Its been a few months since I dropped an interview on here, so I am pleased to be able to present a recent conversation I had with one of my favourite MCs, Henry Canyons. Having blessed us with two new projects this year – La Côte West and Cool Side of the Pillow – as well as touring North America and Europe with PremRock & Fresh Kils, the Backwoodz MC has already made 2018 his own. We spoke about making Cool Side, how much jazz has influenced his career and his recent artist’s residence in Biarritz, among other things.
How’s everything been going this year? You don’t seem to have stopped, be it releasing projects or touring across Europe. Is that important to you, to keep active like that?
This year has been great, man! It’s been a little nonstop, but it feels good. Between the release of La Côte West and Cool Side, I’ve been working a lot with Backwoodz to stay busy promoting. It’s been fun. The funny thing is that a lot of people ask me about making the records and staying productive creatively, but for me the post promotion of the album is the hardest part. It is important for me to keep it moving and stay active. I sometimes am hard on myself about not doing enough or not having something in the chamber, but everything has its process, so it’s important to respect it. The pace of the work often reflects everything around it. I’ve been busy over the last year.
For those readers out there who may not have heard Cool Side of the Pillow yet, can you give us a little breakdown of the thinking behind it. What were you aiming to create with the record?
Cool Side didn’t start as an album. Bones was my engineer and was sending me beats while we were finishing up Canyonland. I started knocking out one song at a time until we realized that we had a nice little collection of songs. We had it packaged as an EP, but then put it on hold when I went to France for an artist residency. After the residency, I stayed in France and decided to extend it into a full length project. When it started, we were making songs that were fun to make, easy, light and just a good vibe. That was the base. In France after some time to reflect, the current political/global climate (fall 2016) things were a little more focused and determined, but I was still drawn to jazzy/soulful production. It all spawned from there.
You worked exclusively with Matt ‘Bones’ Bowen for the production. How did you guys first end up working together?
Bones is my little brother’s best friend. He’s our neighbor, we grew up together. In many ways, he’s my surrogate little brother. We all grew up playing music, and after a while, Bones and I started working together and something clicked. Our personal chemistry feeds very well into our creative one. We’ve developed a nice process together.
Matt’s production is very heavy on the jazz influences, lots of horns and double bass, which suits your style of lyricism really well I think. I also know you trained as a jazz saxophonist when you were younger, so I was wondering how much of an impact jazz has had on the way you make hip hop?
Jazz is at the heart of my musical experience. It’s how I first really fell in love with music. My dad always played a lot of jazz, funk, soul, R&B at the house and especially as a kid when I started playing, the portal to my musical universe started with jazz. A lot of the samples selected for this album were things I suggested to Bones. I never know how he is going to flip something, but he always comes with something fresh and slightly unexpected which is nice. He knows how to craft my pocket which for me is the most important thing.
One of the most intriguing tracks on Cool Side for me is Easy Come Easy Go. The way you experiment with your voice reminded me of something like the Chemical Calisthenics track by Blackalicious. Do you see the voice as another instrument and will you be going further with these experimental tracks? Maybe working with loop pedals or something.
It took me time to discover and understand how to use my voice as an instrument. This was a lot of fun to write, but even more fun to record. I was layering and harmonizing and crafting a soundscape that I’m not used to doing. I have some other things in the works that are a little more out there and are also refreshing for me to write. I’ve done some work with loop pedals, and I had a blast. Still need to work out the kinks and figure out the best way to integrate it into my live set.
You’ve been associated with Backwoodz Studioz for a little while now. How did you first hook up with them?
I met billy woods in 2007. I was a member of my college radio station and got woods to come to my school for a show. We met there and always stayed in touch. I kept showing him my work, and he was always super encouraging and supportive. After a while, he suggested, “how would you feel about putting out something with Backwoodz?” I was super humbled and hyped at the same time. We put out a few free projects and then decided Cool Side would be the first official release. It’s been amazing to see Backwoodz grow and I’m very proud to be a part of the fam.
I know you did an artist’s residence in Biarritz back in 2016, which gave us the La Côte West project. How did that all come about?
It was kind of random and surreal. My mother is French and lives close to Biarritz, but that region is small and has a pretty close community. The women that run this program heard about me from a friend of my mom. They reached out and it clicked. I think that me being half French, half American resonated with one of the directors because she lived in NY for 30 years and has a son who shares that same combo. I lived in their ground floor studio apartment for six weeks and worked nonstop. It was amazing. I hold those memories fondly and am very proud of that work. Brings a lot of emotions back for me.
Now we know you best for your music, but you’re obviously very creative in other ways. Is there a field you think you will branch out into more in the future, a medium that will perhaps eventually eclipse hip hop?
That remains to be seen. I’ve always been involved in every aspect of my art; album artwork, videos, documentaries, etc. I’m not sure where that will take me, but I am open and excited to see where things could go. It’s tough to say if there’s something that could eclipse hip hop for me right now. I feel really good about the work for the moment, and it makes me happy, so we’ll see what comes next.
I know you moved from Brooklyn to LA a few years back and I was wondering if the change in environment had much of an effect on the music you were making, or how you went about making it?
Yeah, man. In February it’ll be nine years in LA. My experience here has definitely shaped how I make music. It’s shaped a lot about me as a person. I’ve learned a great deal here. I lived my 20s here. I developed my process, my style, my circle, my base here. That could all change moving forward, but all that history and experience is something I value tremendously. More than anything, LA has taught me resolve. It’s an amazing city, but also a tough place. It took me a while to acclimate, but right now it’s definitely home.
I feel like I should ask about the European tour cos you seemed pretty hyped to be embarking on it. How did it all go?
Dude, it was incredible! Honestly, one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I’m blessed. At this point, I’ve toured with PremRock and Fresh Kils 5-6 times and we have a great touring chemistry. We know how to handle business, keep each other in line, do things professionally, travel well, and also have so much fun. We bust each other’s balls all the time, and were laughing the whole time. It was a blast. The shows were good too. It was my first time touring Europe, so I had no expectations. It was interesting to see the turnouts, and how you measure a successful show. The smaller markets where you might expect a more mellow evening turned out to be some of our best shows. It’s funny to see how that works out, but nonetheless it was an honor to go out there and rock. We left it all out there and came back with some great memories. Can’t wait to do it again!!
So albums and tours already behind you this year; what’s next for you?
To be honest, I’m not so sure. I’m kind of catching my breath. I have a summer residency every 4th Sunday of the month June-September called Cool Side Summer, at a place called A Simple Bar. I’ve been catching up on a lot of normal life stuff since getting back from Europe, developing my routine again. I have some things I’m working on, but nothing I’m ready to unveil or announce yet because I’m not sure what shape they will take. Regardless, I’m plugging away on some projects and beginning to work with some new artists I’m excited to be collaborating with. I’m hyped!