GET FAMILIAR: Stresselbee
Stresselbee has been a central figure in the Brattleboro hip hop scene for many moons now. From his distinguished tours of duty with a kaleidoscope of groups & styles to his increasingly polished solo work, he’s not only prolific, he’s an instigator. The following conversation does little justice to the extent of his catalog and contributions, but we had a great conversation just the same. Dig it.
VTHH: This is easily the laziest question I’ve ever written, but: how would you summarize your long resume in the 802 hip hop scene?
Stresselbee: After freestyling our way through high school, Doppelgänger (Jared Tarbell) and I got together with Swift Gryphin (JD Keiser) to form People of a Mad Theory. That was around 2004-ish, back when we couldn’t count bars and didn’t know which end of a mic to plug in. After messing around for a year or so, we put out our first album, and although it had that home recording sound, and you could tell this WAS our first rodeo, it wasn’t without a certain adolescent charm.
After that we all went in separate directions, JD to California and eventually into the loving arms of Universal Audio (where he is working still) and Jared to start a loose group of rotating beatsmiths and emcees which would become Light Pockets.
I went on to collaborate with Hoarsehed and form Epidemiks, which enjoyed a good run of albums, videos, and shows in the southern Vermont and surrounding area. I also put out an album with The Aardvarcheologist, featuring countless local emcees and artists, called the Vermonster Mash Mixtape. All this time we remained frequent collaborators on all of our separate projects.
VTHH: How did the Friends Like These project emerge from that? Was this a re-union of sorts?
Stresselbee: Doppelganger and I never really stopped working on our own tracks. Over the past six or seven years, we’ve gotten together whenever possible to throw down verses on each other’s production. After letting 20-30 tracks go through the rock tumbler that is time, this winter we took the smoothest and prettiest of the gems and finished them off to make the new album.
Our good friend Drunx, the wasted professor, shot and edited an amazing music video to accompany our first release, “Shades of Gray,” and is releasing the album on his European label Fugazy Entertainment.
VTHH: How did the connection with Drunx happen?
Stresselbee: I met Drunx in Amsterdam about 10 years ago, through a friend of a friend, and immediately hit it off over a mutual love of all things hip hop and alcoholic. Since then he’s been to Vermont three times to shoot videos for me, the most recent one being Shades of Gray. Its funny, we joke that we see each other more often than my friends down the road. I actually just got back from there, I went over for carnival and to paint his house in exchange for the video. Pretty good deal on my end, it’s good to know people and network when/however possible.
VTHH: The Eyedos guest verse really fits that "Shades of Gray" pocket like a velvet chopping glove. Does your connection with him go way back?
Stresselbee: Yeah, his verse is dope. He actually sent us a verse for this project like 5 years ago, over a completely different beat. We ended up cutting the track, but we later noticed he used the phrase “shades of gray” in his verse, and it was the same tempo as the “Shades” track, so we laid it over the beat and it sounded slick. But when Dos heard it, he thought it was outdated and he could do better so he re-wrote and came back with what’s on there now, and it came out extra sick! The evolution of a song can go unexpectedly.
I’ve been working with Eyedos for several years now, I met him through Doppelgänger and began trading beats and verses with him immediately. When he started up the MET crew I was happy to jump on the bandwagon, even if the hip hop I usually make is more goofy/party type shit and those dudes come with it pretty hard. I love the shit he does for me though, because he always seems to capture the theme or feel or essence of whatever a particular song is grabbing at. He’s like liquid, he becomes the shape of whatever you put him in.
VTHH: As Epidemiks, you guys always seemed to have a blast rapping, and yet stylistically your releases were all over the place. Did you guys just grow up listened to every subgenre at once?
Stresselbee: Haha yeah, between the two of us we pretty much rocked out to every type of music out there. Whatever I listen to, I always hear something that makes me think ”damn, that would sound dope with some boom bap drums and verses over it.”
Whether it was 1930’s mills brothers for the smoke rings track, or some acapella “gypsy woman” shit, Freddie King blues, Guns’n’Roses, whatever, nothing is out of the question. I’m always looking for something new or different, where you wouldn’t necessarily think “that’s some hip hop shit” and then we got Tweed in on the production tip, and that dude is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to music. He started tossing beats at us that blew my mind.
VTHH: What was the local scene like for you when you were starting out? Were there local artists in other genres who inspired you?
Stresselbee: We were lucky enough to have a strong following from the beginning. There wasn’t a whole lot of live hip hop going on in southern VT when we started making music. Our first show was the Hip To The Hops #1 up at Magic Mountain ( I think). From that point on, people always showed up and packed the house. We always gave a lot of CDs out and really just tried to get the music in as many hands as possible, and people dug it. Plus our party vibe really made people want to come out and boogie. As for other local artists who inspire me, I’d have to say The Devil Makes Three. I’ve been going to see them live for years, and got to watch them grow from a small VT/Cali band into something much bigger. I know it’s not hip hop, but nothing gets me going like those guys.
VTHH: You've been involved in a lot of really effective low-budget videos over the years. What advice do you have for artists plotting on their own DIY videos for the first time?
Stresselbee: Almost all our videos were shot by Drunx the wasted professor. It pays to know someone in the industry, especially one as talented as him. As for advice, I’d say try to come up with something that’s gonna set your video apart from the 100,000 others that get uploaded everyday. It doesn’t have to be big budget, just different. And don’t be afraid to reach out to people when you see something you like! I saw a paper stop motion video Mellow Music Group put out, and reached out to the artist (Eric Power) on a whim. He ended up doing my video for “Animalude” for an incredible price!
VTHH: That video was crazy good, I am still heated I couldn’t get that some bigger coverage.
Stresselbee: It’s all good, that track made it on that “Spare the Rock, Spoil the Kids” show or whatever in Texas. It’s on Saturday mornings …. biggest exposure I ever got was on a Saturday morning children’s show out of Austin. Yeah that project was fun as hell to work on, I’ve been cooking up a follow up to that album, kinda part two in the same vein, Vermont spotlight type of shit.
VTHH: Has you definition of "making it in music" changed over the years? It seems like, with Epidemiks at least, you guys really embraced being local and indie.
Stresselbee: I guess to me making it would mean quitting my day job. If I had all the time in the world to focus on hip hop I could really go nuts! But all I ever really wanted was to be heard. I thought I had some clever silly shit to spit that might make a few heads chuckle, but always tried to bring it around by the end and impart some type of message. And I’ll tell ya, the first time I was on stage and the whole front row knew all my lines, like better than even I did, that was the best feeling I’ve ever had. I felt like I had really reached a few people, even if it’s just a bunch of cats from New England, and to me that was “making it” right there.