By: Seamus Fay
Haasan Barclay is an highly-talented artist and producer from Boston constantly pushing boundaries, genre-bending, and creating classics for other artists including Michael Christmas, OG Swaggerdick, Original Kadeem, and others. His ability to think outside the box used to make him the odd one out in school, but now it’s showing his talent and proving him to be one of the best musicians in the city. His album, Heaven Is Your Last Dream shows people that they can create in any way that feels right, regardless of what others say, and provides insight into how many diverse influences his music originates from. You can read the interview with him below.
Alright so just to start off, where are you from?
I grew up in Mattapan, Hyde Park, and Grove Hall.
Where did you first find you interest in music? When did it happen?
I was introduced to music as a baby through video games. Sega Genesis and Nintendo had really melodic music and I was immersed in shit like house music from Streets of Rage and fusion jazz from Sonic The Hedgehog. I got into actually making it by watching my cousins do it over the years. I picked up guitar first, then started making beats a few years later at 15 years old.
Did video games also inspire the stories you were telling with your music? Or were you not writing lyrics in the beginning?
Video games helped me expand my imagination. Cartoons, wrestling, and nature did the same. My cousins were making Neptunes/Swizz Beatz type beats because those were big at the time, and I had another cousin who was making hardcore and metal at the same time. He’s the one who got me into guitar early. I was listening to Incubus and the Red Hot Chili Peppers before I even thought about making beats, then I got a little older and started getting into Nine Inch Nails, N.E.R.D, and the Gorillaz.
So you had all types of influences seeing that some cousins were making hip hop/ pop stuff while others were making metal and you were listening to rock. That’s insanely diverse, and I see how that could play into what you make today. When you started listening to Nine Inch Nails, N.E.R.D, and the Gorillaz is that when you decided to make music on your own?
Yeah, man I had a wide range. At one point, I was listening to shit that was totally unlistenable. I pushed my ear to the brink lol.
Was that forced because you wanted to have that exposure and knowledge or did you genuinely just find interest in some very different music? Also, did the fact that the Gorillaz use cartoon characters to play the band members help you to get into them as video games had played such a big role in your life earlier?
I just really like weird music, man, lol. Mr. Bungle is still one of my biggest influences. The Gorillaz put good music in a really accessible package, and I think I picked up on the satire and message that they were putting out there early.
That’s tight. The Gorillaz were on another level when they first came out. Learning about the impact they had and still have today on so many artists is crazy. Do you like the Death Grips? And do any of these groups that you mention influence you specifically with performing at all?
Exmilitary is a great album. If you like them you should definitely check out The Downward Spiral by the Nine Inch Nails. Trent Reznor is probably my biggest influence in terms of live shows. Either him, Prince, or Bowie at any given time. They really perform and give you a show.
I’ll check it out thanks for the recommendation. How did Prince and Bowie’s deaths affect you because those were both fairly recent?
They made me want to go harder. Sometimes I feel like when I connect with people in certain ways that we’re from the same planet. They were doing things that people didn’t understand immediately and I can relate.
Do you feel that way in terms of the way that you have been known to break barriers and genre bend in a way that others simply aren’t doing?
It’s always come naturally to me because of the stuff I was listening to growing up.
Do you think that Heaven Is Your Last Dream will have a similar impact to that of a David Bowie or Prince album in the way that it might take people sometimes to digest but once they do, it’s really ahead of its time?
I hope it has that impact on people, man. That’s the goal, really. Money will come, and fame is cool, but I really want to let people know they can be as weird as they want to be.
That’s really respectable because it’s that type of mentality that produces classic albums that are considered ahead of their time. No lies.
Thanks, man, I really want to make masterpieces.
How do you see yourself fitting into the Boston music scene as there are so many artists really killing it from the city right now? In other words, what do you feel is your role?
I don’t try to ascribe a role in the scene out here. I just try to keep my friends motivated.
I feel you. Speaking of your friends, how did you meet OG Swaggerdick and Michael Christmas? They seem like two of your most frequent collaborators. Also, did it immediately make sense to make music with them or did it take time for the chemistry to build up?
I met OG Swaggerdick and Christmas on Newbury Street at the Green Street Jungle. I knew I wanted to make music with Christmas, but I didn’t know that OG made music until I heard “Smoking Roaches”. I knew I could make gold with him immediately. They’re both such good dudes. They’re family to me.
The stuff you have made with OG is amazing. How did you go about making the beat for “Supersonic” because that’s one of my favorite beats. It’s crazy.
I made “Supersonic” for a beat tape called the Manifest Destiny EP. He hit me up and we worked on it, made it less spazzy, and the rest is history lol.
That’s tight. Who have been your favorite artists to produce for? Are there any artists specifically who have really pushed your limits as a producer and made you go outside of your comfort zone?
I haven’t met anyone who takes me out of my comfort zone yet, but I do try to learn from everyone I work with. It is important for us to grow when we create. My favorite people to work with right now are Dad Jeans, Original Kadeem, and the Samo D. But there are countless others, dude. So much greatness is coming out of Boston right now.
That’s very true. How does it feel seeing Cousin Stizz going to Australia, Michael Christmas on the West Coast on tour currently, OG Swaggerdick selling out the Middle East Upstairs, and so many others succeeding as artists in the city. Does it create a strong sense of pride in Boston as it gets more exposure?
Seeing everybody succeed is a great feeling, dude. Mostly because we all saw each other building to it. The past few years have been insane that way.
For sure, man. It’s a great feeling as a fan, too, seeing people representing for a city that hasn’t been known too well for music in recent years. You said earlier that with Heaven Is Your Last Dream you wanted to show people how weird they could be. While you were making the project, was that always the theme in mind or did you want something else to be emphasized somewhere along the way?
The theme of Heaven Is Your Last Dream was my growth as a person up to that point in my life. I use my life as an example to show people that they can do what they want.
The album definitely shows that because of all the directions it goes and aspects of your life it shows. When you are at different events in Boston or even just walking around do you have fans coming up to you? And how does that make you feel about you’re doing and who you’re affecting/who’s paying attention?
Yeah, that’s been happening a lot lately. It’s interesting to see how many different people are into it.
Does seeing those people affect the product you make? Does it make you feel like you need to adapt to fit their image of you differently at all?
I wouldn’t adapt to fit their image of me, but my image of myself constantly changes.
In what way?
The person you see on the street won’t be who you see on stage, but both people will change on a dime depending on how I feel at the time. I never fit in growing up, so I just kept not fitting in.
Why didn’t you fit in growing up? And did that inspire you in any way or did it make you feel discouraged?
I listened to Nine Inch Nails and Incubus instead of Dipset, and I never let it stop me. It just fueled me to keep going and it still fuels me now.
That’s the way to go. So people just didn’t understand your interests and they didn’t make an effort to understand them?
Yeah, man. Middle school sucks haha.
Did seeing people like Pharrell completely changing what was cool and what wasn’t at the time mean a lot for you? Also, did people start to understand you more as you got older?
Yeah, Pharrell’s tied with Trent Reznor in terms of musical idols. His versatility inspires a lot of my music. And it’s not really that people understand me more, I just found myself around people who understand who I am and are more open minded about music, art, and culture.
That’s cool, so it was just a matter of surrounding yourself with the right people. Was music a sort of safe haven for you when you couldn’t identify with the other kids at school?
Video games were until I figured out that I wanted to do music.
Ohh okay, so the order of it all sort of went (and correct me if I’m wrong): you didn’t fit in at school, so you played video games. Then you hear the music in the games and get inspired, and that gets you to pick up a guitar?
I wouldn’t say it was that cut and dry. I’ve loved music all my life. I got a lot of different influences from video games, movies, cartoons, etc. My cousins made me realize music was tangible because they all made it. Middle school sucked but it never stopped me. I’ve always been creative, I just did other stuff earlier.
Does music run in your family other than just your cousins?
I have an uncle who plays pretty much every instrument, and I’ve been doing illustration as long as I could draw.
What instruments do you play? I have read that you can play several.
I play guitar, bass, keys, drums, and whatever percussion you can throw at me.
That’s crazy. Did you play in the band or anything in school?
Nah, my school was underfunded so I didn’t have that.
Damn. Were other kids at school forming bands together at all or were they not into that?
Nah, no one did that much at my school. Nobody had the money. I don’t think I knew anyone really interested in music until I was 20 besides my family.
I feel you. When you first decided to start making music and experiment with it, what type of stuff were you making?
I was making a lot of electronica.
And what made you leave that a little bit and go into other types of music and genre bending?
General curiosity. I really just got bored with doing one thing.
I feel. What programs were you using at the time, and what do you use now?
I started on FL studio and I use Ableton now.
It seems like that’s where a lot of people start on then currently use nowadays. What are your dream collaborations.
It’d be cool to worth with Pharrell, or Trent Reznor. I thought of a supergroup with Donald Glover, Chance, and Toro Y Moi with a band name about nappy hair. But I love everyone I’m working with right now. I love the music I’m making right now and I want to keep making more.
Oh my god that would be the tightest group ever, and definitely keep doing what you’re doing. It’s so unique. What are your goals for 2017?
The goal is expansion in every type of way.
Is another full project in the works or are you still looking at different ideas and just piecing everything together?
I’m working on some new stuff. Very excited to show it to the world.
Do you know approximately when it will be released or is that still undetermined/classified?
It’s classified haha.
Gotcha. The last thing I wanted to ask you about out of curiosity is how was the Under Pressure Tour with Logic and Michael Christmas? That must have been unreal.
That tour was a really amazing experience. I’m glad I had the chance to travel as much as that with such interesting people and see so many parts of the world. It was really wild.
Had you met Logic before the tour?
Nope, I had only heard his music. Meeting him and the crew was dope.
That’s crazy. Once again, thank you for the interview and best of luck to you in the future. You’re really doing something special.
Thanks, dude! Excited to see more from you.
After interviewing Barclay, I have noticed that he doesn’t make music for the reasons that so many others do. He pushes boundaries and ideas that so many people won’t, and he acts as an example to anyone not sure if their art will be accepted and embraced by the public. By doing it different, he has inspired many and will to continue to do so in the upcoming year. Thanks again, Haasan. Best of luck to you in 2017 and once again, congratulations on the recent marriage.
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