Regan John Farquhar, AKA Busdriver, is an LA native who has released seven full-length albums over his 13-year career, and is critically recognized as one of the most unique talents in rap today.
His lack of commercial success to date is likely because he is more artist than hip hop artist. But with his new release, Beaus$Eros (pronounced “Bows and Arrows”), Busdriver seeks a larger audience. The album is a 14-song missive released on Valentine’s Day about personal and professional stagnancy. Throughout, he is both self-deprecating and self-aggrandizing, resulting in an amusing and dry dissonance. This from new track “Bon Bon Fire”:
We spoke with Busdriver the morning after a show in the Denver area. He’s performing tracks from Beaus$Eros and, as he puts it, “letting a lot of my mistakes fly to get comfortable with a lot of the new songs.”
“To be quite honest, this record is my more poppy,” says Busdriver. “I think what I used to do is more palatable now if you just adjust it a tiny bit. For example, “Imaginary Places.”(2002) You can play that along with “Look At Me Now”(2011) or something with a lot of choppy difficult rifs on it but since since it doesn’t have a hook—doesn’t have Chris Brown dancing on it—so it wouldn’t work as well? But yeah, I’m an idiot. All my efforts are not really geared towards top 40 rap world… I don’ t have that influence. I’ve never had a manager. I’m too stupid. I self manage.”
“Imaginary Places” off of his second album, Temporary Forever (2002):
Here are several live tracks from Jhelli Beam (ANTI- Epitaph, 2009):
After Jhelli Beam was released, Epitaph dropped him, as did his fiancée. Much soul-searching and label-searching has landed Busdriver at his new label, Fake Four, for a collaboration with producer Loden and the creation of dramatically new sound. Here is the first video from Beaus$Eros for “Kiss Me Back to Life.”
You’ll hear a lot less rapping on Beaus$Eros than on previous Busdriver releases. As a result, his songwriting talent is perhaps more apparent because he is singing instead of speed rhyming. Beaus$Eros may well be Busdriver’s best work to date.
stated: Your loyal fans will immediately recognize that Beaus$Eros it as a huge departure from your prior work.
Busdriver: That it is. I went with the songs that catered to my interests at the time. That tended to be not a lot of conventional rap songs per se, and this is kind of where my sensibilities landed me.
stated: As a self-manager, can you tell me about your record label history?
Busdriver: I’ve just gone where people will have me. I put out my first two records on my own. My third and forth records I dealt with Big Dada, which is a subsidiary of Ninja Tune in the UK. I was very green at that point. I still remember my meeting with Mush records, and I was very much out of my depths and not familiar with the vernacular. I never really had a record contract and it was all very new.
Epitaph was on their hip hop kick and they had just come off having a lot of success with Atmosphere and The Coup. I was on the tail end of that because they liked my album Fear of a Black Tangent. That’s a whole different world, Epitaph and Anti-; they are structured like a major label—more than anything I was familiar with. I don’t think I was prepared for the first record I did with them, Roadkill Overcoat. It was very serious and I had a lot of support in the office, but on the next record, [ Jhelli Beam ], things kind of fell short and the focus of the label shifted and it didn’t go as well.
I’m not good at appearing valuable to labels, especially now. I did a lot of label hunting to land where I’m at with Fake Four. I got a lot of “maybe’s,” but I got a lot of “no’s.” What I’ve discovered with labels is that once you reach a certain point in your career, they are not there to build you up anymore. They just want to reap the benefits off of what you’ve already done, which I understand.
I’m happy with Fake Four because I realize it’s good to cultivate whatever base out there is attracted to your music. More than ever, I feel the outlets we have online allow for a lot of content to flow freely and you have to govern your acts in that way just like a content aggregator, and I’m embracing that.
stated: Is there any kind of lyrical theme to Beaus$Eros?
Busdriver: It’s about heartbreak. About injuring people you’ve loved and making mistakes on that front. A lot of the songs were written when I was going through the breakup with my fiancée so a lot of them come from that point of view. That’s about 80% of the record.
stated: What about your relationship with Loden, the producer on Beaus$Eros? On your website it says that you guys never actually met. Is that correct?
Busdriver: We met a couple of months ago and the record had already been done for months. And, yeah, we never met or talked while we were working on the record. We never worked together in the same room or exchanged words. It was all over email.
stated: So what was the creative process like on Beaus$Eros?
Busdriver: It was pretty standard. I’m used to being isolated when I create my parts for a song. A lot of times he would send me a beat or a couple of parts of a beat or movement and I would arrange it, turn it into a song, record vocals, and send it back to him. He would then edit and try to adjust things and send it back to me. That’s pretty much the basic template for how it works, but it also varies a lot. Sometimes I would send a song completely done and he would embellish my production. Or sometimes he would send me really basic drums and I would create the melody on it and then he would complement that melody. That’s how that one song “Feelings” came about. He sent me drums and I just sang the melody on it and he modulated it into a different key and actually took out a lot of the layers on that song and made it sound better. You definitely have to have a lot of confidence in your producer/collaborator to engage in the process that I undertook for this record, but actually it was really liberating.
We did try a couple of things that did not go well. Like I tried to have lush strings played on one song and he didn’t like how they were played. So I didn’t get the big swath of swelling strings sections happening, but that’s the only thing that didn’t pan out on the record. Everything else went how I wanted it to.
stated: Beaus$Eros is not at all political like some of your other recordings.
Busdriver: There’s one political song called “No Blacks No Jews No Asians.” For rap music, it’s not the age of political song, although it should be. It’s the age of personal song. I felt justified in how my songwriting naturally veered in that direction.
stated: What do you make of fans who frequently claim that you should be considered the most highly skilled MC working today?
Busdriver: Not much. Haha. I think I’m really lucky to have a spirited base. I depend on them for everything. So I really appreciate them. But it doesn’t really affect how I go about doing things. I don’t think I’m the best. I don’t know, the idea [of] tackling such a trophy, such a decoration is daunting. I don’t want to try to tackle that. I don’t believe that. I think a lot of California rappers are incredibly good.
stated: May I ask what you read? What’s on your coffee table?
Busdriver: I don’t really read that much. I’m reading No Logo right now. And I’m reading a couple of science fiction books from the 50’s, but I’m a horrible reader. I’m really ADD. I’m proficiently ADD…completely…so it’s hard for me to do anything.
stated: Do you know what you’re going to be doing in terms of a tour?
Busdriver: I’m kind of in the middle of figuring it out. I’m in Colorado right now. I performed last night in Greeley, and tomorrow I perform in Fort Collins, and the next day I’ll perform in Denver. Then I’m playing some dates with Buck 65 in the Northwest, and then I’m going to go to Europe. After that, I’m coming back and do a proper US run and that will be in May.
stated: How was the crowd last night?
Busdriver: It was ok…pretty good. I was letting a lot of my mistakes fly to get comfortable with a lot of the new songs. I realize that a lot of what I understand about hip hop or about anything that’s related to hip hop fans is really foreign and not embraced and so a lot of my music comes off really strange. Which is fine, but I hope that I’m good enough to be something that’s interesting enough to bring people back. Sometimes I get really subconscious that I’m not giving the fans what they want—quote unquote—and I can’t always really do that.
stated: How are you received throughout Europe?
Busdriver: I do well in France. I actually mostly play in France. It goes well over there. Probably better than it goes over here in the States.
stated: Do you listen to Radio Nova?
Busdriver: I listen to Radio Nova all the time when I’m in Paris.
stated: Will you ever let your avant-garde down?
Busdriver: I don’t know that that means. What am I supposed to do? When people say that it strikes me because I’m like…so…there’s something expected of me. What is that? I don’t know what it is! Should I be like Wiz Khalifa? Is that what I’m supposed to do? Or maybe like Cutty?
What’s the norm for what I’m supposed to do? I don’t know. I don’t know what people think. There’s NOTHING avant-garde about what I do. Nothing. I just do songs. There’s nothing avant-garde happening. I don’t sit and make ambient music and have chimes in background and whale and twirl which is something that I could do! But mine are structured songs, you know? Maybe when I get a manager I’ll let my avant-garde down, but I don’t know what that means.