eventually became a writer and an art director there, correct?


Daddy Kev: That’s right.


How long did it take you move beyond being an intern?


Daddy Kev: It was almost concurrent. My first thing as an intern was design stuff, helping with ads and designing ads and resizing stuff. I went to college at UC San Diego, but that whole time I was still working for the magazine. It reached the point where I was designing close to half of the magazine in the mid ‘90s. I was just doing it from my dorm room. I had a Mac and back in the day we had these things that were called SyQuest drives. They were these big plastic drives that were almost like portable hard drives. You could only put 44mb on it. I’d be designing these pages and FedEXing them to Raymond Roker. By the mid-90s I was writing a lot more.


Does that make reading contemporary music journalism difficult?


Daddy Kev: No. I mean that was a different era. The good news was that it allowed me to see how a press entity worked from the inside: how editors were involved with the writers, how decisions were made about what would be featured and what wasn’t, and how a lot of that is a relationship based business. I think the music business is that way in general, but press is very much based that way. You just have to be aware of that if you’re going for big coverage.


What was your major in college?


Daddy Kev: Philosophy. I graduate and of course there’s no opening for philosophers. That was never the idea. When I first did it, I was actually considering going to law school. I thought that was going to be a good major to have when applying to law school. That got derailed. By the time I was done with college I was so broke that I just wanted to get into the workforce asap.


What did you do?


Daddy Kev: I was working at a record label. It was a subsidiary of Sire Records. I literally started the Monday after I graduated.


How did you link up with them?


Daddy Kev: I forget who the bagman was on that. It was just through Urb and knowing people there. [Sire] had an opening for an art director, what they called a creative director.


How did you get involved with art direction in the first place?


Daddy Kev: I started doing graphic design in junior high by getting involved with the newspaper. I was designing my junior high school newspaper, and then I did it in high school for a year. That was where I learned a lot of it from.


Were you always as focused as you seem to be now? Did you do well in school?


Daddy Kev: Somewhat. I was pretty distracted by music stuff at that point, being a part of the club scene and DJing everywhere that I could. By the time I got to college I was an okay student. My mind was on trying to figure out this music thing and where my place would be in it. I was always organized. Whether or not I showed up to class usually had to do with how late we were partying the night before. I would say I was an okay student. I did well on tests. I always tested really well. I was involved with AP classes in high school. I went to a gifted elementary and junior high, so I was always surrounded by really smart folks, which helped in learning good work habits.


What were your earliest experiences with music? Did you play any instruments?


Daddy Kev: I started playing piano at age six. I did that for almost three years, and then I moved to trumpet for six years. It’s a very hard instrument to play when you’re a child. They don’t make kid-sized trumpets. The mouthpiece is the same that an adult would have. Part of playing certain notes on the trumpet is based upon the pressure that you’re generating from your lungs and that you’re able to project where your lips contact that the mouthpiece. I did the best I could. I was decent, but it was not easy.


Did you continue playing instruments after that, or did you move straight to turntables?


Daddy Kev: Straight to turntables. I was 13. It was the summer of me going into 8th grade. Turntables and a Radioshack mixer.


Is this around the time that you were given the nickname “Daddy Kev”?


Daddy Kev: It’s a terrible story. It had to do with that group Kriss Kross. It was derived from that. I never thought it was going to stick. I always thought I was going to come up with a better name. When I was on tour with Awol once, I met these folks at the show and this lady told me she had named her pet Daddy Kev. It made me think about how much more appropriate that name is for pets than a musician. It stuck. You don’t get to choose your nickname sometimes, it just chooses you.


Do you feel as though the nickname has taken on a different connotation?


Daddy Kev: Sure. After having children and playing the role that I play with Low End Theory and the beat scene–I feel like I’ve grown into the name.


How often do people come to you for career/life advice?


Daddy Kev: Daily. I try to be accessible to folks. Part of that is just being active in the community. If anything, the purpose that Low End Theory serves, other than the utility aspect of being a nightclub, is to provide a genuine community for artists who want to further their art.

I think that’s what defines a true artist, the quest to be a better artist. The folks that just kind of rest on their laurels, that shows me that you’re not in this for real. There’s something to be said for the beginner’s mindset, and it’s something I try to not let go of. You can always learn something new. Things can always be better. There’s always a new technique that you haven’t discovered yet that will help your art be better. As you get older, it’s hard to access that. I have to try to go there these days. But I feel I have a good grasp on it now.


Were you parents really strict? Was it difficult for you to tell them that you wanted to be a DJ?


Daddy Kev: Yeah. My Dad is Chinese, like from China. Growing up, the idea was to be a lawyer or doctor. That was the respectable role to play in society. My brother was smart as fuck. He was valedictorian, he went to Stanford, then went to Oxford.


What does your brother do now?


Daddy Kev: Now he’s in the jewelry business. We both broke my dad’s heart when we told him that we weren’t going to law school. Luckily, my brother did it first. That made my whole thing a lot easier.


What was your mom like?


Daddy Kev: My mom is a real cool lady. She’s still with us. My dad passed away three years ago. But for the most part, my dad was a hustler growing up. He spent half his day at Hollywood park. That’s what he called his field office. He was really good at it. He didn’t have a lot of moral authority, but he was successful enough to be like, “I own a house. I’ve done this. You should listen to me.” The thing is, he was a very smart man. I took everything he told me to heart. The reality is that once I found success doing music, and it took me a while, he was extremely supportive and very proud of what I was able to do.


What did your mom do?


Daddy Kev: She was a homemaker. She would help my dad with certain business things. She was just a traditional mom.


So how did you go from Sire to working at Sony?


Daddy Kev: Between that was Celestial Recordings. I did my own indie label. I was even doing some A&R for Sire, and that really wasn’t my bag. I bailed. I think I was 23. I was DJing a bunch at that point and then I met Hive, who became my roommate. I was doing freelance graphic design at that point. I was making a decent amount of money. But I was making beats every chance I got, trying to produce rap records. We made our first record with this dude Phoenix Orion. We released that on Celestial in the summer of 1998.

We sold 1,000 copies [of the Phoenix record] really quick. Then we pressed up CDs and blew through those. Then we got a distribution deal with Caroline and a big advance: $25,000. So we had a label at that point. We put out a 12-inch, we re-released Beneath the Surface, we put out Fat Jack’s record, and a bunch of Project Blowed-ish things. Then we had a big breakup a year later. That sucked. Celestial was in a tough place, we asked for another advance from Caroline, they gave us $50,000, and that was enough to last two more years. Then that all fell apart in 2002.

At the same time, I started Konkrete Jungle. That happened in 1999. We were done by 2001. We did a little over two years at Spaceland, which is now Satellite. Then we got in a lawsuit with Celestial. There was all this fucked up shit that happened. That proved to be our undoing. It was too much. I didn’t want to deal with it anymore. We never sold as many records as we sold with the Phoenix record. It was just all downhill from there. We were in the negative. The last statement was like six digits in the negative. It was impossible.

But the cool thing about Celestial was that we had this budget that enabled us to master all of our records at Capitol. I struck up a relationship with this engineer over there, Evran Goknar. We did ten records over there. With me being a full-fledged studio geek at that point, at least from the production and mixing point of view, every mastering session was me grilling him on what he was doing. That’s what peaked my interest in mastering.

So the Caroline deal ends, Celestial is over, and I’m still making records. I didn’t have a budget to drop a grand and go to Capitol. At this point I’m trying to master records on my own. Pro Tools and plug-ins. Back then I used to rent a lot of gear. If it was a big enough record, I’d throw down a hundred bucks and rent a really nice pair of EQs or a stereo compressor. I had a hook-up at Ocean Way–now EastWest–in the rental department. My homeboy would hook me up with under the table type deals. Then I just kept on. We were self-releasing. I was working with Awol One. I was working with Busdriver quite a bit. By 2003, I got the opportunity to go to Sony.

I did almost two years there. I was a label manager at Sony Corp.



What was your experience like there? What were your day-to-day responsibilities?


Daddy Kev: We had an initiative back then called Sony Connect, which was like a digital download store. I got pulled into all other kinds of stuff. Through that I got to meet all the Sony BMG folks. I got to meet every head of every digital division. Then I met this really important person who was at Arista, who went on to be one of the head guys at BMG. When I was leaving Sony, he was also leaving, and he was going to Apple to be one of the high guys at Itunes.

While I was working at Sony, the whole concept of Alpha Pup was formed. A boutique digital distributor, a smaller operation, something more focused on quality versus quantity. Back then it was just a gold rush. These digital distributors wanted as much content as possible. We weren’t necessarily after the biggest catalog. We just wanted the most valuable catalog. One of our first acquisitions was Westbound, the Funkadelic back catalog and that kind of stuff, which we still have.

At that point [Alpha Pup] was six records, which was mostly my back catalog. Three Awol One records, the Grouch record, my record, the instrumental thing I did, and Busdriver’s Cosmic Cleavage. These were records that were already out. They had never seen digital distribution before. When it was initially formed, it was just supposed to be for my back catalog. Then I was like, let’s open this up a little more. By April of 2005 we put out our first release, which was Paris Zax’s. I knew Paris because he had produced for Busdriver. He did “Imaginary Places” and songs like that. We basically made Temporary Forever together, me and Paris.



Were you involved with placing “Imaginary Places” on that Tony Hawk Pro Skater soundtrack?


Daddy Kev: No. That just dropped out of the sky. That’s where a lot of people heard Busdriver for the first time. That was a huge moment for us.


What worked about Konkrete Jungle and what didn’t?


Daddy Kev: We had a great resident cast. It was Hive, myself ,and Edit from Glitch Mob, who back then was Con Artist, and James Ty. Then our resident MCs were P.E.A.C.E. and Myka 9 from Freestyle Fellowship. The energy created there on a weekly basis–I got to see firsthand how that worked. Having a chemistry and a regularity of DJs who were really, really good and MCs who were really good and how that formed the foundation for anything else that was going to happen that night and how we would try to set the bar for performance down there.

It was a huge learning experience for me. When I was in college at UCSD I became director of programming for my last year. I did all the concerts at UCSD and this festival at the end of the year, which was also a great learning experience because I’d done clubs before then. But that was kicking it up to dealing with agents and sending out proper offers. With Konkrete, that’s when we were on the radar of all these agents and we were getting avails early. Anytime someone was doing a tour in LA, they knew we were operating on a Wednesday. And then there’s everything involved with that: hotel rooms, airport pick-ups, airport drop-offs, hospitality. Luckily, I was able to do that for a while. You deal with all of these different artists and agents and see what expectations are and how to meet and exceed those expectations, or how to reality-check those expectations depending on what’s happening or what they’re asking for.

But the resident thing was the huge thing I took away from that. If you’re going to do a weekly club, that’s going to be your foundation.



Was there ever a point after the dissolution of Celestial Recordings and Konkrete Jungle where you felt like music wasn’t going to work out?


Daddy Kev: Sure. Both of those things I held very close to my heart, and they ended within six months of one another. Especially at that age, all of my dreams were invested in these two things. For it to just be over–part of me was relieved. It was a lot of pressure. I was so invested in it and it took so much of my spirit that I was relieved to have some more time and not be worried about it. But it was very disappointing. That’s when I went to work for Sony and needed a breath of fresh air and thought that maybe my future in music wasn’t doing underground stuff but on more of a corporate level. It was after doing that corporate stuff that I was like, “This isn’t where my heart is, it’s in independent music.”


You mentioned earlier that you were involved with the L.A. rave scene. Can you talk a little bit about that. I was an infant at the time.


Daddy Kev: That was ‘92. I’m in high school and while I’m interning Urb I’m making other connections. Then I meet Gary Richards, Destructo, who was doing this party called Double Hit Mickey. I became one of his main flyer kids for a least a year plus and killed it for him. I was going out every weekend to multiple clubs, hitting the lines with flyers. Back then, that’s what you had to do. People collected them. It was a really cool time in L.A. The cops weren’t on to it yet; these parties could go for longer. It was a very underground type thing. You had to really dig in to find out about this stuff.

And I was too young to go to regular clubs. I was only 17. I had been interested in DJing for years and had been DJing for years, so this was the coolest thing ever. I was the youngest guy there. Most of the people there were in their mid-20s or 30s. I was never a big drug head; I was just into the music and the aesthetic and the excitement of going out.

You start your night going out and you don’t know where it’s going to end. You don’t know where the party is, you got a phone number, you call a voicemail to find where the map point is, you get to the map point, you get the map to the party, or maybe another map point, then you get the map to the party–it was really exciting. It was a lot more dramatic.


doublehitmickey


Do you keep in touch with a lot of the rappers you knew from the Blowed era?


Daddy Kev: Yeah. I see them at Low End regularly. I see Ab Rude and Myka 9 was Low End all the time. Awol is a friend for life and I’m in contact with him regularly.


Will there ever be another Daddy Kev solo record? Do you have anything in the vault?


Daddy Kev: I’d actually written half a record before 2004. I had this concept. It was going to be a record with raps on it, but it was going to be a snapshot of time and the evolution of the earth. I don’t know. It’d be like jurassic era and a rapper would be a dinosaur, and then the industrial revolution–just these different eras of time.

I had this other idea where we were going to do Shakespeare but with underground dudes, kind of like a book on tape. But we would get all these underground rappers to play the parts. Like Macbeth, where P.E.A.C.E. plays Macbeth.


Would you change the language?


Daddy Kev: No. It was would be true to it.


Do you mix and master every release on Alpha Pup?


Daddy Kev: I master every release. I mix probably 70% of them.


If you were explaining things to a layperson, what’s the difference between mixing and mastering?


Daddy Kev: You want to think about making records as kind of a four part process, or maybe three parts. Producing and recording is part one, mixing is part two, mastering is part three. By the time you reaching mixing, all of the recording and production are done. At that point you’re dealing with many tracks. Let’s say a standard song has at least twenty. Kick drum, snare, hi-hat, snare, bass line, all the vocals separated–the amount of variables you have is much more. So you’re basically balancing these variables, doing things primarily with volume and equalization, sometimes dynamics, which they call compression, on these individual channels.

So by the time you’re done mixing, you have a stereo file. That’s when it’s time to master. When I’m mastering, all of that has taken place. I’m now dealing with a stereo file and trying to make that stereo file sound as good as it can. By the time we’re reaching mastering, all of that is done. Now I have a folder of ten tracks, and it’s like, “Alright, make this sound as good as I can.”


Has mastering become easier?


Daddy Kev: Yes. These days I’m not improvising a whole lot. Most of the techniques that I’m doing are techniques that I’ve done a hundred times over. And I usually know what I’m looking for when I’m going through an EQ process. I’m very surgical, so when I listen to songs I’m listening to very precise parts of the audio range. I’m not listening to it as a whole. I’m listening to it as just these very small slices of audio. In my mind, part of it is error correction. I’m going through the mixes and finding errors, and I’m correcting them through equalization, and balancing all of the volumes. I’m pretty scientific with that part of it. Sometimes in mastering sessions I’ll say, “This isn’t the time to get creative.” I believe that there is an objective truth that exists with quality audio, an objective truth that exists outside of my mind or the artist’s’ mind. It’s a collective opinion and ultimately a truth about what sounds good. That’s what I’m trying to be in touch with. Sometimes that’s counter to what the artist is talking about, which is a tough place to be.

Here’s the thing, I’ve been doing this long enough to have had different opinions about it. The loudness wars is one of the most popular subjects when it comes to mastering. People trying to make the loudest possible song through whatever methods, and the good and the bad that comes from that. The good is that it’s going to sound loud, the bad is listening fatigue, distortion, lack of dynamics, the sub-harmonic bass starts to fall apart–there’s a lot of bad things when you really start pushing the volume.

I had this whole talk I would give to people, especially if was the first time I was working with them. “On a scale of 1-10, how loud do you want it to be? 1 being a classical record, 10 being a Skrilex record.” Usually the answer to that is a seven, eight, or nine. I usually round that up to ten. Then I’ll explain. Here is the bad side of feeling that. I’d done that for years. Then I was mastering a record for Nick Diamonds. He’s like, “Okay. I feel you. But let me tell you a story. My last record, the mastering engineer told me the same thing. I let him do it. I let him create this really not loud, dynamic master.” Then a year later he’s in a cafe and they have a playlist going off an iPod. One of his songs comes on but it’s so low that you can barely hear anything. The song ends, then the next song comes on and you can hear everything. He’s like, “I understand all the advantages, but I never want that situation to happen again.”

I had an aha moment then. Mastering, in addition to being about making things sound as great as they can and really obeying the laws of great audio, is about practicality, about how songs are listened to in 2016. Playlist culture dictates that you are at some threshold of loudness that is going to work. Since then I’ve tried to get to this happy place where preserving as much of the dynamics and as much of the subharmonics as possible yet it still has a loudness factor. It’s subjective, to a certain degree. Again, the mastering business is a customer service business. The customer is always right. I have to balance that with what I feel to be technically correct. Ultimately, it’s about getting return customers. So I have to meet them halfway.


How many projects do you take on that aren’t Alpha Pup related?


Daddy Kev: I’d say maybe 60 percent. Now I master for Warp, R&S, Ninja Tune, Stones Throw, a bunch of self-released folks. I do on average 50 records a year now, so about one a week.


How long did your work on Kamasi Washington’s album?


Daddy Kev: You think the album was tough? I also did the NPR thing, which was the live recording. The Epic I just did the mastering. For NPR I did the mixing and mastering. That behemoth was four and a half hours long. NPR wanted the whole thing mixed and mastered.



Of course. It’s NPR.


Daddy Kev: Two hours or less got used, but that was a behemoth. That was tough because it was live, too. We had all this bleed coming in from different instruments and different microphones. There were a lot of tricks on that one. After I did that, I felt like I could do anything. It’s a jazz record, but you want it to sound modern. That’s when the whole loudness question comes in. Plus, it was going for broadcast. So that’s a whole other consideration, “How is this going to sound on a radio? How is this going to sound on a laptop speaker?” That’s ultimately a concern with mastering in general. Mastering is about translation. We don’t want it to just sound good here, on these wonderful studio monitors, we want it to sound great everywhere.


Do you play everything that you master through various mediums (e.g. studio monitors, headphones, car speakers)?


Daddy Kev: No. But I do test it enough so that I have a really good sense of translation. What I’ve realized is that when you step up your monitoring game it gets better and better.


Are you still learning?


Daddy Kev: Absolutely. I feel like a lot of my learning these days is more with mixing. That’s where I’m applying a lot of my brain. This console is relatively new to me. I’ve only had it for about a year and change. But going from in the box mixing, meaning all in the computer, to mixing at this level of analog has been a learning experience. Now I feel I’m getting the best mixes that I’ve ever done in my career. This is a console that you can put your own stuff in. This [points to some knobs I know nothing about] comes empty, so you’re able to rack all these different kinds of modules in here. This is my dream setup. There’s all these different brands of audio manufacturers, so this enables you to have all of these different kinds of sounds together…This board slaughters anything that you can do on a computer.


In your opinion, can you make a great album on a laptop in 2016?


Daddy Kev: Yeah. Part of it is work flow. I can work way faster on a console than I can with a mouse. When you’re mixing, it’s all about hitting that half-way point, what I would call “getting the mix to sit.” This means that the elements are where they should be for the most part, the volumes are pretty much there, now you’re kind of just doing little tweaks, sprinkling a little fairy dust with some reverb here or a delay there. You’re closer to the end than the beginning. When I’m mixing in the box, it used to take me two to three hours to get it to sit. Nowadays, on a console, I can get the mix to sit in fifteen to twenty minutes.


How does it feel to be Grammy nominated?


Daddy Kev: It feels great. That’s the first line of my obituary. It’s an interesting thing. We make underground music. We make music that we like to think is challenging the paradigm of what music can be. That type of approach is generally incompatible with the Grammys. We were one of the only independent things nominated in the bigger categories. I looked at the whole thing as a win just by getting nominated. I knew what we were up against with Skrillex. Skriellex’s batting average at the Grammys is 1.000. He’s eight for eight. You’re going up against Skrillex in the dance/electronic category at the Grammys? Forget about it, it’s not going to happen. I was aware of that, so I didn’t go into it thinking we were going to win.



Did you go to the ceremony?


Daddy Kev: I did go. It was very awkward. It felt weird to be there. I was in a tuxedo and I took my wife. It was exciting. Even though I’m knowing we’re not going to win, I went in with a certain amount of hope. I wasn’t totally a defeatist person. Speaking with FlyLo and everybody it was like, “Let’s just be on earth about this.”

The one thing I was really hoping was that Kendrick would get album of the year because that means all of my homies get Grammys. To be a Grammy winner, meaning you got the statue, if you’re a producer, an engineer, or a mixer, you have to have produced either 51% or more of the record, or it has to be album of the year. Album the year, everyone gets broke off. There are like fifty statues that will get awarded, usually. All of the mixers, the mastering engineer gets one, all of the producers, all of the featured artists–everyone walks with a statue. But rap album of the year, Kendrick gets it and I think Mixed by Ali gets it, because he mixed over half the record. That’s it. None of those producers get Grammys. None of those producers are “Grammy Award-Winning” producers. You get a certificate in the mail that says you participated on a Grammy-Winning recording.

The fucked up thing is that, after going through this and becoming more cognizant of the Grammys and what this all means, you’d be shocked at how many people misappropriate their certificate to mean that they are a “Grammy Award-Winning Fill-In-The-Blank.” It’s crazy. It also kind of turned me off of it. I was a legit nominee. There is only a handful of categories where the engineer where the engineer gets nominated as a part of the nomination process.

I’m looking at it today as–the door is a little more open now. For us to break through on that level, hopefully there’s more of that to come. It was bittersweet, with Kamasi getting snubbed from the nominations. I had to remind FlyLo that two years ago Good Kid Maad City was nominated for seven Grammys and got zero.

It’s all about participation. If we want the Grammys to go a certain way, we can’t complain about the results. All we can do is participate in the process. Who knows what’s going to happen?


When you decide to sign someone to Alpha Pup, is it an instinctual decision or a carefully calculated one? Some combination of both?


Daddy Kev: Ultimately it’s just about whether I like the music or not. Is the music speaking to me? It’s less about, “How is this going to go?” The reality is that most of our records don’t sell very well. It’s definitely about folks that I feel are in it for the long haul and are hopefully going to reach that breakthrough moment. I’m hoping for that, but it’s definitely not a prerequisite. I feel like that’s more the major label mentality.

To me, this is more of a homegrown, community based thing and at this point it runs hand in hand with Low End Theory and the relationships I’ve formed down there and the kids that come through that club. If there’s a kid that’s been coming to the club for six months to a year handing me music, I’m much more apt to get behind someone like that and give them a shot through the label than someone I come across on Soundcloud that has all the metrics. I’ve done that and usually it’s not nearly as satisfying of a relationship or a process. There are other labels that are happy to do that. I get it. I’m much more invested in the actual community than posting sales.


How do you avoid becoming stagnant/stubborn in your tastes?


Daddy Kev: I’m a late bloomer. I was 32 when Low End Theory started. Taste is all a state of mind. Do I claim to have the taste of a fifteen or eighteen-year-old? Absolutely not. But I feel like what we’re doing has a certain maturity to it that benefits from an older person being involved. I think our sonic results are way beyond something that a 25-year-old could do, even on their best day. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I don’t have the patience that I use to in terms of dealing with ego stuff. I just try to find that middle ground between all of that and to stay open minded. I feel like I have a better grasp on this whole thing than I’ve ever had. I’m blessed to have found this community and to be working with people like Flying Lotus, Kamasi Washington, and Thundercat. I just hope to continue that as we continue our journey.



Do you practice your set for LET each week?


Daddy Kev: I don’t necessarily practice, but I spend time putting my set together. I know what the BPMs are. So if you look in my Serato, every set is preplanned. Certain times I’ll improvise in the middle of it, but I always have two sets going into every Wednesday. I just sit on my couch with my laptop and my headphones on and just start going through it. I’ve been doing it long enough to imagine how it’s all going to flow.


How inebriated can you be and still confidently DJ?


Daddy Kev: I think there’s a threshold. I’ve pushed the boundaries of that. There was a DJ set I had a Low End Theory SF where I hit a DMT joint. They told me it was, but they told me it wasn’t super strong. That was the most faded I’ve ever been for a set. I had to stop. It was late in the night, and I was in the main room. I come out of one song and into another, and then I went back to that first song. I was so confused that I played a song I’d just played. At that point I’m not even able to see. I’m just feeling my way through the mixer. I look out at the crowd and I just see geometric shapes moving around. It was like Tron world. I found Gaslamp and I just bailed. No one got paid that night. Usually I pay people at the end of the night. I just went back to the hotel and tried to sleep it off. Of course everyone got paid the next day, but what a bad decision.

But here [in LA] I don’t get too faded. We’re on turntables, so we’re not pressing play up there. It requires a modicum of skill. But weed is different than alcohol. There is no amount of weed I can smoke that would throw me off, versus drinking. This is going to sound terrible, but I only drink when I’m working, which is usually Wednesday night. I don’t drink at my house. I never have alcohol at my home. I never drink at dinner. I only drink at Low End Theory.


That’s an easy way to get drunk quickly.


Daddy Kev: No kidding.


How cognizant are you of everything that’s happening at the Airliner on Wednesdays? You seem to be able to have conversations with people and still control things without even looking at your watch.


Daddy Kev: I’m extremely cognizant of the time at all times, except when I’m DJing. I’m completely on top of who is on what stages and whether or not we’re running on time. That’s one of the chief things that I’m there to make sure is happening. I’m obsessed with the clock. Luckily we have a good team down there and we’re all on the same page about that.


At this point, do you the big names hit you up? Are you still chasing people?


Daddy Kev: It’s a little both. Questlove just played. The biggest names fall in our lap. Thom Yorke, Erykah Badu–we’re not able to queue that up. There’s no agent you can call to book a Thom Yorke DJ set. He just has to be like, “Hey guys, I’m going to be in town. Can I play?”


How far ahead do you plan the lineups?


Daddy Kev: We’re usually booked two to three months out, but we announce two to three weeks out. We noticed that when we announce too far in advance people will just get kind of dull on it. Two to three weeks seems to be the sweet spot.


chesterlowend


How purposeful are the lineups?


Daddy Kev: We’re one of two ways. We either have a lineup that’s very close, it’s like a themed lineup. Or we have a skitzo lineup, where every single act is completely different. We’ll usually go skitzo if it’s not big draw acts. If it’s a drawing headliner we’ll kind of just complement that headliner. The reality is that not every week comes in perfect. We can only book who is available, and there are certain times of the year that are easier to book than others. Right now is a tougher time to book because you don’t have a lot of artists on the road. In the summertime, that just books itself. We’re getting the avails for three and four months out. We’re getting people from all over the world during the summer and the fall. It’s tougher during the winter.


How often are you surprised by who shows up?


Daddy Kev: All the time. We just had Ghostface there. That was a shocker. Hannibal Buress is there all the time now. It’s a trip. Sasha Grey shows up. You never know who’s going to show up. Vanessa Hudgens, Prince, Idris Elba.



How well do you remember the early days of LET?


Daddy Kev: Very well. It seems like yesterday. It was empty. A lot of dudes.


How often are you approached by sponsors?


Daddy Kev: More for the festival, but we’ve been approached over the years. We’ve resisted most of those. We try to avoid that at all costs.


This will be the third year of the LET festival. The festival sold out the Shrine last year. What are the plans for this year?


Daddy Kev: We’re going to be at the Shrine again. It’s definitely with Golden Voice again.


low-end-theory-festival-2015-poster3_preview


Do you think the festival will eventually reach a saturation point?


Daddy Kev: Sure. We might even be crossing that threshold this year. We’re going to try to for eight, if not 10,000 people down there this year. The plan is to make the outside the big stage.


What is it about instrumental electronic music that continually appeals to you?


Daddy Kev: Sounds get commoditized and then they get put in a box. That’s what happened with dubstep. That’s what happened with trap. We try to stay out of the box. By the same token, as DJs we try to reference relevant music. We’ve had our different eras at Low End, where we’re playing dubstep or trap.

To me, instrumental music, from what I’ve seen touring, has no language barrier. When we’re out in Japan, these guys can really get into it. There’s a subjectivity there that’s different than music that has vocals on it, where they can’t relate as well. I feel like instrumental music on that level is more universal. By removing the words and explicit context, it leaves it more open to interpretation and, ultimately, a wider variety of emotions depending upon what kind of listener you are and how complex that instrumentation becomes. With instrumental music, if you’re doing it without a vocalist, you can make it more layered, you can make it more dense. A human vocal is a very complex instrument. It takes up a huge amount of the frequency spectrum. It takes up a lot of room.


Do you feel the beat scene is it’s on its way out?


Daddy Kev: We’ve been riding this wave for a while, with things seemingly slowing down and speeding up. The way I try to think about it is that the “beat scene” refers more to the community than it refers to the music itself. It’s not necessarily a genre. A lot of these artists work in multiple genres. The types of music we’ve been exploring, be it jazz music or hip-hop beats or electronic stuff, it references all of that.

As far as things slowing down, I feel like we’ve been eulogized several times. It’s all about these artists and where they’re going to keep going. From my vantage point, having just attended the Grammys, we’re riding higher than ever. We’re breaking doors down in a way that hasn’t been done too many times with real, legit independent music. It ebbs and flows with where the press is at on us. I mean in the last year alone we had a huge Pitchfork feature that went down, we were in print for the Wall Street Journal for the festival, we just had a sixteen-page feature in the California Sunday. Do you want to tell me another scene that’s doing that?

People compare us to all these different folks all the time. I’ll posit a question back to folks who want to compare us to any collective. “Who’s your Flying Lotus?” That’s the A tier. We can even move down to the B tier. The difference is that these guys are musically iconic. They have their own thing. The aesthetic is pure and original. Until there’s an answer to that, until another Flying Lotus emerges, our relevance stays exactly where that is.


Do you think you’ll be able to find him or her?


Daddy Kev: I don’t think I found anyone. I think they found me. They found Low End Theory. At this point, I’m just going with the flow. The next great talent, which I feel like we’re seeing with our rap thing, The Order Label–I can’t seek these things. The universe needs to put them in position for them to happen. I just don’t like the idea of things being contrived. Not to make a cheesy analogy, but to me Low End Theory is like the Field of Dreams, “Build it and they will come.” As much genuine emotion that we put into it, that’s impossible to ignore. It will attract like minded individuals. That’s the premise that we’ve been operating on since the beginning. At that point, I don’t need to be outwardly seeking anyone. They’ll be right in front of me tomorrow night.

Also, keep this in mind. I behold FlyLo to be a once in a generation talent. We might not see another one of those for another 30 years, at least not out here. When I think about the raw talent, you can’t manufacture that. I’ve worked with that dude very closely for almost ten years. You can’t manufacture that, that just has to happen.