MC Lars Warped Tour Interview
Andrew Nielsen has been working his same job for over ten years. His job isn’t any normal job, though. Even his life as a musician isn’t anywhere close to a normal life of a musician. Falling into his own niche of post-punk laptop rap, along with nerdcore and lit-hop, MC Lars has paved his own independent road into the music stratosphere. A Stanford alumnus and Bay area native, Lars has spoken at two TEDx events and works closely with the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention. Lars has set off on his first headlining tour around the country and will be coming to the Marquis Theater on November 3rd. We got to talk to MC Lars over the summer at his stop in Denver at Warped Tour.
This is your third time Warped Tour, how has it gone so far?
Yeah, this is our third Warped Tour and it’s been really cool because it’s nice to see the audience growing and it’s nice to kind of know where to put my energy and where not to. And kind of know all the people that run the place and run the production offices and it’s really fun. Warped is one of those things where whatever you put in, you’ll get out of it. I think that the music industry doesn’t have a lot of things like that anymore. With that kind of punk rock aesthetic because there’s so much noise that we’re all swallowed by the cacophony of social media that no one really cares about indie music unless it’s curated in an interesting way. I really feel the value of Warped Tour and I really appreciate it more every year. You know what I mean?
Yeah! That basically answers what I was going to ask for my second question which was how Warped affects the music industry today. What’s your favorite aspect of Warped Tour?
My favorite part of Warped Tour is when I can get up early and put up tons of posters and I try to meet everyone in line and say hi to everyone. Like the fan interaction. Nathaniel from 3OH!3 was saying that Warped is a tour that’s designed for the fans. Especially because it removes a lot of the unnecessary barriers between stage and audience. And also I’ve been teaching workshops which has been cool. So that’s been fun and I love doing that a lot too.
You and Kosha Dillz got to take Riff Raff’s spot on stage for one of the stops. What happened with that?
I guess for some reason Riff Raff missed his stage time so Kosha Dillz was in the production office and they were like, “Hey we need someone to go on stage.” And I was eating dinner and John told me that Kosha Dillz was on stage in the arena so I ran over and just joined him. We got to do some freestyles. It was cool. And the crowd liked us! They were really receptive. But yeah I don’t know what happened with Riff Raff he might have been sick but I don’t know.
I was wondering because his credibility for performing, I feel, is lower than most artists on tour.
Yeah it’s interesting because Kevin Lyman is very smart about picking artists for the tour that young people like and want to see. I feel like Riff Raff really represents the nexus of hip-hop culture. He represents what’s good about hip-hop but also a lot of what’s controversial about hip-hop.
What should we expect for the new album that is coming out?
I have songs with Cool Keith, Watsky, Roger from Less Than Jake, Stza from Leftöver Crack… It’s called The Zombie Dinosaur LP and the theme is survival at any cost and every song is about an underdog victory. So “Dragon Blood” is about Daenerys winning as a strong woman in Westeros. “The Ballad of Hans Moleman” is about never giving up. “Zombie T-Rex” is sort of me looking back at the last ten years of my life. It’s more pop-punky, more poppy, than Lars Attacks. I think it’s my best record. So I can’t wait.
You’ve been working on this new album for a really long time now, what have you been doing that has made it take so long since you first announced it and put it on Kickstarter?
I went on tour, I was working on a book, and a TV show so it took a while because I wrote fifty songs for this record but I didn’t feel like it was ready. So the delay was that it just wasn’t ready. I had to bring the joy back into my life. It wasn’t funny, the songs just didn’t have that spark that I feel like my second and my first record had. Also, I was touring so much. I realized it was really hard to write while I’m on the road. I was trying to get it out last year but I feel like it’s better to wait than to put out something before it’s ready. I feel like Lars Attacks was an unfinished record. I was still proud of it but I wish I had more time. Lars Attack I tried to put out for Warped Tour 2011 because I felt like I had to have a new record out but it ended up not coming out until September that year so it didn’t matter. The point is, don’t rush your art. I think with social media and with everyone being so stressed out about creating content, a lot of unfinished stuff comes out and I wasn’t ready to drop something unfinished. It was more of a personal journey. If I were to keep making music I wanted to do it in the best way possible. You feel me?
Yeah. I personally think Lars Attacks is an amazing album and even though it hits a lot more personally than your other ones I think that every artist should have an album where they get to experiment or dig deep down and pull that stuff out.
I appreciate you saying that. It means a lot man. Thanks.
You talked about how a couple years after Lars Attacks came out you ended up liking Indie Rocket Science over that.
Yeah, you know, the thing about Lars Attacks was there were like four different versions of it. It was the first time I was without a label. So there were a lot of samples. And I didn’t clear the samples but there are illegal versions of the record with samples. Indie Rocket Science is full of illegal samples so that’s why it’s not on Itunes or Spotify. So, yeah, The Graduate and This Gigantic Robot Kills I cleared all my samples. Lars Attacks was completely Horris Records and the first time I didn’t partner with any other labels so I didn’t know what to do with the sample thing. So I did the schizophrenic thing of putting out four different versions of it. Whereas, Indie Rocket Science there’s one version full of uncleared samples. This next album has no uncleared samples.
A lot of you work focuses on a lot of literary topics. What literary work or piece do you want to make a song around that you haven’t been able to yet?
That’s a good question. I want to do an EP or and LP of all Shakespeare stuff. I want to do Romeo & Juliet. I was working on a Romeo & Juliet song for this album but it didn’t come out right so I put that on hold. That’s a hard song to make funny and everyone knows that story. It’s also been modernized so many times and my idea was to do it through a social media, Facebook relationship. But it didn’t work out well. So I’m going to do a Romeo & Juliet song. Stay tuned!
Do you still want kids to download you songs (illegally)?
Yeah! I mean I think now that everyone is up in arms about Spotify… Spotify is about half of my monthly digital income because I feel like people who have bought my records over the years are rediscovering me. So every time someone streams This Gigantic Robot Kills I get like… A nickel! And that adds up. So I don’t really mind I have somehow been able to stay current and do this. So I don’t care if people steal my music because as long as they support in other ways. Like the Kickstarter was so amazing because people were so generous and it’s very appreciative. I feel like that idea of giving music away for free was controversial then. Now, I feel like everyone is doing that. With all the mixtape sites. But to make a long story short, yes. I still want people to download the songs.
There was a big controversy with Taylor Swift on Spotify after she took all of her music down. Do you think if you’re on a big label it would hurt you as an artist versus you being on your own label and doing your own thing?
From how I understand it. If you’re on a label. They treat the royalties differently than album sales. So you get a smaller percentage. That’s how I understand it. But for me owning my masters I get the whole percentage so it ends up being more. It’s kind of interesting. I’m curious to see how people consume the new record. Like people who didn’t pre-order it. People who get this album for the first time or listen to it on Spotify of Itunes. Bandcamp has been good. It’s kind of cool because you can put up songs with uncleared samples. Which is dope! Not that I would. Hah!
For people who haven’t heard of it, describe what lit-hop is.
I guess it’s just rap songs about literary themes. So I have an Edgar Allen Poe album. I took Hamlet and wrote a song about Hamlet’s perspective about his relationship with Ophelia. It’s just literary rap. The term actually comes from this guy Baba Brinkman, a Canadian rapper. He called an album “Lit-Hop” and I saw that and put it in a song and I forgot, but that’s his term. I’m not the one guy doing it but I use it a lot as a hashtag.
How do you bring education into your music because of some of your younger fans?
That’s a good question. I think that hip-hop is about preserving the oral culture. I always talk about how I approach song writing… Your thesis is your chorus. So you have to have your defending statements to be your verses and you have to say something interesting. I always feel like when I write a song I try to say something that no one else could have written or no one else would write. That’s always my aesthetic criteria. So I try to make my songs educational. I also think humor is important. I think a lot of rappers, especially political rappers, they miss the mark because their stuff is not funny. It’s very serious and hard to get. So I try to educate through humor and through having fun music and not taking myself too seriously. I also did a TED Talk and I do workshops with kids and teach at schools. That’s tight.
Do you still incorporate DIY ethics into your music and life on tour?
Yeah, the funny thing is Warped Tour is corporate and sponsored. The ethos of it is very punk rock. Even the guy who runs it, Kevin Lyman, is up every day helping set up the stages.
Does he go along on the tour as well?
Yeah! He’s on his bike making sure everything is running smoothly. So he is very punk rock. But I think that Vans is a cool sponsor because they come from the roots of 70’s skater culture in California. So I think that it’s very hard to be completely DIY because every social media platform is a corporation. So, I would never sign to a major label and I would never want someone telling me what songs to write. But I have had songs that were in commercials. So I think it’s hard to be completely DIY unless you want a day job. So as much as I can while still making music my thing. You know what I mean?
Who has been your favorite person or artist or group to work with?
Weird Al is still my hero. The fact that he worked with me and has always been so nice to me and encouraging, that’s like a dream come true. Shout out to him. I never realized that in a million years that he would be a fan of mine. And it’s tight.
Do you keep in contact?
Yeah, we helped produce a video on his last album and he thanked me in his liner notes. But yeah, we keep in tough and every year he sends me a Christmas card. And I see him when I’m in LA but we’re both so busy. But yeah, I would consider him a friend and that’s crazy! Not like a super close friend but definitely a friend. He always gives me good advice. He gave me good relationship advice. He said, “Lars, never let a woman make you change your creative path just because you feel like you have to just to please her.” And I’ve never forgotten that. But that’s wisdom. Shout out to Weird Al.
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
To be a good artist and to have longevity you need great records, great stories, and an amazing live show. And great Youtube videos. It’s like a table. If you have those four things you can survive. Like Watsky is a young artist who definitely kicked butt with all four of those. And I think it’s easy. But also, everyone has a gift, but talent is another thing that you really have to foster and work hard at. But yeah, that would be my advice. Also, I think going to college was smart. I never thought I’d be a rapper and it was kind of like an accident. I was really excited that I got to do that and that I still get to do it. I’ve been doing it for thirteen years.
That’s interesting because that’s the same thing that K.Flay said when we got to interview her.
Well that’s a girl that has a lot of talent. I think it’s cool how she kind of… When the major label stuff was not clicking, she said, “Well fine I’ll just do the kind of music I want.” And I really admire her for that. And not wanting to do rap as much. Because she always admired rock music. So yeah, shout out to her!
What’s your favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle?
Raphael. Because he is the sassy iconoclast. And I like how in every rebooting of the franchise he’s always got the same kind of attitude. I really liked the new one. The Michael Bay one that just came out, everyone hated on it but I liked it a lot.