Artist Interviews

Q&A: Busdriver

By | Published on Wednesday 25 January 2012


Regan Farquhar, aka Busdriver, began rapping at an early age, releasing his first album with a group called 4/29 when he was just thirteen. From there, he began attending workshops for aspiring musicians at The Good Life CafĂ© in LA, and later the Project Blowed open mic workshops which grew out of them. Here he began to develop his trademark style, first heard when he guested on various tracks, before he released his debut album as Busdriver, ‘Memoirs Of The Elephant Man’ in 2001.

His smart, funny lyrics and distinct delivery broke through to a wider audience with the 2002 follow-up, ‘Temporary Forever’, and yet further when he signed to Big Dada for his fourth LP, ‘Cosmic Cleavage’ in 2004. A second Big Dada album, the brilliant ‘Fear Of A Black Tangent’, followed, before Busdriver moved to Epitaph for 2007’s ‘RainKillOvercoat’ and 2009’s ‘Jhelli Beam’.

Over the years, Farquhar has collaborated with numerous other artists, including Daedelus, Abstract Rude, Boom Bip and Z-Trip. And in 2010 he formed a band, Physical Forms, with The Mae Shi’s John Byron, releasing a split single with Deerhoof the same year.

Next month Busdriver releases his latest album, ‘Beaus$Eros’, which was produced by Belgian producer Loden, via the label Fake Four. CMU Editor Andy Malt caught up with Farquhar to find out more.

AM: When did you first start making music?
BD: When I was thirteen. I was in a silly rap group. We were like a conscious Kriss-Kross without the charisma. Luckily, I discovered the Good Life Cafe after the group disbanded. I was fourteen by then.

AM: At what point did the distinct style you’re known for now emerge? Was it a style you consciously worked on?
BD: By the time Project Blowed had started in late 1994, I had some idea as to what I wanted to do. Years of performing, recording and experimenting further informed the approaches, but the key inspiration was from my mentor Chu Chu. He was the primary host of The Good Life and a bit of a rap savant. We would session all the time in his Mom’s attic in South Central LA. He managed to stress the importance of the exact kind of bebop jazz that I needed to inform the styles that I was looking for.

AM: How would you say you’ve developed since your debut album?
BD: I’m less afraid. More in command. And unfortunately too self-aware… If I wanted to be the best rhymer in the world for a year I could do it. The key word is ‘if’ though.

AM: When did you start writing ‘Beaus$Eros’?
BD: Immediately after ‘Jhelli Beam’ was released in 2009.

AM: Did you have a clear vision for the new album before you started, both sonically and lyrically? In some ways it seems like your most ‘pop’ release – particularly ‘Kiss Me Back To Life’ – but at the same time it’s very experimental.
BD: It took six months of recording for me to firmly understand what was the proper direction. Loden and I were dabbling with more playful songwriting at first. But when we stumbled upon ‘Utilitarian Uses Of Love’ we started to hear the world that we wanted this album to inhabit. My personal problems had begun bleeding into the work and melody took on a new weight in the vocals. It was very organic. It required us to be a lot more patient than I had been in years, but it ultimately paid off.

AM: Talking of Loden, how did you come to collaborate on the album?
BD: I forget. It feels like I met him a lifetime ago. It was most likely through Mush Records. He put out a couple of records on that label a few years ago.

AM: What was the recording process? Was it a case of firing files back and forth online or did you get together?
BD: During the year and a half that we worked on the album we never met. It wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I saw him briefly in Brussels. But aside from that we hadn’t spoken, Skyped or sexted. It was all via email. All through the exchange of ideas in the form of beats, wav files and rough mixes. The process was incredibly pure.

AM: How did that process differ from how you’ve worked in the past? What would be your preferred method of recording?
BD: I spent less time over-thinking lyrics, more time trusting my instincts. The textures and vocal layering were all very important. I’d never spent so much time focusing on my bridges, but this time around those became super important. The bridges for ‘Bon Bon Fire’, ‘Utilitarian Uses Of Love’ and ‘Picking Band Names’ all took up most of the focus at a certain point in those songs’ production.
The scale of the songs just seemed larger. The methodology behind it this record has become my favourite way to get songs done. I just feel that the sense of accomplishment is far greater than what I’d experienced in a while.

AM: How did Physical Forms come about? Was it a weird adjustment working as part of a band and switching to singing rather than rapping?
BD: Jeff Byron from the Mae Shi reached out to me one day. He said that he wanted to do some recording, but more importantly he opened up about his fight with his hulking drug and alcohol addiction. A musical endeavour seemed like the best way to strengthen his recovery in his eyes… so we started a band. I quietly learned tons about pop/rock song composition and how to deliver heavily layered vocal parts over the course of our first two weeks of all night sessions. I welcomed the opportunity to exist in his universe. The first six months were really fantastic. We made a lot of colourfully irresponsible songs.

AM: Has that informed or changed the way you work on your solo material?
BD: The Physical Forms debut is ‘Beaus$Eros’ sister album for me. They both represent different facets of a singular happening in me. At least from my perspective.

AM: And when will that album be out?
BD: We’ll release our record this year. Soon after ‘Beaus$Eros’.

AM: It’s now more than a decade since you released your debut album, how has the industry changed in that time? Do you think it’s easier or harder to get your music out there now?
BD: It’s way easier to put music out in 2012 (almost effortless), but very difficult to be heard and quite impossible to actually “sell” any of that music. The industry that I arrived in with my breakthrough album ‘Temporary Forever’ doesn’t resemble the current climate at all.

It feels like the amount of prep and market-based knowhow required to reach an audience today has all but lapped how much people spend developing actual musical directions. That being said, there are a lot of great artists breaking through right now. I just have no idea how people fund these acts. The field is so fiercely competitive! Everyone’s content is flying through the air in thick flocks of labelled folders hoping to find a place on your desktop. It’s all a bit maddening.

AM: Do you have any plans to play live in the UK?
BD: Yep. In April hopefully.

AM: Which other artists are you listening to at the moment?
BD: Sonnymoon tUnE-yArDs, Dark Time Sunshine, The Weeknd, Freestyle Fellowship, VerBS, Etta James, Phillip Glass (always)… and other stuff that can’t find anyone responsible for.

AM: What else have you got coming up in 2012?
BD: The Physical Forms album will be released, probably mid year. I’m working on an EP with Del The Funky Homosapien, which I am writing for right now. There is also an EP that I’m producing for a Los Angeles rapper friend of mine. And I don’t know what else – it’s just January so I’m sure other things will present themselves.