"someone did a mash up album of @qotsa vocals over various music i've made and it's kind of awesome. thanks for this weird gift @boototom," el-p (@therealelp) wrote within an enthusiastic April 3, 2018 Tweet. To be honest, I hadn't heard about ToToM's El-Q album either, until El-P Tweeted about it, but once I delved in and started listening, I thoroughly enjoyed it! ToToM is the production alias of Paris-based "bastard pirate producer" Thomas Boivin; after a bit of investigative journalism, I was able to get in direct contact with the mysterious producer himself. ToToM has been constructing genre-eschewing mash-ups AKA bootlegs AKA "Bastard Pop" since about 2005-06 and readily lists DJ Zebra, Nine Inch Nails, La Phaze, and LCD Soundsystem amongst his greatest sources of influence. He's released collaborative mash-up albums with SpareElbowSkin, Fissunix & Colatron (B.I.M.A.) MichMash, Shoefiti, MsMiep, and La Phaze, as well as online mash-up community Crumplbangers/The Crumplbanger Orchestra.
Thomas Boivin's past mash-up subjects have included Bob Dylan, Nine Inch Nails, Death Grips, Queens of The Stone Age, Kanye, Lana del Rey, Iggy Pop, Lady GaGa, and a slew of other contemporary artists. While most of ToToM's bootlegs are still available on Bandcamp, he's graciously uploaded alt. streaming and download links to MEGA, Soundcloud, Sowndhaus, and soon hopes to be on streaming services. ToToM was gracious enough to answer a few of my impromptu questions concerning El-Q, via email, which turned out so good... we collectively decided to re-visit our conversation and publish it as the comprehensive interview you now see below. ToToM's El-Q is now available to stream or download for FREE on Bandcamp and MEGA; you'll also, find a handful of his audio/visual mash-up creations embedded throughout.
Matt "The Witzard" Horowitz
Mash-up/Bastard Pop Enthusiast
I. How did you get the initial idea behind your El-Q mash-up album?
Back in late 2015, I released an album called Kanye of The Stone Age (KOTSA,) which got some attention from the fans and a few media [sites], like The A.V. Club and Noisey. That was the first time I put real effort into promoting my stuff and trying to contact the right persons, through emailing (specifically, targeting authors, who already wrote about mash-ups.) Back then, I was already trying to be more focused in my productions; the counter is way past 600 single mash-ups, by the way! Instead of just picking the last trending acapella or Internet meme and mashing it up with the first thing that fits or funny enough, I'd rather pick a popular enough artist, for which enough material is available and follow a concept that's interesting enough, musically speaking. Important point: I consider a clash of genres is mandatory 99.9% of the time. The intro speech by El-P for the album's first track, "Request Denied In My Head" illustrates very well that opinion; I'm still a kid, who "just likes sh*t," only, I'm 36 years old. After all the recognition I got from KOTSA, I made an Iggy Pop vs. QOTSA EP to fit with his Post Pop Depression release. In the meantime, my [assistant] Ed Zitron told me something like, "you should make a whole mash-up album with El-P and Queens of The Stone Age (QOTSA.) Especially, as El-P is a huge fan of them. That's a sure win!" I started looking at the potential of it, produced 4-5 tracks in a few weeks ("No One Knows El-Q" being the very first one,) two years passed and voilà!
II. What exactly did you use for your source/sample material?
Various different sources exist "out there:" promo instrumentals released from time to time by labels or artists themselves, songs' multi-tracks ripped from video games, which require the use of separate tracks to work, surround sound from DVD or broadcasting...
El-P—just like many Hip-Hop producers usually do—released all of his solo albums, plus, Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music and the 3 Run The Jewels (RTJ) albums in their instrumental form. Most QOTSA material comes from video games. For instance, I was about to release the album, when I put my hands on vocals for "The Way You Used to Do" and "My God Is The Sun." I HAD to do something with both songs, although, "My God Is 2100's Sun" almost didn't make it to the final tracklist for technical reasons.
III. What type of feedback have you personally, received so far from El-P, Queens of The Stone Age, or their camps?
Well, after El-P [@therealelp] shared my mash-up album, he started Following me on Twitter and sent me a very nice message, followed by a very nice conversation. He also, shared the few videos I released after that. Videos are clearly, not my main focus, but audio-only mash-ups are no longer enough to get noticed nowadays, whereas, ironically, many YouTube plays are for ears only, anyway.
About Queens of The Stone Age, I've been told during my "early career" around 2005-06 that QOTSA got to listen to one mash-up I made and liked it (one that's called "Regular Blues.") In 2015, I had a few people around them, who seemed to like my Kanye of The Stone Age album—including their A&R from the Interscope era—and it’s highly plausible they got to listen to the album. Even if I told myself they wouldn't be much happy being paired with Kanye West, the choice of Kanye back then was really meant in making an album that could get enough buzz; find a buzz-worthy artist I appreciate enough to spend hours working on his/her music. The idea was to put out an album that feels like a real release, have an illustrator friend of mine to draw a cartoon on purpose, and someone else to finish the colouring. Both have been paid, which is ironic, for an album I put out for free! It had to look as professional as possible.
For El-Q, I had the artwork concept idea from the start, but I had to ask a designer friend—that's his real job, not a hobby for him—who, improved it and took that simple mashed-up logo idea to a level I'd call "awesome." I've seen too many mash-up albums released with no track order, no ID tags, multiple [pieces of] artwork per track, barely any quality selection for compilation albums... B.I.M.A. (as in Bon Iver Mashup Album) was almost released as a Zip with a dozen of (great) mash-ups, if I [hadn't] told my "colleagues" there had to be a track order, so I took care of that, plus, the tagging... These points may sound trivial to the geeky home producer behind his computer, but you could produce the best mash-up in the world, these are specific details that make you look more professional and show how you value your own work. I can really see the difference from before and after, especially, in the artists' feedback, they've gone through that self-promotion process (and sometimes, self-production) most of the time, so they see what's been put into this self-release, it's like DIY 3.0.
IV. Why did you decide to mash-up El-P/Run The Jewels & Queens of The Stone Age?
Ed Zitron, who's been an ally for many years now, whispered the idea to me and it seemed like a really great idea: feasible (probably, the single most important point in mash-ups.) It's actually, a better and more relevant idea than picking Kanye West, which was an easy choice, even though, I love Yeezus and I'm really proud of the Kanye of The Stone Age (KOTSA) album. With KOTSA, mixing Hip-Hop acapellas with the Rock band who single-handedly wiped the whole "Nu-Metal" scene [from] the surface of The Earth was a vicious and guilty pleasure and in the end, a way to demonstrate nothing is sacred. Also, Kanye's nervous rapping sounds great on Rock!
About El-P, I've really loved Run The Jewels, since I heard RTJ2. Then, I started to passionately crawl back in time and dive into the two protagonists' discographies, that includes El-P's solo career and Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music, an album I find as wonderful as RTJ (an "RTJ #0," somewhat.) El-P's style really fits well with Rock music—you just have to look at a few collaborators: Trent Reznor, The Darkness, The Mars Volta, Tunde Adebimpe... I'm a huge fan of QOTSA since Rated R. I saw them live a bunch of times. They're probably my favourite band, along with Nine Inch Nails (NIN) and also, The Smashing Pumpkins.
V. What do you currently have in-the-works or plan to release next following El-Q?
I have something I really can't talk about at all that's my main focus for the next [few] months (ie: the few hours per week I'll be able to pull out of my spare time.) I also tried to start a collective mash-up albums series around Franz Ferdinand 2-3 years ago, but it never really took off; I produced 2 mash-ups for it, maybe, I should release them or maybe, I'll find time to produce a whole concept album because some ideas are great. I'm also, currently involved in a community called Crumplbangers and we are currently producing an album. [It's] like an "exquisite corpse"—from the French expression "cadavre exquis"—where a dozen people involved just happen to play or program a piece of music without knowing what the others do and then, a few volunteers try to mix a song with all the pieces that were submitted. It's like a sum of chaos leading to a weirdly wonderful harmony. I think it's the most exciting thing I'm currently involved [in], whereas, it's a very small effort for me to provide monthly (8 measures of a lead synth melody here, a snare track there...)
Aside to that crazy experiment, I keep on making videos for more El-Q tracks. It almost feels like a chore, but in the end, with the buzz around it and both artists considering my work positively, that ends up being a pleasure. I'm also, considering uploading, as legitimately as possible, the El-Q album on streaming platforms, as it's been asked a bunch of times