Kleenex Girl Wonder just released 13th LP The Comedy Album. Graham Smith, who’s been making pan-genre pop rock in bedrooms, studios, forests and everywhere in between under the KGW name with various people since 1994, joins MAGNET as guest editor this week. Climb inside his skull as he figures out what it’s all about, whatever “it” may be.
Smith: I went to college in Madison, Wisc., and I met a lot of really cool people there. One of the absolute coolest was Steve Reidell, half of the indie+rap mashup juggernaut the Hood Internet. We stayed friends when I lived in Chicago post-college (2002-2004), and he and ABX started up THI at some point in those gloried 2000s, and I’ve always been a big fan of what they do—although I admit I’m not a huge fan of the mash-up “thing” in general.
A fun fact: When I was in seventh or eighth grade, I actually attempted to invent the mash-up—although that Evolution Control Committee dude may have already done it, neither I nor the world had heard of him yet—by juxtaposing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with a generic techno beat. Of course, since there was no technology available (to me, at least) that allowed for time-stretching or beat matching, all I did was plug two CD players into a cassette recorded and hope for the best. It did not go well at all, and it delayed a mix tape I owed my friend Louis quite severely. Apparently I had told him about this exciting experiment, because I still can hear him saying “Screwwwww the Teen Spirit mix!” in my head whenever I try to sleep.
Even though the whole mash-up “craze” (not sure why this signifier demands so many follow-up scare quotes) kind of seems like a novelty phase that we have passed through, the best artists doing it found new directions to take their music, rather than just continuing to throw things together (if they ever had done so). The Hood Internet definitely branched out in a major way, albeit connected to their mash-up roots (no quotes this time); their first proper record included original songs they produced for guest artists. Well, not all original; they did a fantastic “cover” of “These Things Are Nice,” from my 2010 album Accept The Mystery, which is a fucking great song (theirs, although I rather like mine as well). I got to sing part of it onstage with them and hearing a rapper rap/sing my lyrics was a personal highlight.
So it was only natural that I reach out to them to produce the song “W.S.,” which is named after a mind-boggling Paul McCarthy installation but imagined as the hypothetical funeral oration of a dearly beloved singer/songwriter who I will not name (it’s fun to guess). They completely killed it, even adding rap-chorus-style “Ayyyyyyyy”s upon my request. It’s a lovely song, and Steve is a lovely person, so he provided these lovely answers to my now-canonical collaborator inquiries.
Did you enjoy working with me on our song? I did, no pressure.
Can we move on to the next question?
Collaborations across genres are ever more constant on today’s records. Why do you think this is? Is it just a matter of technological advances, or is there something deeper?
It seems like the digital era of music really opened up everyone’s ears to, well, everything. Or at least normalized the access to it. Of course people still have preferences, genres that speak to them, but on the average, it’s not like people are hitting up the record store and only flipping through one or two sections.
From the mp3 blogs and file sharing clients of the aughts to today’s streaming services, there’s just so fucking much out there that people have the chance to hear, whether they’re seeking it out, or whether it’s been presented to them by a friend, or by an algorithm. So there’s a lot more out there for people to be influenced by. Cross-genre pollination has been a thing, and it makes sense that it will just continue to happen further as time progresses. You are, like me, empowered by home recording. Besides convenience or necessity, what do you prefer about that method? Do you enjoy more traditional recording processes, e.g. professional studios with premium bottled water and perhaps a bejewelled curtain for the vocal booth?
Home recording is great because in addition to being the recording artist, I’m also the studio assistant. I make the coffee, I take out the trash, clean the studio cats’ litterboxes, all that. People should start crediting themselves for those duties on albums they recorded at home. It’s part of the process.
What artists have influenced you repeatedly and/or intensely?
I’ve always been a fan of artists whose discographies feel expansively wide, sonically and stylistically. Death Grips. The Alchemist. Prince. Magnetic Fields.
Outside of income, what keeps you pushing forward and making new and exciting music?
I’ve always wanted to be able to make music for the rest of my life. Part of that is: making music for the rest of your life.
There’s a lot of good Hood Internet stuff to check out; a simple Web® search should help you track it down. But in their own words: “Our most recent project is called AIR CREDITS, and is a collaboration with Chicago artist Showyousuck. There’s music from our first release Broadcasted over at soundcloud.com/aircredits.”