We Talked to M|O|D and They Made Us a Mixtape
M|O|D (from left) is C.Z., Arnold, LiL TExAS, Rewrote, and Yung Satan. Photo by Josh Reynolds for the Boston Globe.
I'm sprawled on an Astro Turf-covered roof at sunset, the glossy space-grass dappled with shadows from an afternoon's worth of spent tallcans and the supine forms of what may be the internet's only producer boy-band. Three fifths of it, at least—I'm chopping it up with Rewrote, CZ and Arnold, who along with Yung Satan and LiL TExAS comprise M|O|D Music, leading lights in the nascent bedroom Soundcloud production boom. They specialize in genre-hopping instrumentals, blending rap, jersey club, house, and influences further afield. Their tracks serve equally well as space-out public-transit vibe magnets and club-ready grinding fuel. In a world of nebulous internet cliques, M|O|D stand apart—they met several years ago at Berklee College Of Music, and their IRL friendship has helped forge a tight-knit collective sound. Our conversation covers those early days, as well as their recent endeavors, including their efforts to differentiate themselves in a landscape flooded with cookie-cutter EDM-trap. While you read, peep this mixtape Rewrote put together for us, studded with unreleased M|O|D gems—in his words, it's "an auditory collage showcasing new and old music from close friends and familiar sources."
Noisey: What does M|O|D stand for?
Arnold: It all started with us sitting in a room, randomly putting an album together and making a funny album cover. We just called ourselves M|O|D because so many groups have names that they think mean something, like A$AP, but ours really doesn't mean anything.
CZ: It means Mothers of Drake.
Arnold: or Make or Drake.
Rewrote: Milk or Dark.
Arnold: Morrisey or Death
Rewrote: Morrisey or the Doors-isseys.
Arnold: Mail-Order Delivery.
CZ: More Obtuse Drugs.
Rewrote: Mom Office Doctor.
Arnold: But yeah, it's weird now that we have people to report to for the first time. Its weird going from our anything goes attitude to deadlines and some kind of creative cohesiveness, which is hard now that we're not living together.
Rewrote: The first four mixtapes we all made together.
Arnold: We'd be in the same room for at least ten hours out of the day together making music in the same room.
Was there any concept of an audience?
CZ: Nah, just making it for each other
Arnold: It's cool cause we challenge each other but we have that small tight-knit thing, we keep our own sound. We're essentially just best friends.
What exactly does it mean to be part of a producer crew?
Rewrote: Being in a collective means that we each are connected by certain similar influences, but because there are five of us, we each draw different influences from one another on an individual basis. Different sources of inspiration tend to fly around whenever we get together. For me it's more about picking up on what each of us is inspired by on our own and how that translates when we get together. It's not like we're unaware of what every one of us is inspired by individually, but the way we convey it to each other is something different. The common ground we all have is that we enjoy showing similarly open-minded people, if it's friends of ours or an audience of strangers, what we're inspired by. We all have such different things to offer but because we're so close, we all just want to get the word out about the crew and how we vibe.
How did you all come together?
Rewrote: The way we all came together was hanging out at Lil Texas' spot and DJing parties there. We all fell in and I started living with Yung Satan. The only kid on the lease was never their and it was super sketchy, it was basically a free reign apartment. We threw parties every weekend for six months before we got kicked out.
Arnold: We started corresponding the parties with our MOD tapes. We would do release parties. The one for MOD 2, got especially out of hand. The living room had no windows, there were bedrooms on each side. It was a giant apartment, we could fit 200 kids in there. Basically, it was a sweatbox. That last party was a classic hole-in-the-wall party.
CZ: I had just moved in across the street and the first night i moved to Boston I met Rewrote on the side of the road, because I was trying to find weed. I thought he was so weird, he had a Technics Turntable t-shirt, and I was like, "Who wears a Technics t-shirt?" I bought weed off him in a hallway, and basically seeded my way into their friendgroup.
What was the first project any of you worked on together?
Arnold: It was a class project me and Lil Texas worked on together. It was future funk. Thats when I realized we could just put out music.
Rewrote: Yeah, it dawned on us one day that we were all working on music and then not putting it out.
Arnold: We had all these beats and we were like, "Let's just put out a tape."
CZ: This was before the whole trap thing had happened at all. I was on this little hip-hop label in Florida. It was just my homie who was funding rappers in Florida, and I was making trap beats for them. He was like, "make trap beats", thats what the rappers would say to him, is "I want trap beats" and I was just like, "Ok." I made all these weird mundane trap beats, and I played them for Arnold and he was like, "woah." It wasn't EDM trap, it was just beats that we thought rappers would rap on. It was hip-hop. It wasn't a thing yet where trap was like EDM, as in, "Let's go out and listen to trap and dubstep."
Arnold: It was before that "Original Don" remix. That started it. But yeah, the Trap Arnold thing [Arnold used to go by Trap Arnold] was funny. It started when we were all talking about what if Hey Arnold got kicked out of his parents place, was a real scumbag, and started making beats in the back of class and putting them online, and they were just terrible. So I went to play SXSW and someone had the name I was using at the time, Gray Ghost, so I just kept Trap Arnold. Next thing T know I put out this tape, and then "trap" happens, and that was weird. Like, when people come up and say, "Are you Trap Arnold?" [laughs]
Rewrote: It was literally a running joke.
CZ: This is even before people were saying swag a lot.
Arnold: 2012 was a weird transition year. The Trap Arnold thing is honestly hilarious at this point.
What was influencing you around that time?
CZ: We had a very based influence. If you really listen to Lil B, even the stupid and based songs that are just like retarded trap beats, we were trying to make beats like that.
Arnold: And then the trap EDM thing, we naturally got pigeonholed into that.
Rewrote: Also we literally came up at the same time as UZ.
Arnold: I remember talking to UZ on Soundcloud when he had 100 plays, and then that whole thing happened.
Rewrote: That was before he used those squeaky noises.
Arnold: Baauer dropped "Harlem Shake," and around then is when the dubstep people started fucking with trap and it became a thing.
Rewrote: Originally Rustie played "Harlem Shake" on his BBC mix and that was huge. Then Baauer played CZ's tracks on his BBC1 mix so it came full circle.
Arnold: So I don't know, weird stigma to deal with, but it was a natural thing for us to take rap beats off our computers and make a tape once a month. That's how it started and since then we played shows in Boston, and then we got on the Rustie bill at the Middle East and we were all geekin' off that, and then we opened for Flosstradamus and connected with them, and then Boiler Room...Its crazy how much happened over a year. Once we hit that year mark is when we all went home, and thats where we're at now. It's been a weird fucking year.
CZ: It's weird because we got started playing in the upstairs of the Middle East, this small room. I was really into beats-scene, slow LA-influenced-beats-type shit, sampling on my SP and shit, and then literally Baauer put one of my songs in his mix and I realized that you can just make money like this.
Arnold: The thing is, it wasn't a developed genre enough for us to feel like there was any selling out. It was so natural for us to go there.
Rewrote: There was no marketability.
CZ: The weirdest thing that is that none of us really knows who fucks with our music.
Arnold: Yeah, knowing your audience is something you don't always necessarily want to associate with, it doesn't feel right to just stick your dick into something like that.
CZ: Like, for example, Toro y Moi randomly put one of my tracks in his mix. It's so random, I try to hit him up, no response. It's so confusing, because you don't really know what to think, like, am I in this genre thats artistic and free or am I in this genre of people that just want to rage.
Arnold: At first I was stressing, but I find a glimpse of hope in that neither we nor other people can categorize it. It's tough for some people to grasp. Maybe because everything has been happening in such a natural way, as long we keep our thing going people will start to get it.
Rewrote: Bottom line for me is that I know we're never gonna stop working, at least not in the next five years.
Well, its definitely a time when the idea of genres having distinct fanbases is eroding.
Arnold: It's hard for me, at least, to separate who I identify with and the people who fuck with me because if I don't identify with that EDM crowd very much.
CZ: It's not very satisfying.
You don't feel like they fully appreciate your music?
Arnold: I don't just want to play for a room full of people who stand there who just to listen to music, I want people to move, but I don't understand going to shows and getting completely annihilated. I think there are real people out there who fuck with us for the right reasons, though.
CZ: Not to talk about like, "art," but consider when people go to an art gallery because their friends are like, "Yo, this is a cool art gallery" and they don't even ask who the artist is. They just go because their friends invited them and they want to look cool. People painted all these paintings and they love them more than anything, and you're just walking around getting drunk trying to look cool. The point is to look at someone's art who you're interested in, to learn something about it. It's the same thing with music. If your not interested in the people, why are you going?
Arnold: That's why I'm interested in the slow grind mentality, so that when something does form people will stay with it instead of just jumping to the next bandwagon.
It seems like you guys are engaging with a very new kind of internet-based fandom.
Arnold: Yeah, and its definitely a separation because of the internet. At the same time the internet is what's going to bring us to people, and we love the internet for that.
Rewrote: It's definitely a funny double-edged sword with the internet. With the M|O|D thing, we have been working since day one to get our SEO up so we can finally find ourselves on Google.
Arnold: The problem is when there's a "hashtag trap" night, you immediately associate it with ex-Rusko fans. That's the problem. It became so close to dubstep because people decided, "Oh i don't have to send this time making bass patches, i'll just add in an 808 and have a woop woop woop."
I'm reminded of frat-catering blogs like thissongisisick.com.
Arnold: I was on that website, they brought me more plays than anything, according to soundcloud. I was like, "Great." That and thissongslaps.com. Anything with "thissong." My friends back home are frat guys, and they didn't think anything of my music until I got on those sites.
It's weird to me that these scenes consider music exclusively as a functional tool to provide a drop.
Arnold: That's the thing, is those people are going to work 9-5 in a cubicle, and maybe get a corner office when they're 35.
CZ: You know what though, you can blame bass.
Arnold: That's one of the most interesting phenomenons. I read Kode9's book about bass frequencies and the reactions of the mind, and it's just dope. That's why bass music comes out from the city, because you hear that truck go by with that low hum. That's why no one really created bass until we were around these machines that have these low frequencies.
Rewrote: It's the human consciousness adapting,
Arnold: I don't blame bass, I blame character.
CZ: I don't blame it but I'm just saying thats part of it, because its like, "Yo, I'ma make a track and turn the kick all the way up, with all the compressors on it, and I'm going to make so much money."
What do you think it means to "make it" nowadays?
Arnold: We're all producers, so a big goal for all of us is to be in the studio ten-twelve hours a day but also DJ at night. If you do that you can make money but also have a good time.
Rewrote: That's my idea of success for sure.
A: I think it's an interesting time for our kind of music. I think it's great, because there's so much disposable music that you can have a crazy output. Some tunes stick and some don't.
Rewrote: There's the fact that we're all armed with a certain baseline knowledge of the music industry cause of Berklee.
Arnold: When I was there I thought Berklee sucked. I went there for voice, so they basically teach you how to be a wedding singer. I was never comfortable in those classes, because there would be like ten girls and me and I would have to sing an R&B song. They would give me a grade, which would be a B or a C, but the harmonies I learned there definitely completely changed my view of music.
Rewrote: The M|O|D team mascot would be either a giant dog or a blue snake with five heads. Yeah.
What do you have coming up?
Rewrote: We're going to make a mixtape of the different elements and the tracks are just gonna be like Ice Boy ft. Earth Boy ft. Thunderdog, Poseidon featuring Electricitydog.
Arnold: We haven't really thought this through.
Arnold: That sounds like an app to train your dog.
Rewrote: I just picture a little dog on fire but it's cool, he can control it.
Ezra Marcus struggles to differentiate himself from his EDM-trap audience on twitter—@Ezra_Marc