“It Believes in Me and I Believe in It”: An Interview with Lando Chill

Thomas Johnson talks with Lando Chill about his new album, his relationship with Mello Music Group, and trying to avoid commercial temptations while making music.
By    June 21, 2016

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Within seconds into his debut, For Mark, Your Son, Lando Chill lets you know this album is for: fatherless children and childless fathers, mothers forced to be matriarchs and patriarchs, and passionate kids with wild dreams. But Lando’s  acutely aware that all art is open to interpretation. The album is as clear as it as complex.

The Mark in the album title is Mark Washington — Lando’s father, who passed when the Chicago native was only four years old.  Since re-located to Tucson, the twenty something seems wizened beyond his years. On his forthcoming stellar twelve-track debut on Mello Music Group (due Aug. 12), Lando’s voice can come off both blunt and blunted. Sometimes it seems as angelic as its subject matter (see acapella interlude “Save Me”). Regardless, Chill possesses the ability to absorb pain and refract it back to listeners, offering a sort of healing in the process.

Chill capably handles both boom-bap and gospel, detouring at skeletal indie-rock before back to more straightforward rapping again. “Floating to Nowhere” brings to mind OC’s “Time’s Up.” The penultimate slapper “Unanamored” sounds like the best sample Kanye never chopped.

Yet its the fatalist lead single, “Coroner” that seems the most striking in an album consumed with death. Before the autopsy ends, the nails have to come loose. Teeth are spilled, and hearts torn.  Loss and grief are the driving force behind the albvum. But it’s made more powerful because it achieves an understanding of what to do with all this sadness. It transmutes it into something rich and powerful, those tiny glimmers of hope that allow us to keep going on — the feeling that we can make the dead proud and carry on what they started.  —Thomas Johnson


Tell me about the concept behind For Mark, Your Son?


Lando Chill: Yeah, yeah. The album is dedicated to my father, Mark Washington. He passed away when I was four years old. It wasn’t like I wanted my first album to be about my father, that was never the case. It ended up being self-medication, letting go through some subconscious medium I guess, and music was the one thing that touched me and my family influence-wise. I guess it just needed to happen, but it wasn’t something I planned out. It happened slowly and that’s just a testament to the influence he had on me.


Did you find that difficult to write? Cathartic?


Lando Chill: Yeah, extremely cathartic. I was hanging out with my director, Malcolm recently, and he was listening to this NPR podcast about death pertaining to what a child sees, how they grow up with it and how they experience grief. I checked it out after and it was very eye-opening. Being a kid that had to deal with death at a young age, you grow with the grief and it never dissipates until you allow it to dissipate or you choose to get over it yourself. Let’s say you were to lose someone at this age now, the grief would be different than it would be if you were a kid. It grows with you.

 

After listening to that podcast and looking back at my own life it was like, ‘Wow.’ It took me 21-odd years to get over his passing. Maybe this album, and the experience it afforded me was what I needed. I look at it as an amazing experience I’m thankful for but also a beacon of light for others who’ve lost someone.


How did you get your band involved in such a personal album then? Did they help in the writing process?


Lando Chill: It’s extremely musical, but the only aspect on the album is its live performance. The album was produced by two producers, Jetla G and D Funk. I wanted to give something new and grow as an artist so I was lucky enough to form this band with people who really loved the music and had something to give with their talent. It’s crazy. We literally performed these songs live and the iteration, style, inflection, instrumentation is different. It’s an amazing and totally different experience than what the album is. That’s what their footprint is on the current album.

As far as future projects, they have a way bigger role musically and actually playing on the record. Me and the band just kill it. I’m also playing solo and creating music on my own now. It’s all very fluid. But the band is awesome and extremely talented. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them and without what we can put together live.


So this new music you’re working on, has it been helped by signing to MMG? “Coroner” stands on its own—getting compared to artists like Kid Cudi and TV On The Radio—but “Early In The Morning” sounds like such a perfect fit for Mello.


Lando Chill: “Early In The Morning” is that smooth cut you put on when you want to light up with your significant other, or you start your Friday or Saturday morning, and it fits with the current Mello vibe, but as far as new music, man. I can’t begin to explain what we’re going to do. I want to change that current vibe.

I want to add so many more aspects for the listener to hear something and say “Oh, woah. That’s on Mello? That’s something new?” or “I didn’t know Mello had live bands on all their records.” I really want to widen the scope because, us as a label, we can do damn near anything. Once that scope is widened, the assumptions that if it comes from Mello it’s going to be Boom-Bap won’t ring true. I really want to bring something new, but still bring back hip-hop. I think Mello is the perfect label and am more than thankful to them for picking me up.


I can see what you mean. Between those two singles, there’s a pretty big range.


Lando Chill: Oh yeah. And with the new music I’ll be releasing hopefully later this year and next year, that will get even wider. I think that will be a testament to what we can do as a label. I think when you try something new there’s this perception that you sell out; you’re trying to cater to a bigger audience. Of course people do that all the time. But there’s part of an artist that wants to try something new all the time. I didn’t grow up on hip-hop. I grew up on Funk, on Motown, on Jazz, so if I want to try a Funk album next time around, I would love to do that. I think Mello would be totally down.

A lot of other artists have a desire to jump out of that box they get pigeonholed in because of society or the industry needs categorization. I feel like we can break that barrier of what hip-hop is perceived to be and who can make it. It’s very formulaic, very money driven. If you rap a certain way, have certain beats, if the 808s are tight then you’ll get radio play. It’ll be hip to the consumers, and that’s what we want to get away from.


It’s funny you say that because your singles—“Coroner” especially—can’t be called formulaic, but are blowing up. Has its success come as a surprise to you?


Lando Chill: Yes and no. When my producer, Triceratops, showed me the song about a year and a half ago, I heard it and was wowed. There was something ethereal and tangible about the song’s soul that spoke to me and I love when music does that. When there’s something so primitive as far as the ethos and pathos and id and superego. Something hit in there when I listened to this song the first time.

 

When I wrote to it and melded this story and narrative and showed it to him, we agreed that it was something to be shared. We needed to put forth this idea that hip-hop and music and the characteristics and stereotypes of what I should sound like—as a black man I should sound a certain way and do certain things—but this song challenges all those previous notions. Long story short we thought, yes, this would be a good summer joint for a large group of people, but we didn’t really know to what scope. Having that amazing music video by Malcolm really solidified the song in its provocation and its artistry. I’m really blessed to be part of it, but I’m blessed for it to be part of me. It means a lot to me.


It’s cool too because, along with beginning of “Stay Gold”—that line about Shawshank (“My favorite part of Shawshank was when the old man/carved his name in the wood then died by his own hand”) and then there’s the line in “Coroner” (“The coroner comes along/autopsy done/but still my body prays”). They’re darker songs dealing with grief, but there’s a continuing ray of hope in them. Will that be a common theme on the album?


Lando Chill: Oh yeah. That is one of the continuous themes across my music. It’s always darkest before the dawn, and I’ve always loved that quote for its accuracy and its pertinence to my life. It has really shaped things that have happened in my life. It’s always shitty before it gets better. Having that message, consciously or subconsciously in your life will enable you to spread hope and joy and maybe some semblance of common sense. Hopefully it spreads to those who listen to your music or watch your videos.

I’ve been through a lot and I’m still here. Now I have an album coming out on a dope ass label and I’m doing a lot of cool things. If I can do that, anyone can. Anyone can be who they want to be. That glimmer of hope that’s prevalent throughout “Stay Gold” or “One Hot Second” or “Coroner” is a theme throughout For Mark, Your Son. That’s what this world really needs right now. Action and hope. Sitting around, sending thoughts and prayers…It’s the action of bending your soul and your heart and your mind together to make this world a better place. I think that’s what the embodiment of hope is.


So where would you want that music to go? What you have coming out, will it be a continuation of For Mark?


Lando Chill: What I have dropping this year would be a form of continuation, I guess. I don’t want to spoil it, but by the end of this year I want to drop something that would a companion piece to show growth. After this year, it’s going to be totally different. Musically, the sky is the limit. We’re pulling out all the stops; synths, dirty drums. I’m using this voice pedal that really adds character to the songs.

I can’t begin to describe, which is apparently one of my favorite quotes. It’s not going to be anything you’ve seen before. That’s what I hope, and that’s what I’m striving for. I really want to put us on the map, and be on the tongue of the casual fan as well as the hip-hop head as well as the snob and the homie blogger. We are that good. This is to break us out of a box. Did you see that Freshman XXL list?


Yeah. Wasn’t too sure what to think of it. There are a few gems, but I don’t know about it.


Lando Chill: Compare that list to 2010’s list. They had Cudi, Asher Roth, Big Sean. Why is it so different? Why are there so many successful artists on it? Look at this year. Sure, Anderson .Paak is dope, Dave East is dope. Regardless, you can see the trend music is going for. It’s very boxed in. I don’t want to be the next Gym Class Heroes, who play Warp Tour and is awesome, but kind of a joke. I want to be The Fugees.

 

That’s a lot to ask for, but that’s what I want to bring to the label and what I want the label to be known as. We got a ton of great artists like L’Orange, Open Mike Eagle, Oddisee, Red Pill, Apollo Brown. I want to be known for our artistry. Is that a lot to ask? Is it too much of a mountain? I don’t think so. I think that’s a good goal, because a lot of people out here are just about money. I want to be good to my label. It believes in me and I believe in it.


That’s part of it. You see these guys that would rather be cash-banks than artists.


Lando Chill: Exactly. Some people get out of that cycle and are able to leave that deal or label and can create. Some people aren’t, I understand both those plights. This isn’t like you’re born into music. It’s not like this is you’re way of life, and you need music to survive. We artists could do something way better for the world—be doctors, feed the homeless, help the sick. We choose not to because we choose to inspire through music. I feel as though that’s what music was meant for. To break barriers. It was meant to unite, not segregate. Not to become this cash cow that people can throw words in and cash out. It’s like an oil field.


Oil fields tend to run dry.


Lando Chill: Yeah man. Look what happened to Bobby Shmurda. All that shit runs dry. Us underground musicians really weigh in our dreams. We got to make ends meet and pay our bills, but we also want to pursue our passions. That’s the middle ground a lot of people settle for. You can’t blame them for that, but we also want people to think and want better for themselves. It’s tough as shit. Maybe I can break that cycle or inspire. I found out I wasn’t good at a lot of things. I am good at being able to inspire. One of the most important things is inspiration through action. If I can make it to where I want to be, maybe it’ll light a fire under someone’s ass.

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