By now, weâ€™ve all become familiar with the concept of the mash-up: two or more songs from different artists â€“ often of different genres â€“ mixed together to form a completely new track. N.A.S.A., a project masterminded by DJs Squeak E. Clean and Zegon, takes the idea one step further. Rather than simply reworking existing tracks, the duo instead reached out to more than three dozen artists across the musical spectrum â€“ everyone from KRS-One to Tom Waits â€“ in order to create a groundbreaking sound that is entirely their own.
“The record really was like a dream. It was a music producerâ€™s â€“ or music nerdâ€™s â€“ wet dream. It was my dream record â€“ I mean, Iâ€™ve been daydreaming about making a record since I was in high school.”
Format: Your debut album featured over 40 high-profile guest collaborators. How difficult was it to take so many disparate talents, work them all into a cohesive album, and still manage to put your own stamp on it?
Squeak E. Clean: We had a real strong concept for the record, and we kind of shared a similar aesthetic with everyone thatâ€™s on the record. As far as making it feel like one cohesive thing, I think that all those artists are on the album and you feel them, but I think the album also has a really strong direction and concept, so it does kind of stand on its own as well.
Format:What was it like having people like George Clinton and David Byrne come through the studio? It must have been like an absolutely crazy waking dream.
Squeak: Yeah, the record really was like a dream. It was a music producerâ€™s â€“ or music nerdâ€™s â€“ wet dream. It was my dream record â€“ I mean, Iâ€™ve been daydreaming about making a record since I was in high school. So yeah, it was a magical thing, and a great experience.
Format: Is there anyone youâ€™ve yet to work with thatâ€™s high on your list?
Squeak: Yes, definitely lots of people. Iâ€™d love to work with Beck, Iâ€™d really love to work with Bjork, and Andre 3000 is pretty much on top of my list. Yeah man, there are lots of people out there Iâ€™d love to work with and I canâ€™t wait to get into the studio with them.
Format: You guys worked on The Spirit of Apollo for over five years. How did you know when it was finally complete?
Squeak: We just knew. It just felt finished. We kind of set a goal that, â€œOkay, weâ€™re going to finish these songs.â€ We have a bunch of songs that are kind of half-finished, which will come out eventually some way. But I guess it just felt finished.
“I donâ€™t think I was nervous about it â€“ I was excited about it because it had been so long. I donâ€™t think I felt like, ‘Oh my god, I hope everyone doesnâ€™t hate it!’ I think itâ€™s really unhealthy to make music like that.”
Format: Were you nervous about the response youâ€™d get after finally releasing your baby out into the public eye?
Squeak: I donâ€™t think I was nervous about it â€“ I was excited about it because it had been so long. I donâ€™t think I felt like, â€œOh my god, I hope everyone doesnâ€™t hate it!â€ I think itâ€™s really unhealthy to make music like that â€“ itâ€™s just an unhappy place to be coming from. I was just excited to get it out to the world, really.
Format: Nearly every track on The Spirit of Apollo has an accompanying music video. Talk about the influence of visual art on your work, and why it was important to you that there be a visual element to complement your music.
Squeak: We just wanted to put as much into the record and into the project as possible â€“ whether itâ€™s all the different covers, or all the different videos â€“ and thatâ€™s we made the videos. Also because it was fun â€“ it was fun to work in a different medium, it was fun to create more stuff, it was a good excuse to work with all these artists who we love (most of whom are our friends). I think our visual element is really strong and really important to us. Especially with our shows, trying to make them a spectacle â€“ itâ€™s definitely really important to us.
Format: Your tracks have been remixed by some of the best and brightest â€“ everyone from Steve Aoki to LA Riots. Whatâ€™s it like to hear other peopleâ€™s takes on something youâ€™ve both described as your â€œpassion projectâ€?
Squeak: I think that itâ€™s so fun to get these remixes and to get different peopleâ€™s takes on it â€“ itâ€™s a blast. Especially with people I have respect for and love their music, seeing what theyâ€™re gonna do to our songs is always exciting.
Format: Your current tour features dancers dressed up like an insane assortment of monsters and aliens. Talk about the concept and how it all came together.
Squeak: We were just brainstorming, always trying to figure out ways to make the show better and better. The space theme was always good â€“ we decided to make the spaceship and started messing with dancers. First they started out as sexier, sort of Martian girls, but we started getting crazier and crazier with the suits of the monsters. We linked up with this guy named Big Nazo, and started really getting into it and designing stuff and trying to make it bigger and crazier every time. We just had a show at the Bowery, and I think there were like 15 different aliens there or something â€“ it was nuts. We always want to keep it fresh and surprising for the fans.
Format: Thanks to iTunes and the web, people are exposed to a wider variety of music than ever before. Do you think your music at all represents an early shift towards a sort of â€œgenre-lessâ€ future? In what ways would you say breaking down barriers between genres ultimately benefits or harms the music world?
Squeak: The way our record is so diverse and eclectic is just how we listen to music, and I think itâ€™s how a lot of people listen to music these days. Itâ€™s definitely happening â€“ the genres are mixing â€“ because everythingâ€™s so easy to get at. Kids nowadays arenâ€™t just into one type of music, and I think itâ€™s really cool. People are really open-minded like theyâ€™ve never been before.
Format: Whatâ€™s the most rewarding part of this project for both of you?
Squeak: Itâ€™s very rewarding making a project where you get to meet all your heroes and learn from. Not only that, but also just making something great that Iâ€™m proud of, and getting it out there and seeing people react to it and feel passionate about it â€“ thatâ€™s a great feeling.
Format: Whatâ€™s up next for the two of you?
Squeak: Weâ€™re doing little spot shows, going into South-East Asia â€“ weâ€™re going to play Singapore and Kuala Lumpur â€“ then weâ€™re going to do a South American Tour. Weâ€™re also finishing up our remix record this year and finishing the N.A.S.A. film, which is kind of a combination of a documentary of us making this crazy record and touring, and all the animation weâ€™ve been creating. So thatâ€™s going to come out, as well as all the unfinished N.A.S.A. tracks that weâ€™re going to finish up.