Image: Instagram @sadistik
Earlier this year Sadistik released Haunted Gardens, his fifth album. Last week we spent some time talking to the man himself about his new work and delving deeper into some of the big questions that define his career.
If you know a thing or two about Sadistik already you won’t be disappointed with the conversation transcribed below. We spoke for a good 40+ minutes about honouring his father, mental health and depression, literature (we even got some exclusive freestyle bars on the subject of writers), film, Thom Yorke, Radiohead, Lupe Fiasco, Eyedea and Outkast.
If you’ve yet to experience the zoetrope of Sadistik’s music this is the best place to begin. You will get a sense of what he likes, how he writes, who he wants to work with and how relentless he’s become in recent years.
Before the interview began I mentioned that I’d be sketching out a feature on his career, looking into the evolution of his style and how the recurring themes have taken shape. Oh, and it looks as though Sadistik will keep Glasgow in mind when he tours the UK in the near future, so stay up!
[If you’d rather listen to the interview you can do so here.]
So, it’s been around five months since Haunted Gardens and it’s looking like a firm favourite already for long-term fans as well as new fans. How do you feel about Haunted Gardens now that there’s been a little bit of distance from it?
It’s the best thing I’ve ever made.
Glad to hear it [laughs].
Yeah, I think some of my best or favourite songs I’ve ever made are on other albums, but as a piece of work this is what I’m most proud of.
Excellent. I see in your press release the way you sort of describe it: “discussing pain in solitude”. I’m guessing that’s one of the big reasons you don’t have any guest appearances, yeah?
Yeah, I [get] very obsessive about my albums and, kind of, cohesion. And now that I have a discography – the size it is – I kind of look at the chronology of it and where I want to take it, so sometimes I’ll step back and look at it as a whole. And sometimes I’ll do that and I’ll ask myself: “What haven’t I done yet that I want to?” And so Haunted Gardens is a much smaller album. I did that on purpose before I even started it ‘cos that was kind of a different challenge for me, and then I knew I didn’t want any guest features right from the jump. Those are just a couple of parameters I wanted to set for myself so I wasn’t creating aimlessly.
I’m looking over your discography here and I’m like… you’ve put something out every year, at least, since 2010, man, that’s crazy. I don’t know where you find the energy.
When I first started, I considered myself a very slow, meticulous artist and I was like: “I’ll never be prolific.” The Balancing Act  took me over three years to make, and then a couple years went by before I released an EP and it was like, I just wasn’t dropping a lot of music. But then over time I just hit a different pace. Different approach. And I don’t really plan on slowing down for a little bit.
It’s a great discography. I’m just thinking about some of my favourite songs just now, but I’m going to move on to talk about ‘Koi’. It’s one of those songs I think that seem to have affected a lot of people and I’m just wondering… given how painful it was for you to write, how much satisfaction do you get knowing the impact that it’s having on fans?
That was a really hard song to write, emotionally. But physically, in real time, it was maybe the fastest song I’ve ever written. Or one of them. You know, ‘Alcoves’ was pretty quick for obvious reasons but I wrote ‘Koi’ very quickly. It was one of most, I don’t know… it was one of more intense writing sessions I’ve ever had and it just kind of happened, I wasn’t planning on it. I almost didn’t put it on the album. That was the last song for me to give the green light to.
It was the last addition. Now, I think about the project, and I can’t imagine it without it. It’s one of the cornerstones of it in my mind. But I was really close to not putting it out. It just made me really uncomfortable, and I’ll never perform that song.
Yeah, and I think everyone would respect that. It’s amazing, these insights into what an album might have been. You talk about how quickly it came to you. Because of the subject matter, do you think you needed time to deal with a lot of the emotions and then, when you actually gave yourself… “Right, I’m going to get this done” it just all exploded out, almost?
Well, I mean, I write… a lot, obviously. But in some of the sessions I’m just sharper than others and sometimes if it’s more of a braggadocious or just kind of a dark thing my headspace is slightly different whereas a certain beat might bring me somewhere else. So, ‘Koi’, when I started writing it, it was like one of the other million songs I start. I was in the process of writing a new song every day, you know? But then it just, it just fucked me up. My girlfriend looked at me and she was like, “are you okay?” Mentally it just kind of scraped a place that, I don’t know, it’s just a tough spot for me to think about. Yeah, but I’m really glad it’s on that album. It’s something that’s openly about my dad and for my dad and so, like I said, I consider this the best thing I’ve made and so I’m happy that there’s something there that’s clearly for him.
It’s a beautiful tribute. The fans, I think, really engage with that. That brings me on to talking about depression and mental health generally. I’ve read you saying it’s worth talking about these things, rapping about these things if even one person feels better because of it. I wondered, though, if you could say anything about the pressure that comes from these testimonials that you get, does it make it harder—
There’s a lot. There’s a lot, and it’s kind of a tricky line to tow, because I connect with my fans and they connect with me on a deeper level than I think most artists because the subject matter that they relate to is a lot heavier, and so I want to let them know that I’m there for them to a reasonable extent, when people come to shows and they tell me these intense stories. When people message me I try to be as good as I can about being there to a reasonable extent. But at the same time I don’t want to be that person that pretends that there’s some arbiter of this topic, or that I can fix anything for people. Essentially, if you really boil it down, I want people to know: I feel like this. If you can relate to this, you’re not alone in it. There’s a lot of other people that feel like this who just don’t word it like I do. In rap, a lot of people use mental health and depression and a lot of these things that have become buzz words lately as a marketing thing…
Yeah, which is a real shame. We can never avoid people abusing those sort of things, you know?
Yeah. And, you know, for a lot of people that’s their whole marketing scheme. I don’t ever want to be like that, but with that said I do feel like I have a reasonable perspective of it. I’ve definitely had my own depression and things I’ve dealt with in different ways. I also have a degree in Psychology so I have, at least, a general idea of it, kind of an outside level, so it’s like… I don’t know. I know what it’s like to just feel really shitty – and sad, pretty music alleviating it.
Yeah, and on a base level there’s absolutely nothing with that. And what you do is, obviously, go beyond the “sad pretty” and give us layers of emotional introspection. I think that’s why people keep coming back.
Yeah, and I don’t want it to ever be like this “emo” thing…
But I do want it to just… feel real. Like, I want it to feel like something that exists in people and not just this escapism of fantasy, you know?
Yeah, absolutely. I consider myself lucky, I can understand depression [without having it myself] because my wife has dealt with it for a long time and, you know, music such as yours really helps because it’s all about normalizing it and showing it as an art when you can, you can deal with it that way.
Exactly, if I can make something pretty out of these really shitty things, other people can.
I was going to ask you about producers. Some of my favourite producers – Emancipator, Blue Sky Black Death – it makes sense that you collaborate with these guys. I wondered if you could give us an example of how one of these collaborations came about?
So, Emancipator… I found him on MySpace, and he didn’t have any albums out. And I knew I wanted to make this certain kind of album [The Balancing Act]. I had it mapped out in my head, I knew what I wanted to do, and I just couldn’t find the person to make the right production for it. I came across Emancipator, I was like “oh, this is it.” And then, Blue Sky Black Death – similar, in the fact that I found them on MySpace when they had one song up and no albums out. I heard the song and I was like, “oh, shit. That’s it.”
I have a lot of confidence in my ear for production, you know, I know what I like. Both those guys, though, they all have amazing careers so I kind of pat myself on the back and be like “Oh, I found that,” or – I didn’t “find” it, I noticed it, early. BSBD, I reached out to them and that point and they weren’t really interested in selling production and so I didn’t hear from them for a while. And then, the Seattle connection, I reached out to buy beats. And then we became friends and made music more organically. And now I make music – I have some songs – with Televangel from BSBD, Ian [Taggart].
Yeah, his work’s great. I’ve got his new album [Anthropocene Blues] on the phone. I’m so glad there’s a link that goes forward there. In Haunted Gardens… I’m guessing, then, guys like Foxwedding, it’s that similar thing. You’ve found a soundscape that you just want to cultivate more and more. He’s not, maybe, as established as these other guys, but is this a part of your drive? Connecting with new artists?
Yeah, I mean it’s a handful of different elements. One of the elements is that I always want to evolve my albums. It’s got to be different from the ones before it, but still have its own distinguishing things that make it mine. So, working with new producers is a really, you know, obvious way to challenge yourself again and try something a little different. Another part of it is, to be totally blunt, a lot of times producers I want to work with more just drag their feet more, or they focus on other things and I’m not willing to just sit around and wait. I want to just keep making things and so I’ll find other people that I like their music. And some become more organic relationships, some it’s just, you know, just buy a beat. But I want to do more of an involved thing. But a lot of times people that I’m willing to work with exclusively on something aren’t working at nearly the same pace.
Yeah, and you’re talking about being prolific, early on in your career looking ahead to how often you can make music. I think I’ve seen you tweet about this more than once.
Yeah, it’s just different paces. And sometimes, personal things happen or whatever so the timing hasn’t been right on some exclusive producer stuff but it doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen in the future. But, I also kind of, in a way, produce all my albums in the sense that I A&R it, I shoot all the production, I tweak it, I work with the mixer, I have input on every single thing. And so, in that sense I’m producing it, too. So, I know that I can rely on my instincts to shape them together and make it cohesive.
Well, that’s the thing about Haunted Gardens. There’s 12 producers for 13 tracks. I know Foxwedding has three of them [and] you’ve got some tracks that have two producers. But the big thing about this album is its unity. There’s complete cohesion. If you didn’t actually look into credits you might think it’s been the one producer the whole way, it has that unified sound.
Thanks… that’s one of my favourite things to hear. In my opinion, that’s one of the harder things to do about making a record the way I want it.
It’s nice to hear, knowing that Haunted Gardens is your favourite.
Yeah, I do that annoying thing though where whatever my newest one is my favourite. But that’s the honest answer, it’s like I’m not trying to sell it to anybody, it’s just this is, by far, my favourite. But if it wasn’t my favourite I don’t know if I’d put it out anyway.
Yeah, there’s nothing more annoying than hearing a rapper, you know, that you love and then you find out they don’t care for that music, they don’t have their soul in it because they’re thinking back.
I don’t understand it. And as a listener we can tell immediately. Sometimes listeners don’t know what the fuck they’re hearing or sometimes we’re just… haters. But we all can think of examples of artists that were so good that just keep releasing their worst album over and over, and they just ride it out. I just don’t understand that. Unless it’s about the money thing. But, like, I don’t know. I feel like most dope artists are dope because they’re artists, not because they’re looking for money.
I wanted to talk about the Salo Sessions. Some of my favourite tracks you made are on there. I’m thinking ‘Mourning Glory’ from I, ‘Crown’ from II. But, personally, I’ve always been tempted to see the Sessions sort of like a purge for you. Getting some of your darker ideas out and see what fits, maybe paving the way to an LP?
Salo Sessions is like an outlet for me from whatever the album is I’m working on, but under this unified idea. So, Haunted Gardens for example, I know that’s going to be a sombre album, and it’s not easy or particularly productive to just sit down every day and go “I’m going to write something sad…”
It just doesn’t work. It won’t be as good if it’s not real. But at the same time I can’t just create when I’m sad, that’s not healthy either. So part of it is like, oh, this producer, something we want to work together on, this won’t fit the album at all, but I can make it fit Salo or something else. I wanted to just remove the limitations around myself and so Salo Sessions was one way to do that. I almost cut ‘Mourning Glory’, I almost just threw that away.
Yeah? Do you not like it so much?
In the moment I didn’t, now it’s one of my more popular songs. But I do that a lot, there’s a lot of songs that I didn’t seem to like that I almost threw away.
You know, ‘Rabbithole’ from Ultraviolet … I hooked onto that right away. I think it’s because you let it grow so much: it’s such a long track. Similar to ‘Mourning Glory’. There must be a reason why your fans hook onto these longer songs?
A lot of the OG fans that were into me at the beginning, they’re always championing for more Balancing Act kind of stuff… a lot of build-ups and more of an epic vibe and layout to it, and so I do those really massive, long songs like that. Maybe there’s something exciting about saying something ambitious like that. It takes a little more work, takes a lot more time, you know? Takes a lot more thought.
I think so. So, Pasolini. Salo. One of the many references to horror. How critical is it for you to weave your own tastes into your music?
To me, that’s such a crucial part of my style. I view myself, sometimes, as this kind of net or antennae. And my creative diet – what I watch, what I listen to, what I read – it all kind of goes into the same place. And when I’m writing I feel like those things are connecting in my mind at the time, and it runs into these things that I’m interested in, right? So it just adds to the stylistic tool-belt, I guess. And there’s just a lot of stuff I’m into that I never ever hear about in rap because they’re just so far apart from each other, and so I just think it’s dope to throw it in.
And you’ve got a loyal fan base who look for those things.
Yeah. I made the decision early on that I’ll always treat my audience like they’re intelligent. I don’t want to ever talk down or refrain from making a certain reference or doing something complicated because I don’t think it will land with everybody, you know what I mean? I want to treat my audience like they’re smarter than me, or as smart as me at the very least. I know what it’s like, when, if there’s an obscure reference in something, especially in rap, and you catch it. It’s kind of like getting a fucking bonus mission in a game or something. Lupe Fiasco makes a lot of references to shit that nobody else references, like old 16-bit video games and things, and I get excited. I’m like “Oh, that’s such a cool thing.” So, I appreciate it when people do it but I don’t think a lot of people do it. I try just to stir in my interests. My interests tend to be pretty vague for most people in hip-hop.
Lupe’s a great comparison I think. ‘Mural’, I just obsess over that song even though it isn’t littered with obscure references, but it tells so many weird stories…
It is littered with obscure references, though! It’s just, they’re…
They’re more obscure than I’m… I’ll need to dig into it more!
Yeah! “Top Cat chat…” there’s some weird things on there that I didn’t know until I looked into it. But that song is a monolith of rapping. The things he’s doing on there are, technically, really special.
I’ve been thinking about your tweet about Thom Yorke. Could you say anything about how he comes into your thinking?
He’s my favourite musician. Ever. As a Radiohead fan, their music affects me in ways that others just can’t quite. I know that sometimes it’s an unpopular or annoying opinion to be a huge Radiohead fan to some people for some reason. But with Haunted Gardens specifically, when I was mapping out in my head what I wanted to aim for – like I was saying earlier I wanted it to be shorter, no guest appearances, things like that – I try to think what colour the album would be, what kind of tone, those kind of things. And the song I threw in the web of influences was ‘Videotape’ by Radiohead. If any music had any influence on that album, it’s ‘Videotape’. The way that songs makes me feel, that’s a song you’d play at your funeral kind of shit. And I wanted that to be Haunted Gardens.
It’s strange you say the thing about colour. My wife and I were talking about Virginia Woolf’s book Moments of Being, an essay in there called ‘A Sketch of the Past.’ It’s all about colour and memory, and my wife, Sarah, said you must ask about how stuff like that sort of helps you create these moments in your music. I’m thinking about ‘Orange’, and what you’ve just said about Haunted Gardens.
Yeah, I think about music in colours sometimes. Tones, how does it make you feel? Same with films. Fincher movies have a different colour palette to them than Lynch. And that affects me a lot as a viewer, and I try to be consistent with that in the album. Before I had artwork for Haunted Gardens that was the colour I was picturing, that and a kind of grey.
That is very cool. I’m thinking if there’s any other examples you have about literature. You’ve probably seen the Instagram story we’ve been playing with: different shout outs to writers in hip-hop. You come up a lot… Edgar Allan Poe, Virginia Woolf, Bukowski. But is there any example you have that stands out for you, in terms of – I couldn’t really create this track until I read that poem or whatever it might be.
No, it more so just goes in the hopper when I digest or experience it and at some point in the future it may or may not pop up. I try not to base a song specifically off of one thing, even if it’s named after it or references it. Here’s a little literature one for you, though…
Fold my limbs up like origami
It makes it easy to store the body
Humour me, I’m a morbid hobby
Their made of carbons, of course they copy
So they’re zombies, slow the heartbeats
Prose McCarthy, Murakami
[Laughs] Brilliant. These things are golden to me man, honestly. Thank you.
Sort of winding down now. I’m thinking about Eyedea, and your tribute [‘Micheal’] being so raw and emotional. It stood out for me. I really liked Atmosphere’s tribute [‘Flicker’], but personally yours unlocked something for me as an Eyedea fan, who, over here in Scotland, I never met the guy, had never been to one of his shows, I didn’t really know how to deal with what you might call ‘grief’ for an artist that you loved. Your tribute really did that, and I appreciate that.
You’re welcome. So, looking across your discography it’s hard to ignore the evolution of your craft, your style. I think that, in the early days, whether or not legitimate, people would often make comparisons between you and Eyedea. Did it ever play in your mind in a negative way, or as a motivation, this recurring comparison?
I mean, it’s a compliment. Because he was—I mean, he was him, he was incredible. But some of it, I think people were kind of scripting it themselves. I loved Eyedea’s music, it definitely inspired me and still does inspire me. He was a friend of mine, I loved him. But some people kind of did this thing, like: “Sadistik was Eyedea’s protégé”, but that was definitely not the case and I definitely never said that. If anybody that would have been Kristoff [Krane], they worked together so closely. But I think a lot of people just connected dots that weren’t necessarily there. We were friends, he influenced me. Unfortunately he passed away before we got to be better friends. And then, part of it… as a grew my hair out some people seemed to take issue with that – which I thought was incredibly fucking goofy – but music peers, some of them would have their little things to say about it, when I grew my hair out. But then, suddenly, when my hair got longer longer those comparisons disappeared.
It’s interesting the way that aesthetic affects what people are actually listening to. All it takes is for one guy on YouTube to say “Sadistik is the new Eyedea” or whatever, and then people lodge that in their mind.
Yeah. I mean, I would never, ever claim something like that. In private or public. There is no new Eyedea, there never will be. There was only one, and we should all be fucking grateful that we got it while we did. It was amazing, it still is.
You know? And there’s only one Sadistik. This… this isn’t [laughs]… people can’t just put their little narratives to it and call it true because it’s not. He inspired me as a person, and an artist, and I loved him, he was a good friend. I want to honour him where I can. My career isn’t just some vehicle to honour my friend or anything like that. That’s the best part of it, you know. I want people to still honour him.
It’s interesting to hear the thing about your hair… the thing I was saying about aesthetic. Your cover for Salo II … it reminded me of that thing that people do, you know, they look at an album cover and they go “that’s not rap” before they listen to it, you know what I’m saying?
Yeah. I don’t look like whatever people think of when they hear the word rapper. I always kind of don’t quite fit in everywhere, and that’s just part of it. People are like “oh, this cover… this isn’t rap…”. But the kind of people that are so turned off by it that quickly aren’t really the people I’m aiming for. But sometimes it works for me too, where people have these expectations, and then they see or hear me and it completely contradicts whatever they thought. It can make a more powerful impression sometimes, so sometimes it works in my favour. But I’m comfortable not fitting in. There’s a lot of stuff that’ll be trendy that I was doing a while ago and people were making fun of me for it.
Absolutely. Going back to your song ‘Michael’, the outro to your song where Eyedea is talking… the notion that a person who believes they’ve found the answer or the end usually achieves a psychological end. I keep thinking about that quote because I’ve noticed a few times you’ve reminded fans to appreciate music in the moment. Do you see yourself making x amount of new projects and then trying something completely different?
I’m going to go as hard as I can until I don’t want to anymore [laughs]… and I know that’s vague. I’m going to kinda just disappear. When it’s done, it’s done. That’s it. But then it’s other people’s, you know, the second my album’s out it’s not mine anymore – it’s whoever wants it. I’ll look at everything I ever did and if it’s not exciting for me one day and it’s not what I want to do then I’ll just go somewhere else and just… close up.
Have you got plans, dreams about doing something else?
I want to make horror films.
Yeah [laughs] I should have guessed that would be on your list.
Yeah. That’s my dream.
I have no doubts that you’ll do that. The last question – officially – is about an argument we always have at Southsiders about classic albums. We usually ask for help to settle a score. I don’t know if you’re a huge OutKast fan, but if you are, we’re wondering if you prefer ATLiens or Aquemini?
Aw, man, I’ve been—first of all, I’m an enormous OutKast fan. My favourite rapper’s André. They have my favourite discography ever, beside Radiohead. But… [sighs] you asked me, like, that’s the rap question that I’ve been torturing myself with forever, but the answer is ATLiens. And this is weird but I think Aquemini is a better album but I like ATLiens more. ATLiens is my favourite rap album.
Oh, right! I should’ve maybe read that somewhere but I’m glad that you could share it with us anyway. And my friend Thomas is obsessed with André and he’ll be delighted to know this.
Yes, he’s worth every bit of hype.
He absolutely is. Right, I’ve kept you long enough, man. There’s one tiny last thing. My wife’s favourite song of yours is ‘The Beast’. The woman who sings at the beginning and end, we’ve been looking for the source of that for a long time and we can’t find it…
You have to ask BSBD on that one. But I can tell you a titbit about it, though. That song, Eyedea was supposed to be on that song. In the song ‘Micheal’ when I flew to Minnesota, “I flew in so that we could both record”, that was supposed to be ‘The Beast’, we were going to write it on the spot. Well, it wasn’t called ‘The Beast’, but I had the beat and we were going to go back and forth, line for line, kind of like the old Lox shit. That was the plan.
That’s completely changed how I’ll listen to that song now! I’m glad I’ve asked you that.
Yeah, thank you.
I think I’ve definitely taken up more than enough of your time. Thank you so much, man, I really appreciate it.
Yeah, man, thanks for always supporting, thanks for writing that review. Appreciate it.
I’ll see you, hopefully, in Glasgow when you do come here.
[Laughs] Yeah, when Glasgow happens you’re going to be there.