Are you aware I kill at will?
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: The Depths of Shaolin
Rep Power: 10
I like to say thanks first and foremost for taking the time to answer these questions, highly appreciated, and will also point out that nothing will be altered, edited or changed when this is published online.
Wu-International: Peace Andrew, how are you?
Andrew Kelley: Great, thanks.
Wu-International: For those who don’t know who you are or how you are involved with Soul Temple, can you please tell us something about yourself first?
Andrew Kelley: I got into hip-hop in the late 80's as a kid & feel very lucky to be in a position today to work with artists I grew up listening to. I have been working in the music industry for the last 13 years primarily as a graphic designer (Rawkus Records, Fatbeats Records & eOne Music, formerly known as Koch Records). In the early 2000's I got into production and started putting out mix-tapes with underground rappers. As I got more serious with it, I produced mixtapes with AZ, Re-Up Gang, Raekwon etc... These experiences in music and design lead me to becoming a producer, A&R and the designer for the Wu-Tang releases Chamber Music & Legendary Weapons. In 2011, when Bob Perry left eOne & started Soul Temple with Rza, he asked me to continue my roll as A&R for him.
Wu-International: We know you have been working with the Koch label for almost a decade now and also worked with E1. You studied graphic design at RISD, how did you roll into the music business and get in touch with Koch?
Andrew Kelley: It started at Rawkus in 2000 after I graduated college, but I was into the music way before that. I started making "pause tapes" in the early 90's and making "best of" tapes for my friends. When I got my first turntables in 96, it was a natural progression to putting out mixtapes, battling other dj's, spinning at parties & getting my own college radio show. I guess I always wanted to be part of the music industry and graphic design was a way in.
Wu-International: So you are the Senior Art Director at Koch, what does that specifically entail?
Andrew Kelley: I design the artwork and work with the artist on packaging design, logos etc..
Wu-International: How should we see E1 Ent? Is it a Koch sub label?
Andrew Kelley: Koch records became eOne Music in 2009.
Wu-International: You did the artwork for the two Chamber Music albums and the Wu-Block albums the past years. Any other known albums you did the artwork for over the years?
Andrew Kelley: I did a bunch of covers for Cam'ron & The Diplomats, DukeDaGod, Alchemist, D-Block, DJ Khaled, DJ Drama, Fat Joe etc.. Mostly urban artists, but every once and a while I'll design something for a metal or jazz artist. I have a gold plaque hanging on my wall for my (small) contributions to Big L's album "The Big Picture".
Wu-International: A while ago we had been thinking about running a series on iconic Wu album covers and artwork. What is your favorite cover (in or out the Wu catalog) and why?
Andrew Kelley: Probably 36 Chambers because the photography was so mysterious and dark. From a marketing perspective the cover went against everything they teach you; you can't tell who they are because their faces are covered, how many of them are in the group and the setting is completely bizarre, is it a church? It just screamed "fuck you, we're doing it our way" plus the rawness and scariness of it completely complimented the sound.
Wu-International: What does a cover take for you to get noticed, to be good?
Andrew Kelley: For a cover to be good, it needs to balance creativity & marketability. It should stand out on a store rack (mixed in with other covers) as well as look great the size of a stamp when shown on iTunes.
Wu-International: Speaking of artwork, what we saw of “12 reasons to die” album already looked very promising. Were you involved with the artwork on this project?
Andrew Kelley: No, I wasn't but I really love how it came out.
Wu-International: I liked what you did on the Chamber Music albums most, the Wu-Block was totally different, maybe a bit too sterile in my opinion. How do you approach creating an album cover/artwork?
Andrew Kelley: Usually the album artwork is a collaboration between the designer and artist. It’s hard to speak in general terms because each project is different and some artists are more hands on than others. With the Wu-Block cover art, it was 100% the creative direction of Ghostface, Sheek & their manager Mike Caruso. I did maybe 5 other covers that were much grimier and darker, but they weren't into them. The challenge was not being allowed to use the Wu logo or any photos. At the time we were working on the cover, the Olympics were on tv every night. Originally the album was to be titled Cocaine Olympics, so that was their concept behind the cover and direction. They oversaw the creation of the cover and then I did my thing with the rest of the cd package. I made the Wu-Tang & D-Block logos out of crack rocks and had the Olympic rings made out of cocaine.
Wu-International: Are you still working for E1 now or does all your time go to Soul Temple now?
Andrew Kelley: From 9 to 5 I’m designing art for eOne, and after that I am in the studio working on music for Soul Temple.
Wu-International: With “12 Reasons To Die” (coming) out, Soul Temple releases a very ambitious project: combining a concept album with an additional comics series. With music sales going downhill for years, the music business has been looking for ways out of this crisis: releasing box sets of old classics seemed to do well lately. Do you think these kind of multicross section projects can be an additional route to take to keep music fans/buyers interested?
Andrew Kelley: I think because this album is so special, throwing it into a regular cd package and just shooting a video and hoping for the best, wouldn't do it justice. We had to match what Adrian brought musically and what Ghost brought lyrically. With the different package configurations, the comic book, T-shirt & The Brown Tape; we were trying to give the fans the most bang for their buck. Hopefully, people support this album so we can continue putting out great projects.
Wu-International: We know from a recent webcast interview doing a themed album was something your colleague at Soul Temple Bob Perry had been brooding on for a while already. But whose idea was it to let the albums be accompanied with a comic series?
Andrew Kelley: That was Bob's as well. I think the storyline and the fact that Ghostface already was a comic book fan made it a natural transition into the comic world.
Wu-International: Was everyone down with this idea right away or did it take some convincing?Andrew Kelley: I think everyone was down right away.
Wu-International: I can imagine setting this all up: finding a good concept, writing the story lines, the music, getting Ghost on board, arranging all features and skits, organising the comics’ creation and artistic direction, etc… was a monster job?
Andrew Kelley: I think that's where Bob comes in. He is like a general overseeing the battlefield as an army prepares a mass invasion where the in-stores date is D-Day. We had plans for even more pieces but because of budget and scheduling issues they were put aside.
Wu-International: Did you ever think it was too ambitious or feel it was growing over everyone’s heads?
Andrew Kelley: No, not at all. Things just clicked naturally and everything fell into place.
Wu-International: Now that we are talking about the ambitions of this project, turning comics into film scenarios been one of Hollywood’s favourite ways of making hit movies. Combining music, comics and cinema would be really taking this all the way … do you feel the story could be strong enough to get Hollywood interested in a movie adaptation?
Andrew Kelley: Sure, why not? It’s sex, drugs, music & murder. Hollywood loves that.
Wu-International: Inspectah Deck’s collabo with 7l & Esoteric and Killah priest both already put out a great album in 2013, does this put extra motivation or pressure on this release to do even better?
Andrew Kelley: Extra pressure? Not at all. Anytime another Wu-Tang artist puts out a great album, it only strengthens the over-all Wu-Tang brand. Its good business for everyone to put out great products and be successful. This is the year of the Wu right?
Wu-International: When we talked in the past you had already stated this project got you very hyped. Did the end result exceed your expectations and ambitions for this album?
Andrew Kelley: Overall, I am very happy with the project on all levels. From the comic to The Brown Tape to the videos. Of course, I wanted all the Wu generals to make appearances, but due to scheduling etc, we weren't able to make it happen. Even so, it’s the type of album that Wu-Tang fans have been asking for and I’m really glad we were able to deliver.
Wu-International: Let’s go back to the Soul Temple label/crew. It’s safe to say the 2009 “Chamber Music” project birthed this refreshing pairing of talent behind the boards and in the studio (MC’s ànd musicians). How did this all start?Andrew Kelley: I think it started with Bob and his ability to get talented people that would work well together in the same room. He had already been working with Lil Fame on numerous projects and had The Revelations cranking away. I got brought in to help with Chamber Music based off of what I had done with AZ & The Memphis Sessions mixtape, as well as the Raekwon mixtape that I was working on at the time.
Wu-International: So far we had “Chamber Music” and “Legendary Weapons”. The team had started on Vol III “Blade on Blade”, which is a great title by the way. But that seemed to go less easy than the first two volumes due to the musical direction RZA wanted this to go? Apparently there were some 20 tracks recorded but you and the others weren’t really happy with the results? Why was that?
Andrew Kelley: Just to clarify, it was around 20 beats that were made, not full songs. Rza had experimented with reggae tracks on previous wu-tang albums here and there, so he wanted us to make a whole Wu-Tang reggae album. The problem was that the music was sounding like a reggae album with little Wu-Tang influence. I felt it had to be a Wu-Tang album with a little reggae influence. Rza & Rev Burke recorded a bunch of verses on the tracks & Shane brought in a number of old school reggae artists to sing hooks on the tracks to demo them out. Overall, it just wasn't working. Reggae for the most part is pretty uplifting and the melodies are very happy and upbeat. It just wasn't dark or "street" or grimey enough.
Wu-International: The reggae vibe RZA wished for “Blade on Blade” lead to the production crew reaching out to DJ Sureshot Shane and Frank Dukes. How did they help out specifically?
Andrew Kelley: Shane knows his reggae, he is definitely an expert on that and is also a great hip-hop producer. Back in the 90's when I was DJ-ing I unknowingly had bought a couple of the reggae compilation records he had put out. He brought in classic reggae break beats for The Revelations to replay (much the same way we had them replaying soul samples for Chamber Music & Legendary Weapons). Frank Dukes was brought in and did the same thing.
Wu-International: Are both now officially part of the Soul Temple production crew?
Andrew Kelley: They are both family. We plan on putting out a couple Frank Dukes projects this year, one entirely produced by him featuring one of the Wu generals.
Wu-International: When it comes to reggae vibe, RZA has constantly used the likes of artists as Suga Bang with outstanding success, had RZA or the team thought of who to use for this project as far as features?Andrew Kelley: The songs never got passed the demo stage so we didn't go in and start locking down features.
Wu-International: Eventually the first satisfying results of this project, some 6-7 tracks, were merged with other “outside” tracks on the Iron Fist Soundtrack. Looking back do you think this was the best solution to close the “Blade on Blade” project and incorporate what you had on the OST instead of trying to complete a full album for the “Chamber Music trilogy”?
Andrew Kelley: Definitely, we took the best beats we had and they became tracks like "Built For This" & "The Archer" on the soundtrack. To get a sense of what “Blade On Blade” should have sounded like, check out "Bust Shots" ft Deck, Ghost, Sheek & DJ Mekalek. (Originally, Mr Motherfuckin Esquire was also to be featured, but his verse came in too late to be included on the final master) This track was produced by Shane for “Blade On Blade.”
Wu-International: According to RZA there are some songs that got left out of the OST such as the initial version of “Blackout” with Styles P and a Joel Ortiz solo song. Can fans hope to hear those tracks some day on other releases?Andrew Kelley: Anything is possible, but I am chasing Rza to get unreleased versions of classic Wu-Tang records first. I have been trying to crack open that vault for a couple years now haha.
Wu-International: Can fans still hope for a third volume in the future? If so, any concrete plans or estimated timing already? Andrew Kelley: I don't see that happening anytime soon with the number of Wu-related projects we have on deck.
Wu-International: How did the storm Sandy impact or affect work or projects at Soul Temple?
Andrew Kelley: Sandy fucked everything up. It affected the studio we use, the place where the silk screening took place for the soundtrack vinyl and messed up shipping in general.
Wu-International: People who ordered the Iron Fist vinyl or collectors sets started complaining about the long delays and the (initial) lack of communication about those delays, leading to fans asking their money back and RZA putting out a “calm down” message online to assure them they would get their orders eventually. Maybe fans didn’t realize enough the troubles this project specifically went through but looking back, should you have done things differently you think ? Perhaps communicate more with the fans concerning the delays (one of the complaints from fans was their emails not getting answered) ?Andrew Kelley: It was something that no one could have prepared for. There was a record-breaking hurricane. Throw that at a small label on the rise and you have a major monkey-wrench in the mix. Hiring an outside company for all future orders was something we did right away and hopefully we never have to deal with something like that again.
Wu-International: Getondown announced they would team up with Soul Temple for a special set of the “12 RTD” album. Did the troubles with the Iron Fist sets lead to this decision?
Andrew Kelley: No, they just came to us with a great deal so we jumped on it. They’re a great company. I have the Raekwon Purple Tape set and the Nas Illmatic set they put out.
Wu-International: Let’s take a little look at the (near) future. On the webcast we already mentioned ,you said you would really like to set up a solo album for Killa Sin. Most Wu fans agree with you that this is an MC that really deserves this after all these years. Any concrete plans in that direction you can share with us?
Until contracts are signed, I don't want to speculate, but just know a Killa Sin album is my number one priority. If you have read my blog, you know I have been pushing for him since we started working on Chamber Music. I have been the driving force to get him on Legendary Weapons, Rza's Soundtrack & 12 Reasons To Die. I would be really disappointed in myself if we didn't get a solo album from him out this year.
Wu-International: A lot of interesting Wu releases are dropping this year, Cilvaringz is an artist that seems to be doing equally astonishing work like the Soul Temple team, as far as production, presentation and basically giving the core Wu fans exactly what they want. Do you mind sharing with us if Soul Temple is aware of Ringz’ work and current project in works and has any interest in putting this out through the ST label?
Andrew Kelley: I have spoken to Ringz through emails a couple times. He submitted beats for one of our upcoming Wu projects and I have asked him what his plans are for his album. I would love for it to be a Soul Temple release. But I think when it comes down to it, because of the nature of the album, Rza & him have to sit down and hash it out. Until that happens I don't think that album will see the light of day. I have also spoken with 4th Disciple, Bronze Nazareth & Allah Mathematics and they have all been supportive of what we are doing at Soul Temple and have even submitted beats for upcoming projects.
Wu-International: There’s still so much more we could ask about Soul Temple but we will have to leave some questions for Bob Perry. To end this interview, what have you learned from working with RZA on all these projects?Andrew Kelley: He really respects creativity. When you come to him with ideas, even if they might be a little crazy, he will still listen and offer input. He’s been doing this for more than 20 years so its’ inspiring to see him working on music in the studio and still have that passion. One thing I have learned is that its’ ok for things to be fucked up and wrong when it comes to making a beat. Sometimes when I’m chopping a sample, I go in and make sure its’ perfectly chopped and looped etc. Where guys like Rza & Fame, who grew up using older, sometimes broken equipment that limited what they could sample, would leave in mistakes or "happy accidents". The result would be a beat that has swing and a style that might sound "off" but because of how they chopped it, it sounds great.
Wu-International: Anything else you would like to share with the fans that have not been covered already ? Shout outs ?
Andrew Kelley: Definitely want to thank all the fans that appreciate and support great Hip-Hop and for you Wu-tang International for continuing to spread the word. Please support Soul Temple Records and the release of Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge's 12 Reasons To Die. Supporting this album, by buying it in any form, will help us to put out more Wu-Tang related albums and will ensure the fans will continue to get great product. Next up is U-God's Keynote Speaker, easily his best solo album to date.
Thanks very much for your time