Mostly-rapper Bleubird--a.k.a. Jacques Bruna--is a local polymath: filmmaker, poet, storyteller. We already told you about his video travel blog, FREEEBIRD -- which gives viewers a glimpses into the social, economic, and creative nooks and crannies of the country via his tour--but a one-on-one was long overdue.
He spews prose abstract and rhythmic (pure mathematic) over samples so innovative and with a sincerity that's so raw: his underground status is perplexing but then again, suited to someone this refreshing. We exchanged emails with him while he prepared new projects (including a freshly fulfilled Kickstarter for a music video) to which we luckily became privy.
New Times:You're a rapper, a lyricist, a poet...You're many things. How did you come to this sort of creative 'conclusion'? What were you doing before you became Bleubird?
Jacques Bruna:I don't think I ever really came to a specific conclusion. I always loved music. I was exposed to my mother's eclectic record collection at a young age. My older brother was a huge influence; it went from S.O.D. and Anthrax tapes to memorizing 2 Live Crew lyrics before I had any idea what the words meant.
Eventually I developed my own tastes and dove head-first into my never-ending exploration of music and sound--ha!-- which eventually became my career, I guess. I got a job when I was fourteen so I could go to the music stores in the mall and buy my own CDs. Every week my mother would be like, "You can only buy two!" Then I would buy five and stuff three down my pants until I got home.
That continued through high school until I moved up to Orlando to go to school for whatever reason people go to college. I think I took some theater, photography, and creative writing classes. I got a job at a record store and was exposed to my first local music scene: shows, house parties, open mics, drum-and-bass weeklies, MC battles. I was hooked.
Before I realized it, school, along with everything else (friendships, relationships, cargo ships, sinking ships?), became secondary. I quit jobs, broke leases, made rash decisions, went on tour with a rap-rock bands! I even grew gross-ass dreads and got a huge Goodie Mob tattoo on my back. When I played my first real show in front of an excited crowd it was like a lightning strike, the most awesome thing ever. And, like heroin, I've been chasing the dragon ever since. Just kidding--I'm more like Bruce Lee.... I've been entering the dragon ever since.
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What inspires your stories? That's a pretty broad question, so you can narrow it down to your songwriting process and go from there.
Struggle is a big part of it, but I draw from everything. My life directly influences my music. It's my therapy, my coping mechanism ... but the process is too chaotic to be mechanical. I've had the opportunity to live in different communities around the world, and my non-stop traveling adds to the influx overload as well.
I try to take it all in, process it, then send it back out through my own personal filter. From books to pop culture, internet fashion statements, public transit, conversations with strangers, truck stops, youtube, art, Wu-Tang, Sartre, Gucci Crew II..I'm constantly thirsty for information and experience. I'm a people-watcher, a gonzo journalist of sorts, and a bit of a cynic.
Where have you traveled? Talk to me more about your gonzo journalism!
My music has taken me to all corners of North America, most of Europe, Japan, even Mumbai and Amman. I've lived in Montreal and Berlin. I'm definitely red-flagged at the Canadian border. I've been swindled by Czech highway patrol and interrogated by Jordanian Military, who coincidentally became my biggest fans once I started handing out stickers. It's safe to say that I have little pockets of friends and family all over the world.
In 2003 I went on my first solo European tour. The first show was in Athens, Greece. I arrived at the airport to realize the promoter who I had only had email contact with (as per usual) was a 15-year-old girl! Her father, who was waiting outside in the car, was obviously not very excited at my then dreadlocked/tattooed appearance. It was one of the most surreal experiences ever. This marked the beginning of many years of trekking across Europe in trains, planes, and borrowed and rented cars.
I spent this past year living and traveling around the US in an RV for my #FREEEBIRD project. It's always been harder for me in the US, but I never wanted to stop trying. So I decided to take matters into my own hands. #FREEEBIRD started as a joke, really, just a bunch of "what-ifs."
What if I could tour around the US for an entire year with no set schedule and actually spend time in the really cool places I know of, and have the freedom to explore the ones I don't? What if I set it up to where I could play shows in the RV so I wouldn't have to rely on shitty promoters and venues? What if I filmed the entire thing and turned it into a video travel blog of sorts?
Before I realized what a ridiculous endeavor this actually was, my friends at Grimm Image Records in L.A. green-lighted the project and agreed to fund the entire thing! Then it dawned on me that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. It was definitely a learning experience, but one that I was well-suited for. I'm still processing the entire adventure; it all feels like a dream. I opened myself up to every possible experience, from rap workshops with elementary school children, even in a youth prison, to crab-fishing, to giving tattoos, to exploring the petroglyphs of New Mexico.
All of this is pretty amazing. Would you consider self-publishing a memoir?
I've thought about it. But obviously, I'm in serious need of an editor! I've got stories for days. Like when I met Mike Patton and he called me "stupid." I just haven't found my writing voice yet.
What happens when you go into the studio? We've kind of covered where the inspiration begins. How do you translate this into a recorded song? With whom do you work to get the production just right, and how do you improvise along the way?
Like journalism, it depends on the five Ws. I don't have a set method in which I work because my situation is always changing. For my first few albums, people would send me beats; I would write to them and record the "song." But that isn't a true collaboration. There is no exchange taking place. A few years ago I made an album called prinzenallee with my friend Jayrope in Berlin. When I would come into the studio to record he would completely change everything. By experimenting together, we found new directions neither of us could come up with on our own, a true collaborative effort.
Improvisation is something I always did on stage, but bringing that playfulness to the studio gave my recorded music the energy it was lacking. Last year I recorded the Triune Gods album in Montreal with producer Scott Da Ros from Montreal and Sibitt from Tokyo. Again the end result was something fresh for me, and I'm continuously growing and evolving with this concept. I feel like all the recording I've done was preparing me for my newest album, CANNONBALL!!!
Last winter my good friend Astronautalis and I locked ourselves in his Seattle studio with the plan to come up with something unique that neither of us could call our own. Each of our styles is so strong and defined that it led to many tense moments, but our mutual respect for each other's craft gave way, and out of that fire something amazing was born!
Then due to unforeseen circumstances Astronautalis wasn't able to finish the project with me so I was forced to turn to another good friend, Ben Cooper, a.k.a. Radical Face. Thus began an intense week of all-night sessions in his backyard toolshed/studio where we broke every song down and built it back up together.
Astronautalis is an amazing song writer, and Ben is a true musician. I was extremely fortunate to work with and learn from such talented people and my music-making process is forever changed. I'm not sure how I'll ever make another record without them! The result, CANNONBALL!!!, due out in February on Fake Four Inc. is my boldest and most ambitious effort to date.
What else are you working on now?
I'm working with Triune Gods. Scott and I have been working on music and releasing records together on his label Endemik Music since 2003. In 2005 we started licensing our albums to Japan under the label Granma Music Entertainment. Scott and I were always interested in Japanese hip-hop but as our relationship grew with Granma, we were able to dig deeper into the scene, and when they passed us some music by Sibitt and his group Origami, we were blown away. In 2008 we briefly met Sibitt at a show in Tokyo, and shortly after we decided to work on a record.
We just completed our first tour and it was pretty insane. We sold out our first show in Tokyo at the Kaikoo Popwave festival, and our last in Osaka. We've got our sights set on Europe next year, as well as Japan, and we're already discussing the next album. Scott and I have always worked naturally together but the addition of Sibitt makes for an interesting cocktail. Our collaborative aesthetic allows me to explore other areas of writing which my solo efforts do not. So it keeps me stimulated.
Then in January I'm doing a six-week tour in Europe with Astronautalis. I think right now we're looking at 38 shows with no day off!
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As always, I'm continuously hacking through hundreds of hours of #FREEEBIRD footage to keep up with a steady stream of episodes. After Europe, if I survive, and hopefully a SXSW showcase, I'm going to continue the #FREEEBIRD project for another four months around North America.
Triune Gods is working on a comic book based on our album. It's written by our friend Jim Michel Berthiaume, with artists contributing from all over the world. We've been releasing them in pdf format for free online, but once the seventh one is finished we'll be printing them up on fancy paper.