By Nathalie Phan
For the past 10 years in Austin music, Curbside Jones has been quietly working in solitude. That's why when COVID-19 devastated many music makers, it didn't bother him; he's always been his own mix engineer, producer, and graphic designer. But that doesn't mean that his latest EP was without international collaboration.
Heavily inspired by Japan, Curbside and a group of his friends planned for a 2020 fall tour of Japan but their plans were rudely interrupted by the pandemic. After having already worked with Japanese artists before including Dyelo Think (fka Free Design), his intention was to collaborate with members of LafLife, a Japanese rap group, and push the music through both countries. They had been exchanging emails and sharing beats back and forth over a few months along with Maryland-based artist Dexter Fizz.
In February of this year, Curbside Jones went to work on Gyakusou, Vol. 1, a three-song EP, the first release in a set of three, named after the Japanese term for "running in reverse."
Curbside notes that the Japanese track team of the same name will run in the opposite direction as a representation of their rebel identity and going against the status quo. "I took that idea, of going against the grain, going against the norm. People think it's moving backwards, not forward, but the EP is forward-thinking," Curbside says. "It's taking American rap and putting it over Japanese instrumentation."
The EP was made in collaboration with Japanese producer Ballhead who he discovered while watching Jazzysport Kyoto sessions. Eventually through his previous work with LafLife, he also connected with Japanese rap artist MUMA. MUMA is featured on the second track on the EP, "Coffee Stains."
The inspiration for "Coffee Stains" came after Curbside had spilled coffee on his pink Converse x GOLF le FLEURs (cue the verse: "Damn I can't believe coffee spilt on these pink GOLF le FLEURs / had to seek 'cause I know there's more."). Initially upset, he embedded the theme of not crying over spilled milk (or spilled coffee) and finding inspiration even in times of hardship: "had to fall before I could find division."
Similarly, each song has its own theme as Curbside, who describes himself as being "heavy into concept work," decidedly wished each track to have its own life. "I wanted the Gyakusou series to be less of a conceptual project as a whole and I wanted each track to be different."
For example, "Terrace House Flow," the final song on the EP inspired by the Japanese reality TV franchise of the same name, features a verse about self-love, a theme that was especially important to Curbside because two days after recording the track, Hana Kimura, a member of the latest season of Terrace House, committed suicide.
Overall, the project is bouncy and fun, but very different. In many ways, between the production and the bars, it speaks to the depth of the person that is Curbside Jones, the mastermind behind the EP. Both in solitude and collaboration, he excels in creating islands of hope in a sea of madness. When you step foot in his world, in the less than 10 minutes of modern-day boom-bap that is the length of the first installation of Gyakusou, you feel the chaos of "running in reverse" but instead of adding to the stress of our dystopian universe, it's relieving and hopeful.
Gyakusou, Vol. 1 is available July 3, 2020 on Bandcamp.
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