THE MIKE VAN OLDEN INTERVIEW
Mike Van Olden, Fishguhlish, Molasses...this guy's a walking pseudonym factory. But he's got more going for him than just a couple dozen nicknames, he's the man behind the bulk of the "Drum Crazy" series and the "Conversations With My Sanity" EP on Ubiquity Records. As many of you know, I am a huge fan of the Drum Crazy series, and I credit it as being one of my first inspiring introductions to the beauty of the open drumbreak. In case you don't know, each volume has 20 rare beats, looped up, and sliced just right: HIGHLY recommended listening for beatheads.
Born as the product of Divine Inspiration in the middle of a cornfield in Indiana, Mike was the original inspiration for the movie "Field of Dreams", with Kevin Costner. However, the movie's catch-phrase ("If you build it, they will come") was altered from the original heavenly voice Mike heard in the cornfields ("If you sample it, they will come") due to the baseball theme of the film.
Well, this is someone I've wanted to talk with for months now, so I hope you'll excuse the length of the interview. But I think you'll find some interesting insights into the genius mind behind the best drumbreak series ever released.
You were born/raised in Indiana, right? I know how you started off by selling a couple drum breaks to a producer, but how/why did you first start collecting before that?
This is a really tough question to answer...mainly because I don't remember why I started collecting myself. My earliest memories are of buying the Super Disco Breaks series on Winley Records, Simon Harris' "Beats and Breaks" Series, Mark The 45 King's instrumental beat albums, and, of course, Lenny's Ultimate Breaks and Beats collections. I began collecting the obvious breaks, like "Funky Drummer" and Joe Tex, just so that I could sample them. If you remember, almost all of the songs around the Kid N' Play era used James Brown...So, that's what I collected, too.
Back in high school, I would make tracks for my friend to rap over. I remember my friends and I used to win ALL the talent shows...I guess that's probably why I started collecting the breaks...so that my friends and I would win these talent shows. (By the way, I never even tried to be a rapper...straight to production! Thank God!)
I've read that you consider yourself to be a specialist in psych rock drum breaks. Do you still consider this to be the case? If so, is it because you prefer them in general?
About the time I did that interview with Phil (Soulman) in Rap Sheet, I was really deep into collecting Psych Rock. You see, I lived in a conservative, medium-sized town in Indiana at that time. We didn't really have any good record stores dealing in Soul or Jazz records; it was all mainly used Rock. However, there was ONE store that got in some good music every now and then, and I used to hit this store at least once a week. I ended up becoming really good friends with the guy working there. He didn't know anything about old music, so he would hold the "rare-looking" stuff behind the counter for me to sift through. To this day, some of my best Soul/Jazz finds came from that guy: Dizzy Gillespie "The Real Thing", Body and Soul "Self-Titled", Madhouse "Serve 'Em", Masterfleet, Dennis Coffey, Hustler's Convention, and more...
As time went on, my collecting started getting more serious. I would drop about $100.00 at a time at that same store. Finally, the owner asked me one day "what they hell are you buying all these records for?" I broke down the whole Hip Hop production theory for this guy. He was in his late-50's and thought they whole breakbeat idea was hilarious, but cool.
It was at this time that he told me about his back room. Little did I know that this guy was a big Psych Rock and vintage guitar collector. He was even selling the stuff at National record shows and in Goldmine ads. He offered, "I bet you could find some really great beats in some of those records I've got back there." Needless to say, I quickly took him up on the challenge. ;) He and I worked out a trade... I would design some Goldmine Magazine listings for him, and in turn, he would let me go through his collection.
He had these HUGE racks of records back there. If you've seen the latest Fat Boy Slim record cover for "You've Come A Long Way, Baby", you can multiply the number of shelves by 20 or so. (The only other guy I know who has ever seen this collection is a Soul collector from England named Jake from Hot Biscuits. Some of you in the collector's circles might have heard of him. He can validate how massive this collection was!) I spent nearly a whole summer in that back room, from mid-afternoon until closing, playing each and every title he had, looking for beats.
THAT is the main reason why I got into Psych Rock breaks... 'cause they were handed to me by the truckload. This is also the same time that I started to do massive trading and selling to other collectors, including John Carraro in New York, who used to do the extremely-popular Roosevelt record show.
In selling drum breaks, how do you determine a break's cash worth?
I never was really a "seller". I DID sell some records, but I would always prefer to work out trades. I wasn't in it for money, I was in it for the BEATS BABY!! Seriously, to answer your question, drum breaks are defiantly priced higher depending on the rarity of the record, the drum pattern, the tempo, and the BOOM!-BOOM!-KRAK! factor (the quality of the recording).
Do you only sell extra copies, or do you sell your only copies of certain breaks? If the latter, have you had any particular experiences where you strongly resented letting one go?
Normally, I would trade away my duplicates. My whole thing was to find new breaks. I have been known to under-value my own records to get a copy of a break that I've never heard before. I have even made trades with folks for DAT copies of beats. For example, there was an awesome Canadian producer/rapper, Joe Run, who once traded me a DAT of 6 breaks for my original 45's of "Impeach The President" and 'Synthetic Substitution". Although I really love both of those 45s, I figured that I could actually USE the breaks more. We made an even trade.
There were some trades that I backed out of at the last minute, and some that I wish I had never made. Early on, I traded away 5 sealed copies of the Incredible Bongo Band LP for next to nothing. Something like $3.00 each. Oops.
Tell me a little more about the "Rhythm Madness" & "Finger Juice Broke Beats" drum compilations.
Rhythm Madness was a CD collection of raw breaks that I did really early in my collecting days. There were two volumes (Volume #1 and Volume #2). They were made for producers to sample from. Each one had nearly 250 break beats, vocal samples, tom rolls/fill-ins, horn/orchestra hits, old drum machine samples (808, 909, etc.), live drumming, tape slurs, noises, and other funky junk. I sold a lot of those through the Sam Ash Music Store chain throughout New York.
Volume #1 was mainly the "popular" breaks, including those found on Ultimate Beats and Breaks. Volume #2 had a better selection of unknown stuff.
Finger Juice was break record that I did just for fun. I did a some really stripped-down tracks... break, bass, some simple guitar thing... I just wanted to put out something on vinyl. I ended up pressing up around 2000 copies. They were distributed by Mike and Jody at Ubiquity Records.
Here's a project that you might not have heard about. Last summer, I did a break record called Circuit Breaks - Volume #1. It was put out on Bulk Records, the same label that originally released Dr. Octagon (Dan The Automator's label). It had about 30 raw breaks on it, but some politics went down with the vinyl manufacturer... It ended up only being released on CD. I am told that they are still expecting to release it on vinyl very soon. Keep an eye out for it - it's dope!
Were ["Rhythm Madness" & "Finger Juice..."] projects you put together, or were you hired to compile them?
I did them... just for me... just for the heck of it.
How do you feel ["Rhythm Madness" & "Finger Juice..."] compare to the Drum Crazy series?
The Drum Crazy series was all about the BREAKS. I really tried to put some cool stuff on the Drum Crazy series. Those other projects were done for fun.
Are ["Rhythm Madness" & "Finger Juice..."] still available - where?
Unfortunately, those collections have died and gone to music Heaven... I still have some copies of each record in my closet, but not too many. Luckily, after every project, I gave my parents a couple of copies to hold on to. They have become my official archivists. ;)
I'm assuming that the next major step in your musical career was your induction into the Ubiquity Records family. How did your association come about?
My relationship with Ubiquity actually began at their old record store, The Groove Merchant. I used to bug Jody all the time... "Got any new dope beats???" Both Mike and Jody were always very sweet to me. That's how I initially got aquiainted with the releases on the Ubiquity and Luv 'N Haight labels. Jody used to send me test pressings of their records, including this series of break records that they distributed called Bulldog Breaks. I really liked them, and eventually got to talk with the producer, DP. Long story short... I found out that a roommate of his was leaving, and that a room was available if I wanted to move to San Francisco. One month later, I moved to SF and DP is my roommate to this day.
Now, as you told me earlier, you only compiled Drum Crazy vols.2-5. Howcome you were brought in on that project after someone else had already started it? And where did the "fishguhlish" nickname come from?
The Drum Crazy Series began during the time that Mike and Jody were distributing my Finger Juice LP. I called Jody up and gave her my brainstorm for a new series. I suggested that they release records with "just raw breaks, no music". I even suggested the name "Drum Crazy", which was a slick alteration of my other break CDs, named "Rhythm Madness".
A few months later, Jody sent me a test pressing of their new release, "Drum Crazy - Volume #1". They had obviously liked the idea... From Volume #2 on, Mike and Jody agreed that I should produce the record.
The name "Fishguhlish" is an inside joke. It's just one of those things that is better left unexplained. ;)
How do you feel that the volumes you compiled compare with the rest of the series (vol. 1 & 6)?
Volume #1 is awesome.
Believe it or not, I haven't even heard Volume #6 yet. Even my friend Chris, who put it together, doesn't have a copy of it yet.
How do you feel they compare with the Tasty Breaks/Ear Candy series compiled by "Boston" Bob Gibson?
Bob is dope. Drum Crazy sucks compared to Bob's beats. That motherf!@#er is DEEP! I know for a fact that Bob didn't even give up his best stuff. Bob has beats for years! Give that man another series!!! Please!!!!
Do you know Bob Gibson? Have you collaborated on any projects together?
Bob and I worked together on the first 2 records in the Tasty Beat Series. He found the beats, I looped them up and mastered the record.
I want to know everything there is to know about the Drum Crazy series, because it has been such an excellent source of inspiration for me, and has really opened my ears to be more appreciative of the drum. Step by step, what goes into putting together a Drum Crazy album? Specifically, track selection, track order, sampling/cutting methods, production time, and overall production and equipment choices and techniques?
THE TRACK SELECTION: For every beat that went on the record, three or more were thrown away. I like a certain type of break sound. I really can't explain it. I just know it when I hear it. Even though the pattern might be good, that doesn't make it a good break. It really has to have a unique sound that makes it stand out from the others. Sometimes it is a quirk in the loop. Sometimes it is just tone of the drums.
THE PROCESS: First, I would record the breaks into Sound Designer II (Digidesign) on my Macintosh. I would clean out all the pops and clicks and add some minor EQ. Then, I would choose sections of the break, then name that section, and add it to the playback list in Sound Designer II. Finally, I would sequence the pieces, in whatever way sounded good, so that they would make a whole song. I normally followed the Hip Hop convention of INTRO-VERSE-CHORUS-VERSE-CHORUS-OUTRO. Then I would record the whole thing onto DAT.
THE EQUIPMENT:Technics 1200
Radio Shack DJ Mixer/pre-amp
Didigesign Session 8 for Mac
Didigesign Sound Designer II sample editing software
THE TRACK ORDER: I would generally try to put the best tracks toward the beginning of each record. Really loud beats tend to skip if you place them too near the end of the record. So, I would put the loud beats towards the beginning too. Other than that, the track order was very random.
How much say do you actually have in the preparation of the Drum Crazy albums? Does Ubiquity just give you some cash and let you do your thing?
The Ubiquity crew picked the breaks for Volume #1. I did the other volumes on my own. The money changed hands after I turned in the DAT. No money was ever advanced to me.
What is Ubiquity like to work for?
Interesting question. I'll respectfully pass on this one...
Speaking of cash, how are/were you paid for the Drum Crazy series? Lump sum per album? Do you collect anything depending on sales?
Ubiquity makes ALL the money on the Drum Crazy Series. I receive no additional money, royalties or otherwise, from the sale of these records. My official role for this project was to find the beats, loop them, then turn them in to Ubiquity for manufacturing.
The way I look at it, I only broke even on the whole Drum Crazy deal. The cost of buying the records alone was sometimes more than the money I got.
My payment history for the Drum Crazy Series (before taxes):
Drum Crazy #2: $400.00
Drum Crazy #3: $400.00 (possibly a bit more. I don't remember.)
Drum Crazy #4: $800.00
Drum Crazy #5: $800.00
I wanted to do the Drum Crazy Series because I thought it was cool. Not for the cash. Not for the notoriety.
How do you feel about the fact that the Drum Crazy series was released listing only BPMs and absolutely NO artist/track information?
From a collector's standpoint, I would have liked to have seen the songs & artists listed for each track. Legally, I can see why Ubiquity chose to leave this information off.
Do you think my gathering that artist/track information and presenting it on my web site is a good or a bad thing? I know there is widespread concern over whether to just "give out" drum break names, as opposed to encouraging peops to "dig" on their own.
I actually really like the fact that you are listing the titles. I think that beat collectors need to know. Those lists help collectors know where they stand with their collections. Otherwise, some poor Joe out in Indiana would NEVER REALIZE that the Sons Of Champlin beats have already been known about for years.
Any chance of getting a complete Drum Crazy track-listing out of you? :)
No. Sorry. It's more fun seeing if you guys can guess them all. (JUST KIDDING... I have to dig out the lists for you. I've got them somewhere.)
*By the way, something funny that I added to the Tasty Beat Series... Did you know that all the artists used on each record are listed in the list of ingredients on the cover? All I did was take out the vowels from the artist's name. If you know your artists, you can probably guess most of them.
And, how do you feel about the fact that Ubiquity has chosen to 1) not list the sources of the tracks, and 2) "give out" drum breaks for "DJs and Producers" to sample? I wouldn't sample from a Drum Crazy album, do you think others should?
Ubiquity is not going to be very cooperative on the titles for legal reasons.
As far as sampling from a Drum Crazy... Sure. I would use a Drum Crazy break. I would even use a breakbeat off of a compilation LP. I tend to believe that the most important thing to music is the whole SONG and not just the break. That said, neither you nor I would ever NEED to sample from a Drum Crazy... We have beats! ;)
What effect do you think drum break compilations have on the art of "beat-digging"?
Mhat, I am so glad you asked this question. To this day, I get producers who have a love/hate relationship with me because I've never had any hangups about releasing the latest-greatest beat.
First, for every break that I put on a Drum Crazy, there are 1000 more yet to be discovered. Quite frankly, I think the Drum Crazy beats are the easiest beats to find out there. If anything, the Drum Crazy series has forced all those that call themselves "beat collectors" to step up a notch. No matter what interest you are talking about: rappers, djs, producers, record collectors, "holding back" stifles advancement. Break compilations help to move things forward.
Secondly, there are still some breaks that no one has been able to identify. That means that they haven't found the originals anyway! The ONLY copy of that break that they will ever see, in their lifetime, is on Drum Crazy.
Please sum up any closing thoughts you have about the Drum Crazy series: its meaning to you, its meaning to the sampling world, its significance in your career...
The Drum Crazy series was cool. It is more of a testament to the original drummers than it is to me or Ubiquity. Those guys back in the 60's and 70's knew how to play and how to record. They came up with the foundations of the songs that are being played today... without even knowing it.
Let's take a moment of silence for the drummers... ( )
You also did some very nice work for Ubiquity under the pseudonym Molasses. I bought your EP, "Conversations With My Sanity", and am still impressed by its effective moodiness, ecletic styles, and intelligent presentation. How did this project (and new pseudonym) come about, and how do you react when people inevitably compare your work to DJ Shadow's?
Congratulations, you are one of the owners of one of the rarest Ubiquity releases ever... Molasses is a dark, dark, dark EP. I am quite the tortured soul... ;)
Molasses was just another one of my "ideas". I just wanted to put something out that was weird and kind of dramatic. Shadow's music is much more mature and structured than the Molasses stuff. I really appreciate Josh's music and style. He has so many layers to his productions: rare breaks, complicated arrangements, abnormal timings, cool sample chopping...
The name Molasses came about because of my heroin habit. One night while I was shooting up, another junkie mentioned that the... Are you really believing this crap? I hope not. Molasses was a name given to me by Mike at Ubiquity. He was dissing me one day..."Your so damn slow, we should call you Molasses". Thus, the name was born!
Please tell us about the technical production of this album. What equipment did you use? How did you finance it? How did you sell it to Ubiquity, and how has it been received by the public? Has it lead to any interesting offers?Kurzweil K2000/S sampler
Digidesign Session 8
Studio Vision Pro (Mac sequencer)
T.C. Electronics FINALIZER
FINANCING: had a job at the time working for a really, really small record label in SF. I funded the whole Molasses project myself. Most of the tracks were done before Ubiquity's offer to put out the album came about.
AFTERMATH: Yes, I actually got some really great opportunities/offers from that EP. I was offered remix work, full-song production work for other artists, and even talked about a major label deal. However, I didn't really want to go in that direction musically. The Molasses stuff was too dark for me to continue on with it. Molasses marked the end/beginning of things in my life at that time. I had just been fired from a crappy job making no money, my mother was sick, etc... So, I killed him off. Molasses has died. (R.I.P.)
On Ubiquity's Molasses mini-biography, they mention that you worked with Cypress Hill and "a handful of well established acts". Can you elaborate on this?
I've done movie soundtracks, some production work, and remixes. As far as Cypress Hill goes, I co-produced a song with them that was in a movie called "I Like It Like That". It was a remix of "Latin Lingo", and was also released on the movie soundtrack. That's the best money I've ever been paid to this date! Well over $15,000.
On to the less project-specific, beat-diggin questions! Why do you collect beats? Do you see it as a "collecting" thing, a "music" thing, or an investment...?
It's a hobby thing. I USE the beats, but it's really a drug for me. I love the adrenaline rush you get when you are tapping through a record, then find that dope breakdown: ( big tom roll ) ( orchestra hit ) BOOM-TSSSS-KRAK-TSSSS-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-KRAK-TSSSS ...
How do you feel about the current musical scene? Are you feelin' the stuff that's gettin' major airplay?
Rap is boring to me right now. I'm getting into alternative rock more and more. I like music that has expression first, production second. I'm more into music for the experience, rather than an identity to latch onto.
I noticed that some of the tracks on the Molasses EP featured (what sounded like) programmed drum tracks. What are your feelings about the use of programmed drum tracks as opposed to sampled (and chopped) loops?
Whatever's clever... I actually like chopped loops better. I think programmed drum tracks tend to make songs feel too stiff and typical-sounding.
On a related note, what are your feelings about "retro" style groups trying to recreate some of the older, "Meters"-style funk (e.g. Galactic)?
I just recently saw one of the most amazing groups ever. The group is called the Rebirth Brass Band. This may sound wack, but the group is made up of 6 young guys playing: sax, tuba, trombone, trumpet, bass drum/ride hat, and snare drum. They are from New Orleans, and they are incredible. They put so much energy into their show. Their show reminded me of the early rap shows I used to go to in Chicago. Pure energy.
As far as funk goes... I think that the funk sound grew out of a time of hardship for most musicians in the 60's and 70's. Most of the groups I hear today are copying the "idea" what the old musicians did, but can't seem to capture the essence of that hardship. 70's funk had a raw energy to it that no one has matched since. There are some guys out there that try to match the "sound" of a 70's record, but it is still not the same to me. I prefer to listen to the originals.
What about combining live playing over looped samples? DJ Shadow strongly disapproves, I've read, but what is your reaction to this "purist" approach to sampling?
As far as Shadow goes, he has already broken his rule. On his latest album, UNCLE, he has a live string section playing over a break beat. In his normal fashion, he chops the break up, but it's still somewhat of a loop.
To answer your question, there are some groups out there who pull this off quite well. They just don't tend to be Hip Hop groups. Mainly alternative artists, like Beck, Bjork, etc... I like it when it is done well. Otherwise, it can get boring really quick.
It seems ironic--since hip-hop started out as a means for broke folks to cheaply produce their own "recycled" music with only a couple turntables--but computer-based sampling and production is now basically cheaper than buying a DJ turntable setup. What are your thoughts about the trend towards electronic production and away from turntable-based production?
Learn and love it all. I am always amazed when I watch djs like Qbert, Cut Chemist, Kid Koala, or DJ Quest. All of them know both worlds; the turntable and electronic production. They music they will create with that knowledge should take us to yet another level of undiscovered sound over the next few years.
You're now the webmaster for a San Francisco computer reseller. Does this mean your music is taking a sideline to a more practical job?
Yeah. Unfortunately, music is something that most of us do out of the love of it. Music doesn't neccessarily pay. Even when it does, there is almost no security (insurance, savings). I have heard personal accounts from several world-famous artists (Rufus Thomas for one) about their record deals, and their bad financial situations. Most of the stories are really sad. These artists pour their heart and souls into their art, and are not taken care of by those that profit off them. Then there are those who just waste it. Can you say "Hammertime?"
For right now, I'm growing my skills in web/database programming and working on some music projects at night. I'm still sticking my nose in other people's projects. Dan The Automator let me come in and add a bit to a Depeche Mode remix he was working on recently.
Would you recommend that people try to get into music as a means of supporting themselves, or has your experience been that music isn't lucrative enough to pay 'da bills? Any advice for folks trying to "break in" to the biz?
Do it all yourself. Put out your own records on your own label. Look, if your record isn't good enough for you to put your OWN money into releasing it, then why the hell would you think that a label could do any better for you? Treat record labels like you would treat a bank. Every penny that they give you has to be earned back, before you will see any royalty money (known as recouping).
The other piece of advice I have is on originality. BE ORIGINAL. Forget whatever anyone else is doing in music at the time. Do what YOU feel. If you feel like making GAY DISCO, or COUNTRY RAP, or SPANISH ACAPELLA, do it! Most likely, you'll end up being the breakout artist, while everyone else tries to copy you. Be true to what you are, no matter where it leads you. If you do, you will never regret anything you do.
Any thoughts in closing?
First off Mhat, I just wanted to say thank you to you for hosting such an awesome site. This is the first non-porn site that I've actually spent longer than 15 minutes on! It is really great that you have put so much time and energy into building a home for other people like you and I. Finally, there is a place where the real beat collectors feel like they're represented.
I also wanted to say "thank you" to everyone who I've ever dealt with in regards to the Drum Crazy series or beat collecting throughout the years. Not all the breaks in the Drum Crazy series come from just myself. There were many who helped me through trades and title swapping. Specifically, I want to thank, in no particular order, the following breakbeat afficianados:
Joe Serra, Phil (Soulman), Chris Veltri, Lucas "Chemical" McFaddin, Beni B (especially for all the advice on moving West), John and Jackie Carraro, Dan Prothero, Dan The Automator, Dr. Dre, Bob Gibson, Billy Lawrence, Todd in Indianapolis, Darryl Agler, and Charles "Charlie D" Whitfield.
I'd like to thank you again for your time here, I've been a big fan of your work for years, and it's been a pleasure finally getting to speak with you. I think that you're a top-notch producer and collector, and I'm glad to be able to share your insight with my website viewers!
That's all she wrote, baby! Hope you enjoyed this interview with the man who started with a magic stalk of corn and built an empire! :) We all love a good rags-to-riches story, right? All kidding aside, thanks to Mike Van Olden for his time; and special shouts out to Soulman for granting me my first interview and being supportive; Dave of Dave's Records for support from the git-go, friendship, and free shit to help me get started; and everyone else who's sent in samples, helped with the Mystery Beats, or just written to say thanks. This is no longer "my" site, it's ours.