We recently cornered Detroit Nerdcore veteran, Empyre Ramirex (AKA, Sample The Martian) to pick his brain about the type of album that influence his sci-fi, funk-hop mish-mash sound. He was cordial enough to indulge with some pretty in-depth answers.
Beastie Boys: Licensed to Ill
When this album came out, it was actually hard to get in stores. I remember going to Harmony House early on a Tuesday because they just got a shipment in and buying it. I had my grandma drive me. It sold out by the end of the day. It was a tape I carried with me because everyone always wanted to hear it and so did I. Its an album I was asked on many occasions to “turn down.” I remember my dad wanting to listen to it with me in his old Montego and he was pissed that they sampled Zeppelin a few times. It was such a great blend of the newly budding genre of rap that also had rock guitars and an 808. I actually wore this tape out and had to get a 2nd copy. Of course, it also really put Rick Rubin and Def Jam on the map too—and Rubin is at least partially responsible for many of my other favorite records. I’m also pretty sure that Slayer wouldn’t be where they were today if it wasn’t for this record because they were also on Def Jam and its obvious that this record was the cash cow of the label. American, Rubin’s later label also put out God Lives Underwater, Black Crowes and a great collection of Johnny Cash albums. This album spiderwebbed into many areas of my life.
Queen: Night at the Opera
Right around the time I got my second copy of Licensed to Ill, I also got my first full length Queen Album. I didn’t know it as a young teen, but this album at the time had the highest recording budget to date. Obviously, it had “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but it also had “The Prophet Song,” “I’m in Love With My Car” and other fun songs like “Seaside Rendezvous” and “39″—a sci-fi tale about a 100 years passing from a one-year journey a la the concept of relativity. I think what really got me about this album was its stunning diversity and layers. I was young so I didn’t have the musical ear that I have now, but its one of those albums that I was able to listen to from front to back. I still listen to this album and I’m always blown away by the vocal layers. This album is to vocals what a Metallica album is to guitar. As per any Queen album, Freddy Mercury’s vocals are extremely dynamic and, though people don’t know it, many of songs don’t follow tempo’s like most rock music. Instead, its based on feeling much the same way a classical piece is directed to an orchestra. Things swelling and falling and speeding up and slowing down. Most bands just use simple tempo changes that have a drum fill or bridge to accomplish, while these songs live and breathe and flow.
A lot of things came together about the time this record was released. It was a prime age in my teens. My friend Jim was out in California with the Navy and brought this record home with him. It hadn’t “hit” yet, but he sought me out to hear it. He copied the cassette while we listened to it and I took it home and played it over and over again while I beat Sonic the Hedgehog on Genesis. A few weeks later, people started buzzing about Nirvana and a few months later, when I was at the State Theater for a RHCP, Pumpkins, Pearl Jam show, everyone was leaving. The venue was about half empty and they were spinning tracks for “Clubland” when they put on “Smell’s Like Teen Spirit”. Most of the crowd hurried back into the auditorium and danced and hung out; its the only time I’ve ever seen that happen. That album still easily holds up to the test of time and the emotion in Kurt’s voice is so raw and powerful. It’s another album that plays like a greatest hits record. I was already getting bored with rap at that time and though well schooled in Metallica and Zeppelin this album opened up to me a new generation of sounds. It led the way for a lot of music that was up and coming like NIN, Rage, Jane’s Addiction, Soundgarden… well you know the story. “Back in 1991, I wasn’t having any fun till my roommate said ‘come on’ and put a brand new record on. It had a baby on it. He was naked on it. Then I heard the chords that broke the chains I had upon me.”
Ween: Chocolate and Cheese
I’m sure by reading this it gives a musical history lesson in some regards. It also gives deep hints to my musical influences. Its hard to pick just five records, especially as a musician. This album struck me because of its diversity. I remember loving every song and yet being amazed that each song sounded almost like a different band, because the songs were drastically in different styles. Later, I realized that a lot of what I thought was keyboard was actually guitar. Dean Ween was a master at guitar texture and is so underrated because of their lack of pop success. Tom Morello gets a lot of credit for being creative with his guitar sounds and, though they are good, often times they sound forced to me. I think this album to me is a bit of modern day Zappa. It now occurs to me too why sometimes people compare Sample The Martian to Zappa. I love the rhythm in the song, “I Can’t Put My Finger On It.” I have always wanted to be, in terms of hip-hop, this type of monstrous amalgamation of different styles and sounds. I still have a ways to go, but this album really sets the bar as far as that’s concerned.
Most bands are accused of their early stuff being their best material. What I love about Tool is that each successive album from Opiate to Lateralus got better and deeper. This album took me a while to get into, much like a book where you struggle to get over half way through to realize that that effort of pushing through was well worth it. One great thing about Tool is that the complexity and feeling in the drums is second to none and its combined with a band that can make use of it. This album tells a story. Its a complicated, convoluted story, but its a cool one. The first song is about a rift, a grudge. The second about the test and patience involved with such a thing. Then it moves on to “Schism,” which is about realizing that communication is the key. Then it moves on to a spiritual level of understanding about non-corporeal energy. Later in the album, the song “Lateralus” kind of sums up the concept of building upon simple things to more complex. It talks about a baby seeing “black, then red” and the development from there that leads to the “golden spiral” and creating things in complexity with hints and approaching possible divinity in the realm of being able to create, while also questioning whether we actually create anything that hasn’t before been done. I honestly feel the crescendo of this song can rival “Stairway to Heaven” and hang with “One.” This album 10 years later continues to pay serious dividends.
There you have it, folks. You can pick up the most recent Sample the Martian release, Self Made Loner now. And for a sneak peak, check this out.