Rob Swift and Total Eclipse In this interview taken from the Miami stop in the Ill Insanity Tour, Rob Swift and Total Eclipse, (formerly of the Xecutioners) spoke about their new album, their past work with the X Men to their DJ and production styles. We also we spoke about Rob Swift’s relationship legendary Jazz musician Bob James.
By William Hernandez
WHO?MAG: Talk about the Ground Xero album? ROB SWIFT: Back in April of 2007 I was planning a release party for my DVD As The Tables Turn. It’s a movie a put together as a documentary of my career. It goes into depth as to what happened with the Xecutioners. How we got started as a group, all the things we experienced as DJs in a group. Being signed to major labels and stuff and what ended up making me want to leave the group. Because so many people had questions about that; there’s a section in the DVD that’s devoted that part of my career. I made plans to release the DVD in early April and I was going to do a release party for it. I wanted my friends who were in the movie to be a part of the release party to perform with me. But Roc Raida was in NY he moved away to Maryland. Mista Sinista moved to Virginia. The only ones who were near me were Precision. Which Precision ended up replacing me when I left the group and Total Eclipse. I asked them to get down for the release party and they said yes. We decided to instead of going up there and winging it. We started rehearsing for the event. In the rehearsals we started having so much fun. So we said fuck it! Let’s make a group. The movie which goes into me breaking up with the Xecutioners ended up being the start of the group.
WHO?MAG: How did the Scratch Pikilz vs. X Men battle happen? ROB SWIFT:When we battle our mentality is we hate your guts. You can be the nicest guy, but once we’re on stage we hate everything about you. We’re trying to embarrass you. We come from a background of battling and your objective is to embarrass the other person. Scratch Pikilz they weren’t so much our arch nemesis, not like we hated them or beef. People always compared the Scratch Pikilz to the X Men. We didn’t want to look like the losers. That was a real intense preparation. An intense competition, but it was also fun. It was like watching Bruce Lee and Jet Li fight each other. You had the two top crews going against each other. Matching style vs. style: we were the beat jugglers, they were the scratchers. Our names were on the line and reputations. It was intense. In a battle like that you got to bring you A game and leave all on the stage.
TOTAL ECLIPSE: I was honored to be a part of that. At one point Alex Aquino came up with the idea and informed Rob, Raida, and Sinista about doing the battle. Why don’t this battle to kick off ITF (International Turntablist Federation) and it’s funny. I actually entered the ITF battles and the guys I used to practice with all the time. Sinista and I would come with routines using Funky President. It added to the repertoire of the battle and it inspired me too. I won the individual battle. It was a real inspiring battle and hopefully the tradition will carry on. Hopefully with the Ground Xero album it will inspire other crews to come together and use the turntable and become one to make a function like that.
WHO?MAG: Let’s talk about the Dust to Dust CD? ROB SWIFT:A lot of people that know Rob Swift. Know that I’m into breakbeats and rare grooves. Ever since I started working with Large Professor on Akineyle’s first album Vagina Diner. I was always fascinated on how producers would take 3, 4 second loops and turn it into a song. Even before that my brother exposing me to breakbeats like Mardi Gra and Nautilus by Bob James, Big Beat by Billy Squire. My first mix CD was called Soulful Fruit and it’s a collection of rare grooves and it went on to define my style as a DJ. Dust to Dust is the last one in a series of mix CDs that I’ve done: Soulful Fruit, Pure Moods, Soulchild, Airwave Invasion. I’ve done so many mix CDs that revolve around my love for rare grooves. Originally I put it out in Japan as a Japanese release and it did so good out there. So I decided why not release worldwide? I hooked up with DJ Fisher who also release one of my previous mix CDs called Who Sampled This? I hooked up DJ Fisher and as always he was amped about it. It just came out and hopefully people will check it out.
WHO?MAG: How did the Genius of Love with Tom Tom Club and Biz Markie come about? ROB SWIFT: That was actually an idea that Roc Raida had. He was in the drivers seat for that song. Raida comes from an era that DJs like Grandmaster Flash would play those kind of songs. I guess Raida wanted to do a turntablist version of it. Our own little cover of that song; we’re a fan of all kinds of music. It’s not like we just listen to current hip hop. We recorded the song after thinking about it. It was agreed that it would be good to get a feature on it. They got Biz Markie to get on it and being that the Biz is from that era in a way. That was Roc Raida’s brain child that song. Biz is a funny guy. What you see in the videos is what you get. Tom Tom Club they’re great people. They didn’t have to give us the rights to use the song. They could have just said no. They gave us all the tracks the original tracks on a reel. They gave us access to the song. Also they redid vocals with us. They embrace DJs and turntablists.
WHO?MAG: Have you had any issues clearing samples? TOTAL ECLIPSE: Yeah! Half of our budget when we were on a major label went to clearing samples. That the major thing from being from the vein of Ground Xero. We want to still keep it dusty crate feel of the album and really project it to the masses. That’s the blessing that we have that we don’t have to worry about such things.
ROB SWIFT:Now we don’t have to worry about it. Because when you’re using Serato lets say there’s a horn sound that we like from a James Brown track. But we don’t want to have to clear that horn sound. We can get horn player to replicate the sound. Burn it to CD and import to our computer and then scratch it. With in minutes we can have that sound on vinyl ready to scratch it. That’s one of the really cool things about Serato scratch live that makes it that we’re not as limited as we were before with just vinyl. Now sample clearances isn’t so much of an issue.
WHO?MAG: How did the song with DJ Premier come about? ROB SWIFT:Primo is a big inspiration to us as a DJ. The way he organizes his choruses, hooks on tracks for Gangstarr, Group Home, Jeru all the stuff that Primo does he always scratches on it. His scratches are always tasteful and a lot of times the songs that he produces; the most memorable part is the scratches. You kind of sing the scratches to yourself before you sing the lyrics to a lot of the songs he produces. We asked him to get on the album and he was like no problem. We went to D&D studio and knocked it out.
TOTAL ECLIPSE: Primo like Rob said is a big inspiration to us. One shoulder rubs the other as far as being inspired by one another. To be focused and be creative to come out with crazy tracks performing together.
WHO?MAG: How about the song with Dan the Automator? ROB SWIFT:Dan the Automator is a producer that we respect. We liked the stuff that he did with Handsome Boy Modeling School with Prince Paul. He just had that sound that was energetic and perfect for scratch DJs like ourselves. I had worked with him previously on my solo album The Ablist. I already had a working relationship with him. I called him and asked him to get on the album and he did. Dan is really dope in the studio. He’s real professional; what I like about Dan too is that he knows how to guide the DJ throughout the track. From what I remember of Dan when I work with him. Everything he asked me to try ends up working.
TOTAL ECLIPSE: That was the first time I ever recorded a beat juggle. Using the actual 12″ and synchronize it with the actual beat. On the end at the finale on a song; he’s a total genius.
WHO?MAG: How about the song with Everlast B Boy Punk Rock 2001? ROB SWIFT:A fan of Everlast from his days with the [Rhyme] Syndicate; Ice T and all that. Everlast is one of those artists that is always doing something different. He had that Whitey Ford shit going on. Then he’ll turn around and do House of Pain; then he’ll turn around do something else. We always enjoy artists that don’t limit themselves. We gave him a ring and he was down.
TOTAL ECLIPSE: He was very particular on how he sounds. He doesn’t just lay down vocals and with the mentality of in and out of the studio. He’s definitely a master of his own craft.
WHO?MAG: How about the song with Big Pun (RIP) and Kool G Rap? ROB SWIFT: We recorded that song right before Big Pun passed away. We were really thankful and honored that we got work with him before he died. Kool G Rap comes from Queens. He lives in a town in Queens next to mine Corona. Growing up all us were fans of Kool G Rap. He’s one of the sickest lyricist; easily one of the top ten lyricist of all time. With Built From Scratch that was an album that was a mainstream release. To be honest with you one of the unfortunate things we felt kind of pressured to collaborate with a lot of people. But luckily we were able to collaborate with people that we liked. As were when we released Revolutions we were pressured to collaborate with people that wouldn’t have necessarily worked with. Over all it was a great experience working on Built From Scratch and Revolutions. Because now we got Ground Xero our new album and we were able to record the new album and have freedom. It was just myself, Total Eclipse, and Precision making all the decisions about each song, scratch, who we collaborated with and Ground Xero is our way of letting the fans know that we haven’t lost our way. That all although we did Built From Scratch and Revolutions and there’s mad features on both. Inside we wanted to do a Ground Xero type of album. We finally got that opportunity now.
WHO?MAG: Who’s idea was it for album cover of Built From Scratch paying homage to Public Enemy’s first album? ROB SWIFT: I think that was our manager’s idea at the idea. It was actually Q our road manager/graphics guy. He was a real keen eye. He had the idea of paying homage to that album and using Kool Herc, Grantwizard Theodore, and Grandmixer DST to appear on the album cover. Almost as a way of saying they are passing the torch to us.
WHO?MAG: Rob, I know you have a degree in Psychology. How has it helped you deal with the music industry? ROB SWIFT: Like anything else whether it’s sports or music. Your mentality as you approach this craft that you enjoy doing it means a lot. Psychology from believing in myself, motivating myself to be the best DJ I could be, to even dealing with people. To even dealing with fans; that there is a way to talk to fans and not make them feel that you’re superior to them or make them feel like you’re approachable. Or even dealing with the group; like say everyone in this room let’s say we were stranded somewhere. As we start to meet challenges everybody’s personalities starts to come out: the leader or the leaders in the group start to step up. The guys that more of the supporting wanting to help out; you start to see who’s that. Those who have fears; dealing with a group seeing how personalities can clash and how they can work together; going to school and majoring in Psychology was definitely a help for me. I think I apply it everyday; even now with Ground Xero. I learned a lot from what I experienced with the Xecutioners a lot of the challenges that we had. Agreeing to disagreeing and all that stuff I learned from and I apply what I learned to now. Psychology is a big aspect of what I do. Why I feel that I’ve stayed grounded and why I’ve been successful as I have.
WHO?MAG: How did you do develop the routine using Nobody Beats the Biz that you’re so known for? ROB SWIFT: My boy Dr. Butcher who is one of my mentors. I remember toying around with the record. At the time I was preparing for the 1992 New Music Seminar battle. My Boy Dr. Butcher was like yo man! There’s so many different patterns in this record. Take this home and practice with it. Because there’s shit in here; I took it home and next day I started developing routines out of the record. After like a week or two I created the whole Biz routine. Which is like a six minute routine: there’s a beginning, middle, and finale to it. It ended up being a classic routine that I do. I don’t really do it that much anymore. But every now and then I pull it out at shows.
WHO?MAG: How did the Scratchology compilation come about? TOTAL ECLIPSE: It was a time that we were really trying to come out with something else that wasn’t the album. We were in between making Revolutions actually. We should come out with a mixtape and put out the Scratchology with songs that reflect we like coming up. That influenced us to do what we do as turntablist.
WHO?MAG: How is your production process? ROB SWIFT: It varies on the Ground Xero album there’s a track called Nonverbal Communication. In that track I asked a friend of mine Dave McMurray who is a well known Jazz artist to play saxophone. I met him through Bob James and he works with him. I asked him to record Saxophone for me. So I could scratch the Sax sound. I wanted to create a song that was communication between the Sax and the turntable. You get to see how the interaction evolved. From the beginning of the song to the end; I remember doing the beat first and then sending it to Dave. He played the Sax part and he sent me Sax sounds and then I started scratching. There’s another song on the album called P Bounce. That is another one of my favorite songs. Which is scratch layered upon scratch. That features Precision beat juggling African drums. Total Eclipse and I are scratching these sounds and words. Xcess joins at the end who is one of the up and coming DJs from the new generation. With these crazy rocked out guitars. It varies. Sometimes we’ll produce a beat and throw scratches on it. Sometimes we’ll layer scratches upon scratches.
WHO?MAG: What equipment do you use production-wise? TOTAL ECLIPSE: I use MPC2000XL, digital performer 5.0, A2A interface by Mooteef and pretty much my have my turntables and mixer: Technic 1200 MK5, and the TTM57 mixer by Rane.
ROB SWIFT: MPC2000, EMU6400 ultra, SP1200. That’s the Large Professor sampler. That’s what I pretty much use to make my beats. I incorporate Serato in my album and with stuff I do with Ill Insanity. Sometimes I use CDJs if I have to; anything to help me get my ideas across.
WHO?MAG: Do you think being a DJ gives you an advantage as far as jumping into production; compared to say a Kanye West that doesn’t have a DJ background? ROB SWIFT: Yes definitely! It’s hard for me to believe that Kanye West hadn’t DJed; if you listen to him and his production, and his knowledge of music. He had to have messed around with DJing at some point. I would think in his career. There are producers out there that never DJed and started playing around with music with keyboards and not turntables. I think DJing definitely helps you.
TOTAL ECLIPSE: I think so. Without DJing it’s hard for you to really access the knowledge of music.
WHO?MAG: How did you hook up with DJ Spooky.? ROB SWIFT: I met Spooky in 1997 maybe before that. He used to record for Asphodel records. Then Asphodel records released the first Xecutioners album Xpressions. I met him through the label. Spooky is one of those guys who isn’t scared to be different. I always appreciated that about him. When he asked me to be a part of this project that he was recording this mix CD; I had no problems with hoping on and helping him out. Because when you work with people like that it helps you grow as an artist.
WHO?MAG: What is your relationship with Large Professor, Bob James, and Akineyle? ROB SWIFT: Yeah I’ll always be open to work with those guys. Large Professor is a mentor of mine. I always looked up to him as a producer. I always try to work with him to this day. He’s a good friend. Akineyle I DJed for him. He was the guy that hired me as a DJ. He exposed me to the rest of the country while we were doing tours. Bob James; the first record I learned how to scratch on was Mardi Gra a record by him. I’ve been fortunate through out my career to work with people that I looked up to.
WHO?MAG: How is it working with a legend such as Bob James? ROB SWIFT: It’s amazing! He’s really down to earth. He doesn’t carry himself in a way you would think a Jazz legend like that would. He’s really all about the music and having fun. He; listens to my ideas and he always asks what I have to say as artist when we’re working on songs. He’s not afraid to listen opposed than just trying to direct all the time. Bob James is amazing. I just chilled with him in Sept in Japan and I had a blast.
WHO?MAG: I imagine being as close as you are with Bob James. He’s given you the green light to use any of his songs? ROB SWIFT:He told me anything you want to sample of mine. Except to Mardi Gra because he doesn’t own the rights completely to it; anything you want to sample of mine go ahead and sample don’t worry about it.