INTERVIEW: 1200 on music education, “Séance” & “Spirit” and awards!

For the last several years, Jecorey Arthur, aka the amazing 1200 has been on a mission to make some of the most compelling and innovative hip-hop in the scene, however you define that. A hybrid of classical compositional work and traditional hip-hop tropes, his work transcends a variety of genres to become wholly unique, a cyborg pastiche of found sounds and provocative rhymes. This month finally sees the release of Séance and Spirit, his debut record(s). His work is multi-faceted, including collaboration on the Louisville Accord, work with a variety of orchestra’s, and performances at the last two Forecastle’s, the sum of which have earned him multiple awards.

Listen two Séance and Spirit via Spotify below:

We caught up to ask 1200 about his new record, performing with an orchestra, and his choice of super power!

Never Nervous: How have you been? Catch us up on what you’ve been up to for the last year or so.

1200: 2016 was a combined cycle of being Mr. Arthur, a business owner, and finishing these new albums – Séance & Spirit.

NN: What can you tell us about your new album(s)? What was the process like? Why did it take so long?

1200: The two sides are very different but internally very similar. Each song on Séance has a counterpart on Spirit (e.g. Problem on Seance and Solution on Spirit), but from a very different perspective musically and lyrically. Séance is approached like modern rap but includes my music-nerd moments. Spirit is far from a rap album musically. There aren’t drums on it until the last few songs, but it’s still percussive because it utilizes keyboards throughout. The earliest material on the albums date back to junior high. They took as long as they were supposed to complete. I think there were some life lessons that needed to occur before letting the projects go.

NN: What should fans expect from the new record? What label are you on? How would you describe the record to a people perhaps unfamiliar with your work?

“The new records will be everything you love and hate about the world.”

1200: The new records will be everything you love and hate about the world. Many social issues are addressed, from my perspective, and from others. My favorite thing about composing is the endless possibility to make something new. One of the songs on Séance, Problem, is very reminiscent of a modern trap track but features an interlude I sampled from a Hite Jam Band rehearsal. Hite Jam Band is a performance group from the school I teach music at, Hite Elementary, and the singers are extremely talented. I took the most evil, violent, loud song on the album, and added innocent 5th grade girls singing a Halloween cannon. Even beyond that, these are east end kids, singing the pity of a west end man, while my cousin G. Stone recites a poem about being a lost soul from the hood. These entities aren’t supposed to be on a song together, but of course I challenge that way of thinking. These layers are what I live for, because there really are no rules to creating. This music is brought to you independently from 1200LLC™, as all of my art is.

NN: What was the lineup for the recording? Did you work with a lot of the folks you’ve worked with before or did you bring in new collaborators?

1200: The lineup is old and new. Most of the music is self-produced. Jon Powell, the best sound engineer in Kentucky, had a hand in many tracks as well. I call him the best because he mixed everything from a choir, to glockenspiel, to low-fi instruments, to opera singers on this project. He made it all work in a special way that no one else could. Producers on Séance range from local talents like Nick B, all the way to my friend in Boston, Grand Kaiser. Spirit production is very different. I composed everything except for one track produced by Nick B. The features on both albums are special in nature and were all carefully chosen. The only other real rap feature is upcoming rapper/singer Metez Trice and he is on a track with metal guitarist Zach Groves. Cheyenne Mize is singing on a track where my 8-year-old brother Kamrin is freestyling his favorite dances. Otis Junior is on a track accompanied by Teddy Abrams and opera soprano Natasha Lynn Foley. The features represent juxtaposition, but symbolize segregation being broken. I love playing with opposite ends of the spectrum.

NN: For that matter, how collaborative was the process? Did you already have full compositional ideas in mind, or did you work with others to realize your vision?

1200: Not much was changed from my original compositions or sketches of the albums. I wrote parts for every feature besides Metez and some improvised sections. It’s toy-store-level-excitement when the perfect artist performs something you wrote for them. An example is what Jacqui Blue did on Secular (track 11 of Spirit). I wrote that chorus and she transcended it.

NN: I understand that you’ve toured some. What can you tell us about those experiences? What have you learned out in the world that you might not have otherwise?

1200: Being in any city outside of your own as a musician is fun because you get to make first impressions. My biggest discovery is that you never truly know your artistic value until you perform for new audiences. I played 6 shows over three days in New York City for 5,000 elementary students this month. The success of those shows was validation.

NN: How was Forecastle last year? How is that experience different than smaller, more intimate shows?

“No stage is too big to connect with audiences.”

1200: I treated Forecastle like an intimate show. I was in the crowd moshing, letting them sing on my mic, and interacting with them like it was a private recital. No stage is too big to connect with audiences. I cared more about the kids participating in my Forecastle set than actually playing at Forecastle. I wanted them to see other musicians at that caliber. I know it will inspire them to go far and beyond where I am.

NN: Relative to that, but how is your performance impacted when playing with a full orchestra versus playing with a small ensemble, if at all?

1200: Words can’t explain what it’s like to have an entire symphony orchestra playing your original music. Fortunately for me I was playing with orchestras as a percussionist well before rapping with them. It’s the same concept, but a different instrument.

NN: What is the album title “Séance and Spirit” about?

1200: Séance is about connecting with the dead and the underworld. Spirit is about accepting afterlife and Heaven. Both albums were inspired by life and death.

NN: How did it impact you to win the Emerging Leader in the Arts award last year?

1200: Awards are lame. Art is not a competition, but being recognized was humbling. I used my grant money to purchase a marimba and set up my studio where 1200LLC is. The best part of the awards was sitting next to Wendy Whalen. She’s the female Muhammad Ali of ballet. Her story is inspiring.

“Awards are lame. Art is not a competition, but being recognized was humbling.”

NN: How do you juggle your teaching and musical responsibilities? What have you learned from working with children that you might not have otherwise?

1200: I don’t. I was in the studio until 4:00 AM one night when finishing the album. I woke up the next day, picked up my little brother, went to school and taught music. Working with children I’m constantly reminded not to let my imagination die. The students aren’t afraid to pretend and challenge impossible, so why should I fear it?

NN: What super power would you pick if you could pick only one? Would you use it for something good and altruistic, or would you use it for personal gain?

1200: I would teleport – myself, objects, and other people.

NN: What is the best candy and why?

1200: It’s impossible to answer this question because Hershey’s stopped making their s’mores candy bar.

NN: What have you been watching, reading, eating, or drinking lately worth mentioning?

1200: Law & Order SVU, music theory books, random food, and I only drink water.

NN: What are your top three desert island albums today and why?

1200: I have only listened to Séance, Spirit, and Tchaikovsky lately. I’m about to go on a local music binge soon to start booking this next phase of ReSurfaced. Louisville music is in a very interesting place right now. I can’t wait to dive deep into a few new projects that are releasing.

Photo of 1200 by Katie Lee Jones