EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Doseone, Why? and Odd Nosdam Look Back on cLOUDDEAD

August 25, 2014 Interviews, Long Reads

The following story is taken from an early self-titled issue. Download our new iPad app to read our quarterly journal for free…

Interview ARYE DWORKEN Photography ALEXANDER WAGNER

Just over four years have passed since Adam Drucker (Doseone), Yoni Wolf (Why?) and Dave Madson (Odd Nosdam) cut Ten, their first and last LP as cLOUDDEAD. Yet it’s hard to believe that critically adored album—and the string of limited 10-inches that preceded it in 2000–2001 (repackaged as a self-titled Mush compilation)—ever happened. Although all three are longtime friends who still talk from time to time, the trio’s push-and-pull dynamic seemed destined to implode in the studio or onstage.

Good thing cLOUDDEAD managed to transfer that tension into beautifully bizarre music before their unsurprising split in 2004. To this day, nothing sounds quite like their microcosmic back catalog, from Odd Nosdam’s eerie soundscapes—a swampy mix of hypnotic loops and snap, crackle, pop samples—to Why?’s post-everything poetics and Doseone’s refrigerator magnet rapping.

self-titled cornered cLOUDDEAD’s former members before anticon.’s 10th anniversary show at New York’s Knitting Factory—an event so loose it led to an impromptu reunion. The following honest exchange is their first official post-breakup interview…

“Eminem and Adam were the two people that blew me away. I was like, ‘Oh, my god. Who the fuck are these two white guys?'”

self-titled: When did you come up with your respective aliases?
Doseone: I was always jealous of Yoni because he got to think of his rap name later. I got stuck with mine. Mine came when I was fifteen. I was doing graffiti and liked the way the words looked.
Why?:: I thought of mine when I was eighteen…
Doseone: But those three years really helped.

You guys were both graffiti artists?
Doseone: Uh, yeah. But you liked rap, too.
Why?: But I got into rap through graffiti.

Did you use Why? in your tagging days?
Why?: Yeah.
Doseone: When I met him, he had a wet stencil in his hand. The second time I met him, he had that—I can draw it still—that guy in the sun and his umbilical chord, one of his early characters.

You’re still doing illustration now, correct?
Doseone: Well, that was only because of these guys. They always did their own art. And I was like, “Fuck that. I could do that, too.” I almost married a whore who could really…
Why?: C’mon! [Laughs]
Doseone: Well, I had a really intense relationship that went really bad.
Why?: An incredible artist.
Doseone: I watched her and picked it up from her. If you share a room with someone, you kind of get better at your version of what they do. It’s a natural thing. I mean, monkeys can do that.

Talk about the first time you guys met.
Doseone: I was talking about that last night. If you watch the ’97 Scribble battles, there’s this dude with a baldie and a Dictaphone standing in the front recording everything. That’s him.
Why?: I wanted to listen to it later.
Doseone: He’s behind me getting into it. It was wild.

Did you really battle Eminem?
Why?: Eminem and Adam were the two people that blew me away. I was like, “Oh, my god. Who the fuck are these two white guys?”
Doseone: And later on I was crossing campus, that stupid common ground…
Why?: We ran into each other. Someone told me he lived in Philly. I thought, well, I wouldn’t talk to him at Scribble Jam. He’s an out-of-towner. And then I saw him on campus, and I’m like, “Yo, Dose.”
Doseone: And I’m like, “Oh, shit, no one calls me that here.”

Adam, you wanted to be a mainstream rapper?
Doseone: I wanted to just rap. I was the real thing for the ’90s.
Why?: Adam was evil. He was just really super dark.
Doseone: And I’m going to go back to that. After I’m done with this record, I want to do some battling again.

For real?
Doseone: Yeah. The pressure is different for me now. I can’t not speak about it in shaman terms, but now I zone out completely—in another place. I can’t wait to go back and battle these over-clothed pretenders.

Doseone

Has a lot changed since then in the freestyle battle scene?
Doseone: Oh, that shit now is all pre-written.
Why?: The battle days were very distinctive to that time. It’s not like
that anymore.
Doseone: It’s very pop now. The only contest I have ever been in was Scribble Jam, but over time I battled hundreds of rappers in my life. When I rapped, I tried to be intellectual. And that’s what attracted me to Yoni’s style. He wrote this one poem…
Why?: I was crap back then.
Doseone: You read this one poem about “packing up babies in toilet paper,” and I didn’t get it at first, and then he said it again at the end of the poem. I was like, “Oh, fuck, that’s so dope.” I realized then that I didn’t want to write from my head. I wanted to make more poetry. At the time you were my only poetry influence.
Why?: We got each other more serious about writing.
Doseone: I remember the day you came home with a poem: “Parking meter, bird feeder.”
Why?: [Laughs] That’s so embarrassing. In high school I would write in a journal. Adam was real serious about that sort of thing. Sometimes I would write a poem or whatever just to do it. It started to get focused on music pretty quickly after I started writing seriously. [Odd Nosdam joins us in the room.]

“We’ve come to our prime now, in the least romantic time for music ever”

When did you first meet up with Why? and Doseone?
Odd Nosdam: I first met his brother Josiah in elementary school. We went to school together from first to twelfth grade. The first time I met Yoni, me and Josiah wrote a book together. I drew for it. I remember going to the Wolfs’ household and just hanging there.
Why?: I think I met you before that.
Odd Nosdam: As time went on, Josiah and I stayed pretty good friends, but after high school I didn’t see him much. Back in ’98 I started making music.
Why?: Dave was really thugged out in high school.
Doseone: Dave and I were more wiggery than anyone. We were ethnically transposing ourselves.
Odd Nosdam: I had a skin-fade back then. I grew up in a predominately black neighborhood in Cincinnati, and rap was the music I heard all around me. That was the music that clicked for me. I was so young. I didn’t really understand what I was listening to. I equated rap music with music like Lionel Richie. There was no difference to my ears. But then I stopped listening to hip-hop in, like, ’95 because of the direction it went. Back then, though, I was like the only white kid in my entire high school listening to rap. I was known as that.

Did that make you a pariah?
Why?:: [Laughs] What the fuck did you just call him?
Odd Nosdam: I was much more accepted by the black crowd than the white one, for sure.

In a Wire cover story a few years ago, one of the quotes equated Nirvana to the blues like cLOUDDEAD was to hip-hop—warping the music until it became something entirely new.
Doseone: Well, I don’t think that’s true.
Why?:: Adam isn’t a conventional rapper.
Doseone: That was because of always having dope rappers around me and wanting to be different. The kids at our high school went out of our way to seek out the newest shit in rap.
Odd Nosdam: I met Adam in ’98, when I was thinking the newest shit was Dr. Octagon, and Company Flow was the only thing happening in hip-hop.
Doseone: I had this whole shelf with all the far-out shit like Buck 65… I showed it to him, and he was like, “Where’s this shit been?”

Buck has been around for that long?
Doseone: Sole has been rapping since ’92. Buck’s been around since then.
Odd Nosdam: Can I finish my story real quick? I started making music in ’98, and that’s when everything changed. I went straight-edge and sobered up, went vegan. I was in art school. I met Yoni in a record store where I was selling photocopies of paintings I was making of Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley. And they were actually selling. I had this cassette of music I was making.
Why?: Was that me or Josiah? We ran into each other. I can’t remember where though.
Odd Nosdam: Maybe it was Josiah. And he told me you guys were in a band together. I came by a practice and hung out, and that’s where I met Mr. Dibbs. We sat in my car that night, and I played them some early beats.

Odd Nosdam

When you say you were making music, what does that mean?
Odd Nosdam: I had an eight-track, and I was sampling.
Why?:: Really dark beats—spaced-out. Real bass-y.
Doseone: We were sample-happy at our apartment at the time. We were looping everything, but Dave had a sound. I was listening to some of that early shit the other day.

You still have all of this?
Doseone: Oh, I keep everything.
Why?: I don’t have shit.

When did anticon. start up?
Doseone: Right before anticon., we recorded as Deep Puddle Dynamics, and nobody liked it, so we figured we’d release it ourselves with our own label.
Why?: We were selling tapes at the time. We worked on it at Kinkos.
Odd Nosdam: This was when the Internet revolution was going on. You could get your tapes sold everywhere.
Doseone: We had as many fans in Japan as we did in Chicago.
Why?: There was a weird culture of tape traders in underground rap that happened in the late ’90s. We met Pedestrian through tape trading. He ran this thing called TrueHipHop.com. It was so comprehensive. Meanwhile, we had nothing technology wise. We went to a computer lab and used the scanner for our first cLOUDDEAD artwork.
Odd Nosdam: Me and Adam got in a car wreck on the way back from that.
Why?: We had to be hustlers to survive in that scene.
Doseone: We were very romantic and idealistic back then. But we’ve come to our prime now, in the least romantic time for music ever.
Odd Nosdam: At that time in the Midwest, there was a huge underground hip-hop phenomenon. There was a movement to start crate-digging in the post-DJ Shadow era. And we’ll never see that excitement again.

“I don’t miss the shit-talking with Rhymesayers and Def Jux”

When did the anticon. scene transfer to California?
Doseone: It was gradual. Yoni and Dave didn’t move out until a year and a half after I did. They moved in with me and Jeff [Logan, aka Jel]. We were in a three-bedroom with nine people. Jeff worked temp jobs. I hoed it out and worked for Mush. It was a very shaky, strange time.
Why?: Anticon only became legit as time went on. We almost didn’t notice it.
Odd Nosdam: I was art director for five years, and everyone had opinions, and it sometimes really drove me crazy.
Doseone: The mutual era of anticon. has diffused. A lot of us live in our own respective Antarctica, some of us only a few blocks away. Alias, for example, moved back to Maine. We’ve always been home wizards recording in our bedrooms, and that’s what it’s become again—doing our things in our own private Idaho. We coordinate through anticon. and managers… We’re on different speeds, but if we hear something we like [we share it with one another]. Like S.J. Esau; the same week that Yoni recommended it, I went through all my demos, and the only one I liked was S.J. Esau, and so I called [label manager] Shaun [Koplow], and we signed him.
Odd Nosdam: The way the label went from being the core focus of our lives, I can stop being art director and now put out records by people we really admire.
Why?: We are all A&R for the label, essentially. We don’t run the label. Shaun runs it, and Baillie [Parker] helps. It’s more focused because it’s one individual.
Doseone: The state of the industry is so that we could only have one person running the label. It wouldn’t work any other way. I miss certain chemistries of how it used to be, but it was also really confusing.
Odd Nosdam: The thing I miss about that time is that we were discovering ourselves and discovering new ways to express ourselves through music and art. I really miss those early days when we stumbled on our sound.

Doseone: What I don’t miss is all that confusion and fighting. We fought so much. People thought Antipop [Consortium] was like us and Paul Barman was like us. We picked something that didn’t have a place and still doesn’t, and people tried to put it in this space where it didn’t belong. Nowadays, Yoni’s music, to the world, they can fit it in with stuff that they’re somewhat familiar with. But white rap, or whatever you want to call it, is not going to fit in anywhere. Experimental rap, weird rap, whatever you call it—it still doesn’t have a place. While guys like Atmosphere didn’t really go further down the road, we plowed ahead.
Odd Nosdam: I don’t miss the shit-talking with Rhymesayers and Def Jux. Doseone: White people hating on white people. Those guys on the more rap side of things were very self-conscious about us implicating them in some fascist white regime to make rap smart. But that was never the case. We just liked being around one another. We had no motives. For them, they were still looking for the ghetto pass. But now everyone is more mature, and we’ve since patched things up.
Odd Nosdam: It started when Sole recorded “Dear Elpee.” If that hadn’t happened, I don’t think it would have progressed to what it was. That was the beginning of what became years and years…
Doseone: Well, [Sole]’s whole thing was that Rawkus was a subsidiary
of Fox. Company Flow was not really independent either. Tim [“Sole” Holland] called that out, and El-P called Sole “shorty,” and Tim called him “tall-y,” and it got out of hand. I was naive. I was hoping that anticon. would be all these people working together, but there were those who felt too passionate about it all.

Is the driving force for you guys to do something genuinely different?
Why?: We’re just trying to do something true.
Doseone: Yoni once said defending me, “Well, Adam writes something closer to the sun.”

Let’s talk about the birth of cLOUDDEAD.
Odd Nosdam: I made a beat, which became “She’s Calling”—the first track on our first album. I was driving in a terrible snowstorm from Minneapolis with Yoni, and somehow we ended up off the road in an embankment. We missed a tree by this much, and we almost died. It was the worst situation I’ve ever been in. Later on, we were at an AAA station. I remember we were like, “We gotta do this.” That, for me, is when cLOUDDEAD began. We didn’t even have a name for it yet.

“We get along, but there’s all this weird baggage from the past”

When Ten came out and people responded enthusiastically…
Doseone: Really?
Why?: I like Ten a lot.
Odd Nosdam: I think that Ten was more collaborative than the first record.
Why?: I like the music on the first one a lot. But I cringe when I hear myself on that one.
Doseone: The second one… the writing is impeccable.
Odd Nosdam: Well, the first one… We didn’t even know the first one
was going to come out. We were just making music.
Doseone: I hot-wired the whole thing through Mush. Let me just say that Tim specifically did not want to release the cLOUDDEAD record because of Yoni’s rapping. He did not want it on anticon. because of that.
Odd Nosdam: I don’t know, man…
Doseone: But it’s the truth. Why shouldn’t we air out our laundry? I got the vibe that they were iffy about the record, so it was like, “Fuck that.” Sometimes we felt like outsiders in a group of outsiders.

Why?

You once referred to one another as “blood brothers,” but on the other hand, you knew you weren’t going to do another record together.
Odd Nosdam: We signed a contract that [said] we had to do a second album. I don’t think it would have happened otherwise. I don’t think I would have been involved in that album.
Why?: We did Ten because we had a contract to do it.
Doseone: At one point it was going to be a Greenthink record. We had broke up.
Odd Nosdam: I actually got kicked out of cLOUDDEAD. And they did three songs totally on their own.
Why?: We asked Robert [Curcio, Mush’s owner] if we could do this without Dave and call it something different and still fulfill the contract. Wait…is this getting too business?
Doseone: I’m all about airing all of this shit out. It’s been a long time. It’s all about truth.
Why?: Basically, that happened. Adam and I did three songs.
Doseone: We wrote almost all of it in that period.
Why?: Then we started hanging out again—Dave and me. And at some point, Dave became involved again. There were all sort of weird beefs between the three of us, all kinds of fucking shit.
Doseone: At some point, these guys were pissed that I went out to California. There was shit that was totally intangible and [specific] things. Yoni had a strong current to do his own music, and that was also a huge thing.

When did all this tension subside?
Doseone: I don’t know… I don’t think…
Why?: We get along, but there’s all this weird baggage from the past. I don’t have beef with either of these guys right now, but who knows in the next year.
Doseone: We’ve had weirdness here and there. But that’s just gravity.
Odd Nosdam: We’ve been so intimate in so many ways. And through that intimacy… Yoni and I used to talk on the phone about film and shit for like hours. We didn’t just hang out; we were super-close friends.
Doseone: Well, we also didn’t have a television. It was a weird art house.
Odd Nosdam: Everybody has a lot of friends that you socialize with. But we were more than friends. We were carrying each other, trying to keep a weird spirit alive.
Doseone: We’re just fucking different.

Do you think your relationships are healthier considering your own projects?
Why?: I think so. I think if I was working closely with these guys again, there would be tension… We have large personalities.
Doseone: I’m deeply and permanently attached to collaborating. I’m not a solo guy. On my deathbed, I will not be proudest of what I have done alone. I have no desire to ever stop writing the kind of poetry that Yoni and I write together, shit that is way better than anything I can do alone.

“Nobody liked me. I sucked. That’s the bottom line. I sounded awkward and gross.”

Odd Nosdam: When we first made cLOUDDEAD music, we were so impressed with whatever we did. cLOUDDEAD was a weird phenomenon, the first act from anticon. that broke through in Europe. It was overwhelming at the time. I couldn’t even figure out.
Doseone: When Robert [Curcio] was first trying to explain mechanicals to Nosdam, I think his head was spinning. It had gone way further than we had expected.
Odd Nosdam: One thing I will never forget was how Robert would compare us to the next R.E.M, which I never got.
Doseone: He was excited about us, just in a different way. He liked us as people; he wanted to make us a band.
Why?: I really liked Robert.
Doseone: He loved the music when no one else liked it.
Why?: Adam gave him the Greenthink shit. It was basically me and Adam. Dave recorded one part on the record, and that was the part Robert liked the most. He was into that. And that’s when I think the first notion of us collaborating came into motion.

Did it hurt your feelings when people didn’t understand what cLOUDDEAD was doing?
Doseone: I played it for people, like my father, and people were getting it. Why?: Nobody liked me. I sucked. That’s the bottom line. I sounded awkward and gross.
Doseone: They didn’t like how we were saying, “Put the gum in the cat’s ass.” Stuff like that was just weird. Everybody in rap goes into the studio with their head down low, their hoodie up, thugging out. We wanted to do something very different.

Why? and Doseone

Would you consider doing something together again?
Doseone: I don’t know.
Why?:: Who knows? I don’t know.
Doseone: The process of which Yoni and I write—that clarity and depth—I’m proud of it. Everybody got the point that we were making something special that would last forever.

What are you most proud of with anticon.?
Odd Nosdam: That we put up with each other and put out great music regardless of our own personal philosophies and egos.
Doseone: The fact that we never quit. I haven’t been to a dentist in six years. I don’t have health insurance. We could’ve stepped away from this because of fear. We don’t save starving children, but we were one another’s heroes.
Odd Nosdam: The kind of music that gives you the chills—that’s better than drugs. The fact that I had that feeling with the same eight or nine guys—that’s special. The fact that this guy [points to Yoni] blows my mind regularly. He’s one of my favorite artists.

We have pure respect for one another.
Why?: I got blown once for being Dose’s boy by this one girl.
Odd Nosdam: We got to open for Mad Professor in Tel Aviv [Israel]. That was cool.
Doseone: Yoni made out with a girl with a serious sore.
Why?: I did not make out with her. I swear.
Doseone: That was intense. I was hanging with the guys who ran that show and smoking weed with them. They all started talking about all the people they knew who died.

Do you listen to one another’s music still?
Odd Nosdam: We go to one another’s shows.
Doseone: I had Yoni over the past few years, and I’ll play him stuff that’s almost finished, get his feedback.
Odd Nosdam: We also have so much distance from one another that I’ll get a finished copy of [Why?’s 2008 album] Alopecia, and I’ll listen to it, and it’s exciting.
Doseone: That’s how it used to be—get records and dive in.