Interview by: Martin Bauman
The last time we caught up with Muneshine, he was at a crossroads: musically, better than ever after collaborating with D-Sisive on Jonestown 3, and yet personally, fed up with the lack of support and infrastructure in Canada. His and D-Sisive’s exasperation represented how a lot of Canadian hip-hop artists felt, and at the time, it seemed entirely possible that both were done with hip-hop. As a fan, it was heartbreaking to watch. An era had ended before it had even been given its due.
A lot can change in the course of two years, and fittingly, that’s the theme through which we re-encounter Muneshine on his latest album, In Transit: navigating his way into new musical lanes, seeking new challenges. Less involved in hip-hop and more inspired by dance music these days, In Transit shows as much as things may have changed, he still can’t seem to ditch the rapping bug yet. We caught up with Muneshine to talk about the album, life lessons, not being afraid to be different, and much more. Listen to the podcast above and read the interview below.
TCUS: What significance does Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions… have to you?
Muneshine: Well, that was definitely kind of where it all started. It was the first experience I had with hip-hop music. I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I first heard it, but I know I was young – like, seven, eight, or nine years old. At the time, I was living in Dalmeny, Saskatchewan, which at the time, was a town of about 1500 people, just northwest of Saskatoon. I just remember there was this one dude who was a basketball player, and he and his friends were playing ball at the school – they had driven their old shitty hatchback right up onto the tarmac, and they were blasting that tape. I just was blown away. I asked them what it was and they told me, and that was kind of the beginnings. From there, I was hooked.
TCUS: What was it about that album that really drew you in? Was it Chuck D?
Muneshine: Honestly, it was a combination of everything. It was the beats, and the commanding presence that he had as the vocal performer… it was everything, really. I don’t remember anything particularly standing out; I just remember being like, what the hell is this? This is crazy.
TCUS: How else would you describe your hometown of Dalmeny?
Muneshine: Small. To be honest, I don’t have a lot of memories of it, outside of just regular family memories and things like that. It was tiny. Now, I’ll just attach memories of discovering certain things while I was there, but I don’t really know how else to describe it [laughs]. It was small and remote.
TCUS: In a place like that, how much hip-hop was reaching there, and how were you finding out about new music as it was coming out?
Muneshine: If it weren’t for [that guy], I never would have [heard hip-hop]. I mean, I obviously would have eventually heard about it, but at that point, I wasn’t exposed to it anywhere else. This was way before the Internet was happening; there was no press in Western Canada that was covering any hip-hop; we didn’t have MuchMusic at the time or MTV. None of that stuff was reaching me, so if it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t [have had a shot]. I went to Saskatoon a few weeks later and picked up my first couple cassettes, and from there, I would kind of use the record store as my resource to learn [about the music], aside from reading the liner notes of the tapes that I was buying and then trying to find out other artists on the same labels and things like that. I guess that’s how my digging sort of began.
TCUS: At one point, you actually owned a record store in Saskatoon. Tell me about that time.
Muneshine: It was fun, man! I owned a record store called No Static Records. It was myself and Factor, who’s an artist based out there – another kind of producer/deejay, all-around good dude. That was back in 2000-2001, and then I sold my half of the company to him and came out east to go to school. He kept running it for maybe another year or two, and then he ended up closing as well, just because there wasn’t enough support for it. But it was a lot of fun, and it was a good learning experience as well.
TCUS: You mentioned earlier how growing up in Dalmeny, there was no Internet to introduce you to hip-hop. When it finally came out, what significance did Hip Hop Infinity have to you?
Muneshine: It was huge. That was my first real experience with other hip-hop artists and communicating with artists outside of my immediate circle. That’s where I met a lot of the people that I still work with now. I met Emilio Rojas through there, who went by Sycorax One back in the day – he and I did an album under the group name Focus in Japan; I met Braille, [with whom] I formed Lightheaded – that was the first real project that I put out, back in 2000; [I met] !llmind, M-Phazes… a lot of people were on there back in the day, before message boards got flooded with stupidity – which was their eventual demise. In the beginning, it was a real resource and a place to connect with other people who were at the same point and even further along, and learn and network.
TCUS: So you basically just named the entire Wax Reform crew there, all through Hip Hop Infinity.
Muneshine: Yeah! We all met through there. I think Dminor’s the only one I didn’t meet through there – we met through UndergroundHipHop.com or one of the other ones. There were a handful at the time that I was a member on. But yeah, we all met that way online, and then eventually, through travelling and touring and whatever else, I’ve been able to meet them all in person – except for M-Phazes, who I’ve actually probably worked the most with, but with him being in Australia, it hasn’t been very practical [to meet up].
TCUS: The last time we caught up with you, towards the end of 2012, it seemed like you were essentially calling it quits. You were fed up with hip-hop. Now, two years later, you’re releasing In Transit. What’s changed in the meantime? Do you feel as though it’s been a transitory period for you?
Muneshine: Definitely. I wouldn’t even say that anything’s [changed with my perspective]. That interview came at a time when [D-Sisive and I] were both very frustrated, like, what the f–k? What’s the point? What are we doing? Since that [time], I’ve moved away from hip-hop a lot. I’m still doing certain things – certain production and stuff like that which is influenced by [hip-hop] – but for the most part, I feel like I have moved away from hip-hop. I’m doing more contemporary electronic production, [and] I’m deejaying that stuff a lot more. I’ve stepped back from emceeing. Aside from this album, I haven’t written a verse in months – it’s been a long time.
That album was started in 2012, and I dug in on it, and then was just like, I’m not excited about this; I’m not feeling anything. I just took a big step back and moved it to the back burner, and started exploring other things, but then I eventually came back to it. I had some real good breaks late last year. There’s this YouTube channel called Majestic Casual; it’s a Berlin-based [channel] that specializes in more electronic kind of music, but they premiered one of my first singles, which is a track called “Venus & Mars,” but it’s a remix that my boy Freddie Joachim did. It just popped like crazy, and it really got the ball rolling.
At the time, I was actually working on a side project under a different name, doing more sample-free electronic stuff – still kind of hip-hop-influenced, but [a clear] departure – but then when [“Venus & Mars”] took off, my management [and I] kind of came to an understanding that it made more sense to put all the eggs back in the Muneshine basket, so to speak, and follow that through. I was at a point where I had almost finished In Transit, and I was like, f–k it, I’m just gonna put this online and give it away and not really work it or try and make anything more of it. But once we saw that start, followed by some other production stuff – I did a remix of a Portugal. The Man song that also went “viral” — those kind of things really flipped the switch with me [and showed me] that I needed to keep going in that direction, but because I had already established some kind of a base as Muneshine, and I have certain relationships as Muneshine with press and other things like labels and distributors and promoters, it made more sense to keep it all together.
But it’s still a necessary transition, and that’s part of the reason behind In Transit. It is a transitional period in my career as well. I tried to make a literal concept to fit with the figurative concept of being in a transitional phase, [so] I literally wrote all the songs while in transit: buses, planes, trains, walking, wherever. The departure from hip-hop was kind of the kickstart to finding this lane that I’m now going full-tilt in. I’ve got In Transit coming out on Tommy Boy in the U.S., which is a huge label – their legacy runs very deep. I was actually down in New York [recently], meeting with everybody, and I was deejaying some Tommy Boy events, as well as some other things, and things are really snowballing. It’s pretty exciting.
TCUS: So when you mention this album and your transition to more contemporary electronic music, is this sort of like a last hurrah for you as far as hip-hop goes?
Muneshine: To be honest, I don’t know if I want to put a name on anything anymore. At this point, I may come back with another album of me emceeing or I may not. I really don’t know. Most of the work I’m currently working on – my next couple projects – are not very hip-hop-based. There’s a lot more electronic influence. Some of it is more upbeat stuff; I’m even trying some dance music… all kinds of things. I’m finding more inspiration doing that, and it’s more challenging; I’m having to kind of go back to learning how to do new techniques and things like that, whereas when I was doing hip-hop, primarily it was just like going through the motions.
I wasn’t challenged; I wasn’t working with people that were really challenging me; everything was just really easy and comfortable – and still fun, but I wasn’t seeing any progress professionally, and that’s obviously what you want as an artist; you want your music to reach people and be well-received, and have that lead to greater opportunities. As that wasn’t happening [in hip-hop], the change kind of needed to happen. I can’t really tell where I’m going as an artist. All I know is right now I’m not writing any verses or anything; I’m just 150% focused on deejaying and producing. That’s where I’m going to go for the foreseeable future.
TCUS: Here’s a tweet of yours: “As an artist, one of the most difficult (and necessary) things to accomplish is determining who your audience is, not who you want them to be.” Tell me about this.
As an artist one of the most difficult (and necessary) things to accomplish is determining who your audience is, not who you want them to be
— Muneshine (@Muneshine) May 21, 2014
Muneshine: Yeah. I mean, that kind of applies to hip-hop, but that came out of conversations I was having with my management and some of my friends. You see so many people think “I need to have my shit premiere on Noisey,” or “I gotta be on Fader,” or “I want to do this cool, indie, hipster shit.” People think that’s where you need to be, but it isn’t necessarily. You see other artists who are nowhere near those sites that have great success. It’s a weird thing as an artist to kind of try and navigate that and figure out where you fit into things, not where you want to fit into things.
It’s impossible to tell, and that’s why having people around you that are honest with you, and having a team around you that can actually track and communicate where things are working and where they’re not working, is really an invaluable asset to an artist’s career. I just see it time and again, people who have no clue about that stuff. It’s frustrating, and I see the frustration for them. It’s weird, man. It’s a weird thing being an artist, trying to navigate the music business with little to no help [laughs].
TCUS: Being in Canada, and being in the hip-hop industry in particular, it’s such a tricky thing to navigate and have a successful career. Anyone in Canada trying to make a career out of this has had to deal with it. How do you feel about the Canadian hip-hop industry at this point?
Muneshine: It’s a weird thing, man. There’s a combination of problems that I think are holding it back. No one can really know for sure, but I think for the most part – and it might not even be a Canadian hip-hop thing, it might just be a Canadian thing – the analogy that I connect it to is people are often scared to be the first one on the dance floor. It’s like you go to a dance and everybody is standing along the walls, and no one wants to be the first one out there, because you’re going to get made fun of. There are going to be people that are like, “look at this f–kin’ loser out here dancing, looking like an idiot.” But halfway through the dance, there’s gonna be a handful of people out there, and then by the end of it, everybody’s having a great time.
That’s kind of how I look at Canadian music [and] Canadian hip-hop in particular. People are like “we need something safe, we need something that’s already familiar, we need something that’s a proven formula, and that’s it. Otherwise, we’re gonna sit on our hands and we’re gonna wait to really get behind something until we have somebody else tell us that we should.” That’s where you’ll see an artist like Drake in particular who got made fun of, and nobody was feeling him, nobody had any offers for him, even though he was making good music. It took him leaving for Canada to say, “oh, we love Drake. Drake is the best!” Whereas a year before, people were like, “look at f–kin’ Wheelchair Jimmy trying to rap, he’s so wack!” But now the guy’s running the music business and has changed the face of hip-hop.
I feel like that is obviously the [extreme] example of that. It’s not like that for everybody. But my biggest problem is that people are afraid to look at something that the person next to them isn’t already saying, “this is the coolest, this is the best.”
TCUS: So Canadians are still afraid to really go out and support their own until the United States does it and they get that co-sign.
Muneshine: Yeah. Or just anything. It doesn’t even have to be the U.S., but that’s pretty much it. Until someone else tells a Canadian that it’s good, they’re not gonna be the first to say it’s good – which is f–kin’ wrong, because there’s so much good music here, but it’s like the only ones that you actually see people talk about, and share, and promote, are the ones that are kinda like other artists. They’re safe. So no one wants to take any chances.
TCUS: Is that part of what excites you about going in this new direction and producing electronic music? Is the community any different?
Muneshine: I would say so, for sure. I, for one, have just stepped in and started doing things, and it’s just being embraced with open arms – and that’s a totally new experience for me. I’m very used to constantly feeling like oh, I’m being overlooked; I’m an underdog – which is shitty and lame, but it’s the reality. Like, you do things like getting nominated for a Juno, or you win a SOCAN songwriting award, or certain accomplishments that I’ve had over the years, and you feel like alright, the next logical step is gonna be either winning a Juno, or having a label contact you to put something out, or getting a booking agent. You expect some kind of growth, incrementally, as these things occur, but when they don’t – and that’s when [D-Sisive] and I did that interview where we were just like “f–k this,” right after Jonestown 3 – [you start to ask yourself], “what the f–k am I doing this for?”
But now, like I said, after I’ve had these two tracks in particular – the “Venus & Mars” and the Portugal. The Man remix – now I’m in New York on a Wednesday night deejaying at this vinyl only party, and I’m playing this Panama record – which is this dance group from Australia that I think are really dope – and this dude comes up onstage where I’m deejaying and is like, “yo, what is this? This is crazy! You’re killin’ it! I’m loving this music.” I’m kind of already drunk at this point, so we dap up, and I’m like, “yeah, I’ll send you some shit, gimme your card!” The guy gives me his card, and I look at it, and he’s the President of Atlantic Records in New York.
It’s like… these people are out here looking and listening, and they understand what’s going on. When I was busy focusing on Canadian hip-hop, [thinking] I gotta make it in Canadian hip-hop, it’s like, what the hell for? That even kinda ties into knowing who your audience is instead of who you think it should be. Maybe I’m not supposed to be a rapper. Maybe I’m not supposed to be a hip-hop producer. Maybe this all kinda let me to this point now where me transitioning out of that into this new sound, and into this new world, is where I’m supposed to be. People always say you need to take the path of least resistance, and that’s what’s happening now, and shit is happening. It’s crazy.
TCUS: This is a quote of yours from another interview: “I feel more excited about being a part of this new movement of Canadian artists and defining whatever it is we’re trying to define. I think that is going to help all of us more than trying to chase down Talib Kweli to get a verse on a song.” Tell me about this.
Muneshine: [Laughs] Yeah, I mean, that question comes up a lot in quote-unquote “rap interviews.” It’s like, “you’ve worked with some legends, who else do you want to work with?” That’s not part of any of my goals anymore. I have worked with some of those guys when I was a lot younger, [and] that was kind of a dream for two reasons: one, I grew up listening to this person and I just respect them through the roof; and two, you think, okay, if I work with this person, people who follow them are then gonna follow me, and I’m gonna follow their career path and be a great success. Only one of those is true, and that’s “I love this guy, so I’m gonna work with him.”
But at this point, I’ve done some of that, and [so] that’s not exciting to me – that, combined with the fact that a lot of these guys that I grew up listening to either aren’t making music or they’re making music that I’m not excited about at all. So at this point, whether it’s a Canadian artist or any other artist, I’m most interested in working with up-and-coming people, doing new and different things than what [I’m already] doing. It’s more interesting and challenging, and I feel like that’s more fun, so that’s what I want to do [laughs].
TCUS: You touched on Wax Reform a little bit earlier. Is that still a thing?
Muneshine: Yeah, it was always a very loose thing [to begin with]. It was never like “we’re a group,” or “we’re gonna put out an album,” or [anything like that]. We always were just kind of boys in the beginning. We all came from one spot, we networked, we shared ideas, and we worked on each other’s shit. We still are all in touch; I still talk to all those guys regularly. Some of us still do work together in some capacity, but beyond that, we’re just boys.
TCUS: Speaking of another highly talented producer, tell me about something you’ve been running with Elaquent lately, an event called Pressure.
Muneshine: Pressure is kind of the brainchild of this transition. The idea was to create something here in Toronto that there’s this huge opening for – there’s no one really doing these kinds of parties. There’s people doing house parties, or whatever – there’s a lot of hip-hop events and things like that – but none of this kind of new wave, future bass, electronic shit. He and I are both huge fans of that music, and just friends as well – we’ve worked on a few things together – so I just came up with the idea to do this Pressure night and hit him up to get him in the loop, and he was fully with it.
Now we’re just doing this monthly event, and it’s been getting a huge response and growing every month. We’re thinking of making it a more frequent event. But it’s just kind of a place where people can come and hear new stuff, and hear good stuff. We’re looking at taking it on the road too. We work with the same booking company, [so] later in the year, he and I are looking at doing some touring dates down in the U.S.
TCUS: I have few broader questions before we wrap things up. What’s the best advice you could offer to an aspiring artist in Canada?
Muneshine: The first thing that I would always say is be yourself and do what you actually like doing. Don’t try to think too much about where am I gonna fit in here, and how is this gonna be received, and who is gonna like this? Just do what you like doing and make sure that you enjoy doing it. If you do that and you get good at it by practising, then people are gonna come around – there’s so many people out there that listen to all kinds of music. It’s important to just do what you like, otherwise the fun gets sucked out of it.
Other than that, I would say my second piece of advice is build relationships. I think relationships are more valuable than anything – in not just music, but any kind of business – if you can be a good, honest person who keeps your word and works hard, and by practising and getting good, you develop your skills, then you have a lot of opportunity to succeed, because you’ll have all these people out there [to support you], whether they’re promoters, or people who work at labels, or people in press or radio. Anywhere. If you have those relationships, then those doors open for you, and that’s really valuable. Those are the two biggest things, I would say.
TCUS: What about the greatest life lesson you’ve learned?
Muneshine: Probably not to close any doors based on what I think I want. I guess that would come from what happened last fall, where I wanted to walk away from Muneshine altogether and just do something totally new, starting from scratch. While I think I needed to have that departure to find where I was gonna then fit, I’m glad I never closed the door on it and was like this is never gonna work, it’s never gonna happen, I’m gonna quit. Learning to never quit and keep going is the biggest thing. I don’t think it was ever an epiphany, I think that’s just the most important thing that has worked for me: to keep going and keep trying.
TCUS: What do you want your legacy to be?
Muneshine: I just want to make a lot of good music that entertains people and makes people think, and maybe inspires other people to make music. That’s it, man. I don’t really know about a legacy. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind making some money [laughs]. I wouldn’t mind being able to buy a house and have a comfortable life. I’m not trying to chase superstardom and millions and millions of dollars. I would like to have enough return on what I do to allow me to continue doing it more comfortably. But aside from that, as far as legacy is concerned, I would love to walk away with a big catalog of work that people have enjoyed on some level.
TCUS: Any last words?
Muneshine: Check out my album. It’s out on Scissor Records and Tommy Boy. And check out my SoundCloud page as well. I post a lot of music I’m doing outside of these album cycles – there’s a lot of remixes I do for other artists, or I get other artists to remix my songs. That’s about it, man. I think that covers it [laughs].
Subscribe to The Come Up Show Podcast!