- PHOTO BY ED ALLER
- Mathias & the Pirates
When he was a young hip-hop head, taking his first serious dives into the outer boroughs of the art form, Mathias James became transfixed by the sounds he heard coming out of LA's underground scene. Since this was in the mid-'90s and the internet had yet to open the floodgates, he had to get his fix the old-fashioned way: through a friend's cool older brother.
"That music really resonated with us — it was boundary-less, it was less strict than East Coast hip-hop was," he recalls. "Abstract Rude was one of the first artists I discovered from the LA underground — he was one of my favorites. The opportunity to work together arose in the last couple of years. We played a few shows together, so we've become friends, and we started making songs together. It took us two decades to come together and make some art."
Abstract Rude drops in for a verse on "Bump 95," the opening cut to Mathias & the Pirates' new EP Sadie the Goat. Fittingly, the song is an ode to the music of Mathias' youth and the pathway that led him to dedicate his artistic life to this music — first in groups such as Jive Turkey and the Earthworms and over the past few years as the leader of the Pirates. The group has long favored a throwback, boom-bap-heavy sound — the kind Mathias lionizes in the track — but working with DJ Crucial and his sample-heavy approach only strengthened those connections.
"The reason our new album sounds that way is because of who we chose to work with in production," Mathias says of Crucial, who still makes beats with an old-school E-mu SP-1200 sampler. "Obviously my age suggests that the '90s will be where I came up — those sounds still resonate very greatly with me."
Crucial's low-slung, syrupy production hits its stride with "Sadie and Doug," a story-song about unlikely love on the south side. He's a Dutchtown-bred roughneck, she's a Carondolet hood rat; Mathias says he drew the characters broadly but knows folks who fit the profile. "You go down to Loughborough Schnucks, you're gonna see Sadie there yelling at her kids," he says with a laugh.
"It's a segment of the population that doesn't get talked about or written about," he continues. "It's really a love story; it's about two really flawed people living random, unremarkable lives who find each other and find love. And that's what we all want."
"Sadie and Doug" gives fellow vocalist Ms. Vizion the hook — she's long been the singing yin to Mathias' rapping yang — but she steps up on "Armée du Soleil," the set's most political track and the one that most clearly keeps Sadie the Goat from existing in a halcyon haze of 1995.
Mathias & the Pirates' new EP came out as part of the FarFetched collective, a long-running group of hip-hop, electronic and beat-driven artists. Each January, FarFetched kicks off the new year with a fresh Prologue compilation, and this year's edition (the seventh so far) continues the trend of mixing and matching affiliated artists on each other's tracks.
Mathias contributes a track to Prologue VII, partnering with Hands & Feet (a.k.a. Stephen Favazza) for the track "Don't Read the Comments," which finds the vocalist squaring off with racist online trolls against Favazza's pinging background tapestry and squelching, insistent foreground tones. Favazza's production returns elsewhere, on the Hands & Feet track "Bella" and the fiery, political cri di coeur "Control" with vocalist Loren D.
The year 2018 marks a slight shift in FarFetched's distribution model as well; while all the releases will be available for individual streams and downloads, the collective has embraced the subscription model that Bandcamp offers, allowing subscribers access to not only music but physical merchandise, secret parties and more.
According to Darian Wigfall, who runs much of the day-to-day operations for the collective, the subscription model that FarFetched is adopting mirrors much of the public's media consumption.
"Music sales just aren't the same, so we had to find another spark," Wigfall says. "Just looking at the trend of the way people consume entertainment now — you buy a subscription to Hulu or Spotify and you get unlimited access to all that content. We're catching that wave as entertainment goes that way."
But the collective's aim has always been about getting bodies in the same room — be it through DJ residencies at local bars or beatmaker meet-ups — so Prologue VII's release show (this weekend at the Firebird) will bring together acts including 18andCounting, Subtle Aggression Monopoly, CaveofswordS and more.
"I have always believed in power in numbers, which I why I believe in groups more than solo stuff," Mathias says. "The myriad sounds you hear from the FarFetched collective is so varied, but it all comes together."