We're excited to share our very first "CMB-ite Spotlight" with Chris 'Picasso' Gaisie. What is a CMB-ite Spotlight exactly?
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In our very first spotlight, we're interviewing UK hip-hop artist, Chris 'Picasso' Gaisie. We spoke about his debut album, The Magnificent Journey, and his overall creative process.
So... here goes...
CMB: How did you get started in music?
Chris: I’ve always loved music, but particularly hip hop. Growing up it was mostly what me and my mates listened to, especially grime, a sub-genre that was huge in the UK. Almost everyone had at least a few lyrics they could rattle off over an instrumental and it was just a bit of fun at the time. It wasn’t till I was about 16 years old that I started to take it a bit more seriously - I met my good friend Jordan at church and we both wanted to use hip hop to communicate a Christian perspective. We formed a group called Heaven Bound in 2008 and started performing at local church events. We’ve worked with a few different producers over the years and consequently I got interested in that side of things too.
CMB: Who would be your top three non-musical influences?
Chris: I’m going to cheat a bit and say my parents as one, ha. I just think they did a great job raising me! Secondly, someone who’s mentored and been an example to me a lot since I was like 13 is a guy called Mark from my Church in London. Lastly, I might get in trouble with my sister, but I’ll probably have to say my older brother Myles. Being five years older than me, I’ve always looked up to him (despite him being shorter than me!)
CMB: How about your top three musical ones?
Chris: Hmm, this is a pretty tough question! I think one of my earlier influences is a rapper called Sway from the UK. His first album blew me away and the great thing was his music had a message without being unnecessarily explicit. Secondly, Outkast are one of my favourite hip hop groups of all time. Technically they’re amazing, but it’s their versatility, while still staying true to themselves which I’ve always wanted to emulate. Lastly, I’m going to throw in Israel Houghton. As well as being musically great to listen to, he seems to have a knack for writing worship songs that really help me connect with God, be it at church or at home.
CMB: What would be your general process for writing a song from start to finish?
Chris: If I’m working with an instrumental from another producer, I’ll normally come up with a concept for the song – what I want the main message of the song to be and how I want to deliver it. Sometimes I’ll freestyle over the beat, mainly to get the rhythm and flow I want to use, other times I’ll just dive into writing, usually starting at the verse. I often get lyrics when I’m just going about my normal day and so I take a note of them and work on them later.
As for making my own instrumentals, I rarely make music to lyrics I’ve already written. Normally ‘ll just play around on the keyboard finding different melodies and chord sequences, using a variety of sounds till I find something I like. I’ll usually add in a drumbeat next and go from there. I find making music a bit like puzzle, where you’re discovering what’s already there, where it all fits together and in what order.
CMB: Let’s talk about your new album, The Magnificent Journey. Where did it all start, and... who’s the robot? :-)
Chris: Well, around last October (2012) I decided to go on a volunteering placement to Bolivia with Tearfund ICS, which I’m departing for July 7th! Each volunteer has to fundraise part of the money towards the trip, and so I thought why not use music?
The actual concept accidently came about after I made the instrumental for what would turn into the first track, “The Inspired Lil’ Robot” where I mention a ton of rappers who have influenced me, as well as the need to find something greater. I thought to myself, what if I can tell a story about this robot? Using an album to tell a story was something I’d been thinking about for a while and this seemed like a good opportunity!
As for the robot himself... it is pretty much me. I guess a lot of it comes from my own journey of leaving home, going to uni and then preparing to leave uni into... who knows? As cliché as it sounds, the album really is about life being a journey. There’s the search for the creator too, which I think underpins everyone whether they fully recognise that or not. As a Christian I think we’re all hardwired to search for and know God and I wanted to explore that.
CMB: As a self-produced artist, what recording software do you use? Can you tell us a little bit about your studio?
Chris: I’d hardly call it a studio, ha! In my first year at uni, I spent about £90 on a M-Audio midi keyboard, which came with a copy of Ableton Live Lite 8. I’ve gotten used to working with Ableton over the years and I do like it. It is only the ‘Lite’ version though, so there are restricted features, such as a limited number of tracks, effects and VSTs. This has proven to get more annoying as my production’s grown, but I’ve found a few ways to work round it.
For recording vocals and live instruments all I’ve used is a Samson C01U USB condenser microphone which my mate bought me a birthday gift. It’s not perfect, but it does the job. I bought a cheap pop shield for it and use bedding as a sound dampener shield. I haven’t got studio monitors, so I tend to jump between my bedroom speakers and different headphones to get as accurate a listen as possible. You can see I really don’t have much of a budget! I think you don’t really have to spend hundreds to get something half-decent to work with.
CMB: What would be your biggest piece of advice to us as a believer when writing and creating original music?
Chris: I think keep God involved at every stage. You don’t have to get overly pedantic about it, but I do find just stepping back and inviting God and his creativity into the process can make a huge difference. We’re all called to relationship with God and everything flows out of that.
CMB: Can you tell us a little about your local church community where you worship? How does that fit into your ministry as a recording artist?
Chris: I go to a church called Rhema Church London headed up by Pastor Martin Phelps. It’s a vibrant, inter-generational church with a great balance of discipling members, while also reaching out to the community. As I said earlier I actually started a music group with someone from Church and done a lot of performances at the youth events, so that’s a very direct example of how it fits in with my music. Like I said earlier, I think everything flows out of relationship with God, and I think being involved in a Church is a part of that – somewhere where you can grow as a Christian and learn and teach others too. Lastly, I think it helps keep my music accountable. Not that everyone in the church has to consent to it, but I think it helps to make sure I’m not just spouting off any old nonsense.
CMB: Thanks again for sharing your music with your fellow CMB-ites. Where should people go to find out more about you online?
Chris: If you want to check out my music, stop by chrisispicasso.bandcamp.com or my Soundcloud: www.soundcloud.com/chrisispicasso. Both have links to my facebook and twitter (which I’m definitely getting better at keeping updated!) or just search chrisispicasso and I’ll pop up.