Interview: Sam Spiegel On His New Band Maximum Hedrum, N.A.S.A., Stop the Virgens & More
When paired with DJ Zegon, he is known as N.A.S.A. (a harmonious acronym for North America / South America). When he stands on stage with Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O, he is referred to as Stop the Virgens. With more screen credits than the cast of Entourage, Sam Spiegel is an unquestionably well-rounded musician. His latest project is a collaboration with Derrick Green of Sepultura and Grammy winning film scorer, Harold Faltermeyer. They call their band Maximum Hedrum and Sam couldn’t wait to tell us about it.
I’m hanging out in Hollywood with Gene Hall, my lawyer.
What are you two doing in Hollywood?
We are putting together a legal action right now because there has been a lot of prejudice in Hollywood with interracial tension… nah, I’m bullshitting. We’ve got rehearsals today and then I’m putting together something for Sundance.
Hahaha… Is Hollywood headquarters for you?
Yeah my house is here and the studio is here as well, but my official headquarters is where I do all of my Squeak E Clean stuff in Echo Park.
I hear you’ve started a new band. Can you tell me about Maximum Hedrum? Why did you, Derrick Green and Harlod Faltermeyer decide to come together and collaborate on this project?
I had this idea to do Maximum Hedrum when I was quickly noticing the way my life was changing because of technology and noticing how isolated and lonely it could be. The idea grew out of that, and while I was processing the album I had just met Harold Faltermeyer on the set of Kevin Smith film, Cop Out. We worked on that together and he is fucking amazing. He did Beverly Hills Cop in the ’80s, and the Scarface score, and Blondie, and Midnight Run, and fucking everything! I wanted him to be part of this project; plus he is sick with a synth and vocoder.
As far as Derrick Green, he is a longtime friend. I never listened to a lot of Sepultura, but I met him through my partner in N.A.S.A. whom he is long-time friends with as well. We always hung out and he has a pretty amazing voice, but he’s only screamed on record. One day we were just kicking it in the studio and he starts to monologue some R&B shit. And I was like, “Dude we’ve got to do a slow jam!” I’ve never done a slow jam, he’s never done a slow jam. So we went into the studio and I already had a few songs written for Derrick. I’m like, “Derrick, you’re going to be the main voice of this project.” And that was that.
You guys certainly have a great pool of talent there. Are there any plans to take Maximum Hedrum on tour?
Oh, yeah. We’ve been rehearsing for a few months and we did your first show the other day. We have a residency at Los Globos. We’re doing shows every Monday for the next three Mondays at Los Globos.
Los Globos has been a really hot spot this last year. How do the people there dig it?
Yeah, our first show was really good. It’s a lot of fun. I was nervous, it being our first performance in front of people, but the band was really tight and everyone loved it.
Now, are these Los Lobos regulars or people who came specifically to see Maximum Hedrum?
Nah, everyone there came to see us perform.
What is the production process like with your bandmates in Maximum Hedrum compared to your other projects, such as N.A.S.A.? Is the flow of creativity the same?
It’s very different. With N.A.S.A., I’m much more hands on, while both Derrick and Zegon have that producer’s mind, although Zegon doesn’t write lyrics and Derreck and I always write lyrics together. With Derreck and I everything is just silly and fun. The one rule with Maximum Hedrum is to have fun. As soon as we weren’t having fun, we would just switch gears. Everyday we looked forward to going into the studio.
Now, N.A.S.A. can be fun, too, but it’s not predicated on solely that idea. Obviously, everything is about making great music, but with N.A.S.A., we were more about doing something that has never been done before.
From what I understand, the goal of N.A.S.A was to dissolve music genre classification, not only within the music industry, but with the boundaries of prejudice in humanity altogether. Now, after N.A.S.A.’s 2010 album, Big Bang, do you think the human compulsion to label and classify things can ever be broken?
It’s hard to say if art has more of an influence on society or if society has more of an influence on art, but I definitely think that there are moments in music that have influenced people in big ways. Be it the movement of rock and roll or slave hymns being used in the civil rights movement, I think music can have an effect. How drastic of an effect is hard to quantify, but I definitely think we’re working towards some form of progress.
Even today, do you believe that art and music have a strong effect on politics?
Oh, definitely. Let me give you an example. The amount of materialism that has been in hip-hop over the last fifteen years is ridiculous. Talking about rims and shit – I think that has certainly had an effect. This is a negative example, and a lot of it has to do with advertising and capitalism, but that’s just the idea.
Can we expect another N.A.S.A. album in the future?
Absolutely. We are working on another album right now. I would say it’s about one third done. It’ll probably be a late summer release.
What kind of collaborators did you want to have on this next album?
It’s going to be a very varied group of people like it was before. It’s not so much going to be about collaborating with huge, famous artists as much as collaborating with people from different cultures. It’s more exterior music based. I did a lot of recording in Africa and there is a big African influence on the record.
What do you think the album going to look like in terms of length when it comes out?
It’s hard to say. The ideas are still swarming.
You’re also well known for collaborating with some of the most talented musicians in the industry. What are some of the tips you’ve picked up from being around so many talented individuals from such eclectic backgrounds?
One thing I’ve learned from working on the first N.A.S.A. record… There were so many of my heroes featured on the first record, and I put them on this pedestal, and what I noticed is that the greats are always humble. There is always humility to the way they collaborate with other artists. Because they are always facing it from the beginner’s mind and are open. I mean, that was a long list [of artists featured on the first N.A.S.A. record]! Working with these greats who’ve been making it for years and years have worked with everyone, and have this crazy body of work – they are there coming into the experience the same way I have. They acted like it was the first time they ever sat down in a studio and recorded a song. I think it’s important to come into it with that beginner’s mind – an open mind.
Can we talk about the music you’ve been making with Karen O as Stop the Virgens? Spectacular stuff! Are there any plans to do a full album or even more live performances?
Right now those guys are focusing on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs stuff. They are touring in Australia right now. They have an album that was completed a few months ago and is supposed to come out in April. They are going to be focusing on that for a good part of the year, and then after that we are thinking of doing some Stop the Virgen stuff, doing more live performances and hopefully a full album release.
So basically, whenever Karen is free, you two will get together to do more recordings?
Oh, our album is finished already. We are just waiting to figure out how we are going to put it out and back it up with live performances.
Wow, so what is the ideal time frame for that album to come out?
Hopefully, sometime in late 2013. I am not really sure.
Well, I for one can’t wait to hear it.
I’m ready for it to happen… the sooner the better!
Can you explain the sonic progression from N.A.S.A. to Stop the Virgens and now Maximum Hedrum? What are the key musical differences between the three musical endeavors?
N.A.S.A. was very hip-hop based and kind of a lower BPM, although after we finished some of the songs we went back and did high BPM versions. With Stop the Virgens, it was all about working with new sounds and stacking; Phil Spector and girl’s group type of music. It was really cool to just work on that ’60s sound. As far as Maximum Hedrum, I spent the last 5 or 6 years collecting this great synth and vocoder collection and spent a lot of time thinking about what I’m going to do with it… and now it’s just a lot of fun.
Well, I’m glad you having fun creating some amazing music for me to listen to. It’s been great speaking with you, Sam, and you’ll definitely see me at Los Globos very soon.
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