Not long after publishing my review of Henry Canyons' La Côte West EP on The Witzard a couple months ago, I was fortunate enough to speak with Henry on the phone; it was at this point, which we formulated a tentative roll-out plan to publish this very interview. Henry Canyons was kind enough to send em a private Soundcloud stream of his then-unreleased album, Cool Side of The Pillow ("Cool Side," for short) and needless to say, I haven't stopped listening to the album since. Cool Side of The Pillow has since been released on billy woods' imprint, Backwoodz Studioz and was received to wide-spread critical/fan acclaim across "Rap Twitter." I'll personally, go as far as to say, Henry Canyons and his long-time friend and producer Matt "Bones" Bowen cooked up a solid contender for 2018's Album of The Year. It's easily one of the most simple, easy-listening, yet complex albums I've heard in a long time. "Bones" effortlessly weaves together a summery, densely-layered sonic backdrop for Henry's elaborate rhyme schemes that, in my eyes, can only be compared to an album as legendary and continually enjoyable as the Beastie Boys' The Dust Brothers & Matt Dike-produced Paul's Boutique (1989.) I won't go on much longer, but let me just say this: Henry Canyons & Matt "Bones" Bowen's Cool Side of The Pillow is without a doubt, the perfect album for Spring/Summertime—rollin' around in your topless "drop top," like Ice Cube in his 1993 "It Was a Good Day" music video. So, without further ado, here's The Witzard's comprehensive interview with both sharp-tongued emcee Henry Canyons and Cool Side of The Pillow beatsmith Matt "Bones" Bowen.
Matt "The Witzard" Horowitz
Hip-Hop Hooray, Hey, Ho-historian
I. How do you think you have lyrically and artistically grown between your La Côte West EP and Cool Side of The Pillow?
Canyons: It's funny to think about; writing La Côte West was an amazing experience, man. I was in an artist residency in Biarritz, France for two months, but decided to stay in France with family, after it was over. I was incredibly focused and had brought a bunch of beats with me. More than anything, I had a lot of time. Time to read, write, run, explore, think, and just soak it all in. The goal of the residency was to create a body of work that reflected your experience there. Not only in the residency itself, but particularly, that region of France, The Basque Country. Having the time to myself away from my normal routine allowed me to be super-honest with myself and it translated into the music. I approached the residency as if I had been given an assignment. I was disciplined and just knocked out each song one at a time, all with the idea of making it into an EP.
Cool Side was written in two waves: the first six joints were made in 2015-16 during and directly after the release of Canyonland. I just didn't want to stop working and "Bones" was all about it. Life was good, the beats were upbeat, melodically-driven, I was in a productive and positive phase of my life, and what resulted, were playful and fun to make songs. We put the EP aside, when I went to France and after the residency, I wanted to work on something tangible. I mentioned making it into an album to "Bones" and we dove right in, but this time, our choices had the intention of a larger vision behind them. I was older, gone through a bunch of personal experiences, the 2016 Election had just happened and I was in state of reflective reaction to all of those things. I think the second half of the record is a little more realistic, mature, and honest than the first. I was in a similar head-space that I was in while writing La Côte West.
II. How was it working with your long-time friend and frequent collaborator Matt "Bones" Bowen on your first single-producer project, Cool Side of The Pillow?
Canyons: Well, I see "Bones" as my little brother. He's my actual little brother's best friend and moved around the corner from us when he was six. Our backyards are connected. We're family. So, he's been mixing my records, since I started my solo career in 2012. This is actually, my second single-producer album; Canyonland was entirely produced by Keor Meteor from France.
This process was a little different, though. Since he has been involved from day one, he not only knows my sound and style of production that inspires me, but also, had a heavy hand in developing it. He's my right hand, my "consigliere" [adviser] of sorts. Aside from the process of making the album in two parts, working with my one of my best friends was amazing. There's no passive communication. We're completely honest and all the decisions we made always had the greater vision of the project in mind. "Bones" produced all the beats on the album, but I had a heavy hand in selecting a lot of the samples and crafting the sonic vibe of the album. Once he understood where I was trying to go with it, he brought it there. We both made personal and artistic sacrifices for this album. I think, because we have such a strong relationship, cutting through to the heart of certain things was easier for us. It's all love between us. I know [we] are both very excited for this to come out.
Matt "Bones" Bowen: This project is very full-circle for me. I grew up around the block from Henry. Our family houses' backyards in Brooklyn are literally, attached. Henry essentially, introduced me to Hip-Hop. I remember being 11 or 12-years-old listening to Non-Phixion, Jedi Mind Tricks, Atmosphere, etc... showed to me by Henry, via his younger brother Ollie [Chanin], who is one of my oldest and closest friends. I have known Ollie and Henry since I was 7-years-old. And almost 20 years later, we're dropping this project together. It's pretty nuts and awesome.
I'd also like to say, I'm super-proud of Henry and how far he's come, since I got involved about seven years ago. I've watched him work with the same passion and valor, since we dropped his first solo mixtape, Vignettes (2012) which I engineered, mixed, and mastered. There have been challenges, disappointments, and times of stagnation, but he keeps grinding; pushing himself to be better, pushing me to be better. The working relationship between me and Henry goes way beyond artist/producer. I give feedback on pretty much all things Henry Canyons. From creative end (I mix pretty much everything he puts out) to the business and marketing side; Henry runs pretty much everything by me.
III. In your personal opinion, what are the advantages/disadvantages of recording a multi-producer vs. a single-producer album? Having recorded a variety of both, which do you prefer ad why?
Canyons: I think that each project takes on a life and process of its own. To predetermine liking one process over the other can be limiting or cast a shadow on the project, before even really getting into the heart of it. It's about what process fits where you are in your life—artistically, personally, emotionally, physically, etc. For Cool Side, working with "Bones" was really easy-going and fun. We just started making one song at a time. We hit a bit of a stride and rhythm of exchanging ideas, beats, samples, concepts, quotes, and I was eager to write to his production. I had just finished working on Canyonland (2015) and I was excited to make songs detached from a project. We were making songs for the fun of it and we both just kept it going. That was the process I was ready for, at the time and since we didn't know it was going to be an album, we were just working out of being inspired. We decided to make it into an album, while I was in France, after I finished the La Côte West EP. That's when it really took it's shape.
IV. During The Witzard's recent La Côte West EP feature, I loosely compared your body of work and lyrical delivery to that of Homeboy Sandman and Jonwaye (prior to hearing Cool Side of The Pillow.) What was it like working with Sandman on "Special Blend?" How did said collaboration initially come about?
Canyons: Both Jonwayne and Sandman are super-dope and talented artists! Big fan of them both. Those are high praises, man, so thank you. I first met Sandman in New York in 2014 at a release show for a mutual friend of ours, Corina Corina. I was also, rocking [performing at] the show. I saw him in the crowd and just walked up to him, told him I was a big fan, and that it was a pleasure to meet him. He was super-cool and approachable; we started chopping it up and mentioned that I was also rocking and that if he had the time to stick around, I would appreciate hearing his thoughts. My set went great and we connected, after the show. We've stayed in contact since, and every time we have to cross paths in NY or LA, it's always super-chill.
Working with Sandman was amazing and super-easy/professional. I had already written the song and thought that not only would he sound great on it, but that it was something that he would vibe to. I shot it over to him, he dug it, we agreed on financials, and he banged out the track in a week or so. It was a smooth and really enjoyable process. I'm hyped and privileged to have him on the album.
Bones: Getting the Homeboy Sandman feature on "Special Blend" was especially exciting. I've been a huge fan of his for years. I'll try not to come off as too much of a fanboy right now, but it really was a huge moment for me, based strictly on the number of hours I've spent listening to his catalog. I've seen him live a number of times, as well. He is truly one of my favorite rappers. He definitely, brought 100% to this verse, too. Classic Sandman humor and wordplay. Love it! I'd also like to mention: I learned about the production team 2 Hungry Bros. from their work with Homeboy Sandman. Funny enough, a handful of samples on this project came from a vinyl collection I inherited from Deep of 2 Hungry Bros. Shout-out Deep, that was dope!
V. What were some of your greatest sources of inspiration and influence while recording Cool Side of The Pillow? How about personal and cultural inspirations and influences, as well?
Canyons: A lot of the inspiration came from "Bones'" production. That's how I write. The beat dictates a lot for me—vibe, cadence, flow, spacing, tone, subject matter, etc. For the first half of the record, the beats were Funky, upbeat, and gave me a sense of do-your-thing to have fun on these joints. That's what I did and I think "Bones" did the same. We were super-fluid that way. For the second half, I was drawn to some more pensive, darker, heavier tones in production and that translated conceptually, too. Culturally, the Election definitely had an influence on my thought process and had me thinking about what was going to happen. The second half of the album was pretty much written and recorded shortly after Trump was elected, so there are undertones of fear, skepticism, disgust, and disbelief that make their way into some of the songs on the album.
Bones: Ironically, while Henry's inspiration came from my production, a lot of my production on this project was inspired by Henry's previous work. I was Henry's mixing engineer way before we ever made a record together (i.e. him on my beat.) Creatively, I found a lot of inspiration from the samples we worked with. I tried to let them speak for themselves, for the most part. In retrospect, this album feels like a montage of my favorite samples I've come across in the past four years.
Beyond that, as far as other producers I look up to, nothing should come as a surprise: J Dilla, Madlib, DOOM, Q-Tip, Kanye, Dr. Dre, [Timbaland], and 9th Wonder, to name a few. Real original list here! Some lesser-known producers I'm into: Jonwayne, 2 Hungry Bros. BoomBaptist, and Keor Meteor (producer of Henry's Canyonland project.)
VI. When did you decide to feature Homeboy Sandman, Zoe Rose Palladino, billy woods, and GooGiE on Cool Side of The Pillow and how did you go about ultimately, matching each featured artist up with their corresponding track?
Henry Canyons: For the features on this album, I decided to reach out to each artist, after I had written and recorded the majority of the song. In my head, I heard someone else on them. For these joints, I felt I needed someone to compliment the sound of the track, tone, content, dynamic, etc. As for who I chose for each song, it was all vibe and instinct of what I thought they would sound good on and what they would like. I'm big fans and supporters of all the collaborators on the project and had a strong inclination that they would dig what I sent them. Lucky for me, I was right.
Bones: I think the features on Cool Side came out amazing. Firstly, Zoe Rose is a machine. I am in constant awe of her vocal range and ability to harmonize. I love the contrast between her and Henry's voice. I must say, mixing her voice into my own production was such a blast. Definitely, challenging to get all her layers to sound right, but also, rewarding, once I hit the sweet spot.
billy woods is a legend. Having the opportunity to have him on one of my beats ("It Don't Mean a Thing") is definitely a feather-in-hat occurrence for me. On top of that, his verse is fantastic: "I'm older than my father when he had me / not sure if that means I'm doing well or more badly." So hilarious and relatable.
Let's talk about GooGiE: I have a lot of admiration for this man. I was super-hyped, when I heard his verse on "Innate Communication." So much energy and attitude in his voice. And that's not the easiest instrumental to rap over... definitely, a lot going on. He KILLED IT and complimented Henry perfectly. Definitely, go listen to his album, 'Tis What 'Tis (2016.) Keep your eyes and ears open for more from Henry and GooGiE soon.
VII. Why did you chose to name this album "Cool Side of The Pillow" and how does its Quetzilla-designed artwork relate to your desired meaning for choosing said title?
Canyons: So, after "Bones" and I had made a few songs, I was starting to think about what a potential title of the project would be. I wanted it to embody this mellow, laid-back, chill, Jazzy, and cool vibe. I started brain-storming and looking though old Jazz records. At the time, too, Stuart Scott of ESPN had just passed away. I grew up watching SportsCenter and his catchphrase, "cooler than the other side of the pillow," was something that always stuck with me. I think, it was amalgamation of that, pulling up Miles Davis' Birth of Cool and wanting the title to really convey the energy the music did, that had me land on it. I remember talking to "Bones," while I was walking to work and told him, "yo, I got the title: Cool Side of The Pillow." He immediately said, "dope! That's it." From there, even through the process of making it from EP to LP, it was always going to be Cool Side.
As for the artwork, I found Quetzilla (@quetzilla_artworks) on Instagram. I thought his style was dope. We started Following each other and when it came time to thinking about what I wanted for the art, I shot him a message and we started conceptualizing ideas. It took a couple of forms and we narrowed things down to the final version. I'm ridiculously hyped on the design. The vinyl is going to look and sound amazing and the other merch we have lined up, looks really cool. He's a champ; super-professional, really talented, and able to use his vision, while synthesizing themes from the album. It's gonna be dope!
VIII. What were your typical writing, recording, and collaborative processes with producer Matt "Bones" Bowen" like while recording Cool Side of The Pillow?
Canyons: For me, writing always revolves around the beat. I get everything from the beat: the cadence, melody (both singing and rapping tone,) concept, vibe, structure, rhythms, etc. I play around with the cadence in a scat and figure out what pocket will work best for that song. Then, I work on opening ideas that I think correspond to that rhythm, but also, the mood of the beat and the mood I'm in. When I read or watch movies/TV, I take note of quotes, turns-of-phrase, and ideas that strike a chord with me. I flip through them and see if any of them correlate to that initial groove process. Then, I develop it.
As for finding beats for this project, I feel it was 50/50, in terms of samples that I found and sent his way, versus beats that "Bones" made and sent over. In some way or another, we always went back-and-forth. A lot of the structure of the beats and songs get tweaked, as I'm writing to them. I make note of what I altered and let him know. I do all my recording at home by myself. So, once I'm done with a session, I send it over and he structures elements of the song with drops and different beat alterations. He's got a really good ear and instinct for when to accent certain details in a song. We have a lot of trust in the other person and are very open about each person having creative license on crafting a song. If our visions don't line up on a certain detail, we work out what we think is the best option and go with it. We've been working on this project on-and-off for three years and are both very proud of it. We're excited to share it!
IX. How do the vocal tracks/sound bites heard throughout Cool Side of The Pillow (particularly, on "Poison Into Medicine Intro" and "Easy Come, Easy Go") relate to the overall them of the album and what type of personal significance, if any, do they evoke to you?
Canyons: I always knew I wanted some interludes with quotes to help set the tone conceptually and sonically for the record. For the intro, I was looking through old Jazz interviews. I wanted to evoke that "cool" Jazzy vibe, but also, have something that I believe in and something that puts you in a mind-space to absorb the record. The moment I heard it, I knew it was perfect. For the intro on "Easy Come," I wanted something playful and fun to match the vibe of the song. Also, I knew right away that it would work. It's also, a nice thing to remember from time to time. Especially, for me, I get caught up in trying to do so much that it's refreshing to remember to do at least one nice thing for yourself once a day. I want people to find these quotes and shoot me where you think they come from. I think it's more fun that way.
X. Soon after first hearing your La Côte West EP, we spoke on the phone to discuss future plans (even this very interview, I believe!) Now, while I really dig the texture and inherent grizzly-ness of your rhyming voice, I was surprised to hear a noticeable difference in your speaking voice... how exactly did you first "discover" your unique rhyming voice?
Canyons: To be honest, it took me a while to find the right vocal tone in the booth. When I first started making songs and recording them, I would go in with the same approach and fire that I had on stage. On-stage, I'm pretty hyped and direct a lot of energy into the mic. It doesn't translate the same way on record. LA is where I really began to focus on song-writing and recording. I began paying a lot more attention to my favorite records and why they were my favorite records. What about their vocal tone, cadence, pronunciations, and overall style drew me in. It all developed over time, along with my actual song-writing. As you write songs and learn what kind of things make a song effective (each one being different) then, you develop a way of using your voice along with the structure and vibe of each song. For me, Canyonland was the arrival of what I thought was my voice. Cool Side was a continuation and further development of it.
Bones: My typical production style is definitely, a little more Electronic/Pop-oriented, but I actively, strayed away from that on this project. I tried to strip down to the basics, keep it lean, and used samples that spoke for themselves. Also, I tried to make the drums as organic as possible. Stayed away from quantizing to the grid as much as possible, in order to bring out the natural rhythms of the samples. Usually, after getting the drums in place, I'd bring out the bass, either by adding my own below or throwing a low pass on the sample and boosting it up to the forefront. I used a lot of side-chain compression in order to make the samples mesh with the drums and additional instrumentation. The production is actually, very simple on this project—lots of kicks on 1 and 2 and snares on 2 and 4. "Easy Come, Easy Go" is an exception... that track is actually, in 6/8 time. In the verse, Henry actually, says: "making this beat, "Bones" and I had a predicament." Very true... that one took a while to get the drum pocket to sound right.
XI. What type of projects and initiative do you currently have planned to be released and unveiled throughout the remainder of 2018? Any particular Cool Side of The Pillow singles, videos, remixes, tour dates, etc. or post-album projects you can speak on just yet?
Canyons: So, I have a promo joint that I cut to help push the album and European SULTANS OF SPRING TOUR [with PremRock & Fresh Kils] that starts 4/18, right after Cool Side drops. I am in the middle of working on a variety of videos and I am very excited about what I have in store, visually. There is a variety of styles, production, narratives, and fun things coming out. I'm also, working on a few remixes. There will be a series of new album-related content coming out throughout 2018. Also, I will be hitting the road again... and again... and again. As soon as I get details on a Fall tour schedule, I will let people know about it!
XII. Now, this might be a bit of an odd question, with Cool Side of The Pillow just now being released... but who might be some "dream" collaborators for your next project? How close are any of those to realistically, coming to fruition?
Canyons: I mean, there are some of my artistic heroes, that I would love to work with, that I grew up listening to like, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def,) Nas, Plug One [Posdnuos], Madlib, D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, The Alchemist, and Aesop Rock—that would a life-changing experience for me; there are a lot of artists that I listen to that are making some really amazing music, that I think would yield an interesting and fun collaboration. Busdriver, Nocando, Knxwledge, Samiyam, Quelle Chris, Jonwayne, doing another song with Open Mike [Eagle] would be awesome, milo, Elucid, and rocking with billy woods always pushes me to "raise the bar" in my writing. Toro Y Moi and Tom Misch would be awesome to work with. As for what can come to fruition, I’m just gonna keep working and we’ll see where things lead.
I just want to thank you for having me on The Witzard, man! It was a pleasure talking and working with you on this. I'm a fan of what you do and thanks again for the support.