POPULARITY IS IMPORTANT: AN INTERVIEW WITH CAZWELL
Leon casino, To quote the great Isaac Brock, “Well fads they come and fads they go.” You could say this about anything, but what about Electroclash? With artists like Peaches, whom is finally starting to get the recognition she deserves, might I add, has been one of the leading revivalists of this odd, in-your-face style of music. Cazwell, another leading DJ in this genre, was recently here in Houston to play a split set with Amanda Lepore. Cazwell was available for a quick interview about Morplay, his previous group, his solo career, and his recent collaboration with Lepore.
1998 was a pretty groundbreaking year for Cazwell due to the release of the Morplay CD with Mc Crasta Yo. After that release, the duo split. Why did you decide to pursue a solo career after that, compared to another joining another duo?
1998? Oh, yeah. I think Morplay split in 2002. When we broke up I had to be solo at that point. I guess we were like a fag/dyke rap duo at the time, and that was really new at that time time. It was before YouTube and others were really doing it. Just because we had the same political fight, I kind of learned that gays and lesbians don’t always get along or share the same point of view. We broke up and wanted different things out of life, so she moved to Seattle and I stayed in New York City. That’s when I got signed to Peace Bisquit as well as West End Records and put out my first album, which was more disco influenced, because I sampled some of West End’s records. All of this started to happen in the early 2000’s.
Was it a difficult decision to go solo? As in, did the relationship between you and Crasta Yo discourage you from joining another group, rather than going just as Cazwell?
I like working with people, definitely. I try to collaborate with different people as much as possible. No one really does everything on their own, anyways. To be in the business, you have to know how to collaborate, but I like being solo because I don’t have to ask for anyone’s permission when I do things artistically. The only person who is really a partner of my career is my manager, so I feel like it’s a lot easier to do things now. But because I have the knowledge of how to work with people after being in a group for so long, I find it easier to work with people and to meet each other halfway more than some others might.
You’ve previously mentioned that you originally had a difficult time playing gay pride festivals and clubs; what do you think has changed and made it easier for you to perform at those events?
When I first started doing music festivals and/or gay pride events, [the organizers] only wanted to book divas because there was no real connection between gays and hip hop. I think the change started to happen when the internet started to blow up. The organizers finally realized that there were gays who could rap, make beats, and were making a name for themselves.
That brings me to my next question; are viral videos essential for artists to succeed in modern music? I mean, is a popular video one of the only ways for a band to get a strong following?
Well, I don’t know. What’s viral now may not be what’s viral at a different time. When “All Over Your Face” came out and I got like 100,000 views in five days, that was considered viral at that point. Now, something isn’t viral unless it gets one million views in a day, maybe three days at the most. So, yeah, I think viral definitely has a different meaning now. But it’s really strange, you can’t really gauge popularity that way anymore. There are artists that have hit songs that may have like 14,000 followers on Instagram, but there might be someone else who has 100,000 followers that doesn’t get the same kind of booking. I do think that popularity is essential to make it as an artist, at least to let people hear your music, whether or not it’s just on YouTube or if there is a visual component.
Let’s say YouTube wasn’t a thing. Do you believe that it would it become a lot easier for musicians to “make it” without a platform?
If YouTube didn’t exist, I think we would put more attention towards programs like Soundcloud and things like that. The internet brought people that didn’t have a voice together. When I first started, I had to get signed because if you got signed, then you had a chance to get on the radio, and that was the only way for people to really hear you. Now, just getting talked about on a blog is good, an extra bonus if you get a video on one. Anyone could really do it. The only problem is that there is a lot of traffic, you know, because anyone could do it.
You have collaborated with Peaches in the past on the track “Unzip Me.” She has recently been brought back into the spotlight after a few years of being overlooked. Why do you think that that has happened? Is it the beginning of an Electroclash revival?
Everyone will have a resurgence as long as they keep going. I mean, Peaches’ work is always good, she takes her time to make sure the end result is what she wants. Her new album is good, but of course it is. She has never put out a bad album. So, yeah, I think there will be a resurgence as long as you don’t stop. I think that has happened to me, too. I have dropped videos that no one picks up on and no one really listens to. When I dropped “All Over Your face,” no one listened to at first. When I dropped “I Seen Beyonce at Burger King,” that was not a big hit for the first two years. You really can’t gauge what people will like, but I think that is like Amanda’s and my career because we are always dropping videos and trying to make songs as often and solid as we can.
Speaking of Amanda and yourself, how did the collaboration between you two come about?
Well, we met each other while I was in Morplay and we played for Amanda’s birthday. It might of been just me. It was during a time where Electroclash was happening. I just really gravitate towards Amanda and her story. I wrote “Champagne” for her and she liked it, so we decided to do an entire album together. We work together as much as we can, but she’s been so busy lately, so it’s hard to hang out [laughs].