XXL: Tell me about Vibes. Theophilus London: It started about the end of 2012 or the beginning of 2013. I went out to Paris for a production meeting. It’s a whole process into making an album, especially since it’s my first time expressing myself in all places; I’m producing, I’m writing, I’m casting, I’m A&Ring, I’m setting up different shops in different places in the world.
So I went to Paris to work with Brodinski. I really love his mystical kind of club beats and hip-hop merges he’s been doing lately. I thought that was cool and we wrote a couple songs there. I linked up with Cid Rim and wrote a couple songs there. Then I came to Palm Springs and built my own studio. I wasn’t really fond of writing and recording in other studios anymore. I don’t need nobody telling me I got an hour left to write fucking songs. I got to live it. I got to be able to go to the pub, go to the bar, come back, kiss my girlfriend, come back, play some ball or kick it in the pool, come back. Hear some stories about a movie. Then write a song. It’s never ending.
You built your own studio!? Yeah, I built it from the ground up. Built my own personal studio so it can sound like me. People using the same studio, everybody sounds the same. This is an album that sounds like no one else. I built this studio with my hands with help from friends. I set up shop in my living room in a vintage home in Palm Springs and it just changed the whole experience. Off the bat it doesn’t sound like no one. All the beats I’m making, it sound like no one because of the equipment and software I’m using. I used a lot of hardware on this. I want to be able to touch the beat, not just click a button. Feel me!?
What was your mindstate making Vibes!? What message did you want to get across!? The message is the work is never finished. Vibes isn’t really finished, I’m just putting out a version of it. I could work on this for the rest of my life, really. For the last two years I’ve been working on it. Tweaking it every day. I tried to do it with no pressure, we just vibed. It was just vibes. You don’t have to always make plans in life. Everything can just vibe together. If you work with the forces, everything would be vibes.
What was Kanye West’s role? When did he come into play as the executive producer!? When Kanye came in, he knew he wanted to oversee the album; the artwork, the videos. After he heard one song he said, “Man, I’m in, come play it for me at my house every weekend and we’ll start from there.” He was on tour [for Yeezus] at this point. I was working with him before all the rehearsals. We set up a studio at Adidas, we’re working. We set up a studio on his jet, we’re working. We’re working at Rick Rubin’s place. I just send him an email saying may I come to Tokyo or come to Austin or come to Mexico.
I just have to follow his guide because I know I’m working with someone that’s won tons of Grammys and already solidified as somewhat of a genius as far as making a sound that people like and popular sound that people always dig. He’s also a marketing genius and a great designer, so many things. So of course I take up the opportunity. And the way it presented itself, it was just vibes. We wasn’t talking about money, no fame, none of that shit; we just connect like kids. We were telling each other stories, we already respected each other as friends. I’m really happy I got that opportunity to work with him.
What advice did he give you!? He gave me some solid advice. I remember when we were on this plane and the way I played him the album, the tracklisting was kind of soft to him. In his eyes I was catering to the ladies or whatever I was catering to at the time. I don’t know; I’m not in that mind state anymore. He was like, “You’re cool, you’re too cool. Stop being so cool and start fucking people up. Stop sucking people’s air out the room. I played it cool until 808s And Heartbreak. Fuck this shit. Stop playing this shit cool.”
So from that day on I said I’m done. But I’m still cool though [Laughs]. That’s the advice of Mr. West right there.
Break down “Can’t Stop.” I really love that song. “Can’t Stop” is about loving something passionately, and no matter what, who or how nothing can stop you from loving this particular thing. I was touring my last album and I kept on listening to this one people song called “You can’t stop my love” [by Norman Feels ]. I was listening to this song all Christmas, all winter, every time I had a girl I would listen to it. This song really spoke to me. So I said as soon as I write my new album I got to make a rap song that makes me feel how the way this song makes me feel. So I thought I’m making something that Kanye might love so I played it for him. He was in love with it and this song really spoke to him. He wanted to be on it and I was super honored. That’s how it came about.
I feel like you and ‘Ye have been working with each other for a minute. When did y’all first meet!? I first met him in 2011. We met in France. We’re like balling with the rich people and the movie stars, and to be two black artists over there is cool, so you got to say what’s up to each other. It’s not too many black people there. Kanye walked in at this day party where I was at and had the biggest table there. I was like, they about to kick me out because Kanye here, but he told me to stay. He was mad cool he said, “Just chill with us, I want to chill with you, you got all the girls here.”
His crew already knew about me because I was in L’Uomo Vogue and GQ before music muthafuckas was writing about me. I was in fashion magazines, they were writing about me first. I think he saw me in them. I think he had thought I was tight and he had respect for me. He would always call me in the middle of the night. When Watch The Throne came out he called me to explain the album to me. I sent him my album. But I wasn’t really into my first album. So I didn’t want to send it to him but I gave it to Virgil [Abloh]. I wasn’t even musically ready to work with Kanye yet. I’m a huge fan of him.
So that’s how we became friends. We never worked on music; never did I push my music on him. He just invites me. When he was making Yeezus, I was over there. Tyler, The Creator came through. He always said that we were like his little brothers. He always wanted to get our opinion on stuff. I was like man, I can’t. In the studio I can’t tell you what to do, you’re Kanye. But he brought it out of me. I never used to write or produce for someone else.
I do feel like hip-hop sees you as a fashion guy who also raps occasionally. You think Vibes will break you out of that glass box you’re in!? Yeah, that’s up to my team and [me]. When I first started I would say yes to everything. To be honest, my first show would be in Venice, Italy, Paris, London, all these beautiful places with rich people and shit. I kind of liked that instead of playing in a dirty college bar where they can’t even give you no beers. I was in penthouses and it was cool. I wasn’t mad. But it did overshadow a lot of things about my music.
I don’t know what it was. I can’t control how fresh I am. I definitely am more in control and do more music stuff. I think this [change is] going to happen naturally. My marketing plan is not saying I should be more musical than in fashion. To me it’s just one life. I’m a cultural leader and I’m here to lead my culture. Music is just a way of expressing myself. I’m not trying to rap past 33.
How was listening to Kanye West’s new album in Paris!? It was great. I heard his album a lot. I was invited to Mexico to work with him and we played ball everyday and we got fit and stuff. I always heard the album; it’s not like that was first time. So it’s not like an experience to tell you. I think it’s phenomenally getting better every day. It’s just like me—when I work on an album it’s getting better every day. Things are subject to change. He got some good songwriters on there. I mean, it’s Yeezy—he always grabs the culture. He’s in a good stage of his life. This is the first album with his daughter born. It’s nothing but great things to expect.
Is Kanye good at ball!? Who wins the one-on-one match between you and him!? I ain’t going to front, ‘Ye is nice. I feel like some niggas will let him win because they’re so much of fan of ‘Ye, but I really try to beat him. It’s dope to have a big brother and ball up as soon as I land in Mexico. While we’re playing ball he got his album on repeat and then I put my album on repeat. He’s really good in ball. He won most of the games but he know I’m nice though. We can’t be on the same team though. I didn’t want to be on his team.
How was working with Karl Lagerfeld for your album art!? It was dope, man; another genius in his world. I knew if I worked with Kanye and Leon Ware that I have to put the same work into doing the art. It was a dream that I had and it came true so fast. I just wanted to show that if you have a dream don’t sit on it. Go get it.
I’m a New York kid; this is a very important New York record. I’m not influenced by the South, I’m not influenced by Houston, not by EDM. This is a genuine New York record of a New York kid going through emotions and having a lot of ladies around. I wanted to call Lagerfeld to help me out like Andy Warhol did the Velvet Underground and how he did with Basquiat.
What’s up with the SPIN beef!? Did it ever get resolved!? I just had to let Spin Mag know they are not relevant to my culture. But if they want to know what’s going on in my culture they should give me a call…
Thomas Houseago Interviewed by Cornelius Tittel for 032c Magazine...
Cornelius Tittel: We are sitting in your 25,000 square foot studio complex in Los Angeles. Eli Broad recently said that this is the most inspiring place for him right now. François Pinault, another collector of yours, is having his chief curator, Caroline Bourgeois, visit you tomorrow. If there is one twist of fate that made you the person you are today, that brought you from Leeds to this place, what would that be!? Thomas Houseago: Jesus. There were many. It has been a long, bizarre, hazardous journey.
What was the first one!? Well, I remember going to London with my mom, it was a time of turmoil in my personal and family life. Plus, I didn’t really understand school. By chance there was this “Late Picasso” show at the Tate, it must have been about 1986 – I was 14-years old. This show was unusual at that time, because people weren’t sure about his late work and I guess they still aren’t. I didn’t know about all this of course. I didn’t know who Picasso was, I didn’t know if he was dead or alive, if he was Spanish or French. All I knew was that the show was blowing my mind. I just knew this guy is opening portals into this strange fucking, super-sexual world. I instantly got the absurdity of it. I knew he was laughing at himself and laughing at the role of the painter. Twenty-five years later I realized that Paul McCarthy’s video The Painter (1995) couldn’t have been done without “Late Picasso.” This show changed my course. I returned to Leeds a different person, I was like, “I have to leave home.” You have these moments with art and nobody can force you to have them. The effect was huge. People were telling me I had to do well in school to get out of town, but art was the only thing that was able to energize me.
What was your hometown like when you were growing up!? I remember Leeds as being, at times, so fucking stark and brutal. But there is a fantastic honesty and energy in cities like Leeds. There is also this great tradition of music that comes out of the North, The Beatles obviously, but also The Smiths, The Mondays, Joy Division. That is music to live to, I think to survive creatively in Leeds you needed to have a strong sense of fantasy. I lived in a dream quite a bit, which was very helpful.
And then, suddenly, you had Picasso.
And Joseph Beuys. Can you imagine!? Me, being 16, in these, rough pubs, drunk out of my mind, being attacked, attacking people, this brutal thing. And then, during the day, I’m looking at a Beuys catalog and I realize that it does mean something to me, I don’t know how or why. I did not think it was pretty or attractive. But it was changing me, without having read any of the theory. At that time I was not reading about art. Isn’t that incredible? It just slowly and steadily altered the course of my life. It is still unbelievable to me, very What was it about Beuys that fascinated you? I always think of Beuys’ How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965). Seeing these images when I was young, I really didn’t understand them in any classical sense. But the images instantly captured the idea of an artist, which was not someone who was trying to package himself as an attractive, smart, sexy, modern man. This was a bizarre, shamanic Dadaist, with a truly lyrical relationship to the world. I still don’t really know what it means but there is an urgency in Beuys – this sense of the responsibility of the artist to address fundamentals. A work which you can feel intellectually but also from the gut.
Tell me about your gut understanding of the purpose of art. Well, I do believe art is a force for good, not in a Mother Teresa sense, but in the desire to add to the beauty of the world. I think it is important to be reminded that you are a human, that you live in a body, and that you are obliged to live with a sense of mystery. Art can help you to think openly, abstractly, sensually, to achieve a kind of negative capacity. You know there were all these fantasies about how modern the 21st century would be – that we would be in space ships and silver suits. But instead it begins with a group of guys coming out of the Middle Ages and bringing down the World Trade Center, and then this decade of war, of financial crises, banks collapsing, Europe falling apart, it’s a shocking time. How do you use your energy, stay optimistic, creative, and open to possibility!?
Your point is: through art. Yes, I think so – or it is definitely something I think helps transcend the problems of a certain time. In a perverse twist, the money people feel the same way. Not in the same emotional or sentimental sense as me – but you have major financial institutions collapsing and over 100 million dollars spent on a single sculpture by Giacometti. The hard world of finance is admitting at that moment that they trust art over stocks, insurance companies, et cetera. Something a guy made in a tiny room in France – it’s staggering. Of course it is not about the actual money – these sums are in a sense, abstract. But what’s interesting about it, is what it’s saying about the serious men who run our economy and who kill for it. I think these bankers are incredibly brutal people – I mean in the way they think about the world. They are forced into a situation where they start trusting objects. Just like me but with sums of money you could change a developing country with…