“We’re Just Better at What We do Right Now”: An Interview with the Cool Kids

Will Hagle speaks with Chuck Inglish and Mikey Rocks about creating on your own terms, Chicago, and social media.
By    September 19, 2016

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Listening to The Bake Sale transports you to to a different era. The album came out only a presidency ago, but music ages in dog years on the internet and nostalgia inevitably follows suit. Even in human years, 2008 was a while back. Obama’s hair isn’t just gray because of the stress of his job; he’s also 55 now. I used to wake up for high school every morning with “What Up Man” as my phone’s alarm clock. Now I actually do need to take a trip to the grocery store because my bread is low.

The Cool Kids have existed in some form or another since their inception, but their sound is often tethered to the particular time in which they came up. Like a failing social network, they (or, perhaps more accurately, their listeners) struggled to move past the era that defined them. They’ve put out a few one-off singles, but they never made a full-length project together beyond 2011’s When Fish Ride Bicycles.

Last year, in conjunction with the release of Sir Michael Rocks’ Populair and Chuck Inglish’s Everybody’s Big Brother, I dismissed the internet’s claims the Cool Kids would never make music together again. Mikey may have said as much in a tweet and in interviews, but it was easy to detect the flimsy nature of his supposedly definite statement. Going solo allowed both artists to experiment on their own, and, as Chuck explains below, allowed the public to process the musicality of the Cool Kids without the distraction of extraneous factors. Now, inevitably, they’re back — even if they never really broke up.

Judging by the similarly honed focus of both artists’ outlooks for the future, the Cool Kids do seem to be entering into a new era. They’re working on a full-length project entitled Special Edition Grand Master Deluxe. Though they’ve hinted at new albums during various past ‘reunions,’ this one, for whatever reason, seems like it’ll happen.
Towards the end of our interview, Chuck tells me that he’s aiming for a timelessness with this project. Whatever came before doesn’t matter. Neither does what everyone else is doing, or whether everyone else was inspired by the Cool Kids or not. What matters is living in the now, while at the same time making sure their music will still be enjoyed in the future. They’re already halfway there, because wherever I am in 10 years, I’m certain that the opening lines of The Bake Sale will still have the same impact that they did when I played it in my car the other day. We still don’t know what Special Edition Grand Master Deluxe will sound like, but if all goes to plan, we’ll all be yelling/telepathically communicating those lyrics, too. —Will Hagle


What are you guys working on together right now?


Chuck: Just working on new stuff right now, getting ready for a Fools Gold show out in L.A. coming up pretty soon. Creating new music. Just getting everything together, man.


Are you working on a new full-length project?


Chuck: We’re definitely deep into a full-length project. We’ve got some songs that we’re going to release beforehand. The direction of it kind of took a pretty—I wouldn’t want to say ‘amazing,’ because ‘amazing’ is an overused word—but it took a direction that we both were like ‘holy shit,’ so it’s going to take some time to iron out what we want all the sideline items to be to make it a special project and not just a playlist of songs.

We’re trying to make it feel like a full audio experience. The songs are already there. But as far as where we’re at—like the tie-ins, how the interludes go, and just putting together a full masterful project. In a time when people try to tell you the album is dead, we’re about to show them something different.


Is it going to have a theme running through it?


Chuck: We’re trying to just make it feel thematic. Not just skits for no reason, but just giving parts of our personality and certain things that we wanted to bring to our albums that we may not have had an opportunity to do before. Not because they didn’t work before, but because we didn’t think of it until now. I think we’re really super crazier versions of ourselves than what we were when we were making stuff earlier. So, it’s like taking that approach and not really trying to think about what people know us for or what our sound has been prior, because none of that shit really matters.

It’s more about where me and him are at now, and trying to bring the best album out of that situation. And our first three songs that we did coming back together in the studio, I ain’t never heard no shit like that. That’s all I can say about it, because you can big your own shit up if you want to, but having that break probably did the best for our sound and our raps creatively.


Both of you guys on your solo albums kind of went in different directions, so is this album going to combine those sounds back together with something new, or…


Chuck: Actually we’re trying not to think about either. Just being the artists that you are, being the sole entity that you are, and what you bring to music in itself, just together now, instead of like ‘I was doing this on the solo tip, let’s do that shit.’ That would just box us into a hole we wouldn’t want to crawl out of or crawl into.

Mikey: We just want to take it like—me and him are both us. We’re both individual people who have different skills. It’s like, if I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me, and we were just like ‘uh, let’s make some songs together,’ we kind of want to approach it like that so we don’t box ourselves into that corner. Because it would be crazy tedious and you would never hit the mark if you tried to pinpoint exactly what we should both bring into this.

Chuck: We can’t think about others.

Mikey: No, it’s not really about them. Like, if you were listening to us then you were listening to us on your own account and it wasn’t because of a certain reason, it was because of a feeling, it was because of what we brought to the table energy-wise. As far as our sounds go, we’ve experimented with every fucking thing as far as what we were into, as far as musical influences. I think that getting lost in what you think people think your sound is is a dangerous, dangerous depth of water. I didn’t want to go down that line because it was like that when we first came out. People thought we looked a certain way but we didn’t really look like that.
People’s perceptions of you don’t determine shit, because they don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. It’s our aspiration to actually overshoot and pretty much put what we’ve done in the past as a discography, and not just “oh yeah, those are the dudes that did ‘Black Mags.’ That’s just because people are slow, and they only want to use the easiest memory of shit. We don’t want to get caught up in that.

Not saying at any point in time that that sound isn’t tight, it’s just we’re not going to let what we’ve done already dictate what we’re about to do, because the reason why we’re doing this is we didn’t feel like we did enough yet. So that’s where the sound is going. We didn’t do enough yet. So we’re trying to big builder houses of sound. Bigger moments in time where you heard that Cool Kids song and you were like, ‘Oh shit. That’s why they were the Cool Kids. That’s why we called them that.’ It ain’t about a sound or what we brought together apart. It’s about the future.


So do you think it’s even going to be a departure from what you were working on for the Shark Tank album? Like even “Chop” sounded different from your earliest songs.


Chuck: Yeah, because this is all made at the same time. This isn’t like picking things from other shit, placing it in other shit. When I started making beats according to how we felt, when I said these beats are going into this file, this is where we work and this is what the sound is. And then I kind of just took certain dreams I’ve had—certain things I wanted to make—like a long time ago but it just wasn’t good enough yet. Soundscapes I wanted to work together, I did all that right here.

So it’s kind of like a gumbo pot of our influences, which is how we’ve always worked. We’re just better. We’re just better at what we do right now. So it’s hard to explain that, but when you feel like you have gained a little bit more skill at what you do, you want to try to do things you haven’t necessarily done, but you want to have fun. You want to let it be free. So I can say that we had fun when we put this shit together, but when we listened back to the song and it was done, it was cool because we knew we didn’t hear that shit before. We’d never heard that. We’ve heard a lot, and we know what we can make, so for both of us to be in the position when we’re like ‘damn I ain’t heard that before,’ that shit’s tight. That’s exactly where we wanted to be.


So are you recording it together in a certain place and time or just working on it when you can?


Mikey: We’ve been recording together so far.

Chuck: Those are the recipes you gotta keep organic. We can’t make an album apart. That was the whole thing about being apart. We wasn’t in the same spot. So it was easy to be on a break if you’re not in the same spot as somebody. Music doesn’t come off as—I don’t know the adjective, but I want to say like, it doesn’t have that same bounce, it doesn’t have that same groove, as when you’re sharing ideas face to face.


Are you living in the same place now?
 


Chuck: No, not currently, but I’m floating at the moment to get this project done. We have a place out here [in L.A.], we have a place to record in Chicago, and I think making our rounds is the most important part about building this album. We’re gonna need a couple different sounds from a couple different geographical locations. It ain’t just gonna be L.A., Chicago, Detroit. We’re hoping that in the next few months we can just amass a couple of options to go a couple of different places and make sure we collect a song there before we end up putting the album out.


When the album does come out is it going to be on your own label, or what’s the situation with that?


Chuck: It’s not going to be on nothing that’s not ours. We haven’t really decided the best way to release it yet, because we’re in 2016 and nobody fucking knows. So, it definitely will be through a situation we accept on our own, and we will make the album a project that’s easy to get to people. If you want to collect it, we have pieces for that. The whole reason for the title [Special Edition Grand Master Deluxe] is so that we can have some really ill packaging design, and just bringing our brains together to make something that’s not just a cinematic experience, but something that’s fucking cool. Something that lasts.

We’re smart enough to know how to put things out in this day and age, but we don’t need to play the game. But we’re playing the game. But we don’t have to line our record up with this to do that. What we’re trying to do is just create a sound that attracts everybody to it, and make it a talk piece.


How’d you decide to start working together again? From a fan’s perspective, it never really feels like you broke up, and it seems like the media places too much emphasis on the “reunion” aspect.


Chuck: We weren’t making music at that time because it just wasn’t that time.

Mikey: Yeah.

Chuck: We had that conversation, and we’re just going to let the media say what they want to say. As soon as you define it, then it is that. If people are under speculation, then there’s speculation. But there comes a time in any unit, or any collective, or any sort of partnership, where you gotta go home or you gotta do something different.
Sports teams got off-seasons; they don’t gotta see motherfuckers all the time or play basketball all the time. Which makes you want to go hoop with them when it’s that time to. I feel like people haven’t been able to process how human relationships work. Sometimes if it’s not working here, it doesn’t mean it’s us, it just means it’s not that time. Right now it sounds like ‘oh shit, you guys got perfect timing.’ Well, we thought of that shit. We were always waiting for when, not if.


At the same time, I have seen some interviews with Mikey where you said you guys definitely wouldn’t be putting out music as The Cool Kids. Was there anything different about this, or it’s just that things change?


Mikey: Well, it’s like, at that time, that was true. We weren’t going to do it.

Chuck: [Laughs] Yeah, it doesn’t say permanently.

Mikey: Yeah, we weren’t gonna do that. That was absolutely true.

Chuck: We released two songs as not the Cool Kids. We did the “Super Squad,” we did “Swervin’” off my album, there’s a couple of things we do. But it’s all about wordage. We find that shit cool. We say something but it wasn’t really that. Like, “We’re not releasing any new music as the Cool Kids.” And then the next three songs we release aren’t the Cool Kids.
I think more or less it was like giving people the period to the sentence that was left off. Like “What are you guys doing?” “Oh, we’re not releasing music right now.” Just to let you have that, and let you sit on that. So it’s not open for discussion, so you don’t Frank Ocean us and ask us where our fucking album is all the time.


I know you guys aren’t in Chicago all the time anymore, but—


Mikey: I actually live here now.


What was the scene like in Chicago when you guys were first coming up, compared to how it is now?


Mikey: I feel like there’s just a lot more happening now. There’s a lot more going on as far as music and entertainment and even just our social scene in Chicago, the outside party scene and everything is a lot more live now than it used to be. It took a lot of things to happen in the city and in entertainment for that to come to life.
You’ve got a lot more attention focused on us than there used to be. We’re a lot more respected musically now, and a lot more respected as a fun place to be. Besides all the murder and stuff, but that’s with any city, you go to the hood and you go to the trap, you’re probably gonna get killed, so don’t do that. But Chicago is actually fun if you know where you’re at and you know what you’re doing. There’s a lot more options and a lot more stuff to do now. A lot more music and a lot more outlets. A lot more kids interested in making stuff and thinking that they can actually do it from here, interested in art.

There’s a lot more art studios. A lot more recording studios now. A lot more parties. A lot more painters and singers and artists and graphic designers. A lot more photographers now than there used to be. Chicago didn’t used to be known as a city that had any artistic value to it really. It was kind of just like a business city where people come and go to work and go to bed.

It used to be New York and L.A., or Paris or London or something, or other places you’d go for art. But Chicago’s starting to kind of crack into that world as well. There’s people that are really making some cutting edge shit from here now. It didn’t always used to be that way, and I think when we were first coming up, we started to kind of kick that door open a little bit along with some other people in the city as well.


Do you think you guys in particular, and Chicago in general—guys like Lupe and Kanye—is responsible for rappers being able to be themselves or act different?


Mikey: Yeah, I think it had a lot to do with that state of mind that was like a universal thing around that time. People wanted something different but they didn’t know how to explain it. They didn’t know how to describe it. That state of mind started to emerge, and you would pop out with kids like me and Chuck. There was a bunch of other shit going on. There was the Ed Banger movement coming from Paris and shit. When we were coming in, we were some of the only ones from Chicago really, and then everything else was coming up from around the world at that time.
There was MGMT. There was Ed Banger and shit. There was fucking, I don’t know, what else was going on? It just seemed like there was a state of mind that was transcending that hadn’t been seen before. And I think that people just wanted that. And when it came to life, it spawned new generations, and it spawned new inspirations for kids to try to get their point across and make their mark in that same realm.


The internet obviously played a role in that, too. Do you think there’s a modern day equivalent of Myspace—which is how you guys first got popular? Because it doesn’t seem like there’s a good social network for music anymore.


Mikey: I mean, there’s communities, but it’s just all kind of blended into anything. Myspace used to be the one-stop shop and that’s all there was, but now it’s like everybody’s sharing music through all of these different sites in different ways. You’ll hear people breaking new songs on Snapchat. Sometimes it’s corny, but sometimes it does work and sometimes it happens like that. If fucking Kylie Jenner is playing your new song on Snapchat, now you just blew up with your music on Snapchat.
People are sharing music still, but just throughout various different networks. Twitter still has people sharing music somehow. Even memes, honestly—memes don’t even play music, but people are more keen to know the hottest line off your song if there’s a meme of it. Music is still being shared, but just through all of the different networks. And then you have Soundcloud and shit which has its own super community of artists and shit. I’ve seen a lot of artists go from nobody to poppin’ simply from Soundcloud and shit. So there’s tons of ways you can still share music and find music, but it’s just not on one site anymore.


Do you think it’s weird when people talk about Myspace like it’s the distant past? And then that gets lumped in with your guys’ first projects—people talk about you like you’re old even though you haven’t really been around that long. What do you think about that?


Mikey: I think that basically there’s Myspace and what I would think would come after that is like Twitter. But the thing now is that social networks don’t really die anymore. Back then they used to die. Now social networks don’t die. Instagram will never go anywhere. I can’t really see that. Twitter won’t really ever go anywhere. Fucking Snap probably won’t. Snap is probably the one on the most thin ice. That one might go. Might not. But overall, Twitter and Instagram, I don’t think those will ever really go anywhere. Tumblr’s not going anywhere.
That was back in the age when there was just a social network and they would all die. There was Friendster, Myspace, and all that other shit of that era. iMeme and all that other shit like that. They were still trying to figure it out. Myspace is a site that perished, and it seems like is so long ago, but actually Twitter and shit—when did that come out, probably like ’07 or something, maybe earlier than that—but Myspace is the one that died so it just seems like it was so far away.

But I mean, everything nowadays is so quick. Fucking Michael Jackson died—what? it feels like 20 years ago now. It feels like I was a little kid. But it wasn’t that long ago. It feels like Prince died three years ago. Prince didn’t die three years ago. Prince died, like, a couple months ago. Everything is accelerated. Time is quick, bro. Remember two weeks ago when Chris Brown got in trouble with the police for holding a gun at a girl? That felt like months ago. That was like two weeks.


There’s always the thing of the day and then people move past it.


Chuck: We’re processing everything at a woodchipper style rate. As soon as it’s out, people share it so fast that the world is over it by the end of the day. That’s just our culture right now. People have everything on their phones. That’s the thing about Myspace, is that it was just a computer thing. People weren’t accessing their social media all day, until it became an app on your phone. The smart phone is what creates that digestion of information or content so fast that you really gotta have something every week for people to be satisfied. When you’re creating art, or you’re creating something that really has no time, you kind of can’t pay attention to that.

Mikey: Right, you don’t worry about that shit, man. Because if you do, then they’ll swallow you up in that. But those that choose to ignore it, and choose to look past that and just focus on what they’re creating, you’re always able to emerge and come with your art and put it on a pedestal like you want to. Look at Frank. Frank took forever, but he came back and everybody loves him again.


And it wasn’t even really forever, it was just people acting like it was.


Chuck: Right. All you gotta do is not feed into it. If you don’t feed into people’s hype like that, then they’ll let it happen. He wasn’t gone too long, but everybody made it seem like that. You didn’t see him fighting back being like “It’s not too long.” He just ignored it, and then came out with his shit and everybody loved it and everybody’s happy. So it’s like, just ignore it.


With musical trends moving so fast, what do you think your legacy has been, when it seems like it was a long time ago that you first started?


Chuck: I don’t know. I move fast, so I don’t even think about that shit. I’m moving fast myself. If I sat there and picked apart everything I’ve done before and start to categorize and make a graph of it, I wouldn’t be able to focus on being lit now. I’m trying to be tight now. I’m just thinking about what I’m going to do now. If you take too much time trying to calculate your history and add up all your apples and oranges and shit like that, everybody else is walking past. Life is moving forward, so it’s probably better to focus on making the tightest shit you can now. I really don’t know, honestly. I don’t think that’s even for me to decide. It’s kind of wack for people to self-proclaim their own descriptions of what they are and who they are and what they do and what they sound like. I think that’s for everybody else to figure out on their own.


Speaking of what you’re working on now, what’s the production going to sound like on the new project?


Chuck: I wouldn’t say how I make beats is different. I’ve just gotten better. I trained myself to learn the instruments I play better. My ear for sequencing and arrangement is completely different. My attitude towards getting the result I thought of in my head before I started creating is a little bit more focused. So when I come up with the idea, from inception to transfer, it sounds the way I thought of it. When I listen back to old shit, there’s times I hate it. I fucking hate it. Like there’s songs off The Bake Sale I wish I would’ve just remixed or did shit different or not did that or did this and that’s just a part of the creative process. If you don’t want to be better, then it’s probably not something you should do forever.


What software are you using now?


Chuck: The software is not stuck to one. I’ve used three different programs for the album already. Everything just sits in Pro Tools. I play things into Pro Tools. I have some musician collaborators, like my man Gitty from the Stepkids. I’m working with musicians on this album.

It’s not just the minimalist ideal that people think is the Cool Kids sound. Because if you listen to it, it’s way deeper than that. I think that even “Black Mags” wasn’t minimalist. I was tripping on mushrooms making sounds pop up all over the place. There’s a snare that’s consistent throughout the whole song. So my definition of minimalist might not be someone else’s. I’m not going for a minimalist sound on this album. It’s full. It’s not fully orchestrated and big cinematic sounds like where music’s been going in the past 5-6 years. It’s true to form. It sounds like something you’ve heard, but never heard before. Because that’s what I want to listen to.


You can always find depth in minimalism if you’re actually listening.


Chuck: Hearing back on people assessing what we sound like is always just a little left-of-center. Or right-of-center. Not even close to left. Left would be like a more grandiose idea. It’s more like, you know, “That’s those guys. They make that old-school boom-bap rap.” But not necessarily. What you like about it is the element, but we want people to be a little more meticulous with their listening. Because there’s a lot of people that haven’t even listened to certain albums calling that shit a good album. You’ll ask them what’s their favorite song, and they haven’t even heard half the fucking songs.

It’s all about being a part of the conversation in this day and age. People want to not be left out, so that doesn’t mean they’re going to check it out for sure, they’re just going to talk about it regardless. There’s certain song reviews or album reviews where that writer’s not that good at their job. Then there’s some shit where it’s like “yo, man, they fucking listened.” Regardless if it was constructive, or if it was complete praise. There’s times where that element of the creative process and the consumption of the world around it is spot on. I don’t think that we’ve ever experienced a spot-on. I just think that we were ahead of shit, so it was easy to respect. But I still don’t think people listened to us. Because if they went back, they’d have a whole ‘nother perspective of what our shit sounded like.


You don’t think people listened to you now or when you first started?


Chuck: Now, that’s why we are at the position we’re at, and why people were anticipating us getting back together. It seems as if people didn’t feel like they got enough, because they had time to catch back up. We weren’t making music for a while, so you could probably go back and be like, “yo, let me check that out.” And they lifted us up to, we are musical, and we’re not just a moment in time. We had musical legs in us.

People don’t know us for looking a certain way, they know us for sounding and performing and bringing a certain energy to the world. That just took a little bit of time, because at first people were just like “Oh, yo, they wear tight pants” and all this other shit. And then it became, “They got this sound that’s so cool that was the first of their sound.” And I’m not discrediting that; I’m saying there’s still a lot more to listen to because it wasn’t that minimalist.


So do you think at the beginning your style, and what you guys talked about, overshadowed the music?


Chuck: Yeah. For sure. For sure. Because we weren’t seen before. We came after white tees and shit. Even Kanye had white tees on.


Do you think that, now that people are so used to seeing rappers wearing tight pants, or Young Thug wearing a dress or something, people are more ready to see past that? Or are people still caught up in it?


Chuck: I think that that wall has been broken. You don’t have to look a certain way to be a rapper at all anymore. I think it’s really transitioning into what you sound like and what your albums hold in people’s life. I believe music has to be practical. It can’t just be when you go out. It can’t just be in the club. It can’t just be for this moment. If you can’t put it on and go about your day, or it can’t exist in your life like the air, then it’s not going to last that long.
Like I was riding around running some errands listening to an old Jackson Family album. And the sonics of that shit is forever. It’s never not tight. It’s always going to be that. And it wasn’t a big hit, this was like the Jacksons’ victory album. I go into deep crate shit sometimes just to populate my mind with shit that’ll never make me run out of things to make. So when you think about that, or you think about how Outkast is still Outkast—they’re not, like, “that group from the 2000s” at all. They’re Outkast. Rage Against the Machine is Rage Against the Machine. Bands that become dated end up adopting a sound that they think is current.

I was just hearing somebody was talking about a Blackberry in a song. Like playing the album and they got to the Blackberry part. And it’s like, immediately the dial turns down on how practical that song is to your life. You’re like, “Oh yeah, that was back then.” I was listening to Usher’s “My Way” the other day. That shit, it will forever be a jam. It wasn’t written in time. It wasn’t written to be like, “Let me capture this.” So when people were making Myspace songs or people got songs about Instagram girls, it’s like “Yo, you’re writing yourself a bad check, as far as where you will be in 10 years.”

As a musician if you can’t think of that, then it’s just a hobby to you. This is just a phase that’s going to pass. Every time I make a song, I ask myself, “In 10 years, when you’re listening to this in your car cloud and there ain’t no aux cord and there ain’t no shit like that, like it’s in auto-drive, is this shit gonna bang? Are people still going to want to let their windows down, or whatever we’re letting down in that car 10 years from now? How will that sound?” It’s the same way an architect looks at a building, or a graphic designer looks at a logo and wonders “Will this last?” And in this day and age, time passes so fast, anything that lasts is going to look way more legendary.


At the same time, I was just listening to The Bake Sale yesterday, and you had a line about a Sidekick. It kind of brought me back to that era, but at the same time it is still timeless, so it can be balanced.


Chuck: Right. But I’m saying making a song about that shit. I’m not saying references. People still talk about, you can hit me on my car phone, and that shit is still tight. Like I was listening to a Ralph Tresvant song about car phones or something like that. That’s just like reading a book or being in a story in that time. Like Soulja Boy’s “Kiss Me Thru The Phone” is still tight, when you’re talking about a specific instance, not just a pop culture reference that was at that time.
Like “Thong Song” isn’t as tight as it used to be. It was about a thing at that time—girls were wearing their thongs out of their jeans. Girls don’t even do that shit no more.


So you consciously avoid making music like that and aim to be timeless?


Chuck: Yeah, because I want to listen to my shit. I want other people to listen to it. I think about all aspects of life, and not just the absolute great and absolute bad. I think in the middle ground. Like when you come home from work, and you don’t want to turn the TV on. You just feel like feeling good for a minute. Or you just want to play some video games. Or you’re doing laundry. Music is for that.
And a lot of the arts can’t fit into your life at every single moment. Music, you can play throughout your day, all day, from waking up to the ending of the day, and it doesn’t affect which direction you move in. If you buy a painting you gotta look at it. If you’re going to see a movie, you gotta sit there and watch it. With music, you can go about everything else you’re doing, and that song can play and just wrap around you.