Minnesota hip-hop collective Doomtree has been putting out records for the better part of a decade, but none of the label’s releases have seen Internet hype build the way that Wugazi has. The project — a mash-up of Wu-Tang Clan and Fugazi songs — is the brainchild of Doomtree producers Swiss Andy and Cecil Otter, and it’s grabbed our interest just like it has from corners of the Internet that don’t usually pay attention to independent hip-hop collectives from Minneapolis, like CBS News, a zillion Tumblr blogs (can Fuck Yeah Wugazi be far behind?), and the official Twitter feeds of both Wu-Tang’s management and the venerable Washington D.C. punk label Dischord. Mostly, Wugazi has resonated because there’s a surprising amount of crossover between fans of the Wu-Tang Clan and Fugazi, and both of those bands inspire a whole lot of passion and loyalty in their devotees. To better understand why the dudes behind Wugazi were the first two to combine those passions, MTV Hive caught up with Swiss Andy and Cecil Otter over the weekend to get a timeline of the project.
The Pre-History Of Wugazi
Swiss Andy: We’re both kids of the ’90s. Skateboarding and that stuff was such a big part of the culture, and both [Wu-Tang Clan and Fugazi] were a big part of that. I was never a hip-hop kid, but I loved Wu-Tang. And hip-hop kids who don’t love punk rock love Fugazi. Everything behind those groups is so sincere.
Cecil Otter: These are the two most DIY bands I’ve ever been into in my life.
Swiss Andy: Around when The Grey Album came out, I was super into the fact that what [Danger Mouse] did wasn’t just put one thing on top of another. He produced songs, not just a mashup. That idea got stuck in my head with the two main musicians who were in my headphones all through the 90’s -– Wu-Tang and Fugazi. I was a skateboarder, and any skateboarder, that was all they listened to in the ’90s. So I tried to do it, but I sucked at Pro Tools, and it fizzled out pretty quick.
Swiss Andy: Last year, I was hanging out with Cecil. We were on a pontoon boat last Memorial Day.
Cecil Otter: I was driving a pontoon boat shirtless, and he turned around to talk about some other music we were working on — stuff with an acoustic guitar and vocals that he asked me to turn into some un-hip-hop kind of beats. And since he had me there, he asked me about this idea. “I want to do a project of Wu-Tang and Fugazi songs called Wugazi.” I thought it was hilarious. I got it immediately — I imagined the two together, and it worked. We’d bring it to a party and show it to people.
Swiss Andy: We had no fucking master plan at all. Making music is fun, making music with other people’s music is fun. It was just a project to keep us out of the bar all night.
Cecil Otter: The first night, we made three songs. It happened so quickly. “S.R.E.A.M.” [“Sleep Rules Everything Around Me”] was the first track that we ever made, and we were in awe of how easily it came together. We made two more tracks after that, and we burned them onto a CD, because we had to show our friends immediately. We started blaring them in the car, and we met up with Paddy [Costello] from Dillinger Four — we were at the club, and he came up to the car, and was all about it. That got us all excited — like we struck accidental gold.
Cecil Otter: I had projects that were more pressing, but Andy would call me at six, and be like, “Hey, wanna Wugazi?” Like it was a verb. People would be like, “Shouldn’t you be working on your record?” But it’s fun. We had no plan, except to sample Wu-Tang and Fugazi. Just to make samples and have fun. I’m in my studio twelve hours a day — I would be at my house when Andy gets out of work, and he’d call me. “I got a twelve pack, let’s do it.” We’d open up iTunes and mess with songs, start sampling in Pro Tools, and run Wu-Tang acapellas over the beat.
Swiss Andy: There are so many Wu-Tang acapellas, too.
Cecil Otter: They’re so hard to find. If we had access to all of them, we’d have made 36 songs. Easily. We thought about contacting Wu-Tang to ask for acapellas.
Swiss Andy: We were just sampling in Ol’ Dirty interrupting at the Grammys. “Wu-Tang is for the children!”
Cecil Otter: With Wu-Tang hits, you don’t get all the acapellas for my favorite songs, for a lot of people’s favorite songs. Some of the Gravediggaz verses aren’t even the original verses — they’re the b-side verses.
Swiss Andy: They still hit hard, though.
Cecil Otter: I like that they’re not all hits. I like that they can be songs that weren’t huge hits, that never made it out there. Because they sound great. I like that we had to go that route.
Swiss Andy: I had Fugazi songs that I wanted to do, but it was all about tempo. It was kind of challenging finding the perfect tempo. I think that was more than anything else what drove what we could sample.
Cecil Otter: Andy was very adamant — we’ve already done one song off of Repeater, let’s use a song off of every album. But that’s where “S.R.E.A.M.” came from — it was only on the DVD soundtrack. It’s so dope.
Swiss Andy: I think the only real Fugazi banger we used where people will be like, “Oh, you fuckers! You sneaky bastards!” is on “Waiting Room.”
Swiss Andy: It’s kind of amazing, the percentage of negative reactions to positive. It’s like .1%. It’s kind of hilarious. Everybody’s like, “This makes sense for some reason.”
Cecil Otter: I had no idea people would be so excited.
Swiss Andy: I was talking with a friend of mine a couple days ago, and he was like, “You guys are really big with my New York black metal friends.”
Cecil Otter: These dudes are total death metal dudes from New York, and they’re totally into it.
Swiss Andy: The morning after we put up the first song, I checked on the SoundCloud, and it went nuts. Somebody tweeted about it at 9AM, and by 10 o’clock I had to get a premium account. We didn’t get any clearances, but we’re not putting it up for sale. When we drop it, we’re gonna set up a thing so if you want to donate money, you can, and it’ll all go straight to charity.
Cecil Otter: When it first started getting attention, I actually started getting worried. “Is Fugazi gonna hate us? Is Wu-Tang gonna hate us?” We didn’t put our names on it at first. But we really wanted to push these two groups. We’ve got it set up so that it’ll show on each track what it comes from — “This is an ODB verse from this track,” — and a link so people can support this music and go get it on iTunes.
Swiss Andy: Dischord tweeted about it, and Wu-Tang’s management tweeted about it, so I think they’re cool with it, too. Having Dischord tweet this was the biggest compliment ever. There’s –- it must have been 1997 or something, when I sold my only guitar amp so I could get to Minneapolis to go to a Fugazi show. Wugazi is definitely an homage — we’re not just putting this shit together to be cool. Having them respond in any way is amazing.
Wugazi’s 13 Chambers is out today. Download at Wugazi.com.