“Even if not a single person was listening to what I was doing, I would still be doing this shit on a daily basis.”
Brock Berrigan is the alias of a drunk-savant musician/producer out of Astoria, Queens. Berrigan dons a rooster mask in his photo shoots/music videos and spends the rest of his time alone, meticulously plugging away in his basement studio. Sure, the hip-hop cockerel mask adds an element of silly pretension, but in talking to Brock one can tell that the anonymous persona is less a stunt aimed toward gaining popularity through mystique than a self-conscious departure from his person. Brock doesn’t have to apologize for Brock or risk disapproval; he simply wants his listeners to enjoy the music. Brock’s music unbridles his bizarre imagination giving him a more appropriate outlet to that which he otherwise suppresses.
Brock has been recording music in one form or another since he was 13 years old. Much of his adolescence was spent playing guitar and touring the East Coast in a band. Over the past two-and-a-half years Brock has focused on recording hip-hop beats. He’s amassed an impressive catalog, releasing four LPs totaling approximately 80 tracks with over 1,000 cutting room floor experiments. His first album, 2011 Beat Tape, came out in February 2011 and his most recent work, The Daily Routine, came out just over a month ago.
He’s a tough man to get a hold of and has refused numerous interviews in the past, but he agreed to do an interview after some coaxing.
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Pop ‘stache: With the amount of tracks that you’ve spawned in a relatively short time span, I would have to imagine that your recording schedule is fairly regimented.
Brock Berrigan: A lot of it is whenever the inspiration strikes, but I usually work all day in the studio.
P ‘s: What’s your musical background?
Berrigan: I started playing guitar at 12 or so, was in bands throughout my teens. Then I learned how to play the piano. And then I went through a phase of just going to stores and buying random instruments. Over the years I have picked up a ukulele, a mandolin, a pocket trumpet, piano, several guitars, basses, a saxophone, an accordion, flutes, a micro korg, got some drums and bongos, random percussion and shakers. There’s all kinds of instruments lying around. When I get my hands on an instrument I can figure it out within a few days to at least record simple melodies for a song. It’s a challenge each time picking up something new, but I get obsessed with figuring out how to play it, usually resulting in lack of sleep and too much to drink.
P ‘s: What made you decide to start focusing on hip-hop beats considering your background?
Berrigan: It’s just the most fun for me right now. I still write metal on the side and piano ballads or whatever else. If I’m watching TV or hanging out, there is a 98 percent chance there’s a guitar in my hands. I gotta change it up every now and then to keep the beats fresh. I never want the beats to sound recycled so it’s nice to take a little break from sampling and record something else. I go back into sampling with a fresh mind.
P ‘s: What are some of your major influences?
Berrigan: My favorite producers are Mad Lib, RZA, Doom, Dilla, Premier, all the classics. And some new heads on SoundCloud have been really influential as well in the past year or so. Ackryte, Bugseed, Handbook, Repeat Pattern. There are too many to name, they have all been huge influences for me.
P ‘s: Are there any influences that may surprise your audience?
Berrigan: I am also really into opera and classical music. I enjoy going to the opera and sitting in the nosebleed seats wearing a suit with champagne and whiskey in Poland Spring bottles. There’s just something about hearing orchestras live. It’s soothing. I have a song from April’s Neck Brace called “Shitfaced at the Opera” because that’s literally what I enjoy doing, haha. Great story about the opera: If you put champagne into a Poland Spring water bottle, leave it in your pocket and walk around the city for a bit, the pressure is going to build up. So I’m sitting in one of the last rows of the Met, the lights go dim, music starts up and I reach for my drink. The Met is absolutely silent and every sound echoes like a motherfucker. They don’t use mics in the halls because the sound is amazing. So I slowly open the water bottle when all of a sudden it just POPS. Sounded like a fucking cannon! The entire place turned around and looked directly at me, so I did what anyone would do and just turned around and tried to play it off. After about 10 minutes everyone stopped looking at me and I finally got to have a sip of champagne and enjoy the opera.
P ‘s: [Laughs] Speaking of celebration, “The Celebration Song” is one of your most popular tracks on SoundCloud, but what are some tracks that you are particularly proud of?
Berrigan: Shit. [Laughs] Hmmm, there have been so many songs. I like each song I’ve ever released for random reasons. There have been hundreds over the past year and the ones that make it onto the albums, I like every one of ‘em. It’s just fun to listen to them knowing where my mind was in the recording process of each one. It’s like a photo album, remembering what I was doing while making the songs. “Legend of the Bear” is up there. I spent months looking through some old Brazilian records and when I found that sample it felt perfect. That was the last song I did for The Daily Routine album, and after finishing it, I knew the album was complete and I was really excited. “And Now For Something Completely Different” is another a quirky one. I did that months ago with no intention of releasing it and it fell right into place on The Daily Routine. That’s just me messing around on the guitar, and it slowly turned into a great jam.
P ‘s: You have a knack for selecting appropriate samples in your tracks. Are samples decided in advance or do you pull from an encyclopedic memory of quotables after the beats are down?
Berrigan: The samples are the process. I spend like three or four days just searching everywhere for samples and then when I have a stack, like 15 solid samples, I record nonstop until I run out of material. Then I repeat the process. I’ll listen to clips of 1,000 songs a day. And out of those 1,000 I might use three of them for samples. You just have to be patient. And stoned. I have literally hundreds of samples on my iTunes waiting to be built into a song. And sometimes it’s just a total accident. I’ll have the TV on while working and something will just jive. The result is beautiful mistake after beautiful mistake.
P ‘s: Most of your songs have that sort of proverbial “wall of sound.” How do you achieve that?
Berrigan: One thing I do is carry around a hand recorder so I can toss in field recordings and found sound in the background of songs. I record cars driving by, sweeping shit up, the sound of a river, wind chimes, ripping paper, birds chirping, you get the idea. That really gives the beats that full sound.
P ‘s: You seem to like to screw with your audience. ou’ll have a really mellow track followed by something sonically schizoid. Is that Brock snapping his finger in the listener’s ear?
Berrigan: That’s exactly what I do! I like to fuck with people. It’s all intentional. A good example is The Daily Routine. Tracks 7,8,9 are really mellow and then tracks 10 and 11 slap you in the face.
P ‘s: How far does your internet fanbase stretch geographically?
Berrigan: Thanks to SoundCloud the music has been heard worldwide. I’ve met producers from all over the place. There seems to be a lot of hip-hop blogs popping up internationally which also brings in fans from all over. A bunch of the blogs are from Germany and so I get a lot of Germany love.
P ‘s: Germany, huh?
Berrigan: Yeah, I wouldn’t have guessed it either.
P ‘s: How do you interact with your fans?
Berrigan: Anyone can get in touch with me through email. I can be forgetful at times so it can take a little while to respond but I try to respond to everyone. Most producers interact through Twitter, but I just don’t give enough of a shit to get into Twitter.
P ‘s: Fans on SoundCloud have dubbed some of your tracks “sex.” How exactly to you bottle that?
Berrigan: [Laughs] I make passionate love to each and every track I produce. I’m glad people can hear it in the music.
P ‘s: How often do you get solicited for beats by listeners?
Berrigan: Oh man, it happens all the time. That’s actually why I came out with The Portable Cypher.
P ‘s: Have you done any collaborations?
Berrigan: I’ve worked with a handful of people. Elemint from Los Angeles, he’s awesome. Supreme Soul from St. Louis. I did one song with him and I plan on doing more in the future. Ben Jammin from New Zealand. I’m also working with a few up-and-coming artists so we’ll see what happens.
P ‘s: What artists would you most like to collaborate with?
Berrigan: Anyone of the Wu Tang. Doom would be amazing! And there are a bunch of local emcees on SoundCloud that I would love to collab with. I’m actually planning on emailing a few them in the next few weeks to try to get something together. Would also love to collab with some fellow producers, see what we can make.
P ‘s: Would you consider remixing other people’s material?
Berrigan: Ehh, I’m not sure. That sort of seems like the easy way out, like all the dubstep stuff. I mean I use elements of remixing like adding a heavy drum beats to strengthen sampled loops, but it’s more to just tweak it a bit. As far as electronic remixing, I’m not really interested in that. But if I wanted to make a lot of money I probably should get into that. [Laughs]
P ‘s: With East Coast rap and hip-hop blowing up with artists like A$AP Rocky and Action Bronson and respective producers like Clams Casino and Party Supplies, it’s not necessarily a pipe dream that you blow up, too. What are your thoughts on that?
Berrigan: Yeah, it’s inspiring to see sample-based jams coming back. Action Bronson is the fucking shit. With the internet, rappers can find any producer. You just need that one track to hit a decent number of plays on YouTube or SoundCloud and people will start to listen. That’s another constant drive, just make that one amazing song and have the rappers come. My pops always loved that baseball movie with corn and ghosts and shit with that line, ”If you build it, they will come.”
P ‘s: What do you think is the next step for Brock Berrigan?
Berrigan: I think the live show is the next logical step. I have to get on stage and do this. That being said, I want it to be legit, so I’m still in the process of figuring out how to do it all live. I also want to expand my collaborative range to other rappers, producers and musicians. Until then I’m just trying to make good tracks one day and then top them the next.
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After the interview we engaged in idle small talk. I asked what Brock’s plans were for the rest of the night and he told me over the cracking of a fresh beer that he had a few more hours of work to do (it was after midnight at this point and I was headed to bed). Then he said, “Should I make a song for the article or something?” Sure enough I had this little gem sent to me the following afternoon with a note that said, “Just to show you what an animal I am. Great song to imbibe beer to.”
Brock Berrigan is an oddball, but a talented oddball to say the least. What little “free time” he has is spent with family and friends. He can be unreachable for days on end, but there is never any question as to where Brock is. The latest album title is fitting; making music is Brock’s daily routine. Music is what propels him and with his dedication may just propel him to limitless heights.