Living a thousand lives – interview with Will Brooks, aka MC Dälek, aka IconAclass.

Calling him an icon wouldn’t be an exaggeration. Will Brooks, aka MC Dälek, aka IconAclass, certainly earned this description through his, over decade long, career. After working with Oktopus as Dälek for 15 years, he switched to a new project. IconAclass.

As IconAclass Will is going to perform during the 5th installment of Asymmetry Festival. He is no strange to this event. Together with Oktopus. Will enchanted the audience on the first edition of the festival in 2009. But music he creates under the moniker IconAclass is very different from what we know from the fabulous, eclectic Dälek records. Will goes back to the roots of hip-hop, based on good powerful beats and lyrics that say something you can relate to. Has he succeeded in doing so? You can judge yourselves by visiting Deadverse Recordings (record label Will co-owns) Bandcamp profile and listening to his releases as IconAclass, including album “For The Ones”. If you ask us, no one will be disappointed. Since we have the honor to have such an extraordinary artist as Will in our lineup, we wanted to find out, what’s going on with him right know. Because we know very well that the artist is very intelligent, eloquent and has opinions on different things, we used this interview as an opportunity to know what Will thinks of cult of celebrities, Obama administration and if he is expecting anything from new album of one of his all-time favorite bands, among others. Yes, we also asked about possibility of a new album of Dälek. Give it a try and read it, you won’t regret it!

Will, you are not the first American artist I interview and also not the first one coming from New Jersey. From what I’ve already learned about the place from my previous conversations is, that it is one of the most favorite places among immigrants in the USA. Also people living there are very hardworking and goal-oriented, because it was always harder for them to prove themselves, to fulfill their ambitions. How does this description of New Jersey suit you? And what is missing in it?

Oh no, it’s pretty accurate man. It’s definitely a melting pot, there are people from all over the world. Especially in metropolitan area, New York and New Jersey. I live in north New Jersey. People here strive to make their lives better and are definitely hardworking.

You mentioned a melting pot, variety of nationalities. It encompasses lots of cultures, customs, influences. If I’m not wrong your family roots are in Latin America. I was wondering, how your musical taste was developing and what musical cultures influenced you?

My family is originally from Honduras. They came here in 1974 and I was born in 1975 here in New Jersey. I was growing up among Puerto Ricans, black people, white people, Italian. As far as my musical background goes, I grew up listening to everything from salsa, merenge, hip-hop, house music, club music, metal. Really everything. That’s the beauty of living in a place like this. You have people who are into all kinds of styles.

In May, as a part of Asymmetry Festival, you will visit in Poland as IconAclass, but you performed in my country before a couple of times with Dälek. Do you keep any memories from those visits? Were you happy with how Polish fans react to your music?

Oh, absolutely man! Every time I’ve been to Poland people were absolutely amazing. Fans were very warm-hearted and very open to new music, new styles. So audience was great. Every time I have the chance to come to Poland I look forward to it.

As IconAclass in 2012 you put out three releases, some of them being instrumentals. I know that you have lots of stuff in your personal archives that didn’t fit Dälek so you used some of it in your own project. Some of it, but not all. So can we expect a new release from IconAclass before your show in Poland?

Actually, at this point right now I’m in the middle of working on the next IconAclass album. I’m gonna start mixing it next week as soon as I’m finished with overdubs. Right now that’s basically what I’m gonna be concentrating on. I don’t think this will be ready to come out before my show in Poland. Mixes will start end of February until the beginning of March, and I don’t expect the album to be out until middle, probably end of 2013. As you said, I’ve got archives with beats and I’m always looking for a way to get new music out there. Even if it’s only Bandcamp release or digital release. There might be a few gems here and there during the year.

In Dälek you worked together with Oktopus. IconAclass is completely your own creation. Has your work routine changed in any way because of that? I mean, in Dälek there were two opinions about songs, there were discussions and, I suppose, sometimes you had to achieve consensus. Is there an outside party that is the first reviewer of what you compose? Or decisions are only yours?

Basically, as you said this is my thing and at the end of the day this is my decision. Obviously I’ve got musicians I’m friends with and I get together with them before the stuff comes out. Musicians whose opinion I value. Sometimes I try to find some ideas out of other people, to find out how other people sees my stuff. Sometimes my music changes, sometimes I go back to what I initially wanted. The deal with this project is I wanted something different. I don’t wanna say traditional hip-hop, because it is in the core of all my projects. I wanted to take everything I love about hip-hop and kind of push it forward. It’s not a retro album. It is trying to take what hip-hop is and push it to the future. If you wanted to know if there is an outside party involved? I wouldn’t say that there always is, but I’m always surrounded by amazing musicians, amazing people I collaborate with and you always want to get their feedback, their opinion. But as you said, at the end of the day the final say is mine. It’s nice to be working on another project, changing pace. You know, we did Dälek for 15 years. So basically, there is no hard feelings or anything. Me and Oktopus really needed to go in another direction, try other things.

IconAclass music varies from Dälek’s. Vocals are more upfront, there aren’t any noises and we can hear more of your lyrics. There is also audible link to old school soul, funky, early days of hip-hop. Didn’t you try to point out what contemporary mainstream hip-hop is missing?

Yeah. I mean, I don’t know if it’s missing or not. There are lots of artists who make good hip-hop music right now. And it’s not necessarily pointing out what’s missing. It’s presenting everything what I love about the craft. This is the hip-hop I hear in my head right now, the way I wanna put it out.

There is a song “Roots” on “For The Ones” album, I think, sums up perfectly your approach to hip-hop.

Yes. I mean, stylistically in Dälek lyrics were sometimes just another instrument within all those sounds. Lots of times lyrical content was buried within the sounds. With IconAclass I definitely wanted lyrics to be more in the forefront, just clearer.

There is definitely one advantage of IconAclass’s music that you’ve noticed – more girls show up on your shows. Is that something that you were missing in Dälek? This kind of fun vibe atmosphere that happen when a lot of good-looking women are around?

Yeah, man. You know, I always preferred to get up to the audience and see room full of females rather than lots of dudes (laughs). More than that is, contrary to Dälek shows now you start to look out and you can see people moving to the music. You can really see the movement. Which is nice (laughs).

Mainstream hip-hop now is one of the most popular genres of music. Do you think underground artists like yourself also benefit from this popularity in any way?

Oh yeah. I mean, when I started doing it hip-hop was nothing like big. It has become a worldwide phenomenon. The fact that I’m able to tour around the planet and play my music is statement to the importance of hip-hop becoming a world music. I’ve collaborated with groups from Poland, France, Germany, Italy. It’s good to hear the sound that’s been created in the Bronx, evolved and going around the world.

There is a description of you, stating – even though he is a very prestigious artists, by his own choice he prefers to remain in underground, faithful to his rules. Can I interpret it, that you had the opportunity to become a mainstream artist and you refused to be one?

I don’t know if it’s necessarily accurate or not. I just make the music that I feel. You know, getting paid for your music isn’t a bad thing (laughs). Like I feel there is a misconception, especially among younger fans, when they say “oh, you’re selling out, you are doing stuff for a major label”, and stuff like that. To me, if you are getting paid for doing what you always did, I don’t think there is a problem. The problem might be if you try change your music and make your music into something, just for the sake of making money. When you do that, you are not really an artist, you are just a product. That’s where I feel I can never change what I do. The sound I make is the sound I make. That is something I always stay true to. Regardless of what genre of music I make. It really has to come from my heart, from deep of my soul. I can’t change that.

Will, you started making hip-hop when you were 15 years old. So that means you are around for over 20 years. Knowing that, I’d like to hear from you, what are the accomplishments you are most happy with as an artist and how do you think hip-hop changed within those 20 years?

As far as hip-hop changing I was watching it going from something that was very localized into something that’s global. Obviously that was the major change in the last 20 years. As far as my accomplishments, I’ve always tried to make sure that, I will always be proud of, despite what I release. Even if I do a remix or some guest vocals on someone’s album I make sure that the project is something I will be proud of. I’m a really blessed man. Being able to collaborate with unbelievable musicians, like Faust, being on Ipecac Recordings with Dälek, being able to travel the world, touring the US with Tool, meeting people like Prince Paul, playing shows with him, meeting Kool Herc. Meeting a lot of my idols. Those are memories and those are experiences that are more than making money. I’m 37 years old right now and I feel like I’ve lived thousand lives already (laughs). There is so much happened. Good and bad. But I wouldn’t change any of it. A lot people they dream about doing shit like that and I make that shit happen. I still to this day have this feeling in my head I had when I was 15. That keeps my music fresh. I’m honest about it man, I love doing this! I love making a record, I love being in the studio, I love to work with other musicians and I love being on stage performing to people. I’m definitely lucky to do this. We talk because of Asymmetry Festival. We play it with Dälek when the festival was really young. To see this festival be where it is now really feels amazing man. We were there when it’s started and we are getting to see it growing up (laughs). Still be a part of it it’s a honor.

I know you and Oktopus worked on some film music a couple of years ago and I also know that one of your favorite directors is David Lynch. Haven’t you thought of contacting him to offer your services? I think your hip-hop would fit his films perfectly and he is very open-minded as far as music goes. He even persuaded Angelo Badalamenti to rap on one of the soundtracks, “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me”, if I’m not wrong.

Hey man, if you have a contact to him there is no problem (laughs). Honestly, I would be more than happy to work with him. I haven’t specifically reached that tune, but I have a friend who works with people that he knows. I hope I will work out some tune he would be definitely interested. Any interview I have the chance to talk about it, I talk about it. So I hope that it comes to fruition. Maybe I should pursue it more directly. It’s funny that you mentioned the movie. My friend gave me a copy of it on DVD yesterday. We were discussing a future projects we will be able to work on together. As for the film world, I definitely want to do more. Score more films. Like you said, the sound, darker sound that we have, would definitely blends itself to film. Actually, one of IconAclass songs has been used in a film “Excision”, which has just come out. Traci Lords is in it, John Waters is in it. Guy who wrote the front score really liked the song and he wanted to put it in the movie. As I said, that’s really the next thing on the horizon. I want to do more films. I have already done “Lilith”, a couple of short independent things here and there. But working with Lynch would be a dream come true, straight out.

Apart from being prolific composer and great guy to talk to, you are also a very aware US citizen. You observe what’s going on and draw your own conclusions. I suppose that you are happy with Barack Obama being elected president for the second cadency. However you always stressed that you are not naïve and you don’t believe that one person can’t make a change in the system. Have you noticed any positive change in the system in the span of, let’s say, 5, 6 years?

Well, you know, if I take back to the Bush case, absolutely (laughs). I mean, the choices we were given in America between Democrats and Republicans are very narrow. Very little really changes in how the system really works. The perfect example of it is the way how many George W. Bush had wars going on around the planet. Obama isn’t much different. Again, as you said I’m not naïve and I don’t believe anything really changes in the military industrial model complex because he is in the office. However, if I can have Obama in the office or George W. Bush, or Mitt Romney, of course I’d rather have Obama. There are some social issues that he deals with a lot better than they dealt with. I feel that he does way better dealing with people, caring about them. When I look at George Bush or Mitt Romney I feel there is a disconnection between them and an average American. Of course just because Obama cares about people doesn’t mean that there is gonna be change for the better. But little things do change and those little things are very important in day to day life. I think this is the best we can do at the moment.

There is huge celebrity cult in the USA. I think you mention it in a song “Union” from “I Got It”. It seems to me that today it doesn’t necessarily matter what you really can do, but whose kid you are and how good you look. Do you have similar impression?

Oh, absolutely man! As the years go by I notice that. It’s progressively more of it. Talent just doesn’t matter. People are celebrities for the sake of being celebrities. There is no talent behind it. You have people like Kim Kardashian who is being famous for being famous. I have more respect for porn stars, because they are hardworking and at least they are real about what they do. And you have people like Kim Kardashian who have put out a sex tape and lives off of that. The whole thing is a little phoney to me, man. It’s sad when you meet people on the street and they know everything about which celebrity is the flavor of the month, but you ask them about, for example, politics and they know nothing. Priorities are wrong. People need to pay attention to the real stories. I think those celebrities are distractions to keep people from really paying attention on what’s going on in the world.

I know that you are huge fan of Black Sabbath and Slayer. It’s very possible that both bands will have new releases in 2013. It’s already been confirmed that Black Sabbath album will be titled “13″ and Brad Wilk from Rage Against The Machine will be handling drums. What expectations do you have from Black Sabbath and Slayer releases and what do you think of Bill Ward not being involved in Sabbath anymore?

Yeah… That’s all I wanted to say – there is no Slayer without Dave Lombardo and there is no Black Sabbath without Bill Ward (laughs). That’s pretty much where I draw the line. I don’t really have any expectations. Could their albums be good? Yeah, maybe. Is Rick Rubin producing the new Black Sabbath album?

Yes.

I mean, I respect Rick Rubin a lot, he has certainly proven himself. He did a lot of fantastic work. I love the stuff that he did with Johnny Cash. Obviously the old hip-hop stuff, that’s classic. Old Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy. Maybe he could work magic, but without Bill Ward is totally wrong. You know, with bands like that, that you love, you always hope for the best, you hope that their albums will be great. Lots of times it doesn’t happen that way (laughs). At least we will have the chance to see them and hear what they sound like.

Dälek fans around the world ask themselves question if MC Dälek and Oktopus are going to make another album one day. So, do you think you will do something with him again?

You know, I would never shut the door on that. The doors is always open. I just don’t know if either one of us is in the right place right now to do that. As I said, after working on the same project for 15 years, you have two choices. There are bands like Sabbath that keep doing their thing their whole lives. It’s nothing wrong with that if you wanna do that. But me and Oktopus? There are so many things musically we want to explore. Where we were heading there were two different directions. Instead of trying to force an album we’ve just decided to leave it the way it is and go to work on separate things. I don’t know man…

If it happens, it happens, right?

Exactly man! Like I said, there isn’t like there is any animosity. It’s just we are doing different things. Someday we get that feeling that we should work together, I’m sure we will. Let’s see what happens.

Thank you very much for your time Will and see you on Asymmetry Festival.

Interviewer: Leslaw Dutkowski