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[SQ courtesy] Spends Quality Interview
Author: Adam Bernard

Spends Quality is the lead vocalist of the Northern California jazz/hip-hop band Sonicbloom. After ten years, and three albums, with the group, however, he felt it was time to finally release something as a solo artist. That "something" turned into two somethings, as this month Spends Quality released two full length albums, Flight Music, which was self produced, and Time Peace, which was produced by fellow Sonicbloom member Mr. Tay.

There's a smoothness, and a positive vibe, to both releases, and RapReviews caught up with Spends Quality to find out more about them. In addition to discussing his music, the Cali emcee also revealed some of the intricacies of running a label he's also an artist on, including how the CEO version of him deals with the artist version of him, as well as why he decided to release two albums at the same time. What might be most interesting, though, is the issue he continues to strive to mentally defeat, and the quality Spends Quality says he hopes he'll never lose.

Adam Bernard: You've been recording music for over a decade. What has been the greatest hurdle you've had to overcome in that time?

Spends Quality: Self doubt, probably.

AB: Really? Everyone assumes an emcee is confident because there's so much braggadocio involved with emceeing. Why would you lack confidence?

SQ: I don't even think it's confidence, I'm just not a braggadocios dude. I'm a humble dude. I think that's what it comes down to. I'm critical. I'm a big critic of hip-hop music, and lover of hip-hop music, and I'm critical of myself. It's taken me years to get to the point where I'm owning what it is that I do, and can be like "yo, this is pretty damned good. What I do is pretty damned good." It's interesting, because I don't want to be a flashy dude, I don't want to be a cocky dude, I don't wanna have to walk around with a chip on my shoulder acting like I'm better than everybody else. I want to be respectful, and humble, with it, and that's kind of counterintuitive for a rapper. I also don't rap like other people rap. I'm not gonna rap about how I'm better than you, I'm rapping about uplifting yourself, and reflecting on yourself, and how to better yourself. That's not the main M.O. in hip-hop. Not everybody looks at it that way, so sometimes I'm like "do people even want to hear this, or do they want to hear me rap about partying, and hear me rapping about funny shit?" So a lot of it, I just kept it to myself. They're my songs, they're my manifestos, they're my reflections. Because my music's very personal, you can hear that, that shit's hard to put out. I'm not joking around. I'm being real with myself, and being authentic. I think that's the biggest obstacle, getting over myself.

AB: In addition to being an emcee, you also run CFO Records, which involves other obstacles, including handling yourself as an artist. Why did CEO Spends Quality think it was a good idea, or the right time, for the artist Spends Quality to release solo work?

SQ: Honestly, a lot of the songs on the two albums I just put out, I've been writing those over the last few years, and dabbling in business stuff, and not really getting the satisfaction that I wanted out of just the business side of things. I think, first and foremost, I'm an artist. That's the main thing. The CFO imprint was created just so we'd have a way to put our stuff out professionally. Ultimately, I'm an artist, and I'm not gonna feel satisfied with my work in music if I'm not putting out my solo stuff.

AB: Did you feel there was something you had to say, or get off your chest, that you could only do as a solo artist?

SQ: I made a lot of those songs without necessarily saying, "OK I'm doing an album right now." I was just writing songs, so that is the way that I do get things off my chest. As far as now being the prefect time for me to do that, I feel like it had a lot to do with just getting older and not feeling like I had really followed through on the solo stuff. I had done all this group stuff, I had done a lot of production for other people, worked behind the scenes, done all that, but yeah, I wanted to represent myself, and what I'm about, and the music that I create, and there's no better time then now.

AB: Why two albums at once? You have 23 tracks between the two albums, I'm sure there are people who would say "why not cut six or seven and just release one album?"

SQ: I went back and forth about it a lot. The reason I did two albums is one is completely self-produced, that's Flight Music, and Time Peace is completely produced by another guy in Sonicbloom, Mr. Tay. I felt like I wanted to separate the two, so Time Peace, Mr. Tay can get behind that and be able to represent himself as a producer, and say "I produced this whole album." The other one, for me, it's to prove to myself that I can do it all by myself, and I can rap to my own beats, and do my own thing. Stylistically, as much as they are very similar because they're from the same time period, and it's all me, there are defined differences in the production styles.

AB: Do you and Mr. Tay have any kind of competition going on in terms of which album is more well received, or which one sells better?

SQ: {*laughs*} No real competition, but it's interesting because I think I like the album with Mr. Tay more because I like his beats a lot and I'm highly critical of my own beats. I like em both, but just to go back real quick, as far as dropping them at the same time, honestly, I had the time to do it right now, and on a certain level I wanted to break some rules and just put em out and see what happened.

AB: When someone breaks a rule like that it indicates to me that they've broken rules before and been successful. When in your past have you broken the rules and had it result in a success?

SQ: {*laughs*} I don't know if I can even answer that one.

AB: There was a laugh, so there has to be a story behind the laugh.

SQ: Yeah. I think I wanna plead the fifth on that, though.

AB: But this leads up to why you felt you could release these records at the same time and make it work. If it's not gonna get you thrown in jail, when did you break the rules?

SQ: Let's just steer clear of that one, but I think, in general, in the music industry, oftentimes things are too rigid, and people think that there's a formula to everything. I've kind of always been a little punk rock about it, a little outlaw about it. I don't really like to go with the grain, I don't like to do things the way people want me to do things. At the same time, I realize there are things that work, and things that don't work, and there are reasons for things. I'm kinda seeing after putting the two albums out at the same time that maybe there were some elements of that, especially to a person like you, in your position, as a journalist, to receive two records at once, you don't know who this guy is, that's a little overwhelming, so I feel like I might have shot myself in the foot a little bit by putting both out at the same time.

AB: Obviously not so much so that you didn't want to do it.

SQ: Yeah. I guess I didn't really care. Partly, I didn't think of the repercussions of it, of how it could be bad. I just said screw it, I'm gonna put these out at the same time.

AB: Has the CEO version of you ever had to tell the artist version of you "no?"

SQ: Yes. Definitely. You gotta be smart about things that you do, and not spend money in the wrong places. That's the biggest part about it. As an artist you want to just go big, and you want to do this, that, and the other, but you gotta be smart about where you spend your money in this industry because it's hard to make your money back.

AB: What was something you, as an artist, wanted to do, but you, as a CEO, put the kibosh on?

SQ: Pay for features. To me, I feel like I'd rather just build with artists, like my peers, and continue to build up from the ground up rather than try to reach above me, and try to get attention by having other people on my stuff. I feel like too often that is the kind of M.O. hip-hop artists are using to try to call attention to themselves. You can go spend $10,000 in features getting all these still underground emcees. People pay $500 here, $500 there, $1,000 here, $1,000 there, or more, to get these guys on their albums so then they can try to get iTunes features and things like that. I just didn't know if it was gonna translate, so the CEO side of me had to be like you know what, we're not gonna spend money on that, we're just gonna put out a quality product, and we're gonna call attention to who Spends Quality is, and what this music is about, and see where it builds from there. We'll try to keep the budget a little bit smaller, and if it starts catching some momentum then in the future maybe some of those cats will want to work with me on a peer to peer level, and maybe at that point there will be the budget to be able to get bigger name artists on my project. In the meantime, I just focus on what I'm doing.

AB: Do you have a story from coming up in the ranks that's either especially inspiring, or especially awful?

SQ: In the last year and a half I've gotten to open up for some of my favorite artists. I got to play with Gift of Gab a couple times, I got to play with Zion I, I got to play with The Grouch. Those were really great opportunities where I got to share the stage and feel how it can feel to rock in front of a really big crowd as a solo artist, and be received well, and move the crowd, and get respect from these other people I'm opening up for, feeling like OK, I'm on the same level as these dudes. These are my peers are much as they're people that I've looked up to for a long time. I'm a grown ass man that's been doing music for twelve years, and I'm feeling like I'm getting close to being there. It's real inspiring to feel that feeling. Those are the feelings right there that really inspire me to finish these projects and put em out, so I can keep raising the bar and get it to a point where I can be rocking bigger stages for more people.

AB: Finally, during your career, who has floored you with their kindness?

SQ: I can think about this for a long time, but the first person that comes to mind is my distributor, Steffen Franz from Independent Distribution Collective in San Francisco. This man is an OG, dude. He's worked with so many people. He was Mix Master Mike's road manager during the Hello Nasty years, so he was on tour with Beastie Boys all through that time. He's run different record labels, been a producer. He saw something in Sonicbloom, saw something in me, back in '05. This guy has always been there for me. He took me in as fam, and he's treated me so well, and taught me so many things, and he reminds me a lot of myself. The things I've learned from him I've tried to impart on other people, and kinda use his model of how he's found his success in the music industry, and apply that to myself. As you know, a lot of people in the music industry are super cutthroat, they're all out for themselves, and all about money. You gotta figure out how to make money if you're gonna make this your business, so you gotta have some element of that, and be able to look out for yourself, but I don't want to lose myself in that process, I don't want to lose being the nice guy.

Be sure to check out and follow Spends @SpendsQuality.
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Originally posted: April 30th, 2013

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