Mr. Carmack Talks Moving from DJ to Artist and Recording ‘VIISTA’ On Acid
By Shirley Ju for BPM Supreme
Photos courtesy of Quasar Media
Mr. Carmack couldn’t care less about an interview, he just loves to make music. The San Francisco-bred, Los Angeles-based DJ, producer, composer, multi-instrumentalist, and recording artist is known to be one of the OGs of Soulection, providing not only sonically-appealing music, but overall vibes. When it comes to his sound, he can hardly be boxed into any one genre, combining the likes of trap, jazz, hip-hop, R&B, rock, and uptempo soul.
Being raised by two musicians as parents, real name Aaron Carmack has been surrounded by music his entire life. But it was only recently he unleashed his first records where he’s actually singing, using his voice as yet another creative vessel to exercise his passion of creating music. As he grows and evolves as a man, his motto has never faltered: make music like no one’s watching.
Currently on the road for his Immersion Tour, Carmack is testing the waters and pushing his own boundaries as an artist. For the first time ever, he’s singing on stage, specifically with his VIISTA EP he just unleashed. The 11-track project features all-star appearances from fellow Bay Area natives Kehlani and Rexx Life Raj, with each song tied to a specific meaning and explanation.
BPM Supreme caught up with Mr. Carmack in Los Angeles ahead of his El Rey performance, where Aaron rocked a more professional, suit attire with a beanie — fit for the star of the evening. He admitted to taking it easy tonight with no drinking before the show, after turning up too hard in San Francisco a few days prior. In between attending to friends and setting up the 17-piece orchestra all by himself (performing VIISTA all the way through), we’re reminded of the man Carmack is: an overall lover of life.
In the end, Mr. Carmack just wants you to dance and have the night of your life.
Talk about being from SF and relocating to LA.
I was born and raised (in SF), lived there until I was in college. Went to college in Long Beach State. I missed Joe Kay. Joe Kay actually was there when I was there, but we never really met. It was weird because that’s literally right before I met him, I met him a year after I left. We both went to Long Beach State and he ran the radio. Soulection started on K-Beach Long Beach radio. That’s how it started, he was just in there doing the thing. I’d been in his office twice, but he wasn’t there. It was just Soulection shit everywhere in the school. That’s a little known fact.
At that point, was it the eyeball logo?
It was the eyeball logo. It’s always been that eyeball logo. In San Francisco, my dad and mom are both musicians so I’ve always been surrounded by musicians. Doing a band thing has always been my back burner idea, ‘if I get some money’ idea. It’s not an easy task to hire 20 people, just get them on board and ready to play.
And you do everything (record and release music, set up tours) on your own… how?
Everything’s independent. I don’t have any record label backing or nothing. We have a tour manager for this tour. When I DJ, I don’t have a tour manager. This is only the second show that we’re doing the band thing. Only the second show so I really wanted to be a proof of concept. Prove that I can do it and prove that it actually works, then we’ll go from there and see.
Can you talk about all of the instruments that you do play?
Bass not too much, piano not too much, trumpet not too much. I’m kind of a jack of all trades. Trumpets. I sing okay…
How did you learn all of this?
Just from being in music school. Trumpet: I went to conservatory for French horn. I played piano. My dad’s a singer but I was never a singer though. This is my first time ever singing on stage… really ever honestly. I’m not a trained singer but it’s coming out of me the way my music put me to it.
Were you scared at all?
Oh yeah, I had a nightmare last night. I did. It’s nerve-racking. This whole day, I was nervous and I’m still nervous. But it’s like “fuck it.“ You just live the vision out.
At what point did you hear yourself and say “okay, I can do this”?
I’ve always kind of just said “fuck it” and did it. Any opportunity I got to try and play… I never stuck my neck out and said “I’m a vocalist, I’m a this. I’m a performer, I’m doing this.” I’m not going to pick up the mic in the middle of a DJ set saying “this is the focus.” I am up there conducting, standing in front of people.
Can you talk about the run of show here, and opening for yourself?
9:30pm is downbeats. The curtains are closed right now. In about an hour, the curtains will open then it’ll be the first song. It’ll be about 11 or 12 songs I believe. We’ll stretch it out, people will play solos then I’ll sing. At the end, we’ll break down. My good friend Sabeerah will come out and deejay for a while I get everything relaxed. Reset, then I’ll go out and deejay the rest of the night.
That’s such an interesting concept.
Yes, I’ve always wanted to open for myself. That’s the only way that I could actually create a better idea, is to try it out on people who come early. Because then I can actually be like “okay I tried something different.”
That is so interesting.
Yeah, this is the first time I’m doing it actually, but I’ve always wanted to do this. I’ve always wanted to try and have a different iteration of Carmack music being played as the opener, so that I don’t have to justify what I’m doing as a headliner. Instead of jamming everything into the headlining act, I could create something different in the opening.
What is your set up like?
The DJ set up? Just CDJs… that’s it! [gasps] Did I bring my fucking drives?
What’s your favorite song to drop in a set?
“Sociopath” (the first song), “Okay!” (the last song), “Kaidi’s Groove,” which is the third song. Honestly, they’re all really good. I’m playing the record in order. I put out the record called VIISTA and I’m playing it in order.
What is the significance in VIISTA? Why two I’s?
I think it’s technically my seventh major project for me, so VII is 7 [in Roman numerals]. Vista is a viewpoint, a lookout point. It’s kind of a spot for reflection when you’ve been driving for a long time, you pull over then you stop. This project is like “it’s been a ride” kind of thing. You’re driving for five hours, you pull up to a vista point and take a break in life.
I had the pleasure of attending an intimate listening party for the album and you explained the meaning behind each song. Talk about shedding tears while creating this.
I was drunk, but also every song I made was with tears. I’m not afraid to say I cried with every song I wrote. Every song while I was writing, I cried.
Why were you so emotional?
Why not? I was on acid. [chuckles] I was on LSD, sitting my studio just figuring it out.
What songs did you record on acid?
All of them. All of them were touched by acid. I wasn’t on acid the entire time, I was working on it sober too. But all of them were not safe from an acid trip. At one point while I was working on a song, I was on acid.
Every track is a vibe. What songs mean the most to you and why?
First one, probably “Sociopath.” The meaning: relationships are born from sociopathic tendencies basically. Like you see a girl that’s really hot, you’re like “I want to fuck her. I want to get dirty, I want to do all of these things.” But really what you mean is “I want to get to know her. I want to take her out on a few dates, I want to grow with this person.” But in your mind, you’ve created this weird image of this woman or man. It’s sociopathic in nature to want someone physically, where you manipulate to get to that end. You can’t just walk up to someone like “do you want to fuck? No, okay. That’s great!” That’s not how you manipulate someone. You literally manipulate every person you want to fuck. It’s not bad. Nobody would ever meet if they didn’t want to be manipulated in some way. It changed my whole view.
Any other songs meaningful to you?
Every single one is meaningful in their own way. I have a story like that for every single song.
How do you pick who to feature on your album?
Because those are the songs that made it. I have other songs that didn’t make it with bigger acts and bigger people.
You kept it short and sweet, is that on purpose?
Yes, because it’s hard to focus on things these days. Nobody needs 25 tracks, then you’re just lost. You’re at track 17 like, “I’m still listening to this guy?! What the fuck.” [chuckles] Can you imagine 25 tracks? It’s the same fucking song. [hums familiar melody] It’s like we get it.
What does it mean to perform home in LA tonight?
It’s not my home. It’s my current home, but it’s not my home. I have a home. What is home? What’s the concept of home?
About Shirley Ju
Shirley Ju is a Los Angeles-based journalist as well as a Digital Content/Artist Relations Manager at LA’s Power 106. She lives and breathes music and if there’s a show in LA, you can find her there. Born in the San Francisco Bay Area, the hyphy movement is in her blood. She also graduated from UCLA and is going on 10 years in Los Angeles. Shirley contributes to several publications including Variety, LA Weekly, REVOLT, and more. Follow her at @shirju on both Instagram & Twitter!