"I feel just such a deep urge to make stuff and it balances me out and it rewards me so much mentally. I just can't imagine not making anything." Sadistik, underground hip-hop musician
Sadistik is an underground hip-hop innovator that has gained a fiercely loyal fanbase over the course of a career spanning a decade in music. With his new album Haunted Gardens coming out on April 20th, 2019, he joins the podcast to talk about what went into creating this deeply personal record. Sadistik also talks about his writing process, his legacy, and his love of horror movies.
Jeff: I would love to start actually with your new record and let's talk about that a little bit, Haunted Gardens, which is coming out April 20th right as this episode's about to hit. I just want to say you released the single Eden, it's excellent. I've listened to some of the tracks off this record and you know, everybody's talking about how this is, I mean a lot of your press is talking about how this is your most vulnerable record. I really adhere to what I'm hearing. Like, you're really bearing your soul and I really think you should be proud of what you put out because it's a killer record. I'm so excited for it.
Sadistik: Thank you. I appreciate that.
Jeff: Like I said, I love Eden. I love a couple of the other tracks that I've been digging that I want my listeners to hear too, 8-1/2. I wanted to ask you about a track in specific, the track Alcoves, is probably the most haunting track on that record. It is just beautiful, but it's almost a conversation. Is that you or is that prerecorded? Is that somebody else talking?
Sadistik: There's the prerecorded clip that was sampled where they're talking about Andy Kaufman, and that's produced by a guy named Killed Myself, uplifting. I sang kind of the weird little ghostly vocals obviously. There are two songs on that album that I made really, really quickly and then immediately loved and didn't touch it. That's something for me that is completely foreign. I am a super pedantic artist. I tinker a lot. I rework things. I like to build it up and tear it down kind of thing. That song, Alcoves, and then another song Coy, I made really quickly and then just immediately knew that was it, if I touch it anymore it's not going to be what I want it to be.
Jeff: That's really awesome. I also read somewhere that you said you were working on a lot of the material for Haunted Gardens almost congruently as you were working on Salo Sessions Two.
Jeff: Both of those records are, at least to me, strikingly different in their emotional give and take.
Jeff: How do you compartmentalize that? How do you get from one head space to the other and go back and forth?
Sadistik: The main thing is I prioritize the album. All the best ideas and all the things where I start something and as long as it fits kind of the little checklist I have in my head of what tones or what colors this album feels like to me then it always goes to the album and then everything else I'll kind of set aside and then I'll kind of switch gears and start fleshing that out and choosing what things I like and then I'll find like themes to kind of sew together and maybe make connections to the whole Salo premise and then over time there will be more Salo Sessions EPs, so the themes will hopefully be more obvious over time. Most of my energy was definitely towards Haunted Gardens. Salo Sessions Two was mentally kind of a lot easier to pull off for me. Haunted Gardens was a lot more demanding.
Jeff: Yeah. Speaking again on Haunted Gardens, when you're attacking a record like this do you come up with the head space, the theme, the emotional theme of it beforehand or does the writing session kind of lend itself.
Sadistik: I'll sometimes have an idea of what I want it to be, but then it almost always comes out so different and then partway long the way I'll start to kind of like realize what I've been making. Usually, I'm sure it's different for everybody, for me I'll have that really signature song moment where [inaudible] make a certain song, I'll go, this is the fucking whatever, like the archetype for the album. This is the colors to pull from. For Haunted Gardens I think that song was Eden. When I first made that I was like, this is exactly the world I was looking for. With Alters it was Free Spirits. Right when I made Free Spirits I knew that was what the album would sound like. From there I can kind of fill in pieces where I'm like I want more slow dreary stuff or there's too much dreary stuff. I need some like, I want a little bit of light to come in at this part of the album or whatever, so then I can start kind of like fleshing it, you know.
Sadistik: I always think of albums. I think about songs or I think about a line or whatever. I'll like zoom into these little details, of course, but every time I run something by my head, oh, is this line good enough, does this hook work, does this blah, blah, blah, I always kind of like double check with whatever the project idea is in my mind.
Jeff: Interesting. Was it surprising going through the journey of writing this record? Did it surprise you at all? Did anything surprise you coming out of it?
Sadistik: I didn't expect it to sound ... When I first started writing it so I could hear what it sounds like now, I would be very surprised. I'd be pleasantly surprised, but it's not what I ... I knew I felt pulled towards my, I don't want to say older style, but that's what people will call it when they hear it, my older style, which is a lot of some people's future style. But, yeah, I knew I wanted to kind of go back to these like sadder, more introspective songs, less bangers, less fun stuff. I don't know about fun, but for me fun to make, like stuff like Salo is more fun. I knew I wanted to do that but I didn't expect it to really sound like this. I didn't expect it to be as stripped down as it is.
Jeff: Yeah. That's cool. That kind of leads me back into the beginning of your career. Where did this want to create music and to perform come from? Has that always been inside you or did that kind of coalesce as you were writing?
Sadistik: I've always wanted to create things. My mom's a painter. I've always been drawn to those things and I've always been wanting to do projects. Even when I was a little kid I used to draw a lot and paint and when I reflect back on that I would never want to make just one thing. I always wanted to make a collection. I always wanted to make a book. I always wanted to make these like grander things, and so now that I look back on that, I have this home video when I was a little kid, one of the only ones I have and across the floor is all these drawings of monsters I would do and I went running up to my mom trying to get her to look at all the different monsters I drew, but there's like 30 of them. When I see that now it's kind of still what I'm doing as an adult. I've always been drawn. If it wasn't that, if I didn't make music, if I didn't make rap, I'd make some other kind of music. If I didn't make ... Not to like treat the culture like you can discard it or whatever, but I adore rap, of course, but I feel just such a deep urge to make stuff and it balances me out and it rewards me so much mentally. I just can't imagine not making anything.
Jeff: Yeah. I mean, I think, that's the sign of someone who really needs, you need to create. It's something that's this need in your heart. I think that's awesome. Speaking kind of like, you kind of brought it up a little bit, like your influences getting into it. I know that you are a fan of stream of consciousness poetry and that kind of thing like Virginia Wolfe and these things, but on the music side of it did you gravitate more towards the rap genre in the beginning?
Sadistik: Yeah. When I first got into music in general I wasn't into music as a kid until I heard rap and then I was obsessed. I treated it very obsessively and I kind of studied it. I would walk to the closest stores that had a rap section and I would just kind of study it or I would pester my brother. My brother is ten years older than me, and so he kind of put me on to everything. I remember the first time I heard Bone Thugs or the first time I heard The Looneys or things like this and how excited I got. I would just ask him, what's this, can I listen to this, can I listen to [inaudible 00:09:18]? Back in fucking CD days you had to find a way to get access to this music to even know it exists. Now you can find everything. It's like, you're curious about Black Metal? Type it in. Here you go. Yeah. It's like, imagine finding that in the 90s. It's like it's a completely different thing. I just kind of obsessively studied it. I remember my brother yelling at me, being like, all you fucking talk about to me ever is rap CDs. Then, you know, fast forward 20 years it's still the same shit for me. Not for him. He grew up. I didn't.
Jeff: Good. Growing up is overrated.
Sadistik: I didn't grow up at all.
Jeff: I've got to ask then, the other side of that question, you had said you always had to create. If you didn't get into rap you would have done something else. What do you think that something else would have been? What do you think that other genre of music that you would create?
Sadistik: I wanted to make movies.
Sadistik: That's what I want to do, yeah.
Jeff: Awesome, awesome. Like from a director's standpoint or from a writer's standpoint?
Sadistik: I don't think I would. Musically, the only other thing I could see is maybe making some kind of folky stuff, but in music my passion as a listener is just so loyal to rap. I love metal. I love a lot of other stuff, but rap is so much deeper for me, the genre. I don't think I'd make another genre.
Sadistik: I'd always make something. I'd like to be in film. It's a big goal of mine.
Jeff: Okay. Speaking of movies.
Sadistik: Horror movies.
Jeff: I was just going to say, you're a horror movie fan. Where did that come from? Are you like the old school horror movie, the new school?
Sadistik: I'm so obsessed. I told you my mom's a painter. My mom was also like, she'd read a lot of Stephen King and Dean Koontz and Peter Straub and shit like that, and so I would always kind of like dig in those. I was really into Edgar Allen Poe when I was a kid, which I know sounds like a stereotype of myself, but I was just drawn to that stuff and monsters. I was always just drawn to the creepiest stuff like when I was a little kid. I loved scary stories to tell in the dark were really big on my childhood. It just kept going. It didn't stop. I remember my mom told me to read something. She was like, I just thought you'd grow out of it, like these 80s horror movies and all this shit you're into. Like, no. Just never did.
Jeff: That's rad. Do you have a favorite that you gravitate towards?
Sadistik: I love Italian horror movies. I really like the 70s Giallo phase. I like exploitation films a lot. I like 70s movies because they were kind of mean-spirited and then I like a lot of kind of art house foreign highbrow cunty stuff.
Jeff: That's awesome.
Sadistik: I'm obsessed with cult film. I'm surrounded by it, all my posters and books and everything. It's always connected to that.
Jeff: That's awesome. What do you think of the horror movie genre today? Do you think it's lacking or do you think it's doing all right.
Sadistik: No. I think we're in a golden era right now. I think people are going to look back on this little era as a great one in horror and I'm happy to see it as someone who lived through the 90s.
Sadistik: It was really shitty. The early 2000s were pretty fucking shitty too, and we had the whole like gore porn, when Hostile was the best thing you could find for a long time. I think the elevated horror film is becoming a thing. You sometimes see these [inaudible] make horror and they make the best ones, but they stood out, so things like Psycho, Carrie, The Shining, Rosemary's Baby, stuff like that where they were made by very highly-regarded directors, but now we're getting elevated horror more often from people who aren't acclaimed in drama. It's like, we're getting Hereditary, The Witch, shit like that that I think is awesome. Honestly, I think last year might have been the best year in horror in decades. There's at least ten good horror movies.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah. You're totally right. We're getting horror from the weirdest places now, but like I think that makes it refreshing and awesome because you're getting these new ideas. The Witch, for me ...
Sadistik: So good.
Jeff: ... the best horror movie that's come out in the last decade.
Sadistik: It's really good.
Jeff: On the other side of that, I'm so impressed with what Jordan Peele's been able to come out with with Get Out, and I'm so excited for Us.
Sadistik: I already saw it.
Jeff: Oh, you did? You lucky bastard. Was it great?
Sadistik: Yeah. My homey Danny Rockgood, shouts to him, he got a pass from Universal. We went to this private screening of it.
Jeff: Is it as good as the trailers make it look?
Sadistik: The trailer is fantastic. That's one of the best trailers I've seen in years for sure. I was really excited for it and I did not like it.
Sadistik: I don't want to ruin it for anybody.
Jeff: All right, all right. I'll take that. I'll take that.
Sadistik: I'm excited to see where he goes. A lot of people are just kind of throwing this thing out where he's the best horror director of this generation. There's potential to be, but it's a little early for that.
Jeff: I think so too. Back on the music side of it, you, in rap, are doing something that's rare. You are infusing your dark, your deep sensibility, your poetic sensibility into every album that you do no matter what kind of emotional thread that you're pulling on. I think it's awesome and refreshing and it's rare, but as rap as a genre is there stuff that you listen to out there that you really dig that you think is pushing the game?
Sadistik: Not particularly, but that doesn't mean that I don't think it's not there. I definitely don't have that bitter mindset that a lot of rappers seem to. I think there's so much of every niche right now that whatever peoples' favorite flavor of wrap is you could probably find things you like and as listeners we should probably just be grateful for that, especially since we get it for free, which is still a novelty to me. With that said, there's not someone newer that comes to mind that I think like's really blown my mind or done anything like I don't feel like I've heard before.
Jeff: I agree with you.
Sadistik: Quality guys. There's a lot of guys who it's like, oh, they're dope or they're, you know, they have great taste in beats and melody or there's guys who push the pen a little harder than a lot of people used to. I think some people tend to canonize the things that they heard when they were a teenager a little bit too much too, so I try to be honest when I go back and listen to some like golden era rap. Some of it holds up great. Some of it is even better than I remember and then a lot of it is like, this really wasn't that dope. I just had a dumb young brain hearing it.
Jeff: Yeah. It was new. It was new to everybody.
Jeff: It was this shiny penny that was like, oh, I've got to check that out.
Jeff: On your writing style, when you are coming up with your album or even just songs for your album, are you attacking it, does it all come from like a singular idea? Do you just like hit an emotional thread and then go, okay, I'm going to run with that or is it a line or is it a hook that's hitting you or do you start with the beat? Where does your process kind of coalesce?
Sadistik: Well, it depends if I'm making an album or I'm making a song. If I'm making a song I try to be as kind of like free and wishy-washy as I can. Either like the writing or trying to find the right beat or working with a producer or whatever it is I try to be like really open minded to what things grab me, but also very specific because if it doesn't make something shake in me it's definitely not going to for somebody else, so keep skipping. You know what I mean? If it's an album I kind of keep that umbrella idea in mind and I have like a little bit of like a rule set I build for myself, you know. Like, Haunted Gardens, I knew I wanted it to be shorter. I knew I wanted it to be a little bit more stripped down, less vocal layers, things like this, so I kind of like tried to adhere to that because I knew overall it would be different enough from my other albums. Even things like transitions between songs or song order, you know, I try to have this really careful balance between being different from my other stuff, but keeping threads through it where they know that I did it on purpose? You know what I mean?
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah. That's really cool. You've mentioned before in other interviews that, you know, this need to create, this need to make the music that you do, you do it because when you got into the game you didn't really hear anything that was speaking to you the way that you want to speak through your music. Throughout your career has it been therapeutic? Has it changed you, like being able to kind of get these different albums, these different ideas out?
Sadistik: Yeah. I mean, if I really stop and think about it, it's kind of crazy that I'm even here doing this at all. You know, it's not something that I was destined for. It's not something that I was immediately super talented at. But, somehow, the right things have worked and I've placed my energies in the right places or whatever. The stars aligned. Somehow I ended up in this fucking spot and it's bizarre to think about. I don't know. I'm just grateful that I even have an opportunity to be an artist and to even speak to people in an era where I feel like most people feel extremely unheard and anonymous and they're surrounded by all these people that seem famous that are like these big mirages, you know. Back to what you were saying at the beginning, I did make the balancing act because I wanted to hear a kind of rap album that didn't exist. There were certain songs or certain artists that, at times, touched on things that related to whatever, like Albatross I had in me, but I was like, I wanted to make one that was all that, that was just ... It's called Balancing Act, ironically, because it's a very imbalanced album. It's super fucking heavy and dark.
Jeff: Yeah. I mean, that's really awesome for the need to create again. That brings me to the question I get to on this show all the time. You've now created quite the body of work and like I've said a couple of times, each of your albums pulls on different emotional threads, has a lot of imagery, has a lot of, you know, I don't know, push and pull to them and you've put your mark on this world. What fuels you to keep going, to keep writing and to keep putting music out into the world? What fuels you to do that?
Sadistik: Legacy. Everything is ephemeral, not going to be here forever, and it's a super narcissistic and selfish way to see it, but I just want to leave something behind that has some value, and it's like, I have an opportunity to keep adding to that. That's why I take every song very seriously. I take every album even more seriously because it's like, it's a representation. It will always be the reflection of how I'm viewed or whatever the fuck it is. I don't know. I hold it so close. I'll zoom in and out. I'll zoom into a line on a song. Then it's like, hey, here's a song. Here's the representation. Here's the album. You can't really know how the song works until you hear the whole album. Okay. But then eventually when you get enough albums it's like, well, you don't really know how discography works until you hear all the albums. It's just going to get deeper and deeper over time hopefully. You know what I mean?
Sadistik: And then one day, I just want to go, okay, this is it, I'm done, the statue's over and go make movies or disappear in the woods or something.
Jeff: Ah. Man. You keep saying it and I really hope you do make movies some day. Just hearing some of the stuff that comes out of your brain with your lyrics, like to be able to see that visually would be ...
Sadistik: I've gotten to direct some of my videos, but it's just like, that's just enough to wet the appetite, you know. I want to make like ... I have some ideas, but I've just got to get the right resources. I think it will happen eventually.
Jeff: That's awesome. On the musical process, what's your favorite part? Is it writing? Is it recording? Is it performing?
Sadistik: It's tough because every part of the process I love and hate. Again, I know that's really broad. Every part is, I feel, so critical. That's also the point. That's why it reaches a point that it does because I just terrorize it until it makes its way through my like criticism obstacles. I definitely think the writing part is probably the one I get the most out of, I don't know if I want to say spiritually, but that's the part that probably keeps me coming back the most.
Jeff: That's really cool. I mean, I wouldn't worry.
Sadistik: It's working. Sometimes it might only be like 5% of the time the right circuits are firing. It's like, I could write forever. I've written pretty much every day for 18 years, so I have piles of notebooks. I could write okay rap songs in my sleep, but like, the stuff I really like, the moments that feel like I'm onto something, you know, sometimes those moments are sparse, but when you get them it's such a high and it just feels fulfilling in a way that other things don't.
Jeff: I mean, it's a testament to how hard you work on the material that you create because I think it resonates with your fans and people who are maybe just discovering you for the first time or been listening to you since the beginning. Do you kind of get that sense when you perform and you're out there with your fans and stuff?
Sadistik: Yeah. Yeah. On the writing side I think there's kind of a mutual respect between my listenership and myself. So, when I'm writing songs I write them for myself. I mean, I know people are going to hear it. I hope they enjoy it of course, but overall, I'm trying to meet my own standards and I treat my audience, I decided very early on that I'm going to treat my audience like they're as smart as me or smarter. I'm going to always treat them like that. Sometimes I'll through in obscure references. Sometimes I'll throw in super low-brow like stupid references that I enjoy or whatever the fuck it is. So, I just kind of decided not to consider the audience so much that I like try to cater to what they may or may not be interested in, right?
Jeff: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Sadistik: At the same time I feel like my audience shows me a lot of respect. They really give me the benefit of the doubt on things and they like to dig into my lyrics. They like to find hidden things and Easter eggs and sometimes they're really onto things. Sometimes they find things that I had no intention of doing, you know. They're just being too smart. But, it's cool.
Sadistik: It's fun. I like hiding clues. I like putting little patterns in things and I think some people seem to get a kick out of searching for them.
Jeff: Again, that's a testament to the work that you're putting in and I think that's really rad.
Sadistik: It's just more fun hiding little things. It's just like all my heroes did that, like all the people that I thought were the best ones did that.
Jeff: That's awesome. I noticed recently, this is just a random question, I noticed recently you tweeted out that you'd really like to make a song with a female rapper.
Jeff: Do you have anybody in mind?
Sadistik: I don't know. That's kind of why I just threw it out on Twitter because I've known that I want to make a song with a female rapper. I don't really know what the right term for that is anymore. It keeps changing.
Sadistik: I remember it was like feMC. It was feMC for a long time.
Jeff: I remember that too and that's just so weird.
Sadistik: Yeah, I was like, I wouldn't want to be called that. It sounds annoying. But, yeah, I actually just tweeted that to see what people said, but there's definitely a handful of girls, women, that I would like to rap with. This girl named Chyna, a couple of people tagged her and I hadn't heard her before and I checked her out and she's pretty dope. I don't know. Tierra Wag is really dope.
Jeff: I hope it happens.
Sadistik: It could be cool. I mean, I've definitely made music women before, of course, but they're always in singing roles or in videos or things like that. It would be cool to have someone more on a rappy vibe.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah. I think obviously finding the right person I think it would be a really cool fit.
Sadistik: Yeah. I want the right kind of flexiness, you know.
Jeff: Yeah. For sure. For sure. Haunted Gardens is coming out April 20. Can't wait for everybody to hear this record. What are the plans for the rest of the year? Are you going to go on tour for it?
Sadistik: Yeah. I'm going to follow it with a tour.
Jeff: Excellent. Is it going to be mostly North America?
Sadistik: Yeah. It will be the whole country. I don't know if I'll do Canada yet, but I'm doing Seattle to San Diego to New York to Tampa, everything in between.
Sadistik: And then, I don't know. Just keep my head low, make more music and hope something comes along where I can, I really want to play Europe and Canada and Australia. I owe the UK a show so bad. I've never played the UK and I'm getting kind of tired of apologizing in emails.
Jeff: Well, it's coming then.
Sadistik: Yeah. We'll see. Where are you located?
Jeff: We're in upstate New York, so if you come around here you'll have some fans.
Sadistik: I'm think I'm playing Syracuse.
Jeff: Oh perfect. That's a couple hours away from us.
Sadistik: Cool, cool.
Jeff: Excellent, excellent. For our listeners and viewers, what's the best way for them to follow your journey whether it's social media or website, what's the best way to follow you?
Sadistik: We're all little minions to the social media devils, so you know, all the usual suspects, Instagram, Twitter, Spotify. Check the music out and see if any of the words resonate with you, you know, so I can [inaudible 00:29:11].
Jeff: Excellent. Excellent.
Sadistik: If it matters to you you'll find me.
Jeff: No. That's good. That's good. I can't thank you enough for taking time to talk with me on the show.
Sadistik: My pleasure.
Jeff: Awesome. Thank you so much
Sadistik: Yeah. You too.