Far East Movement: Insider Interview
FAR EAST MOVEMENT HIT #1 ON BILLBOARD HOT 100! Imagine having Lil Jon and Snoop Dogg on your first major label debut. Now imagine touring with Lady Gaga, N.E.R.D., Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Pitbull, and the Black Eyed Peas. For Kev Nish, J-Splif, Prohgress and DJ Virman of the Far East Movement (FM), this is life. Hit Talk spoke to Far East Movement on the road: first with Kev Nish and J-Splif riding in the back, then with Prohgress who responsibly refused to talk on the phone while driving. The full story of Far East Movement reveals that musical success isn’t a freak accident that happens to the incredibly lucky; it isn’t a privilege reserved for the ruthlessly shrewd; it’s an accomplishment earned by sacrifice, dedication, and grace. Throughout their career Far East Movement has worked tirelessly to make connections with DJs, nightclubs, fellow artists and record companies, and while they credit their success to the efforts of their many supportive colleagues, those efforts would be wasted were it not for FM’s own resourcefulness and tenacity.
Hit Talk: It really looks like you’re near the point of full-fledged stardom and success. You guys have toured with Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Pitbull, Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga; the list goes on and on. So… how does all that feel?
Kev Nish: To hear you say that, it feels pretty crazy to us. It feels still like we’ve just started, which we have, and we’ve been doing this for a few years now. But ever since we joined up with Cherry Tree/Interscope it feels like starting from day one of our careers. And it’s exciting for us, it’s exciting times!
Hit Talk: You’ve been together what about seven years total, right? How much of that has involved the big whirlwind of collaborations and tours?
Kev Nish: You know, it’s been the majority of the years… When we first learned how to record, we always had help from our community. Our first big break, we consider, was a song that we got placed in 2006 for a movie called “Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” and then, through that, we met the director who connected us to some great TV publishing companies, and they helped get us songs on shows like CSI. Every year there was one thing that opened the door to the next. To this point, we always like to say, the whole reason we got signed was thanks to the great people around us. So everyone must shine, and if we’re shining, it’s really the hard work of a great team and a great community.
HT: So all those first opportunities, all those TV placements, you got those by networking with people who supported you.
KN: Totally, we were going to industry events in Hollywood, having meetings with different placement people.
HT: How did you go about networking with all these people?
KN: We would go to any industry event, function, mixer, that we heard of around Los Angeles. Any type of Hip Hop club, we would go to all the clubs in hollywood and meet all the DJs. And through that collecting numbers, just like anyone else in the game does, and following through. One of our members Prohgress – we like to consider him our in-home management – he’ll go out and meet with people. We meet as many people as we can, and we embrace that. That’s kind of the beauty of living in LA: the access to people is one phone call away or one club away.
Even before that, when we interned, we would literally call the number in the phone book – that’s when the yellow pages was actually a viable source – we called Interscope and met with the human resources and got ourselves an internship. Through that, we were able to meet Greg Miller, and we actually interned for Greg which is kinda crazy, [because] now he’s our publicist. So, we met people just by interning there. Every day someone new would come through the Interscope office.
HT: And that was just through the yellow pages. So, two of you were Interscope interns, then suddenly you’ve signed a record deal and you get picked by Lady Gaga for the Monster’s Ball tour - how did that all transpire?
KN: We met producers at the internship who were working in the A&R department. [We met a producer named] Jon Yip from a crew called The Stereo Types, and we kept friends with them. They were doing big things, and we never wanna bug someone for beats, so we kinda just kept doing our thing.
Then, we brought DJ Virman into the group around 2007, who we met through random mutual friends. And when DJ Virman got in the group he helped give us a perspective on what we needed to do to get our first song on radio. So when we finally got our first song on radio is when The Stereo Types, who we’d known for a while, we finally started getting their attention. They’re like “Wow. These kids got a song on the radio with no label, no nothin’. Let’s work with them.”
That really spawned into the creation of “Girls on the Dance Floor” which we would like to say is our first break out song; it hit top five in LA, it got us to open for Jay-Z and a bunch of other people
HT: And that’s a solid joint too man, I like that song.
KN: Thank you, man. Thanks for knowing the music, man, I appreciate that. It’s refreshing… So what happened was a lot of labels started calling us “we wanna meet, we wanna meet” Interscope really took the time to sit down and meet and go over all the music, and they said “We like the sound, we like what’s goin’ on here.” We ended up getting an invitation through Martin Kierszenbaum, who is the head of Cherry Tree Records, to Jimmy Iveen’s house, and from there they asked us with the Stereo Types together as a team, they said “we like what you guys are doing, let’s do this.” And we said “we would love to.” So it turned into getting signed to Cherry Tree as an artist.
HT: So that helped out Stereo Types as well as you guys, that partnership?
KN: Definitely, I mean, we work with a bunch of other producers as well, but they have a majority of the production on our album.
HT: And then quite quickly you were touring with Lady Gaga. You toured with her on Monster’s Ball, and then you toured with the Neptunes. So what are some of the highlights of those tours? Did you guys get to hang out with Lady Gaga or the Neptunes?
KN: We did. We actually did, and that was weird because we had heard that, as openers, you never really get to meet the artist; they don’t even see your show. But luckily, the head of Cherry Tree is amazing, and he’s really personal with all of his artists so he made sure to put in a few good words to Gaga. So, she actually invited us to come hang out with her in her recording studio and you know just talked, you know, talked about music. And that was so cool because we’re so new in the game - to actually meet her and vibe out was a big deal.
The whole tour itself was really inspiring because she puts so much into her show. She sings “out” which means she sings full force for two hours straight, she doesn’t even budge. The theatrics, the set, the whole show, it was just next-level, so that really inspired us [and showed us] – being serious in the music industry, and being with Interscope/Cherry Tree – how far we have to really go and push to get to that level one day, hopefully.
HT: It looks like probably you’re on your way there. “Like a G6″ that’s perhaps your biggest song now. Could you tell us a bit about what went into that song, working with Cataracs?
|KN: Definitely. We heard about The Cataracs through DJ J Espinoza; he’s big on a station [in San Francisco] called Wild. He told us “You’ve gotta check out these guys, the Cataracs, they’re shooting a video.” Well, we missed the video shoot, but I ended up searching up their music and we thought “Yo these guys are kinda cool, let’s meet up with them and connect.” So we met up and went to their house, it’s like the back of this pool house. They had a few tracks, they showed us a few tracks, and we’re like “Nah we’re not feelin’ that, that’s not our direction.” But… we got a little bit of time, we’re at a pool house, we’re gettin’ slizzard. Let’s make a song from scratch. And they’re down with that, you know, they’re real musicians. They’re true to this Nu Skool stuff, and talented. We got in, they started playin’ us some sounds.|
We produce as well, so we gave them a bit of feedback on what we wanted. All of a sudden, Niles who’s the producer for the group came up with this amazing bass progression, it was just off the hook, so it stuck with it. We linked up with Dev who sung the hook, it just kinda spawned into this really wild party song. People ask us “what’s you’re inspiration?” and it’s just partying in a pool house, and in the club of course, DJs are a huge inspiration to us.
HT: It’s a great video, too, man, that’s a good look. Is it the Pontiac G6 you’re talking about, or what exactly is the G6?
KN: It’s actually not. People say that “yo is that a G6 Pontiac?” I’m glad that people are asking and wondering about it. It’s actually a private jet, but at the time we made the song, there was a G4 out and there was a G5, so we all thought “yo, what’s the next level of fly? If you’re that fly, then you’re a G6; you’re a private jet that ain’t even released yet.” And now we hear that Gulfstream put out a Gulfstream 650, which would be a G6.
HT: This question for J-Splif: You had a nine to five job when you guys were starting out, with a two hour commute, and you were doing production and recording until three in the morning. How did you manage?
J-Splif: Oh man. Lots of coffee, lots of caffeine and Red Bull… It was all worth it though you know … and now we get to talk about it.
HT: So now that your music is getting a bit more traction, are you still on an insane schedule, or have you been able to relax a little bit?
J-Splif: Our schedule is still pretty crazy. We get to relax on long flights, but we’re constantly on the move. I speak for the rest of the guys when [I say] sleep is not our friend. We might as well do it while we’re able to.
HT: One of your biggest hits was Girls on the Dancefloor, which has some pretty stellar production. And you recorded that in a bedroom?
JS: Yeah, we wrote it, and in about a couple of hours, laced it. And then it was on the radio in a couple of days. As soon as we heard the beat and everything, everyone in the room was just vibin’, and out came the song. You can’t go wrong with girls.
HT: [Laughs] Definitely not. So how did you guys put together such a successful song so quickly. Was it just that the stars were aligned?
JS: It was one of those, yeah, where the stars were aligned. The vibe was right, the beat was dope, and .. we were all on the same page. So with a little help, with a little juice, we just kinda got through it, and the next thing you know we had a hit on our hands.
HT: You guys are from California. You’re southeast Asian descent, Korean descent right?
JS: A couple of us are Korean, Kev’s actually half Chinese, half Japanese, and Virman is Philipino. We’re coverin’ all bases.
HT: So, being from Cali, and given your origins, are you inspired at all by the rapper Lyrics Born?
JS: Lyrics Born, yes. He’s a good mentor to us. We’re actually fans of his.
HT: Lyrics is a great emcee, and he’s got an accessible style, he’s been around for a while, and you four are new, yet well into the mainstream. Why do you suppose Lyrics hasn’t caught on as much?
JS: Let me ask the guys and see if we can come up with the best answer for that.
KN: From our perspective, we’re such fans of his, we really feel like he has caught on … We would pay good money to go see him at festivals playing in front of a 25,000 person crowd. That’s something that, with all due respect, tells us he has made it.
HT: He has. But, at the same time, he doesn’t have quite the pop appeal, he’s a bit more underground.
KN: No, you’re definitely right about that. I guess he’s very successful in the lane that he wants to be. I mean, he’s tried switching up his style, but after talking to him and knowing him as an artist.. his sound… that’s just the sound that he loves to do… I’d love to hear him on the radio, don’t get me wrong. I would love to turn on the radio station and hear a Lyrics Born record.
HT: So you have had a chance to talk to him. When was that?
KN: Yeah, we met around two years ago through the assistant producer that was on “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”. He brought us to a show. We were already fans of his, and then we went out to eat dinner with him, and then every time he came to L.A., he would hit us up, and we would just grab dinner or party at a friends house. He invited us backstage. We actually got backstage with him when he performed at Jimmy Kimmel. That was crazy … we were literally in the front row when he was performing… For him to invite us out, and get backstage and then be in the front row… it was just ridiculous.
HT: So yo, is DJ Virman in the back with you?
KN: Actually DJ Virman is at the power 106 station. He couldn’t make it, but here’s Prohgress if you want to talk to Pro.
HT: How’s it goin’ Prohgress?
Prohgress: Man. Sorry about that, I was driving the whole time…
HT: No Problem. So, when you started out, before you were joined by DJ Virman, your first show was a charity for a local rehab center. Are you guys taking some of that positive vibe along with you?
Prohgress: Oh absolutely man. That first show… my dad’s actually been working with that particular charity for quite a while. We have a lot of friends actually who have gotten a lot of help from there. That was something we wanted to help, because it’s part of an ethnic enclave which doesn’t get a lot of government funding. So we wanted do what we could to help support that.
We continue to try to do that. Right now we actually support a non-profit organization called 4C the power. And it’s an educational project where a lot of artists will go into schools and do little after-school sessions where we teach them that learning can be fun. And the way we do that is that we break down music, whether some of them will be visual artists, some will be poets some will be DJs. We teach them how to write a song, but do it in a curriculum-based way, where [we show] how to pick the beat, how to come up with a hook that’s kind of decent, and then share it at the end, the last 30 minutes where everyone’s performing in front of each other.
P: We’ve done 15 workshops now throughout the last year and a half. During that time, kids will write back to us how they’re enjoying school a lot more. School superintendents will send over grade progress reports, and a lot of the kids do a lot better. It’s a very rewarding experience. When we were younger we didn’t get as much of that kind of support when it comes to music and art, so that’s something we want to provide… And like Kevin said in the very beginning of the interview, we’re a product of our community, a product of the people that helped us get here, and all we can do is nurture the community and give back whatever we’ve got. I mean we don’t got much, but we give back what we can.
HT: So yo, your upcoming album is your major label debut. You’ve got a lot of major artists on that new album. You’ve actually been in the studio with these guys?
P: Yeah, we’ve got lil’ Jon, Snoop Dog, who’s a huge inspiration for us being from the West Coast especially. And they’ve just been so gracious to jump on our album, perform with us, jump on our videos and things of that sort. So a lot of cool music and we can’t wait to release it … and start getting some feedback.
HT: So Lil’ Jon and Snoop obviously have a lot of faith in what you’re doing. These songs on your upcoming album, do you think these are going to be your biggest songs yet?
P: I should hope so. We’ve spent a lot of time working on these songs. We’ve learned a lot throughout the years about different tricks of the trade. We’re really trying to apply [all those lessons] all at once, and the fact that we’re3 blessed to be working with all these great producers also ensure that we have a lot of great production on it. So you know, hopefully this turns out to be the best one, but you know we’ll see. Everyone’s got a different take.
HT: So is there anything else you or the rest of the band want to let everyone know?
KN: Ah, no no, we’re good man. Just, appreciate you, man. Thank you all, thank you ModernBeats.