Saturday, May 5, 2012

Three Ethiopian hip-hop artists released a debut album, Earthbound

Cooperwire,L-R  Meklit, Burntface, Teodore 

CopperWire is a new hip-hop trio featuring S.F. R&B singer and prodigy Meklit Hadero, rapper Gabriel Teodros, and producer-rapper Burntface (government name: Ellias Fullmore). The group comes with its own mythology: Its debut album, Earthbound, tells the story of three renegades in the year 2089 who hijack a spacecraft and ride it to Earth to discover the meaning of being human. The hip-hop space opera plays out over 10 songs of futuristic beats -- laced with actual star sounds borrowed from space scientists -- dextrous rhyming, and soulful vocals from Hadero. Before the group brings its visual-heavy show to the Rickshaw Stop this Saturday, we spoke with all three members of CopperWire about jamming together in Ethiopia and what it's like to portray fictionalized versions of themselves.
So CopperWire came about while you all touring together around Ethiopia?


Hadero: We've all really wanted to make music for a long time. We've been collaborating in different, much-smaller ways. Gabriel and I have done many shows together in Seattle, and Ellias and I were hoping to get together as well. When we were in Ethiopia in May of 2011, it was really the point where we just said, after playing 10 shows together in 14 days, 'Okay, now's the time.'
And you were all improvising rhymes and vocal lines over the beats while playing there together?

Burntface: We were all doing our own sets, and I think from the second show, we just started improvising songs together and just working it out in each others' sets.

H: The band was really flexible, and they got in on that, too. Sometimes it would be beats, but sometimes Burntface would vocalize a rhythm, and things would start like that. It was really fluid.

After you decided to do the record, what was the next step? Where did the concept come in?

Teodros: We made "Phone Home" first, and we actually made that before the trip to Ethiopia. We all had been into sci-fi just in different ways, and I went to B-side, I was like, 'Yo, I do this song as a character, from the perspective of someone who's half-human, half-alien.' We hooked up over last summer, two months after we got back from Ethiopia, and I think we wrote three or four songs the first day that we got together. The concept of "Phone Home," [we] just decided in that moment to like do it for the course of the whole record. We did the record amazingly fast, and then there was a lot of post-production with the music.

B: My co-production partner was Chris Coniglio, who was one of my classmates while doing my master's degree at Cal State. I have a hip-hop background; his background is actually in classical music and hardcore rock, punk music. So, we tried to find a place were me and him could find a middle ground musically.

H: It was all really an intimate process of recording, and also the most fun I've ever, ever, ever had in the studio.

Was it a challenge? Meklit, weren't you especially out of your comfort zone?

H: Well, I've always wanted to make multiple albums that sound really different from each other, and part of that I think of as a generational thing. It's like 20 years ago, you could ask somebody 'What kind of music do you listen to?' and you might actually get a simple answer. You might actually get someone to say 'Oh, I like folk music', or 'Oh, I like rock music.' But these ideas it's like nobody's iTunes has one genre. Everyone listens to so many different kinds of music and all of those influences live in us in a really strong ways. So before I released [solo album] On a Day Like This, I was like, 'Oh yeah, my next four albums are like are going to be completely different.' So to me that kind of ground is where I'm actually most comfortable.

Who are your hip-hop influences as a group?

T: I would say definitely OutKast and definitely the Fugees.

H: Definitely. All those things are very strong.

B: I would say there's even a little bit of a Digable Planets kind of jazzy vibe happening. A little bit of Pharcyde, that sense of grandiose storytelling, and kind of a sense of humor. They definitely influenced me as a producer, not just an artist.

H: I also think that sound really comes from Ellias - sorry, Burntface -

B: -- Yeah, get it straight, why you using my government name all over the place [laughs]?

H: -- what he was talking about in terms of the balance between him as a longtime hip-hop producer that is really focused on the juke and the samples and the beat and the groove of the song, and then Chris, who's a classical musician and thinking in movement, the way that classical music has movements.
How does it feel to play a fictionalized version of yourself?

B: For the record, Burntface says it's pretty easy. It's fun -- I'm a nerd anyways, I love sci-fi, I've always been a character in my head somehow. It gave me a reason to just go all in on it.

T: Yeah, it's fun. And I can't say any part of it is necessarily hard. I have a bit of a theatre background too, just in that one of my biggest mentors I had in life was this musical theater acting teacher that I had when I was like 18, 19. And I kind of draw on that a lot when I'm writing songs, like I put myself in the head of this character. There's nothing that Getazia [his CopperWire character] went through that I can't draw from personally in my life.

B: Even the whole human, half-human [thing].

T: It's like being mixed and not really not knowing one side of my family, and being raised in an Ethiopian household, it's like all these metaphors are from my actual life. It's not a stretch.

H: We based our characters on these metaphoric parts of ourselves that we wanted to explore in a different language. When things become a metaphor, you can be universal about it, and that was what was interesting for us in this process. Onstage, we grow more into the characters in each show. And that's the fun part of this tour.

Is this going to be a one-off project? Will there be other CopperWire records?

H: It's so funny, because with CopperWire, I don't know what medium it will take. Is it a record? Is it like a stage show? We've been working with this visual artist who created these headdresses, these headpieces for us and our characters, and we would like to work with him more in multiple capacities. So there will be more CopperWire, I just don't know what medium it is.

B: I wanted it to be the soundtrack to the movie they would never have to finance. It might be a videogame at some point, or a comic book, or a story. I would love to see an African-centered sci-fi movie. But we've gotta kind of give you as much as we can until [that] can be what is possible.