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Mike Ladd: Cerebral Refugee, Part 1-2

By Published: April 18, 2005
AAJ: (speaking in grade-point-average lingo) Oh, that's at least a 3.5; I'll give it a 4.0. The kind of world you create on your records—to me there's a very surreal and dreamlike quality. Negrophilia, for example, touches on that source material from the past, but on your recordings, past, present and future are all happening now. The ultimate example of this surreal quality to me is "Sleep Patterns of Black Expatriots Circa 1960.

ML: The person to really talk to about that song is Guillermo. I came up with the title. That's really Guillermo's production style; that's he and I sort of jamming for a while—and then I deliver that poem, going into these accents and bizarre stuff. Then he took all of that and pushed it all up and reorchestrated it. That's strictly Guillermo. He and I come from a similar space where we really linked—I think we're both really fascinated by stretching the limits. In high school, I listened to a lot of psychedelic music.

AAJ: Like who?

ML: Funkadelic was just a tremendous influence. "Wars of Armageddon, which is on Maggot Brain—I'm still trying to make that song. There's always a couple of songs you're trying to make your entire life and that's one of them.

AAJ: That's a pretty good template for excellence. "Blonde Negress is a reference to the sculpture of [Romanian sculptor Constantin] Brancusi, but in your lyric it's [superstar pop singer] Beyoncé being sculpted. It's that same feeling I get of past and present blurring.

ML: I consider myself a postfuturist. I need to put in the academic rigor to really put that essay out, but I believe that we live in a postfuturist era. It's really a part of postmodernism where past, present and future all come together. What happens with postfuturism is that it's no longer intentional. It's automatic, and what contributes to it is that with all the information that we get in the world—and how quickly we get it—people are constantly responding to that information. And the more bizarre the information is, the more bizarre the acts that we commit that respond to that information.

AAJ: That would seem inevitable.

ML: Yes, and we get into the inevitable surrealist spiral. We're at a point where science fiction writers are trying just to keep up. (laughter) Surrealists are trying to keep up.

AAJ: And satire is completely unnecessary.

ML: And irony doesn't exist anymore. I call it postfuturist strictly focusing on the science-fiction element; we are living every science-fiction fantasy, every futurist fantasy, that people have been coming up with from the 1920s through the Fifties and Sixties.

AAJ: Speaking of science fiction: sometimes your recordings seem very dystopian—like a mixture of Philip K. Dick, William Burroughs' Interzone, and [psychedelic comedy recording artists] the Firesign Theatre's Funway—only blacker, more urban. Like you say on "Welcome to the Afterfuture [from the 1999 CD of the same name], more a Gunway than a Funway.

ML: That [CD] was sort of a tribute fusion to [cult 1984 film] Buckaroo Banzai and Firesign Theatre's record Not Insane. Wow; I'm glad you got that.

AAJ: Whenever I encounter someone who knows Firesign—in my life, about three people in a million—I'm going to mention it to them.

ML: Me and my stepfather used to listen to that record Not Insane on my way to elementary school. That record is really fucked-up.

AAJ: Just like Funkadelic, those guys were way ahead of their time.

[The conversation declines as Ladd acts out a particularly hilarious Firesign routine to great hilarity.]

AAJ: You should be happy because I bet you don't get to quote those lines to many people—certainly not to a girlfriend or wife.

ML: Oh, exactly. No Monty Python either.

AAJ: Some things you just have to keep to yourself. To completely trivialize this chat about Negrophilia before I move on: I walk underneath a billboard advertising the local rap/r&b station pretty much everyday and it has a huge picture of Beyoncé. For weeks now when I see it I always hear your lyric "Brancusi Sculpting Beyoncé in Gold Lemay in my head.

ML: I've got a lot of respect for pop! That's a pop tool. So that's perfect!

AAJ: Your music is, ah, modern as hell. But in one sense, you're kind of old-fashioned: you're an album artist in an iPod Shuffle world. It seems as you conceive each album as a conceptual whole.

ML: For me, there's a yes/no answer to that. Because yeah, I try to make an album—I always get accused of making concept records. But to me, everyone makes a concept record. If you're fifteen years old and you're like, "yeah! We're going to start a band! We're gonna see more girls and get fucked up and drive our cars... Well, great: that's a concept. But for me, I need a concept that's going to entertain me when I'm doing the record or else I'm going to get bored. Being an English teacher or a writer, I need a thesis. I need for there to be a cohesive thought. And that's how that happens. But it's funny, because—I think you said "iPod Shuffle world, but it's beginning to change, but with my first couple or records, I made them with the intention of people picking out what they wanted and sticking it on their mixtape. Because that's how I listened to music. To this day, there are not that many records after 1991 that I listen to all the way through. But that doesn't make me like the record any less because of what I have taken from the record to put on a mixtape. That's changing as I have returned to [hearing] full albums and I'm concentrating on listening to different music. Before I started this record [Negrophilia]—and I think it influenced this record—I was listening to a lot of modern classical stuff from the seventies, sort of where that meets with jazz.

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