MC Lars Interview

"Believe in yourself and surround yourself with positive people and you can do anything. Like flecking records."

MC Lars is a breath of fresh air in the music industry. You would expect someone as musically awesome as Lars to be, at the least, slightly arrogant.
Watching him carry his own stuff into the venue and walking around with his hood up, you realise that he isn’t arrogant in the slightest. In fact, he’s the most down to earth musician I have ever met.
The first thing he does is get me a drink and a seat, and then we’re ready to start the interview.
As I start up my dictaphone Lars leans in towards it and says “Hey Frankie”, before holding his can of Vimto near the microphone and opening it, “it’s sound art!” he laughs.

How does it feel to be back in the UK?
It’s great. We’re on tour with The Leftovers, who are our new friends from Maine, Zebrahead who are from Southern California and Bowling For Soup. The shows have been great, there’s like 2000 people a night, awesome merch, awesome friends. This is like my 15th UK tour.

You lived over here didn’t you?
Yeah, I lived here in 2003. I was in Oxford where I was doing my Shakespeare studies. That was awesome.

What do you like about the UK?
There’s a real understanding of pop culture history, especially an understanding of punk rock, because the UK’s interpretation of punk rock is really kind of defined. I love how the hip hop here is more progressive and more electronic. I think that’s because in the 80s when hip hop spread, guys like Afrika Bambaataa were sampling Kraftwerk, and then that electronic music because the hip hop that first came over here. So the history of the fusion of European and American music is really interesting, and you see how in the UK and Europe there’s a real understanding of hip hop. Even though this is a punk tour, kids still kind of understand hip hop more than they do in American in some ways.

What genre would you class your own music as?

There a genre called post-punk laptop rap and that comes from the fact that, it’s post punk because when bands like Sex Pistols broke up and bands like Public Image Limited formed, and they took the independent do-it-yourself approach and changed the aesthetics, so the music was more complicated. Post-punk is expanding upon the simplicity and it’s laptop rap because I make beats on the computer.

The thing I really love about your music is that a lot of the songs tackle really contemporary issues, and they’re written in such a clever way. What inspires your music?
I think that when I write songs there’s two things. I use humour to get people’s attention and then I try to write about real stuff. I approach writing a song like it’s an essay. The thesis of an essay is like a chorus and the paragraphs are like the verses. I do a lot of research, like with Guitar Hero Hero, like which guitarists had been appropriated by the game and how it affected kids. I have an idea and then I try to think of a musical theme or a musical element to go with the idea, and then I’ll do the demo and then I’ll bring in my friends to play the parts.

We love that you collaborate with so many people.
I know.
Who’s been the best to work with?
The fastest and most reliable person to work with was Weird Al Yankovic. I’ve been a fan of him since I was 10 and the fact the he was a fan of mine and wanted to work with me was so cool. He was just awesome to work with, he totally came in on the deadline, he didn’t charge me anything but I paid him anyway. He is one of my heroes. I’ve worked with a lot of good rappers, I just did a record with a rapper named K.Flay who’s a rapper from Chicago who I went to university with. She’s on the new record and we just did an EP. I’m taking her out on tour. She’s really fun to work with because she’s really musically advanced. So those are my two favourites.

Do you approach them or do they approach you?
What happens is if someone famous shows interest in what I’m doing I will usually have a specific part for them, but like Greg from Zebrahead, he has all these guitar parts that he wants to use with us, so in that case making friends with people on tour, they ask to work with you. Jaret from Bowling For Soup was like ‘Let’s do a song together’ and then we worked together on Download This Song, sometimes it just happens naturally. I’m working on the new record with this guy Motion Man, who’s a famous rapper and we’re gonna do a song about San Francisco. That’s a song that came about because we have to do it, because it’s something we have in common.

Your album is called “This Gigantic Robot Kills”, why did you name it that?
So here’s the story. In the 90s there was this guy from Chicago called Wesley Willis, he was a 400lb, schizophrenic, African-American street performer. Billy Corgan from the smashing pumpkins kinda helped him get famous and then he got signed. He was this crazy guy who used to play the preset stuff on the keyboard and just tell stories. I was always a big fan of his, I met him a few times and in 2000 I interviewed him in New York and he said that he was gonna call his next record This Gigantic Robot Kills and that he was gonna write a song about me but he died, he had leukaemia, and because health care in America is really expensive and if you’re homeless or poor, or a musician without a steady job it’s hard to get treated, so he died of cancer in 2003. So because he was going to call his album This Gigantic Robot Kills I’ve kind of taken that to be a metaphor for the fight of punk rock DIY artists in the face of a world that wants people to conform and consume, that’s the robot, the giant robot that kills the artist. In his case the music lives on, the whole record is a tribute to him.
That’s sweet. Is it true that it took you three years to finish?
It did take a while. I finished The Graduate in 2005 and I finished This Gigantic Robot Kills last summer. It took three years, my management company were working with a band called Brand New and a band called The Format and what happened was he kind of lost his passion for working in the industry and so there was no budget or no support for the record. So it was back to basics, I was doing all the demos on my own and it just took a while because I was on tour most of that time too. I met Jaret again when I was in LA recording tracks for the record and he had started Crappy Records and they put all this funding to help me finish and make it sounded like it needed to. We had like 30 songs for that album and the executive producer DJ, who’s our tour manager, helped me pick the songs for it and then we mixed it. It also took a while because we had to get all these parts from everyone. That took forever, so it was quite a project. The next record I’m working on is called Lars Attacks and we’re going to try have that out by 2007.
[DJ hears this and asks ‘2007?’]
2011. In two years. That’s DJ in the background, he’s such a good executive producer he built a time machine.

Which songs are you the most proud of?
On the new record Twenty-Three is one of my favourites. No Logo, because it’s fun and Jesse Dangerously is a good collaborator. Some of my favourites of all time are probably Mr Raven and Download This Song. Hot Topic Is Not Punk Rock is fun because for three minutes I get to front a hardcore punk band and start a mosh pit. There’s so many different genres. My favourite track of all time is probably Mr Raven because I’m such a Edgar Allan Poe fan.

Do you think that music piracy affects you directly?

It’s interesting, we sold 25,000 copies of The Graduate and This Gigantic Robot Kills has sold 3 or 4,000 copies and I think it’s because kids these days are so knowledgeable about the torrenting. I think free downloading has affected the music industry because now kids can get whatever they want. If you’re an indie label its really hard because it’s gonna take a year or more to recoup on the record, but at the same time if I play in a place like Sheffield or a small town in America where there’s no distribution for my record kids know the songs, so I think the internet has made it so that musicians have to make their career off playing concerts and selling t-shirts, and using CDs as merch because really CDs are kind of old technology. So I’m all for downloading but I am a supporter of independent music. Crappy Records is a young label, they’re growing and they’re gonna sign more people and that’s something I believe in too cause we’re all friends. Jaret is a good friend of mine and so I want his label to do well, so I encourage kids to support the bands on it. But downloading is still inevitable and I’m not against it.
In an ideal world, what’s the solution?
That’s a great question. I think in an ideal world, for me, if it’s my friend’s band I’ll buy the CD off iTunes or buy the merch. Whenever I go see a show, if I love the support bands I’ll buy their merch. The ideal solution is just to support the music that speaks to you, and nowadays it’s not about going to the store and buying the CD, it’s by actually meeting the artist and giving them money hand to hand. Also, an ideal solution is for bands to be on tour, if you’re not on tour you can’t exist as an artist these days, honestly.

How’s this tour going?
It’s really good. We’ve had thousands of kids a night, all the bands are great. We’ve made good friends with Zebrahead who are friends with Failsafe. Failsafe are my band this tour, they’re from Preston, they’re a 5 piece band who play kind of melodic hardcore, they played Give It A Name with us last year and they’re just really good guys and we’ve been having fun. Every show has been great, the kids are so nice and Bowling For Soup do well in America but they do a lot better here. It’s cool that they’re invited us on this tour.

What are Bowling For Soup like to tour with?
They drink. They party more than any other band I’ve toured with. They’re fun and they have a good attitude. It’s always cool. They’re not rock stars, they let us go in their dressing room and drink their whisky and hang out. They’re one of my favourite bands that I’ve toured with and I have a lot of love and respect for them.

Are you not very rock and roll?
I don’t party as much as some people but I keep it real. On this tour I’ve partied more than I ever have on any other tour.
What’s the most rock and roll thing you’ve done?
[after a long pause while Lars is thinking] What’s the least rock and roll thing you’ve done?
Erm, that’s a good question. The most rock and roll thing… I kind if keep a low profile with that stuff, I used to have a lot of fun when I was younger, now as I get older I have a girlfriend and I’m really careful with my money. I still want to be doing this in 10 years and I think nowadays if you’re small you can’t really live the rock and roll lifestyle. So maybe the least rock and roll thing I’ve done is manage my QuickBooks from the tour and manage the QuickBooks for my accounting instead of like… getting high backstage.

What can we expect from the show tonight?
We’ve got Failsafe and my friend DJ raps with me, so we’ve got a live hip hop show with a punk band. We’ve got a multimedia presentation, we’ve got the videos behind us so that every lyrical phrase has a visual reference, it’s a post modern art thing, so there’s the music and the visual element. We’ve taken years to find an interesting balance.
Any surprises?
We may have the lead singer of a famous band from Texas come sing a song with us. All the bands come out and support each other, it’s going to be a really good night.

If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing?

If I wasn’t doing this I’d be finishing up grad school and teaching literature and hip hop studies somewhere, that’s the ultimate plan. I think in 5 years this will still be fun, but I’ll want to have a more stable path, so I’ll probably go back to graduate school. I was on track to do that but then this kind of all happened, and why not? Why not make music?

Have you got any non-musical talents?
I do a web comic called 27th Street and it’s up on and when I’m home I’ll try to update that daily. It’s about the music industry and politics. It’s fun. I love to draw. I write poetry and I’m a good friend to DJ, that’s a good talent right?
[DJ says ‘very good’]

What advice would you give to musicians starting out now?
Whenever people ask me that question I say try not to copy what’s on the radio, because if you’re trying to play whatever is on the radio, whatever is trendy, in six months when people finally hear your demos that music is gonna be antiquated and old fashioned. So I tell kids not to worry about what’s going on in the scene, stick with it, do it well and to spend less time working on the MySpace and spend more time learning to play guitar, play chords and write songs, study people like Dylan and some of the greats, listen to jazz, learn to understand music theory and learn your craft before you start promoting the band. There’s so many bands out there and if you don’t know how to write songs and you don’t have a rehearsed show then even if you get signed, you’re only going to have one hit song. Oh and always own your masters, whenever you sign your masters away it means that if you want to make money off your stuff in the future if it gets big then if your masters are signed away then you don’t really have any way to make money if you’re older and you’re trying to live off the music that you made in your twenties. I did a blog called music industry 101 on where I list 21 things that have really helped me, so that’s helpful.

What do you think of social networks as a platform for bands?
On the last tour we had an issue where there wasn’t enough seats in the van and so we used Twitter as a way to get rides to each show, and so fans drove me and DJ, so that’s cool. We use it as a way to promote a lot, we put out an EP this summer and we recouped in a few weeks with Twitter. I think it’s great, I just think that it can sometimes separate you from the process of song writing, so people need to balance that. It’s good to keep in touch with your fans but if you’re not making music then you’re doing them a disservice, so it’s better to make music than write back to everyone right away.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

We’re doing two weeks of tours with Bowling For Soup, 4 weeks with them in America. I’m opening for a Cuban rapper named Pitbull. I’m also playing some solo shows. I’m developing a hip hop musical with a big movie studio in LA which is coming along and I’m also developing a kids show and I’m doing a graphic novel. So I’m really busy, but it’s awesome.
That is amazing, you’re doing everything. You just listed everything we can think of…
[laughs] I don’t sleep. I keep going.

Give us some words of wisdom to end the interview with.
Everywhere I go, I carry a little Buddha in my pocket, and he reminds me that it’s really easy to get caught up in things, but if you have faith in yourself and you have faith in what you’re doing, everything just kind of comes and goes and there’s nothing really to worry about. It’s my spiritual reminder. Believe in yourself and surround yourself with positive people and you can do anything. Like flecking records.
It’s true!
It’s totally true!