Producer Interview Series With Zeekzilla
World traveler, beat maker, web developer and dusty finger vinyl digger, Zeekzilla of MPCTutorials.com is a Renaissance man (pun intended) and hip hop producer. His craft is laced with samplers, synths, records, & breaks. These are the tools Zeekzilla uses to sculpt sounds into unique hip hop beats.
Currently located in China, Zeekzilla travels the world digging for records, sampling, and making beats. BBoyTechReport.com traded questions and answers a few weeks ago with Zeekzilla. The session resulted into this in-depth look at Zeek’s world of digging, travel and beat making.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m currently traveling right now scouring the earth for gems, goodies, and loot. I’ve lived in Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Mexico, Canada, Chicago, and Milwaukee. I have 2 kids, and I’mm a professional web developer by day working remotely, only tied to an internet connection. I love library music, cosmic synthy vintage music, and anything Wu-Tang sounding.
I understand that you are currently in China. What’s landed you there?
I decided to go. I worked out a deal with my current employer to work remotely and do what I do remotely. I wanted to experience a different culture and china sounded like a good place to start. We were considering other places, but China was more unknown and you get more bang for your buck there. A lot of people actually think I’m Chinese or Asian…but I’m not.
Is it safe to say that you are a world traveler digging for vinyl gems?
Yes. Although I would say my main goal in traveling is to experience the world, and cultures, but I’ve always got my ear out for ill samples, and digging spots. Finding gems is my passion and obsession. Ive actually got thousands and thousands of dope loops and samples…and usually end up digging more than I do making beats. When you travel its tough to lug around vinyl, like once in Hong Kong I found a dope LP – previewed it in the store and tried to find a download version of it, but ended up buying it because i couldn’t find it (I guess that’s a good thing). My philosophy is that anything is game, as long as it inspires you. A lot of purists think that online or e-digging is cheating or whatever, but things have changed. Technology is your friend. The more you know the more you grown. Online is your bucket of record knowledge and the more online digging and research you do the better you’ll do in a record store. But vice-versa too. I’ve used DVD stores and record stores, etc. as clues to find stuff online. Its all about being persistent and discovering new things always. I love vinyl, and I love diggin in the crates, but Im not gonna lie, I am a shark when it comes to e-digging. Its the best place to discover new music.
Admittedly though, nothing beats finding that gem on a dusty record like a Christmas present from Santa Claus. When that needle hits and that sample is so ill it just feels so good. I’m a fiend for that. Plus you can only get those crazy mind blowing finds in a record store.
Have you found any good places to dig for vinyl in China? If so, whats the selection like? Because we all know the selection varies by region…
Yes and no. I’ve found good places to dig for vinyl in Hong Kong, but not mainland china. Hong Kong is way different. People tend to not know the difference. In mainland china they censor and regulate a lot, the whole communist thing. Whereas Hong Kong is not regulated the same. Even though they (mainland china) probably manufacture a lot of stuff for us, most folks are clueless to western music like we are. Ask anyone there who James Brown is and they’d look at you funny, even if they are on top of music stuff. The hardest part about digging there is communicating. I’ve asked friends about vinyl stores or music stores and a lot of them don’t really even know what a record is. I guarantee on some random street, there is a warehouse 2 blocks long stacked to the ceiling full of vinyl, but finding that is difficult to impossible.
They just dont get exposed to music like the rest of the world. They’re fiending for western music, but the way things work they get exposed to like Michael Jackson (not even Jackson 5), and Justin Bieber, or whatever the government approves. I’m not an expert on the topic but southeast Asian places like Thailand, Malaysia, etc. went through periods where they’d do their own version of western funk, soul, covers, etc. in the 60s,70s, 80s and a lot of good digging gems came out of those periods and those cultures used that to mature and find their own style or combine their native style with western style; and we love to sample that stuff. But mainland china has been censored and regulated so you wont find it in mainland china or find 70s sounding stuff that came out of mainland China.
Basically, China was/is isolated from the rest of the world but slowly opening up That’s not to say they don’t have their own thing, but not that 70s sounding stuff we all love to sample. Hong Kong is a different story and even Taiwan. Those Chinese kung fu flicks and music, etc. most people think of when they think of china is actually Hong Kong or artists that were in mainland china and moved over to Hong Kong to pursue their music without censorship.
In mainland china I dig at DVD/CD stores. They have gems in old Chinese flicks and kung fu movies. They bootleg everything so there are a lot of old flicks on DVDs and those bootlegged Hong Kong kung fu flicks. It also makes it easy because I can just rip the songs and toss the DVD.
Has there been any one genre, artist, group, band, producer, record company that you’ve found yourself drawn to when you dig?
That’s hard to say. I really really love all kinds of music, anything that sounds good to me. But I’d say I’m drawn to anything “cosmic” sounding or looking on the cover. Anything with old moog or synth sounds, especially those from the 70s but 80s is okay too. If there is a synth of some sort on the cover, its a done deal. I’m not into jazz, although I respect it…I’d say Im more of a library music lover, experimental synth stuff, or soundtrack guy. I do like psych too, sometimes ill get mad because in psych genre the drums are just always so raw and dirty, but a lot of times there is no pure drum break to snag. But when I dig, mostly I just listen for sounds that make me feel good, generally darker sounding. I think a label I always tend to check out is polydor, but seriously, anything is game – I don’t judge a record by its cover and I like to read the backs and figure out who’s on there are what instruments they used. The best thing to do is drop a needle – but I’m also OCD with that because once I do i have a hard time not listening or skimming every track to find that gem.
Sounds weird but I actually like disco stuff too. Like some of those tracks just hit so hard and are so cosmic – and have jay Dilla written all over them. I swear, if Dilla was still a round i bet he’d be sampling cosmic disco, its an untapped genre.
What was your first piece of gear?
My first piece of gear was a turntable, way back when. it was attached to a stereo and I use to play my parents old records and run it through an old keyboard for funky effects. My first real gear was an MPC2000.
What is currently your favorite piece of gear?
I’d have to say my MPC2500 w/jjos 2xl. I just really like it and have gotten use to it and I still get that warm fuzzy feeling when I turn it on. I really like NDC chop on it and can chop really fast with it.
How did you link up with MPC Tutorials?
I’m doing all the web development stuff, and then tutorials and drum kits.
I saw your unboxing video for the REN? First impressions?
Its super light and smaller than I thought it would be. Overall it has everything you’d want in and mpc and feels good. I got into it right away without reading the manual. Coming from a Maschine standpoint, its definitely not the same and has different workflow (good and bad depending on where you’re coming from), coming from an mpc mindset I think it captures that workflow. I think the software obviously needs some improvement (bug fixes etc.), but I’m definitely surprised at how much akai fit in there out of the gate. The things that bug me are those that should be fixed with updates like how some fields don’t have the common shortcuts for the mouse, like using the scroll wheel to increment the bpm, and some other shortcut type things like that.
Another thing i really don’t like but i guess I cant complain because its typical mpc, but they don’t do non destructive chop – basically if you want to duplicate a pad with the same sample but change the start and end points for that sample, you actually duplicate the sample (just like typical mpc use), but, like on Maschine, its the same sample just with different settings – this for me I think is important for akai to improve or change, because it helps keep project files organized and smaller, especially if you’re loading up large samples. Having the option to duplicate samples is necessary but having the ability to have multiple instances of the sample sample is just smarter. who the hell wants 3 copies of a whole song in their project folder where its just 3 different start and end points? I guess you can say don’t be lazy, truncate it, or don’t sample a whole song, but what the hell, this is the future and we’re talking software here….lolz
Your site says you use “samplers, synths, records, & breaks” when beat making, What does your studio set up look like?
Since I’ve been traveling a lot I’ve slimmed it down drastically and everything else is in storage or sold off. I guess right now I’m using my portable studio, I have my computer, MPC, & headphones, along with a portable turntable, and Hard drive.
At my house, I built a room where I have crates of records, yamaha motif, akai s950, sp303, mpc2000xl, MPC2500, Maschine, mpd32, Korg micro, Fantom, proteus rack, drum set, fender guitar, bass, tube amp, and turntables and I don’t own but have good friends that let me use sp1200, asr10, asrx, mpc500, moog little phatty, and fender Rhodes.
If you could only keep one piece, say everything but one piece must go today, what would that one keeper be?
Dang. My computer. That’s harsh for the MPC, but I can do everything with it including keeping my Job. lolz. With the direction Akai is going and then you also have Maschine, or Ableton, you can still have an mpc like experience but then obviously all the advantages of the computer.
What would you consider is the most rewarding about being apart of MPCTutorials.com?
Being able to participate in something interesting and related to what I’m passionate about, music.
Is there a common question that you’ve found most MPC users have that you hope to answer for them in your tutorials?
I think one of the biggest things that producers want answered is “am I doing it right?” or “what am I doing wrong?” especially if your trying to better your game. I hope to show some ways that will help answer those questions and inspire confidence in other producers.
Whats next for ZEEKZILLA?
South America. Ill be traveling around Mexico, staying with some family, and moving onto south america somewhere – probably ecudor. I’m currently working on a couple drum kits (double barrel breaks, and drunken drums vol.1). I’m also working on an album – its been on the back burners for a long time, its called ‘evil synthesizer’, but its gonna be ill with break,library,dark sampled synth, sci-fi type sound. I’m also working on some compilations to post up – various funk, soul, breaks, and stuff I have in my collection