Droppin’ Knowledge: Behind The Boards With Santa Cruz Sound Czar Eddou XL

And we back…and we back…nah, nah, nah…

Santa Cruz sound czar Eddou XL joins today’s version of Behind The Boards.

The California-based producer, beat maker and instrumental hip hop creator often finds inspiration in the sounds around him, both in the natural world, and in the work of other artists he admires. He frequently uses jazz tracks as a jumping off point for his art and jazz also stimulates his flips and the overall tone of many of his aural mosaics. Eddou has released a number of albums under the Eddou XL moniker, including the stand-outs 2019’s No Mistakes in Jazz and 2021’s Refreshments, which in part pays tribute to hip hop music icons Nipsey Hussle and MF DOOM.

Eddou adroitly blends together disparate samples to create songs which are consistently greater than the sum of their parts. He grabs snippets from conversations, advertisements, jazz tracks and other hip hop artists, but he also employs found sounds, from nature, YouTube, and obscure vinyl records. In Eddou’s world, all sounds can be repurposed to create something aesthetically new; in Refreshments, Eddou’s daughter helped him compile home recordings to include as samples on the album. The sounds are complex, familiar and exotic at the same time, with touches of nostalgia, such as some of the advertising clips that Eddou uses to great effect on Refreshments.

Eddou’s latest project is SP Gillespie, a pains-taking and loving tribute to jazz icon Dizzy Gillespie. Eddou started his work by listening to a 1972 television interview with the innovative trumpeter and band leader. In that thirty minute conversation, Gillespie discusses a wide range of topics, and dispenses wisdom with wit, humor and warmth. Gillespie is a clever and engaging raconteur, which makes the interview fertile ground from which to poach compelling comments and observations. Many of the splashes of conversation reflect Gillespie’s take on art and the world around him, and are often rooted in the tenets of his adopted Baháʼí Faith.

Eddou combed through the transcript and deliberately selected particular samples of dialogue which resonated with him. He then chopped up his favorite Diz-isms from the interview and included the samples in SP Gillespie. Eddou used these snippets to match the vibe or larger point he wanted to convey in the music. The conversational cuts form the foundation for each track, and, from there, Eddou built the record outward. Gillespie’s musings mesh with snapping drums and high-hats, and his looped vocals are mixed over bright keyboard washes and punchy orchestration. SP Gillespie is a concept album, unique in its theme and design, and beautiful in its execution, making it one of the best beat tapes released this year. And, Eddou also created the cover art for the album.

SP Gillespie radiates optimism and love, just like the man who inspired its creation.

SP Gillespie by Eddou XL

As Dizzy might say, rhythm (and sound) is Eddou’s business and you can listen to his music “all night long.” And, you can listen during the day, too.

This interview has been lightly edited for publication.

What inspired you to create music? What inspires you everyday to create?

I always loved music growing up but I wasn’t around people who made music. So it was just something that I appreciated and admired from the outside looking in — without even considering that there was a way in. It’s weird. But hip-hop culture changed all that for me. I started writing graffiti when I was 14 or 15 and then I started rhyming a little later, which put me much closer to the music. Gradually, I saw people making beats and that’s when it actually clicked that this was something I could do. I was just inspired to be a part of the culture and make my contribution to it. I think, even now, the inspiration is largely the same. But on the daily, I get inspired from everywhere. From hearing something on a record, from taking walks with my wife and daughter, from hearing the crows clicking out a rhythm in the Monterey Cypress in front of our house. I think just being a part of this world is so inspiring.

 If someone asked you to describe the “Eddou XL sound” in one sentence, what would you say?

I would say it’s a sound that is felt as much as it is heard. If it doesn’t speak to me, it doesn’t get made. And I think that comes through in the music in some way. That’s my sound. Some people specialize in making stuff that just sounds cool, and I think that’s dope, but I don’t work that way. I can’t work that way — it’s got to be a feeling, something that grabs you. Or grabs me and then grabs you! My sound is bringing that to life.

How did you come up with your artist name?

I started going by Eddou XL in 2015. My name is Edeeq, but when I was younger my parents would call me Eddou as a nickname. And at that time I was working on the 2000XL, so I just combined the two into Eddou XL. It had a ring to it, so I just went with it. Names come to me all the time and they’re usually much doper than the one I actually use! I’ve got plans to flip them for different projects though. Actually, my latest release (SP Gillespie) came about from an alias I thought of!

Where is your favorite place to create music?

My favorite place to create is at home, usually at the kitchen counter — where there [are] other things going on that can influence or shape the mood. Maybe my wife is on the couch reading and our daughter is dancing around the house. I can just put my headphones on and slip into this other world while still being a part of this world. I don’t like being shut away in a room somewhere. That ain’t it for me.

What is the one non-musical item you must have with you when you are creating?

I like the idea of having coffee while I’m creating but whenever I try to do it, I get so into the work that I don’t even drink it! I think I work better with the motivation of taking a coffee break than I do trying to enjoy coffee as I’m working! I keep it simple; a short stack of records and an open mind — that’s all I need.

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 in Santa Cruz?

I’m a dedicated crate digger, so for me, chopping sounds from vinyl is the way. I might incorporate audio clips from YouTube (or other online sources) into my work but the musical elements are always chopped from vinyl. Unless I’m creating original music and playing things on my own of course — but that’s not my usual bag. Digging feels like such a distant memory as we finally start to come out of this pandemic. But I’m so excited to start hitting the crates again. We don’t have a ton of spots here in Santa Cruz, but I love making quick stops at Streetlight and Meta Vinyl. My favorite digging here in town though is at the monthly Antique Fair downtown. There’s always records and you never know what might turn up. In the Bay Area though, I love Needle to the Groove in San Jose (and Niles), Econojam in Oakland, Groove Merchant in San Francisco, and On the Corner in Campbell. Those shops are run by my homies but I also dig at Rasputin and Amoeba as well. RIP Recycled Records (San Francisco) and Big Al’s Record Barn (San Jose).

What is your preferred music production software/tool? Do you regularly use live instrumentation?

I’m not regularly using live instruments right now but I do love studying theory and composing original music. It definitely works a different part of the brain than what I typically do with sampling and beatmaking. I also studied the classical percussion of my MENA (Middle East & North Africa) roots; the darbuka, riqq, and bendir. And I have a deep connection to the traditional, folkloric music of the Middle East/Africa. I know that I’ll flex those muscles more again in future work but for now, I’m (more than) content navigating the current beat explorations I’m on with my [Boss] SP-303 and [Akai] MPC 2000XL. There’s so many directions you can go in artistically, and I think you can drive yourself crazy overthinking it and trying to plan it all out. I try to let that happen naturally and right now, I find myself on these two machines, making some dusty and *hopefully* forward-thinking hip-hop. But who knows what tomorrow holds!

What is your favorite piece of audio gear or instrument? Why?

Well, sticking to the gear I’m using now, I’d have to say the SP-303. I just feel like it’s the perfect package; small, powerful, and quick to get something going. The work flow is so intuitive and empowering to me. I’ve literally been able to dig (and create) drum sounds out of next-to-nothing by playing a record through the SP with the Isolate effect on and sampling the slightest little bump of a bass drum. If you know what your’re doing, you can do anything on this machine. I hope I don’t see SP prices going through the roof now! (Editor’s note: Boss, are you listening?)

What album or track are you most proud of, or is most significant to you? Why?

That’s an interesting question. I don’t usually think about my work in that way but No Mistakes in Jazz does come to mind. When I was finishing that project my wife had to have a hysterectomy and now that’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of NMJ. Fortuntely, everything went great with her surgery (and prognosis) and we pushed through a very real and scary time in our lives. But from that record, I’d have to say that “Timbouktou” holds a special place in my heart. I had a very spiritual and almost out of body experience when recording the 11-minute take that’s on the album. And actually, the complete take was more like 20-minutes before I edited it down! That track was really a tribute to our rich cultural history in the Middle East/Africa — to a time of greatness and oneness when all different religions, ethnicities, and language carriers came together to propel science, math, art, and our civilization into the future. That’s what the city of Timbuktu and that track represent for me.

No Mistakes in Jazz by Eddou XL
Photos courtesy of Eddou XL

Favorite artist, or artist you admire, in any medium (Writers, painters, sculptors, musicians, photographers – any artist in any medium who is meaningful to you) ? Or who helps you creatively? Or, was there another artist who inspired/guided/lifted your spirit while you created your new album?

Yes, without a doubt; Dizzy Gillespie! I finished SP Gillespie pretty quick and I attribute that to the inspiration I got from Diz’s words. I made this project in two phases; the first phase was recording live takes of each beat with all of the real-time effects (from the SP-404), and the second phase was identifying and chopping Diz’s parts and incorporating them into the tracks. The first phase felt a little arduous but once I got to layering Diz’s wise and heartfelt words, it just lifted my spirits and put the battery in my back! I really felt like he was on this journey with me and breathing life into the project through his words. It was truly a beautiful and unexpected experience.

Favorite music to listen to when driving, relaxing or chilling? Why?

This is gonna sound weird, but I really don’t listen to a lot of music on my own. At least not when I’m actively working on projects. It just affects my own process too much so I try not to do it. I do, however, take quick listens to almost everything that my peers put out. I enjoy hearing what everyone’s doing and it helps keep me going. For the most part though, I’d say the majority of my music listening comes from digging for samples. And when I’m in the car, I’m usually listening to NPR or podcast episodes of Revisionist History and Broken Record. Lately I’ve been stuck on “Love Song” by Lani Hall though. I’ve probably listened to that at least 20 times a day this week. So maybe take what I said at the beginning with a grain of salt!

Favorite artist from Santa Cruz, or the broader area? 

I can’t speak too much on what’s happening now but I definitely celebrate the classics (from the Bay Area) like Sly and The Family Stone, The Doobie Brothers, Tower of Power, Marvin Holmes and The Uptights, Con Funk Shun, Vince Guaraldi, Aposento Alto — there’s so many though! Years back I used to shop at the same Italian market as Tiran Porter who played bass with The Doobie Brothers on most of their classics from the ’70s. It’s a weird and amazing thing to be shopping for groceries and seeing someone like Tiran Porter getting a pound of raviolis from the deli! But in the end, we’re all just people, right?

Current Santa Cruz artist you believe should have more attention?

I don’t really get out enough to have a real answer to that, so I’ll just say me. Not in a conceited way, but I put a lot of love and hard work into this culture and have for many years. I don’t take shorts and whatever I do, I do it authentically and from the heart. I think that’s worth something — especially In this day and age where you can download dusty drum packs from your favorite producer or samples that have been pre-chopped from vinyl. If it’s not me getting that attention, that’s fine — I just hope that it’s someone who’s real and knows where all this came from. And to be clear, I’m talking about hip-hop culture! Digging in the crates, chopping drums, flipping samples, and having your own style. It’s all about being original.

SP Gillespie is the title of your new album and it’s built around the wit, wisdom and sound of jazz icon Dizzy Gillespie. What is Dizzy Gillespie’s significance to you? How did you decide to create a project centered around him? Why is the album called SP Gillespie?

The project was inspired first by the title which is a nod to the SP-303 and SP-404 samplers. I liked how SP Gillespie sounded and I also liked the fact that it could be directed at Dizzy Gillespie or at myself (as an alias). It was open to interpretation and I dug that. I always admired Diz for everything he did for bop and jazz as a whole. He was one of the earliest people to incorporate percussion and Afro-Cuban rhythms (and sensibilities) into jazz. As a percussionist myself, I was always drawn to that. And all that aside, he’s just dope! And I feel like even after all that he’s done, he still doesn’t get his props! So I felt like this project was a way to shine a light on Dizzy Gillespie, both as a person and as a musician. And I tried to do it in such a way that it allowed me to shine a light on myself as well. I really focused on highlighting things that Diz said which resonated with me but also reflected my own feelings and perspective.

Throughout the album, you intersperse snippets of Dizzy’s voice, his wit and wisdom. Can you explain what recording or recordings you used and how you went about selecting the vocals used on the album?

I used an interview he did in 1972 with Jim Peck and Jon Boggs, assistant professor in the Music Department of UW-Milwaukee. The whole interview is amazing so zeroing in on specific parts was challenging and multi-layered. I tried to select pieces that spoke to myself and the beats that they were incorporated into. It was important to me that his words echoed the theme and sentiments of the tracks. I really wanted there to be a dialogue between Diz’s words and the beats they were paired with. Using interview excerpts and spoken word samples in hip-hop is nothing new and I definitely am not the first to do it, but I tried to do it in my own way.

Can you take one track from SP Gillespie and break down how you created it?

Well, the last track (Bop No. 11: Love, Part II) is a good one and it ties back into one of the Bay Area groups I mentioned earlier, Aposento Alto. One of my oldest and closest friends, Adrian Mendoza (@records_plus) was working with Ubiquity Records to re-release the group’s sought after LP, Goodbye Old Friends, and he asked me to flip something from the record. All of the sounds you hear on this beat were chopped from the Aposento Alto record and put together on the MPC3000. This beat sat on ice for the past few years but I always liked it and I thought it would work well as the last track for SP Gillespie. Once I ran it through the SP-404’s effects and recorded a live take to cassette, it really came to life and rounded out the other tracks on the project nicely. Putting together releases like this are all about context for me. It doesn’t really matter when I made something, what gear I used, or even how something sounds on its own. You can use just about anything if you use it in the right way I think.

SP Gillespie by Eddou XL

Favorite spot in Santa Cruz for…? If someone was coming to visit you who had never been to Santa Cruz, where would you tell them they had to go and why?

The Boardwalk is one of my happy places. In the wintertime, I do my morning bike rides there, when it’s quiet and you can appreciate it in its stillness. It’s fun to go when it’s crowded too, but I love seeing it in the winter when it’s opened but it doesn’t really feel like it’s opened. It feels like you’re backstage or something, getting a glimpse of how all the pieces come together — it’s dope. Honorable mention goes out to the MAH (Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History), Tannery Arts Center, Picnic Basket, Santa Cruz Boardroom, Bookshop Santa Cruz, and Cat and Cloud Coffee. It’s a small city but there’s so many independent and ethical businesses to support here. It’s definitely one of my favorite things about Santa Cruz.

Upcoming projects, collabos, releases (anything you want to plug music-wise for yourself and/or anyone else). Shout outs to any one you like.

The rest of 2021 is gonna be pretty busy. My next project is a collaborative beat tape with my man Al Scientific (@al_scientific) from San Diego. I’ve also got an EP in the works with Quintessential (@jugglingbear), an MC out of San Jose. And at the end of the year I’m doing a vinyl release with one of my favorite labels from the UK. Beyond that though, I’m chipping away at several other projects which I hope to have out in the world by early next year. So please keep rocking with me — it’s gonna be fun!

Shout out to MD and Backseat Mafia for this opportunity to nerd out. Shout out to my wife and daughter, my brother Mike at Umber Publishing (@thisisumber), and to everyone chasing that dream; keep believing in yourself and being yourself! Let’s get it!

And remember, there are no mistakes in jazz!

And we outta here…peace…peace…peace…

Independent artists need our support. Purchase SP Gillespie here and other albums by Eddou XL here.

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