The phone rang. “Charlie?” “Yes, ” I replied. “I have the fabulous and very talented Marty James.” Who is Marty James? None other than the cat you’ll soon know as Scapegoat Wax. We’ll chat about being signed to his idols’ record label, how to write songs, and the industry.
Where are you calling home these days?
Right now I live in LA.
So being in New York is…
…actually, this is the first time I’ve ever been here, really ever. I was here when I was a really little kid.
It must be weird in a way being signed to Grand Royal (record label created by the Beastie Boys) and it being the Beasties’ hometown.
You’d think. I think it’s just easier now for them to operate out of LA.
How was it that they came up on you or you came upon them?
I was on an indie hip-hop label called Good Vibe and I had done a bunch of stuff out of my bedroom and we made a cd. They pushed it at college radio and made a little noise. A few labels became interested but never really tried to tie something up, and it was Gary Gersh, co-manager of the Beastie Boys and now president of Grand Royal, who got the cd and really liked it. He was aggressive and was ready to make a deal. It was cool for me because of the label and it was the Beastie Boys thing, but I tried to make a really good business decision rather than just being star-struck that it was their label. I knew I wasn’t going to be in the studio with the Beastie Boys. Everyone thinks because you are on their label that Ad Rock is there beat boxing, Mike is scratching…
…all of the sudden you’re the fourth member. (we both laugh)
Yeah. Everyone thinks you are the fourth member because you join their label. I think they are ready to do big things. It just made sense.
When you first started recording at home, was there the goal of getting a record deal from that demo? Or were you just screwing around?
I think the goal was to get signed, but I’ve always been a believer that if you work hard and hone your craft, your time will come. I know a lot of people who have bands and talk about when they get a record deal and what their album cover will look like before they have any songs. I think if you just work on your craft it’ll come. Music is all I ever had. I didn’t do well in school, and there was this point when I was nineteen where I just sat down and realized that I fucked up in school and that if I was going to do the music thing I had to go full steam ahead. So I buckled down and went after it. I expanded my songwriting and honed my craft. I’m really fortunate because I have confidence, but I know there are a lot of talented people out there that get to make music their living.
Were the songs you were discovered with on that demo carried over to the new album?
Yeah, six or seven of them are on the new record. I rerecorded them of course. By the time it was down to picking songs, I wrote thirty that I considered for the record and considered about eighteen and I picked twelve or thirteen.
Were the songs you added more hip-hop?
It’s kind of both of them. “Perfect Silence” is kind of poppy, pretty much a love song. The first song is more hip-hop. You know my style isn’t set. I never set out to write a certain kind of style.
Are you beat based?
I write everything from a real hip-hop standpoint. I usually write the music and melody from a beat. Each song does its own thing. It’s weird and unconventional but I think that is what gives me my sound.
Do you see a lot of artists out today who grew up doing what you do? Did you grow up listening to a lot of different stuff?
I grew up listening to a lot of pop music until I was like twelve. My mom used to listen to Hall & Oats and Prince. But when I turned twelve I got into hip-hop and the next six or seven years there was no other music.
Was it Run-Dmc and the Beastie Boys that got you into hip-hop?
Definitely. That started off really early and then progressed into NWA and Ice Cube.
Yeah. It Takes A Nation Of Millions is one of my top five favorite albums of all time. Wu-Tang’s first album came out in like ’92 and I was really into that.
The most mind-blowing thing has to be the full circle of getting into music because of the Beastie Boys and now they are nurturing your career.
It is a little weird. I remember listening to License To Ill all the time in like seventh grade.
Was part of the reason you signed with them the freedom that you might not have at a bigger label?
Yeah. I produced a lot of this record and it is really important for me to have creativity. They were respectful of me and knew I had a lot to learn but gave me that freedom.
Who do you look at today that might be pushing musical limits?
I’m a big fan of the band Queens Of The Stone Age. I think they have amazing melodies. I really like Eminem. I think he is really creative and is great at combining humor with real issues. I think he is witty and his rhyme patterns are really good and fundamentally he is really tight. I think the coolest thing about music today, it is in a weird spot because it is so commercial now, is the fact that barriers have been broken down. Five years ago I wouldn’t have been able to release this record because they would have looked at it and thought, ‘What are we supposed to market this as?’ Now that hip-hop has infiltrated so many genres, it’s not weird anymore. I wonder where music is going to go. I wonder if radio will still be formatted and if we’ll have just one big radio station or what.
Do you think music has finally caught up with culture in that America is really a melting pot?
Yeah, that is true. I think that it’s easy for labels to keep music genre-based. But I think it’s getting cooler to hear music that crosses many boundaries. I think labels and the public know this is where music is heading and we need to accept that.
I think it’s because a lot of us grew up listening to Motley Crue on one hand and the Beastie Boys on another.
I think for the longest time that the industry didn’t realize how passionate kids were about music.
What is going to be happening in ten years with kids listening to the Backstreet Boys, Eminem, and Creed?
Who knows. I can’t even imagine radio. It’s a crazy game.
When you are dreaming about your future, where do you want to take it?
I’ve always been realistic. I know that an artist’s performing career isn’t always their strongest point. I want longevity. I hope to make a couple of records, but if it doesn’t work out then I want to get into writing and producing. I want to be in the music business. I want to make sure my back is covered, so I want to have my hands in a lot of different things. I want to make sure everything is tight.
+ charlie craine