It takes an Army: Spending Moogfest with Egyptian Lover

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Greg Broussard, the man behind Egyptian Lover, on an Asheville street during Moogfest 2014.

Asheville, North Carolina, this year's Southern locale of the fourth annual Moog Fest, is a beautiful town. Narrow trees line the roads and tunnels sear through the heart of mountains. It’s a prime toy train town (though I didn’t actually see a train), but with more garage rockers. I went there for Moogfest and the cops were so nice (as in indecisively lenient about open container laws) that I almost thought I liked cops for a minute. Fool me once, enchanting Asheville…

Among the picturesque imaginary railroad, Moog talks, shoddy Internet, and ill-willed music publicists was an original electro oasis: Egyptian Lover, the West Coast electro legend, performing to hundreds of freaks of all shapes and sizes. Seeing the joy that that dude spread at six in the evening, well before most in the crowd had the assistance of chemicals to simulate said joy, well that was like stealing fire from Mt. Olympus. Egyptian Lover (Greg Broussard) and his musical partner, Jamie Jupiter, worked the masses like the pros they are, breaking into synchronized faux-Egyptian struts just like they’ve been doing since the early ‘80s, when they started performing as part of the L.A. collective Uncle Jamm’s Army.

Talking with Greg Broussard proved him a seasoned professional at interviews as well. Until Impose photographer and pal of the musician, Alex Kacha, chimed in and got a little less typical answers out of the synth drum legend.

So are you mainly playing festivals now?

Nah, I play everything. A girl’s back yard… doesn’t matter.

Is it equal parts DJing and performance?

Well, right now, I’m doing like a tour where I do a show called “The Evolution of Egyptian Lover.” I start the show DJing, which is how I started out in real life. So I do the DJ show, then I bring in the 808s, start doing the 808s show, then I bring my records in and perform my records.

So you’re doing a career retrospective?

Yes, this year is my 30-year anniversary.

Are you doing more touring than normal for the anniversary?

Nah. I pretty much always do tours. It’s just that now that we have Twitter and Instagram and all that, it’s more known that I do a lot of shows. I’ve always done a lot of shows.

Has there been a renewed interest in your stuff over the last few years?

I think it was in 2004, when I started going to Europe, it started getting bigger and bigger. The electro scene is always there but it’s always up and down. Right now, since the new Roland T-8 came out in April, I’ve seen more people talking about me. Now I find younger kids coming to the shows to find out what is the original 808 and want to see me work the rhythm of 808, so I like that.

Well it seems like 808s and electro are now almost the basis of all contemporary hip-hop and pop music.

Yeah. That’s crazy.

Do you see yourself as an originator or part of the continuous stream or do you not think about it?

Um, I like being a part of the beginning of it. I mean, when I first made my record, the only record that had the 808 at that time that I liked was “Planet Rock” and “Electric Kingdom”. Those two songs are like, my favorite songs ever; I still put them in my shows. I had to make a record to be a part of that. I wanted to be number three on that list. And I’d rock “Electric Kingdom”, “Egypt, Egypt”. So I hurried up and went to the studio and recorded my record. It was really an honor for me to play out my dance in L.A. I never thought it would become a big hit. It was just to play out at my dances that we were doing in L.A.

Where did the name Egyptian Lover come from?

The name came from Rudolph Valentino and King Tut. I took the name way before I started making rap records. That was my nickname around the neighborhood. I didn’t want to be a gangster; I didn’t want to be called like “Big Guns” or anything like that. So, I wanted to get a name that takes me out of he neighborhood mentally. I took a faraway place, Egypt and King Tut. Rudolph Valentino was a lover of women, it’s like I don’t want to be a fighter or a gangster or a thug, I want to be a lover.

So, no Middle Eastern background…

No, though I kinda looked it when I was growing up because I always had a moustache and a beard. I just took it and ran with it.

(Broussard sampling the Moogfest technalogical festivities)

Was Jamie Jupiter your partner from the get go?

Yeah, we’ve been buddies since the twelfth grade. I guess since ’82 we’ve been friends.

I liked when he was on stage really talking the audience through.

He’s my friend but he’s also my number one fan. So I always play my music for him and he’ll tell me right off the bat “I love that” or “That’s not doing it for me,” or “That was bad, go back to the studio and redo the album.” He’s my main guy I go to, ‘cause he’ll tell me the truth.

Your last album was in 2005. So are you gonna keep on…

Oh yeah. Since this is my thirtieth anniversary, I have an anthology coming out on Stones Throw Records…

Oh, shit!

Yeah, so we’re doing unreleased stuff, some remixed stuff, and some early stuff on there. [DJ] Peanut Butter Wolf is a big fan. This is his dream come true to have me do something on his label like this. Earlier he put out Arabian Prince greatest hits [Innovative Life: The Anthology], so he was like, “Man, if I could just do Egyptian Lover.” So I said “Yeah, do you wanna do the anthology for 30 years?” and he was like, “I’m on it!”

We’re doing a five vinyl release. It’s gonna be pretty nice.

Wow, when is that coming out?

We’re getting it mastered next week, so it’s gonna be soon. And my album I’m working on, it’s called 1984, which is coming out on Egyptian Empire Records and it’s gonna be like the music I made back in 1984. I’m actually recording it the same way now that I did back then.

What does that entail?

Well, I’m using the 808, the Jupiter-8, with the Roland Vocoder, the SH-101. You know, major real recording studios, like the same ones I recorded my first albums in. All brand new songs, but made and written the same way I did back in the day.

Same themes?

[Laughs] Yeah, same things. You know, freaks. Sex. Beats. Parties. Same thing.

You’re married now, right?

Yeah, actually the girl I married is the one who introduced me to this kind of music. It was like, wow.

Wow, how long have you been married?

Well, we didn’t get together right out after high school. She came to me 'cause she wanted me to make a tape for her, so she brought this album to me and it was Kraftwerk’s Computer World. I saw it, and I was like, ‘Whatever it is, I’m gonna give it a chance cos she likes it.”

So I made the tape for her, and while I was listening to it, I was like, ‘Wow, this like futuristic, computerized music but the melodies are kinda cool!’ I even thought about making a rap on the “Numbers” beat, but it didn’t have enough bottom on it.

She came to pick up the tape, and she said I could have the album; she just wanted the tape. So I said, “Oh wow, thank you,” so I listened to it again, and the more I listened to it, the more I fell in love with it. About six months down the line, “Planet Rock” came out and it was like, [snaps fingers] “That’s the idea I had with more bottom in it!” It was like they took the idea right out of my head!

So the girl that gave me the Kraftwerk album, on her ten year reunion, I saw her and I knew she had been married. I said to her, “Where’s your husband, I want to beat him up,” and she said, “You ain’t gotta beat him up anymore, we’re divorced!” So I told her the whole story about the “Numbers”/Computer World album, how she gave it to me, how I took my career off on that record, and how she was a part of me being who I am because if I never heard that album, I’d never be who I was today. Of course she was like, “Really? Wow.”

I'm actually gonna see Kraftwerk here at Moogfest for the first time. I’ve never seen them live. I’m just going to enjoy the moment. I’m just going to enjoy life.

That’s amazing. Just watching you today, when you first started the crowd was starting to come in and I was thinking, ‘Cool, we’re gonna have a good time,’ and then a few songs in, there are people of all ages and backgrounds there, and they just have these grins.

Yeah, it’s cool. I like that. I mean, I get my energy from the crowd. I just peep out into the crowd and I see everyone dancing, moving their heads, feeling the beats. Even people who never heard me before are sitting there like, “I like this, who is that guy?” Then I go onto Instagram and Twitter and people are like, “I’ve never seen this guy before, and he’s the greatest…” and it’s really cool.

When you got started, you sort of invented this regional L.A. sound, or rather took part in the beginnings of this regional sound.

Well, when I was in L.A. making the sound, the sound was Kraftwerk with more bottom, with a little bit of Prince-style rap on top of it. So it was Kraftwerk beats with Prince talking on top of it. The breathing came from Prince; some of the lyrics came from Prince. So it just became Prince and Kraftwerk mixed together, that’s me. I’m their son.

Then the Wreckin’ Cru start breathing on their records and rapping like me. LA Dream Team did a song where they were breathing on their records. To me, it wasn’t an L.A. sound or a West Coast thing, it was just an Egyptian Lover sound. It was what I liked.

Now with access to everything on the internet, do you think it’s possible to develop an individual sound?

Oh yeah. You know the new Roland T-8 coming out has tuning knobs all over it. You can make your own sound, especially out of this new 808. That’s what I really like about it. It’s not something you have to go online to do, it’s a piece of gear that they can mess with and it’s only 500 bucks! I think they can afford that. Man, if the 808 was only 500 bucks back in the day, there would be more producers back then.

You’ve talked in other interviews about not swearing in your music. I always think about how Rick James mentored Teena Marie, who was very sexual but still very big on moral code. Do you just not swear?

I raised a lot of nieces and nephews. They all lived with Uncle Egypt and they never heard me curse. One time, my niece came to one of my shows and I was singing nasty and when I saw her she was like, “Uncle Egypt you said ‘dick’! Oh my goodness!” I didn’t know she was there!

Fair enough. Another point of interest is that you’re still using analog gear, therefore synth nerds understand you.

Yeah, they love me. It’s a whole different animal. A lot of people say they will only record in analog. I do it because that’s how I learned to do it. I don’t fetishize it. When I try to do stuff at home, I just don’t feel it, it’s not what I’m used to. It’s like getting a professional football player to play a video game version.

Alex: How do you feel about samples?

I’m not hating on anyone doing anything but it’s not my thing, and that sound just isn’t there for me. That’s why I bring my vinyl everywhere. When I hear the sound of that vinyl, it just makes me feel so good, just like back in the day. Even though the speakers are a little different now too. I just love the old analog sound.

Do you like it better because of a nostalgic thing?

No, it just sounds better. To me. Maybe it brings back memories of the parties I was doing in the 80s? I was doing the same mixes I did back then, playing “Planet Rock” backwards and another record forwards. The crowd loved that. I don’t think any DJ in the world…and I’m asking right now: Can any DJ in the world play a record by hand, backwards? I’ve never seen it. I’ve seen a guy do it for a few seconds and try to keep it on beat but I actually can do it through, backwards, by hand while playing another one forward with the other hand and make them blend. I’ve never seen any DJ anywhere else in the world do it. I’ve even tried to teach some and they can’t do it.

How did you learn how to do it?

I turned the turntable off. And I started playing the record forward with the power off and looking at the circle lights and I’d keep the light going at the same speed. Then I thought, well if the power went off I could do it like this and keep the record playing. Then I thought, what if I go backwards and do the same thing? As long as I keep that circle right there, I keep the record at the same speed.

Sounds like it requires some discipline if not just straight talent. What are your ground rules when you are making music for yourself?

Well, the 808 is definitely number one. I make the beat. And I test beats. I always test my songs in Europe because they love music. If they’re already grooving to a song and the beat I’m testing comes on and they just keep the groove, then that’s not the beat. If they go “Ahhh!,” then that’s it.

The shows in Europe, I assume the attendance is better than they are here in the States?

Oh, hell yeah. Like 20 times more. And the kids there, they do their research. They’re online, they find out who I am, what sounds I produced, when I made the song, what studio I used, I mean, they just do all their research. So when they come, they start telling me stuff that I don’t even know!

You’re kind of like a cult figure over there.

Yeah, one guy told me I was the most popular unknown artist there. You’re right in the middle of the unknowns and superstar list. [Laughs] So yeah, I’m at the top of the unknowns.

Ha, there are worst things to be!

Yeah, the unknown superstar.