Q+A: Kenny Segal “Happy Little Trees” // Ruby Yacht
By William Sheehan
We caught up with Kenny Segal (briefly, I might add) over the phone in his Brooklyn traipse; he’s not a stranger around here. The route warranted some attention, no doubt – it’s New York, but you can’t fake that kind of conscious stream. Keep in mind that during this interview, Segal was hitting a casual B-line to his destination for a good fifteen minutes. No cuts. No edits.
Kenny: I’ve been staying in Ditmas Park with my sister, but I’m just on my way over to a studio right now that’s over in Park Slope.
Pulp Lab: Where are you from initially? Are you from New York?
Kenny: I grew up in Maryland – Rockville, which is a suburb of Washington DC.
PL: Congrats on the release (happy little trees) with Ruby Yacht. How did hook up with those guys?
Kenny: It’s actually my second release with them. I think really because right after So the Flies Don’t Come, we put out an instrumental version on bandcamp only. There’s no real big press for it or anything. In answer to your real question though, I met Rory originally through Busdriver when he took me on the Perfect Hair tour. Shortly before that I met Rory in LA. He was there around the time that album came out and wherever he was crashing had fallen through and Busdriver brought him over to my house and he saw that I had like weed and a studio and a cool couch and said “Can I stay here?” and I was like, “Sure.” Then shortly after that, he went on that tour where he was the opening act and I was performing with Busdriver and we really bonded. That was a really long and grueling one. I think it was like 31 gigs in 32 days or something like that. When you go through that with someone, you really, really bond and that was kind of the formation of our friendship. After that, we started doing So the Flies Don’t Come and then I started meeting the rest of his crew, like Al and Brandon and all the other guys at Ruby Yacht. And at this point we’ve all done like at least two, maybe it’s the third or fourth tour I’ve done with those guys. So we all know each other like family at this point.
On Visuals and Bob Ross
PL: That’s heartwarming. So the new album, happy little trees… that is a Bob Ross reference, right?
Kenny: Oh yes, it’s totally a Bob Ross reference.
PL: What’s the significance of that?
Kenny: Well, it kind of works in a couple of different ways for me. On the most surface level, I would say I really enjoy watching Bob Ross. About a year and a half ago, my girlfriend, who’s now my fiancé, bought me a gift certificate from the Art Store because she saw me watching Bob Ross all the time and I bought some oil paints and started fooling around with his techniques. I’m still painting but I’ve moved away from all of that and began doing all sorts of other stuff and I painted the cover for this album. It’s not directly off any specific Bob Ross episode but maybe a combination of a few different episodes that I enjoyed of his. It’s also got a deeper, double meaning to me because, like I said, on a space level, I do like Bob Ross and I really enjoy relaxing and watching him on TV. I also think that if we touch upon an idea like – I think what he’s doing, he’s not great as an influence in that he’s kind of commodifying the process of making art. Instead of it being, you know, coming from you and sort of something that you need to do, you’re saying, “Oh, just follow step one. Then step two, then step three and voila, you have art.”
If you take that analogy and apply it to music, it’s very much what’s happening these days.
When I first started like, 20 years ago, there were these huge barriers you’d encounter if you wanted to make beats. Like you had to have a lot of equipment that cost a lot of money and that was hard to use. Then you needed to find someone to mentor you and teach you how to do it and you had to put in a lot before you got anything out of it. So you really, really had to want this. Now you can go download an app on your phone and get these premade plugins and make music for many other people that now are also making music. And I’m thinking now now that I feel that in Bob Ross’s vibe – that it’s just like a stepped project in music now. I won’t name names but, you know…
Kenny: On one hand, I love it. I love the fact that it’s made the barrier to entry easier. I mean, I wish all that existed when I was a kid but on the other hand, it’s also brought on a whole lot of mediocre art in general. There’s people that are creating things that aren’t really invested in it as much. It’s just a fun little thing to pass the time. I don’t have anything against that because if it makes people happy and it’s something that they enjoy doing, then it’s awesome. But in the world of like Art with a capital ‘A’, I guess there’s just a whole lot of art that doesn’t really have any meaning or soul behind it. It’s just assembled by people.
Touring & Album Art Direction
PL: But anyway, moving on. So the tour…
Kenny: We’re right in the middle of it right now. We just did gig number five last night.
PL: Are there any other dates in particular you’re looking forward to, aside from New York? I imagine that’s a huge deal.
Kenny: Yeah last night was definitely the dopest show of the tour yet. Not that all of them aren’t dope, but like, last night it was Boston and it actually had a few more people, I think. There was about 300 people last night, I think, just a little over 300 but last night’s crowd was the most alive. It’s funny, sometimes the crowd can be very stoic at the shows and serious but last night was a giant party, which was really fun. As a performer, it’s always fun when people are outwardly showing how much fun they’re having, as opposed to standing around nodding their head in a trance.
As far as other shows though… The DC show, which is a few shows from now, I’m looking forward to because I have a number of friends from high school and elementary school and stuff and they’ll come to that one. I haven’t lived in that area for almost 20 years at this point, but it’s where I grew up. So I certainly still have friends and family out there.
PL: So you’re based in LA?
Kenny: Yes. The LA show will also be a highlight but that’s not until November. The tour is in two halves. We’re doing the east coast right now and then back in October, the 16th in Atlanta, and then we pick up again November 1st in Houston and go all the way across the south and then all the way up the west coast to Seattle in November. Definitely another one I’m looking forward to – the last tour I did with Rory, Seattle was by far the biggest and most alive show of the entire tour.
PL: What venue in Seattle are you playing at?
Kenny: I think we’re playing at the same spot we played at in the past, which is called the Vera Project. It’s kind of a weird venue. It’s an all ages spot, like an art community center, which doesn’t sound like a spot you’d have a live hip hop show but it has an enormous room and can probably fit like 500 people in it. Like I said, I played there three times or two times before and both times, it was the highlight of the tour that we were on. So, I’m looking forward to it, but it’s actually the last show of the whole tour, so it won’t be until the very end.
PL: You’ll go out with a bang, I’m sure.
PL: I just wanted to go back to your upcoming release. With the visual element you’ve been influenced by, from Bob Ross etc., is this the first time a visual element has really played a larger role in your release? Is that fair to say?
Kenny: Let me say this: I pay a lot of attention to the individual art side of all my releases but this is the first time I’ve ever created the art for an album. So normally I link with an artist that I really admire, someone who’s feeling the project. This is the only time I’ve ever done art myself for a project. So yes and no to that question. Visuals are important to me but I’ve never been in charge of them.
PL: I think we touched on artists that you’re looking forward to playing with, besides from the rest of the tour with Milo or – ?
Kenny: So actually on this tour, for 80% or more of the shows, there’s no local openers. It’s just the tour, which is actually kind of cool because, I mean there’s lots of people that I like to play with, like different artists that I’ve worked with and even that I haven’t but, ultimately, when you’re on tour a lot of times the local openers aren’t even really related to you that much. I don’t know, sometimes it’s just the vibe – I think it’s really cool we get to control the whole thing. Because with the local opener thing, I’ve seen it work both for and against us many times. I mean, shit, we once did a show on a tour of Vegas where I think they had 10 acts go on before us.
PL: What the f***?
Kenny: We didn’t even go on until like, I was the opener and I didn’t go on until one in the morning, or like until like two or something. I mean, Vegas is a late city but still. It’s funny, I remember being in that gig and it was like the sixth or seventh act and it was already like 11:30 and the promoter for some inexplicable reason, had paid us when we first got there, which is very unusual.
Kenny: Well thanks for covering the album. I’m really excited about this one. I’ve never put out a proper solo album ever.
Cole’s Final & Coleman Goughary
Kenny: There’s actually a really interesting story behind that particular song. So in general, this album although definitely my music is sample based, I have a lot of live playing on it, but the reason it’s called Cole’s Final is because- I don’t know how familiar you are with Ableton, like the music software.
PL: Oh yeah, it’s my go-to.
Kenny: Okay, so like Coleman Goughary, who’s the artist rep for Ableton – he’s the guy that’ll take care of your gig when you’re famous and if it’s not working, you call him at two in the morning and he’ll troubleshoot it for you. He’s the go to guy with artists for Ableton. I’ve known him for years and years, just because he lived in Los Angeles and he was in my circle of friends and most people that know him only know him for that, but I guess he was a composition major when he was in college and a few years ago I was out of town and he shared with me his final piece. It was like a four movement string quartet piece that he had written for one of his finals in college and I was like, “Oh, that piece is amazing. Can I sample it?” and he said sure. He gave it to me and I actually started this track a couple of years back. I just finished it more recently for this album. That’s why it’s called Cole’s Final because it’s sampling Cole’s final piece.
The appropriately titled happy little trees was released on October 19th thru Ruby Yacht. In essence, the album rests as a convergence of sounds from different career eras, some three or four years old. Full circle, with closure. You might also be lucky enough to catch him on tour.