Ahead of Phish’s now-ongoing Baker’s Dozen run at Madison Square Garden, a viral video by rapper/producer Boy Pierce entitled “Ultimate Phish Tribute” made the rounds on social media. In the video, Pierce delivers a Phish-ified hip-hop performance, spitting lines about his first show, the Baker’s Dozen, song lyrics, and more–all while live mixing Phish tunes into a multi-part hip-hop mashup beat. The creative video performance sparked an outpouring of questions about the totally unique tribute and the man behind it. To get the answers to all our burning questions, we caught up with Boy Pierce to talk about his crunch-time creative process, appreciating the art of the setlist, collaborating with RAQ/Electric Beethoven keyboardist Todd Stoops, and more:
Watch Boy Pierce’s “Ultimate Phish Tribute” below:
Live For Live Music: Tell us about the concept/process for creating your Ultimate Phish Tribute mashup. How long did it take for you to put this together? How did you make your decisions about what songs to use, and where? How much of the video was live mixing/sampling, and how much did you have to pre-record (i.e. the Wolfman’s vocal embellishments). How many different songs went into the final product?
Boy Pierce: I made the Phish Tribute in a really tight timeline. I knew for a while that I wanted to create something for the Baker’s Dozen, but I was working through a few other projects and time was getting away from me. But I knew that it had to be done and published prior to the first show, so I isolated myself at a coffee shop in Midtown one evening with only my computer and a notebook, and explored all the Phish albums in my music library, making notes. I drew up two columns in the notebook: Samples and Lyrics. Any catchy or personal favorite riffs or isolated vocals would go in the “Samples” column. Any classic Phish lyrics would fall under “Lyrics,” and I would reference that column when it came time to write the rap. Ultimately, I collected 30 Phish songs for potential samples. 13 songs made the final cut.
To mix the music, I first determined the tempo of each song, then sorted numerically by tempo to identify pockets of songs that could potentially mend well together. Once the ideal combinations were clear, I routed the various samples to the volume sliders and knobs on my MPC, so that I could control the samples on the fly for a performance, and manually shift the tempo appropriately as the song progressed.
I wrote the entire rap on a Saturday night in my apartment. The combination of being inspired by the mashup, well-aware of the timeline, and excited for the Baker’s Dozen led to an atypical writing process for me. It usually doesn’t happen that quickly. I ended up referencing 27 Phish songs in the written rap. Finally, I took a few days to memorize the lyrics, then woke up at 6am to perform/film it prior to heading into work. I mixed the music and edited the video that evening and posted it the next day.
L4LM: How does your background as a Phish fan impact your work as a rapper/producer in terms of your stylistic approach (i.e. improvisation, flow, etc.)?
BP: Phish taught me the value of the setlist. No one wants to see the same live show twice. I really admire their huge arsenal of songs and their ability to customize every single show. When prepping for a show I spend a lot of time brainstorming around the setlist, and making sure it is different from previous shows.
They also taught me the value of improvisation, and the entertainment that it brings to the audience. They wow the crowd by takings jams to a unique place each time. A big part of my shows involves freestyling, based on crowd-provided content. At my live shows I pass around a clipboard and encourage the crowd to write down random topics, then I freestyle about their topics on the spot.
L4LM: Give us your top 5 artists you’d like to collaborate with (rappers, producers, instrumentalists, whatever).
I’d love the opportunity to do something with mashup extraordinaire Girl Talk. He was a big inspiration early in my venture into music production, because I started by strictly doing mashups and remixes prior to writing and recording my raps. The vision of creating an epic mashup album with one rapper covering the vocals would be special.
I also like Danger Mouse’s production. The Grey Album was extremely influential to me pursuing production, and I love how he’s evolved into working with artists on production, especially his work on the Gorillaz Demon Days record. Another producer on my list of dream collaborators is St. Louis’ DJ Grumble. I’ve been freestyling to his beats for nearly a decade at this point. Rappers I’d like to collaborate with include Boston native Esoteric, who has been one of my top MC influences for a long time. I’d also like to work with Brooklyn rapper Sir Kn8, who I met recently at a show.
L4LM: Tell us about the track you recently worked on with RAQ/Electric Beethoven keyboardist Todd Stoops.
I had the pleasure of meeting Todd Stoops about one year ago. Two of my friends go way back with him, and wanted to link us up to talk music. I went to his show downtown and met him prior to the set. Within 5 minutes of meeting, Todd asked if I wanted to join him on stage to rap for a few minutes during the show. The crowd really enjoyed it and a fresh sound was born, so we began collaborating on “Festival Song.” We wanted to create something that celebrated the festival culture, and merged two disparate genres in jam band and hip hop. This was an instance where technology allowed us to remotely and seamlessly build the track from opposites sides of the country. It was a fun first step and we’re already talking about doing more projects, including live shows, in the near future.
L4LM: What other new projects are you working on/do you have on the docket for the near future?
I’m juggling two projects right now for 2017. The first is my new EP, Homemade, that’ll be coming out later this year. I’m running all the production for the most part, with a few collaborators pitching in on both the music and guest vocals front. The second is my first remix/mashup release since 2010. It pays homage to the best of hip hop, from the 90s through now, combining classic verses and iconic beats into one cohesive piece. I’m really excited for a big year of music, videos, and live performances.
You can read Boy Pierce’s explanation of the concept and a story about the night he “got it” during the 2009 Miami New Year’s run here.
For more information about Boy Pierce, head to his website.