My grandfather is a bishop in the Pentecostal church. Growing up, church was a huge part of our lives and music is a huge part of any black American church. It was the first place I learned how expansive the music can be and how powerful the human voice is. I started playing trumpet in the school band when I was 8 or 9 years old and I started rapping when I was 10. From there I moved on to the drums. It was also around that time that I started getting into synthesizers and production.
Who influenced you as a young man musically? Who are still in the favorites, who are you listening to now?
I loved Michael Jackson when I was kid. I still think he stands alone in the ability to completely captivate a room. I loved Nas, Notorious B.I.G, Big L, Rakim, early Outkast and The Fugees. As I got older I started to go back. I spent hours with headphones on listening to The Doors, Prince, Hendrix, James Brown, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Gil Scott Heron and T. Bone Walker. Later I got into electronic music and no wave, post punk etc. The Normal's ‘Warm Leatherette’ is still one of my favorite records of all time. I own every Tom Waits record post Swordfishtrombones. Now I listen to everything I can: trap, bass, trill wave, blah blah blah. Its all a mish-mash now anyway.
What difficulties have you faced as a budding musician and producer?
Honestly, the more appropriate question would be what difficulties have I NOT faced. The path is always hard if you are trying to make a living of and be respected for your own art — from self doubt, to lack of money, to simple things like artist work permits… It takes a lot of belief, hard work and perseverance to survive in this industry.
The thing about titles is that if you pay too much attention to them, they can end up weighing you down.
You've become, according to most in the media, the 'Kerouac of new Hip Hop'. How does it feel to have such a title?
The thing about titles is that if you pay too much attention to them, they can end up weighing you down. Kerouac was a giant of 20th Century literature. I'm just Thunderbird, and the best I can do is keeping making the best music I can that's true to who I am. If in the end I've made anything one tenth as powerful as what Kerouac achieved then I've done alright.
Is there any difference for you to create in New York or in Berlin? Do you feel the difference between a creative atmosphere in these cities?
The approach to life in general is more relaxed in Berlin. It makes creating, especially writing much easier. However I think to really advance, you have to hit New York, you have to hit London. It's the hustle that refines us and makes us sharp. Because Berlin is so chilled, sometimes it can feel like a vacuum. But in New York and London you really get a sense of competition which I think is really healthy as an artist.
As I know you collaborated a lot. Can you tell me about any collaboration in which you succeeded to get indistinctive sound both for you and for a collaborator?
DJ Stickle and I work really well together. I feel like we really developed the Thunderbird sound together. He knows what kinds of sounds I'm into, so when we're building a track from scratch in the studio now I usually just sit back and let him work. Two Inch Punch is also a great dude. He and Stickle are very similar in their attention to detail. They're both sound designers with an incredible amount of taste. I worked with Gbenga from Metronomy on the EP as well. He has a great sense of space in his productions and a great ear for harmony.
Are there any music styles, sounds that you do not accept or just do not like? When you feel that even with the most daring experiments with your music you do not want to use them…
No. I never feel that the sounds themselves are the problem. I feel it's a question of what you do with the sounds. All sounds, and styles can have integrity if you treat them that way during the production and writing process. I'm always more partial to bass heavy, warmer sounds but I've learned to never rule anything out.
What are your expectations for your debut album? When it comes out?
The album Year I will be out next autumn — 2013. First up will be the ‘Riding With Death’ EP which we're finishing now and will be out in February. I worked with some amazing people and I'm just trying to make the best record I can possibly make. I spent over a year in the writing process. I want it to be a record that if I were to never make another album I could be proud of it. I would love it if people would fee it, but what's most important is that every bit of my heart is in it. It's a risk, but anything worth doing usually is.
What is up on your mind now? What do you work on now? Any special plans for the end of this year and for the next, 2013?
Last month we shot a dope video for two new tracks — ‘Victory Part II’ and ‘Live’. In Marrakech which is pretty epic. It will be finished soon and released online before Christmas. Both of the tracks will be available as free downloads… A holiday gift from team Thunderbird! Other than that right now is all about finishing the EP.
How do you relax? Any hobbies? Perhaps a hobby-projects not related to music?
I read as much as I can. I hang out with my dog. CC (who directs all my videos) and I are always coming up with script ideas. We have a dope zombie flick that we're working on!
I taught myself and learned mainly through watching others.How do you see yourself in the future? Which prospects of your own development are the most interesting for you?
I love production. I taught myself and learned mainly through watching others. For the future, I'd really love to advance my knowledge as a producer. Artists can have a very limited shelf life, but production seems to open up a whole other world of opportunities beyond your own project.
What should listeners expect from you on the gig in Saint-Petersburg?
It's my first time in Saint-Petersburg! To be honest, I have no idea what to expect. But we're going to do what we always do… BURN THE PLACE DOWN.