Between the COVID-19 pandemic, a harrowing presidential election, and peak levels of social unrest, 2020 has been a year of strife and chaos. But we forget that amid all this negativity, local artists are still creating great works. Phoenix New Times touched base with musicians from across the musical spectrum to gauge how they're faring personally, the ways in which their work has been influenced, and what all this madness really means. Through these conversations, we might just find the spark to make it through 2020 after all.
Whether as part of his band The POC, or as his rap alter-ego Dadadoh, Bryan Preston brings something unique to the mic. He's someone with no clear allegiance to genre, instead chasing ideas of connectivity and positivity. So whether making rap or punk or something in between, Preston knows how to bring the fire. But as he's learning now while finishing a new LP, there's always new opportunities for further hybridization.
Phoenix New Times: So, how are you dealing with some of the madness? Is it harder now than ever before to write or record or think about music?
Bryan Preston: As long as you have a good base, whether it's friendship or family, or just musical partners, I think you should be fine. If anything, this has taught me what's important and who's important. If you invest in yourself, whether that be financially or effort-wise, you'll definitely get that back.
I would say that I'm the type of person that it's not what someone has done or what is happening, it's how I react to it.
I think so many people are clinging to feeling good right now, even if they're not sure. Do you feel like you have to engage with this current moment and all it represents?
I feel like when you give energy to certain things, like it just makes them bigger. Let's talk about that comedian, Seth Meyers, when he tore into Donald Trump, and all that did was fuel him. You need to be aware, but you need to understand you're an entertainer.
Are you coming at this less like a confrontation and more just about presenting larger issues?
I like a lot of directors, like Robert Zemeckis, where they tackle social issues, but almost in a way where it's entertaining. I want to build bridges with what I do, and to do so, you can't be clique-y or elitist. You generally have to make an effort to connect to everyone in some way. Conversations need to be happening on the bridge. Low-hanging fruit is easy; it's getting into the tree that takes work, and not everybody wants to take that route.
Is there a sense still that there's something to lose? Or are more people doing other things because it's almost, like, what's the point not to? I've just seen so many changes and positive things that I didn't think were ever possible.
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We were talking about something recently, how George Floyd was the "I Can't Breathe" guy, and I said he wasn't the first guy. I said it was sad that this is my history, and my friend, who is Italian, said, "No, man, that's our history." And I was like, "Holy shit, what exactly is happening?" So I do hope it's the end of the world, in the sense of the world that I've had to live in.
Are you more keen to take your time now with recording and really do what you want?
We [the band POC] started recording this album last October. We've been working with multiple producers and I'm just sitting with mixes and just riding to them at certain times of the day and listening [in different ways], from really great speakers to just a cellphone.
Is there a shift in sound for you? Perhaps a chance to do something new musically?
When I was on the East Coast, I played in, like, an emo/post-hardcore type of band. There's been this resurgence apparently happening and it's just really giving me a lot of great ideas.
Then you have these rappers, like Lil Uzi Vert and NBA YoungBoy, and their style of rapping is just these punch-in deliveries, and I'm just so obsessed with this technique. I've definitely been like experimenting with that with the new record. In old-school hip-hop, you rap the verse, front to end, and if you could even rap the whole thing from beginning to end, it's like a rapper's platinum [record]. It's a lofty goal that's lost nowadays.