Interview: Tasha the Amazon

Tasha the Amazon lives in Toronto. Her career got publicly rolling when she co-founded the synth-pop/hip-hop outfit, Candy Coated Killahz, and that’s when I first found out about her. Having honed her hook-writing skills and sharpened her production blade, Tasha is, in my opinion, a cutting-edge mind in the industry, and a unique voice in it – perhaps in lieu of the fact that she’s a woman in a male dominated realm, or perhaps in spite of it. Whatever the case, I respect her opinions, and know you will, too, when you hear her story and check out her music.

TST: Did you grow up in Toronto? You’re a great asset to the music scene there; what’s your take on it? What’s the genre mix like? Where are your favorite local hangout spots for music?

Tasha the Amazon: I grew up just outside of Toronto, but moved here as soon as I could. The music scene here is dope. Toronto’s arguably the most mutlicultural place on earth so that makes its way into the [music] scene and makes for wicked collaborating. As for venues, Wrongbar is one of my favorites. Some of the best, sweatiest, bashiest parties I’ve ever thrown or been to were there. Opera House is an old favorite too…I’ve seen everyone from Jamie Lidell to A$AP Rocky there.

TST: I’m astounded by your production. I know how much work goes into creating an entire package, and whatever your routine is – it works very well. How did you get into production? What’s the first thing you produced? And do you work on other stuff for other groups besides your own?

Tasha: I got into production at the end of high school. I was ready to pursue music in a serious way, so I spent a lot of time writing and trying to hunt down a producer that was talented and forward-thinking enough for me, but mostly I just met dudes who wanted to shove me in a box artistically and who weren’t up for trying anything new that the pros weren’t already doing… that really put me off. So it wasn’t a huge leap for me to start producing. I’m a pianist and guitarist and I’d been tinkering with programs like Cakewalk since I was a kid, but I just switched gears and made it a serious goal. I found some mentors and spent a lot of time hovering in studios seeing how stuff was done, asking questions. The first project I produced was the EP, “It Factor,” my group CCK’s debut album. I basically learned how to produce and engineer while making that record. Now I’m doing it as part of a production duo called Bass & Bakery with producer/DJ Danthrax. We’re working on my first solo project, which is coming out next month (called FiDiYootDem) and producing for a bunch of different artists.

TST: This is a good lead in. Besides being a great voice, what all instruments do you play? Has being involved in production honed your skills on any particular instrument(s)?

Tasha: I’m a pianist, a self-taught guitarist and bassist, and I used to kill the tenor sax, but haven’t touched that in a while, haha. Producing has probably made me a worse technical player, actually, because in the production of hip hop and urban music, so much is about combining the ideas in your head with the tools available to you, so I rarely just sit and play. It’s all an experiment in a lab. It’s about playing cool melodies, designing sounds, combining synths, etc. I think my musical mind is vastly expanded, but I don’t play Chopin with nearly as much attention to detail anymore [laughing].

TST: Your group CCK’s track “Neon Black” is one tight, concise punch of pop perfection, in my opinion. And producers all have different opinions of what makes ‘pop perfection,’ though most agree that it exists. What’s your formula?

Tasha: Haha, thanks. I’m pretty convinced that the best formula is no formula. The track “Neon Black” came together as the three of us writing over a skeleton of the beat and we thought it was going to be a hip hop track. I dunno, maybe it was the wine or the weed, but we were all kind of in a dark mood and digging into what it meant to be an outcast, or to always feel like an outsider in the crowd, and we focused in on melodies… it was actually a song we wrote just for us. We were all 100% sure no one else would even like it.

TST: CCK, though sitting on a really rich, electro underbelly, is a lyrically driven machine. Do you and Icon find yourselves striving for more recognition for the hip-hop side of your sound, or how do people receive you, genre-wise?

Tasha: All of us have always been hip-hop and have a lot of hip-hop projects on the go at any given time… that lets us duck and weave around the conventional ideas of the genre whenever we want. Right now, for example, my main focus is my solo project, which is grimy and full-throttle hip-hop in a totally different direction from CCK or any other project I’ve worked on. So whenever I’m collaborating, I just see it as a coming-together of minds for a particular kind of sound, something that pushes us outside of our norms… but the spirit behind the production and writing is always a hip- hop one.

TST: In reference to a Niki & The Dove interview I watched a couple of weeks ago, where Gustaf said that it is always a particular, initial ‘sound’ that makes a song. Does the magic, for you, come out in the beginning, with sounds (i.e. before the song is formed), or does the magic happen in the nitty grit of producing the song overall?

Tasha: For me, there are usually three magic moments in the creation of every song. The first is when you combine the perfect sound with the perfect melody and you know there’s a dope track coming out of it. The second is when you get that unforgettable lyrical or melodic hook idea and you can’t wait to record it. The third is much harder to come by. It’s after the grueling whirlwind of trying to perfect and finish the song, record it, re-record it, decide you’re going to trash it, salvage it again, rewrite it, put in some more blood and sweat and – finally – finish it, mix and master… then you sit back and actually ‘listen’ to it again for the first time, and you’re like, “Holy shit… I did that??”

TST: This brings up another thing, and note that I haven’t seen you perform yet – do you write and record songs completely before you perform them? Or do things evolve more as you play them live?

Tasha: I’m crazy on stage, and I like to get up there and f*ck around as much as possible and make the crowd hype. That means I like to know that everything else is as it should be and I don’t have to worry about what’s happening instrumentally. The songs don’t evolve on stage as much as they do in the studio or in practice. Danthrax will often DJ in some crazy stuff, but the songs themselves are the backbone.

TST: Do lyrics or music typically come first in writing?

Tasha: As a producer and an emcee/songwriter, it’s all born together – writing lyrics over a skeleton beat and then going back to work on the beat to have it enhance what I’m doing lyrically, etc. It’s rare that I’ll finish an entire verse or an entire beat without building the other half at the same time.

TST: Do you feel a conscious difference between yourself and other hip-hop artists in the way that you maintain control over the production of your music?

Tasha: Definitely. Because of my earlier experience of trying to find like-minded producers, I know I’d never go back there. I’m really particular about sound and coherence. I think it’s harder to maintain vision when you’re just rapping or singing over any beat you can get the rights to. Being in control of my production makes collaborating more fun too, ‘cause if I’m getting a beat from someone else, I know they had to put in effort to tailor it to my sound and vice versa. I don’t want someone’s generic catalogue and I don’t keep a generic catalogue of beats either. It’s all gotta be deliberate.

TST: You have a very active personal online presence (Twitter, your blog, etc.). How much of your admin (press, social media, booking, etc.) do you do on your own – some, most, all? And how in the hell do you manage such a packed schedule? You must have a personal assistant or something, right?

Tasha: I dont’ really sleep, haha, so everything gets done in-house. I have an amazing team of people who help me with booking and the business side of things, but I design and maintain all the websites, social media and online everything. Danthrax and I are moving up to a bigger studio space, so we’re toying with the idea of getting an intern when we’re there just so that they could like… get us lunch or something, cuz we’re always hustling [laughing again].

TST: I see you get political sometimes on the blog. Any causes that you support that you’d like to mention?

Tasha: I’m just a very socially conscious and engaged person. I stay educated about what’s going on in the world and like to share that knowledge and debate with people. I think political conversation is necessary. There are no causes in particular that I really “take up,” but the values [I support] are humanistic ones and I think all people are entitled to a fulfilling life on their own terms. So I get especially pissed off when people are discriminated against, denied opportunity or denied rights. Anything related to that, (eg. gay and lesbian rights, gender disparity, systemic racism, the Occupy movement, and on and on…) and I’m probably being pretty vocal about it, haha.

TST: Name a couple of new records (that have come out in the past year) that you’re really into.

Tasha: El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure is probably the newest thing I’ve been digging…. Danny Brown’s XXX… and the Clams Casino instrumental mixtapes.

TST: I try to ask every artist I interview this. Are you more influenced by others’ music or your own experimentation? It’s obvious that you know something about experimenting with sounds, so I’ll instead ask – to what extent do new music & current trends influence you?

Tasha: I like to stay one step ahead. My goal as an artist is to incite change and push boundaries, so I’m always listening to stuff on the cutting edge and that informs my process to some extent, but I’m mostly interested in how my own experimentation fits into the music on that frontier. I look for a space that isn’t currently being pushed outwards and I incorporate that into my experimentation.

TST: What’s one piece of equipment or tool that you couldn’t live without?

Tasha: Cubase 6 is my machine. I could be using another platform, but it would be so much less enjoyable for me. I know it’s like, producer blasphemy to say it, but I can’t stand ProTools and I can’t stand Logic. :-P

TST: I’m soooo glad you said that! I can’t stand the way that people rely upon the generic-ness of ProTools so much. So, Fender or Gibson? Roland or Akai? Converse or pumps?

Tasha: Gibson. Roland. Converse.

TST: Finally, what all do you have going on right now… any secretive musical projects that we should be aware of?

Tasha: Not such a secret right now, since I’ve been dropping tracks from it for the past couple months, but I’m about to release my first solo project, a mixtape called ‘FiDiYootDem,’ and I’ll be releasing the second mixtape a few months later. We’re filming a couple videos for it in the next few weeks and starting in on some cool collabs, too. My solo stage debut was a couple weeks ago with Killer Mike, Ghostface Killah and Action Bronson… so that’s a pretty fly way to kick it all off, haha.

Thanks to Tasha the Amazon for taking the time to share. You can keep up with Tasha’s endeavors at www.tashatheamazon.com.

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