iAreConscious has been one of the most creative artists in New York City’s hip-hop scene for well over a decade. Unafraid of being called different, he actually embraces such critiques because it lets him know he’s achieving the kind of uniqueness that he strives for.
Over the years iAreConscious has created a number of projects under different names. His latest is Mon-tag. As Mon-tag, iAreConscious does a lot less rapping, and a lot more singing. That’s just a very small piece of the Mon-tag story, however, and in anticipation of iAreConscious taking the stage as Mon-tag for the very first time on January 23rd at Bowery Electric in NYC, RapReviews caught up with him to find out more about the project, what he hopes to accomplish with it musically, and the way in which old technology will play a prominent role in the show. iAreConscious also revealed the very daring way he introduced Mon-tag on the internet, and the reactions he received from listeners.
Adam Bernard: You are starting the year off with a performance at Bowery Electric under the name Mon-tag. Mon-tag is something you’ve been working on for a few years. How is it different from iAreConscious?
iAreConscious: iAreConscious is a simplified rap name, for the most part. Since I do characters, originally Mon-tag was a character. The name came from Guy Montag from Fahrenheit 451. I was originally working on an EP of these short, obscure, weird, love songs, and all the songs were based around old, dystopian stories, like Fahrenheit 451, or Harrison Bergeron, Logan’s Run, Soylent Green. That record was called 1984 Complex: Mon-tag’s Love. I was telling stories through those stories, but the whole record was singing. Then I kinda sat on the project because a lot of what I was working on got lost because of a hard drive that was destroyed. I think sometimes people start something and it fails only because they lose the material, because they destroyed something, or because they sit on it and don’t do anything with it, and because of that they don’t have access to it. They just move on to something new. Sometimes, though, things stick, and they make sense, and you want to continue to do them anyway. A lot of times people will have a broken hard drive, or lose material, and decide that’s an omen. I didn’t decide it was an omen.
AB: How much of a hip-hop influence is there in the music of Mon-tag?
iAC: You know, I never thought about that. Being a storyteller, and telling stories from a different vantage point, I guess you would say hip-hop influences that, or because I want to be so different I have to go to the extreme of delivering this way. I guess I’m so pushed to go so far away from hip-hop as possible, because everything is so much the same, and I guess with me being within Mon-tag and assuming a different moniker, it shows people that know me that I can be that diverse, I can tell stories in a different way. Mon-tag doesn’t care about anybody’s genre at this point. Genres don’t exist where Mon-tag lives.
AB: A lot of emcees say they like rhyming because it gives them the ability to use a plethora of words in a verse. What do you feel you can say through singing that you might not be able to through emceeing, or even through poetry?
iAC: The use of words is very important with Mon-tag. There is a whole lot of space in the delivery so that your mind gets time to actually adjust to, and absorb, what is being said. That generally doesn’t happen in hip-hop. There isn’t a lot of space. Even as an emcee I’ve learned to use space to my advantage, so I don’t flood my bars with words, sometimes they linger with you. That is a major difference. Singing also touches people in a different way, and I’ve realized that over the years I want to touch people in more than just a head-nod way. I want to make somebody cry, or I want someone to dig a little bit deeper. In order for that to happen you have to hear the song, you have to hear me sing, you have to hear me emote in a different way. Mon-tag is more spaced out. There’s a lot of thought going into what I’m saying, and the inflection, and what not, and it’s more about performance. There’s a lot of silence because silence speaks, but there’s something to learning how to make silence speak. You have to be quiet sometimes in order for that to happen.
AB: What can people expect from the live performance? What kind of vibe are you hoping to create?
iAC: I hope I don’t freak anybody out too much, but I might scare some folks, or some people might be confused, while some people might stand and watch and feel the words that I’ll be saying. I wouldn’t look at it as a set of me SANGin. There will be singing, but it’s more performance oriented, almost like watching a play. Sonically you’ll be hearing a lot of ambient, and low, gravelly, sounds. There’s an undertone of Nine Inch Nails in certain music that Mon-tag delivers over. There’s a pulse in it. It’s not heavy, it’s not like “I want to fuck you like an animal,” but you know there’s an influence there. There’s ambient sound, but it’s something that creates the perfect sound-bed for those words that kind of float in these songs. I’ll be performing this stuff over the sound of a tape, so basically I’ll be playing the backing music from cassette tape during the set, so that should be interesting. I’m trying to bridge the divide between the analog and our digital world. Also, depending on what the situation is with the projector there will be video in and out of the set. This is literally a work in progress as I continue to do it, so I may write songs that I have never sung, I might write em today, and they might show up in the show.
AB: With all this going on, with the cassette tape, with the potential to be writing new music on the spot, are there extra, or different, nerves you’re feeling knowing you’re presenting something radically different from anything you’ve done before?
iAC: That’s what I’ve been troubled by. I haven’t been nervous about doing much of anything in my life for a long time, so I don’t have the feelings of nervousness. Since I’m doing a set where I’ll be in character, I won’t be interacting with the audience after each song. I have no idea how I’m gonna be, and I guess that’s kinda scary, but at the same time it’s a little bit exciting.
AB: You are on a bill filled with bands. I know this has to be a conscious decision, so what inspired you to not be on a hip-hop flavored bill?
iAC: I was asked if I wanted to perform by Ann Enzminger of A Brief View of the Hudson. I’ve been building with them, even outside of the music, for years. She said it would be a great way to start the year.
AB: What are you most proud of when it comes to this project?
iAC: I think one of the illest things… I put up a song called “Rested Sketch.” It was just a raw, un-doctored, very dry recording of a song that I wrote. I wanted to put my raw voice up because as an engineer there’s so much stuff you can do to doctor something so it’s sweet and people can hear it and they’ll like it. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted people to hear my honest voice. When you perform you can’t have all that. I’m proud that people liked it. Men and women. They liked my natural voice. I did a video. It was very strange, it was simple, and it was too the point, but it touches people, so I think I accomplished something great in that space and I did it without any doctoring of my voice. It’s something you can’t fake.
AB: Finally, we’re coming up on the one year anniversary of the final Bondfire, which was a monthly event you ran for five years. What has surprised you most, and surprised you least, about the scene since you stopped having the show?
iAC: I don’t know what’s going on in the scene, honestly. I’ve just been focused on general life stuff, so I really don’t know. I think the scene is relative to what you want to get out of it, and what you want to put into it. We started building the Bondfire Radio Network. We wanted to continue the name, and give people something similar to what we were doing, like Bondfire, but on radio. We have TK in the AM with my former Bondfire co-host TastyKeish, and Cognac Time with Coole High. We’re gonna continue the Bondfire name, and continue to support the community.