Music is the antidote to the Stress in this White Boy
August 16, 2010
Stress is all over the place. Hyper doesn’t even begin to describe him. Holding a conversation with him is like trying to catch a blur that is constantly in motion. His tattooed frame alternately sits, stands, jumps and moves in emphatic waves of uncontainable energy. That’s what the kid is: a vibrant ball of perpetual motion and energy. Get him talking about music and watch him go off. Stress is a man of many talents. He’s a producer (beyond the confines of a mere “beat-maker:” he produces music), a DJ, a photographer with a savagely keen eye (check out a recent piece in Urban Ink for Stress’s coverage of the most recent Black ‘N’ Blue Bowl for further proof) and much more. He is the owner of Pass & Stow in Bristol PA, a shop that specializes in urban gear, music, sneakers, art and just about anything else you can think of relating to music. He led the SubHoodz back in the day. He runs a label with long-time collaborator and SubHoodz cohort Harry “Hav” Robbins called Krush Unit, and has worked with wide array of diverse artists. Everything the kid has and has done has been because of music.
Stress is entrenched in music. His life revolves around it and is, many ways, defined by it. His devotion is evident: one look at the walls in his home-based ChopShop Studios tells the story of a life. In the way that stained glass windows in a church tell biblical stories, Stress’s walls describe his life in music. Artwork bearing names like the Bad Brains, Cro-Mags, Murphy’s Law adorn the hallowed walls of ChopShop and they give testament to Stress’s life like bible stories. And, sandwiched in between Philadelphia Eagles artifacts and framed album cover art rests Stress’s gold record, given to him for the remix work he did with Gym Class Heroes and Ghostface Killah.
Smutlife spent a day out at Stress’s Langhorne PA headquarters. We were joined by producer on the come-up (and younger brother of Stress) Sev-One and when we weren’t telling “back in the day” stories about the Hardcore and Hip Hop scenes of the ‘80s, we managed to spend some time talking about what it is that Stress does and why he’s been able to make great music on such a consistent basis.
SL: I’ve never seen a gold record before.
Stress: I got that in March, but I had to send it back because they spelled my name wrong. My manager raised hell and now I’ve got one for here, one for the house, one is hanging in the store and I got one for my mom. I was trying to explain to her the other day: it was really important to me for her to have that record. It hangs next to a picture of my dad. My dad let me quit so many jobs when I was young. He just got it. He was a blue collar guy; a steel worker, and he got it. He always let us go our own way. He let us be.
SL: How is it that you’ve come this far? You’ve gone from being a kid going to Hardcore shows in Trenton to a widely respected producer with a gold record.
Stress: A lot of it has to do with Travis. Me going to City Gardens was a big thing. The Hoodz were doing it before House of Pain was. It was the Beastie Boys, Young Black Teenagers and the Hoodz: we were like the only white hip hop groups around at that time. And the Hoodz didn’t even really play Hip Hop shows. The first Hip Hop show we ever did was with Digable Planets. Before that we were playing with Warzone, the Bad Brains, Black Train Jack, Slapshot. Bands like that. As I’ve gotten older I’ve found that I really love songwriting. I love well-written songs. Now that I have the gold record, I look at it sometimes and think: ‘cool…’ I’m still working in the music business and I got a lot of records sold, which is hard to do now. Now I’m proud of it. Not to say that I wasn’t proud of it; it just took a while for it to really settle in on me. It’s like a new pair of kicks: sometimes it takes a little while for them to really grow on you. I’m 38 and still doing this. I started seriously when I was 18. Even if it wasn’t my job I’d still be doing it. It’s an outlet. Just like going to City Gardens every Sunday and doing backflips off the stage. It’s an outlet. I grew up with Punk Rock and Hip Hop as they were both growing up and I consider myself very fortunate for that. We were very blessed.
SL: We all know that you get involved with a ton of projects. What are you working on right now?
Stress: We’re really going hard with the label Krush Unit. We have Side Effect, Brainstorm, Panic of DMS, Jaysaun from Boston and a bunch of other records coming out. Havok and I have a new project called One Gold Tooth which is him and I Gang Star style but with more guitar. Kind of like the Hoodz, but more in a Gang Starr style. I’m doing a lot of remix work and a lot of work with Gym Class Heroes. Travis has a new record called Lazarus and when I saw him in Philly recently he asked me to remix the entire album. I said I’d do it (and this is going back to my roots) if he lets me do it in a one-drop, Two-Tone Reggae style. Reggae is my life; my love. So me and Chuck Treece are going to do it like that. Chuck Treece is my right hand man, does all my session work. We have come up with a production name: since we’re both Gemini’s we’re going to be called Gem InI Sound Dub Specialists. So that’s something I’m really excited to be working on. Also, my brother Sev and I are forming a production team called Brothers Grim. We’re gonna do a lot of co-production together. I’ll be going on tour with Shotblockers (Danny Diablo, Panic, Adlib, and others) in October and, hopefully, the Army of the Pharaohs in January. We’ve already started working on the new Freddy Madball record. I’ll also be linking up with Peedi Crack again. That’s my man right there. I’m also working on some Skarhead remixes for I Scream records, too. I always have a ton of stuff going on. I want to start making the Stress files. You know like back in the day David Peel had the Peel Sessions? I want to do something like that called the Stress Files. I’m gonna’ get a bunch of people: Slaine, Sik Jakken, Vinnie Paz, Reef the Lost Cauze… lots of people. I want to do one every couple of months.
SL: That’s the thing: every time you turn around there’s something out there with your name on it. Is that by design?
Stress: Definitely. You gotta’ stay busy. And, coming from my background, I can work on different types of stuff at the same time. I can take a heavy song, like something from Shadows Fall; something with 164 BPM and double-down it to 82 and make it a Hip Hop joint, chop it up and me and Chuck will kill it.
SL: It seems that your personality is such that you have to be doing something at all times.
Stress: Totally. I just recently went to a doctor to get my medications updated. I have severe anxiety. My dad died in an explosion at work. When he died, they never found his body. They searched for weeks and never found it. That kind of shit fucks with your head big time. I never truly dealt with it. When shit gets so bad all you can do is be creative. It was at a point where my life was at a low point but my career was taking off: gold records, going on tour all the time… but I never dealt with all the craziness in my life. I went searching for a doctor, got diagnosed with post traumatic disorder, depression (which is gone now) and severe anxiety. My last visit to the doctor I practically begged her to tell me that I had ADD. She said; ‘yeah, I really think you do.’ Well, I needed to handle that. I’ve always gotta be doing something. If not I’ll fall into a funk. When I can’t write songs I’ll pick up a camera and just shoot. I never knew I was any good with a camera, but it’s really easy for me.
SL: The stuff you produce and write; there really isn’t anything out there like it. Like, when you hear a Stress joint you know without asking that your hands are all over it. It just has a definite style and feel.
Stress: All these so-called “producers” are really just beat-makers, you know? They’re not producers. They couldn’t tell someone song structure or stuff like that. So when a joint says something like ‘produced by…’ it’s really not. It’s just beat making. Maybe that’s the status quo of what it is, but it’s not producing. Yeah, I can bang out 30 beats a day and I can hook up samples but at the end of the day you know that gold record I got? It’s all live instrumentation on that joint; all from an idea I had that I flipped. Sev-One’s coming up the same way: he’s learning. He’s been doing this since he was 13. I don’t even want to make beats anymore because he kills it so much. It’s almost discouraging: he’s young and he kills it. Music is the same for him: he was 9 when our dad died. He dealt with the same trauma and tragedy, at an earlier age than me. Music kept him in line.
SL: Tell us about Pass & Stow
Stress: Pass & Stow is a store I have in Bristol, PA. It’s a culmination of my life. It’s kind of like my little museum. Me and Sev have a whole gallery of prints; my photography, his canvases. His stuff sells like crazy. Our gallery has a lot of graffiti art from some legendary names in it. We also sell vinyl there: Punk and Hardcore 7”s and Hip Hop vinyl. We got gear, too: T-Shirts and stuff.
SL: When you look back on everything you’ve done, how satisfying is it?
Stress: I’ve achieved just about everything I’ve ever wanted in music. My heroes are now some of my best friends, or else I’ve played with them or I’ve dealt with them. In this day and age, where no one sells records, I got a gold record. I didn’t get mad rich from it, but I make money off it. The important thing is I make music the way I want to, for myself and for my friends.