EC Interview: Televangel (Blue Sky Black Death)

I first met Televangel around 2008, when he and I were both living in San Francisco. I was introduced to him by a friend who was roommates with him at the time, and at their apartment I remember hearing him work on music in the next room and thinking that it was some of the best music I’d ever heard. At the time he was one-half of prolific production duo Blue Sky Black Death and the beats that were seeping under the door were unlike anything I’d ever heard before.

Fast forward to 2022 and Televangel is still making some of the most incredible beats around. Now working as a solo producer in Portland, Oregon, his music can be described as both atmospheric and tightly constructed. His sound is well-paced and spacious, intricate and deeply textured. He’s made a career of sonic exploration, playing with sounds and textures to craft a world of sound that listeners can delve into. And he’s found success in crafting his own brand of multi-layered beats for some of the best hip-hop artists around, including new partnerships forged this year with rising Seattle rapper AJ Suede, and Portland rapper Milc.

Endless Crate: A lot of people know you from when you were going by Young God and working with Kingston as the duo Blue Sky Black Death (BSBD). You guys made some really incredible albums together – some of my favorites of all-time, really – and also built up quite a fanbase. What was it was like for you to transition from working as part of a duo to working as a solo artist?

Televangel: I think I had a little bit of an artistic identity crisis. I was in my head a lot about how I wanted the solo project to sound—if I wanted to hold on to the association with Blue Sky Black Death or if I should start totally from scratch. I thought that it might be a burden in a way, because people’s perception is that I’m just one half of a group so the solo stuff couldn’t be as good or it was only half as good. I also didn’t know how much of a stylistic departure I might want to do. I mean my influences remained the same, but should I continue on the trajectory of Blue Sky Black Death or is this my chance to totally flip it? Maybe I wanted to be anonymous. Anyway, it was quite a while of going back and forth with what I wanted to do, but I finally realized I was overthinking it and that it would be really stupid to squander the fanbase that we had built up through BSBD. I’m not sure if putting out an ambient project first (We Dream of Drones) was the smartest thing to do, but I didn’t want the first thing to be too predictable. Now, the actual work of making music didn’t change all that much for me. A good majority of BSBD was us working separately and sending files to each other. So that was perfectly comfortable.

On a related note, I feel like your solo productions have retained some of the elements that made the Blue Sky Black Death stuff so special – like the depth, layered sounds and the evocative, kind of cinematic qualities that I think really set you guys apart from other producers – but it also seems like you’ve stepped into a different direction and incorporated other sounds and styles. Can you talk about how your approach to production has changed and/or stayed the same from your Blue Sky Black Death days now that you’re a solo artist?

Yeah, thankfully I realized that the BSBD sound is my sound and why would I abandon it? It’s just what comes naturally to me now. I’m still sort of a maximalist, but with certain collaborations I’ve made a conscious effort of showing more restraint especially so that vocalists can have a little more breathing room. Also just from a technical standpoint my approach has changed a lot from the BSBD days. I was just telling a friend that in those days I really didn’t use any plugins. We were doing maximalist music with the most minimal means. It was relatively lofi, not in the stylistic way, but in the literal way. Once I fully transitioned from ancient software (Sonic Foundry Acid 2.0) to REAPER it changed a lot of things. My obsession with details is much more focused on how each particular sound is designed and EQ’ed rather than just how layered something can be. I can spend way too long of a time getting a snare to sound the exact way I want it to sound, for example. I’m also just experimenting more with production tricks and seeing how much I can mutate a sample into something totally unrecognizable.  With BSBD, it was a lot more about layering sounds. Now it’s a lot more about manipulation sounds—whether that’s manipulating and “designing” keys I’m playing or a sample that I bend and fold so much that it takes on a totally new life.

You’ve worked with a lot of extremely talented rappers and singers over the years, both with Blue Sky Black Death and as a solo producer; how do you decide which artists to work with and how do you approach doing projects with vocalists versus your solo instrumental work? 

A lot of it comes down to how we get along on a personal level. I want to make music with people who I can be friends with, as a general rule. I’m not saying I would turn down working with higher profile artists, but it always helps to work with people who you like being around. But I think my decision to work with someone varies. Can I hear them on my music? Will they inspire me to make something outside of my normal sound? Are they highly motivated and responsive? Are they excited? Is there mutual respect? As far as how I actually approach these projects versus my solo music is that I’m taking into consideration what type of artist the collaborator is. I’m not giving everyone the same tracks. I have a sound, but there’s a spectrum to it. There’s the expansive electronic ambient side and then there’s the more toned down hip-hop side. I also have to consider the tastes of who I’m working with. Very rarely do I push for something that the artist isn’t excited about it. Whereas I have none of these constraints on my solo work except for the ones that are self-imposed. The exciting thing about working with other people though is that there’s always a chance that I’ll be able to show off a sound that wouldn’t make as much sense with my solo music.

Speaking of collaborative projects, earlier this year you released the amazing Metatron’s Cube with Seattle rapper AJ Suede. It’s been receiving a lot of praise all over the place, and deservedly so, it’s definitely one of the best releases of the year so far. Talk a bit about how this album came about, and I’m also curious about the meaning of the album title.

Suede hit me up on twitter in 2018 to work and that’s how it started. We’d both been familiar with each other going back to the Mishka Bloglin days so it was like we had been observing each other’s moves for a long time. I remember seeing his stuff back when he was super young, and I was just impressed with the ambition and moves he was making. But the actual project started out very slow for whatever reason. We finally realized a couple years later that we needed to actually meet in person to really jump start it. Actually I just remembered that before we started doing Metatron’s Cube, he did a project with BB Sun (aka Bolo Nef) on my beats back then. Save for a couple of beats, most of them were produced all in one day and they recorded it in like 2 days. We never put it out for various reasons but we just listened to it recently and it’s so good. So I guess after that we started working on a Suede solo project. I usually leave it up to the rapper to figure out what he wants to call the project. He suggested the title. Metatron’s Cube is supposed to represent all shapes and patterns in the universe so there’s a lot of symbology you can extract from it. I’m not going to do that though haha. 

You and AJ Suede both seem like very opinionated and insightful people; you’re pretty outspoken on social media and a lot of his lyrics are really sociological in nature, including many of his verses on Metatron’s Cube; did you guys set out to make some sort of statement with this album or is that just kind of how it ended up coming together?

It’s just how it ended up coming together. We never had much conversation about anything other than the music until he came down to finish the album in Portland. I mean at some point we probably realized we agree on a lot of things so that was just sort of a bonus, but there was never any discussion about what he was gonna rap about. He’s dope with it because he never comes across as self righteous when he raps though. It’ll be way more observational rather than prescriptive. And it might be sandwiched between some other irreverent line or non-sequitur. It’s like he’ll tell you he’s on the working people’s side but he’s not gonna bang you over the head with his politics. If anything, I’m way more guilty of that.

On a related note, let’s talk a bit about social media. You have a pretty active presence and it seems like you’re trying to really engage with your fans, not just about your music but about a lot of other things as well. You also don’t seem shy about voicing your opinion about wider societal issues and current events. Do you have any goals or things you’re trying to accomplish through your social media activity, beyond just keeping people informed about new music you’re dropping?

Well I’d love to think that my music (or tweets) matter other than purely for entertainment purposes but I don’t wanna be delusional. I really have no clue what difference any of it makes, if any—it’s really just become an outlet to express ideas. And I’m just more interested in debating your top five most evil CIA operations than I am debating your top five GOAT rappers. I’m not saying that words don’t matter. Regardless of how cynical we can be about Twitter, it has been a huge boon for my political development over the last decade plus. And I think it’d be fair to say that I started doing on the ground organizing because of the ideas and people that I was exposed to on twitter. So like, maybe I’ve nudged someone in a similar way? I really don’t know! But posting is only as good as your actions in the real world.

You just released a collaborative album with Portland rapper Milc (Neutral Milc Motel) and I understand you’re also working on some stuff with Chicago rapper Defcee. Tell us a bit about these projects.

I saw Milc perform when he opened for Armand Hammer here in Portland. I just thought he was a really great performer and I think it’s somewhat rare to come away being that impressed by an opener who you didn’t know anything about. And then we chatted and he was a Nacho (Picasso) fan so there was familiarity with the work. I thought it would be fun to start working with someone in town and that’s how it started. He’s fun to work with and is like a one-take Jake. He’s quick and so the recording process is pretty painless. He was also super trusting in what I would do so I didn’t feel too much pressure. It was just a really fun project to work on. The Defcee project is really too early to speak on. The dude is so busy working on multiple things and being a teacher and a dad that I’m not sure when it’ll start rolling. 

Do you have any other projects in the works you’d like people to know about?

I have quite a few but I don’t want to give too much away yet. I should credit Metatron’s Cube to really getting me back into working on hip-hop! We just finished recording the follow up to Metatron’s Cube and it’s crazy. A lot of dope guests on there as well. I’m comfortable saying that cuz we already spoke about it on twitter. 

Listen to and purchase Televangel’s music on Bandcamp

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