I recently interviewed Nick Barat (better known as Nick Catchdubs): mix tape connoisseur and co-founder of Fool's Gold, the home of The Cool Kids, Kid Cudi, Laidback Luke, Treasure Fingers, A-Trak (who started the label with Nick) and a plethora of other acts. He was visiting Korea as part of his latest Asia tour and kindly agreed to chat with me before his DJ set. We had a really interesting conversation about house parties, Fat Joe on water slides and Lil' Wayne's cough syrup addiction. He is a fascinating guy who has a lot to say and I could have easily spent hours talking music with him, but unfortunately we only had about 20 minutes.
Here's a transcript from the interview. The full article is due to be published in the November issue of Groove Magazine.
Huge thanks to Samuel Swanson and the guys at Multi, Seoul.
How old were you when you began DJing & can you recall what inspired you to get into it?
Yeah, definitely. I actually started Djing relatively late, it was the summer that I was graduating from college. I’d actually played in bands ever since I was a little kid and as I was in college I was sort of getting involved in music on the design side, I was doing posters and stuff like that so I knew I was going to do something in music, I didn’t know what the angle was going to be really and you know that week that everybody’s graduating, there were just so many parties, just people hanging out and I was always in charge of the music for it, so I would be making mix CDs, it wasn’t actually with turntables, it was just sequencing stuff and I got really fascinated with the track order , like, “oh, I’m gonna put the most perfect songs together and you guys are gonna like it” and it was like “oh, shit! Yeah! You weren’t expecting that song, were you? Ha ha!”, and that kind of thing. So, I feel like that was what sort of planted the seed. Then, that summer, I picked up some mix tapes that were kind of, you know blending a lot of stuff like hip hop, dance music, 80s stuff and rock and they were sort of putting everything together and having it make sense and that’s when the light bulb really went off. I like all these different kinds of music and this is a way where I can be a part of it and connect all the dots and touch on all the different things that I like. It’s funny, because growing up right outside of New York, where DJ culture has been around since forever, I was always surrounded by DJs and I never really gave it thought, I wasn’t like “oh, this is something that I would do myself”, but that summer, it would have been 2003, was when I went out and actually bought turntables and said “If I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do this properly”, and here we are.
You mentioned your mix tapes, they’ve become rather legendary. Do you have a specific formula that you stick to when compiling them?
Yeah, well I mean it’s one of those things where I try not to over think it, ‘cause that sort of ruins the energy and the spontaneity of it, but at the same time, I always view mix tapes as like little mini narratives, I like when they go one place and then go some place else and then resolve in the end. I like songs going together for a reason, because, you know, you may have a song without lyrics but there’s still a vibe to it and a beat to it and I like when you can link the two of those together as opposed to just randomly throwing songs together because they’re the same tempo.
You co-founded Fool’s Gold with A-Trak, what was the motivation behind this?
At the time, we had just become friends. We met DJing at a party together and obviously he’s been DJing the majority of his life and I wasn’t even really all that familiar with him from like the sort of scratching, underground hip hop world, I just knew him as he was starting to make the transition over to more party DJing. So, we hit it off and at the time his day job was being Kanye West’s DJ, my day job was working as an editor at The Fader magazine and so we were both coming across cool music in different circumstances, sharing it back and forth, and staying in touch, like being on instant messenger all the time and at one point, it was right around Christmas, we went to grab dinner before a show and he was telling me about how he had been doing a label with his brother called Audio Research which was very like backpack, underground hip hop, and he was doing that for a while and was kind of inactive at the time and he came to the realisation that the music that he liked and the music he was working on was so different from the Audio Research stuff that he wanted to start a new label to be about it and he asked me to do it with him because we shared a lot of the same tastes, we were part of the same group of friends, we shared a lot of sensibilities. I wasn’t necessarily aspiring to launch or run a label , I just wanted to be involved with cool music, however that was, whether it was DJing it or making it or writing stories about it or drawing flyers for it, I just wanted to be a part of stuff that was relevant to me and important to me and initially it started out being something where we could put out our friends’ music and reflect, literally our immediate circle of friends and it’s been very cool to see how it has grown into this sort of proper independent label, you know, we can put out a record from a kid we’ve never met before and we’ve just shot him an email and he already knows what Fools Gold is and respects us and is excited to be a part of it.
Did you ever expect Fools Gold to become as huge as it has?
Well, I still don’t think it’s as successful as I’d like it to be, but you know, a record like (Kid Cudi’s) Day and Night, obviously when we heard it, we knew that it was unlike anything else that was out at the time and I’d be lying if I said that I expected it to be a multi-platinum record around the world, but it was certainly something that we knew would transcend, like, clubs, you know what I mean? When we heard it, none of the remixes existed, we made those remixes happen. When we heard it, it was just this sort of, almost like a rap ballad, nobody else was doing this kind of, you know, hip hop singing at the same time, it was very unique, so we knew it was going to be something that would transcend and reach people, but the scale that it actually did do that took us all by surprise.
You mentioned earlier that you were an editor at The Fader magazine, who was the most memorable person you ever interviewed or wrote a feature about?
The easy answer, and probably the correct answer is Lil’ Wayne. I did a story on Lil’ Wayne right as he was beginning to record for Tha Carter III, so at this point it was sort of right when he was becoming like this mix tape phenomenon, it was just as he was about to step into a mainstream kind of writing, like he’s always been a sort of rap star, but this was right before he became like a pop star, before he was singing on records, before he was having top 40 smashes, you could kind of see the wheels turning and his lifestyle in Miami is so surreal. You know, you meet a guy in a studio, and you know my thing when I would do these stories is that I was never like a rock critic, I was a guy who wrote about music, and I think that’s a very important distinction. For me, it was always more interesting to kind of share and express what it felt like to be in these situations that are sort of abnormal. He lives a bizarre life, he’s a man with diamond teeth, who is a functioning drug addict...
I won’t mention that part in the article (laughter)
No, don’t worry. I mean it’s no secret, it’s in his songs. You meet him and he’s got this giant cup of codeine and he lives a life where he’s almost like a child prodigy, I mean, he is a child prodigy. He started rapping as a ten or eleven year old and so his whole life he’s never had like what we would call a normal family structure, he’s been on the road with rappers and just these wild ass dudes, like he’s been raised by rap music, so now, as an adult, that’s the only world he knows and so he’s this phenomenally talented guy that is in no way normal, completely catered to. His studio is like his own little bubble, it’s all candy and a flatscreen TV with ESPN on it...
...he almost sounds like a Michael Jackson type character...
Yeah! It’s crazy! He’s just so detached from regular people and reality, like he goes to the club and then he comes back to the studio. So we did the interview and it’s funny because he was really aggressive in the interview, more so than most artists, he was just very much on his own planet at all times. Long story short, it’s like talking to an alien when you meet a guy like that, especially the fact that in terms of his career, he was right on the cusp of crossing over, he was maybe at his most relevant, and so for me it was just interesting because of being around these interesting people in interesting situations, it kind of explained “this is what it feels like to be me, Nick, with Wayne”, but it wasn’t just him. Going to Trinidad and doing a story on Machel Montano who is a soca star in his home land but almost a total unknown around the world. He could go to New York and sell out Radio City Music Hall and it would be all Trinidadian immigrants and it’s crazy because it’s a subculture and for me to be paid to go around the world and share this experience with other people, yeah it was fun. I think that kind of added to the fun parallels, like in Fools Gold I’m sharing music with people in the same way, even as a DJ I’m sharing music in that same way. I feel like when I make mixes, and especially if I’m making a mix tape with an artist, like most people, if they do a mix tape with a rapper, they’ll just record the rapper saying like “yo, what’s up! I’m Emcee So-and-so! Hangin’ out with Nick Catchdubs!” and it’s very generic, but when I’d do mix tapes, I would almost interview guys as if I was interviewing them for a story and weave little bits and pieces of that in to the mix. I like to be able to show off peoples’ personalities and I feel like especially when you’re chasing a certain degree of mainstream fame, it’s easy to forget about the stuff that makes you different and think about the stuff that makes you more like somebody who’s already successful and the things that have always been interesting to me are the differences, like what makes an artist unique, what makes their music ‘weird’. I would rather put out somebody’s weird song that has hit qualities than put out somebody’s generic, ‘slam-dunk’ record. Not to say that I wouldn’t put out that type of thing, I just feel that stuff with character is what lasts. The way thing are going now, back when we started Fools Gold people said to us “you guys are crazy! The record industry is falling down, why would you start a record label?” And the reason we started a record label is because the traditional industry is falling down. I feel like we exist as a brand and we exist as curators. The Fools Gold logo is a sort of stamp of quality, when it started out it meant hip hop and dance music, we have bands and we have songwriters and I think it stands for a certain attitude: finding the best out of these weird little pockets of pop culture.
The Cool Kids came to Korea a couple of months ago, now obviously you’re here and Laidback Luke is DJing in Seoul tomorrow night, do you know if any other members of the Fools Gold family plan on visiting the country in the near future?
Well I know A-Trak is due for a tour, ‘cause his last one was a while ago so he’ll definitely be back. Treasure Fingers was just out over here in Asia, he should probably be back soon. The cool thing about it is I would love to do a Fools Gold party, like a proper tour, ‘cause it’s one thing when it’s just one of us coming out, one at a time, but I think it would be another thing to really pack out a club and try to show people “these are all the facets of what we’re about as a label and a crew, so come party with us!”
Do you have any other future projects in the pipeline?
For us as a label, I think just spreading the brand, putting out more and more good releases. I like the fact that we’ve always been about having a catalogue, and I think now, especially as we get in this stuff that isn’t strictly dance music or isn’t strictly club music, I like that now we can incorporate bands, like we signed this band The Suzan from Japan, and their record is produced by Bjorn from Peter, Bjorn and John, so it’s kind of like quirky pop music, and I like that Fool’s Gold now can stand for that as much as it stands for a record like Day and Night or a big club banger, and I like that stuff like A-Trak’s Duck Sauce project with Armand Van Helden is becoming more than a DJ record, it’s like a pop record thing, anybody can hear it and be like “oh, this is cool! I like it!” I think that for us, that’s definitely the mission, like how do we take what we do... don’t change it, like it’s still the same music that we’d be putting out anyway, but getting it to reach as many different people as possible. As far as me personally, I’m trying to do a lot more original production, you know, I’ve been doing a lot of remixes over the past year and now I want to really start working on my own record and collaborate with some artists, do something a little unexpected, but that’s definitely what my plan is for the rest of this year and going into the next.