Photos: Steve Wollkind. L-R: Ryan Peters, Hugh Wyman, Moe Pope, Jason Meeker, Dan Nicklin, RJ “Rain” Rixey, Chris “Talkin” Sheehan.
Oldjack and Moe Pope, Chris “Talkin” Sheehan and RJ “Rain” Rixey, aka Quills, are perched across from each other on the stools in the kitchen at Mad Oak Studios. New Oldjack numbers are being reworked literally feet from where they’re sitting, but Moe, Chris and Rain aren’t ready to talk about the new stuff or about Oldjack’s plans for the future or their new projects just yet. Moe came prepared with a college-ruled notebook full of questions, which he got to before the guys were invited to listen to what Oldjack had been working on at the soundboard. After that, Moe, Chris and Rain insisted on sharing their new work, the much anticipated follow-up to Life After God. And in between sneak peeks and ruminations on Boston hip-hop (as Oldjack’s Dan Nicklin’s previous work includes credits with Mr. Lif and Esoteric), they got deep.
ON MAXIMIZING STAGE SPACE AND HEARTACHE:
Moe Pope: I listened to you guys’ music and it’s very classy.
Dan Nicklin: Aw, thanks man.
Ryan Peters: Tuxedo!
Chris “Talkin” Sheehan: Not a light blue ruffle one, either.
Moe: So we have four people on stage, and it’s fucking crazy. How the fuck do you guys deal with ten people on stage?!
Dan: Ah. Everybody gets a little teenie corner and I get the rest.
Chris: Yeah! Like you rope an area off, “Don’t come into my zone guys …”
Dan: I have a pretty heavy mic stand, so I’ll take someone out.
Moe: [Pointing to Chris] This dude, sometimes it’s like, “Is this gonna be a night when Chris does whenever he wants? Or this gonna be what we practiced?” [Laughs]
Chris: Those nights are me like, maybe crowdsurfing, maybe like throwing a microphone.
RJ “Rain” Rixey: Maybe doing front flips into the crowd.
Chris: Maybe doing front flips into the crowd. Whatever.
Moe: So “Face Like Mine” and “Green” are obviously about heartache. Are these songs autobiographical?
Dan: I mean I think they’re biographical. I just don’t know if they’re autobiographical.
Moe: That means a lot when you can touch into that though. I mean, it seems personal.
Dan: You know, “Face Like Mine,” there was some stuff going on when we wrote this record that just needed to be captured and I was able to capture it.
Rain: We know that well too. Our last record was the same thing.
Dan: “Face Like Mine”—I was taking the train one day and this girl was just crying her eyes out on the train. Like just bawling, like uncontrollable crying. And you kinda wanna help, you know what I mean? But you can’t. You can’t so you just kinda watch. So that was kind of where that one came from and it probably has a little bit of things I see in it.
Moe: I mean honestly, I asked about those two songs because we wrote a whole record basically on heartache. Life After God. All of us were going through shit, you know what I’m saying.
Dan: See, that’s interesting to me because I used to be fairly aggressively involved in the hip-hop community in Boston. And eventually I was like, “Well there’s no room to be a person in this music anymore, so I gotta go somewhere else. I gotta go explore.” So it’s amazing for me to hear you saying that you’re doing that.
Moe: This is our whole point. I thoroughly understand that you have the braggadocio, the fuckin’ very masculine machismo shit. I understand that side of it. I can spit and do that shit, too, and I do on two or three songs on the record, because it’s fun. And that’s a part of hip-hop culture. But for the most part I like to make sure that I write about something that matters to the common man, you know? … If you think about all the other music, from Clapton to Björk, saying they all write about their own experiences and that pain, happiness, fuckin’ all that shit—why can’t hip-hop do it? So that’s what we do.
Ryan: I think that’s awesome.
ON GETTING PIGEON-HOLED:
Chris: I don’t know—it’s so weird with music with us. People pigeonhole us as a hip-hop group and they hear our record and they’re like, “Oh you’re different!” but they’re still like, “So did you like that new Odd Future record?” Like, “Mmm … I don’t know, dude. I don’t know. Maybe if I was a 15-year-old kid I might like it.” I’m sure it’s the same with you guys too.
Jason Meeker: Like country, or classic rock, or whatever. I mean I’m sure you guys have heard like enough times “Oh, I didn’t expect that.”
Dan: [laughs] I don’t think anyone knows what to do with us anyway, as a band.
Chris: It’s the same with us man, because like we’re not a hip hop—like we’re not hip hop enough for hip hop fans, and we’re not different enough for—
Moe: We’re not punk enough for punk rock. That’s what they’ll say. But then again we’re not hip-hop enough for a hip-hop crowd, but they’ll say “Wow I fucking love that. I don’t know that it is but I really like it!” you know?
Dan: That’s really interesting. I think we get a lot of that, right?
Meeker: Tread your own path, yeah.
Chris: Isn’t that a beautiful thing though?
Dan: Well, yeah, it makes shows confusing , but …
Chris: This is the thing. Every time we’ve played New Hampshire, I don’t know what it is, we have like a curse in New Hampshire, but everyone will stand there and be like … just ice grill us the whole time. And we’re on stage and we’re like “What the FUCK? What do I have to do to make you guys do something?” And then after the show everyone comes up to us like, “You guys were fucking amazing!” and I’m like “Well … would’ve been cool if when we were on stage you clapped when we finished a song. You guys just stood there.”
Dan: Yeah! We were at, like, a classic rock show once. And we were up on stage and everybody’s starin’ at us like “Who the fuck are these guys? What are they doin’ here?” I mean we even had the organ player from one of the other bands. And they went mental for the other bands, but for us they were just like staring. It was the same thing, people were like, “I really liked you guys.” And we’re like, “You guys were thirty feet from the stage like sitting in your chair.”
Chris: Yeah! Dude it’s so bizarre. Because for me, like when I go to a show, I’m feeling a band and you know it. I hate to bring it back but I’m a hardcore kid, and that’s what you do. Like I’m in the front fuckin’ row and I wanna touch the microphone. If you ever see us on stage, that’s how I am like on stage. I’m fully—I’m at a fuckin’ hardcore show when I’m on stage. That’s the weird dynamic for us.
ON BEING POSSESSIVE; RECORDS
Meeker: I’ve been with the band and known Dan for a long time, so, Oldjack’s been a good platform. As many bands as I’ve played in, this feels like the right band to be hittin’ the drums the way I do.
Hugh Wyman: We feel very similarly to that.
Moe: It takes the weeding out process to really feel comfortable.
Dan: Well we used to have a drummer, he was a little more jazzy—he was still a great drummer, but Meeker just likes to hit the drums hard.
Meeker: I like to keep it simple.
Chris: It’s a good feeling when you find that fit though. When you know, “We have a good band right now.”
Dan: He was my favorite drummer before he played with us, and he’s still my favorite drummer.
Chris: Now who’d you play with before?
Meeker: I was playing with a band called Miss Pigeon for about ten years, and then I played with a band called The Charms.
Chris: Oh yeah! I know some of those cats.
Meeker: Yeah, so I played on one record with them, then went on tour and then I sat in for a little while for The Luxury when they lost their drummer.
Dan: And now he’s our drummer.
Meeker: Yeah Dan’s like—
Dan: No one can have him.
Meeker: [laughs] He gets possessive.
Dan: I do. I get possessive.
Chris: [laughs] Ask Rain about that! ‘Cause we feel the same way. Rain’s like, “Aw, I’m making this beat for someone!” And we’re like “No, you’re not. Last time I checked you weren’t doing that.”
Dan: Yeah, I completely understand that. I do, I get possessive about the people in the band when they go somewhere else.
Moe: I mean, you should!
Dan: However I’m free to go do whatever I want.
Moe: Obviously. [laughs] I agree with all of that.
Dan: But yeah, I mean you have the luxury right? I mean, hip-hop vocalists. You get guest appearances and invited here and there.
Chris: You’re actually pretty picky though.
Moe: I’m pretty picky, yeah.
Dan: So what have you been on in the last year?
Rain: That Paul White record.
Chris: [On] Stones Throw.
Moe: Paul White, Bad Rabbits …
Dan: You were on the Bad Rabbits record?
Chris: That’s our homies, man. That’s our team! [Moe] actually did two songs, for their new album.
Moe: Yeah, the groups are pretty different that I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with. But I feel like, for [Rain], see—we have a girl who sings with us sometimes, and she does folk.
Dan: We have three. [laughs]
Ryan: Sometimes four.
Moe: —Like indie rock and folk. Very singer songwriter-y type stuff. Tea Leigh.
Rain: She’s from Texas, she just moved here about seven months ago.
Chris: We snatched her up quick. She’s like “Oh. I sing.” We’re like “Cool!” She played some stuff and we’re like, “Now you sing with us.”
Moe: But that’s the next thing for [Rain], like a folk record. That’s awesome. Now I can’t very well just go and make a rap—
Dan: Like a Nancy Purdy type? Do you know that record?
Rain: I don’t …
Dan: It’s Christina Applegate’s mom.
Dan: Nancy Purdy. It’s really hard to find.
Rain: I’m gonna have to write that down.
Dan: It’s probably like a hundred dollar record—it’s sampled pretty heavily, but, it’s sorta like a folk record, Hollywood style.
Rain: I feel like we’re gonna do my sound and her sound at the same time. It’s gonna be weird. It’s definitely gonna be weird, because I’m kind of stubborn when it comes to things like that. And she is, too, so if we can combine the two without being like, too campy … Or trying to do this fusion …
Dan: Yeah, or like, what’s his name, Jesus Rodriguez. You must know about those records, right?
Rain: Yeah, I do.
Dan: That record’s super—he’s from Chicago. He’s like a politician now, I guess?
Chris: Politician, yeah.
Dan: But before he made…
Chris: Money or something like that?
Dan: No, the Jesus Rodriguez record … fuck, I don’t remember. I can’t figure it out right now. But you’ll like it. Dennis Coffey produced it.
Rain: Oh really, they just reissued some of that. Traffic just reissued a Dennis Coffey record—wait, what was the name of it again?
Dan: Which one?
Chris: Nancy Purdy. P-u-r-d-y.
Dan: It might be Nancy Pretty? Something like that. Sorry man, we could do this—we could talk records for awhile.
Moe: But see how you did that? That’s what I’m sayin’, that’s what happens. I’m a rapper, so people look at me like, oh … yeah, he must not know that. That’s usually what happens. So yeah I could rap on someone else’s record. Is it seen in the same light as a producer? I feel like it is, but I don’t think other people do. So it’s like, yeah, [Rain] can go off and travel. He can make a classical record if he wants to.
Dan: Well, you could too.
Moe: Well yeah, I can too, but I don’t think that people—I don’t think their first thought is, you know, “This guy wants to make a folk record.”
Chris: We surprise people a lot when they have conversations with us about music. They talk to us about hip hop and we’re like—literally, hip hop is maybe fifteen percent of what I listen to on a daily basis.
ON THAT CHIP ON YOUR SHOULDER:
Moe: “Deny Me Not” speaks to me shitloads because I’ve been in the city for over ten years and I’ve had my fair share of heartache, disappointment, rejection … from music, from the city, whatever. Was there ever any one particular moment that told you that you were finally being taken seriously as an artist?
Dan: No… I still… I like that chip on my shoulder. So I’m gonna hang on to it.
Dan: I do, I like that chip on my shoulder. I like to carry around, it keeps me—I have to prove it to myself.
Moe: There’s always more. You just gotta stay hungry, too.
Dan: Yeah, like we’ve had an amazing year. We really have. We’ve had an amazing ride and people have been super supportive us, but I just don’t feel like we’re done. I don’t feel like we’re through. So, like I said, I’ll hang on to that for a little while longer.
Rain: You gotta stay hungry.
Moe: But it’s funny man—my kid is 15 and I started a year before she was born. I started writing for the first time. I never wrote a rap—anything. I’ve been doing it that long and having no one recognize it, what I was doing. And then all of a sudden people are like “Yo, you’re my favorite rapper!” or “You’re my favorite rapper from Boston!” I was in California for a number of years, too. So during the Lif and Axe kind of rise, I was with a group called Mission. So I kind of missed the whole Boston hip-hop boom. You know, I listened to it from across the way [laughs] but I wasn’t here. I didn’t see it. And it bums me out because I knew all of them beforehand so it would’ve been great to see them doing really well.
Dan: Right. Well, and they did.
Moe: They did. And they still are. They’re still doing amazing, but yeah, even when people say that my record is the greatest thing that they’ve ever heard or that we’re changing the Boston scene, or whatever, I don’t believe it. [laughs] You know? I don’t believe it, man. That’s one person. That doesn’t mean everybody feels that way, and I know that I can always get better.
Rain: We’ll see if we did ten years from now. You know? [laughs] We can’t really tell right now.
Chris: A lot of people come through here; whether they be from here or whatever.
Dan: Well it’s such a big college town.
Chris: Everything flips over every three years. That’s why it’s so hard with Boston music—it’s hard to hang onto fans because everyone just leaves. Even if you get a solid following, slowly but surely everyone just leaves Boston.
Meeker: It gives you the pressure: you’ve got four years.
Chris: Right? It’s crazy.