Interview by Parisa Eshrati
On their first collaborative album, New Mexico-based singer/rapper A. Billi Free and Michigan producer The Lasso lay down a foundation for a cathartic dance experience. By combining Detroit techno-inspired beats, groove-laden melodies and the vulnerable warmth of A. Billi Free's singing, Holy Body Roll provides an opportunity for listeners to reflect, grow and thrive. We caught up with the duo to discuss the making of the album, the collaborative process, and their favorite memes.
Let’s start by discussing the logistics of making the new record. It was produced remotely by sending demos and vocal tracks back and forth, so I’m curious if you started with a central theme or if it just came naturally in the process. Additionally, you had a couple work retreat meet-ups, what were those sessions like?
A. Billi Free: I don't think a central philosophical theme really hit until I started writing to the instrumental mixes. It also wasn't pointedly intentional more than it was an amalgamation of what Lasso and I were working through personally that could be translated universally given the context of everyone's lives circa 2020 - 2021.
The work retreat meetups were absolutely invaluable to the process. The hard work made it enjoyable because it was organized and focused. In the in-between moments there was lots of discussion and dreaming about the project, lots of chai lattes, lots of nature walks and lots of meeting with extended networks of friends. So even though the bones of the project were developed in different states the energy from these in-person work sessions really grew the sinew around the structure giving it that cohesive sheen.
The Lasso: This whole album unfolded naturally over the course of a year or two. Billi and I had also spent a lot of time learning how to collaborate while working on my album 2121; what styles and bpms worked for us and how to also share/work off the same Ableton sessions. I ask every artist I produce to send me mixes before we work. Language is inadequate when it comes to discussing music, it's better to listen and feel.
As the album title suggests, movement and dance is as much for joy as it is a healing process. Talk to us more about the idea of a dancefloor being a place for personal growth on this album and in general.
A. Billi Free: Dance floors are cyphers and cyphers are circles. The circle and sound has been an important element to humanity for a very long time. There is much power in a circle of people or in people gathered creating circles and shapes with and around their bodies. This movement and vibration promotes physical and emotional well being. It generates spiritual protection for those open to it. It creates community.
The Lasso: I don't dance enough to actually comment on this, but as a musician and a DJ you hope that your music will physically inspire listeners.
There’s a yearning for connection expressed throughout the album, and I appreciate how it parallels the fact that you two were able to create something cohesive despite your distance. Tell us more about this idea of music as a means to experience connection, even in solidarity.
The Lasso: Music is my way to connect in the world. I wish I had been given insanely good looks or a keen business acumen, but alas, music will be my way through my human years.
On that note, let’s talk more about the collaborative process. You two complement each other’s styles effortlessly while also maintaining your individual personalities. What were some conscious decisions you each made to highlight each other’s style?
The Lasso: I'm a producer, so I always need others to complete my musical vision; whether that's additional musicians, songwriters, or vocalists. For me, it was never really that conscious or deliberate, I think the collaboration only got to the point of actual creation because we naturally fill in a lot of holes for each other's artistry. For most albums, I just stack dozens and dozens of beat options for the artist and let them kind of dig through. For Holy Body Roll, it was more like I'd put all this energy into individual tracks, then Billi would focus on one track ‘til it was done. I make sure to send out beats that really move artists to write, but also have a lot of space for them emotionally and melodically.
The track “Thrive, Despite” is about not only pushing through the trials in life, but thriving through it all. Please elaborate on the idea of surviving vs. thriving reflected in this album, and the overall importance of being able to flourish.
A. Billi Free: Sometimes I think surviving gets a bad rap. Though it is said you can't thrive if you are only surviving, you definitely have to survive in order to thrive. Surviving is important but its negative connotation for one's life does not have to be a permanent state. In its exaltation, surviving is a show of desire, strength and adaptation. Surviving makes clear the tools and resources we have at our disposal (artistry, friendship, opportunity, etc). Surviving can give way to gratitude. Gratitude attracts blessings. In a very realistic way, we choose to mine for joy and look forward to thriving despite being in the throes of survival mode. I feel this comes across on the album in a very grounded way.
The Lasso: I'm hoping to thrive in 2023.
While the overall message of the album is positive, I appreciate that it takes a light approach by celebrating the little joys in life. Talk to us about creating renewal through a minimal stance. And The Lasso - please elaborate about mimicking these feelings of playfulness and regenerating in a sonic sense.
Lasso: I don't know how the album came out so playful, I was going through a lot of personal shit and was totally miserable while making it, but I also only really create music when I'm happy or inspired. There's nothing inspiring for me in misery. I guess I chose my spots and made sure to create when I had that vibrant feeling, even if it came amidst some turmoil.
You two will be playing HOCO Fest coming up in Tucson and doing a Mello Music live session on Bandcamp - any tour plans after that? What else can fans look forward to from you both in the near future?
The Lasso: No music plans right now.. The vinyl for Holy Body Roll starts shipping this week, excited for it to continue to find new listeners. We are filming the AZ shows as well as a festival in Michigan, hopefully be able to drop a live video if all goes right.
Lastly, since the track “My Dreams” talks about your mind being filled with “strange shapes and fire memes”, please drop your current favorite memes below.
The Lasso: I love this lyric, I've seen reviews both applaud and criticize this lyric. All our heads are stuffed with memes these days, it's a new language for humans.
A. Billi Free: My favorite current memes below: