Everlast Talks New Album, 20-Plus Years Of Evolution, Juggling House Of Pain And La Coka Nostra
He began as a protege of Ice-T. He made an uber-hit with House of Pain and Muggs. He worked with Guru and Pete Rock, and later Ill Bill and Slaine. Everlast talks about his musical and personal journey.
Everlast isn’t a political artist, but Hip Hop’s resident singer-songwriter is certainly someone whose music represents the struggling American.
The dynamo was merely a young Irish rapper immersed in the party culture when he dropped “Jump Around” with House Of Pain back in the early '90s, but matured as time went on – telling folks “What It’s Like” in the real world with a guitar later in the decade and strengthening those messages as everyone rolled into the 2000s.
Now, in 2011, he continues spilling his soul on his sixth studio offering Songs Of The Ungrateful Living, which will be released through his own label Martyr Inc. Records and distributed through EMI. Fueled by the economically-stressed single “I Get By,” the 15-track collection features Everlast detailing stories through a blend of rock, blues and folk with his customary Hip Hop swagger.
Simply put, Everlast is someone who constantly breaks barriers and crosses lines most urban music artists are intimidated to walk through, and he does so without compromising his art. He might receive less radio play because of it, but the dynamo is comfortable in his own skin.
With that said, Everlast talks in-depth to HipHopDX.com about Songs Of The Ungrateful Living, crossing into different genres, the reformation of House Of Pain and the mixed martial arts discipline he is training in.
HipHopDX: The last time you released an album was Love, War And The Ghost Of Whitey Ford back in 2008 and it was an amazing effort - quite arguably one of the best Rock albums of the year. But it kept getting pushed back and when it finally dropped, it felt like it was silently released. What exactly happened?
Everlast: Ya know, it’s hard to say because I’m kinda partially responsible when I own the label, but my partners, they just wanted to bury a gap. They were publishers, which is a different game than actually putting a record out in stores and getting people to notice it. So I just think I partnered up with the wrong people and I don’t think it was necessarily anybody’s fault. I don’t waste my time blaming. You make art, you put it out and move on. If it sticks, it sticks and I know once I finish a record, I approve of it. This time around, I’m in a little bit better situation. My partner is an actual record company, EMI [Records], so that should lead to at least a little bit more effort in the record getting heard. All you can ask is that people are aware and then, they make a choice. I just don’t think the last record, many people were even aware that it existed. [Laughs]
DX: Fair enough. Let’s move on and talk about the new album Songs Of The Ungrateful Living. What was the recording process like?
Everlast: Well, it’s the first album I took the lead role in producing. On this one I had helpers, but I took the lead, so I built my own studio in L.A. and just kinda got comfortable. Probably over the course of a year, I recorded the album and just kinda went the way I’ve been going about my music for a while.. If I hear a song or a bit of another style of music that influenced me, I try to grab the little elements from here and there and combine them into whatever my style is. I mean, I know in my mind what I am. I’m a Hip Hop artist, but I understand why some people are confused about that because a lot of people have a very narrow definition of what Hip Hop is to them.
DX: You say a lot of people have a very narrow definition of what Hip Hop is to them. So what is your personal definition of Hip Hop?
Everlast: My definition would just be … alright. Basically, my definition would be like I spent half my life digging through record crates of every genre of music you could find just to find little pieces here and there to subtract from those other genres and make a “Hip Hop” beat. So Hip Hop is just a feeling, ya know what I mean? And I probably spent the latter half of my career lately trying to do the exact opposite - taking what I feel Hip Hop is and bringing it into other genre’s of music instead of the reverse. So for me, Hip Hop is just a feeling. Whatever gives you that little feeling inside that makes you bounce your head and go “Oooh!” That’s it.
DX: Have you ever worried that your music might confuse audiences? Like for instance, radio said Bubba Sparxxx’ album Deliverance was too Rock for Hip Hop radio and too Hip Hop for Rock radio.
Everlast: I’m not really afraid of it to be honest. I invented that, so the fact they can’t put [my music] in a genre is almost something I’m actually pretty fucking proud of. It makes getting played on the radio kinda hard, but fuck it. Someday, somebody will get me. Someday, somebody will collect all the records and be like, “Wow, this dude did some wild shit.”
DX: Right. On Love, War And The Ghost Of Whitey Ford, the concept was centered around soldiers fighting in the Middle East, their mindset during war times and re-adjusting to civilian life. Would you say Songs Of The Ungrateful Living has a theme?
Everlast: I mean, I think everything I do kinda follows a theme. I only write about a couple of things like some sort of social commentary that I have or manners of the heart really, so if I write a group of songs within a certain period of time, they all kinda have a theme. But this record might have even more of a theme than the last one, but it’s just not political in my mind at all. I think the last album was interpreted as political because of songs like “Kill The Emperor,” “Stone In My Hand” and shit like that. I never considered myself a political kind of artist.
DX: So what would you say are some of the biggest issues you talk about on Songs Of The Ungrateful Living?
Everlast: The biggest issues, I mean there is a song called “Little Miss America” that I wrote when I went over to Iraq and visit the troops. There is a song called “Sixty Five Roses.” Like my daughter was born with a condition and it’s called Cystic Fibrosis, and it’s not about the disease so much as like coping as a family with it - the heartbreak and the things you go through until you get to the other side of accepting and moving on with your life. There’s a lot of shit - some heavy shit. But I don’t even like to put that much on the meaning of songs because I think one of the beauties of a song is when somebody can take it and make it their own and fill in their gaps with their own personal stories.
DX: “I Get By” was released as the first single and typically, artists feel like their first singles are either the most commercial-friendly or the best representation of what their album is all about. Which category does “I Get By” fit in?
Everlast: Well, I started with a good record. I don’t know if it’s the best representation of the whole album … well actually, it could be because I’m so all over the place. Like sonically, you can never take one song off my album and call it, “Here is what it all sounds like.” But fundamentally, I think the whole attitude does. As far as the first single, for me, there were probably three songs that could have been the first single, but the time almost dictated it. What’s going on just in the country right now kinda dictated that whole thing.
DX: And is” The Rain” the official second single or a track to further promote the album?
Everlast: Nah. Actually, it’s just kinda … like my managers and people who represent me, they think I put out these records like one record at a time and try to work them at certain genres and I try to tell them for a long time like, “Yo, I think ‘I Get By’ could work on Hip Hop stations.” But for some reason, nobody hears me, so they released “The Rain” as Hip Hop single kinda thing. Like if it took off, I’m sure we’d go after it, but it’s just kinda out there to get a little bit more hype up about it and let people hear it. It’s really just about that - working different genres. I feel like there are records on my album you could send to country stations, ya know what I mean? That may be good for it.
DX: There are a couple of Hip Hop artists who have crossed over into country, like Kid Rock for example. Would you be down to have your songs played on Country radio?
Everlast: Oh, only if it happened naturally, man. I’m not one of these dudes that would come out and be like, “Oh look at me. I’m a Country artist now.” Like if they found one of my songs to be compatible, sure. But it’s not like I’m chasing that, ya know?
DX: Definitely. So you won’t be rocking a cowboy hat and performing in a barn anytime soon then?
Everlast: Nah. That’s pretty lame. I would collaborate with anyone of a number of Country people, but I would never try to put on a uniform and act like, “Look at me now, I’m a country dude.” That’s real lame. How many times have you seen an artist or somebody who is failing in their actual genre of whatever – I don’t believe in genres anyways, first of all. That should be obvious by what I do. But let’s just say how any times have you seen some Pop princess or some Pop-fucking-singer, boy-toy whatever motherfucker falling down in their career and all of a sudden are like, “I’m a Country singer now.” It’s lame, man.
DX: I feel ya there. I was reading the press release and it stated that Songs Of The Ungrateful Living was the “spiritual follow-up.” Is that accurate?
Everlast: Well I think all music is a spiritual outlet, but I don’t know. Maybe a sense of that is just because I put some childish things behind me and maybe some of that maturity is reflecting through the record. I’ve come to a place in life where I’m at peace with a lot of things. My whole philosophy is like, “Even if it ain’t alright, everything’s alright.” So I don’t know what to attribute that too necessarily. It’s not really any focus on any kind of religion or anything because, even though I would consider myself still to be Muslim, I don’t really. I really kinda reject all organized religion. It’s just I don’t see much good come from the organization of religion. Ya know? When a bunch of people get together and are spiritual and they feel good about each other, great things can happen. But when you start enforcing your philosophy and ideals on other people who don’t necessarily share them all, it turns into Palestine and Israel, and all these kinds of things. Ya know? Indians and Pakistanis, ya know? Basically, religious differences cause most of these conflicts, man, so I kinda reject the whole organized religion concept.
DX: There are some folks who feel being religious and spiritual are two different things, and then there are others who believe the two are the same. Where do you lie?
Everlast: Yeah, I mean, it’s tough to call, man. That’s something you just need to feel or ya don’t. Spiritual, religious … religious to me … it’s such a tough question because you say religion to me and I’m automatically thinking rules and restrictions, ya know what I mean? That’s the problem when I have problems. It’s like, I don’t need to be told by a book or some dude at a church or mosque or synagogue what I should and shouldn’t do. I was raised right, man. I know what’s right and wrong. I know what the difference between hurting somebody and not hurting somebody, and that’s pretty much the golden rule. Do unto others. If you got a grip on that, and you accept that and you believe that, you really don’t need much else in the universe.
DX: I noticed you followed mixed martial arts and are good friends with UFC President Dana White. When did you meet him?
Everlast: He was actually a fan. He came to a show of mine in Boston with [former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion] Chuck Liddell. I flipped out on him like, “Yo, what’s up Chuck Liddell,” and they were like, “Oh shit! Everlast,” and it was kinda a mutual fan thing. Dana had just taken over the UFC and he was like, “Yo, come to some fights.” He gave me his number and it was like, any fight I wanna go to from then on, it was like easy peasy, ya know?
DX: How impressed were you when UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar had that come-from-behind knockout against Gray Maynard a few weeks back at UFC 136?
Everlast: Well ya know, Gray Maynard is a homey of some homeys, so I was rooting for him, but Frankie Edgar is a fucking gladiator. That kid is fucking amazing. I’m just thoroughly impressed by him.
DX: Rumor is he’ll be fighting Benson Henderson, Clay Guida or Strikeforce Lightweight Champ Gilbert Melendez next.
Everlast: I wanna see him fight [UFC Featherweight Champion] Jose Aldo. I wanna see Aldo and Edgar go at it, dawg. That’s what I wanna see. It’ll happen. It’ll take a year or two. They’ll have to clean out everyone in their divisions, and then it’ll happen. Frankie Edgar doesn’t even cut weight, so he can go to 145 easy.
DX: Do you train in any of the martial arts? Like in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or Muy Thai?
Everlast: I haven’t in about a year. It’s been so crazy since my daughter [was born], but yeah, I was doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at Beverly Hills Jiu-Jitsu [Club] with a guy named Marcus Vinicius. I haven’t done it in a while. Actually when I stopped, I was one stripe away from my blue belt, so I gotta go back and get that. I was only doing it for about six months and sporadically at that. But yeah, I train a little bit. Plus half my boys train in one way or another, ya know? It’s fun, but I also got a heart condition and all kinds of shit, so I don’t wild out too much. At the most, it’s jiu-jitsu. I don’t get into the Muy Thai or none of that other shit. It’s too much. I’m too old for that shit.
DX: So no chance will see you in the Octagon?
Everlast: Nah. Not unless I can bring a gun with me.
DX: I feel ya there. So when did House Of Pain reform and what’s the story behind it? Was it because of La Coka Nostra or did Dana White have a part in it?
Everlast: Well, a few years back, Danny [Boy], [DJ] Lethal and I got hired on St. [Patrick's] Day to go to Vegas and kinda take over the club deejay booth situation billed as House Of Pain being there. We did “Jump Around” from the deejay booth. I wouldn’t consider that the show, ya know what I mean? And as far as getting back together, I guess the single most important thing that paved the way to that was La Coka Nostra, and we all started working together on that project. We got hired to do this one-off thing in [Las] Vegas, which was more like a deejay thing more than anything, and the next year, there was a bunch of interest in us doing a bunch of shows around St. Paddy’s Day. Dana actually said, “Fuck all that. I’ll throw a party that weekend. You’re gonna play at my party.” We were like, “Alright. Sure. Why not? We’ll do it.” What better reason to do it than for the homey, and that was pretty much it. Once we did that, we were like, “Fuck it, we should do some shows.” It was twenty years later, so it seemed like a good reason to do it.
DX: Is it difficult managing House Of Pain, La Coka Nostra and a solo career? How do you juggle it all?
Everlast: It’s just doing songs naturally the way they sound. It’s never overwhelming. I like to work, I always like to be busy, so when there’s nothing to do, that’s when I get nervous.
DX: Over the past two years, you got married and had a kid. Since starting a family, how has that changed your outlook on life and your music career.
Everlast: I don’t know. It’s certainly changed your outlook on the same old thing. Any parent would say that - at least any parent involved in their kid’s life. It puts things in perspective, ya know? Running out to get the latest sneakers and the coolest Nikes, a lot of that falls to the backside because you have more important shit to handle. If anything’s changed, I’ve probably put a lot of my childish ways behind me.
DX: Since your start from House Of Pain to your early solo stuff to now, how has Everlast changed?
Everlast: How have I changed? I grew up in this game. I started in this game doing it for fun. I had no idea it would turn out to be a career and … I recently saw this interview with me on Yo! MTV Raps when I was 17. I was ridiculously young, but they asked me something about being a rapper and my answer was something to the tune of, “I hope at the end of my career that I’m not known as a rapper, but I’m known as a musician,” which is not knowing what would happen later down on the road is kinda telling when I listen to it now. I guess I’m just on a journey, man. I’m just trying ;earn as much as I can. I still meet cats every day that are better musicians than me that didn’t have the same lucky breaks as me, so I just try and appreciate that and learn as much as I can.