“If I wasn’t rapping I’d be a professor or finishing my PhD” states MC Lars. An unusual career evaluation and proof, not that much is needed, that Lars is far from you average rapper.
Truth be told Lars is far from you average musician of any kind. As he sits wringing his hands and thoughtfully considering his responses to each question there is something desperately endearing about the native of Berkley, California.
“I had this whole me against the world attitude” he reveals, taking stock of his simple beginnings touring the world, just a man and his laptop. Hardly a surprising attitude to take given the lonely experience that must have been, but one eradicated by success.
“I’ve been able to get more stable with my music career and make it a full time thing. Learn more about why I do what I do and push boundaries creatively,” he says.
Typical of Lars, the man of contradictions, this increased fame and success has brought greater self awareness. “I’ve been able to find a balance between who I am as Andrew Nielson and who I am as MC Lars” he explains, “it’s cool to find that balance” he adds laughing.
Just as his attitude towards life has changed, so has his approach to making music.
“I started out as the like steal music guy, do it yourself” Lars reflects. “I still think that doing it yourself is good but I’m growing artistically.” And this growth is being reflected in Lars’ audience.
“I think more people are hearing what I’m doing” he says, a little hesitantly at first but growing in confidence as he explains himself. “I think that the response to Robot Kills has been good and more people are getting what I’m saying” he continued.
“But I think what I’m saying is different. Being in the industry now is more about survival and helping your friends” Lars concludes.
In the current economic climate survival is one thing which Lars is better prepared for then most. “Being by myself and just having my computer has allowed me to make good business decisions” he observes, but he learnt the importance of saving money on tour the hard way.
“When we did The Graduate in 06, my first three UK headlining tours, I had a band from New York that I flew out. We rehearsed, hired a van and I lost money on all those tours but they were sold out” he explains.
Having learnt his financial lessons the hard way, Lars now has several different backing bands in different areas, and the UK is no exception.
“Now I have Failsafe, who are a melodic hardcore band from Preston, who learned all my songs and are so fantastic on stage.
We fly over here then pay them to play with us and pay their gas which is so much cheaper then flying bands over” he says.
It’s not just the books which Lars struggles to balance on the road. He also finds it hard to make touring fit with his views on the environment and his attempts to conserve energy.
“Touring is not environmentally friendly at all” he admits with a wry smile. “We do try to be smart. When I’m at home I drive a hybrid car (laughs) but it is terrible for the environment” Lars continued.
“In England there are so many diesel fuels which are worse. It’s hard. We could take trains which are expensive. But they’re not very reliable and you can’t really bring boxes of merch to sell on the train”, he adds.
Aside from his views on British fuels Lars has also had previous issues with certain sections of the UK music press. Well, more one publication in particular.
“They (NME) said ‘Download This Song’ sounded like a bag of steaming dog poo” he states, visibly more amused then offended by the slight. “But I don’t really know what that would sound like. I think it would be kind of quiet” he mused.
In response to the magazine’s criticism Lars had some observations of his own. “They love to use sensationalist language and slag off things that are different” he said, adding “they’re probably all in failed post punk bands from the 70s.”
“It’s weird because you get different people, they’ll have a band on the cover then in the back you’ll have a bad review of their album. The UK press is weird like that sometimes they say something is the best thing ever then other times they say it’s the worst thing ever. It’s hyperbole, extremes, you know what I mean?” he said.
After the mention of ‘Download This Song’, talk turns to Lars’ views on downloading. Unsurprisingly his approach to this has been considerably different to much of the music industry, even going as far as releasing free acapellas of his tracks for fans to download and remix. However he still feels fans need to do what they can to support musicians.
“If you like a band you should support them. Like buy their album or buy a shirt” he says.
“But downloading now isn’t really an issue because it’s so easy to get anything. Like you type Kanye West torrent in to Google and you can get his album from Google in like two seconds. It’s not as big of an issue anymore because it’s so available there is no way to stop it.”
For Lars downloading allows his name and music to reach areas not previously accessible.
“For me it helps with that in England my album isn’t distributed in stores, so kids can get it on I-tunes or wherever else they want to get it. That means that people know my songs where I don’t have distribution, like in small towns in Australia, or small towns in America” he said.
“I prefer people to support me but things have changed, and it is easy to support in other ways. As long as people are hearing my music I’m happy”, Lars concludes.
To release ‘This Gigantic Robot’ Lars signed to ‘Crappy Records’, a label belonging to long time friend, and Bowling For Soup front man Jaret Reddick. This prompts the question is it not strange having your friend be your boss?
Lars is typically thoughtful in his response. “We’re learning to communicate and work together” he says, “we’re taking our friendship but developing it in a more business way.”
“He really believes in me more then anyone else in the music scene. He’s such a good friend and he has so many good ideas. I’m honoured to be part of his team. I’m learning to listen to him more. He was my friend and now he’s putting his money into supporting me so I have to listen to him” Lars added.
Lars is already hard at work on a follow up to ‘This Gigantic Robot’. But he admits his next release will probably sound a little different.
“The new record is going to be more hip hop stuff, with guitars but more with guest rappers in place of guest bands” he said.
Now, back to that opening quote, it’s probably best to let Lars himself explain it.
“I really love to talk about hip hop, the history of hip hop as post-modern culture. My degree was in literature, nineteenth century American literature. There is this connection where like the poetry fits with the poetry of the streets, hip hop.
Schools have hired me to come and talk about that and it’s been fun. I think in like 10 years I’ll probably be finishing my PhD and teaching hip-hop history in schools. That is eventually what I want to do”, he said.
MC Lars returns to the UK next month on tour with Zebrahead. For tour dates and ticket information visit www.mclars.com.
‘This Gigantic Robot Kills’ is available now on Crappy Records.