Interview with No Longer The Hero
We all experience times throughout our creativity and personal lives where we feel like we didn’t quite hit the mark. Sometimes, in the process and pursuit of the art we love we can let people down, even let ourselves down at times. But we bounce back, if only to a more realistic vision of ourselves and our art…always.
I’d like you to meet Michael Picard and Whodini Blak of an act known as No Longer The Hero. These two have already experienced the ups & downs of the music industry, weathered the storms, and decidedly come out No Longer The Hero. Where did it go wrong? More importantly – where is it going right for them now that they’ve learned these lessons of life, grown and pushed forward.
Check out what this industry-savvy duo has to say about life and music, where they’ve been and where they’re headed. Let’s dig into the legend of No Longer The Hero, and hear the tale from the beginning with our new homies MP & WB.
Jer @ SBS
Interview with No Longer The Hero
SBS: Michael Piccard, Whodini Blak – want to say a HUGE thank you for joining us here at sleepingbagstudios.ca – I’ve finally found some time through the holidays to get some time to digest your music and let me just say straight up – you have a TON going for you in this music you’re making. What started as a great introduction to your music through the track “Sour Milk” got even more exciting as the music moved on into “Light + Dark.” I’ve been through the music several times at this point and I’m loving it – but for those out there that don’t know about you yet, let’s get some history. How did this musical super-duo come to be?
MP: Whodini and I have been friends and collaborators since 07 or 08. Things progressed into a more serious business/musical relationship around 2012 with our venture into the Bone Thugs-N-Harmony affiliated 7th Sign. 7th Sign was not meant to be in some ways. We did all we could. Whodini was orchestrating everything left and right, but other parties were not ready for what we were. 7th sign spawned a group we co-founded entitled “Reb7rth” that was a mixture of progressive rock and hiphop. Reb7rth is currently on hiatus and thus, NLTH was created.
WB: And we were supposed to be a trio with a female counterpart that would handle most of the melodies and chorus lines but at the moment as well, we really wasn’t prepared to do any serious work with it until now, we picked a very talented singer/songwriter by the name of Marjorie “Mar Jae” Leonce, she’s in another band now. She agreed to join and it could have worked out nicely but yeah…we were not ready for what we are doing now. It took experimenting with an EP from REB7RTH to really hatch our “real” ideas of what we wanted to be, do and sound like.
SBS: Speaking of the holidays and all…I mean…I don’t want to be impolite homies…how did No Longer The Hero spend their New Year’s celebration? I am however, sending this to you AFTER that event – so I’m hoping you both survived to tell the tale!
MP: I spent a great night with my best friend and some other friends and their families. I’m not much of a partier or a social butterfly so to speak, so I really enjoy the close family environment that my inner circle can provide. Lots of beer and crown royale and food.
WB: I did the normal thing, lol. Shut off the phone and locked myself in the studio, writing new NLTH songs and coming up with marketing ideas. Then for the rest of the night, I played Call Of Duty on XBOX Live…you can find me there most nights @WhodiniBlak777…how was your New Year’s?
SBS: I think there’s something incredibly unique about the composition of the music of No Longer The Hero, I really do. I’m listening to the track “On My Way” – it reminds me of The Flobots…only chilled out and with a hell of a lot more flavor added. I dig the contrast between the singing and the rap verses, and I appreciate the deep pulse and rhythm in these songs. Again – I think there’s a lot going on here. So much…and so radically different in their ideas sometimes that it’s very interesting how they all come together in the end. So……how DOES that happen anyway? And as a duo – how do you go about deciding who gets what part in a track?
MP: Well first off thank you very much for the kind words. To be recognized in any medium for our efforts is a wonderful feeling. I can only answer your question by saying that we focus very hard on being innovative. I have often told Whodini that he is perfectly complimentary to my vocal style. We both sing, we both rap, we both write from the heart, but what i cannot do, he excels at, and what he cannot do, i can provide some contrast. Our varied interests musically are what creates a plethora of genres between the two of us. Personally, in my solo music, i have touched on metal, hiphop, rock/alt rock, country and electronic. With this combination of wanting to be musically stellar and having an ear for everything, I believe we can set ourselves up for creating a genre that has not been touched on by people primarily involved in the hiphop sound.
WB: Yes, thank you! I can’t really explain it but it’s like we write with each other in mind, I have a sense of what he’s going deliver if I sing or rap the chorus, or he may rap/sing all the verses or do half of the song and send it to me, knowing that I will complete it in just the way that he imagined it without even saying what he wanted. Our vocal signatures are slightly the same and we’ve never practiced doing that. Honestly, just lots of years of evolving and being fans of each other’s solo music.
SBS: And as far as the “duo” issue goes…do you BOTH have to be on the track somehow for it to be a true No Longer The Hero track? Or is behind the scenes in mix/production or maybe just even opinion enough?
MP: That’s a great question. I actually have a perfect answer for you. In the aforementioned song “Sour Milk”, that was, in a sense, executive produced by me. Although the song is primarily featuring Whodini’s vocals, that was an instrumental I chose for us because I knew we could make something out of it. So although you hear more of him, it is still 100% a geniune NLTH track. NLTH is so perfect for us because we could have a song that had 8 verses from Whodini and 5 seconds of my vocals, but it would still be NLTH. There are certain facets of music that we individually can conquer better, and with the fact that there is absolutely no egoism or jealousy amongst us, it makes NLTH be able to any and everything.
WB: I’ve had that question before from one of my buddies but in a different sense, he would say, “Whodini, why do you let Michael have more parts on the track then you do, it sounds like he’s the lead singer and you’re just back up.” My answer is, whatever the music calls for and if that’s what we both feel then that’s exactly what we write and record, you will get those records with Michael rapping all the verses and I attempt to sing all the melody parts like “On My Way” and my lesser parts in “Light+Dark” but they are still genuine NLTH tracks no matter the length of a contribution from either us, our songs are not measured by that. Our solo records are not really considered NLTH material but the sounds & styles are definite relatives, I have solo records recorded to some of Michael’s production work but they are not NLTH tracks, only when there are two of us on the record and no matter what we may say or the length of lines, they are NLTH tracks.
SBS: I hear the thought that you put into the flow, theme and commitment to the lyrics of the rap. I started thinking about what the goals overall might be for No Longer The Hero…but everyone asks about that… Besides – I came to the conclusion that the precision and the skill that are presented – like on a track like “Pain Killer” – that the goal is obviously to be the most masterful that you can be on the mic. Am I wrong here? I mean…great care is definitely taken musically as well – but man…when I HEAR these rhymes spit over the mic…I mean…what else can I say? DAMN SON – you guys got SKILLS. So where did they come from?
MP: Whodini was born with rhythm and microphone presence! I, on the other hand, have taken the past 6 or 7 years to work towards making respectable and professional music. I don’t believe I have hit that mark yet. I began making west coast rap for a long time, i transitioned to being influenced by Aesop Rock and Tonedeff and wanting to be big into wordplay and metaphors. Eventually i realized rock/metal is probably where i feel most comfortable. All i can attest to is spending thousands of hours trying to be the best I can possibly be. Once again, thank you for the kind words.
WB: Michael is a lyrical beast, he says all of the right words with the right syllables and all in the right timing, it gets no better than that.
SBS: As far as the singing and some of the samples are concerned – I can see some people arguing that they’re off in tone etc, when the case is much more a reach for the unique and a sound that sticks in your brain…one that makes us want to listen to it again. As far as the singing is concerned, sure, it’s not “typical” all the time – but the hook is THERE every time. So…I guess…around the rap verse – what’s important to you there…if that makes any sense… What I suppose I mean is, what qualities are you looking for outside of the verse and inside the chorus and sample choices?
MP: The singing on my part is definitely not always on-key haha! What we look for is something that brings out our strengths. We recently finished a record called “Chromatic” that had no rapping on it. It summed up our voices perfectly. I had more monotone and lyrically driven parts and Whodini came in and killed it with catchiness and extremely on point vocal melodies. As long as the instrumental is speaking to us and our arsenal, it is totally doable. Choruses are the summation of your song, so naturally they have to be hard hitting and effective/efficient.
WB: Exactly what Michael said, totally. I write my particular parts to the melodies and sometimes the down beat. Whatever speaks in the music is what I write, I can’t pre-write because the words have to be in sync with the notes. A lot of the times, we will sing the right notes but in the wrong key as stated in the chorus line of “Light+Dark”.
SBS: I like how the music actually ranges through a completely different set of sounds, diving partially into many different genres. Are there any limitations on what you would try? What would those be and why?
MP: There is no genre that I have anything against doing. We can adapt to any style and still keep it an NLTH song, stylistically speaking. As far as conceptually, there are quite a few things I will not do. Those include making songs about being better than “you” and songs about partying as well as songs about having money. I treat this very seriously, and although I realize those types of songs have their place in the music industry, I simply cannot parttake in making them.
WB: I wouldn’t do Bluegrass or Folk, I tried it and I sucked at it big time.
SBS: A track like “Often” has a more modern-day rap feel to it. It also has that…I dunno…”whole-posse-feeling” to it too, and it got me thinking… As No Longer The Hero – are you two looking to keep this between the two of you musically – or are you looking to reach out to other artists for possible collaborations down the road?
MP: I don’t really collaborate with anyone outside of Whodini. I have a very closed off circle of friends who make music. Jacob Cordosa is a frequent collaborator (producer of Light+Dark) but he isn’t known for being a vocalist. However, networking and collaborating are important and crucial for making it where we would like to be. By the way, Often is a great track and mastered well, and I don’t even listen to music that sounds like that normally. Whodini posesses qualities many others couldn’t even fathom.
WB: Thank you Jer & Mikey! But yeah, I’m always on Craigslist, CollabMe & Soundcloud seeking out female vocalist and composers/producers to work with, we are still in that demo mode, where we are writing and recording a lot of records to piece together later that will sum us up in one sitting. I’m open to collaborations of all sorts, sometimes those are the doorways into something greater. I usually do 35 to 50 collabs in a year and it helps spread my name as well as “steal” fans.
SBS: At the very least – “Often” definitely sounds like a track that would “go-off” live. So tell me about the stage life gentlemen of No Longer The Hero…how often is this music reaching the people live?
MP: Not nearly as often as it should. I haven’t performed in quite some time. I’ve opened up for Krayzie Bone, Flesh-N-Bone, Kid Frost and Roscoe. Those were learning experiences. I’m just waiting for Whodini to get his diva ass out to California so we can do this thing the correct way.
WB: We haven’t performed together as NLTH yet, that would be epic! We still need a band though lol.
SBS: Straight up – as “easy” and “straight-ahead” as a question can get: Why do this at all? You definitely have skills – there’s no doubt; but what makes making music something you NEED to do?
MP: I simply could not function without it. It’s become second nature to me. Writers, I believe, are naturally inclined to being introverted at times, and I would be lost without playing the piano or constructing verses and hooks in that time.
WB: It’s my therapy & outlet to express myself to people in a way that I can’t do in a conversation with a person. I’ve quit it several times because it has destroyed relationships, marriages, family time, friend time, school, church and any possible social life but despite all the destruction, it’s always there and it always keeps me grounded and sane because I release through it and other beautiful things have happened from it, lifelong friendships, brotherhoods, a little bit financial gain and a little recognition of what I’ve accomplished.
SBS: Now…as a long standing lover of cartoons, cereal and Saturdays – I gotta say – I love that you’ve chosen to go with animated videos for No Longer The Hero. Go into that a bit though. Obviously there’s a conversation that was had in the background there somewhere…one that talks about your personal image not needing to be plastered front and center for the music to succeed… You know the conversation I’m talking about! Tell me about that and what’s important for you to put onscreen.
MP: I suppose it comes from me fighting the hell out of Whodini on being so noticed physically. The darkness of the “Alter Ego” cartoons we have are a perfect sentiment to describe us. We battle our inner selves on a daily basis, and that struggle amounts to having to think outside of the box. The Gorillaz can get away with it, Daft Punk has their way of dealing with it, Slipknot does so to an extent, so why can’t we?
WB: After the first cartoon video to “On My Way” it just made sense to stick with cartoon illustrations, everyone loves and will pay attention to exciting cartoons. I had us drawn shortly after in Anime style by a talented female artist from Indonesia and mainly because we couldn’t at the time be in photos together; Mikey lives in southern Cali and I live in the heart of Mississippi. The Anime portraits kind of stuck to our mystery, as our faces not being plastered everywhere as Mikey begged me not to do.
SBS: And how about lyrically? What’s important there? Would you say after listening to it all back that there’s a common bond in the writing? Like…if you were on a massive playlist…would there be a way to recognize you from a bunch of other artists out there just by what you’re saying through these songs?
MP: Certainly so. I am a very dark and depressed writer. It’s how I’ve been for a long time. Even while making songs that one wouldn’t consider depressing or melancholy, there is still an element of darkness in there. A listener would be able to pick me, personally, out of a playlist for songs that make them think I am plotting to murder an innocent group of people. Joking of course. Depressing music suits me quite well, but at the same time, I’d like to be seen for versatility when executing songs such as “Rebirth” and other more up-tempo songs we have planned.
WB: Mostly in my opinion, would be the lyrical content, the structure and topics. The sounds are very much our own with lots of influence from just living our lives on a daily roller coaster, going through everything imaginable and then singing a song about it in the most metaphorical way.
SBS: Hey – before I forget guys – I should make sure we get those websites from you. You know the ones…the ones the people WANT! The ones that help them find the music and info of No Longer The Hero! Where can they find you & what will they find there?
SBS: I’m a big fan of the overall theme in the music and write-ups, heck, even the name No Longer The Hero and what it stands for. I know I haven’t always been the hero for people in my life at times – I certainly feel you guys there…
But…without going into the famous “Why do we fall?” speech from the Batman series…would you say life is more about acceptance? Or is it about believing that you CAN be the hero again and right the wrongs?
MP: I personally believe that it is not necessary to right the wrongs. Our wrong-doings and failed ventures have spawned NLTH, in a way. I can say that we are realizing what we truly are, which would be the anti-hero. Acceptance is important definitely, but I believe it is more about being a constant advocate for what one believes in and standing your ground.
WB: We stand for the guys and gals that have fallen from being too nice or the typical rescuer where no matter what one does to save the day, so to speak, someone still gets hurt in the end. Most actions ricochet and come with unexpected results. You learn from them and keep it moving. We are no longer trying to save anything but our own sanity and even that comes with a price to maintain.
SBS: “Rebirth” – in my opinion, is a perfect track. I loved it – all the way through. Empowering. I don’t know if you’re the type to provide insight into the lyrics or not but I’d love to know about what this particular track means to you guys.
MP: Thank you very much. I am always surprised at the reception we received from this particular record. Rebirth was a concept I came up with, based on the mastermind that is Whodini. It was written in the moment that I was 100% sure we were going on a tour of the US with Bizzy Bone of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and a slew of other members of our organization. It was a feeling of being triumphant, of conquering everything we had to conquer. It was uplifting solely because we were uplifted at the time.
WB: Mikey’s catalog is full of depressing material but when he presented this record to me, I knew deep down that he figured it out in penning an upbeat and potential hit. I recorded my vocals to it almost immediately and he placed it on YouTube, with no promotion it gain 600 views. He claims it was because my name was on the record but I assured him it was because the song had that powerful feel good vibe to it. It was positive. The best thing about that record is that it isn’t complete, that’s the demo version, we are currently seeking a vocalist to take over on the chorus and Mikey & I will provide new lyrics to revamp the track.
SBS: No Longer The Hero…Michael…Whodini… Just want to say thank you once again for taking the time to do this interview with us. We had a tradition in 2013 to offer an “open floor” here in this last section…one we’re carrying on into 2014 here with us – so here it is! Anything else you’d like to say, anyone else you want to shout out, something completely random…whatever you like. No Longer The Hero –THANK YOU for your time. The floor is yours!
MP: Thank you so much for the recognition, the superb research and listening that you did. It was truly a pleasure to be involved, and I wish you nothing but the best in your future endeavors.
WB: We have new music & cartoons coming soon, stay updated with us on our Twitter and FaceBook pages; we’d like to shout out Brandon Rhiness, who’s also from Canada, for his continued support, Mia LJ, R7NW & for all of our loyal supporters, we definitely appreciate them all and you guys for this opportunity.