Today, we sit on wooden stools, in a dark and crowded restaurant, pig decor surrounds the walls, rock music playing, cask beer filled glasses in hand. The Spotted Pig is one of New York City’s most talked about restaurants, its owner Ken Friedman, along with partners Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich have made this restaurant in the west village a go to for anyone who is serious about food. Blockhead aka Tony Simon has never been, despite the fact that he lives less than a mile away. He gets the burger with Roquefort cheese, medium rare, and shoestring fries.
I met Blockhead about 7 years ago during one of my visits before moving to NYC. I didn’t know much about him then, except that he was a musician and someone that people want to be around. If you’re not familiar with him, its about time you start. He carries New York in his veins and his creativity is not only inherent, but genuine. He blends his work in such disarranged beats- like nothing we’ve ever heard before. He surprises you with his introductions of bass, singing, drums, motion, funk and percussion all in one song.
While it was fun talking about our common love for reality tv, he filled me in on his obsession with 80’s music and film, history with Aesop Rock, how he chose his name, his thoughts on current hip hop artists, and upcoming projects. It was time to get to know the real Blockhead.
The name Blockhead comes from you having a square jaw…what if you didn’t have a square jaw, what if you had, I dunno a weird pinky, what were your runner up names?
I probably would have gone with some sort of name based around my actual name, Tony. But all the good ones were taken. Even Y-not. The messed up thing is that, as I’ve gotten older, my head is getting less square. I’m more like Ovalhead now.
Lets pretend no one in the world has heard of you, describe your music with only one of your songs, as an intro to what we can expect from Blockhead.
I would take the song “Farewell Spaceman” cause it covers all the bases. It’s got that down tempo beginning. Quirky vocal samples and all sorts of crescendos that eventually lead into an explosive ending. It also shows off how I tend to build songs. They start somewhere and end somewhere completely different.
I didn’t get into hip hop until I was older,. You seem to have grown up with it. Does it make you upset when you see what is considered hip hop now? Or could you really care less about what direction it goes in? Is there anyone now that you think has done a successful job at implementing all aspects that go into it what hip hop is/ should be?
If you asked me this 2 years ago, I would have told you hip hop was dead. For the last few years have seen some really great new artists emerge. I’m old and very little impresses me, in terms of hip hop. But this new school or artists have really been able to breath new life into something that was on the respirator. I’m no longer invested in hip hop like I once was. Whether it succeeds or fails don’t really affect me much. But I’m always rooting for it. Artists like Open Mike Eagle( IBF exclusive interview here), Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt, Shabazz Palaces and Billy Woods are keeping me into the art form.
Who’s your guilty pleasure in music? As embarrassing as it may be (i.e. Kreayshawn-my brother sings her song all the time but don’t tell him I said that).
First off, I love that your brother loves Kreayshawn.
As for me, I don’t really have a boatload of musical skeletons in my closet. Especially with new music. But, I do have a soft spot in my heat for 80’s R&B. Stuff like “Stay with me tonight”, “100 ways” and “On the wings of love”. I know it’s corny but those are songs I feel like, had they been written in a different era, they would have been bona fide classics. Also, 80’s action movie themes. Like “You’re the best” from the Karate Kid. When those pop up on my ipod, I don’t skip them.
Name some of your favorite collaborations. Is it easier to make beats with people you are friends with? Do you usually approach them or do they come to you?
Aesop Rock is pretty easily my best collaboration. We’ve worked together so long that it’s just a natural progression. Aside from him, what Jeremy Gibson and I did with Party Fun Action Committee is by far the most fun I’ve ever had making music. It’s too bad people hated it so much. I feel like it’s definitely easier to work with friends. You don’t have to be nice and they already know where you’re coming from. In terms of collabos I’ve done more recently, I’ve been approaching younger rappers I like and trying do music with them. I never did that before, but there has been a bunch of good new talent to surface recently and I want to try new things.
At what age were you funked? You tried the rap thing for a while, but you geared more towards beats – is it because you enjoy that more?
I always liked making music but I don’t think I thought it was a possible lifestyle until 1999, when we started putting out Aesop’s albums. Everything before that was a loose pipe dream. I was more thinking I’d end up being an actor or something like that. Prior to just making beats, I rapped but it was never something I realistically considered a career.
I’ve been to your shows and will admit…they’re crazy fun. What people may not know is that it’s just you, your laptop and a drink on the stage (not some kraftwerk/girl talk production). You mix the old with the new and your knowledge of music is intense – its what I love about your style! What are some current new artists/beats you are mixing into your new album? And what are you drinking on stage anyway?
Let me first answer the drinking question. 9 times out of 10, it’s a vodka soda. But recently, I discovered a fun showtime drink that consists of a pint of dark ale and a generous helping of jameson. I had one of those on stage recently and was bona fide drunk by the time I got off stage. That was fun! As for the new album (coming out in 2012), I’m not really mixing anything too current into it. I am doing a strange song using this old cassette I had of a song by my friend Baby Dayliner. I’m basically taking that song, and reworking it. It’s gonna be interesting.
Who designs your album artwork and how do you go about picking a design? Are you extremely picky or do you let the designer be creative with it?
My friend, Owen Brozman aka DJ Omega One has handled those duties for the last few albums. It’s worked two different ways. One time I told him the idea I had and he executed it. and another I happened upon some preexisting art he had made and thought it was perfect for my album. I’m very low maintenance when it comes to stuff like that. As long as it’s not something that rubs me the wrong way, I’m usually good to go. That may also be a testament to the level of talent I’ve been fortunate to work with.
On your blog Phat Friend which is absolutely hilarious and definitely worth checking out. (you’ve been warned people!) Interestingly enough, you seem to be the voice of reason for many of your fans. They ask you about girls, sex, bowel movements, drugs, beats, food and the list goes on. What’s your advice on girls that fall for musicians?
Oh man…Don’t bother. I know that a hurt animal is like crack for girls but you gotta accept that somethings cannot be fixed. do yourself a favor and just settle for guy with a good job and health insurance. your kids will thank you.
Whether he’s producing music for other artists or he’s blending beats for his own records, it’s certain that Blockhead is not someone that should be ignored. Blast him on your speakers, go to his shows, invite him to lunch!
And as far as that burger goes… Blockhead’s final thoughts? “Its really good. Bun was perfect, meat was juicy, but I didn’t like the feet smelling kinda cheese”. He must have been a bigger fan of the shoestring fries, after all – he did eat half of the pile on my plate.
For full discography and more info on Blockhead: