One-Half of the Bi-Continental Duo To Explain Their Dynamic DNA
Words and Interview by Kathy Iandoli.
It’s been close to five years since N.A.S.A. collaborated with Kanye West on the track “Gifted.” With Lykke Li and Santigold on the assist, the duo comprised of Squeak E Clean and DJ Zegon crafted a breakout single that perfectly reflected the tone of their debut album Spirit Of Apollo. The project placed multiple genres in awkward situations and the results were genius – a prime example being “Strange Enough” featuring Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fat Lip of Pharcyde, and the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
A lot has happened since then. Squeak E Clean b.k.a. Sam Spiegel worked with Karen O again on Stop The Virgens, tagged as a “Psycho-Opera.” He also is preparing for the March 5th release of Maximum Hedrum with Sepultura’s Harold Faltermeyer and Derrick Green, while scoring films and working on N.A.S.A.’s sophomore project. That’s the beauty of a group like N.A.S.A. Named as the acronym of North America and South America, the duo leaves genre inhibitions at the door and plays by their own rules. While their previous project took five years to make, MTV Iggy checks in with Sam Spiegel five years later on the next phase in N.A.S.A’s career, along with his solo success. A lot has changed since N.A.S.A. first landed, but they’re up for the challenge.
How’s it going Sam?
I am good. I’ve just been deep in rehearsals, working on my new project Maximum Hedrum. I’ve just been rehearsing it and putting this thing together for the past couple of weeks. We’ve got our first show in January, so that’s kind of our launch date for everything. We’ve just been putting in work – crazy long days.
When does Maximum Hedrum drop?
The album comes out March 5th, but we’re playing our first show on January 14th.
The first N.A.S.A. project took five years to come together. Now it’s been five years since that project happened. Have you been doing the same process for the next project?
I’ve been spending a lot of time traveling and recording for the N.A.S.A. stuff. I spent a bunch of time in Africa recording stuff there, working with some artists and musicians there. But also, I’ve spent a bunch of time working on the Maximum Hedrum project too, but also doing some other various projects. I have this other thing I do with Karen O. We have a project together called Stop the Virgens, so I’ve been spending a bunch of time working on that and doing those shows, and scoring a couple of films. I tend to stay pretty busy.
Stop the Virgens is called a Psycho-Opera?
Yeah, that for lack of a better definition because we really couldn’t anything that was like it. To call it a “Rock Opera” would not do it justice. To call it a musical would not do it justice. We definitely didn’t know what to call it. It’s definitely a little psychedelic, but I wouldn’t just lump it into that category either.
Will a live album release of this project?
Yeah, 2004 we recorded the album, but we’re figuring it out. I probably can’t say exactly what’s happening because Karen is like super duper top secret about everything she’s working on. Whenever I’ve talked about anything to the press that wasn’t formally announced yet she’s gotten upset at me, but there are some plans for a formal release that’s amazing. Because everything Karen does is amazing, but maybe I shouldn’t exactly say what it is yet.
You said you were scoring some films. Which ones have you been doing?
I scored this film with this guy Harold Faltermeyer – he scored Beverly Hills Cop, Fletch and Top Gun and a bunch of movies in the ‘80s. He also produced a bunch of amazing disco stuff like Donna Summer, and did a lot of stuff with Giorgio Moroder. We scored this new film called Cop Out, which is a Kevin Smith film. Harold is amazing. He is just a fuckin’ amazing musical machine, and also synth wizard. Also, meeting him, I brought him onto the Maximum Hedrum project through that.
What made you decide to do the Maximum Hedrum project?
I think it just came out of feeling isolated and trapped in the like communication with my computer and laptop. You know, just seeing how much my life has changed from technology and the internet, and how it’s become a powerful force. I wanted to do a project where I could explore that. I got really into that guy Ray Kurzweil, and I think I read one of his books, The Age Of Spiritual Machines, in like 2004 or something like that. The idea has been germinating. I was really inspired by his vision for our future, looking very optimistic. I wanted to think about it also from a more critical eye, what the future can hold, but also here is how technology is also making you feel lonely and isolated and in touch with way more people, but not touching them.
It’s a little scary slash cool, isn’t it?
It is! I think the record’s really about that. N.A.S.A. was a lot about that too. We’re so interconnected, and it’s amazing. We’re able to explore everyone’s cultures with a click away. But I think the Maximum Hedrum record is about how we’re so connected, but we’re so lonely. It makes you more disconnected.
Creatively though, doesn’t it help artists to explore other genres through learning about them on the internet?
Oh no doubt about that. We definitely explored that idea with N.A.S.A., like we’re all connected to all these different cultures and types of music, and that’s amazing and I want to celebrate that and get outside of my comfort zone. Everyone I know listens to all different types of music. Everybody is so eclectic now with their tastes. As am I, as I always have been. Most of my friends are too, and I think that’s really cool. Everybody listens to everything now. It’s so much less compartmentalized. I feel like it’s a melting pot more now than it ever has been, and that’s really great.
When the N.A.S.A. project first came out, it was a relatively new concept, especially with hip-hop. Since then though, it seems like everyone is involved in that cross-genre fusion now. How do you think that’s going to affect your next release?
We’re just gonna do what we do. We’ll still be working with the people we love to work with, and not worry about what anyone else is doing. That’s part of who we are, and it’s in our creative DNA. Just because everyone else is genre-blending, it doesn’t make us want to move away from that.
Are you currently working on N.A.S.A.?
I have been working on the project on and off for a few years. Right now, this month I’ve been working on the Maximum Hedrum album. We’re going to be finishing up the N.A.S.A. record starting in February in L.A. Zegon’s coming to L.A. to finish the record.
So it’ll be out in 2013?
Knowing that you start projects that take years to cultivate, would you call yourself a perfectionist?
Definitely. Definitely a perfectionist, but I also don’t do a record and move on. There’s so much more to the projects I’m working on, as far as videos and visuals, art. So I think that ends up taking a lot of time, too. That ends up being consuming, too. It’s not just like, “Hey, let’s fuckin’ throw a record together!” The scope of the projects tends to be really big, like N.A.S.A…. there are over 40 artists on the record. It’s crazy.
Which artists have you worked with so far on the N.A.S.A. project?
Cee-Lo is on the record, worked a bunch with this cat Aynzli Jones from London, Ras Congo is on it, but we’re still in the early stages. Usually the artists we’re featuring tend to come last.
Will you be working with your brother Spike Jonze on any other projects?
I just worked on a skateboarding film with him, Lakai, which is really sweet. That also featured some of the Maximum Hedrum songs. I don’t know what else. He’s doing his film right now, and I’m doing my tour stuff. We’ll see. I’m sure we will though.
Outside of Maximum Hedrum and N.A.S.A., what would you say is your big 2013 goal?
I would like to fall madly in love in 2013.