All too often as music consumers we mix up the feeling we get from listening to songs with the personalities of their creators. These assumptions aren’t often correct, which is especially true when it comes to New York producer Tony Simon a.k.a. Blockhead. It’s essential to separate the human from the beats in this case, because the two stand so wildly apart.
Tony Simon is an effortlessly chill, easy spoken hip-hop head who was born and raised in Manhattan. Blockhead, at least the Blockhead that we can theorize from his instrumental hip-hop records, is quirky, moody and a little strange.
The separation between the man and the artist is manifested not only through the music itself, but also through the processes of its creation. Blockhead’s music is chock-full of precisely placed and deliciously obscure samples. And managing a catalog of sounds is not something that can be done without planning. Simon categorizes his extensive sample catalog through sound type (e.g., horns, strings, vocals) as well as artist, time period and potential use.
“I’m an organized person, as far as I know where things are in my house, but I’m not a neat person. My house is not a mess, but I’m definitely a person that when I go to bed, I’ll take my pants off, just drop them and leave them there on the floor. I’m gonna wake up and put them back on again, you know?” Simon says with a laugh. “But with samples, I have to be somewhat meticulous. It’s so many samples, and I have to know which ones I’ve used, and I need to know [its] origins. That’s one of the few things in my life that I painstakingly take care of.”
It’s this kind of forethought that creates the dichotomy between the man and the sound. In fact, he claims that he doesn’t inject his own emotion into his production at all; rather, all interpretations come exclusively from the listener.
“I’m a pretty even-keeled, never sad kind of person. I’m not a dark person, I’m not a depressed person, I’m not a moody person,” he says. “The kind of music I make is more melody with a kind of melancholy vibe. That’s what appeals to me musically.”
Although the producer kicked off his beat making foray providing a backdrop for underground rappers to shine (Aesop Rock and Murs, among others), it’s when he created solo, instrumental-only work that he began to develop an identity of his own as an artist. His first rendezvous, 2004’s Music By Cavelight, served as an introduction to the peculiar melodies and rhythms that don’t need a vocalist to provoke feeling. His following five solo projects mirrored the sentiment, each evolving beyond the prior installment, adding new flair and disposition.
His most recent album, 2017’s Funeral Balloons, is his most mature and, despite the name, may be the most upbeat. In support of the album, Simon embarks on weekend tours to reach new fans with his proficiently produced stage show.
On Friday, April 13 Blockhead takes his show to the Art District’s new and still impeccably clean bar, Ninja Karaoke (1009 S. Main St.). Curated by Legends Never Die Promotions, the event also showcases a few other like-sounded musicians to complement Blockhead’s mood evoking chemistry.
For starters, Kian’s santoor-laden production melds the traditional Persian instrument with the sensibilities of today’s experimental hip-hop. Ink Well, on the other hand, brings a diverse and charismatic, sample-heavy style that has been perfected through rigorous training. To add flavor to the showcase, Denver audio/visual musicians Stay Tuned encourages crowd participation and multi-sensory appeal with a meticulously practiced stage show and accompanying video production.
Expect Blockhead, of course, to display how art stands on its own, separate from its creator.
Prior to the Friday the 13th show, DTLV asked the level- (and apparently square-) headed producer 13 ridiculous questions to divulge a bit about the man behind the beats.
What’s your favorite scary movie?
The Shining is probably up there. That’s the one that freaked me out the most when I was younger and still does now when I see it.
Which horror movie character do you identify with the most?
Probably the dude whose head blows up in Scanners, every time I watch the news.
I still avoid stepping on cracks when I’m walking. Any superstitions you unconsciously carry with you?
I actually think about that crack-stepping thing often. When I was younger, I used to do it … but then I stepped on some and my mom’s back is fine, so I moved on.
Your house is on fire, save your pictures or your music?
Watch me game the system here. I’d save my computer, that way I got both pics and music.
You can use only one record to sample for the rest of your life, what is it?
One record to sample would be pretty limiting. I doubt I could make more than five beats out of any record, to be honest. And I don’t have one record that I hold close to my heart in that way. I’d probably take some weird, super long record I never heard before cause at least it would be something new, with lots of material to play with.
Does New York City have the best pizza?
In the U.S.? Without question. I’ve had some pizza in Italy that was the best ever, though.
Name your borough rap hero.
Brooklyn: Big Daddy Kane
Queens: Kool G Rap
The Bronx: Tim Dog
Staten Island: Ghostface
Subway, cab or walk?
All three, depending on where I’m going. If it’s within 30 minutes, I walk. If it’s in Brooklyn, I take the train. If it’s shitty weather/super late or I’m feeling lazy, I take a cab.
What is the best meal of the day and why?
Dinner. Cause all things are on the table. I love lunch too, but I never want things like BBQ or pasta for lunch. Dinner’s got it all.
If a Martian visited Earth and inquired about hip-hop, what would you tell him/her/it?
I’d size up his angle by how he spoke and dressed and proceed based on that. Is he an old school type? Is he only ’bout that new stuff? More than likely, I’d just be like, “Eh, don’t worry about it man.”
Ear buds or head phones?
Buds when I travel and phones when I make music.
Favorite restaurant in New York City?
This is an impossible question. Depends on the cuisine, the day, the time of year. … That’s like asking what my favorite grain of sand at the beach is.
Favorite city you’ve visited outside of New York and why?
In the U.S., it’s San Francisco. I’ve been going there since I was a kid ’cause I got family out there. I just love it. If Manhattan ever gets washed away, that would be my first choice. Outside the U.S., Melbourne or London are up there. I like real cities, and those both fit the bill.
April 13, 9 p.m., $15-$20, Ninja Karaoke, 1009 S. Main St., ninjakaraoke.com