Q&A with Budo: The Man Behind Macklemore & Grieves
Written by Lanny Lieu on April 7, 2015
I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Seattle producer and multi-instrumentalist, Josh Karp also known as Budo, before his rare solo set at Treefort Music Festival. We talked about his life, his new record, and the importance behind the most recent D’Angelo and Kendrick releases.
What have you been up to recently?
Things have been great. For the past year and a half, I’ve been on the road with Macklemore. It’s kind of my main focus these days. I’m playing random solo shows whenever I get the chance. I’ve been in the studio the last six to nine months working on the new Macklemore record. I’ve been great – just traveling around and doing somethings.
What was your first introduction to electronic music like?
That is a great question! When I was 12, my middle school had an electronic music class. At the time, it didn’t seem so weird but now since it’s been over 20 years, it’s bizarre. You could sit down on the computer and create anything. You could turn the keyboard into a banjo or turn the keyboard to an orchestra or even a drum set. It was a magical thing that allowed me to be 15 different things. It really opened my mind.
When did you actually start producing beats?
At the end of high school. I’ve been playing music since I was nine but I think I finally got a computer when I was 18.
Were you encouraged by your friends or was this something you just needed to sit down and do for yourself?
I think that once I had the tools in front of me, I just wanted to do it. I think I’ve always wanted to do it. I just didn’t have the tools. I’ve always played music so this was just an extension of that.
I know you were born in Seattle and that Seattle has a huge hip-hop scene. Did that peak your interest in beat production?
I grew up with hip-hop music but I also grew up with a bunch of other shit such as jazz and soul and grunge music. In terms of musical influence, it was actually much earlier than the 90s hip-hop movement. I think originally it was jazz and soul. My record player was always on and my mom was always playing the piano in the house.
You lived in Brooklyn for a little. How would you compare producers in Brooklyn versus producers in Seattle?
Brooklyn was fucked up for me because I was touring all the time and so I was never really settled there. I’d crash there whenever I’d have a weekend but then I’d fly off a few days later. That’s why I ultimately left. It never really felt like home. I never really got the opportunity to connect with what was happening there. Like I’ve connected more with New York musicians in the last three or four years now that I’ve been settled at home but yeah, there is a difference. The difference between Seattle, L.A., and New York is that in Seattle, there’s a lot of talent and really creative people but there’s not an infrastructure for people to be successful versus a city like Los Angeles, Atlanta, and New York, there are systems in place. So if you make beats, you sing, you write, there are ways for you to make that into a career whereas in Seattle, it’s a crapshoot. You have to forge your own land. There’s not a ladder to climb which is exciting in a lot of ways. There are no rules. In L.A. or NY, there are rules and you do have to follow them. On the flipside though, there is no support system in Seattle. For kids coming up and anyone trying to figure out how to turn their art into money, it’s challenging.
I know you’ve worked with names like Macklemore and Grieves. What is it like to work on material for your own album?
I started making this record three years ago and I’ve been touring with Grieves for four or five years. I was mentally exhausted. I took a step back and asked myself if I really wanted to continue making music and I did. I gave myself as much creative space as I could. I removed any kind of expectations and boundaries as I could. I locked myself in a garage and just started making shit. This record is just me trying to find my own creative compass again and it was an exploration and a process of who I am and what I want to sound like. It’s the most honest music I’ve ever made. I think it just came from a lengthy period of being alone. Almost everything I’ve done is of a result of a collaborative relationship which is incredible but you’re also confined, at best, to a democratic system. This music is the most autocratic thing I’ve ever made and I don’t know if I’ll ever do it again. It felt like something I needed to do and I did it and I’m super happy to perform it and bring it to the world… I don’t care if it goes well. It’s just like, a catharsis. It’s in a really nice pocket in my life.
When working on your own material, how do you know what is good enough and what isn’t?
Particularly with this record, I made about 30-35 songs and about 10 of them made the album which means I made about 25 terrible songs and 10 decent ones? [laughs] Self-censorship is interesting. I had a few people who were giving me perspective. When you get to such a deep level, you need people on the external end of things to tell you what’s good and what’s bad.
What have you been listening to recently?
The new D’Angelo record which is dense and a little tough to listen to but it’s good. The Kendrick record is good but hard. Both the D’Angelo and Kendrick records are very important records for this moment in time for a variety of reasons. I can only speak on their importance to music and I think that as giants, people look to them for inspiration and they both put out pieces of art that are complicated and hard to listen to and confusing and unexpected and to me, that’s awesome because that then works its way into other things. It trickles down. Yeezus made it okay for pop music to be a little weird and shit like that is important because it sets precedent for future records.