Thursday, June 03, 2010

Interview transcript: MC Lars (Part 1)

MC Lars has a new single and EP coming out, both titled “Twenty-Three,” about a friend who committed suicide. Lars has been working with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to promote the single and shed light on depression and suicide.
MC Lars is scheduled to perform Saturday, June 5 at The Catalyst night club in Santa Cruz. Show starts at 8:30 p.m.
He spoke with “The Beat” in advance of the show and the single/EP release. Below is part one of that interview.

Talk about the song “Twenty-Three” and the story behind it and everything. I know it's a personal record for you.
Thank you. Around the time I first met you, I was living in this freshman dorm with this guy from New England, from Connecticut. This real interesting, quirky guy named Pat. We became friends, because he was kind of funny and sarcastic, and we were on the humor magazine together.
Then sophomore year, we were roommates after I came back from Oxford. And we became really good friends. But he was gay, and it was hard for him to come out of the closet. I didn't know until I was a sophomore that he was gay and he told me and I was real surprised. But I thought it was cool that he was able to come out and find his identity.
But he was also battling with depression. I knew he was having trouble with it, but I never knew the severity of it. I would see him whenever I was back on campus, and then during my senior year, I was gone. I was on tour.
In 2006, my mom called me and told me he had committed suicide. He was in Berlin. He had gone through some emotional thing with a breakup and he was just having a tough time. And he was so isolated from all of us. He felt so alone. It was such a heavy thing to deal with, and I wrote the song just to tell the story and make people aware (of depression).
It's a very serious thing and people need to be treated for it. It can't be taken lightly. We've been working with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. They're debuting the video on their organization's web site (on June 8), and that's really cool because they're taking it to the classrooms and different events to try to talk to people and show that it's a serious thing. Their whole message and the message we're trying to get across is that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. And that's what people need to know.

This is a more revealing portrait than I've seen from you during your recording career. What was it like recording that song and writing the lyrics? Talk about the message you're trying to convey with your words and your relationship with your friend.
It's a personal song and it almost didn't make the album. I was afraid, because people who have heard (my) music know that sometimes it's funny or sarcastic and pop culture focused.
Pat was a really good friend of mine. And I knew he was always kind of on edge and he was always kind of, there was a lot going on because he was an incredibly intelligent guy. But he was also really sensitive. So he turned to his school work, and all of his classes were a way to deal with some of the pain of what was going on in his mind. He really had a lot of things that came together that made life really hard for him.
So when I wrote that song, I wrote the song a few weeks after it happened. And I just sat on the lyrics for probably about a year and a half. And when I was doing demos for the record, I rediscovered it and I got the courage to approach it.
I originally was going to use the chorus from the Death Cab for Cutie song, “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.” I was going to arrange the verses around that, but it seemed to non specific and too grim. Plus, it would have been hard to clear the sample or whatever.
So the song, I was working on it for a really long time, but it finally found its place, and when we put the sample of his voice from the “Radio Pet Fencing” album, it all came together.

It's like your having a final conversation with him at he end of the song. When you did get that sound bite and put it on there, when the song was completed, emotionally, what was your mind state? Was there any difficulty in completing the song?
People really, when they listen to the song, they cry a lot. And it's a heavy song because, I wouldn't say it was a fun song to make, but it was really satisfying. And what was fun about the song, or I should say,what was cathartic, was that so many people were involved in it. There were 10 different artists that contributed to the song, and that made me feel like people identified with it, and it was less of a lonely thing (to record). So many people have come to me at shows and said “I have had friends or family members who have taken their lives.” Bart Copeland, he works at the record label, he's one of the business managers, his dad committed suicide. So there's a lot of people who identify with it.
What makes the whole situation so hard is that Pat was really young. He had this huge life in front of him. He was such a hard worker. He had his graduate degree from Stanford , and someone like that who had so many possibilities, who was so effected by mental illness was horrible.
Writing the song was really cathartic and it added emotional balance to the record. It's probably one of my favorite songs on the record and I'm really happy my friends encouraged me to put it on, because my instincts were it was something personal that I didn't want to release. I didn't want to bum people out.

The way you present yourself, you're obviously true to your talent and voice, but you're a fun guy. Was there any concern about people not taking this seriously?
The last thing I want in this whole campaign is to make people think that I'm trying to capitalize on my friend's tragedy by doing this as a single and making a video for it.
First of all, I wanted people to take it seriously because it comes out in a funny place (on the album).
I didn't want people to think i was joking around, but if you listen to the song you know that I'm not. And I didn't want people to think I was trying to capitalize on it. Those were the two concerns.
It's a very real moment, and I've learned as a writer and performer, tapping into a real emotion is really powerful. Sometimes I think it's easier to hide behind the joke or the pop culture reference, because it's really anonymous. But when you really expose yourself, that's when you reach people.
One of the really powerful, heavy things that happened was earlier this year, when we were putting the video together. In one of the scenes, I'm in the lecture hall, and there are photos of all these peoples faces in the seats around me. I'm in an empty lecture hall with pictures of friends and family members of fans who have committed suicide.
That was really intense, because there was a period when I was asking (fans to send) pictures of friends who had committed suicide, and everyday there was like five e-mails from kids talking about it, and there were these long stories to go along with the pictures.
That was cool because it felt cathartic, but it also got really heavy. That's dark, talking to people about that all the time. And having pictures of younger kids, like teenagers, and these younger people, and in the photos they look so happy. That was crazy.
But the song and the video, both of them are going to help some people feel some closure, hopefully.
One of the beautiful things that has happened from the song is I've forged a really close relationship with Pat's mom. We e-mail a lot and we talk about him. When I opened for Nas in Connecticut, she came out wearing an MC Lars shirt. That was cool.
They've been really nice. I met his brother, who lives in Tacoma, Wash., where my girlfriend went to college. We had coffee together. We had never met him. And I met his sister. I've gotten really close to his family as a result of the song, and that's been a really cool result.

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