Getting Groovy with Louis Vaughn
Interview by LaChelle Chyrsanne
In today’s world where the masses consume music solely to be entertained instead of viewing it as an art form to connect to, how does an artist maintain integrity in their work while still holding the attention of fickle listener’s with short attention spans? Louis Vaughn may have an answer.
Fresh off the release of his mixtape groovy, baby, Louis Vaughn chats with us about his creative process (which includes making beats on his iPhone), how he stays true to his sound, his influences and his trajectory as not just another rapper but a well-rounded musician.
UC: During the process of recording Groovy, Baby you traveled a lot. You were in the states, in L.A. and New York and you were also in Europe specifically Germany and Sweden.. How did moving around in different countries affect the creative process?
LV: I’d say moving around so much affected the creative process simply because I’m a person even if I wasn’t making music I wouldn’t be able to stay in one place for too long anyways. I like to be in motion even when I write. Most of the stuff that I produce off my phone is usually when I’m on the train. If I’m going from Brooklyn to Manhattan moving from one borough to another, I see different things that inspire me in different ways. When I go out to Europe and I get on the train out there and travel through different countries, I’m inspired in different ways as well. I do make certain references in my music [to traveling]. The last song that I recorded for the project is “Ceiling Fans”, I made lines like mentioning overseas.
Everything with the project was pretty wrapped up before I went to Europe. I really only went to Europe to settle my nerves to have the courage to release the project. It was done before I left. I think you find confidence when you travel to a different place. When you perform a song that you did in your bedroom in upstate New York or in The Valley and you realize that those people gravitate towards your music it definitely gives you that confidence to release music more than creating it -- because creating it was always usually very easy for me.
UC: You mentioned making music in your phone and in your video for “Voice Memo”, you’re making beats on your phone. Can you tell me a little bit more about that and your whole process with production, specifically producing while you’re on the move.
LV: I don’t like writing in the studio. I’ve done some songs that way but I write with anything that involves being in motion. I write when I’m skateboarding, I write while I’m walking through the park, I write on the airplane. I wrote “Turbulence” on the airplane. I always write in motion. It’s kind of the same thing with my beatmaking process. I used to have all of this equipment. I used to have an AKAI Max 49, I would hook it up to my speakers and I would have this piano and drum machine and all that. I spent thousands of dollars building a little studio in the basement and once I had it all set up I realized I was much more comfortable still working just on an iPhone. I have tons of different apps that I use to integrate different scratches. I’m really comfortable making all my beats on my phone. Half the time people don’t know the difference. Sometimes I want them to, sometimes I don’t.
UC: With groovy, baby you started off with having a ton of tracks that you eventually scaled down. How do you go about fitting your songs into the concept of your project? And how would you describe the overall concept of the project?
LV: It’s very sensitive, it’s not easy. It’s a lot of listening. I listen to that album a lot. If anybody thinks they listen to it a lot, I listen to it probably a thousands times more. It started off with the core songs “Coffee” and “All The Way Funky” which I didn’t even put on the tape.
UC: I don’t appreciate you not putting it on the tape by the way!
LV: [laughs] I’m sorry but I figure it’d be a nice 1,2 punch by releasing it now -- especially now that it could be isolated. That’s the song that kicked off groovy, baby -- that track and “Movie”. So “All The Way Funky” “Coffee” and “Movie” were the first songs that I had. When it comes to formulating it, I really don’t want to give away too much of how it conspires. As long as you like the final product just know that it’s tough and it’s not easy and it takes a long time and it a lot of editing, re-editing and remixing. I mix and record all of my own stuff. It’s me, it’s my brain within 10 tracks. I would just encourage everybody if they feel like “oh, well I don’t have a mixing engineer” or “I don’t have producers” you get yourself on a record and that’s all you need. That and individuality.
UC: Since you are so hands on with every aspect of your music how important is it to receive creative input when you’re doing so much of the work on your own? Do you feel the need to pick and choose when it’s important to gather opinions and when it’s not?
LV: Yea, there’s always a time. I don’t think there’s ever enough input. I don’t think there’s too much or not enough. As Erykah said, we’re all sensitive about our shit. I take everything in. If anybody thinks I’m not listening to them, they’re completely wrong. I might automatically disagree but I’m going to listen to you just so I know from your perspective how you feel on it. I don’t feel like anyone should ever be afraid to share with me how they feel as far as input. I have my people that I trust around me. Late in the project I got some mixing and recording by Mike Irish of Shifted Recording in Brooklyn. I admire him. I’m a fan of the people I get to get their opinions from. I’m a fan of your music. I asked you and sent it to you. Literally asking like “Elle, from your standpoint. You’re a dope ass DJ. I’ve seen you mix. How would you take this?”. And from that, some things I changed around and some things I didn’t but just hearing your advice, was able to help put things in perspective. I feel like I’m a good curator, I think I sleep on myself. I have to stop doing that more than anything. More than seeking external advice I need to start believing in myself a bit more.
UC: Yes. When I first met you I asked if you were an artist and you were like “uhhhhh, I don’t really know” and then I heard you spit some bars and was like “YO WHAT THE FUCK.” You actually are a really good MC and overall artist and musician because it’s not just about spitting bars and being a lyricist. It’s also about your ability to convey certain emotions. Your work has a lot of really good imagery in it. There’s certain songs where I feel like I can see the song. Scaling back, how did you come to deciding to pursue music? When was the start of doing this for you?
LV: Honestly, I can’t remember when I didn’t want to make music. I grew up hearing people say “well I’m still seeking my passion” and even hearing people in their mid-late 20s and mid 30s saying “well I’m going to college and I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do”. I just always thank God, I never knew what that felt like. I know that’s a rarity to know. I was always working on my album, I was always working on my mixtape. I was always working on a song. I was 5, 6 years old with notebooks already full. When Little Romeo and Like Mike was coming out, I felt like that was my competition at the time. I guess you could say I took it more seriously at some point but I don’t know what that point is. I’ve always aspired to be in the history books as far as hip hop goes.
UC: In terms of your approach to pursuing music, how do you feel about being a signed artist vs an indie artist? What lane do you see yourself carving out?
LV: Right now, I feel honored that I don’t have this crazy buzz or anything but I know if I post something I can simply interact with a good amount of people. That’s why the internet is so great because I’d have to set up a show or get on someone’s bill to interact with so many people in a night. I want to prove to myself that my own hustle, my own grind with no machine behind me can successfully issue out a project and follow up with music videos and content. I don’t necessarily want anyone to get involved right now. If I did come into communication with some opportunities, I’d even let them know that. I’m not opposed to majors or anything. I’m not one of those hard headed independent ass rappers. I’m trying to eat. I understand business. I know how it works when everyone’s getting money. And I do a lot of things on my own so if I were to have that ecosystem of resources, I’d just want to create. I’m not greedy. When I die, what I want to be admired about me is that my net worth is my discography. Whatever it takes to do that, I’m with it.
UC: A large part of that is creating music that your listeners can connect to. This project, as you mentioned is very sensitive and it’s also very personal. You touched a lot on your past and the things that have shaped you. Do you see that being a theme in your music? Or do you see it as a one off, one of those projects you had to introduce people to who you are and maybe the next project will be something completely different content-wise?
LV: No, I don’t see it as a one off. I think that’s who I am as an artist. I think that’s who I’ll always be. I want to keep it like that. I don’t mind. All my favorite artists growing up, whether they’re rappers or singers, they took the responsibility to be very personal with me to inspire me to connect with them so I only want to do the same for the next generation or else I’ll feel like I took out of the pot and didn’t put back in it.
UC: Who are some artists or what are some projects that changed the way you listened to music?
LV: Well one of the first ones was Jackson 5’s Ultimate Collection. That was like, top to bottom from “Looking Through The Window” to “I Want You Back” just made me feel like at a young age that I wanted to create. Quincy Jones is who made me want to produce. He’s who made me feel like there were actual layers in a song. I would listen to songs on Off The Wall or Thriller and be able to hear he has a horn, guitar, sax and a drum and none of it was computer programming, it was all live music. I was 11 or 12 years old starting to hear things pan to the left side or the right side. Moving forward, it was a lot of Common and Lupe. If you listened to Lupe and felt like you didn’t need to step your game up as far as wordplay, we couldn’t be friends. And of course the top dogs in hip hop, Jay-Z, Kanye, I was a big Wayne fan. The first album I ever bought was Hip Hop is Dead. The first album I asked my mom for was Mos Def’s The New Danger. I grew up on all that stuff and I feel like it died out too early. I try to keep that same vein even if it means not blowing up overnight. I wanna bring that vibe back.
UC: I can tell. It’s funny you mention Quincy as one of your biggest influences because I can definitely hear that in your music in terms of how layered and soulful it is. To me, a lot of your music is music that will hold up in 10 years, you can play it a decade from now and it will still sound good. It won’t sound dated or like “that was the trend back in 2017”. Being a hip hop artist today, we don’t see too many of you being in that space and honing in on such a soulful sound. We saw Kendrick do it a little bit with To Pimp a Butterfly but it’s still a rarity. Do you ever feel like it’s important to incorporate modern sounds with your own sound?
LV: I’m with incorporating the modern sounds. All my friends always tell me “bro, if you made a trap song it’d be the hardest trap song ever” and I’m like “I know” [laughs] and I’m sure I’ll do one in due time. “Welcome, To The End” kind of rides that vein. I would like to branch out but there’s so many people doing it. Even the people we would bank on to drop something soulful will drop something that’s not soulful. I can’t tell you when, I can’t tell you how. I know I have the ability to do it. I know I’ve played around with it. I wouldn’t even be a rapper if I wasn’t good at rapping. I really wanna be a singer [laughs]
UC: If you could have a conversation with Louis Vaughn when you started this project. What would you tell him?
LV: I wouldn’t have told him anything. I would have just sat back and watched him. I did a lot of things right and a lot of things wrong but I wouldn’t have given him any advice. I was in prayer a lot so I was already talking to myself everyday. I think when you do that, that is like you talking to yourself 5 years from now. I also watch a lot of documentaries on my favorite artists. Jay-Z didn’t pop till he was 27. Kid Cudi was sleeping in the Bape Store at 25. Those were some of the things I was telling myself at 20, 21 years old. Don’t feel like “Oh I’m admiring Wiz Khalifa who’s coming up at 19. Cole is coming up at 20. Drizzy is coming up at this age. I was constantly talking to myself as if it were 5 years later. The ones that get in the game later tend to have longevity because they have to show and prove.
You can find Louis on social media at @louisvaughn Check out his curated playlist and latest visual below:
This all wouldn’t have been possible without Mike Irish who helped me record the last tracks.
All The Way Funky was the song that helped me put it all in perspective and that as produced by my cousin RC Wells who also produced God’s Mercy and he co-produced “Movie” with me, that’s my right hand man.
Nick Brush who shot my music video and gave me my first microphone, I have a nice brotherhood.
If I forgot anyone, they know who they are but particularly those people and anyone who worked on the project with me -- thank you.