Monday, February 23, 2009

Alright Stop, Collaborate and Listen

Here's the Vanilla Ice article I submitted to IN. (It's incredibly long, I know.) It'll come out this Thursday. It's the cover story, so make sure you pick up a copy at the nearest bus stop.

MC Hammer/Vanilla Ice
February 27
McKay Events Center

I must admit, I'm a bit embarrassed by how incredibly nervous I was to talk to Vanilla Ice. The way the cell phone was shaking in my hand, you'd think it was 1990 all over again.

Much like every other human who listened to the radio in the early '90s, I knew—and still know—all the words to "Ice, Ice Baby." But because I was the impressionable age of 10 when the track hit number one, I also remember bleaching my bangs blonde, shaving stripes in my eyebrows, and doing "the worm" at a sixth grade dance. I guess that's really what I should be embarrassed about.

The reason for the phone call was not to discuss the four hardcore albums he's released since "To the Extreme" sold more than 10 million copies, to talk about his amateur motocross career, or even reminisce on his time as a cast member of "The Surreal Life." Instead, we talked about his upcoming performance with MC Hammer.

With '90s groups like New Kids on the Block and the Spice Girls already riding the nostalgia train, it makes perfect sense that the decade's biggest rap artists would want to cash in as well. But here's where it gets weird. The pair's first duo performance in 18 years isn't part of a huge, orchestrated comeback tour. It's a one night only event. In Orem.

I didn't know what to expect from the interview. Would Vanilla Ice (or Rob Van Winkle, as he introduced himself) be annoyed by questions about the "Ice, Ice Baby" years? Would he get upset if I asked him about Eminem incessantly taking shots at him? Would he ask me if I own a copy of his 2003 nu metal album "Hot Sex?"

It turns out, I had no reason to be nervous--or even embarrassed. Mr. Van Winkle was upbeat, excitable, and hilarious. And more than anything, he seemed like a guy who, despite being put through the ringer, is really happy with where he's been, where he's at, and where he's going. (He also cursed like a sailor and called me "bro" a lot.)

An MC Hammer/Vanilla show? Why now?

[When I heard about it] I said, 'A show with Hammer? Are you for real?' I thought it was a joke at first. But then I thought, 'This could be good, it could be fun.'I'm gonna have fun with this. I'm excited about it, man. With all this economy and bad news, it's a good time to put a smile on people's faces again.

Back in the day, when me and Hammer did it, we pretty much set the world on fire. I'll have my full band, pyrotechnics, cannons blasting—it's gonna be full-blown entertainment. Like it used to be.

I'm definitely doing some old school stuff that I haven't done since [the '90s]. We're gonna take 'em back to the old school, do some middle school, and some new sh**, too. It's just going to be a big adventure.

Was Hammer your musical foe back in the day? The Magic Johnson to your Larry Bird?

Nah. I started out as MC Hammer's opening act. It was hilarious because my record passed his on the charts. I knocked him from number one and he was opening for me all the sudden [laughs]. He and I have always been friends and have always remained friends. I've always looked up to him. He's an icon.

What was life like as the 'White Rapper'

I had to knock down a lot of barriers back in the day. Hammer and I were both entertainers and both ran along the same lines, but I had to face a lot more adversity--being the white guy in rap music. There was nobody in front of me that I could use as a guideline, like Eminem could use my career as a guideline.

How did you go from radio rap to hardcore rock?

I look at music a lot different than most people. I look at it as a reflection of how you feel. That's how it should be. Music shouldn't be about image or gimmicks or f***ing American Idol. When somebody else choreographs your dance moves, somebody else writes your lyrics, someone else chooses your clothes and does your hair, in the end you're artificial. So I boycotted against all that sh**, man.

I resented myself a lot. So I rebelled against myself and my whole image. Music shouldn't be about image. I like my music to be like my diary. I had a lot of anger toward my old self and other issues in my life, so I worked with [producer] Ross Robinson (Limp Bizkit, Korn) who pulled it all out of me and helped me realize music works best when it's used as therapy. Since then, I've made records with a lot of personal, heavy sh**. And I love it.

When you've got anger, you should let it out. The greatest thing that's ever happened to me is to go on a musical adventure and do everything the rulebook says you're not supposed to do. Rappers don't make rock music. Well, white rappers don't rap. I like to go against the grain and do whatever I feel like doing. It just comes out that way in the music, it's never planned. I don't have some sort of master plan. I just go in and I vibe.

What's in the Vanilla i(ce)Pod?

Sh**, I listen to everything, bro. When I'm racing motocross, I'm listening to Slipknot. But I can also jam to Kanye West, Jadakiss, Black Rob. I even listen to country sometimes, bro. It's weird, but some of that Kenny Chesney sh** is pretty cool. I can't hate it.

How do you deal with getting dissed by other artists?

That's just entertainment, my friend. It got to me at first. The greatest thing I could do was [1998 album] "Hard to Swallow." It was therapy. Now I go back, I look at everything, and I love it. I still love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, bro. Come on. [Vanilla Ice contributed the cleverly-titled track "Ninja Rap" to the first Ninja Turtles movie. He also made a stirring cameo appearance.]

There's no shame in my game anymore, man. Humiliation is a great thing. If you use to your benefit, nothing can stop you. There's where I'm at. That's why I'm going to have fun coming to Utah and doing this show I haven't done in 18 years. I've got all sorts of crazy things running through my head right now, ideas I'm of what I'm going to do. I'm gonna have fun, man. It's time.

What do you hope will be the Vanilla Ice legacy?

I don't have much an ego left [laughs]. Whether they give me credit for it or not, I paved the way for people—not just Eminem—but hip hop in general. My record was the first hip hop song ever to be played on a pop station. Ever. It brought hip to people's ears who'd never considered listening to it.

At one point, we were selling a million albums a day. It was a phenomenon. It almost killed me. It was a huge roller coaster, but without the low points I wouldn't be who I am today. We are who were because of who we were.

I'm very happy with who I am today. Life is about family and friends, bro. It's a simple thing.

Word to your mother.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Review: Andrew Bird Noble Beast

Andrew Bird

Noble Beast

While certain bands (The Ramones, Nirvana) make young, aspiring artists believe they can grow up to be rock stars, Andrew Bird makes even professional musicians feel like they will never be good enough. On his fifth full-length album, Bird again shows his undeniable musical craftsmanship.

Much like its predecessors, "Noble Beast" quietly transports listeners to an easy-listening heaven, where its inhabitants pad around in slippers and smoking jackets. Bird's only weakness is his quirky wordplay. Fortunately, the combination of his soothing croon and beautiful acoustic guitar/violin interplay make it easy to overlook his history class lyrics. (On "Tenuous" he sings "From proto-Sanskrit Minoans to porto-centric Lisboans." Huh?)

Standout "Anoanimal" manages to pack all of the album's wide dynamic range into just one track. Broad violin strokes compliment staccato guitar notes, bells and bass drum fill in the empty spaces, and the song slowly rises into a grand crescendo. What else would we expect?

05 Tenuousness - Andrew Bird

For fans of: Rufus Wainwright, The Decemberists
Rating: 3.5 of 4

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Review: Lily Allen It's Not Me, It's You

Here's the deal, I'm pretty sure that I'm in love with Lily Allen. It just happened so suddenly. Sure, I felt fine about her first album, but the second I heard "It's Not Me, It's You," well, the deal was sealed. Here's my review for this week's IN. I'd recommend this album to anyone who's a sucker for pop music.


It's Not Me, It's You

With all of her tabloid exploits and Myspace confessions, Lily Allen's music often takes the backseat. What a shame. Witty, brash, and eccentric, Allen has all the right moves for a celebrity. But what's most impressive is how she packages her over-the-top personality into brilliant little pop songs.

On "The Fear," Allen is able to both poke fun at her superficiality and revel in it. "Life's about film stars and less about mothers/It's all about fast cars and passing each other/But it doesn't matter cause I'm packing plastic/And that's what makes my life so f***ing fantastic."

With the help of collaborator Greg Kurstin, the songs are catchy, but not weightless. One moment Allen is a dancehall diva ("Everyone's At It"), the next she's the sweet girl next door ("Not Fair). Though the album loses a bit of steam at the end ("Who Who'd Known," "Chinese"), Allen shows she's got plenty to offer.

For fans of: Kate Nash, Natasha Bedingfield
Rating: 3.5 of 4

The Fear - Lily Allen

Hi, This is Rob Van Winkle

Everyone I told about my upcoming Vanilla Ice interview had a question they thought I should ask. Most of them had to do with him ripping off David Bowie's Under Pressure for Ice, Ice Baby or him signing the rights away to his big hit after Suge Knight hung him over the edge of a balcony.

Nope. I was scared to death of talking to Vanilla Ice, both because I was nervous and because he seemed like the kind of guy who could get angry very easily--especially about his past. I was going to stick to the easy stuff. Which I did.

It turns out I didn't have any need to worry. Mr. Van Winkle was incredibly pleasant, excitable, and great to talk to. He cursed like a sailor, called me "bro," and said plenty of hilarious things. If you don't want to listen to the full interview (below) or wait for my article to come out next week, here were some of my favorite quotes.

About agreeing to play the old stuff: "There's no shame in my game anymore, bro."

About playing rock shows: "I entertain the sh** out of myself."

About the '90s: "I still love Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

He also motocrosses to Slipknot, makes sweet love to Marvin Gaye, and indulges in a little Kenny Chesney here and there. Word to your mother.

Vanilla Ice Interview 2/13/09 [WMA]

Friday, February 13, 2009

Go White Boy, Go White Boy, Go!

By this morning I had more or less given up hope that my interview with Mr. Rob Van Winkle was really going to happen. I told his publicist I was available Wednesday, Thursday or late Friday afternoon. He said he check with Vanilla and let me know what would work. But as of 3:00 this afternoon, I still hadn't heard anything.

And then I got a call on my cell phone from the 2-1-4.

"Is this Spencer?"


"Vanilla is trying to get a hold of you. He says called your work and you weren't there. Can he get you on your cell phone?"

"Yeah, of course. Is he calling now?"

"Yes, he's calling right now."

Heart racing. Frantically searching for my digital recorder. Looking for the questions I've prepared. The questions are on my desk at work!!! More frantically try to scribble down questions. Hiding up stairs in Paige's room and hope for a bit of quiet.

Two minutes later the phone rings...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go

So, I still haven't heard back from MC Hammer. However, I got an email last night and I'M GOING TO BE INTERVIEWING VANILLA ICE! This may not seem like it should be a big deal ,but I am freaking out. Vanilla Ice?! Are you serious? My 10-year-old idol! My anxiety is through the roof.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Minature Manipulator

The other night, Traci's mom invited Paige over to make Valentine's cookies. Around dinner time, Paige asked Grandma where Grandpa was. She told her he was just down the hall in his office.

Paige asked again. "Where's Grandpa?" and then added a subtle subquestion, "Buying me nuggets and fries?"

Grandpa went and got Paige some nuggets and fries. Grandparents are pushovers.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Desperately Seeking MC Hammer

1990. It was the best Christmas ever, probably. I was given my two first cassette tapes, “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em” and “To the Extreme.” By this point, I already owned several pair of Hammer pants and had bleached my bangs just like Vanilla Ice. (If memory serves me, I think I shaved lines in my eyebrow as well. Yes, I was dope. I would later wear my pants backwards and braid my hair a la Kris Kross.)

2009. McHammer and Vanilla Ice will set aside their television ministry and celebreality, respectively, for one night to perform at Utah Valley University. Will I be there? Oh, most definitely.

While this alone would be enough to fulfill a number of boyhood dreams, I’m not stopping there. For the past three days I have been trying to track down Stanley Burrell himself to do an interview for IN.

It hasn’t been easy. Mr. Hammer doesn’t even have a website—just a Twitter account. I’ve been sending emails to any lead I can find, but so far, no luck. There was one promising occurrence this morning when Modern Media Partners told me they had forwarded my message to him. Will he respond? Please Hammer, don’t let me down.

The Kronkster

The timing was no good at the gym today. I got stuck watching the dreaded 12 o' clock news. Fortunately, it was on Fox so I got to see Traci's most loathed, and I my most loved, anchor Kerri Cronk. Love that Kerri Cronk.