Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Peanut Butter Wolf: Sittin' on Chrome

At a packed Mexican restaurant deep in the hipster Los Angeles neighborhood known as Los Feliz, Peanut Butter Wolf looks down at his plate of steak and beans and lets out a heavy sigh. It’s a sigh that’s equal parts fatigue, frustration and a mind-numbing familiarity. It’s understandable, given that he’s only a couple of days back from a tour of Japan (“with Japan, we can really go all over the place in our DJ sets. They’re not nearly as influenced by the radio or whatever”), only to jump back into the studio to finish up work on a new round of remixes for his Stones Throw label. He’s a man of few words, someone who obviously prefers to let the panoramic array of music put out through his imprint do the talking.

He’s here to promote his new mix CD Chrome Children, an impressive compilation of rare and unreleased tracks to celebrate the label being in existence for an entire decade. In those ten years, he’s gone from the “one weird kid into weird music” in San Jose, CA to starting Stones Throw, relocating to LA, discovering multi-aliased production star-child Madlib and having another legendary producer, the late Jay Dee, come calling to be down with the team.

Given so much pioneering and impeccable tastes, the same question hangs ominously over the table, the bustling eatery humming with laughter and conversation – why isn’t Stones Throw Records a household name?

“It’s funny when we look at pictures of the crowds from our shows. There are maybe two or three girls. It’s all dudes,” he intones between bites. “We were going to call this upcoming shows the ‘Wall to Wall Balls’ tour, but decided against it. We definitely want more girls to listen to our stuff.”

Therein lies the answer. Stones Throw deals in the music of obsessive music maniacs, the crate-digging completists consumed with the rarest of rare breaks and vinyl sides. These people are almost all guys, and the last thing they want is their favorites to become common knowledge. That would ruin all of the fun.

“We played a prank on Egon,” he relates in regards to the label’s prolific funk fanatic, general manager and man behind subsidiary imprints like Now Again. “He had an original copy of The Highlighters’ 45 ‘The Funky 16 Corners,’ and we scanned the label and pasted in over one of our own 45s. We’re in his room and I’m bending it back and forth until it snapped in half right in front of his face. His jaw just dropped and he started screaming like a crazy man. That was hilarious.”

He’s far more serious when talking about the label’s flagship artist Madlib. “I really want to do a documentary on him. That’s my next personal goal. He’s just fascinating as a person. He’s down to earth, yet he’s in his own world. We’re a lot alike, even though he’s a million times more talented than me. He’s definitely my brother from another mother.”

While Stones Throw has become one of America’s premier indie hip-hop labels, it’s hard to overlook the range of sounds they actually produce, from the freaked-out lo-fi new wave of Baron Zen (his cover of Katrina & The Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine” is priceless) to the experimental electronic excursions of Koushik. This is much more than just a bunch of boom-bap.

“The common thread is that most of it is really dirty, gutter-sounding shit,” he says finally before tossing me a copy of his notorious “666” heavy metal mix (featuring the likes of Morbid Angel and Cannibal Corpse) and high-tailing it back to his beloved studio. “Some of my favorite stuff was recorded on four-track.” Long live analog.

(Originally published in BPM Magazine, 1/07)