"One of the running themes in Eddie Romero can be heard in the opening and closing tracks of the album, when I rhyme "shall I croon or shall I spit?" Basically, I wanted to play with the image of an old school crooner, a slow jam king, that all of a sudden, flips his ballad on its ear and starts rhyming all fast and frenetic. On the first single, "Up to You" this idea is in full effect; to me, I feel like the melody is really sweet and romantic, but I wanted to contrast this with a fast and somewhat hectic beat that hits hard and could be equally at home with Big Daddy Kane rhyming over it," Steven "Sulu" Mallorca wrote within a recent statement included along with my previous Sulu & Excelsior write-up. Mallorca's unique sound has been fittingly categorized as "Johnny Mathis meets Mos Def meets Stevie Wonder meets Nat King Cole," which I would almost equate to something along the lines of Mayer Hawthorne meets Eric B. & Rakim; oddly enough, Steve Mallorca's solo debut as Sulu & Excelsior, Eddie Romero was written and recorded in a manner similar to Mayer Hawthorne & The County's largely self-recorded, New-Wop-minded Stones Throw debut, A Strange Arrangement (2009).
"Sulu & Excelsior is the solo project of multi-instrumentalist/rapper/singer Steven E. Mallorca, aka Sulu, who cut his teeth on the NYC independent music scene as a rapper, trumpet player, and song-writer in the eclectic live Alternative Hip-Hop group, P.I.C. Also a working commercial and independent film-maker, Mallorca was in the process of writing songs for a new feature film project, when he decided to develop them further, and this collection of tunes eventually became Sulu & Excelsior's debut album, Eddie Romero." I've been corresponding with Steve Mallorca for the past month or so and now, I'm proud to present a comprehensive 10-question interview with Sulu, as well as premier of "Dam Foo's"—which is the second video unveiled from Eddie Romero and additionally, duals as part II from his record release party-debuted Eddie Romero "visual album;" with that said, feel free to sit back, relax, and enjoy my recent conversation with Steve "Sulu" Mallorca, as well as The Witzard-premiered "Dam Foo's," and stay tuned for more sweet, sweet sounds from Sulu & Excelsior!
Matt "The Witzard" Horowitz
Your Resident Crate-digger
I. What were some of your greatest influences during the writing, recording, and creation processes tied to your recent solo debut, Eddie Romero?
I actually started writing these songs with the intention of using them in a feature film that I wrote. I wanted to have an old school crooner and Doo-Wop type soundtrack to the film. A lot of that is influenced by my dad, and the music that he used to play for us when we grew up—Nat King Cole, The Platters, and Fats Domino. Eventually, the songs started to take on their own life, taking on more of a Soul and Hip-Hop edge and they became Eddie Romero. Over the course of writing and recording, I was listening to a lot of stuff that influenced me in different ways—Nat King Cole, The Beatles, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mathis, J Dilla, Chet Baker, OutKast, Mos Def [Yasiin Bey], Fats Domino, Shuggie Otis, Fats Domino, Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Beach Boys, Janelle Monáe, and Alabama Shakes, to name a few.
II. What was your typical Eddie Romero recording process like and how did it differ from your past work with your group, P.I.C.?
A big difference between recording P.I.C. and Excelsior is that with Sulu & Excelsior, I was the engineer, producer, mixer, and I played everything—did keys, bass, guitar, trumpet, all the vocals, and all the beats. I basically was just working with what I had available. I had already begun to demo out the songs in an old version of GarageBand and was planning on moving everything to Logic for final tracking, but I realized I had futzed with the sounds so much, in that a lot of stuff didn't translate to Logic and I'd have to re-create everything, so I just kept it in GarageBand and finished tracking and mixing there. Having done P.I.C. for so long, I had a good idea of how the recording process worked, so it was just a matter of experimenting and learning more of the technical side. By the time I decided to start "official tracking," I had already been messing around with recording the songs for two years or so and I had a really clear idea of the parts and the overall sound I wanted to achieve. P.I.C. is a much more traditional recording process—our long-time producer and friend Adam Charity will engineer and mix. But pretty much on every P.I.C. album, I was there with Adam for every tracking session and for the mixing and that experience was invaluable going into Excelsior. Also, I was lucky enough to have borrowed some microphones from Adam, as well as a bass guitar from my friend (and DJ for both P.I.C. and Excelsior), DJ Mas. Thanks AC and Mas!
III. We, here at The Witzard, are honored to be premiering your second Eddie Romero single, "Dam Foo's;" would you care to further detail its creation, concept, and how it fits into the overall narrative of your release party-debuted "visual album?"
I'm honored that you're having the video! When I first started to think about the "visual album," I knew I didn't really want any specific plots or storylines and wanted to work more with themes and moods that connected all the videos. This way, all the film-makers that were taking part in the project had some sort of framework in which they could create. Ultimately, I always wanted it to be a collaborative process and "Dam Foo's" really captures that spirit. I knew I wanted to use old public domain footage and Super 8 home movies. So, like a DJ digs in crates for records, I was digging around for footage that fit the mood and themes of Eddie Romero. I found this great car race footage in the desert and thought it fit the mood of "Dam Foo's," where the lyrics are basically about a doomed road trip. Coincidentally, my good friend and the bass player in the live [Sulu &] Excelsior crew, Joel Bernardo was in Arizona, at the time with his brother John. Once I realized this, I shot Joel a text to see if he could film some stuff out there—all of which basically, revolved around Joel wearing white and walking in the desert. And I was floored when I saw what Joel and John shot (with some great help from Joel's daughter). It worked nicely with the found footage, almost like it was from some Grindhouse-type film; from there, I filmed additional footage with the help of a fellow film-maker friend, Jean Baptiste Sankara to wrap up the video.
IV. I know you and I previously spoke about this via email within the past couple weeks, but what's the meaning behind...
A.) your project name, Sulu & Excelsior?
I've been going by "Sulu" since ages ago, when I was 17 and started rapping with folks that would eventually become my first band, P.I.C. (and we're still going strong today). "Sulu" has a whole load of meaning to it, most of it an ode to [Hikaru] Sulu on Star Trek. [As] a Filipino-American kid growing up in the Midwest, it was huge for me, seeing this Asian-American guy on a crazy spaceship, kicking a**! When I started working on this album, I definitely wanted to keep the Sulu name going and in the spirit of Star Trek, I named it Sulu & Excelsior because when Sulu left The Enterprise, he was given command of the USS Excelsior and it was the most bada** ship in the fleet.
B.) Eddie Romero's retro album cover image?
The album cover is actually a picture of my dad and my Uncle Manny, one of my Dad's crew from back in the day. As soon as I saw the picture, I knew I wanted it to be the cover. It just sums up everything about the album—the era, the turntable, the record, and the style.
C.) and the title "Eddie Romero" itself?
The album is named after Eddie Romero, a prolific Filipino film-maker whose filmography spanned multiple genres and decades from the 1950's to the 2000's... from studio films to [Blaxploitation] and campy Horror and Sci-Fi to Political films. They were originally for Filipino audiences, but he found an international audience with his 70's Exploitation films that starred Pam Grier, amongst others, and these films went on to inspire film-makers like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. I was researching his work and I realized there were some parallels between the album and his career—for starters, the musical inspirations of my album span basically the same decades of his career. Also, in my album, there's an underlying theme about creative output and being creative, which is something Eddie Romero did for like over half a century.
V. Do you have any current plans to reunite with your fellow band mates from P.I.C. to record a proper Hiphopfunkpunkmamboska follow-up to your Swank/Edge single (2015)?
P.I.C. actually has a show on December 10th, so we're getting ready for that. I'm always writing music, so I've got a backlog of tracks for P.I.C.; our members are kind of split up on different coasts now, so it makes things more difficult to work on new stuff, but we still manage to make it work.
VI. Now, on the heels of Eddie Romero's world-wide release, what else do you currently have planned for its album roll-out? I know you had previously mentioned a Frank Ocean Endless-reminiscent accompanying "visual album."
I knew I wanted a big visual component to this, so a bunch of film-maker friends and I started to create different visuals for different songs; some of which will end up being the "official" music videos [and] some of which would only screen once—at the album release party we had last month. So now, we're in the midst of releasing the videos. We did "Up to You" a couple weeks ago and now, we're doing "Dam Foo's" with you and are totally psyched about that! And there's a whole bunch more that we'll be releasing, so I'm looking forward to sharing all those with the world. I also want to get a bunch of live videos in a studio, like a [Live from] Daryl's House [with Daryl Hall] kinda thing, to show off the live element of Sulu & Excelsior.
VII. I've previously compared it to "Mayer Hawthorne with an added Hip-Hop edge," but how would you attempt to best describe your musical stylings for someone who may have never previously heard your music?
I've been liking this description these days—"a Hip-hop Johnny Mathis." It's kinda summed up in the opening and closing tracks of Eddie Romero, "shall I croon or shall I spit?"
VIII. "Johnny Mathis meets Mos Def meets Stevie Wonder meets Nat King Cole," reads a fragmented chunk of your Sulu & Excelsior Facebook description (Story). Would you care to further explain this quote, the above-listed patties' influence on your music, etc?
If Nat King Cole or Stevie Wonder was behind the piano and doing his thing, then, all of a sudden, a DJ shows up and cuts in a beat... then, Nat or Stevie flip it and start rhyming... that's kinda it!
IX. Let's just say, for argument's sake, you were planning to record and release a slightly more Hip-Hop-minded Sulu & Excelsior Remix album; which producers and emcees would you likely attempt to recruit and why?
I think Q-Tip would do well with my tracks on both the producer and emcee sides. Also, I'm a fan of Oddisee as a producer and emcee, so that'd be cool, too.
X. I'm sure you're beyond pleased with your current Sulu & Excelsior line-up, but if you could form a super-group with any musicians (dead or alive), who would you choose and why?
I kinda envisioned Sulu & Excelsior to sorta operate in different forms: like, there's a big band version of Excelsior, but the songs could also go small with a trio... or maybe with just me on keys and a DJ, or maybe even as a true solo act with me just on the piano. So, back to your question: I don't really have any dream line-up—I'm game for whatever will shed a new light on the melody and rhythms. But if I had to choose, I'd love to do a version of Eddie Romero with Duke Ellington and his big band.
XI. Since we're fast-approaching the end of 2016, what might you likely cite as some of your favorite albums of the year... Hip-Hop albums/mixtapes in particular, if possible?
Anderson.Paak's MALIBU, A Tribe Called Quest's We Got It from Here... [Thank You 4 Your Service], Oddisee's The Odd Tape, and Lando Chill's For Mark, Your Son.