I’m sitting in Prince Alfred Park watching a leathery old man sunbathe while two dog owners allow their pets to engage in intercourse, and with me is Injury Reserve, a cult rap trio from Arizona. They’re in Sydney following a rigorous touring schedule, exhausted but buzzing.
With three projects now behind them, the trio finally felt they were ready to take on the all important debut album. It’s a jam packed offering with Parker laying down trademark irregular beats for Ritchie and Groggs to sing, rap, and do whatever they like with.
Stopping by Sydney during their seven date sold-out Australasian tour, I caught up with them a few hours prior to soundcheck to hear about their process and to discuss the creation of the album.
Hey! How’d you guys come together to start making music?
Parker: Ritchie and I were on some high school shit just like fucking around together and making music, then Groggs and Ritchie had just known each other a long time before that.
Ritchie: We all started working together on a solo project I did, that Parker produced and I asked Groggs to feature on and it was this weird thing where as soon as we started working together we took it so seriously [and] we knew it wasn’t a hobby. But at the same time, we were just fucking around trying to be the people we were inspired by and we definitely weren’t making anything original.
Parker: In the grand scheme of things though, it was very helpful.
Ritchie: It was helpful for sure and I don’t think imitation is a negative thing at the start because it at least allows you to learn the general process then branch out from there. For instance, in fashion I’ve heard people first learn to make one specific shoe silhouette for a long time, then they experiment and learn to do their own thing.
Parker: It’s too overwhelming to cut your teeth solo from the start.
Ritchie: Like Groggs was ahead of us and for a long while it was just me and Parker playing catch up.
How big of a role do ego and internal competition play in your creative process?
Ritchie: I think the internal competitiveness is really fun and important, really respecting each other’s opinions and then also being intimidated by each other’s opinions i.e. you don’t wanna bring something to the table until you feel it’s worthy. To some people that might sound toxic but if you do it right it’s really not and I mean there’s always gonna be ego and I think it’s somewhat important both as a group and as an individual.
Parker: I don’t think you make anything without ego.
Ritchie: Especially in rap like I really do think it’s important but maybe not in the way people throw it around if that makes sense.
How do you guys feel now that your debut album is out?
Ritchie: Good but it’s semi anticlimactic, to work on one collection of music for a year and a half would make it seem like it would reach some crazy climax or crescendo but it doesn’t. Also, we weren’t home when the album dropped, we were in London and it was this weird drop time where it was out where we were but not at home yet so we didn’t really get to celebrate a proper “moment” of its release.
Parker: Yeah we had to wake up at 5 am to post about it just to fall back asleep straight after.
Ritchie: And we’d already started working on new music so it hasn’t been this huge climax, but at the same time you do put something out into the world and see what people have to say about it. As well though we really put it out to make money and to push forward.
Just from the first few listens it’s evident that the album is very honest and vulnerable, so what did it take for you guys to be able to make such personal music?
Ritchie: I think a major reason was that on this album, we didn’t have to focus as much on process, because at this point we were so self-sufficient individually and as a group in what it takes to literally “make” the music, everything was about execution. For myself, I wasn’t focusing on how I was going to do something but more about what I wanted to say and so now writing a verse or recording a song is just like science. Now we can do everything in 2 Ableton sessions, which allows us to focus on the subject, what we’re trying to say and how to get it across.
Another thing would be the expectations and what people thought of us up until now, like what we were doing before was a little more nuanced and cryptic in regards to writing. So people thought it was just like fun even though we definitely had some deep introspective shit in there, it was less in your face but we never really wanted to explain the details and show as opposed to telling.
Parker: Part of it is what we were doing at the time had sort of come full circle and everyone is now doing it one way or another. Say when we did all the party stuff and included all [the] deep stuff with it, it was almost a statement against all the inflated artsy bullshit that was going on.
Ritchie: Against the ideology that it had to be one or the other—a party record or [a] conscious record.
Parker: But there’s a lot of that happening now and so with us returning there’s more of an expectation now with some of the features like Rico Nasty and that, and so we absolutely hate being predictable it seems.
Ritchie: I think the last third of this album was us making it more of a rap record, towards the end with “what a year it’s been” and ‘Best Spot in the House’ we made a few minor edits to make them more “rappy”. For instance, stripped down the hooks and made the arrangement a little bit less formulaic in order to make the vocals and production stand out more, not placing as big an importance on hooks.
Like with ‘Best Spot in the House’ we originally had three hooks, with each being different after each verse. Which was inspired by Earl and MIKE coming back, because he was able to come in, say everything he needed in 16 bars and be out. So that helped us make those decisions for those two songs in particular.
Are there any cuts that didn’t make the album that you have locked in the bank for later?
Ritchie: Yes, we think we know what we’re dropping next, but sometimes it goes the other way and you’re completely wrong. With the song that was originally going to be lead single, it didn’t even make the album after we chose a different direction for the project. We also thought we had the album ready then sat down with our A&R [people] and [they] just cut two songs straight up that we thought we really important, but didn’t end up feeling like they were missing a week later when we heard the album.
He also helped us move and arrange the album for it to end on a higher note, because originally we had it end with ‘Best Spot in the House’ and he moved ‘Three Man Weave’ to the end which was a great move that we’d somehow never thought of.
You guys had some super unique concepts on the album, namely ‘Jailbreak the Tesla’ and ‘Rap Song Tutorial’. How did you approach making these two tracks in particular?
Ritchie: It’s funny because nothing we do is ever premeditated, besides those two songs on the whole album. Those were the only two that were concept first, but usually, it’s us reacting to what Parker has done, or Parker reacting to something we have sketched out. Sometimes for inspiration, I’ll just write things down that I find interesting that people say, even while watching TV or movies. For example, coming out here, we’ve heard people use verbiage that we never would’ve thought to.
Like when you hear your grandma say something slick, so most of that sort of stuff is inspired by that but those two were premeditated. In regards to ‘Jailbreak the Tesla’ we had always known we wanted to do a song titled that and Parker mentioned he wanted a hook that was just a one liner and I just put those two concepts together. But we still had to base the whole song around it and with ‘Rap Song Tutorial’ that was just something Parker wanted to do.
Parker: That was like the one idea I came to Flagstaff—where we recorded most of the album—with, knowing I definitely wanted to execute.
Ritchie: It was great, now we know the consistency level for when we make a song good enough or even too good; because you don’t want it to be like stand-aloney or where people will be like “Oh it’s just for the concept”. I think one of the only consistent points of feedback we’ve had is people wishing it was a full song, which is a great problem to have. It’s also really annoying because it would’ve been the most redundant song we’ve ever done because it just sounds like stuff we’ve already done. But whatever people can think they know what they want.
How will the new material affect your live show?
Ritchie: That’s a fucking sick question.
Parker: I think it has given us enough material to do something new, because before we had something that was a rollercoaster in energy that felt like it wasn’t too much of one thing but now there’s just so many songs to do that it would start to feel cheap with all the highs and lows. So we broke it into a three part rollercoaster where it’s intensity to start, then a big dip in the middle with the emotionally heavy stuff and then back to a “Shut up and play the hits” section.
Ritchie: What’s nice about it though, is that if you do any of those things for the whole time it comes off redundant, so it’s now given us enough music for that middle section. Now we can do a stripped down and a personable section that doesn’t feel like a single song we’ve placed as a breather.
Parker: It’s all pretty equal in length now too which is good.
Ritchie: Equal parts to what we do too and so far it’s worked really well, we’re one show in right now and we’ve only changed one track and this is how we’re going to bang out the whole shit.
What do you guys think about the differentiation between albums and mixtapes today and what would you call your last few projects?
Parker: I think the delineating of all that is a little goofy like someone on our team swore we’d called the last two projects albums before but we couldn’t recall or find anywhere that we did. I think as well when Anthony Fantano reviewed Floss he called it an album so I think that cemented in a lot of people’s minds.
Ritchie: I think the reason people have a hard time distinguishing our works is because of how seriously we took the projects.
Parker: That’s another reason we never called them mixtapes because it felt a little cheapening, even though we recorded all of it on a $60 mic.
Ritchie: We also worked on it for two years though, and at the end of the day what we label our music is what it is. We somehow knew that the last EP was going to be a transitional piece to the album, maybe because we didn’t accomplish what we wanted to accomplish working on it. But at the same time, it also taught us about the process of creating music which paved the way for us to do our thing and if we didn’t make certain songs for that EP we wouldn’t have been able to do certain things for the album.
I don’t know if you saw the marketing for Aminé’s last project where he called it an album/mixtape/EP but I actually helped come up with the idea for that. His primary concern was that he didn’t want to call it an album or a mixtape and have people not care. He also knew he really wanted to do a skit promoting the album and I said: “Why don’t you make a skit that’s just them talking about it the whole time?”
Photography: Alex Johnstone
What are each of your proudest moments on the album?
Groggs: For me, I’d say it’s my ‘Wax On’ verse because it was such an honest verse and I wrote it at the very start of us recording, I think it was literally my first idea when I got there.
Ritchie: We started working on ‘Wax On’ the day we got to Flagstaff to record the album and as soon as he did it we were all like “Woah”. It really set the tone for the album and because of the content I thought No way I’m about to have a verse on this one, like he can keep that.
Groggs: It was right after my mom passed away so it had me in this certain headspace.
Ritchie: I think for me it’s my verse on ‘New Hawaii’ because that’s a realm that is really hard for me or anyone in rap music, in general, to do well and as I said earlier if it wasn’t for the EP before I wouldn’t have been able to get in some of those pockets. I’m actually really proud of that song because compared to our other music it’s very different and it’s very impressive music like especially the arrangement that Parker did on that is so unpredictable.
Another reason was that being a guy in a house full of other guys, it’s easy to feel uncomfortable doing a verse like that and for me to do it I had to bring the mic to the room I was staying in and record in there.
Parker: One of my favourite beats on the album is one that no one particularly cares for which is ‘Hello’.
Groggs: I love that song, I remember hearing it for the first time and just going “Shit”.
Ritchie: That’s one my favourite songs off the album for sure, I think the right people think that song is crazy, even though that song was made on an off day. Actually, that song didn’t even come together until the very end of the album; we were in between tours when Parker sent me that beat and I was doing a bunch of sessions in my Mom’s room while I was visiting.
So I did a reference for ‘Hello’ which was just the rhythm without lyrics and left it, then came back when we were arranging the album because I thought we needed something to lighten it up. Then I remembered we had that somewhere, I wrote some lyrics that went with it and gave it a message that fit the album.
Besides the stacked features you had on the album, one name seems to make a recurring appearance—MelikXYZ. Who is he and how did he contribute so much to the album?
Parker: That’s like one of our day two close friends. He and I worked together a lot for ‘Live From the Dentist Office’. We were all really close when we started Floss as well like there was a solid six month period in which six days a week we would be at the studio till 4am just bullshitting.
Then for reasons outside of music, there was a falling out with our friend group and maybe a year later people started to warm up again and he started coming around more. Which is when we had the idea of recording in Flagstaff and inviting a lot of old friends to come hang out in an effort to recapture the energy of younger ignorance.
Ritchie: That being cooped up in a small space together all night for no reason type shit.
Parker: Another full circle moment was when we got him a passport and flew him out to Prague while we worked on the album for a month.
Closing the album with ‘3 Man Weave’ was that a strategic choice based on you three sharing an equal responsibility in the creation of the album?
Ritchie: Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s about us dip, dodging, and diving… and finesse… and the game [Laughs]. Yeah, it’s just about the unit and us all growing up together because the most interesting thing for us is how we all started together and now we’re here, touring on the other side of the world.
Follow Injury Reserve for more.