Sage Francis & B. Dolan are two Underground/Indie Hip-Hop emcees who have, arguably, achieved as much success as one can within the genre, without "going" Mainstream." It appears as though Sage & B. have always been friends and have been collaborating with each other for years, although, first appeared on-record together in 2012 for the first time dually billed as EPIC BEARD MEN. It was on "2BAD" from B. Dolan's HOUSE OF BEES VOL. 2 MIXED BY: BUDDY PRICE. Since then, B. Dolan & Sage Francis have been loosely collaborating together on-and-off as EPIC BEARD MEN with Dolan releasing countless solo albums on Francis' own label imprint, Strange Famous Records, as well. As recently as 2018, Sage & B. made it "official" releasing their first collaborative project together, Season 1 EP, which contained four Bonus Tracks meticulously tacked onto it's tail-end.
Now, EPIC BEARD MEN have returned, exactly one year later, as promised, with their aptly-titled debut full-length project, This Was Supposed to be Fun. Honestly, Strange Famous Records describe it best: "This Was Supposed to Be Fun plays like a dark Buddy-Comedy gone spectacularly sideways: the mighty EPIC BEARD MEN are back in the barber chair, f*#&in' up your market share. You can't tell them sh*t. The chill is gone. The chill was never here." For This Was Supposed to Be Fun, Sage Francis & B. Dolan have recruited a talented cast of characters including Yugen Blakrok, Wu-Tang Clan affiliate Blue Raspberry, DS3K, Eligh of Living Legends, Vockah Redu, Atmosphere emcee Slug, Circle Takes The Square's Kathleen Stubelek, and Worldwide. I've been, personally, speaking with B. Dolan online since after the release of Season 1 and I'm proud to finally present The Witzard's long-in-the-works interview with the EPIC BEARD MEN themselves, Sage Francis & B. Dolan!
Matt "The Witzard" Horowitz
Your Supremely Bearded Scribe
I. I remember seeing "House of Bees" from 2009's house of bees vol. 1 included within EPIC BEARD MEN's 2018 Season 1 EP... but when exactly did you two bearded fellas decide to officially form EPIC BEARD MEN?
B. DOLAN: I don't remember the exact moment or year. I think, I just got tired of writing "Feat. Sage Francis" on all my tracklists and he probably felt the same. We were collaborating on the creation and distribution of much music and sharing stages and vans on so many tours, that the combination of the two of us just became a thing. The naming was retroactive and truly sort of arbitrary. We're named after a meme for f*ck's sake. Our attitude at the time was "any name is fine, as long as the music is f*#&ing dope" and it's pretty much stayed that way.
SAGE FRANCIS: When I saw the Epic Beard Man video (meme) I felt seen. That's been my energy for ages now and I felt like using that premise as the launch pad for what we were doing as two grown-a$$ men in a "youth-driven" genre. Not that I really believe this genre is "youth-driven," but that's been a narrative that the media hasn't been able to shake for the past... 40 years? Every time someone mentions how it's a dumb name, an angel grows a new pair of ovaries. No sh*t, it's a dumb name, bud... but there's a band called [Bared Naked] Ladies and no one pays attention to the name because they're pretty much the best Rock band of all time. That's how that magic works.
II. Now, is there some sort of legally-binding contract that permits either of you from ever shaving off your beards? If one of you were to shave off your facial hair, what would you, then, call the clean-shaven group?
DOLAN: As stated, neither of us has much invested in the beard thing. We happen to both have 'em and shaved heads. We look alike and get it a lot. Ultimately, it's the beard on the inside, though... or The EPIC. No more beard questions.
FRANCIS: I tried shaving my beard once and Dolan scolded me. He said I wasn't handsome enough to have no beard. It stuck with me. I can feel a rebellion building up in me, though. It's not always about trying to look amazing for the people.
III. How exactly did you go about recruiting and placing This Was Supposed to Be Fun's various guests including Atmosphere emcee Slug, Wu-Tang Clan affiliate Blue Raspberry, Yugen Blakrok, Eligh of Living Legends, Kathleen Stubelek, Worldwide, and Vockah Redu?
DOLAN: One-by-one, as the possibilities or needs of the song dictated. My last solo record involved over 20 collaborators and, I think, this one might have beat it on the production tip. I worked with a lot of the same musicians and engineers from Kill The Wolf (2015) as well new or old friends, who we thought would bring something dope to that specific section of the song they're on. In the case of Blue Raspberry, I just knew I wanted a Blue Raspberry-like vocal for the song, when someone pointed out to me that I could contact THE Blue Raspberry. So, I hollered and she was down, to my surprise!
FRANCIS: I'm never all that interested in having "features" on songs when doing solo projects, but I always felt like EPIC BEARD MEN (EBM) could be a collective of people. I almost wish we had more features for every song, which is weird for me to say. I feel like it worked out perfectly, though with this album. Sometimes, we reach out to people and they're not able to get their verses recorded in time and that can really mess with the vision of a song, if it's intended to have a particular person's voice or style included. Features are risky business, but we gamblers, baby. WE GAMBLERZ. No KENO.
V. How would you say the overall recording processes were similar/dissimilar while creating Season 1 vs. This Was Supposed to Be Fun?
DOLAN: We spent more time doing re-play experiments with live musicians on songs we felt deserved or needed that treatment. Certain songs had samples we couldn't use, but we felt strongly enough to hold 'em back for the album. I'd say the more involved, produced stuff ended up on the LP and the more high-energy live "BANGERS" got front-loaded on the EP, for that reason. We started working on all of them at the same time, though.
VI. What can you, potentially, tell us about your Come to The Sand Dunes Tour opener Vockah Redu?
DOLAN: I met Vockah Redu in 2011, when I put together the Church of Love & Ruin Tours. He was introduced to me by The What Cheer? Brigade on that tour and he blew every one of us away with his performances. I'd never seen Bounce music performed live, though, I'd known about it and been listening from a distance... and after seeing Vockah live, I knew I'd never see Bounce music performed at that level anywhere else again. They made him take an encore after a 30-minute opening set his first time in our city. When we made "Take A Break," we ended up incorporating a hook of his, so I hit him up to tell him about it and ask him to get on the track. He mentioned he was looking to get back out on the road and release a bunch of new music soon and we knew we had to be a part of that.
FRANCIS: Vockah needs to be followed around with cameras. A casting agency hit me up recently asking about maybe doing a reality show and I was like, "do you want a hit show? You need to follow Vockah Redu. I mostly live inside of my head and he lives out of his mind... in a good way." Seriously, though, having him on tour felt like a risky move, as I didn't know him on a personal level. As much as I adore his performances, you never really know if the van chemistry will work or not and that's pretty important when you're sharing such a small space for six weeks; but Vockah and his dancer, Energyza, are constant entertainment mixed with good vibes. Both of them are anomalies to me. Vockah is a Goddamn super-star!
VII. Now, I know both of you rhyme throughout This Was Supposed to Be Fun, but who handles the majority of the production duties for EPIC BEARD MEN? Or is it more of a Jaylib Champion Sound-type scenario wherein you both split rapping/production duties?
DOLAN: I handled the majority of the beat production duties with DS3K, the engineer who I've been working with since House of Bees [Vol.] 2. DS3K mixed the project and together, we oversaw the things needed to make all the songs sonically sit next to each other. We started out with beats from a number of sources and producers. I also, ended up making or adding to a little over half of the beats on the album. I started nerding out pretty hard in the studio during the past three years on this one... just filling in what we saw as the production holes in 30 or so songs we were working on at once. It forced us to get even better at the workflow we'd started getting into on Kill The Wolf, which allowed us to bring in all types of different collaborators, while maintaining a cohesive sound.
FRANCIS: Correct. Mr. Dolan's anal retentiveness over every production element ensured that the finalization of these songs would be dragged past all important deadlines. Personally, I'm down with just rapping over MP3's that I downloaded off of MySpace 10 years ago because I'm a trash human, but, ya know... to each their own. Turns out, his way is better, if you actually care about sonics and overall sound quality. Silly stuff like that! (*fart noise*)
VIII. What can you, potentially, tell us about the creation of your [adult swim] & Toonami-debuted animated music video for "Pistol Dave" co-starring Slug from Atmosphere? What else do you have in store for the This Was Supposed to Be Fun album roll-out?
DOLAN: That song was one of the first to come together for the album, as we were both sure it would be funny and had plenty of material to draw from, in terms of shady tour bus driver memories. Widowmaker sent the original part of the beat that Sage raps over during his verse and then, as soon as it was my turn, I just started hearing these more and more lush ideas... starting with a hook from a 70's crooner female vocal. I wrote the lyrics of Blue Raspberry's hook and recorded a horrible demo of myself singing it and then, started asking around, as to who knew a good female vocalist. Everyone I listened to sounded like SZA for a while, but I wanted a specific sound that I wasn't hearing. I finally realized it was Blue Raspberry's voice I was hearing and when I hit her up, she responded and gave us that hook, no questions asked. Given the subject matter, that still amazes me.
We added violins, live piano, and upright bass for my verse, all of which we tracked in NY with another engineer named Chris Gilroy, who I've known for a lot of years. That was also, where we recorded Steve Okinski playing synths during Slug's verse and made that part of the beat happen. Sage had provided the original sample we built the section around in an early demo, but we made sure it slapped and had a kinda 70's [P*rno] feel during "Dave's" verse. As for having Slug on the track, Sage & I both had that idea at the same time. As soon as I presented him the idea of having Slug rap as "Dave," he said, "I was thinking THE. SAME. EXACT. thing, weirdly enough!"
IX. I recall when Nardwuar The Human Serviette interviewed Sage Francis back in 2010 and Sage was also, featured on The Evaporators' "Hot Dog High" with Xaul Zan & Megan Barnes... but are there currently any plans (to your knowledge) for Nardwuar to speak with EPIC BEARD MEN?
FRANCIS: We won't be making our way into beautiful British Columbia and we purposely skipped SXSW, so the chance of a Nardwuar/EBM interview, at this point, is extremely slim. We are always down for that, though. He's been incredibly nice to us over the years.
DOLAN: Between us, we've got like a trillion shows and road miles, and something like more than 20 releases between us. There's a lot of trivia and musical connections to choose from, and I'd love to see Nardwuar try and make sense of our intertwined and ongoing [discographies]...
X. Assuming that This Was Supposed to Be Fun's proper follow-up is already in-the-works, who might be on each of your "wishlists" of ideal "dream" collaborators to be featured within EPIC BEARD MEN's sophomore album/EP?
DOLAN: It doesn't really work that way. In terms of inviting people onto our songs, it's more like we make a song that we like and then, there's a part of it we aren't sure what to do with... so, you start thinking about all the things that could happen on that part and your mind might start to hear the voice or style of another musician we know. Often, it's another musician who would be more than down to join in and we decided early [on] that the EBM project would be perfect for that, since it was collaborative anyway.
FRANCIS: We definitely don't work with any "wishlists." [With] that said, I feel like Prince Paul's quirky production style would be a perfect match for a full EBM project. I'd love to have him oversee an EP or LP with whatever input he's willing to offer. Full outlaw style, uncleareable samples and all. Let's get arrested, homie! For the art!