Mash-up is an ill-fitting term. I always imagine a squashed tomato. The art of making it and performing it is really more akin to sculpture. To do it takes a near omniscient understanding of music, a track collection to rival the Library Of Congress and a set of well-trained ears. Josh Raskin of Kids And Explosions has all three. But the Canadian artist is not in the business of building dance-floor atom bombs. He’ll hardly count himself among the freshman class of either the Girl Talk or 2 Many Djs school of thought. Raskin goes more the route of independent studies, spending time, mostly alone, deconstructing songs and arranging the standout hooks, beats and lyrics that blend best to him.
Raskin is a Toronto native. His musical beginnings are rooted in DJing, which he’s been doing for longer than he can remember. “I was always torn between making weird beats with computers and writing sad guitar songs,” explains Raskin, “until a few years ago when I realized I could kinda do everything at the same time.” His choice samples are typically from sad songs, the acoustic plucking on Iron And Wine’s rendition of “Such Great Heights” for instance. The rap verse, such a versatile and ear-fondling remix device, gets like treatment. Selections include Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” which Raskin cuts up to the point Em’s underdog anthem is near unrecognizable. The result heightens the themes of confusion and frustration in the original. Raskin is at his best on “There Is A Burning Ball Of Fire In Outer Space” where he blends the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Suicidal Thoughts” with Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor.” “The best thing about making music is discovering two things that are amazing on their own but combine to make something entirely new, either musically or conceptually,” says Raskin.
Most of the songs on his album, Shit Computer, came together in a “complex series of accidents.” The process begins by voraciously consuming music. “I can listen to an album on loop for months,” says Raskin, only stopping whenever he’s recording. He searches out connections in the songs he loves, most of which you’ll recognize, and goes to work blending them. A song contains three or four recognizable elements but with Raskin’s distinct signature left on them. He uses most a kind of stutter effect to switch up timing on notes or meaning on lyrics.
Raskin is an Oscar nominee and an Emmy winner but not for his music. He’s part of a trio that made “I Met The Walrus,” an animated short derived from a taped interview with John Lennon in 1969. A 14-year-old Jerry Levitan snuck into the Beatle’s hotel room in Toronto, reel-to-reel recorder in hand, to interview him. When Levitan grew up he came across some of Raskin’s student work as an animator and a filmmaker and pitched a project to him. Levitan had a full-length documentary in mind, but Raskin favored doing it as an animated short. With the tape, an illustrator and a designer, Raskin locked himself into a studio and cranked out the project. Aside from the Emmy win and the Oscar nod, Raskin and co. netted for themselves near two and a half million views on YouTube.
His next undertaking is a tour, beginning in February. He’s also working on a music video for his song “Swear Words.” “It’s like Guitar Hero but horrible,” says Raskin. A second album is in the works to be released soon. “Soon” is relative to how fast or slow Raskin pieces together his next collage.
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