Talking with Blockhead

Behind the lulling notes and interestingly unusual beats, there is Blockhead. Behind the obscure and unique name Blockhead, there is Tony Simon.              

Living in New York City and making beats for himself as well as for working MCs such as Aesop Rock and Murs, Simon is making a career out of doing what he loves most. Simon, or as his fans know him, Blockhead, is a hip hop producer who creates unusual and entrancing instrumental tracks that sometimes set him in a genre outside of hip hop. Starting his career out as a rapper in the early 90’s, Simon had a love for hip hop right from the beginning. “I lend [my career] 100% to my love of hip hop when I was younger. I grew up listening to it and by the time I was a teen, I was obsessed. Before I made beats, I rapped. Basically, I knew I wanted to make music and hip hop was the focus,” said Simon. Rapping early on in the game not only aided in helping Simon to realize that being in the music world was where he wanted to be for the rest of his life, but also lent him the name most of his fans are familiar with, Blockhead. “It’s ‘cause I have a square head. It was my rapping name first in a time of self depreciating rap names and it just stuck,” stated Simon.

Infused with samples from old show tunes and samples from numerous artists, Simon’s music takes on an unusual, unique and, most times, entrancing feel. In his second album, titled Downtown Science, Simon sets himself apart from most hip hop artists with his use of obscure and unusual samples scattered throughout the 12 tracks on the album. “I tend to snatch vocal samples and never look back at where I got them. ‘Downtown Science’ is chock full of samples from this one record but I totally forget what it’s called,” said Simon. “I just seek out what would sound good over the song. No particular era or genre. Ideally, I want something obscure and weird.” His sample’s aren’t from show tunes and other artists alone, but are also taken from his own life. In his track titled ‘A Better Place’ off his debut album ‘Music by Cavelight’, Simon uses audio of his father talking to his younger brother when he was a child.

 When listening to Simon’s music, it’s hard not to wonder what influenced him to create such outstanding and unique beats. Although he produces tracks that are mostly instrumental, Simon explains how he was never really into instrumental music. “I used to listen to jazz, but not so much anymore. I went through a stage where I was listening to jazz but, to be honest, I like vocalists. Instrumental music never grabbed me, but jazz always had the best samples. Beyond that, the actual music itself never really influenced me much.”  With tracks that blare with trumpets and soothe with saxophones, it’s clear to any listener that jazz certainly has provided a number of samples for Simon’s music.

Although he may not use samples from the mainstream music of the era, when he was younger Simon gravitated towards the wonderfully unusual music of the 80’s. “My influences are more an era than actual people. The late 80’s and early 90’s hip hop is where my foundation is. In the 80’s, I listened to whatever was on the radio or TV.” Simon also lends some of his musical knowledge to the music his parents played when he was younger, “My parents would play jazz and opera around the house as well and some of that stuck with me over the years.”  Uninterested with most music of today, Simon sticks to listening to older soul music and older hip hop. “Most stuff made after 2004 doesn’t interest me.”

What does interest a number of his fans though, is how Simon sits down and creates the beats that lull many of his fans. While for some artists, making music is definitely a way of channeling certain feelings or emotions, for Simon that’s not quite the case. “I just sit down and go through songs looking for samples. It’s almost robotic. There is no mystical or spiritual aspect to me when I make music. I just sit down and do it. I most likely just look for one good piece to build off and go from there.”

Using a turntable, monitors, and an Ensoniq ASR-10 Sampling Keyboard, Simon continues to pump out beats that please the ears of hip hop fans and fans of other genres as well. With the release of his new album, The Music Scene, Simon had fans of his music excited to hear some fresh, unusual beats that characterize Simon as an artist. Simon’s new album debuted in January of 2010 off the London-based independent record label, Ninja Tune Records.  “It’s epic,” stated Simon. “I don’t mean that in a bragging way, the songs are long and they flip up on a level that I’ve never done.”

Check out a couple tracks off Blockhead’s album The Music Scene. This one happens to be my favorite:

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~ by frantunes on June 8, 2010.

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