Los Angeles’ Stones Throw are a blissful anomaly. It’s proven fact that thriving record labels are an increasingly rare commodity in a market where majors hog the charts, glory and massive budgets. Most of the niche indies – driven by passionate folk with dwindling budgets – have been weeded out, and fewer still are able to reach seminal status. Peanut Butter Wolf’s exploits as label head have been nothing short of remarkable since starting up in 1996. Working with Stones Throw is deemed a surefire stamp of approval, and whether it’s a nod to deep-rooted funk and soul or an alluring blend of bleepy bloopy offshoots (a la James Pants), the results maintain an authentic, glossy aesthetic that’s rigid within their DNA.
Silk Rhodes – consisting of Sasha Winn and Michael Collins – accentuate the former, plucking influences from 70s soul merchants like Al Green and Otis Redding mixed with a tendency for psychedelia. The name is a clever nod to the online black market — Run DMT and Salvia Plath are previous projects, may we add.
Their debut eponymous album mimics your favourite road trip mixtape. At some point in the Southwest, they started turning their ‘97 Honda CRV into an impromptu recording setup – meddling with vocal processing and experimental loops – before developing it all in Stones Throw’s studio. It’s a well executed exercise in skeletal, trippy soul; and more importantly its brilliant.
It’s only right that we invited the pair to participate in our next In Stereo session after their album drops on December 2. Our own Sofie spoke to Mike and Sasha to chat drug-induced pseudonyms, 70s Italian movie scores and recording music in cars. Then, Peanut Butter Wolf gave us a little insight into why he signed the duo.
SOFIE: First things first. How did you two meet and start making music together?
SILK RHODES: Well, the first time we met was actually in Dumbo; at our friends Taraka and Nimai’s house. They were making great dumplings and having a party where someone was playing folk songs into a chat roulette projection. From there we went on tour together, and casually merged our experimental performances together. We’ve been collaborating ever since.
With a lot of the album being recorded in a car, how much of an effect did your various locations have on what you were making?
SR: We both take a lot of inspiration from where we are – we’re both wanderers. So naturally when we moved in together in Baltimore, we moved the studio setup all over the house. It’s nice to improvise a studio as you go. The music tends to be very malleable that way.
How did you connect with Peanut Butter Wolf and Stones Throw Records in the first place?
Mike [Silk Rhodes producer]: RUN DMT was featured on the Stones Throw/Leaving Records compilation, and Peanut Butter Wolf took a liking to it. I came in to talk to him about the project, and showed him the music I was producing with Sasha [Silk Rhodes vocalist/musical extraordinaire]. They loved the demos and wanted to put it out. Having been a die hard Stones Throw fan since my teens, it seemed like some kind of divine connection out of nowhere. I brought Sasha out West, and we began working on the collaboration as we went.
In the past you’ve been known under a whole slew of brilliantly clever pseudonyms – among them Run DMT and Salvia Plath. Why did you transition from being known as Doobie Sisters to Silk Rhodes?
SR: Lets just say there were a few reasons. Names are funny. Maybe some of the names we’ve chosen have been pretty comical to some. We haven’t really worried about it, though.
Your production regularly recalls the sounds some of my favourite film scores of the past mixed with soul. When I first heard the demos – now over a year ago – I distinctly remember my disbelief at this being new material (and of course, subsequent enjoyment that it was)! Especially in today’s age of digital overproduction, do you consider your choice of avoiding this a deliberate one?
SR: A lot of production ideas came from old movie composers; Morricone, Alessandroni. We love the cinematic quality of those soundtracks. The 70’s Italian scores have a serious emotional feeling that we’re inspired by. Naturally, when we record, we like to have a sound that reflects that quality, so out of circumstance the music isn’t over-produced at all. It’s always been more about the content than the varnish.
A lot of the album was put together in the Stones Throw studio. I know there’s a lot of crazy stories involving your time there…
SR: There’s been a lot of crazy times! We’ve been too-tripped out by Brazilian tutorial videos on organ VSTs, woken up to Egyptian Lover listening to our songs with Chris [Peanut Butter Wolf], etc. We had a lot of fun making music in there as we were new and alien to Los Angeles. Originally the Stones Throw studio was a house that everyone lived in [Silk Rhodes are referring to the house atop an unnamed Los Angeles hill which once upon a time was shared by Peanut Butter Wolf, Madlib, Egon and Jeff Jank], and now it’s a space within their offices. It’s important for the spirit of the label to continue having a creative place for their musicians.
I really enjoyed the “Pains” video. The first time I watched this, I was really stoned and it was really interesting seeing Sasha’s voice taken out of the context of him singing it, and hearing it as though it were sung by different people as well. To what extent, if at all, do you consider your physical appearance of importance when you perform?
SR: We try to consider the vibe onstage more than anything else. The best thing to see as an audience member is someone who’s enjoying themselves.
A few words from Peanut Butter Wolf on how this signing came about:
“I think I first met Mike Collins, who produces Silk Rhodes, through Matthewdavid. From what I remember, I really liked a song on a compilation Matthew put together (Dual Forms) by a one man band called Run DMT, and I asked Matthew about it. Run DMT (now called Salvia Plath) is kinda more airy/ 60s psych-type stuff. I think I told Matthew that he should get Mike to do a video for the song, but I’m not sure if that ever happened. Then, Mike was in town, came by the office, we hung out a bit and he told me he was totally into the Stones Throw stuff.
Either him or Matthew told me about his project with Sasha, which was at the time called Doobie Sisters. I heard one song by them, was immediately reeled in and wanted to do a 7″ of that song. We did a Skype call with the two guys – I actually filmed a little of it with my camera phone because I felt like history was being made. I’m still salty that the song I liked most at the time didn’t make the final cut of their album, but that’s another story. It was kind of a 50’s doo-wop “Stand By Me” sounding thing that didn’t sound anything like what people are listening to these days. What Mike and Sasha do together is very special and that’s why they’re on Stones Throw!”
In Stereo with Silk Rhodes airs on Boiler Room tomorrow, 3pm GMT / 10am EST / 7am PST and will be available to view for the next 38 hours until archiving.
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