I walk through the alley in between 11th and 12th street. There is a van with a U-Haul attached filling the alley, it's decked out with ¡MAYDAY! art. The thought of 12 people sharing that van on a cross country tour makes me cringe. The doors aren’t open yet so I have to call Chris, ¡MAYDAY!'s road manager.
Though Chris was friendly and as cool as I could have asked for, I could tell he had a billion things running through his mind. After all, in just a few hours he has to make sure the show goes off without a hitch, only with live music there is always a hitch.
He escorts me downstairs past the stage stuffed to the brim with drums, turntables and mics - I guess the opening band hasn't really set up yet - and then I find myself in the back room. There I’m met by Kap Kallous who's chilling in the corner (conveniently close to the free beer and snacks) and a face that Strange Music fans would definitely, Wrekonize.
Normally when I do interviews at a venue it feels more like business than pleasure. I’m introduced to the artist, I grab a few quotes, and I let them go on their merry way. They don’t want me hanging around anymore than I want to feel like an outsider in the room, but the mood that night was different. Even before recording anything, before asking a question, I’m offered a beer and we all start talking.
It’s funny the atmosphere was so relaxed because there is a constant stream of people, from opening acts to venue staff to managers, coming and going like it’s Ben's Chili Bowl at 2 AM on a Saturday. The guys are unphased but internally I'm freaking out. How the hell am I going to get an interview out of this chaos? So I just press record and hopes it turns into something. Suddenly Bernz slides open a door I didn’t even know was there….
“I just took a shit. You can print that!”
Consider it printed. Ladies and gentleman, the Future Vintage tour.
I used to think tours were glamorous and luxurious, but the reality is much different. For instance, Wrek told me there’s no bathroom on the van and even on the bus you can only pee. (For the record, the guys recommend doing your business in the women's washroom before the venue opens.) No matter the vehicle, bus or van, Wrekonize assured me, “You start to get a little loopy.” Tours have been known to try men’s souls.
For another group all of this would just be background, but for ¡MAYDAY! it's essential to understanding their music. One of the reasons I am such a fan of the foursome is the insight their music provides about the life of a touring musician. It’s not guest lists, bubbly and groupies, but broken buses, cheap (yet free) beer and missed loved ones, and that reality is the basis of their music.
Take “All The Time,” the third single off their new album. It's a smooth, airy “love song” dedicated to trying to balance touring with a relationship and the emotion, the passive aggressive frustration, is palpable. It makes me wonder what mindset they have to be in when writing these songs. “We like to write about what we are doing in the moment,” Wrek asserts, adding, “We tour a lot so a lot of it comes from talking about missing people and being away from family.” The life of a touring artist isn’t the only reality ¡MAYDAY! deals with. On “Ten Thirty Three” the guys take on a much darker and heavier reality, the reality of police brutality.
“Ten Thirty Three” came from us being in the studio around the time that the police brutality stuff was breaking out and I had just seen a documentary on the ten thirty three program, how they gave police all this gear. So I came into the studio and said I wanted to something about it. A lot of times people that do songs about current events or issues do it in a wacky way. It's too "look at me I'm doing a song about this" or "I need to jump on this while it's hot." So “Ten Thirty Three” was, how do we talk about it without really talking about it? That was one of the first beats we had for the album. Gianni Cash had the structure, the skeleton of it, and we tried another song over it, but we never fleshed out the whole idea so the beat was still waiting. After not liking what we did the first time, we were tossing ideas around and thought, what if we do “Ten Thirty Three”? It was one of those moments where it all lined up.
Music is never finished, the process is as crazy as trying to do an interview in a busy room. So it's remarkable to know that one of the strongest songs on the album came from a place of uncertainty. It’s hard to believe it simply fell into place. Is that how all ¡MAYDAY! songs come about?
We usually have the beats first, but Bernz will write down a ton of ideas before we get in the studio. I don’t do that as much, but most of the time it's beats first. We're hip-hop kids, we don't sit and write the lyrics and the music at the same time. We are plugging away making beats and have a stash of beats then flipping through those. Every Mayday album since I've joined I've tried to do at least one track and Bernz has been from the start. He wasn't pushing buttons and all that, but overseeing and stuff. When Plex, the original producer, had to step back, we knew we had to step up, and now we are passing it around a little bit more. In a perfect world it will get to the point where all four of us active in the group will contribute to the beat stash. I consider us to be more active now than we’ve ever been.
Did you catch that? “In a perfect world it will get to the point where all four of us active in the group will contribute to the beat stash.”
In this industry, if you are standing still you will get left behind. Everything is constantly changing and you have to adapt. Whether it's losing members and having to take on more responsibility or knocking out interviews while the opening band covers Lauryn Hill in the next room, ¡MAYDAY! seems to thrive in the chaos.
That’s where Future Vintage comes in. The title, as Bernz explains, is them trying to “mix the old shit with the new shit.” ¡MAYDAY! has changed a lot since the group first formed nearly ten years ago and then again when they burst onto the scene in 2012. They've become a staple of the powerhouse that is Strange Music, they've collaborated with legendary emcees (see "Fragile" and Mursday), and god only knows how many women’s bathrooms they’ve tested across the globe, but through all the chaos and all the changes they’ve managed to stay passionate, focused and excited.
Losing a few members and trying new things while still delivering that ¡MAYDAY! sound that has made them a DJBooth staple is the challenge they face in the new Future Vintage chapter of their career. It’s a chapter not yet fully written. The album comes out this Friday, but whatever happens, I know they'll always be ¡MAYDAY!. Upgrading from a van to a tour bus would be pretty nice though.
Editor's Note: Future Vintage is set for release on Friday, September 18th, (pre-order here) and you can catch the band (and Kap Kallous) in your city on the Future Vintage tour. Head over here for dates.
[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 @LucasDJBooth.]