Published on October 10th, 2018 | by Darren Paltrowitz1
Cypress Hill’s DJ Muggs On The New “Elephants On Acid” Album & His Unbelievable Work Ethic
DJ Muggs is not just a founding member of Cypress Hill, the trip hop band Cross My Heart Hope To Die, or the leader of the Los Angeles art collective known as the Soul Assassins. He is also an in-demand producer and remixer. His credits include U2, Depeche Mode, Dizzee Rascal, Die Antwoord, House Of Pain, Van Halen, Pearl Jam, Snoop Dogg, Queen, George Michael, and the Beastie Boys.
The latest album from Cypress Hill is Elephants On Acid, which is slated for release on September 28th. Elephants On Acid is the first Cypress Hill full-length which DJ Muggs has produced since 2004’s Til Death Do Us Part. Beyond his long-time collaborators B-Real and Sen Dog, Elephants On Acid — the first Cypress Hill album in 8 years — also features collaborations with Gonja Sufi and Brevi Wood.
I had the pleasure of speaking with DJ Muggs by phone. Highlights of our conversation are below. More on DJ Muggs and has many projects can be found online at www.cypresshill.com, while DJ Muggs himself can be followed on social media via the @DJ_Muggs handle.
DJ Muggs: Absolutely.
And which was the song that you did first for the album? Was it the song that you did the video for?
DJ Muggs: Yeah, that is the first song I did. I had gone to Egypt to make some of the music when I started off, and that was the trip I took and that was one of the first joints I made.
And was the music video itself filmed in Egypt? It looks like it was.
DJ Muggs: Yeah, about 80 percent of it was.
Wow. Now, a song like that is very interesting to me because it melds together genres, which is something that you’ve always done. Do you have a favorite song on the new album?
DJ Muggs: No, I don’t. The way I put it together, it is like just a body of work. It all works with each other, everything makes everything else sound better and it all has its place.
You’ve been extremely prolific over the years as a remixer and a producer for other artists. When you’re working on Cypress Hill music, do you have to only focus on that? Or can you still work on other projects?
DJ Muggs: I could work on other projects, I just don’t listen to a lot of music. I listen rock & roll, like classic rock, and Sade and Al Green. I don’t listen to a lot of rap when I make Cypress records.
That makes a lot of sense. So will you be playing a lot of songs on the new album on your upcoming tour?
DJ Muggs: Yes, absolutely.
At the moment, it is tough for me to keep up with you given how prolific you’ve been. Do you have any other projects that you can talk about? For example is there more Soul Assassins stuff in the works?
DJ Muggs: I just dropped a Soul Assassins album last Friday. It is called Dia Del Asesinato, which means “assassination day,” that features Raekwon, Meyhem Lauren, MF Doom, and Kool G Rap… Everybody pretty much has 2 songs on that. So that is out right now, and on October 19th I’m dropping a record with Roc Marciano called Kaos.
DJ Muggs: You know, I just like to expand, spread my wings, and when I do things outside of the group it just makes it more fun to do the group… You get to try creative things and other things that might not work for this specific concept that I have for the album, or I play some beats… and they are not really feeling it. So with all that I get to like try other things and experiment, because I have many styles I like to do and I have a lot of different tastes, so it just lets me be creative.
Do you live your life like that in other ways? Or is just music the only way that you live that way?
DJ Muggs: My life and music are one things. It isn’t like I make music, and then I go live and I stop hanging out… When I am traveling I bring the studio with me. I work and I am shooting videos while I am on the road. For instance, when I was in Egypt, I went for a month, I kinda had a recording studio out there, so I found street musicians and brought them in the studio, like shot a documentary out there. I shot the video out there.
I found the singers that are actually on the song when I was out there, and at the same time I was absorbing culture and absorbing history and absorbing the vibrations, and that is pretty much how I live. I am into art, I am into film, I am into books, so I think everything… It is just all one-fold, man. It is all just one big thing for me.
Is this the first time with this album that you had gone abroad to write for the express purpose of doing an album and filming and all that?
DJ Muggs: Yeah, I think about 5 years ago I just started doing that just in life. Instead of just sitting in my studio in L.A., soon as I don’t feel like being here, I just go to New York or I go to New Orleans or I go to Hawaii for 2 weeks or I will go out to wherever. I went out to Joshua Tree for 3 weeks and worked with Gonja Sufi, who also is on the record, he lives out there. So I just rented a house out there, set up a studio in the dining room and just worked, man. It just makes everything more interesting and more fun.
If I am on vacation, after 4 days I go nuts. I can’t sit around and do s**t, so when I bring it together and I do both, it ain’t like I am working, man. I am just getting up and just painting pictures, man, just being creative, and when I am tired of doing that, I will just go sleep in the pyramids for the nights, you know what I mean? Come back and maybe make the beat in the morning or make 3 in the morning real quick. I make beats in like 10 minutes. I make them fast… to make music is so easy for me, but I gotta challenge myself by making the songs a little more difficult.
How do you feel about touring which is very different, that you have to be in a different city every day? Do you still enjoy that?
DJ Muggs: Yeah, I think it is so much easier now man, with the Internet and with worldwide cellphones and with being able to have a whole giant studio in 1 laptop. It is so easy to tour, all the money in Europe’s on the Euro now, and the food is actually good in a lot of places and the Internet shrunk the world. It gave everybody knowledge of what is going on, so I think the shows are easy. The other 23 hours of the day you’ve got to figure out something else to do, so I just use it as an adventure, as a getaway, as a retreat, you know?
DJ Muggs: Actually no, man. Actually I wanted to work with Al Jourgensen of Ministry, but he was a little busy at the time, and I got in the studio with Sonic Youth. I sat down, and it was my first time with a band in the studio… I was like, “Yo this s**t ain’t gonna work, man. I can’t do this s**t.” So I called my manager and he was like, “Please, please, can you please just try?” The band’s looking at me like they’d never… they didn’t know what the f**k I was doing, I don’t think they’ve been in a studio with a hip-hop… I don’t think they’ve ever been… My style was unorthodox, so they would play, and I would just let them play 1 or 2 takes and I would stop and I would be like, “Thanks, that is all I need.” Then I would just go sample the sounds up and just put it all together on a drum machine and they were just like, “He is just taking little bits of it, there is no musical changes, it is just like a loop, it is simple.”
When Kim [Gordon] sang on it though, it just, I was like “yooo, I want to do a whole record with Kim.” That s**t was ridiculous. And then I went up to Seattle, worked with Pearl Jam, and that was a little bit different approach, because I brought the basics and they kind of like did the Pearl Jam thing on top of it. So I had 2 different roles, 1 of it I was just 100 percent controlling the situation, and when I was up there [in Seattle] I had more of a laid-back approach, you know just like giving them ideas and direction, more than hands-on. Because obviously we know, the band Pearl Jam, you just give them their space, you know?
Did working on that soundtrack lead to other bands going “wow, Muggs knows what he is doing, therefore I want to work with him?” Or did that project just kind of fly by?
DJ Muggs: Nah, it opened me up to a lot of things man. It opened me up… it gave me experience working with bands and letting me know how this works and different personalities, different styles of working, and then I just started working on a lot of things after that. We never had time, things were coming in, 2, 3 things a week were coming in. I just couldn’t do it all because we were touring 8 months a year and trying to come home and have a life, and that time it was a lot harder because you needed a studio, you needed to have drum machines, you needed to have engineers. You didn’t have a laptop, so it was a lot harder to get s**t done in those days.
Whether or not people they realize it, you are the guy behind “Jump Around” [by House Of Pain]. So everyone knows your music, but people don’t know a lot about you beyond the music. Is that on purpose or just out of miscommunication?
DJ Muggs: Nah, I don’t really care, man. I just like to do what I do, I don’t really care about all that other s**t. I actually like not to be bothered, I like to go to dinner and not peeps coming up to me all the time. I like walking on the street and people not bothering me, you know? There was a lot of that early on, and I was like “Nah.” So I kind of pulled back from that s**t, I like my freedom and my peeps.
DJ Muggs: Just experiment, put out music, I will probably be putting out more music now than I ever have, ever. So just to be prolific, man, and be inspired to just keep going, you know what I mean? I think my generation and the people my age, we hit a place where you used to be like… when I was young I guess 30 was old for hip-hop, you was like, “That’s old.” Everybody was kind of like burnt out by then, and I just feel like I am getting my stride right now.
Creativity’s just getting better and better and the ideas that come, and I am more put myself in the space of a Picasso… We’re hitting our strides, we’re not just making pop music, we are masters now. I am a master of this stuff… I get up every day and I paint my pictures but I paint with sound, I get up at 6 in the morning and make 3 or 4 tracks by 9, hit the gym, go handle my business, come back in the studio about 4, stay till like 9 or 10, you know? So we do this everyday man, there is not a day we take off.
So if you’re making that much music, is all that being placed? Or you’re looking for people to use some of those beats all the time?
DJ Muggs: I got hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of tracks. Like I’ve said I got 6 albums, I got 4 albums done right now, and I got a total of 6 that I am working on. I am setup for the next 16 months, and I am just figuring out what I am going to do for next fall right now, because I’ve got to release it all the way through the summer.
That is very inspiring work ethic, I can’t top that. So, I guess in closing, any last words for the kids?
DJ Muggs: You got to dream, man. Just go hard, man, focus. F**k going to a party, put the time and the energy into this. There is always going to be a party later, man. Just focus and stay inspired, man.. Stay reading the books, stay watching the classic cinema, always be a student, man. No matter how far you get, and always be a teacher, you know when you’re a master still be a student. And just eat your veggies.