When the Karl Hector & The Malcouns record came across our desk recently we were like, Whoa this is a crazily focused and obscure reissue of 70's Ethiopian funk! Then we found out that it was recorded this year. Confused and intrigued, we got Now-Again founder/Stones Throw dude Egon on the phone and talked to him about his release of the Karl Hector record, the future of Now-Again, and what music he actually likes. Basically we nerded out with dude for a bit, and he gave us an exclusive live mix of the music that influenced Karl Hector & The Malcouns and also about two million other bands making music right now. Download the mix below, and read the Q+A after the jump.
Download: Egon's Live Mix of Ghanaian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Turkish and Brasilian Joints
The Karl Hector album seems to be the sign of a new direction for Now-Again. You're not just releasing reissues.
Yeah, it was one of those things where I’ve managed Stones Throw as long as I’ve been in the record industry. When I first came on, Madlib wasn’t making hip- hop anymore. Directly after the Quasimoto album he dedicated himself to creating jazz music and he wanted to take some time off so that he could hone his chops. I started doing all these reissues for Stones Throw mainly because we didn’t have any other records to put out. I was putting out so many of them that it seemed like Stones Throw would be overwhelmed with them. so I started Now-Again so I could get out all of these reissues that had built up over the years. And by about 2005, I realized that I’d achieved my goal, I’d gotten out all the records I’d wanted to get out—well, I mean, there’s a couple that I haven’t been able to release mainly because I haven’t been able to broker deals with some hesitant cats who own some incredible catalogs that I’ve been working on for the past ten or 12 years—But I started thinking to myself, There’s all this other music I’ve been wanting to put out like Malcolm Catto’s Heliocentrics projects that didn’t work for Stones Throw, largely because it just didn’t hit Wolf in the way that it hit me. That’s not a bad thing, it’s a personal taste thing.
At the very time that I was working with Malcolm to get the Heliocentrics record together, I was talking more J. Whitefield, who’s the leader of the Poets of Rhythm and one of the Whitefield Brothers and also the guys who produced the Karl Hector and The Malcouns record, alongside a dozen other records. He and I were talking about projects and I was also talking to these kids called MRR-ADM about putting out some of their music, and they were hooking me up with guys in London like Mr. Chop, who's music I knew because of the records he put out on small UK 12-inch labels. It all came together at once and I realized, Wow, I must have created something rather decent to attract these people whose music I respect so much to let me put it out alongside what has basically been a bunch of obscure reissues.
Is the new stuff that’s coming out already completed, or are you working with the bands to create entirely new records?
It’s a combination of the two. Like the Heliocentrics project, I was working with Malcolm over the period of five years, and I was pitching it to other labels because I hadn’t really thought about putting it out on Now-Again, I was so busy focusing on the reissues. And then there were records like the Karl Hector record which was just put together at the time when I was negotiating a deal for the Whitefield brothers albums and J. Whitefield brought it to me and said, I don’t have the Whitefield Brothers yet but I have this awesome psychedelic African sounding thing called Karl Hector. So you have something like the Heliocentrics record or the Whitefield Brothers or Karl Hector or something like that coming down your path and you say to yourself, Well I can’t just throw this out there, I’ve got to do something to try to get this into the hands of the people who will enjoy it because it’s a welcome alternative to a lot of the bad retro kind of funk stuff that’s out there. I mean, I love the old sound, I love the analog, gritty sound, but I got out of the whole retro funk phase a long time ago. I’m not so into a bunch dudes trying to exactly duplicate James Brown.
If I had just been given the Karl Hector album without any press release or without knowing anything about it I would have assumed it was a reissue. Just based on the sound and that it’s on Now Again.
And that’s the dichotomy. Because you’re like, Okay, this could be a reissue if people had been that progressive in their mindset back in 1972. But we fused together all sorts of elements—including hip-hop—into one cohesive whole without sounding trite and corny. Like, there’s no DJ scratching over it, which was one of the trappings that was going on in the late '90s where you’d have this incredible live band and they would just throw a DJ on it because of the novelty. There is an idea that can only be put forth with detailed knowledge of the past forty years of musical progression—from James Brown doing his thing with Cold Sweat and Sun Ra flipping out and forming the Saturn label and Astro Traveling himself, and Ennio Moricone’s dissonant soundtrack work—all that stuff combined with a love of electro and hip-hop and ambient new age music allows people like Malcolm Catto to create the Heliocentrics. I was talking to Mr. Chop about the stuff he’s doing—which you haven’t heard yet—it sounds like someone with the knowledge of everything that’s happened in the past thirty years took out Vangelis’ score in Bladerunner and re-scored it. And with Heliocentrics, I felt like, you know, Wow, someone went back and watched Metroplois and gave it a new soundtrack.
You also pick up the rights to entire catalogs...
Yeah, I started doing that to pitch the songs themselves to film and TV but I realized that that Stones Throw didn’t have enough songs that we could easily pitch and clear to film and TV, so I was like, I’ll just create some myself. A lot of the catalogs that I represent are far-reaching and they’re quite different than the stuff that I reissue but they have roots in the music that I love. I represent the Timelag catalog from Portland, ME—Timelag has all these incredible Brazilian psychedelic records, and this is stuff that I love and I listen to and I have the records of in my collection but I’ve never reissued on Now-Again. But it sure helps to say to someone like Edan, Hey, you’re kinda into some of that psychedelic stuff…
Here, look at my collection, you can use any of this stuff.
And you know what, you’re gonna be able top use it and there’s already clauses in the contract that spell out what the publishing split’s gonna be should you choose to sample this. It’s like what we hope to see happen at some point through litigation, you know, with music In general, but we’re doing it on a small scale with partners that we pick and work with. It’s a weird little side mission that I’ve felt weirdly about for a long time.
When you are getting the rights to all this stuff, do you ever encounter artists that are totally against sampling of any kind?
Oh yeah, I work my way up seeing how progressive they are. Sometimes I’ll find myself turning someone off because I’ll pitch something to them all together foreign, like the idea of creating a derivative work from someone’s master recording. Sometimes people don’t get that they can maintain the unencumbered, 100% ownership of their master recording and allow it to be sampled in a new work which they don’t own. For a person who doesn’t live in this world, that’s very difficult to explain. A lot of these guys that I talk with, they were in the music business for a few years and then they just gave up, went on to other lives. Nine times out of ten they are all sweethearts and they just trust me implicitly. Anytime they’re due money I’m gonna cut them a check. We’ve put out music with uncleared samples on it. There’s no way around it. But I look at it in this way: If I can get in touch with the guy, if I can talk with him, if I have a reasonable chance of making a deal I’m gonna try to make the deal. Like there are certain catalogs where it’s just cost prohibitive for anybody to even consider sampling them. Barry White, James Brown. How sad is that? I’m not saying that the ethics are rather gray. I’d love to say that I was a knight in shining armor going and saving the day and shit.
It’s pretty crazy.
In a lot of ways the stuff that I’ve been doing with the Heliocentrics and these guys is safe music that I can make without getting into litigation or anything like that. But at the same time I am do these things off the beaten path—that are a little bit further away from Now-Again’s core philosophy of releasing music that’s inspired by the funk movement, even if it's pushing it forward.
Going back to the Karl Hector record, it touches on a lot of African influences—especially Ethiopian music, which is pretty popular right now because of the Ethiopiques series. Did you put it out right now because of this? Or was it just a coincidence?
Well, you say things like the Ethiopiques series, which came to the forefront in the mid-'90s and was one of those things where you were lucky enough if you were a music guy to be hanging out with an ethnomusicology professor at your university that had a copy of Volume 4. That’s the way that I was exposed to Ethiopiques. I did a lot ethnomusicology and I worked with a professor who was into African music, specifically African pop, and one of the great dialogues we had was about Mulatu Astatke and the music he did in America and the music he did in Ethiopia and the conditions under which he recorded it. It took ten years for that music to seep into the popular consciousness, like the Karl Hector record—which is largely the product of J. Whitefield and a couple of his friends—they’ve been listening to that stuff since way before Ethiopiques. So have I. But it took a while for us to be able to get as adventurous enough to delve back into our record collections and pick these records out again. They’re old hat to us but they’re so transfixing and beautiful, how can we show that this music still influencing us? I couldn’t go and do a reissue of Ethiopian music because its already been done. There’s a lot of stuff that hasn’t been reissued, but I’d be treading the same ground. What I can do is show you how Ethiopian music by people like Mulatu influenced hip-hop or how it’s being filtered through these crazy German dudes who love hip-hop as much as they love funk as much as they love Ethiopian traditional music—to say, Hey, use this to dig back, check this and if you’re into this I’m sure you’re gonna see Broken Flowers soon enough.
When Broken Flowers came out, I was like, alright, fair dues, if Jim Jarmusch can put this out there and weave a movie around it, why am I fucking around and not putting out any of this music I love on Now Again? I started realizing, what am I scared about? Why am I just holding these records in my collection? It’s not like I don’t play these records when I DJ. I love all that music so why am I pigeonholing myself? And I think in a lot of ways Now-Again was that, it was something that I was doing to get some stuff out of my system, and in a way I had to pigeonhole myself because if I hadn’t focused on all that music I wouldn’t have gotten it out. A lot of the guys whose music I’ve gotten out have passed away after the records came out again. And I feel like it was a major achievement for me to see through things that I’d discussed with them in their lifetimes. But now that I’ve gotten a lot of those things off my chest and it’s like, alright, now it’s time for me to take a deep breath and say, What is it that I really love?