Qknox and Kalyn Heffernan on Quantized Fitness, their new monthly hip-hop showcase
Konsequence Qknox and Kalyn Heffernan host Quantized Fitness tonight at Unit E.
Quantized Fitness is new monthly hip-hop showcase being hosted by Qknox (aka Jerod Sarlo) and Kalyn Heffernan of Wheelchair Sports Camp, two artists who have contributed considerably to the local hip-hop scene over the last five years. In honor of this evening's inaugural edition of Quantized Fitness, Qknox will also be releasing a mixtape of his beats. We sat down with the pair and spoke with Qknox about his beatmaking efforts and living in New York, and he and Kalyn also talked about Quantized Fitness and what lies ahead for the new night.
Westword: You grew up learning classical music and jazz. Were you encouraged at all to make your own compositions or did you mostly play work written by other people?
Qknox: The method that I studied growing up was called The Pace Method. It really emphasized a lot of creative music. Part of what we had to do was write music even if you didn't really want to. I really dug that, and my teacher was very open about creating music. I had learned classical music, but if I wanted to play some boogie woogie songs, she was cool with that. I teach a lot of places where there are teachers that are very strict about: This is what you do, this is how you learn it, these are the songs that you play. There's not a lot of wiggle room in there. Stuff like Suzuki, especially, is very regimented.
Did you mostly play acoustic piano or was it across the board?
Q: I played strictly acoustic piano until I got into jazz band when I started playing electric piano. I didn't really get into synthesizers and MIDI stuff until I started producing. But when I was in eighth grade, a friend of mine had a Rhodes in his basement. The happenstance was that they were holding it for their church because nobody wanted it. I later took Hammond B3 classes at Berklee. A couple of friends of mine have clavinets. I love all those analog instruments. If I could afford them and could fit them into my apartment, I'd have all of them.
When did you start getting into production? Did begin when you were in high school?
Q: Yeah, my older brother is a DJ. Strictly vinyl, record player DJ. His name is Red C. He does a lot of hip-hop stuff. Since middle school, I've been a super record digger because I was a jazz head and lots of that stuff I couldn't find on CD. Back then, friends of mine and I would try to make beats by trying to put scratch break records on one side and a jazz record on the other side.
I had mixtapes where I would use two tape decks and master the pause and play button switch and you can loop the first ten seconds of some Brothers Johnson song. I like to sample, you know, especially some super weird ones. Recently, I've been sampling Russian prog rock from the '80s and 20th century classical/avant-garde stuff like George Russell. I've been sampling a lot of Brazilian music, too.
I'm a big cover person. That's always the first thing I notice. I've also been working with a lot of Italian movie soundtracks, like those of Ennio Morricone. I dig stuff like that because I love Steve Reich. Like the hypnotic quality of that music. Especially how with the synth stuff, where it's a ten minute song, and it takes eight minutes to get to that first sound that becomes the first waterfall.
All of that developed into making beats. That really got a big push when I moved to New York. In New York, like in Denver, every other person is a rapper. I would always go dig through records at Fat Beats or something, and there'd be people hustling their wares all the time. I made beats originally just because I liked to.
When I found out it was possible to put a drum beat to the theme from the Olympics. Why wouldn't I do that? I had my keyboard that I would use to sequence drums, and I would run it into Acid. I still use Acid occasionally, even though I've switched mostly over to Ableton now.
Everybody has their program they started out on and are super comfortable using. In 1999, there was no way you could envision having a show of your beats. You could play things live for sure, but it's not like it is now with Ableton and all the things you can do.
Kalyn Heffernan: I feel guilty now that I'm using it. Especially with that APC. It's just too easy. Somebody give me a tape deck, please! I'm losing everything. I just got that APC and I feel like I'm way more comfortable with it than with my 909, which I've had since I was sixteen. I've had it for two weeks, and I'm like, "This is not natural. This is not good."
Where did you live in New York, Jerod?
Q: Everywhere. You have to move every year if you don't own a spot because rent goes up like that. I lived in Bed Stuy on Bolton Street, which is a commercial street. We lived above a deli, and across the street was a bank. But if you walked three or four blocks either way to the brownstones, that was something you just didn't do.
It was me and three other friends that all went to jazz school. Four, blond-haired, blue-eyed, white kids walking around. For the first couple of months everybody thought we were cops. It was only when some friends caught me buying raps or something in the deli downstairs they realized we were just students.
There were some MCs I loved working with. It was so real in that neighborhood. You would schedule a session for the next day, and you wouldn't hear from them for a month and a half, and they'd come back and say how they were arrested. I couldn't get in touch with them because they didn't have a phone. But it felt like being more part of the community because if you had to actually, physically see somebody to talk to them.
There was this amazing antique store this old guy owned, and he had records I used to buy, and it was always three dollars. He wasn't trying to go through and price them. I lived there for a while and moved to Park Slope and then Upper Harlem on the outskirts of Sugar Hill. After that we moved to Washington Heights.
Did you play out there much?
Q: I did a lot more Afro-Cuban stuff and a lot of jazz stuff. I super miss doing the Afro-Cuban stuff. I was doing work as a music therapist, but I didn't have my music therapy degree, so I was a musical specialist. I worked with kids and adults with developmental disabilities. I did an after school program for blind kids and a rehabilitation program for adults. Part of the reason I moved back to Denver is I wanted to do more playing.
That seems counter-intuitive.
Q: The guy I was taking lessons with over there, Andy Milne, said, "New York is always going to be here, and it's always going to be doing New York things. What you need to do is build your sound. You just got this huge education. Take a second and play. Play as much as possible, and play with everybody you can.
Andy plays with M-Base. It's a system of music built more around the internalization of clave. They teach you the beat, and you repeat it, and you keep doing it until it's internalized; then they teach you another aspect of the beat. They don't teach you to count; they teach you the rhythm [in a less formal way].
Why did you come back to Denver instead of some other, bigger city with a lot of music going on?
Q: I was already plugged into the scene here. I already had gigs before moving back. And the cost of living. I made way more money in New York than I do here. Our two bedroom apartment that didn't even have a kitchen counter was fifteen hundred a month. I go back to New York to recharge and to take a lesson and see a bunch of shows, but it was so expensive.
Here I can fly to New York or L.A. if I want to. I can drive to Texas, and I can get to Chicago in a day. I encourage people who want to live in New York or L.A., I encourage people to do that. It was a good experience, but I never want to live there again. If I had a million dollars, maybe. But that journey to go there and live there is valuable.
I'm on time to rehearsals because when I was in New York, if I was late, you're fired. Say you get stuck on the subway and you call to say you'll be late, you will be told they already have someone. And if you have a rehearsal or a show and you didn't learn the music -- I witnessed the show at the Jazz Standard with one of my favorite drummers; after the first set they fired him and got another drummer that happened to be in the audience. It was so cutthroat out there.
When I moved out here cats are 45 minutes late to rehearsals. Or you'll get a CD two weeks ahead of the rehearsal and no one will have learned the songs. It's totally the depth chart here. I have a choice of five or six bass players I can call for a performance, but in New York there were fifty. But here, the person I could get wouldn't be as good as you. People take advantage of that because they know there's nobody behind them better. But I dig the fact that Denver is very community oriented and we help each other out and we look out for each other. It wasn't as much like that in New York. It's just different.