THE WORLD IN A
KAMEN TALKS TO ROCKWIRED
THIS CD NATIVE UNIT
AND GETTING AROUND
IN A 2 1/2 MINUTE WORLD
BY BRIAN LUSH
Music has that
undeniable power to bring people together and in a world world where
there seems to be more strife and conflict than ever, music has become
one of our most treasured commodities. No one understands that better
than ERIC KAMEN, a music producer based in New York City. His
is a rich instrumental recording that combines
R&B and Hip Hop elements with various world music textures, The
sound is sensuous enough to make you want to celebrate the world we
live in and beautiful enough to make you wonder why the hell
LAURA LYNCH from KWEEVAK.COM calls
a magical blend ... melding the edge of hip-hop with the soul of
R&B ' and GIAN FIERO of MUSESMUSE.COM calls it ''... musically
captivating ... nothing short of phenomenal' . You'll be singing it's
praises as well and thanking ROCKWIRED for the experience.
ROCKWIRED spoke with ERIC over the
Here is how it went.
you're from New York?
and bred in New York. Yes.
Brooklyn or -
Brooklyn actually. I was born in Brownsville which is now
considered the heart of hip-hop so I think I got a little of myself
from their and when I was a little bit older my family moved to
Queens. When I became an adult, my wife and I moved into Manhattan and
I've lived there for my entire adult life.
Growing up in
the birthplace of hip-hop, did that rub off on you as a youth at
I definitely believe so. Not so much when I lived
Brooklyn because I was just a child, but pretty much throughout my
school years. I lived in a predominantly black neighborhood. Even
though I'm not black, all of my friends were black and all of the
music I listened to was black. I think you can't help but pick up the
instruments do you play?
just to give you a little background I am predominantly an R&B
producer. That's my meat and potatoes. I spend my days working with
seventeen, eighteen, nineteen year old R&B singers or rappers.
I've been an instrumentalist since I was a child. I'm a pretty
accomplished instrumentalist because I've played everything on this
CD NATIVE UNIT. I play piano, I play guitar obviously. That's the
predominant instrument on this project. I also do a lot of
Because of your
last name I was about
ask if there was a relation between you and MICHAEL KAMEN.
wish. God rest his soul, he's not with us anymore. He was an
incredibly gifted guy. Like most European immigrants, it is possible
I'm related but I don't know that I am. The history of Europe in that
time frame was so chaotic that records were lost. It's possible that
he was a third cousin.
During you're high
school years you
apprenticed as a musician.
Yes. I started to play
porfessionally at an illegally young age. At the age of 13 I was
already playing in clubs and getting money for it.
the parents have to say about that?
My parents were both
musicians oddly enough. My mother was a piano player and my father
was a guitar player. They were pretty impressed.
didn't interfere with your
schoolwork did it?
Their aspiration for me was to be a doctor
but, they weren't intimidated by the background nature of my
involvement in music. They were always very supportive and very
impressed with me being able to pick the stuff up. As I got
into high school and into college, it got a lot more serious and I
was a proffessioanl musician all the way up until I was nearly 30
What did you study
in college? Music?
Oddly enough, it was Math. I majored in Math which a lot of people
say is related to music.
They say that.
some ways it is. But I was ambivalaent about it and I certainly
considered majoring in music but it (majoring in Math) seemed more
secure. My college years were made up of majoring in Math and playing
in crazy rock bands. It was a lot of fun.
After college you
spent a year travelling around the Mediterranean. What was that
It was the best year of my life. I graduated college and
a few weeks later, I put on a back pack and I flew into London and
spent a few weeks there and wound up living in Paris for a better
part of the year. I got very familiar with the culture and the
language and I travelled all around the Mediterranean in places like
Spain, Greece and moved up to Yugoslavia. It was a pleasure. It's a
totally great thing for a young 20 year old to do. I would have to to
say that the whole experience and the exposure I got to the young
musicians that I was meeting in Europe was very formative for me -
a very impressionable experience. They didn't play American blues they
way I was playing. They were playing their own Native music which
was North African stuff from the migrant workers or the young
spanish guys would play Flamenco. It was a big shock to realize that
not only Americans have soul. A lot of these players were immensely
soulful. There's a style of music from Greece that goes back a
hundred years. It's the equivalent to them what the blues is to
Americans and it's called Rembetika and it's played with
a bouzouki which is their national instrument. Boy can they
of these kids can just wail.
What does the
title of your CD
NATIVE UNIT, what does it mean?
Can I be honest with you? I
originally wanted to call it NATIVE TONGUE but I noticed there was
another internet site called NATIVE TONGUE. I liked the word NATIVE
because to me the music feels raw and primitive and it's obviously a
style of world music so I didn't want to drop the native . The UNIT, I
picked up from 50 CENT's G-UNIT group. I figured that Units sort of a
modern name, so I merged both NATIVE and UNIT together. NATIVE
alludes to the world music aspect of it and UNIT alludes to the
hip-hop aspect of it.
What made you
decide to make the
I would say my primary motivation is this. Working as a
producer is something I love. It's really close to my heart and
It's something that I've been doing since I was a kid but one
limitation to being a producer, especially when you're working in a
very contemporary vein and focused on top ten radio is the music is
very formulaic. It's all about coming up with some sort of chicken
scratch loop and looping it over and over again. A lot of people
complain that music is so repetitive now at this point. To some
extent, I find that to be true and being an instrumentalist and a very
strong instrumentalist, I kind of crave the opportunity to pick up my
guitar and let her rip. You can't do that in an R&B or a hip
context because everything there is very formulaic and tailored.
It's very very timed. In the years that I grew up, the concept of
having a sax solo or a wailing guitar solo had existed
but you really couldn't pull that off today. It's just not part of
the current modern formula. So I just had a hankering to just let it
rip. What I did was I pulled up some tracks that I had developed with
some of the young artists that I was working with and instead
recording their voices or their lines, I just started playing my
spanish guitar and it took me by surprise how cool it sounded. Little
by little I got feedback from other people who also though it sounded
cool and that was how the project was born.
A couple hours
before I got on the phone with you, I was thinking about how
compressed music is now and It's not just R&B. A lot of
music is that way. I can't name a lead guitarist from any of these
new bands out ther now. No one stands out.
Honestly, these day
I don't listen to a lot of pop rock. I grew up with it and now I'm so
deeply involved in the R&B and hip-hop scene. That's all I
listen to at this point but i have no dopubt that what you're saying
is true. It's very 2 1/2 minute kind of world.
something in your artist bio that struck me "...In retrospect, I
can see that the beautiful effect of mixing various world music
themes actually makes a poignant statement about the sadness of the
current state of the world. I think it was my subconsious way of
coping with what was going on in the world today." I din't read
that until after I had listened to the CD. You're right, we are in a
world where people are coming apart in record numbers. It's
over the world now.
It's certainly true. I did not set out
consciously with the intention of melding together various forms of
music from around the world as a political statement. That was the
last thing I wanted to do. I was just doing it because it the
elements of stuff that I know. When it was done and the smoke had
settled, people sstarted commenting that it was such and interesting
fusion of American beats and spanish musical motifs and Greek musical
motifs. In retrospect, I can see that it hangs together juxtaposed to
the crazy state of the world. It's an irony that the music of all of
these cultures works so beautifully together. Can't we all just get
I wanted to ask
you about the CD
cover itself. It's
really striking. Can you explain it?
It's a photo of my wife.
There's a story behind it. The photo was ripped up.
In a fight. Not with me. I was actually ripped up in a
state of rage. I have the original hanging in my studio. One day I
was looking at it and was thinking "This is such an incredible
statement. The beauty of th woman and the rage that's captured and
the emotionthat's captured in the rips. I chose to scan it in and use
it as the cover.
cover! What do you
listener to walk away with after hearing your music?
for the beats to capture people's attention. In today's world, a good
funky beat is going to get peoples attention. Beyond that I
considerthe beat a trojan horse. What I really want them to hear is
serious music. These days , I don't think you hear a lot of serious
music, especially kids. It's just the nature of American culture.
What I'd like people to walk away with is sense of having enjoyed the
music and hopefully an introduction to the fact that there are
musicians out there in the world who are quite skilled and that music
can be realy beatiful on it's own.