After hearing the new Cargo Cults album Nihilist Millennial, I had the opportunity to ask Alaska about its many baseball references – and a plethora of other topics, some featured on the album, and some not.
So your new album Nihilist Millennial is fucking great … what has the response been overall, and is the younger generation into it too despite being “get off my lawn rap”?
Overall the reception has been really positive. I was stoked to see the feedback, I felt that this was the best work of my unevenly long career. I think some youngs are enjoying it, but as someone in their late 40s pretty much anyone under 45 is a young to me. I do not think that many 18 year olds are digging it, which is probably for the best.
How did you come up with the concept for the two limited edition CD formats, which both sold out quickly? Any hope for a repress or more versions? And are people besides me actually still interested in CD’s compared to other physical media like tapes or vinyl?
It was a group effort. Zilla wanted to do the black velvet case and I wanted to do the CD tin, mostly because it looked cool as shit and as someone who hates clutter I imagined that people could use the tin to store small things like airplane sewing kits and toenail clippers. Realistically they are probably just using it to store weed. We are not going to repress them. I would love to do vinyl at some point but I am not sure if there is a demand for it. I do think there is a demand for it. Everyone I know who prints them sells out. It is a small market, but I think there are people who grew up with CDs as their medium of choice and they appreciate their music in said format. As someone who hates clutter I despise all physical forms of music since I do not have any sort of system to play it on they just end up sitting on my bookshelf. Haha.
Zilla Rocca, who did the beats here, is also part of your podcast, Call Out Culture, as is Curly Castro who makes an appearance on “Pinky Toe”. Is there any intentional symmetry between the names Cargo Cults and Call Out Culture, and can you briefly describe the podcast for someone reading this who has not yet checked it out?
The main symmetry was that Cargo Cults was originally donned Call Out Culture, and we used it as the podcast name thinking we would cross promote, but as we got deeper into the album, the name no longer felt relevant to the music. However, it did feel relevant to the podcast so we decided to nix it as the group name. I learned of Cargo Cults when I was sitting in on a talk at a tech company. I thought the name fit really well for where we are as a society – a bunch of primitive people creating these tech deities that we thought would save us from ourselves.
As for the podcast, I think it is the quintessential “friends talking shit about rap music” podcast, with the added bonus of us all being practitioners in the craft so we have a layer of insider insight that fans might not have, plus we have access to other artists. This allows us to get really deep into what makes an artist special and why we love them. We also make fun of Common a lot.
Lyrics in “All Power to All People” reference both the advantages and pitfalls of social media, from allowing marginalized groups to organize, to the darker side of giving a platform to racists with “their first fucking computers”. How would you advise navigating the fine line between feeding the trolls and ridiculing them? Also FYI the “vicissitude” and “give a shit my dude” rhyme is one of my favorites since Bumpy Knuckles paired “Yeltsin” with “felt, son.”
I think if you give a troll enough rope they will just hang themselves. Their only goal is to make you irrational and emotional. If you give them the response they want they win. I think about shit heads like Richard Spencer and Milo, and all the shit they were stirring back in 2017 and 2018. They didn’t have to do shit other than show up. The reaction to them is what gave them power. The spectacle. The second they were allowed to discuss their platform, they were exposed as the sacks of shit we all knew them to be and they just as quickly disappeared. The more interaction you have with them the more powerful they become. It is like that Simpsons Halloween episode when the advertisements came to life. The second they stopped paying attention they died.
I really love that vicissitude line myself, it is one of my life’s greatest accomplishments. I am glad that you appreciate it.
Alongside the social media and political commentary, there is also an Agnostic Front reference in the track referenced above. How were you introduced to hardcore and what are some of your favorites in the genre?
I was introduced to hardcore through my friend Mike Desocio in high school. Mike was in a band called No Win Situation with John Franko who later went on to front Awkward Thought. MIke introduced me to shit like Minor Threat, Gorilla Biscuits, Dead Kennedys, Suicidal Tendencies, etc. My experience in hardcore pretty much started and ended in the late 80s early 90s. I was mostly a tourist, I really enjoyed bands like Minor Threat, Gorilla Biscuits, Murphy’s Law, early Black Flag with Keith Morris and my all-time favorite The Circle Jerks. Group Sex is probably my favorite record of all time. I was always more into hip hop than Hardcore, but Hardcore was a nice break from hip hop.
In “UX”, “Joe MacMillan” and elsewhere, there are references to your perspective changing due to being at a different place in your life. Do you think you are continuing to create better music as you get older, and how does this perspective reconcile with genres where artists could write one good album and then not be able to replicate it?
I do think that my work is getting better, but that might also just be my perspective. I think one of the benefits that I have in making music is that I made a lot of mistakes when I was younger. I realized early on that making music for the sake of being relevant is a surefire way to have a shitty and irrelevant career. I was fortunate enough to pursue music professionally for about 7 years, by the end of that time I was a vapid asshole, with nothing real to say, just a bunch of empty platitudes and pseudo-deep thoughts. As I got away from that lifestyle, and just became a regular ass working stiff, with a family and a mortgage, I think I was able to make music that was more grounded in my reality. I think the topics that I can address and speak about come from a place of lived experience. When I complain about something or celebrate something it is not an abstract idea it is my reality. I think that is where a lot of artists get hung up. So much of working towards the first record is building on your experience, which is likely an experience that a lot of people share. I cannot speak for everyone, but when I was professionally pursuing music, I was not speaking about shit from lived experience anymore, and if it was it was a real limited experience of life in the music industry. Which is heavily geared towards remaining relevant. So, the music was no longer about figuring out my life and the world around me. It was about seeing what I need to do to keep that check coming in. It was not sustainable. There is nothing sadder to me than trying to remain relevant, especially as you age, it isn’t dignified in any way. I think that is where artists lose it, and it is why their work suffers. Artists need to be true to who they are now, not who they were or who they think they should be. The music industry thrives off of that.
Did I miss any baseball references besides the Mets pitching, friendly game of baseball, Kirby Puckett, Sammy Sosa, Dwight Gooden, Mookie wearing a Jackie jersey, and Honus Wagner? What is your favorite baseball reference in a rap song? Also, how the hell did you become a Red Sox fan?
The only one I think you might have missed was David Halberstam, but that was mostly baseball adjacent since I love his baseball writing. My favorite baseball reference is Bun B saying “Like Dontrelle Willis we the trillist!”
When I was young I used to go to Cape Cod for a week every summer. The town we stayed in had a Cape Cod summer league and Carl Yastrzemski’s son played on the team. I met Yaz and he immediately became my favorite player. I have been a fan since. It is weird though. I used to live and die by the Red Sox, but now that they have won 4 titles in the past 15 years it feels a lot less urgent. I don’t really care anymore, I have become a fair weather fan, I only watch if they are good. I have turned all of my diehard rooting to the New York Jets, I need to see them win a title or two so I can stop caring.
If you read books about baseball, what is your favorite baseball book? And how many library cards do you own and in what systems?
I have read a few baseball books. My two favorites are “Summer of 49” by David Halberstam and “All the Stars Came Out That Night” by Kevin King.
I am completely anti-government so I will take no part in their library systems :). I tend to like owning books, mostly because I forget to return them and end up owing the library more than the book costs. Plus books are one of the few things that I like to clutter my space.
The Oxford Comma makes an appearance in “Joe MacMillan” – are you pro or anti Oxford Comma?
I am not much of a fan. I think it looks clunky and clutters up the sentence structure.
What’s it like having a state named after you, and is that why you advocate for states’ rights? Also when are you getting control of Alaska’s electoral votes?
It was a big honor that they named the state after me, but I think they had to do it in order to rebrand after that Sarah Palin PR nightmare. Unfortunately it is mostly a ceremonial position, so I do not have access to the electoral votes. If I did Vermin Supreme would receive them.
As for states’ rights, I mostly think that we are too fixated on the federal government being the solution to our problems and the country is too big for this to be a satisfying solution for anyone. We end up having the broken system that we do have now. I would prefer a system where the federal government address the highway system, monetary policy, defense (though much stripped down), civil rights violations and got the fuck out of everyone’s life. New Yorkers should be able to live how New Yorkers want to live and Texans should be able to live how Texans want to live. The fact that Arkansas can dictate what we do and we can dictate what Alabama does seems silly to me.
Have you ever been to the Alaska deli in Chelsea? And what is your favorite bodega?
I have not, is it the best? My favorite bodega is the Albemarle Food Corporation, or as those in our neighborhood call it “Mo’s”. You can follow them on instagram at modega101.
Can you make one more track on Bandcamp that is just a clip of “self-proclaimed disruptors on their motherfucking scooters” that I can play when dudes on scooters ride them on the sidewalk in my neighborhood? What is it about adults on motorized scooters that so thoroughly incites our ire, either rationally or irrationally?
I think if you feed the line into a casio keyboard you should be able to loop it yourself – “teach a person to fish” – I am like the Jesus of looping.
Those muthafuckers are assholes. I watch them scoot around and I cannot help but think that they are the worst that humanity has to offer, they are the failure of liberal democracies. Back in like 1998 I was working in the Empire State Building and on my way to work some lady was zipping in and out of foot traffic on the sidewalk on a razor scooter and she fucking wiped out right in front of me on one of those sidewalk grates that they have over the subway systems, I am talking full header, the shit definitely had to hurt really bad. It was one of the most satisfying moments of my life. I still remember it fondly to this day.
The last song “Time is Too Valuable” references time being both valuable and finite. How do you balance your creative projects against other life responsibilities, and do you feel like time is going faster or slower during the pandemic?
It is weird, I get way more done now than I ever did when making music was my job. It is really a matter of time management now. I cannot put it off until later. If I want to get music/writing done I have to do during the downtime or it isn’t ever going to happen. Time management has become a necessity if I want to be able to have a creative outlet, because it really is like number 10 on my list of responsibilities. So it is up to me to make time for it when I can. I usually do a lot of writing while I am doing other tasks, walking the dogs, cleaning, cooking, laundry, taking the subway. That is when I have time to myself where I can use all of my brain power towards being creative. The rest of the day is family and work.
Time has been going both incredibly fast and incredibly slow. Like this summer we went swimming a lot at swimming holes in the Catskills and it seems like it was just the other day and 20 years ago at the same time. It really drives home the idea that all time is happening at once.
How do you manage to remain a “black ops optimist” despite all the disturbing world developments referenced through the album?
I have always secretly been an optimist. I think the human condition is to strive towards improvement. It just takes a long time to get there. I think we have a really bad tendency to focus exclusively on the moment that we are on, but if you start to zoom out and look at the entire timeline of human existence we are really in a better place. Look at something as simple as death rates for COVID vs. Spanish Flu: it is like 1.5 million vs. 50 million. Global poverty rates are going down. Medicine is better, access to information has increased. The problem I think is that we are seeing more of the things that we didn’t see in the past. Which is good, it is scary, but it is good. We need to see this shit so we can no longer deny it. Overall I think humanity is in a better place than it has ever been. It might suck to be an American right now, but that shit is all self inflicted. We have nobody to blame but us. We see how fucked up our system is, and we want to empower the system even more in hopes that the same people fucking up the system will fix the system. We are fine with a president having the level of power Trump has as long as it is someone we agree with. Watch how quickly all of the arguments about executive power will switch on January 20th. We aren’t serious about change, we are only serious about power. All of the issues in our society are state sponsored, yet we want to give them more power. We are the cause of our own pain. But that only sucks for us, I think we are on the verge of breaking out of this, stripping the government of power and ruling over ourselves. It might not be this year or next year, but I think it will happen sooner rather than later. That is why I am optimistic.