Critical Questions: Theophilus London
Theophilus London makes his major-label debut this week with the sparkling pop songcraft of Timez Are Weird These Days (Reprise Records), an album with equal appeal to mainstream radio and crate-digging hipsters. But after three years' worth of DIY releases like 2009's This Charming Mixtape, the Brooklyn rapper isn't abandoning the underground just yet. As you'll see in this Critical Mob exclusive, London's current passion is newly-resurgent home-recording godfather R. Stevie Moore, a longtime idol he plans to record with at before the summer's out. You gotta respect an artist who wants to hip his fans to his own inspirations, something London also does with his cover photos, which pay homage to personal favorites like Elvis Costello's This Year's Model and R&B cult hero Leon Ware's self-titled 1982 album.
CM: How do you create? Are you constantly writing and recording or do you treat each project separately?
TL: The second. When it's time to tour, I go into tour mode, and when it's time to make an album, I like to spend all my time on that.
Did you have a particular musical concept for Timez Are Weird These Days?
Yeah, I just wanted to create 10 big pop songs, like I never ever did before. I really focused on the songwriting, about how the songs would affect people and live on after this album. How to make people gravitate to the message that I'm sending.
In the New York Times recently, you mentioned you're a fan of the underground musician R. Stevie Moore...
Yeah! I just got in contact with him for the first time! I've been on the phone with him constantly while he's out on tour. It's amazing, dude, I've got so much voicemail from him.
You two guys are a lot alike, in that you're not afraid to mix up styles and do unexpected things. Do you think you might work with him at some point?
Oh, yeah yeah yeah!!! We're gonna work together in like a month, man. I'm gonna make, like, this big supergroup. R. Stevie's down with it, and we were just talking about another dude he knows. Yeah man, I'm really excited about what this record's gonna sound like. We've even made titles of songs we haven't even wrote yet! He works at night, sends me these weird emails with these great ideas...it's cool, man.
I got put on to him about two years ago, from a friend that signed me. They even tried to get me to work with him two years ago, but he was such a big influence that I was like, "No man, I don't wanna work with him yet." I never even felt I like I could even talk to him then, you know? But he's a great guy and he has such love of music and words. He's just a genius. He's a really good songwriter. He's as good a songwriter as Brian Wilson is, to me. Shoutout to R. Stevie!
So what was the first record you heard as a kid that made you think, "Okay, this is what I wanna do"?
Bad! Michael Jackson's Bad. The cover made me want to make music, more than the songs. Classic cover.
Is that what made you made you come up with the idea of recreating classic album covers?
I'm really into art and culture that gives back and pays homage to the work that inspires them. You know, twenty-thirty years ago, Fab Five Freddy and Jean-Michel Basquiat were talking to Andy Warhol. So I'm in my era influenced by that, and him and Basquiat, they were looking back at guys ten or twenty years before them. Putting those influences into their work just made their work that much stronger. Mixing Elvis Costello and Morrissey together, that's so daring for someone to do -- and not even musically, but as a cover or an art statement. It's just fun. It's fun to create something that mixes it up like that. I like to imagine people digging in the crates and thinking, "Yo, is this that? Awesome!" And also showing kids who don't know Elvis Costello or Morrissey or Leon Ware...my albums could get people turned on to something else that they can listen to.
Have times ever not been weird, or are they weirder now than before?
It's getting weirder by the minute, man. It's kinda scary.