INTERVIEW: Talking Shop with the PR DepARTment

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Back on August 3rd, I posted a quick note about the new PR DepARTment project, the Outlook EP. The EP was tight and strong, and a real evolution from their first release. As for my quick note? It was a hack job, the work of a Yeti on vacation.

Well, mostly: I did a write-up about Equal Eyes Records for Seven Days two weeks back. As ever, I wound up with a lot of "bonus footage" -- important stories that get cut for word count. Rather than let it go to waste, I followed up with a few more questions for the PR DepARTment team, PreciseMC and Rico James. The result is a conversation about belonging, the process of honing an album, and rethinking everything. Dig it.

Part 1: Precise MC.

VTHH: How did you start collaborating with Rico James?  

PreciseMC: Rico was one of the first friends I made in the Vermont scene after moving from California. I was on the same bill as Self Portrait and they reminded me of my old group, Ill Effect, so we hit it off. I did the song "Float" on their Primal Union album and that worked out well, so Rico started sending me beats.

At first he just wanted me to make my own project with them, but I was already working on my project with Scottie Royal and I knew that Rico was a dope MC so I pushed for him to drop verses on them as well. We hit a groove together and were becoming friends so we decided to turn the tracks we were working on into the first PR Department EP.

VTHH: As a new artist, do you feel the BTV scene has been welcoming?

PreciseMC: BTV has definitely been welcoming. I'm not the most animated guy in public, but after meeting the Self Portrait crew they always had my back at shows. Mister Burns put me on originally and has always been supportive and I've met a ton of great people in the scene. There are similarities and differences from California, but most of the people I interact with at shows seem to all be out to help each other and there is a real sense of community, which is great. I was intimidated for a long time before trying to do shows on my own out here after always being in a group, but once I started meeting people, it felt like home.

VTHH: What was your process for the Outlook EP? There were a lot of fine touches on that project. Was that the result of listening & tinkering long after the sessions were cut?

Precise MC: Once we decided that PR Department was going to be a real group, Rico started cooking up beats that complimented me more. I think all of the beats on the first EP were ones he'd had for a minute, but the beats on Outlook were fresh for us. I think he cooked up Microphone and Life We Choose and I flipped out over them, so he just locked into that lane. I think you can tell that we found a nice groove on Outlook. From there everything fell into place.

We had clear concepts for each song and just tried to execute them the best we could. This time around we decided I'd record and mix everything at my spot since I do audio production for my day job. So there were a ton of different mixes and arrangements that I'd send over to Rico, get his feedback then adjust accordingly. I geek out over that stuff so there was definitely alot of tinkering, and of course I'm always nitpicking so there are still things I wish I could adjust, but I'm proud of the project.

You should see our text chats, so many album notes and tweaks. I also tend to over think the nuances of a project or song and add in way to many meanings that are completely lost on most listeners, but it makes the process a lot of fun.

Part 2: Rico James

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VTHH: Where were you at creatively when you were putting together beats for the Outlook EP and working on honing those tracks?

Rico James: This is a loaded question for me. A lot of people don't know, but last September I had an incident and suffered a traumatic head injury which left me with a fractured skull and some bleeding around the brain.  The brain is a complicated thing, and took 6-9 months to heal and repair itself fully. When something like this happens to you, you have a lot of time to think and evaluate different aspects of your life. You realize what is important, and more importantly, what is not important.  

As I rebounded from this injury, I took a step back with my music making and started making beats for the love again and not thinking about the outcome. I make beats because I truly love it, and I love sitting down, digging through records, and chopping samples. I got to a place with my production where I was overthinking and analyzing everything I was creating, which just leads to becoming stagnant and not ever finishing anything.  Once I was able to tune out all the bullshit that comes with artists and egos, and just make beats I like, my productivity levels have been at an all time high and I'm more confident than I've ever been with my art.

Right now, I'm making beats that I like and that I want to make. That's it. That's what makes me happy. The beats from the Outlook EP came from this period of just creating and not worrying about what anyone else is doing.  PreciseMC has been a very good friend and fellow creative mind that shares a similar passion so he took these beats and ran with them. This was long before we had the title "Outlook", but that title could not be more relevant than it is to this project. My outlook has changed on what I'm doing and creating, and this EP is a reflection of that to the fullest. We made music we enjoy. We are happy that others are enjoying it as well.

VTHH: Who are your influences in terms of structuring & plotting out albums?

Rico James: A major influence for me on album structuring is Cunninlynguists and the production from Kno.  Their albums have such a good balance of some deep, introspective songs, mixed with some light-hearted uplifting songs.  That balance is very important. If you go too far in either direction, you'll lose people. They can hit every mood throughout the entirety of their records.  

Those records resonate with me and can almost transport me to different times as the record plays. I strive for that. I want to give you everything. Dark stuff, serious stuff, silly stuff.  It should all be there. It should be a journey of sorts.

VTHH: When are you guys playing next?

Rico James: We are very excited to be playing at the Mavstar album release party on Sept 21st. This is happening at the Community Of Sound - 4 Howard St loading dock across from Dealer.com.

Other than that, we are just getting to work on our 3rd project as PR DepARTment and we will see where it goes.  

Justin Boland