I caughtup with California-based blogger/writer/youth worker Andres Reyes (aka sweeney kovar) ahead of the Beats Of Mind weekend during Queen’s Festival, Belfast.
Andres was also kind enough to share a recent 45 min mixtape featuring a reflective music industry intro from Quelle Chris and plenty rap and beat exclusives.
Remind me where the name sweeney kovar comes from?
I used to say there’s really no story behind the name but I guess it does have one of sorts at this point. I was 14 visiting my brother during his first year of University in San Diego, CA. I drove down with some of his friends and on one of the first nights we spent down there, we went to a billiards hall that was next door to a 24-hour thrift shop.
After losing several games of pool, I wandered into the shop and found a very particular shirt that piqued my interest. It was a red t-shirt made into a baseball or softball jersey, screen-printed with thick white lettering. The name on the jersey read SWEENEY KOVAR and the number was 25 and it was retailing for $1. I thought it was odd so I bought it. A few months later, I started wearing it to wrestling practice after school and some of my friends there just started calling me by that name.
“The name on the jersey read SWEENEY KOVAR and the number was 25 and it was retailing for $1. I thought it was odd so I bought it.”
Then when it came time to make screen names for AOL chat or whatever bullshit I was on back then, I just started using that name.
Fast forward a few years later, I’m in college studying abroad in Spain and about to start a blog talking about rap, I can’t think of a url so I just decided to go with what I was familiar with. That turned into people like Blu, Danny Brown, Ras G and Jay Elect referring to me as sweeney.
The blog -Classic Drug References- was that your first connection with the music world? Was it initially focused mainly on rap?
Well, how that began was basically out of boredom. My scholastic responsibilities in Spain were much more relaxed than I was used to and that had the deleterious effect of just making me pretty much not go to class at all. This was also the first extended period of time since I was 16 that I didn’t have a job, so I had a ton of time to loaf, think and listen to (mainly) rap music.
My older brother, who was living in Spain with his girl at the time, was out of college and trying to get his film projects off the ground. He had a pretty regular discipline of watching movies and often writing his thoughts out about them to refine his own understanding. He kept encouraging that I do the same with music. I blew him off for a few months until I finally gave in.
Initially it was just a place for me to talk about the music I loved and was listening to, with no expectations. I’d post some shitty pictures I took during a trip to Amsterdam and link up some Raekwon freestyle I was obsessing over or talk about why I thought Pharcyde’s Labcabincalifornia was their best album. Then I started doing interviews and it grew a little from there.
(Andres’ current reviews/features on indieshuffle- http://www.indieshuffle.com/author/areyes/)
Your brother Rodrigo recently made a documentary Purgatario, could you tell me more about that project?
Purgatorio is a film my brother has been working on for the last couple of years. the passion he has for film is similar to the one I have for music. this film is a documentary in that it uses documentary footage but it’s a bit distinct from most documentaries. It’s not out to tell a linear story or profile someone or try and tell some factual truth. The film takes documentary footage from a couple of trips to the US-Mexico border my brother Rodrigo took and uses that to re-imagine the border as a sort of purgatory, a place where people are in limbo, almost another world. right this minute he is in New York at an Independent Filmmaker Project lab learning more about the process of really getting a film like this out there to festivals and all that good stuff.
“Outside of guys like Flying Lotus and a few others, video, or film rather, and music aren’t really being explored as creatively as they could be.”
We used to fight a ton when we were younger, he was always the more level-headed and practical one while I, of course, was more rambunctious and volatile. we’ve cooled off a bit since we got into our 20′s and now that he’s starting to lose his hair we have a pretty good relationship. i’m obviously really biased because we came from the same womb, but I’m pretty proud of what he’s accomplished. he’s an inspiration really. he’s spent pretty much the majority of his time and money for the past seven years to create film works on his own terms, often in isolation. I feel very much blessed in the full sense of the word to be able to have connected with a rather large musical community so early on. he hasn’t had that, he’s had to really trust himself and rely on his own volition to see some difficult projects through and I take considerable inspiration from that. We’re beginning to talk about ways we can maybe combine our two worlds on a project in the future. Outside of guys like Flying Lotus and a few others, video, or film rather, and music aren’t really being explored as creatively as they could be.
You wrote for Shook magazine, did that fold? It’s a real shame if so as it was a great magazine.
SHOOK is not currently in print. it kinda sucks as it was definitely a great music rag. I defenitely got compliments on it during my time with them. that was something that happened very naturally. Jez Smadja, the editor, randomly asked me to write a blurb about Jay Elect back in the day since I was the first blog to post a number of his older tracks. I did that and we started talking about music and so on. I was talking to him about the LA cats like Sam, Ras and of course Lotus, this was in 2006/2007 mind you.
Jez shared the enthusiasm I had for that music and from there I just came on board. I got a chance to write some cool pieces and help out with some other ones. I profiled some cats who don’t get talked about much but are pretty awesome in my eyes like DJ Sake One from the Bay area, Rashad “Tumblin’ Dice” Smith and I edited a piece LC Webber did on House Shoes that I thought was pretty awesome.
I haven’t really written for any other print since, expect maybe a few things in Vapors mag but they’ve folded too I think. I’m not very good at courting print outlets apparently.
Haha, that’s some bad luck…Any aspirations to contribute to further publications?
Well, yes but no…I’d definitely like to have more things in print but not just for the sake of seeing words I thought in print. I’d like to be involved with creative stuff that’s not run of the mill, that puzzles people and stretches our understanding of what something creative can be.
“I’d like to be involved with creative stuff that’s not run of the mill, that puzzles people and stretches our understanding of what something creative can be”
Like the Bilal interview video I did with Coleman from Mochilla for Plug Research a few years ago. That was really fun and something I think had a different feeling and aesthetic than most video interviews. I also did a few short clips with my older brother, basically using his outsiders perspective (he doesn’t know 90% of the music I listen to) to make these short video clips of people like Ras_G, Danny Brown, Samiyam and Invincible, almost reintroducing them. I have a few ideas for a few other things that are in the works and hopefully I can share them soon.
A question about online music writing…If you would consider yourself to be in a particular musical field who would you see as your peers?
Damn…I don’t really see myself as a “critic” or “journalist” really; I don’t feel like I come from that angle. I don’t like to talk about things I don’t like and I’ve often become friends with some people that make some of my favourite music so the objectivity of a traditional journalist is lost.
I don’t even really see people as peers, really. If someone has a solid sense of writing and good taste they usually jet pass me in my eyes. I look up to people like Dream Hampton, Noz and Chairman Mao. But I see anything I might write as more chronicling my own experiences with music than anything.
That’s still a relevant form of documentation though…You definitely appear to have a gift for hearing things that catch on, like say House Shoes’ beats or Jay Electronica before he’d released anything. That must come from a strong appetite for something different, would you say?
And luck, haha…but you’re right though. As far back as I can remember I’ve definitely been the one out of my group of friends that would take the leisurely activity of music way serious.
I remember when Napster came out as a huge watershed moment in my life, I could finally look up all these songs and artists these magazines were talking about and that just really sent me down the rabbit hole. I feel it’s similar but not exactly the same as the peculiar addiction people get with buying and collecting records. I’ve always felt that music is something very potent, something that can transcend. I’ve felt like that since I was a kid in Mexico listening to Bronco and Los Temerarios on cassette and I feel like that now.
“I’ve always felt that music is something very potent, something that can transcend. I’ve felt like that since I was a kid in Mexico listening to Bronco and Los Temerarios on cassette and I feel like that now.”
The things that stick out to me are not necessarily fenced in by genre, though I do have certain musical aesthetics that I prefer. The things that stick with me are sounds that have some kind of weight to them. Obviously that’s always informed by what and where I am at the time, how I process what I hear and all that jazz.
Interesting you broughtup the digital equivalents of record collecting, hadn’t really heard that connection made in that way before. Would you say your own obsessions helped you connect with artists you have become friends with who are steeped in such a record culture still? Who have become your really close friends through music?
Yeah, I definitely think that had something integral to do with connecting with people like House Shoes, Samiyam, Ras G and others. We still have to get along as human beings though, so I don’t think it’s *just* because of that.
It’s shorthand of sorts. It’s a way of knowing that another individual is on your wavelength or a similar one without having to have a crazy life conversation. If I can put on a Dakim record and someone else in the room likes it, I’m probably not gonna feel too shy about striking up a conversation with them.
You’ve often reviewed Knxwledge’s releases and I know you’ve known him a while…to me he stands out in this current generation of producers, could you mention what resonates with you in his music as you often return to it?
Man, Knxwledge, I expect great things from that guy. I’ve actually known him just about as long as I’ve known anyone in music, except maybe House Shoes and Jay Electronica. I remember when he was still in Jersey, with dreads, on a Sidekick, making beats on fruity loops and sending me joints while he was working the graveyeard shift at some shitty job. He’s maybe a year or so younger than me but I really feel a kinship with that guy. I’ve been lucky enough to hear his music grow from 6 years ago to now and it has been amazing. I still don’t think he’s reached his peak. His ear is crazy, the way he chops up a sample is always to the benefit of the beat and never trying to do mechanical acrobatics for the sake of doing them.
“His ear is crazy, the way he chops up a sample is always to the benefit of the beat and never trying to do mechanical acrobatics for the sake of doing them.”
I think he has traces of that Madlib/Dilla intangible magic in him, but in his own way. His discipline and dedication is inspiring too. I’ve never spent a day with him without him working on music in some way or another. He’s also intent on blazing his own trail career-wise, which I also think is very wise and admirable. He’s not just taking any offer from any label to press up some CD’s of his and run with it, he’s in it for the long haul. I see him continuing to produce his own projects as well as working with vocalists, from MC’s to singers.
But I think this is really just him warming up, I think he’s just really found his lane in the last couple of years…
You definitely have an ear for new rap music that keeps me excited about hearing new people. Blu, Danny Brown, Jay Electronica and all are fairly accross the board stylistically too. Is there anyone else you’ve been listening to lately that could standup to that list of MCs you’ve spent time with and interviewed?
Yes. Ka from Brownsville, Brooklyn is definitely one of my favorite MC’s at this particular moment. The care and feeling and intricacy and thought he puts into pretty much every line he writes is refreshing. Also the fact that he’s not 21 is awesome. Rap should not be some fucking beauty pageant you age out of at 40, this should be the blues where people age gracefully. Roc Marciano fits right along with that, though I prefer Ka’s more introspective style.
“Rap should not be some fucking beauty pageant you age out of at 40, this should be the blues where people age gracefully.”
Sean Price doesn’t disappoint. Like Ras G once told me, he raps like he’s punching you in the face. I actually really like Alchemist when he raps. He killed his verse on the House Shoes album. Jeremiah Jae is someone I’m barely getting up to speed on. He reminds me of freestyle fellowship, Blu and MF Doom. Sene from Brooklyn is another one I’m really digging. Zeroh is fucking from another planet when he rhymes. And just in general, too.
The MC landscape looked kind of bleak a few years ago, I felt like I could count on one hand how many rappers where making music that mattered but I feel there’s been a bit of a resurgence as of late. Now I might have to use my toes to count ‘em all.