Album Reflections: Talking “All My Angles Are Right” With CYNE
Music fans are a greedy bunch. With the glorious interwebz, it is easier than ever to consume music without any thought or connection to the artist; all it takes is a few clicks of the mouse to be drowning in a sea of new music. We consume music like Kobayashi does hot dogs, stuffing ourselves, looking for the next album to devour without giving much thought to the one we just ate. It may be just another Nathans dog to us, but to the artist it's that home cooked meal that took all day to make. Music has become so impersonal, that we often forget there are real people, with thoughts, wishes, goals, and concerns, behind the music. With singles, leaks, videos, and anticipatory tweets, we are so focused on what project next, we rarely focus on projects past. Aren't you curious what goes through an artists minds when the dust settles on that once-highly anticipated album is, you know, released?
It has been exactly four months since underground stalwarts, CYNE, released All My Angles Are Right (available right here on DJBooth), their first album in over five years. As a die-hard fan, the album meant a lot to me--it's like seeing an old friend for the first time in years--and now that the dust has (sort-of) settled, I thought it would be a good time to catch up with Cise Star (the emcee of the trio), Speck, and Enoch (the producers) and have them reflect on the album.
1.) How does the collaborative process work between all of you? Is it different or more difficult than a solo song?
Enoch: The collaborative process generally starts with either Speck or I coming up with some sort of framework for a beat. From there, we generally pass it off to Cise to add vocals. After that, Speck and I will usually add new layers or rearrange the structure as necessary. We have created songs from almost every approach though – all of us sitting in the same room working on songs, passing things back and forth, making a beat to fit a concept from Cise. There was even one song that started as a drum pattern that Cise did while messing around one of our MPC’s. Pretty much every track has all three of our fingerprints on it in one way or another.
Speck: To elaborate on Enoch’s points, collaboration has become more fluid and hands-on over the years. Everything from the way we share new beats / tracks-in-progress, the way we approach feedback, the way we discuss the evolution of a track (or even an entire record’s track listing), the way we hunt for sounds or themes, and even the final mixing stages — these processes are more engrained, natural, and democratic than ever before.
Cise Starr: From a writing standpoint I will usually receive prospective frameworks of beats from Speck and Enoch and from there will see which ones inspire an idea or topic to write on. During the process of writing I may suggest things to add here and there while we all shuttle ideas back and forth, building on what I'm writing and how they envision the beat, shaping it into a finished track.
2.) From the first recording/writing session to the release, how much time do you think you spent on the album?
Enoch: This album probably took a solid two and a half years to fully come to fruition. We didn’t start out with any specific agenda for where we were headed with it, but it started moving in a certain direction after we had the first group of songs laid down. We got to a point where we started getting antsy to put the record out, but we held out because we knew it was missing some key things. The record was done for probably a solid year before it was actually released. It ended up being a little bit slower process than normal so we could get everything about it how we wanted – artwork, packaging, roll-out, videos, etc.
Speck: On the other hand, Wasteland Volume 1 was conceived, written, recorded, and released in about a year’s time (Wasteland Volume 2 — which isn’t out yet — was probably just as fast). The difference is, Enoch and I had almost all of those beats in the archives, beforehand. With AMAAR, it grew and shape-shifted as every new beat went to Cise, as the connectivity between tracks and themes surfaced. It truly evolved, and (for ourselves) really needed to breathe its way into existence. Any time we tried to force something too much, it got scrapped or felt weird.
3.) Before "All My Angles Are Right" your last album came out in 2009. In what ways,if at all did your release strategy change?
Speck: I think we can safely say that there’s no real “strategy” at play. We’re patient in our songwriting process, we’re fortunate to have a loyal fan base, and we all have families/day jobs that make CYNE time more focused, precious, and refined. Those factors shape our internal timelines. That said, we almost never stop working on new material. Even if things are slow, there is always a CYNE track or project in the works. AMAAR was a slow-burning process, but we’re happy with the results.
4.) What's one thing you would like the fans to know about this album that they might not know otherwise?
Speck: The first two songs that we wrote for the album were “Avians” and “Tears For Uriah” which were both recorded as far back as 2010. By mid-2012, we had half of the album recorded, and Cise had already come up with the album title. Production-wise, half of the album’s beats are Enoch’s and the other half are mine — though, we both worked extensively on the progress and post-production of each track. With the exception of maybe a handful of analog synth sounds, every sound is sampled from vinyl using an MPC2000 or OP-1.
Cise: We aimed to make AMAAR a pure product of us. No guest MC's, No guest producers. A release truly our own and of our vision. It seems to me that some releases these days are so collab heavy to the point the artist seems like a guest on their own album and then fans look out more for the collabs than the stand alone tracks from the artist. That is not necessarily a bad thing because it can bring more attention to an album but that was obviously not our aim with this particular release which was to present a unique unadulterated experience from the subject matter to the production.
5.) Would you consider the album a success? Why or why not?
Enoch: I would definitely consider the album a success. I think we are all extremely proud of the music that we put together for the record, and to me, that is the most important measure of success for us as a group. Beyond that, we have received a lot of positive feedback and some great reviews of the record, and we did a short tour on the West Coast doing a lot of the new stuff live. It’s tough to really definitively say whether or not it is a success because we are still very much in the cycle of the album, but it sure feels like everything has gone how he had hoped so far.
Cise: It really depends on what you define success by, but to me I definitely see AMAAR as successful. As with all of the CYNE albums we put out music we enjoy ourselves and what we would like to listen to. We all have careers and don't necessarily live off music so we have the freedom to explore different avenues of our sound. When it comes to art you can't please everybody but if you please yourself then take pleasure in that. The icing on the cake is when other people enjoy your vision and support what you do.
6.) After the buzz has subsided and the release campaign is completed, when do you get started on new material? Do y'all need a break or are you more motivated to work?
Speck: Putting out a record is always a motivator to look ahead and start fresh. You live with the songs for so long, that you’re hungry to evolve and improve and explore. I’m personally really excited about all of the music that I’ve started since the release of AMAAR.
7.) What has this album taught you about that you didn't know before? Either about yourself or the industry.
Speck: The experience of making this record taught us about restraint, trusting our gut, taking our time, and continuing to bridge relationships with our listeners. Over the years, we had a lot of discussions about the disparate influences that shaped this record — things like literature, films, technology, art, and (obviously) music that are simultaneously nostalgic, futuristic, repurposed, synthesized, etc — so, to see our fans (old and new) acknowledge, connect with, and encourage that “wavelength” was validation of our pursuit to continually build on what CYNE means to us.
8.) Nujabes is a DJBooth favorite,and I know you all have some history with him, can you elaborate on your relationship?
Cise: I was fortunate enough to work with Nujabes over the years most notably on the tracks "Lady Brown" and "Feather". I was introduced to him through a label CYNE used to work with called Rice and Beans and the label head Steve Castro. Nujabes was a quiet, but determined guy that knew what he wanted out of a track and crafted it so. Unlike some of the other artists that worked with him I didn't have the chance to tour around and spend a large amount of time with him in person. Even with the little bit of time I got to spend around him, I got the sense of how much he loved the music and really was a fan and friend of the artists he worked with. He loved Fat Jon's style and had nothing but good things to say about Pase Rock and Substantial. After that first time in Japan in which we did some shows, recorded "Highs to Lows", "DTFN", and "Lady Brown" we would keep in contact through emails and phone calls, remaining friendly until his untimely passing.
9.) What happened to Akin? Will he ever return to CYNE?
Enoch: Akin is and has been working on solo projects, several of which have involvement from each of us. We are all cool with each other, but for now, the three of us are focused on CYNE and Akin is focused on doing his thing. Beyond that, nothing is planned otherwise.
Speck: We’re all still collaborating, in some capacity. Enoch, Cise, and I contributed to Akin’s “Nomadic” record in 2012. He was just in Portland, where he and I finished production on his forthcoming record “We Are Leaders Not Saints” (Cise is on one track, too).
10.) What's next for CYNE?
Enoch: We have a couple things on deck that we hope to see come out before the end of 2014. One of these projects is the second installment of our “Wasteland” series. That is completed, and hopefully we will have a solid release date for that soon. Other than that, we will be doing shows in support of the album, including a set at the Secret Stages Festival in Birmingham, Alabama in August.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is "College Dropout", but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @Lgarrison88.]