The Maryland based musician describes his sound as “Black psychedelic beat music.”
And we back…
Maryland-based producer, musician and beat maker Saharas Greenery released his new album this week, Science of the Formless Self, an expansive, yet meditative collection of instrumental hip hop, on Sunday Dinner Records. The album imagines vast soundscapes that invite the listener into their warm embrace, with percolating synthesizers and disembodied voices drifting in and out of the mix. (If you listen closely, you will hear snippets of British philosopher Alan Watts, a Saharas favorite.)
Saharas, who under the artist moniker Apex produced the Stacy Epps’ album The Awakening, as well as his own music and that of other established artists, reinvented himself and adopted a new persona for this phase of his career. He released his first full-length as Saharas Greenery, Let’s Go Outside and Make Tomorrow Things, in 2019.
Saharas Greenery joins today’s Behind The Boards to talk shop, discuss that time he found 800 abandoned vinyl records in an alley in Washington, D.C. and to name his favorite Maryland artists.
This interview has been lightly edited for publication.
Backseat Mafia: What inspired you to create music? What inspires you every day?
Saharas Greenery: I’ve always been attracted to all types of music, but I caught the bug for hip hop music as a child, and have been in love and obsessed with the sound of samples and beats ever since. On a human level, the inspiration comes outta thin air, can’t really describe it. In life in general, I get a lot of inspiration from watching my kids grow. But the way beats hit me, it comes down to sounds. I hear certain sounds and my creative faculties are triggered. I can enter a whole world in my mind where I can manipulate that sound and add other sounds to it, and it becomes this journey to complete songs to reach a certain euphoria. I am inspired by the process of creation more than anything else, and then when I share the music with others and it hits them and they experience some joy or satisfaction, it really keeps me inspired to keep creating.
BSM: If someone asked you to describe the Saharas Greenery sound in one sentence, what would you say?
SG: Black psychedelic beat music.
BSM: Where is your favorite place to create music?
SG: I enjoy making music anywhere, and have fond memories collaborating with others while touring. But my studio is my favorite place to create. Everything is setup the way I like it. For me its more about being rested and in the right mind frame to create. The mind has to be clear and the body needs to be energized. If those two things happen, the juices will flow anywhere.
BSM: Are you a vinyl crate digger? If you are, do you have a favorite place to dig? A shout out to your favorite record store?
SG: Yes, I’ve been digging for records for 25 years. I came up in vinyl culture, where vinyl is synonymous with hip hop. I never felt like a hip hop artist until I got my first set of turntables and crate of wax. I was writing raps before that, but once I got into records, it was rap. I love everything about it. When I was knee deep into my first run as a producer under the name Apex, circa 2002-2010, I would hit Joe’s Record Paradise religiously… every weekend for years. They are still around in Silver Spring, MD, but I used to hit up Joe’s when they had a spot in Rockville, MD. Almost half of my collection comes from Joe’s, and I probably got over 5000 records. Shoutout to Joe’s, the real DC/MD heads know.. I also used to hit A1 and Sound Library in NYC whenever I could get out there.
BSM: Greatest find?
SG: It’s hard to say what my biggest find was, but my favorite records to find are Black Jazz Records (the label). I found a batch of 4 or 5 Black Jazz records at a flea market in New Jersey one time, and got them all for $5. Another find that I gotta mention is someone piled up about 800 records in the garbage in a back alley in Northeast DC, this was around 2005; me and my people just happened to be riding through, and we snatched up all 800 records. I’ll never forget that. Some of those records I sampled for some of my production on Stacy Epps’s The Awakening album. Recently though, I gotta admit I dig less at the stores and more online. I definitely don’t have a problem sampling any sound source…mp3’s, field recordings, whatever… if it makes sound and I catch a vibe from it, I’ll sample it.
BSM: What is your preferred music production software/program? Do you use live instrumentation? What instruments do you play/use?
SG: Right now, my main production tool is Ableton Live. I just really like it and the workflow works well for my brain. But I’ve used so many different types of gear over the years… I rocked an Akai MPC60 for a long time.. I also use a Boss-SP303 and SP404 for effects and such. I play instruments, too. I play synths on a lot of my records, usually for bass lines or to add textures and sounds.
BSM: Is your music sample based? Where do you dig for samples?
SG: My music is definitely sample based and I look for sounds anywhere and everywhere. I sample a lot of jazz, but I’ve spent a lot of time digging into psychedelic, prog rock, old school electro type stuff, Moog music, or really any style…I sampled Soul music heavy from 98-2003, but I haven’t really touched it since then, since everybody samples it so heavy. Some of the homies been inspiring me to sample more R&B, though.
BSM: What is your favorite piece of audio gear or instrument and why?
SG: A sampling drum machine is my favorite machine. I came up on the Akai MPC, and it will always be my favorite. It is the bedrock of hip hop beats, and if drum machines like the MPC, E-mu SP1200, and Esoniq ASR10 never existed, I am not sure we’d even have hip hop music as we know it today.
BSM: What album or track are you most proud of, or is most significant to you, and why?
SG: This is a tough question…might have to give you two answers. The beat I did (as Apex) for Stacy Epps’s Floatin is probably the beat I am most proud of. It really was magical creating that song, and it touched so many people. But as Saharas Greenery, the most significant work I did is my album Let’s Go Outside and Make Tomorrow Things. It represents so much that is personal to me. It’s my comeback album…the moment I stood up to my own self-doubt and released music after taking 8 years off and starting over with a new name. When I was producing under Apex, I got to work with so many established artists and toured other countries. But when I made my comeback, I didn’t want to fall back on any of that…What would it be like to have a name that nobody knows…no clout…no affiliations? To put out Let’s Go Outside and Make Tomorrow Things and have people who knew nothing about my past really love it and respond to it, meant the world to me. That album really put SG on the map in the beat scene, and setup the foundation for the projects I have been doing since then.
BSM: Favorite artist or artist who you admire in any medium?
SG: Crazy hard question cuz there are so many! I can name dozens. But if I had to pick one artist who I admire the most it would have to be Madlib. Madlib is the one because he’s an introvert like me, and was able to create a musical universe and have people love it, just by him being him. For me this is a really important thing…for the music to be evaluated by the music… not the image or something else. The music by itself. Madlib is beloved and its definitely not cuz of any marketing schemes or image…he’s just that good.. so much inspiration.
BSM: Favorite music for driving, relaxing or chilling?
SG: For relaxing, jazz music hands down. The right jazz song puts me in another world. For driving though, I prefer to listen to beats…past or present, don’t matter. It’s definitely hip hop in the whip.
BSM: Favorite Maryland artist?
SG: Billie Holiday and Gary Bartz are the first that come to mind…in terms of hip hop, I’d say Kev Brown, Oddisee, Asheru and yU…and more recently on the beat scene I really like Tek.Lun and Eu-IV from Baltimore, young legends right there.
BSM: Your newest album is Science Of The Formless Self. What is the significance of the album’s title?
SG: The album is basically an examination of the self, for better or worse. The highs…the lows…the confidence…the doubt…the whole thing that makes being human both beautiful and incredibly difficult. The album title is just another way of summarizing the human experience. A daily quest for mental freedom, and the ups and downs of that journey.
BSM: Can you take one track from Science and walk us through the process for creating the song?
SG: We can look at the song called “Eye Pt. 2”. First thing is, that the song is a sequel to a song I did called “Eye” which is on the first SG album Let’s Go Outside and Make Tomorrow Things. So Eye Pt. 2 kinda picks up where that one left off.
Musically, the main samples are these echoing vocal samples. The sample comes from this Brazilian jazz fusion record that is kinda uptempo and funky…lots of percussion in the original sample. I was trying to work with it to include the timing and percussion of the original sample, but it wasn’t working. So I filtered and eq’d to isolate the vocal parts and added delay to give it that encompassing feel. So you hear these vocal stabs and then they echo around the stereo field. Once I had that going, all the filtering left space in the low frequencies, so that’s when I added that sub bass line to bring it all together. I added some synth lines to give it some melodic elements on top of that. You’ll notice the song switches and transitions to whole other beat. That’s because I felt that main loop needed a break after a little while. The second beat was a raw beat I had been working on, but it felt good combining the two.
Conceptually, the song is about the ego and its role in understanding of who we are. I sampled Alan Watts, who I am very fond of, and added some of his musings on the psychology of the ego. If you go listen to “Eye,” you’ll see how “Eye pt. 2” connects to it. These are ideas I think about a lot, in hopes of better understanding myself as a person. I want to keep making more versions of “Eye,” because there is so much ground to cover on the topic. So I plan to do a part 3 down the line. “Eye Pt. 2” fit in perfectly with this album, and you should check out the video we released too, some trippy psychoanalysis type things.
BSM: Name an artist you would like to collaborate with.
SG: Elzhi is one artist that I have always wanted to produce for. I don’t really produce for emcees often anymore, but if the opportunity came up, I would work with him in a heartbeat. He’s perfected the art of rhyming in my opinion.
BSM: Upcoming projects? Collaborations? Shout outs?
SG: Shoutout to Dom at Sunday Dinner Records for believing in me and partnering up with me to make this record happen. It wouldn’t have happened without him. I got many SG releases planned, but be on the lookout for a special project I have been working on called NOTHINGISGREEN, which is a collab project with the homie NOTHINGISREAL. He’s a monster on the beats and he really inspires me, so shoutout to him and you’ll see the NOTHINGISGREEN project very soon, hopefully before 2020 is over. Also shout out to the beat scene and all the homies who been showing love and supporting. I could list dozens of talented beat makers that inspire me, its too crazy. Much luv to all the creators out there…
And we outta here…peace…peace…peace…
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