Along the Southern Meridian: an interview with Gene the Southern Child & Parallel Thought

Sjimon Gompers

Press photos courtesy of Amy Albataew, from the "Smackman" video shoot.

The collaborative work between Florence, Alabama’s Gene the Southern Child and the subversive production duo Parallel Thought established a niche between Southern-steeped sounds and tales met with arrangements of electronic odysseys. Gene, rapper Caness, and producers Knowledge and Drum have quietly produced an oeuvre of work  that runs deep across three albums (Artillery Splurgin, Higher Caliber, A Ride with The Southern Child); the sort of work bound to catch the attentive ear of Williams Street’s creative director Jason DeMarco.

Prior to working with Gene, Parallel Thought’s collaborative experience included Del the Funky Homosapien, Tame One, and 3:33. On Southern Meridian, Gene and Parallel Thought converge into a unique perspective that combines PT’s globally pulsed production made with a Southern focus catered to Gene’s Muscle Shoals, Alabama upbringing.

In a roundtable interview, we talked about the Southern scene’s isolated pockets, styles, communities, and local notable artists. Our discussion covered the paranormal superstitions of the South, reminisced about old school W.C. Handy blues legends, and dug through Gene’s early Controversy mixtapes, Pt. I and Pt. II (out of print and rare, we might add). So as we got deep down into the details of their biggest release to date, Southern Meridian, Gene and Parallel Thought described the places and roads that have brought all four talents together as unit.

How did the Adult Swim deal happen?

Knowledge: Jason DeMarco who’s the creative director of A & R at Williams Street—who’s a super music head—randomly started buying our stuff on Bandcamp, so I just sent him an e-mail and said, ‘hey, you know I’m a huge fan, I’d love to work together.’ When we put the last Gene record out, Artillery Splurgin’, he showed a heavy interest in Gene, so we were thinking you know what’s our next move after this record. I was like, ‘listen man, let’s just approach Gene, because we have nothing to lose at this point, we’re not trying to get like a typical indie deal,’ and he was super open to it, and that was it.

That’s insane.

K: [Jason DeMarco] is so open, and what’s great about him is deep down he just wants people to hear great shit.

It’s such a real rarity because there are so many different aspects of the Alabama patchwork of scenes, ever since the arrival of Ride with the Southern Child when that came on my radar, it was such a good underground cruising tape, and then you had things happening in Huntsville with G-Side.

Gene: Well man, I’m glad you appreciate it man, I’m glad you get that Alabama thing because sometimes it’s hard because from the South someone who doesn’t really know when they’re hearing you.

Gene, how had the experience of being raised in Muscle Shoals impacted you?

G: I just kind of set out what I wanted to do and I didn’t really like go off by what everybody else was doing and my lyrics stick out, and there’s nothing like it, you what I’m saying, when you hear it, it’s something that moves in your mind. And that’s what I do when I do my work, I try my best, and not do what someone else is doing. PIc03byAmyAlbataew. Tell us about the whole narrative from one mixtape to the next.

G: Out of all the works we have, we weren’t never around each other, we did it through e-mail, we never really got to know each other, but when we finally had a chance to record in the same room together [on Southern Meridian] it made it come more alive, way more alive with all of us in the same room.

So all of you all would just trade back stems, whatever you all were recording at any given time, how was that feedback and creative process facilitated?

K: It was pretty much through the net, the net was pretty much the link between us, production wise, Drum, Knowledge, and Caness, all three of us were straight through Caness, so that’s how we recorded stuff, it was a trust between Caness and Gene, and that extended to us, so we knew that if Caness gave it the okay, then pretty much Gene was okay with it too, so to have that relationship that worked out, and pretty much that trust was huge, Caness can speak on that a little bit.

Caness: Yeah, so basically I’m from Alabama, so when I hooked up with Gene we were always working on stuff. I’d go back to New York, and when I was up there I was always with Knowledge and Drum making music, and then we just all finally got on the same page. I think Gene was a little familiar with their sound and we figured out how to put everybody’s sound all together without taking away from Gene’s style, kind of putting all of our production styles into what he needed, but there’s a little bit of trial and error…

How did the trial and error impact tracks like “Loyalty & Luxury”, in which the production is super transcendent, to the more ominous “Smackman”, in which everything from 808s to the whole mood caters to a heavier vibe?

C: So on “Loyalty & Luxury” we wound up stripping down that song, playing everything, getting someone to play the trumpet that you hear being played on the the chorus and the verses are all live, and we wound up getting clearance for the original sample, and put that back in. So on songs like that we were really able to get to that super professional level where you’re really picking stuff apart and thinking about it a lot more than we used to.

Drum: To be honest, the clearing process was amazing, you know, we cleared three samples, free of charge, one costing a little bit of money but in the end we got to do the record we wanted to do, we don’t have to leave off songs, it sounds exactly how we wanted it. PIc04byAmyAlbataew. K: Again, with the trust level with that recording we were working on it for at least a month, if not two months after that before we even got to hear the finished product, you know what I mean? So a lot of work in a short period of time, and then a lot of work after that, none of it had been done before, I definitely think it paid off.

C: I also want to mention what you were saying about the sound of everything and also with the samples, I thought it was really important for us to make sure we capture a certain sound that shows the South because a lot of the stuff coming out here sounds the same, like the South just isn’t in the club every night, you know what I mean, there’s a lot of aspects to it, though. When everything sounds like it was made on a keyboard, it’s not going to capture that feeling, it was definitely a challenge not to use samples.

The thing that has always been cool about this collaboration is the whole Southern meets the future, how do you all come together that represents the South on this level?

D: At PT we were working with Del, Tame One, Gene; we got to a point where that’s all we wanted to do, and once we broke out of the box, like I said, a lot of stuff was this East Coast, boom bap, indie stuff. So we’re about breaking out of that shell and showing from a production level that we can do a record with Del in Oakland, Tame in Newark, and Gene in Alabama, and still have it all sound natural. So, that’s what we’re trying to do with our sound, and as producers.

K: Gene as a rapper is a lot more mature ‘southern gentlemen.’ So his music is a lot more vocal when you think of that Southern kind of sound from the older country down there where it’s not a bunch of kids running around saying stupid, ignorant stuff all the time. That maturity in his music is the reason we were interested in him. I mean, like Outkast, and stuff like that, there is a time and a place for party music, but we’re interested in a feeling that’s authentic. Gene’s raps are more interesting. I want to be able to hear something different every time I listen to it, whether it’s another sound, another rhyme, or something I didn’t get before. I think that’s what brings us together and makes it work out because we all have this unique respect for music in general.

Stream and download Gene The Southern Child’s Southern Meridian on Adult Swim.

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