Following an initial batch of emailed conversations around Thanksgiving, former Stones Throw General Manager and Now-Again Records founder Eothen "Egon" Alapatt and I decided to reconvene after the holidays to conduct an all-inclusive interview for this very site, The Witzard; and now, a few months later, it has finally come to fruition. Egon worked closely with J Dilla during his final years and shacked up at the infamous Stones Throw home/studio with Madlib, MF DOOM, Jeff Jank, and Peanut Butter Wolf during the making of MADVILLAINY. Available here in its complete unedited long-form, out full emailed conversation touches on Alapatt's tenure at Stones Throw, Dilla's unreleased food-themed beat CD's, the incomplete "MADVILLAINY 2" sessions, Madlib & Yasiin Bey (Mos Def)'s rumored "Zamrock" project, Biz Markie's notorious record fibbs, and his independent publishing house, Sinecure Books. Feel free to read and repeatedly enjoy our transcribed journey down the record-diggin' wormhole down below!(1) What kind of information are you ultimately able to reveal, if any, concerning the fate(s) of J Dilla's supposed Donuts quasi-sequel "The Pizza Man," inner-circle "Munchkins" beat-tape, and very recently teased "Pay Jay" (MCA album)?
Donuts was ultimately a compilation of sorts, comprised of a series of beat CD's that Dilla had made in LA and had given out amongst the crew, and some others that he wanted to work with. Those CD's had names like "Dil Cosby," "Dil Withers," "Donuts," and "Pizza Man." But he never had plans on anything beyond Donuts, so far as I know. None of us ever talked about it with him, at least that I remember. You have to understand, Donuts was just to be a quick weigh-station of a project – it wasn't meant to be this thing that it turned out to be, though all of us involved were really taken [aback] by how great it was, even in its earliest stages.
Now the vocal album – that is something that I know he had a desire to see out, as he did Ruff Draft and, oddly enough, an album he'd made of noodling improvised keyboard lines over drum breaks (one of those made it to The Shining album). The vocal album – "The Diary" [Pay Jay], as we're calling it – is nearly done and should be out later this year.
(2) Would you mind sharing with our fellow readers and crate-diggers out there what sort of releases Now-Again Records has lined up for the remainder of 2015?
We just announced our Record Store Day release of Amanaz's Africa, and following that, we've our anthology/book of Southern Soul-Funk guitarist/singer/songwriter Richard Marks Never Satisfied, a 12" EP with Kenny Dope's remixes of Miami-cruise-ship-disco-band Pazazz's two tracks, an anthology covering schizophrenic LA funk/soul ensemble 4th Coming's complete works, a two-part anthology/book on the Nigerian Rock scene that arose after the Biafran Civil War Wake Up You, a "library" album by Karl Hector & The Malcouns, The Heliocentrics second Quatermass Sessions EP, the Zamrock band Peace's Black Power album, Seven Inch Sureshots Round Two, and the start of Now-Again Reserve, which is a high-quality subscription service. There are other records floating around, but those I'm sure of.
(3) What are the typical processes like that go into discovering, clearing, and ultimately releasing the label's standard long-lost "diamond in the ruff"-style LP's?
The process varies, as you might guess, but it always starts in the same way: I hear something that sounds interesting, that not that many people know about, that strikes a chord in me and I think might strike a chord in others. The clearance process can be convoluted, but, in most cases, I try to work with musicians that own their own masters and control their own publishing, and I try to convince them 1.) of my earnest intentions, 2.) to manage their expectations, 3.) to feel proud in what they accomplished and hopeful that it might resonate when presented again, in a different time, in a different way than they'd expected, and 4.) that I'm the right guy for the job. The release of the music in contemplation might take some time, as I then – amongst all of the other jobs I have, and my other responsibilities, most importantly to my family – have to find a line that I can draw between what they achieved and what I would have hoped they would have achieved and try to make that connection happen decades after their music was lost to time. It sounds dry, but it isn't – I start with exciting music that I'd like to hear over, and over again and the story usually comes out of repeated listens, many questions, and enthusiastic artists.
(4) I recently watched Stones Throw’s fantastic Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton documentary and I was wondering, what might you consider some of your fondest memories from your time spent as Stones Throw’s general manager (2000-11)?
Well, I've never watched that documentary, and did all that I could to avoid being a part of it, for reasons that are too detailed to go into in this space, but my fondest memories of being a part of Stones Throw were in the earliest days, from around 2000 until 2002, when we – Peanut Butter Wolf, Madlib, Jeff Jank, and I – were just trying to become something, before ego and wounded psyches ruined what could have been something far greater than it has turned out to be. I had great moments throughout my tenure there, surely, but by around 2005 it was obvious to me that, though it was successful, and from a public perspective, looked upon as a family (an approach, I'm guessing, that the documentary trades on, based on what I've read about it), the internal workings were so screwy and destructive that I was probably going to end up away from it. I ended up sticking around a lot longer than I thought I would have been able to, honestly.
(5) Do you have any details concerning the status of Madlib & Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def)'s rumored collaborative Zamrock-inspired LP, which was initially teased a couple years ago?
I actually just heard from Yasiin and he said he had Zamrock on the mind. He's the real deal, and that project is a great idea. It's just a geographic thing now – those two are separated by continents and oceans and I think they have to be in the same place to get that done.
(6) I'm sure you get this one a lot, too; but do you, or anyone for that matter, have any sort of status updates on DOOM & Madlib/Ghostface Killah’s long-rumored "MADVILLAINY 2" and "GHOSTDOOM" projects?
I can't talk at all about the Ghostface/DOOM collaboration as I'm not involved in it, but I can say that the only "MADVILLAINY 2" songs recorded post "Monkey Suite," to my knowledge, were the ones during my time at Stones Throw. Working with a strategy that [The Mouse & The Mask producer] Danger Mouse suggested to me, I was able to get DOOM back to LA for around 8 months, off and on, and was able to get around 8 to 10 tracks made, some of which were complete, some of which were in various stages of completion.
(7) I recently emailed you about a couple different pressings of Stones Throw’s 2003-released Paul's Boutique-era Beastie Boys Remixes EP... I'm curious to know what the story behind its creation might have been?
That was when we were making white labels as promotional ventures – the first we made, which kick-started the Jaylib album (for the record, I wanted to put that song on there – I've heard it said otherwise, but that's not true), was made because [Peanut Butter] Wolf wanted some songs on wax to use in a mix for some CD he was making. The Beastie Boys EP just made sense as Wolf, Madlib and I (with Jon Doe) all had had remixes on their Criterion [Collection] DVD and we could pull the audio from the DVD, and match them with our instrumentals. I guess that was more about promoting Stones Throw – back then the Beastie Boys were a current, big deal. I guess we were trying to associate ourselves with something that people thought was much bigger than us. Well, not Madlib. He couldn't care less if his music was on that thing. But I really wanted to put on that instrumental for the one part of his remix so I could have it on wax.
(8) Following the holidays, I had the opportunity to interview super-producer and guitarist Dan Ubick of The Lions, Connie Price & The Keystones, and formerly Breakestra. Soon after publishing our completed interview, I scored a copy of "Get Thy Bearings" 45 from Discogs (credited to The Sand Dollars feat. Chris Manak). What can you tell me about its recording/creation and release?
That's a simple one: Wolf always liked crooning, and he and I had this running joke about this story that Biz Markie told him about having a 45 of Donovan's "Get Thy Bearings" with an instrumental on the flip side (a total lie, of course, but everyone who knows Biz knows he's a big record fibber). I said, "why don't we just make one?" And, since it was my own label, I could.
(9) Would you care to further detail some of your personal favorite or most cherished crate-diggin' finds of 2014 (many of which are chronicled and shared on Instagram)?
2014 was a big one for me as I scored a copy of Paternoster, one of my favorite albums of all time. It kick-started my desire to find the band again and Stephan Szillus, a German journalist and music nut, who saw the post, very generously stepped up and said, "I’ll help you find them." Well, he did, and I was able to talk to Franz Wippel, the band's founder, and start work on a very serious project that will properly archive their work and tell their story with Stephan, Franz and Tom Weisser, the bass player Heimo Weisser's son. That's really a dream come true for me.
(10) Now-Again just recently released a Heliocentrics-backed Melvin Van Peebles album, The Last Transmission; but what ever ended up happening to Madlib & Van Peebles' long-rumored Jaylib-era collaborative album?
That turned into this album [The Last Transmission]. Basically, Melvin gave Madlib acapellas to a very long album, the only song I remember from which was an involved song called "The Bowel Movement Suite," Madlib couldn't find a way to make the collaboration work, and I said to myself "it would be a shame to let this relationship peter out." So, I tried kick-starting a third Quasimoto album by transferring all of Melvin's multi-track reels – no luck... Then, in talking with The Heliocentrics about the process, they said, "well, sh*t, we'd love to do something with him." So, on one of my trips to New York to work on the Aloe Blacc Good Things album, I recorded some vocals with Madlib over a long song of theirs that ended up being a part of their Multau album – and, six years later, they pieced that recording together into this recently released album.
(11) Do you plan to continue to sign and release material from "new artists" like Freddie Gibbs and Fabiano do Nascimento? Would you care to briefly detail Nascimento's forthcoming Danca dos Tempos album, as well?
Well, with Madlib Invazion, the label Madlib and I do, we'll always do new music – the Freddie Gibbs album is just one example of the kind of album we issue, it just happens to be our most successful. At Now-Again, the success rate for new artist signings is less - I just focus on new artists I can either license their own recorded music, or cheaply fund recordings on bands or musicians I like. It's really hard to break a new artist, and very expensive, compared to re-issues. So, I can't afford to do many. But with people like Fabiano [do Nascimento], The Heliocentrics, Jan Weissenfeldt, Chop, etc., I really don't have a choice: their music is just too good. It has to come out and it has to be presented right.
(12) Although Madlib released 13 marathon albums/mixtapes between 2010-12, he's remained relatively silent since (aside from his Freddie Gibbs-related projects). What exactly has Madlib been up to since the onslaught of The Madlib Medicine Show... any "new" releases planned for the not-so-distant future?
We've been working on a series of ideas – none yet "really" ready to mention – but anyone who knows Madlib knows he never really stops working, he just goes through phases where he calibrates one aspect of his personality, while letting another few idle.
(13) Would you care to talk a little bit about you independent publishing house, Sincure Books, founded with Johan Kugelberg for those not "in the loop?" What sort of projects do you guys have in the pipeline for the remainder of 2015?
As to Sinecure, it's really an outcropping of everything that I love – and Johan loves too: music, culture, potentially lost stories about great moments in America's latter half of the 20th Century. Our fifth book will center around Buddy Esq., "king of the Hip-Hop flyer." Hopefully later this year.
(14) Your Now-Again bio notes that "2001's The Funky 16 Corners inspired [you] to found [your] own label [whose] original mission was to focus on similar reissues of regional American Funk and Soul;" What aspects of assembling that fateful compilation do you really think compelled you to branch out and form your own re-issue label imprint?
Well, it was a big success, as far as re-issues of its type go. It made Stones Throw a bunch of bread, and helped really break us into film and TV licensing, which became quite lucrative for the company in its heyday. And Michael McFaddin, the co-founder of Ubiquity Records (with his ex-wife, Jody), approached me about taking over their Luv & Haight imprint – I'd done some work with them while I was in college. While the idea was tempting, I didn't want to leave Stones Throw as we were in the midst of something great in 2001 – though I couldn't really put my finger on it, I knew that working with Madlib was my personal answer, and I wanted to stick around til I could figure out how to really help get his music where he wanted it to be... So, I approached Wolf, told him of what Michael and Jody had proposed and, though he said I should take the gig, I told him that my loyalties were at Stones Throw, but that I wanted an outlet. So, he begrudgingly, but generously, let me start Now-Again. Regardless of what's happened between us in the intervening years, and while I really have no idea why he said yes to my insisting on my own label, I'm very grateful to him for that.