Name: Luqman Brown aka Dope Sagittarius
Occupation: Musician, performer, producer
Current release: The new Dope Sagittarius album Sacred Places is available via Buddhabug.
If you enjoyed this interview with Luqman Brown, his official website is the best place to start if you're looking for more information about his work. He is also on twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
The impulse to create something comes from many different places for me. It could be anything—from something that happened in the news to a trippy dream I had one night. Like, when I do sound design for theater, the natural world has many sounds and layers to it. Like the sound of cicadas and crickets overlapping with the night wind. When I hear that kind of sound, a beat or lyrics will come to me.
The world around me is inspiring and I take a little bit of it every time I start to create. Then, sometimes I’ll come across a person that makes me feel a certain way that sets off a creative impulse. For example, I wrote the song “Alive” for someone very close to me who was going through some tough times. I wanted her to feel hope every time she listens to that song.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a visualisation of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
No, I don’t necessarily need to have a concrete idea in mind to get to the finished work. However, when I do visualize a piece of music it can be hard for me to write. For example, when I was writing the song “Define Love” I had an idea of what it would sound like, but it took me a while to produce the music I had in my head. Whereas with a song like “ Zoo York City” (from my earlier band, FunkFace), I had nothing in mind and the whole thing came to me in 5 seconds.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do research or create early versions?
Oh yes, I need to prepare for my writing session. Usually I have my DAW open to record what I’m doing. I have my MK3 plugged in so I can create a beat and a guitar to write melodies; sometimes a keyboard and a writing pad. Sometimes I do need to do research, especially when preparing music for a play. For example, for a play I did about a taxi drivers, I had to look up the sounds for all types of cabs and different types of meters. I used those sounds to create a customized song for the show.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
A lot of the time, I just like a clean house before I start. As well as a clean studio. It helps order my mind so other things can come through.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
It can be either/or with me. Sometimes I write lyrics first and sometimes I’ll come up with a few choice riffs or a beat. On my album Sacred Places for example, the easiest song to write was “Alive” because the lyrics just kind of flowed out of each other. Whereas with “Break It Down,” the music came first. It’s always easy for me to get the first line or note of a song. It’s the second line or note that gives me the most trouble.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
For me (for the most part), the lyrics come at the beginning. But sometimes the music comes first. The song usually comes more quickly when the inspiration grows out of an idea. “Alive” is an example of this.
But like me, lyrics grow and change until the song is finished. I’ve never written lyrics for a song that didn’t need to evolve or be revised once the music was added.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
Back in the day, I thought lyrics had to be slick or snarky to be good. But now that I have been playing for a while, I try to look deeper within myself and put forth quality lyrics— lyrics that really make the listener feel something other than the words themselves or being funny for funny’s sake.
I’m particularly proud of the lyrics for “Black Empress” because they gave me the space to speak out against the brutalities inflicted on Black people. I know I’ve done my job if a tune I created raises awareness, makes someone cry, or helps someone feel good about themselves.
Once you’ve started, how does the work gradually emerge?
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
Oh yeah, I follow where the narrative takes me. Once it’s done I may change it, but I try to not overthink anything before the work gets a chance to tell me where it wants to go.
The only time I try to keep more control over the song’s direction is when I’m working on the sound design for a play or writing a song for a film like Radha Blank’s 40-Year-Old Version.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
Oh yes, this happens to me constantly. And when it does, I usually have to stop for a minute to keep it from getting out of hand. Then I jot the many ideas down and return to them later, once my head is clearer. Then I can work on the ideas one at a time.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
I don’t like to question my personal creative process or the spirituality behind how I choose to express myself because I believe that if I truly understood it, I would lose the magic.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
When I’m feeling good about a song, it’s done. You just know.
What’s your take on the role and importance of production, include mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
Production on an album is very important to me. I like to have a hand in the sound of any album I’m putting together, whether mixing or mastering. That way I can break things down to a particular texture and produce the right color to any sound that I create.
Although I’ve been doing this with my band FunkFace for quite a while, in more recent years I’ve produced, mixed, and mastered many projects for others through my studio at Buddhabug Records—which has helped me develop my own sound and techniques for projects like Dope Sagittarius.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, There can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this- and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
Once I finish a piece or album, I like to perform it for anybody who will listen. While I’m performing music I get into a different state altogether. I’m more creative when I’m performing—more spontaneous and open.
Sometimes on the stage or on the road I feel my most creative and can write songs. Because I’m interacting with the people or environments around me. So I don’t feel the emptiness right away. Only when I’m feeling self-conscious or having writer’s block and the songs don’t come to me do I feel truly empty.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different for like making a great cup of coffee. What do you express though music that you couldn’t or wouldn’t in more mundane task?
Yes, I feel that writing a piece of music is different than making a good cup of coffee. You don’t spend hours of practice to make a cup of coffee. You don’t have your parents spending multitudes of dollars on classes and instruments to make a good cup of coffee. You don’t sit down for hours contemplating the endlessly different ways to implement 13s into your composition to make a great cup of coffee.
I equate music more with a great plate of food. It takes more thought and precision to prepare roasted oysters with warm butter mignonette than a cup good cup of coffee. You can feel from a good plate of food or a piece of music where the person is coming from. You get a sense of their heritage—their wants and desires. You can tell if they’re in love or sad.
There are some “mundane” tasks where you can still feel the soul of a person in what they’re doing. But a good cup of coffee ain’t one of them.