Ten Questions: Adam WarRock
Welcome to the inaugural edition of our new feature, Ten Questions, where we find someone awesome, ask them ten questions, and let our readers enjoy what comes back. In fitting fashion, our first subject is none other than a man who is part nerd, part rapper, part inter-galactic superhuman being, and all Adam WarRock. He goes by Eugene Ahn among us mere mortals, and he was kind enough to sit down and answer our queries in the inaugural installment of Ten Questions.
Eugene decided a few months back to quit his job as a lawyer and commit fully to being a rapper of a wonderfully nerdy variety. He is the man behind internet hits “Ira Glass” and “Starving Artist,” as well as the West Coast Avengers Mixtape. His album, The War for Infinity, based loosely upon the Marvel limited series The Infinity Gauntlet, comes out tomorrow, October 7th. You can hear the first two singles, “The Silver Age” and “Hero’s Requiem,” on his blog, adamwarrock.com. I had the great opportunity to chat with him face-to-face via the interwebs. He talked all about his surprising musical inspiration, his thoughts on the best and worst Avengers of all time, and his efforts to usher in the Silver Age of hip hop.
See what the man behind the mic had to say, after the jump.
1. While you don’t rap only about nerdy subjects, it does figure heavily in your subject matter. Does being a rapper with a specific topic range change your approach to promotion? Do you have a different schedule for touring and interviews than you would as a more traditional artist?
EA: I think that it actually makes it easier to figure out how to promote things. There’s no real, centralized, music press machine anymore, at all, you know? Unless you’re a Top 40 act or something, or an Indie darling. So I actually did a lot of research in terms of finding people to cover anything about my stuff. I had a list of all these geek comic sites, and then I had a list of all these music sites. It made sense to contact every single person on that geek comics site list, and I actually didn’t end up contacting a single person on the music site list.
NNAR: Oh, nobody?
EA: It just doesn’t fit in with their M.O. For the bigger music sites it’s harder to get a hold of an actual person. So it’s kind of backwards from your question. I don’t know if being a nerd artist limits or changes promotion, but it actually made it much easier. There’s such a huge population of people who read very geeky, very nerdy websites, and you know that your music is of interest to them, so you can present it to them in a way where it makes sense. So much of being a musician is this weird dance where you’re trying to convince them about the merit of some subjective idea, which on music sites is tough. I would never expect to be reviewed by Pitchfork or sites like it. So it’s made it easier, and I think that I tend to be more on the side of not actually going the regular music route with any business model or any P.R. plan that I do with anything.
2. In addition to being a full-time rap artist, you’re also a contributor to the podcast War Rocket Ajax with Comics Alliance editor Chris Sims, and to the hilarious fakeapstylebook Twitter feed. How did you become so heavily involved on the internet scene?
EA: Somebody asked me about this today, actually. They were asking me about fakeapstylebook, and it’s a big thing, so they asked in kind of a lofty way. I was laughing, because fakeapstylebook literally began as a bunch of people trying to make each other laugh in an email chain. War Rocket Ajax began because I interviewed Chris Sims for this other podcast that I used to do as a side project but don’t do anymore. Chris and I got along so well that I was shocked that he didn’t have a podcast, and I offered to produce it. We started out doing it where it was literally an excuse for us to talk about Public Enemy, and Marvel Comics, and bring on people that Chris knew in the comics scene. We were tired of – not tired, I guess, but there weren’t a lot of podcasts out there for comics creators to talk about stuff other than the stuff they’re doing right at that moment, you know? When you talk to guys like Matt Fraction, or Chris Roberson, or Jeff Parker, all these guys have such a wide range of interests and a wide range of expertise, and it sucks that you read interviews that say “Well, I’m doing X-Men, and it’s this,” and they only talk about that thing. We wanted to bring them on and just say, “Talk about whatever you want to talk about.” And so, similar to the music, it’s this new age of, you want something from the media that you read, it’s not there, so you create it, and you do it. You become part of it. And if you have a product that’s good enough, you meet a lot of other people quickly, because everything’s so interconnected. You hope that the positive response is greater than the number of people who will say horrifically negative things about whatever you did.
3. You include political commentary in a fair amount of your work. Is that simply because you want to voice your own beliefs, or do you see an active political voice as an artist’s responsibility?
EA: Wow, that is actually the first time anyone’s asked me about politics. It’s funny, because – let me try to think about how I should start this.
NNAR: You don’t have to comment on your own beliefs, I’m just kinda curious.
EA: No, no. I was gonna say, I would love to. I always have to worry about the fact that I open up the floodgates and start to comment on my own beliefs. I’m a very politically active person, I’ve worked on campaigns, I’ve worked on policy, I worked on outreach, I’ve done a lot of stuff in the past. As much of a nerd as I am for fantasy baseball, or comic books, or video games, I am a nerd about politics. I read, I listen to all these news shows, and websites, podcasts, stuff like that, so it’s definitely always a huge part of everything that drives me. So once in a while, probably when I’m really frustrated with the Democratic Party, it bubbles over into me wanting to make a song. Because here’s the thing, right? I’ve actually found this out: it’s hard to make a rap song have emotion in it. I was actually talking to the guys from Kirby Krackle, a nerd rock band, and I was telling Kyle, the lead singer, how much I envy them because they make these songs that are bitter-sweet, or songs that are about love, or about sadness, and you can’t really do that with a rap song. The only way that you can change a rap song is to be more aggressive. And, when you make a rap song that’s more aggressive, a lot of times, it can inch towards obnoxiousness if that aggression does not have a point, you know? So when you want to make this song that has this really hard beat, and give it an angry tone, the easiest thing that comes out is politics, because it’s something people always get charged up about. As for whether I think it’s the artist’s responsibility, I don’t think so. I think that you can totally avoid that subject. But also, it used to be that a lot of geeks and a lot of nerds weren’t very political, just because usually they were more the youth demographic, and the youth demographic didn’t used to be political because it was boring, there was nobody to identify with. I would hope that political ideas would once in a while leak out, just naturally, but as for responsibility, I don’t think so. But especially in rap, so much of it’s in the history of a lot of the early rap acts. They were very political, and, like I said, when you get angry, you would hope that you would get angry about some injustice, rather than being angry about wanting to slap a bitch or a ho in the face or something like that.
4. On a lighter note, your West Coast Avengers Mixtape obviously talked a lot about all of the West Coast Avengers, but who is your favorite Avenger? And how excited are you for the upcoming Joss Whedon movie?
EA: Who’s my favorite Avenger? Like, any Avenger?
NNAR: Any Avenger at all. No-limits Avengers.
EA: Oh man, see.
NNAR: Would it be easier if I gave you a limit?
EA: It’s hard, because I’m gonna say Iron Man, but that’s such an “oh, gee” answer since it’s one of the obvious ones. I can tell you that my least favorite is probably Wonder Man. But Iron Man is definitely one of my favorite characters, period. And this is a true story: the first comic book that I ever, ever bought in my entire life was an Avengers annual, so that’s, I dunno, the history of my comic fan-dom or something like that. It was at a grocery store, and I bought it because they were fighting Galactus on the cover, and I thought it was just the coolest thing in the world. The Joss Whedon movie? I’m excited, I love what Marvel’s done. I’m a big movie geek. I used to do movie reviews for a local paper, and I love what Marvel’s done with the universe it creates. That’s the way a comic book movie should be. I’m sort of a big Whedon fan, but also not, so I don’t necessarily give him a blank check and say whatever he makes is gonna be awesome.
NNAR: Oh, I mean, that was definitely not my angle there, either.
EA: No, I didn’t think so. But I mean, that’s my opinion. It’s a weird kind of thing to consider: you hope that all those things put together will be awesome. But it can easily go wrong just like any other movie. Hopefully it’ll surprise just like Iron Man the first time everyone saw it.
5. In both music and nerd culture, influences are hugely important. What would you say are some of your bigger influences in your development both as an artist and as a nerd?
EA: Oh, man.
NNAR: If you wanna put a limit on that, maybe like 3?
EA: Okay, let me think about this. As a nerd over-all? This is a tough question, because I’m trying to think about what necessarily makes you a nerd, what contributes into that. I mean, I read tons of comics, but could I say that one comic book was the thing that made me a nerd? It’s hard to say. I would actually say that one of the big things that made me a huge nerd in that way of being in an obsessive culture was probably the Wu-Tang Clan, which made me obsessed with rap, and made me very different from a lot of people growing up in the South. Also, The Godfather.
EA: I had immigrant parents. My mom, when she came over, became obsessed with American movies. She let me watch Godfather and Goodfellas and all that stuff when I was way too young to watch it, and I fell in love with movies. To this day, my mom and I still go watch movies all the time, and it’s a thing that we share. So she started me really early, like I was probably like 8 when I saw The Godfather. Which makes it sounds like she’s a horrible parent.
NNAR: It’s cool, it’s cool.
EA: But it totally formed me. I would go hang out with friends when I turned like 12, and they’d be watching these crap movies, and I’d been watching The Godfather and Goodfellas, and all these grand movies, and I’d be like “That’s not what movies are supposed to be. These movies are what movies are supposed to be,” because I’d grown up with that, and it turned me into that sorta geeky snob, you know? And Star Wars is probably the number one influence on me. I had the VHS. Funny story: I actually watched Star Wars on VHS taped off TV and I watched them in the order of Jedi, A New Hope, and Empire Strikes Back.
NNAR: I think that has to do with the fact that they could have been Wookies, but instead they were Ewoks. I think people are negative because of what they could have been.
EA: So, Star Wars, okay, that’s the geek influences. As for music, I’ll tell you a contemporary influence on my music, and I actually talked about this for the first time recently, is Jonathan Coulton. Jonathan Coulton is my number one inspiration for music. It’s funny, because people would never expect that to be it. I took a break from making music for a couple years, and back before I took that break I was making straight, indie hip-hop. In the span of the break, I had listened to a lot of folk music and softer indie music. And I got obsessed with all the Jonathan Coulton stuff. It was the first time I heard somebody use geeky subjects, but twist them into these emotional or meaningful messages. When I came back to rap, in my mind I thought, “I wanna do what he does, but I wanna do it in rap form.” So I can’t stress enough to people how much he was a huge influence. Also, the fact that he quit his job and gave a go of it. I’ve read so many interviews with him to keep my confidence.
6. Both your West Coast Avengers Mixtape and your forthcoming LP, The War for Infinity, use Marvel Comics characters as their inspiration. Would you say that, as a reader, you subscribe to the “make mine Marvel” motto? What are you reading right now that doesn’t come from The House of Ideas?
EA: Uh, see, here’s the thing, right? I never read DC comics as a kid. I was that kid who was like, “DC sucks and Marvel’s awesome!”. I was totally one of those people on message boards in the Marvel vs. DC thread. I still hold on to all these, I wouldn’t call them bad habits, but, habits of my hands going to the Marvel titles when I see that M, and stuff like that. My favorite on-going series right now is Layman and Guillory’s Chew, from Image Comics. That’s far and away my favorite on-going series right now. Grant Morrison’s Batman is the one DC title that I keep up with, when I do go back and revisit it. I also recently just started reading through the volumes of Jason Aaron’s Scalped, which I think is a Vertigo book. It’s been around for a while and it’s fantastic. I love Jason Aaron, he writes a lot of Marvel stuff, too. And then I go back and I’ll re-read Planetary, and Ex Machina and Y: The Last Man, things like that. But if you’re asking about outside of Marvel, that eliminates any of the single issues, because the issues that I normally pick up are mostly Marvel stuff.
7. For your single “Starving Artist,” you sample Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike.” Do you think that hip hop is moving away from using traditional hip hop beats and embracing rock and indie music? The examples I’m thinking of are Childish Gambino’s sampling of artists like Grizzly Bear and Yeasayer, and Kanye’s recent work with Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver).
EA: You’re the first person to ask me about Temple of the Dog, too, which is funny. I didn’t know that people would understand the reference, because it’s such a specific kind of thing. If you’re past a certain age, you have no idea who Temple of the Dog is, you know? It’s like, “Mother Love Bone, who’s that?” I actually really love charting the cultural evolution of rap. It’s a relatively new genre, it started in the late 70s, early 80s, and we’re coming into this period where it’s the first generation of people who are making rap music (I mean the people even younger than I am) who grew up in a society and a culture where rap wasn’t just an African-American art form. When I was growing up, to see Eminem or Paul Barman or 3rd Bass, it was the most mind blowing thing when a white MC came on the scene. Now it’s like “Who cares?”, you know? So if you are a fan of hip hop, you’re not necessarily going to be tagged with a “you’re trying to be black” label, which, I mean, I got tagged with, and a lot of people got tagged with growing up. You can come to rap nowadays with a background that’s not “I only listen to rap music,” you know? And that’s totally fine, nobody cares. You don’t have to be like, “All I listen to is Public Enemy.” So I think that that’s the reason why this new generation has so many more interests other than just rap. It’s not just this cycle that keeps going round and round, it’s them taking all the stuff that they listen to and they like and putting it in their work. And I honestly think that, as much of a complete asshole as he is, Kanye West definitely deserves a huge amount of credit for popularizing that, and reaching out to all these other genres, like the track with Bon Iver for his new album. He started to change his sound when he started out from a very traditional hip hop style. There were a bunch of people who were doing it, kinda under the surface, but when you really think about it, I think he’s the only one, the main one, who blew up and created this belief that dope rap doesn’t have to sound like 90s rap. So it’s a generational shift that a lot of people, a lot of purists, don’t like, but I love, and I’m really interested to see where it goes.
8. Other rappers who draw inspiration from comic books, like Ghostface Killah and MF DOOM, seem to have embraced the secret identity/multiple personae aspects of the characters they imitate. In addition to Adam WarRock, any chance we’ll be hearing from your version of The Goddess or The Magus on The War for Infinity?
EA: Oh man, so the way it goes is that I have the website, adamwarrock.com. There’s the tracklog on there, which is like this never-ending mixtape where I just throw up music. That website gives me the excuse to do songs about whatever I want to do. So when it comes to actually making albums, my intention is always to have the album be some sort of theme or concept or something that ties it all together. I’ve been talking a lot with Niles, Tribe One, who’s the other MC on “The Silver Age,” who I’m going to work with a lot, about what the next album will be in 2011. We have really weird, out-there ideas that came out. I don’t know which one’s gonna win, because some of them I think are creatively impossible to do. But I’ll tell you an idea that I’m not gonna do. It was to call the next album Adam WarRock is Dead, based on De La Soul is Dead, and make the whole album a completely negative album about comic books. Like, rap as people who hate comic books. And Niles talked me out of it, because he said, “No one…That’s such a meta joke that it would be kinda hard to get that across.” But it’s stuff like that that we’re thinking about. I don’t think I want to do the next saga in the Infinity Gauntlet story next, but in the future, maybe the Infinity War will be something that we look into. This album is very much the Infinity Gauntlet saga, loosely and legally inspired by, in case the Disney lawyers are listening. That’s my favorite comic thing of all time. The War will be down the road, and then the Magus or whatever will definitely have to make an appearance in that one, too.
EA: Yeah, I mean, first of all, I want to tell people that it’s a Kirby Krackle show, and I’m only gonna be on stage with them for a couple songs just helping out. They’ve been nice enough to ask me to come on stage and do a little bit of rapping. There will be an Adam WarRock show at Emerald City, and hopefully other ComicCons in the future. But other than that, it’s gonna be at a cool venue, I think there’ll be a pretty good crowd there. The girl that sang the song “I Wanna F*ck Ray Bradbury” will be there. Is that the name of it?
NNAR: It’s “F*ck Me Ray Bradbury.”
EA: Yeah, that’s it, which is really funny. The featured guests along with the band will be me and the girl that sang “F*ck Me Ray Bradbury.” That has to be some sort of scrap-book moment of my life. It’s gonna be fun. Kirby Krackle’s gonna go on at 11 o’clock, I’ll be up with them for the last couple of songs. After the album comes out we’re gonna hopefully be scheduling some shows up and down the east coast, because it’s not very easy to book shows when you don’t have anything that is actually out for sale yet. So once the album comes out, we’re gonna hopefully do more stuff. I’ve been doing some performances here and there, small ones, and me and Niles are anxious to get out on the road and do more stuff.
EA: My quest is to sell enough albums and get enough name recognition that I don’t get broke and have to go crawling on bloody hands and knees back to a cubicle where I work a job that sucks the soul and life out of me. But, in reality, I guess the quest is something that I’ve talked about with Kirby Krackle: there aren’t a lot of people doing comic book music out there. Ghostface Killah and MF DOOM, they’re close, but they’re more rap-oriented. A lot of nerdcore acts and a lot of geek music acts are mainly about video games, Dungeons & Dragons, World of Warcraft, fantasy/sci-fi stuff. The biggest nerdcore acts, like MC Frontalot or MC Lars, they don’t really rap about comic books very much. Kirby Krackle is a group that I look up to, I love their stuff, and we consider ourselves peers. We hope that we can put out good music, so that when people say that there’s this group of people who make geeky music that’s about comic books, they don’t laugh at that concept, you know? We hope that people would be positive and say, “Oh yeah, like Kirby Krackle and Adam WarRock,” and hopefully there will be others who come along, and just make it legitimate. It’s like “The Silver Age” single that me and Niles made, it was actually Niles’ idea. I will always give him credit that he came up with the name of the song. We were stunned that no one had ever made a song called “The Silver Age,” or had that in the title. We googled it constantly. I’ve written some other songs that I’m planning to put out on an EP later, with some very obvious titles that nobody’s ever done. The same with Kirby Krackle – they’ve made songs about all kinds of comic book stuff that nobody’s ever done. There’s at least a billion other ideas in the big two and all the indie comics that we have, and now webcomics, too, to make these really great songs that have meanings deeper than just a title to make you say, “Oh, I know what that’s about.” So I’d hope that people would take it serious, and not just laugh at it. You don’t have to take it too seriously, it’s not like we’re reading Crime and Punishment or anything, but don’t take it too lightly. It’s something that you can enjoy on a real level and not just on an ironic level. So that’s my quest. Although, paying the bills and such is probably something of a more immediate concern.
That’s it for the very first edition of Ten Questions. If you want to check out more of Adam WarRock’s stuff, definitely go to the tracklog on his blog that he mentioned. Two of my personal favorites there are “I Believe in Harvey Dent” and “Don Glover 4 Spiderman”. We will definitely be posting a review of The War for Infinity just as soon as we get our grubby paws on it, so stayed tuned for that. Also keep a look out for future editions of Ten Questions. We won’t always do the feature in interview format. In fact, most of the time it will be ten questions followed by ten direct answers, but since Eugene managed to fit time into his busy pre-album release schedule, we couldn’t refuse the opportunity to get a face-to-face. We will only be contacting the coolest of the cool for the Ten Questions segment here at Nerd News And Reviews, but if you have a suggestion for who you think we should subject to the crucible of queries, feel free to contact us.