Katalyst Breaks Down Portishead Side Project The Quakers Featuring dead prez, Emilio Rojas
Exclusive: One of The Quakers explains working with Portishead's Geoff Barrow and engineer Stuart Matthews on the Stones Throw release featuring Prince Po, Aloe Blacc and Guilty Simpson.
There’s a lot to be said about collaboration in Hip Hop. From Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” to the Watch the Throne album Jay-Z & Kanye West unleashed just last year, the collaborative efforts add a spirit of unity to the culture. Understanding this, three producers decided to join forces to form Quakers, a project headed by Ashley “Katalyst” Anderson, 7STU7 (Portishead engineer Stuart Matthews) and Fuzzface (Portishead’s Geoff Barrow). The result comes in the form of their self-titled album, recently released via Stones Throw Records.
The album is an eclectic blend of influences, crafted by the three producers. It remains cohesive with a “vibe,” as Katalyst explained in an interview with HipHopDX. “We were just trying to write some dirty Hip Hop,” he shared. Adding artists like Guilty Simpson, Aloe Blacc, Prince Po, dead prez, Emilio Rojas and many others, the album lends itself to a variety of tastes and styles. As Katalyst put it, “When you bring all of those influences together to write a Hip Hop record, it’s definitely gonna have different flavors.” Dig in.
HipHopDX: There's obviously a great array of guests on the album. Some are known. Some are unknown. What was the selection process like?
Katalyst: The selection process started out because Geoff [Barrow] and I had a plan that we’d look for people online. MySpace was still going at that time and so we figured we’d put stuff on MySpace and see who came along. We sort of scrapped that idea thinking we might offend people if we didn’t like their stuff. So, we spent more time actively looking online than going that route. Also, we started doing stuff here, in Australia, when certain artists would come here if we felt they suited the record. Also, we had an idea of the general style of person that would suit the type of music we were writing.
DX: Of all of those emcees you invited, who surprised you most?
Katalyst: Some of the artists we didn’t know were sort of known in America, which we discovered later on. But these were people we had never heard of so it was interesting to see who was really unknown and who some people knew about in different areas but we heard something in all their voices. Of the new people, the most interesting was probably Coin Locker Kid because of his age at the time and also he might have been one of the only ones who sought us out. He got a sniff of the record somewhere online. He went to MySpace and then he recorded on some of our beats we had on there. He recorded himself on there and then sent us a link. That was surprising because we sort of went, “Wow, that’s kind of cool.” It was quite an odd beat and quite an odd rap.
DX: How much input did you guys have in the rhyme writing process and giving emcees a structure or vision as to where to take their rhymes?
Katalyst: Very little, lyrically. Really, it was just about a vibe we had. We were just trying to write some dirty Hip Hop really so [we just told artists] do whatever you feel with the vibe. It was really just about doing the verse and being in and out. It wasn’t a song structure record, so no need for choruses or stuff like that.
DX: So, you wanted to avoid a traditional formula?
Katalyst: Yeah, exactly. That was one of the things we wanted to break out of, just having tracks that have three verses and chorus and a bridge and all of the boxes ticked and you sort of know what to expect a minute into the song, or even less…We wanted to mix it up a bit, keep people guessing and try to keep it exciting.
DX: There's definitely an eclectic sound present there as well. What influenced that type of diversity?
Katalyst: A number of factors [created that sound]. The beats are made by three different people. All of us, in our own worlds, have a pretty diverse range of musical taste. We’re not just listening to Hip Hop the whole time. So, when you bring all of those influences together to write a Hip Hop record, it’s definitely gonna have different flavors. Even the sounds we got out of tracks we produced were different in themselves so it made for an interesting mix.
DX: Listening to your podcast, one could tell there was definitely a throwback vibe with Nas' "Live At The Barbeque" verse [from Main Source’s Breaking Atoms], O.C.'s "Time's Up" [from Word…Life] and so on. How much has that era or style of Hip Hop inspired your album?
Katalyst: Yeah, yeah, it’s interesting. There wasn’t a great intention to focus on any particular era but I guess that was an era where a lot of exciting music was released and a lot of new people were discovered. It’s an era where I was really excited picking up those records back in the day. In a sense, we were trying to write something that had a similar sort of energy. There’s a definite influence in terms of what we grew up on and there’s a touch of Public Enemy there. A lot of those influences are put there to reference those things, I guess. I think that might have been Nas’ first verse and Main Source was such a dope band. Recently, [Nas and Large Professor] got back together and did that tune so that was in my mind. It could’ve been one of 40 tunes. It could’ve been “N.Y. State of Mind,” you know? So, it’s just a loose reference. The O.C. thing, I put it there because I had done a remix version for an Australian release. So, I thought I’d stick it in there. So, as far as the overall sound, we tried to look forward while referencing the best of the old stuff as well.
DX: Speaking of looking back, you have some artists that are new on your album, as you mentioned earlier, but you also have artists who are more established. You have Prince Po, dead prez, Akil, and so on. What do you feel the more established artists brought to the album?
Katalyst: That’s an interesting question, really. We could have gone about getting totally unknown people on the record, I guess. But, it was nice to reach out and get some people you grew up on, as well, to see if they would like to be involved. Then, people like dead prez were also Portishead fans so that was the angle we came with. Obviously, Geoff’s involvement in the record was a factor in that if they were mutually fans of each other’s work. As for what they brought to the record, it’s a good question, man. I guess they just brought their raw talent. Some of the performances from a lot of the emcees feel authentic. There wasn’t a lot of money involved or anything like that. It was like, “If you want to be involved with the record, cool.” Some people weren’t down. It was all about the money with them but we totally respect that as well. We approached the artists because we knew that they had what it took to rock a beat on the record. Simple as that, because of their talent, because they are dope emcees. We’re just fans of some of those cats as well. So it was dope to get them involved in the record. It was nice to have them all involved. Everyone who was involved was involved for the right reasons.