Back in 2011, before Frank Ocean ever performed his nostalgia, ULTRA live, Odd Future’s other R&B outfit premiered their creepy-and-cosmic video for “Cocaine,” a meditative, soul song about love and drugs. And while members Syd Tha Kid (the collective’s oft-DJ and only female member) and producer Matt Martians (officially Wolf Gang, but also part of offshoot Jet Age Of Tomorrow) were delivering an off-kilter version of what had been in vogue in alt-R&B, from Ocean to the Weeknd, theirs was decidedly of Tyler’s kooky canon. The song came from their debut album, Purple Naked Ladies, arguably one of the most underrated collections from any OF members (including Domo Genesis’s Rolling Papers and Mike G.’s Ali), but still not a fully complete vision of the throwback funk and soul sonics the band is trying to achieve. Their recently released Feel Good does precisely that, the band citing influences like Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall and “Virtual Insanity”-purveyors Jamiroquai as influences. I talked to Matt and Syd about how the new record came to, their relationship with superstar rapper Mac Miller, and how Syd acquired pop-R&B legend Teena Marie’s studio equipment.
STEREOGUM: You have recently released your second album, but it’s been almost two years since your debut. When did you guys start working on this one?
MATT MARTIANS: Well we had the idea about a year and a half ago. But we started working on it about a year ago I think.
STEREOGUM: Do you guys mostly work, like, in concepts?
SYD THA KID: Well I kind of came up with the album name [Feel Good] and I just knew I wanted our next project to make people feel good. It was going to be an EP at first because I didn’t know how good of an idea it was. And then as we started making it we just started wanting to make it a full-length album
STEREOGUM: So where did you guys work? I know you guys did a lot of recording at Syd’s house for the first album.
MATT MARTIANS: Yeah, at the ol’ rinky-dink apartment she likes to stay at.
SYD THA KID: I actually [also] opened a studio in February. So I’m blessed to have had that place opened when it did because it’s the reason we were able to finish Feel Good and now, between there, Mac Miller’s house…
STEREOGUM: In Mac Miller’s house?
MATT MARTIANS: Yeah, it’s funny because there was this night where we really hung out with him at his house. And he just went to Guitar Center and bought literally every aspect of a live room and we’re just over there [and he] asked if we could help set it up, you know, put everything together. And then we just got to recording over there. It was the beginning of a cool little getaway from the norm. A lot of different ideas came from behind inside his house that we normally wouldn’t have gotten. It was definitely cool to get a change of scenery.
STEREOGUM: How did you guys link up with him?
SYD THA KID: Through my little brother [Odd Future member] Taco. I think when we had our first show at the Echoplex in Los Angeles, Taco said that Mac Miller told him that he wanted to come, so we put him on the list. And then they chatted with us for a little while after the show and he invited us over to his house to make music.
STEREOGUM: When was that?
SYD THA KID: When was that show at the Echoplex?
MATT MARTIANS: That was October. Last October. Wow. Wow that was a year ago. Wow a year flew by. Wow.
STEREOGUM: But you guys had already been working on it?
MATT MARTIANS: We had a few songs… we went through a lot of different [ideas about] how the album is going to sound before we settled on a sound. We have about ten to fifteen beats and love songs that we didn’t use, so we didn’t really have a direction until maybe six months out, actually. We were working on a project and had a lot of things, but we didn’t really hone in on a sound.
STEREOGUM: Is that how the writing process works for you guys? You have a set skeleton. like, This is what we want to accomplish?
SYD THA KID: It depends. When it came to making “Don’tcha” I laid the keys down and we put down a little bass drum. And then Matt laid the bass down on it. And then I knew I wanted to make a Justified/Off The Wall song with that. Before I started writing it, I tried to study what I wanted it to sound like and it ended up being really hard for me to write about myself, so I ended up calling some friends of mine who happen to write songs like that already.
MATT MARTIANS: That was the last song we had to do, like the thorn in our ass. Like low-keyed the whole album process because we had finished all the other songs but …
SYD THA KID: Nobody could finish it, either. I mean we came up with a lot of stuff for it, just nothing that stuck with it, nothing we wanted to keep.
STEREOGUM: Is that why you guys picked it to be the first single?
MATT MARTIANS: Nah, it was the beat. We knew that the beat was infectious. Even when the beat was not even what it was, because we didn’t have the hook part, it came along later. But I think from early on we knew it was a song we wanted to release for sure.
STEREOGUM: Do you think putting pressure on something like that actually makes it harder to finish it?
SYD THA KID: Definitely. That was the reason I couldn’t finish because I didn’t feel that anything I came up with was good enough. It was the same way with a couple other songs, like “People.” We knew we wanted it to be kind of Jamiroquai-ish, but then I threw like an N*E*R*D type of hook on it. For “Sunset” we wanted Brazilian jazz-type vocals on it, and I didn’t know how to or want to do that. So, thankfully with the help of Mikey, we hooked up with [Malaysian singer/songwriter] Yuna in the studios and she just stomped out within like, ten minutes.
STEREOGUM: And somebody like Tay Walker who I know was on “They Say” and I know was touring with you guys last year — how did you meet up with him? What’s the story of that relationship?
SYD THA KID: I knew Tay since I was in seventh grade. Our moms used to work together and one day his mom brought him over to my house and took me to their cousin’s football game. And as soon as I walked downstairs it was Tay playing piano and singing to my mom and she was like, “Oh my god, he’s so good!” So that’s how I met Tay and when it came time to set up a band, he was the first person to actually get off his feet like me. Same with everybody else. I’ve known Chris, our drummer, since [high school]. He graduated a year ahead of me and he reconnected via Facebook when first started working on Purple Naked Ladies. And then Patrick, our bass player, I’ve known him since maybe ninth grade. And then my cousin Robbie — the two of them are best friends. And he came over and he I had a guitar and he asked if he could play it. And then he saw that we made beats in my room and we could teach him.
STEREOGUM: So in a lot of ways it was kind of a long time coming?
SYD THA KID: Yeah, and it’s pretty natural. Tay and Patrick and I used to get up in what used to be The Trap, my old studio at my parents’ house, and just jam out to Lupe Fiasco covers and Floetry covers and Musiq Soulchild covers and stuff like that. I would be on drums and Tay would play keys and Pat would play the guitar. We used to do that all the time and we called ourselves the Imaginary Friends — and we have a band now with the same guys.
STEREOGUM: The Internet, though, is part of a pretty specific collective, Odd Future, but you guys do something pretty different from the rest of the group. How did you guys, doing what you do, come to be a part of it?
SYD THA KID: Matt moved to L.A. in February 2011 and we became best friends almost instantly. [Odd Future’s] manager [Christian Clancy], three months after [Matt] moved to L.A. asked why we hadn’t tried making music together. And we hadn’t really thought of it like that, we were just exchanging music.
MATT MARTIANS: We’re both producers so…
SYD THA KID: And they were like you should be making beats together, so we started making beats together after he suggested that. And pretty much the first five tracks we made ended up on PNL, which shows you how experimental that album really was. We were babies, we didn’t know what we were doing. We wanted to put it out for free but Clancy suggested, well insisted, that we drop it under Odd Future because they had just established the label, no albums had dropped from and he thought it would make the label look good, as in showing its diversity. And I just knew when it came time to perform that I wasn’t just going to perform with a backtrack. That’s not me. I like live music. So I pulled together my resources and it ended up being Chris, Patrick, and Tay. And we decided for the next album they have to be members of the Internet now because they worked on it almost as much as we did.
STEREOGUM: Why the Internet?
MATT MARTIANS: Because we all met via the Internet, in some way, shape, or form.
SYD THA KID: [MellowHype’s] Left Brain came up with it.
STEREOGUM: He was on Purple Naked Ladies — how come no one from Odd Future is on the new album? I don’t think it matters, either way, but I’m just curious.
MATT MARTIANS: This album we really wanted to establish our sound and I feel like with a lot of albums, especially with Odd Future, and, in general, when you put [features] on it, some people don’t check it out for the right reasons. And we didn’t want people to get our sound confused because we’re on Odd Future, we really wanted people to really know our sound and understand that, Yeah, we’re part of Odd Future, but this is its own entity with its own sound and if you respect us, as far as letting us having our shot to see what we can do ourselves — our next album we’ll probably have Odd Future people on it, but this album we really needed to show that we could do it ourselves.
SYD THA KID: Yeah, we didn’t want anybody to be able to have any excuses for why they pick it up.
MATT MARTIANS: And we want people who want to check it out because they want to check it out, not because you want to hear a verse from a famous rapper and not listen to the rest of the album. Because when there’s [an artist] that they like, they tend to listen to that song only and it puts this inconsistency with the rest of the album because that’s all they wanted. So next album, most likely, we’ll work with each other, but this album we just needed to go on our own thing.
STEREOGUM: I don’t think it would necessarily work on the record in the right way. It feels like a mission statement for your sound, in a lot of ways.
MATT MARTIANS: I feel like it’s an album we needed to make for our generation. I don’t think we’re a big band, but I think we’re a known band, I can say that. This type of album is needed. We need it. I wouldn’t be where I am, I wouldn’t be on the phone with you if it wasn’t for certain albums that came out that we needed. And there are certain albums that each generation needs, and this is a certain door-opening that we are fortunately exposed to and we can expose this certain type of music that they might not listen to. But now that they see Odd Future’s on it they’ll be like, “No, this is actually pleasing, it’s okay to listen to this. It’s okay to pump this. It’s okay to put your friends on this type of music.” I think it’s very important.
STEREOGUM: What are those albums for you?
MATT MARTIANS: For me those albums are Jamiroquai, [A Tribe Called Quest’s] Midnight Marauders is definitely one of those albums. Of Montreal Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
SYD THA KID: Brandy’s first album, Usher’s My Way album, Esperanza Spalding, Radio Music Society.
STEREOGUM: Considering a lot of the singles from Brandy, like “I Wanna Be Down,” that actually makes a lot of sense with your sound, despite hers having such a pop-crossover appeal.
SYD THA KID: That’s the first album I ever owned. My mom bought me that and Usher’s My Way album when I was a kid. That’s when I knew I loved to sing, but I knew I wasn’t good at it, so I didn’t try. My mom told me I wasn’t [a good singer]. My mom, she’s not a liar. That’s the one thing she always told me as a child was, I’ll never lie to you. So, you don’t have to wonder. And she’s in love with our album, so that makes me feel really good about my progress. She’s been our number one fan since we started.
STEREOGUM: And now you have your own studio. I read somewhere that it was named after R&B icon Teena Marie.
SYD THA KID: Yeah I actually am partnered with Alia Brockert, who is Teena Marie’s daughter. That’s whole reason I was even able to open up the studio, that’s 2000-square-feet with such quality equipment, was because she happened to already have her mom’s old studio in storage. The same equipment that [Teena Marie] reordered her last album or two on. She probably recorded most of her albums on the same equipment, so we that, we have all her plaques, we have a bunch of Rick James’s plaques, [and] the furniture from her house. So we had to pay homage and [it’s] kind of like a memorial to her. You go in there and you see a bunch of paintings of her, all the equipment she used, and you can use it to. [Alia and I] both wanted to open a studio because she wanted a place to record. She wanted me to initially set up all that stuff in her back house, but her landlord wouldn’t let her, so we agreed to go half on the place.
STEREOGUM: Are other people going to do recording sessions in there?
SYD THA KID: Oh yeah, it’s open to the public. You can book a session at any time.
STEREOGUM: So you have entrepreneurial skills on top of music skills.
SYD THA KID: That’s kind of how I started. When I was 14 and I wanted to buy stuff I didn’t like asking for stuff from my parents so I started a couple companies and the last one ended up being my studio. I already knew I wanted to own a studio one day so I started looking for studio spaces on Craigslist and MySpace and stuff like that. That’s how I ended up meeting Odd Future and a lot of the artists I work with still
STEREOGUM: When you were 14 though?
SYD THA KID: I lived in a pretty big house and we had a guesthouse, so when I was 14, I built a studio in my bedroom, which was pretty big. It was two rooms connected so I turned the second into a studio and ran the mic in my closet. But eventually I wanted to move it to look more professional so when the guesthouse got vacant, my parents helped me re-decorate it and I put a studio in there and I just started working in there and buying more stuff. I had a live room, a drum set, all kinds of stuff. And that’s where Odd Future recorded most of their early projects and albums.
STEREOGUM: So you weren’t just going to babysit some kids, you were like I’m going to build a recording studio in my bedroom and charge people to come use it.
SYD THA KID: Yeah and if I wanted to invest in the music, like I did with Odd Future, I saw a great investment opportunity, so I recorded them for free. And in turn they have vouched for me.
Feel Good is out now via Odd Future Records.