I spoke with Kyle Myhre, better known as Guante, the day after doing a spoken-word show at the University Northern Iowa. The week before, he participated in an MPR roundtable while continuing to work on and promote his new album with Big Cats!, and the week after he is doing a performance and workshop at Carelton. He is the proof that if you are passionate about something, you never have to limit yourself.
The Wake: You just had a show at the University of Northern Iowa, so how did that go?
Guante: It was great. I mean, it’s the best thing to be able to go somewhere new and do all of my old material that I can’t do in the Twin Cities anymore because everyone’s heard it. It’s really nice. That’s what I’m doing a lot these days is just traveling, particularly to colleges.
BEGINNINGS AND MINNEAPOLIS
W: Let’s back up a little bit. You’re active in the spoken-word community, the hip-hop community, and you’re an avid activist, among other things. How did you get into all of this? Was it the poetry that everything else branched out from?
G: I mean, actually…it definitely comes from one place inside of me. It just was circumstance that when I went off to college all these different factors…I went to school in Madison and this was at a time when the spoken-word scene in Madison was just kind of jumping off and the hip-hop scene was reaching a point where there was a really positive, supportive community going on. And Madison has a long history of being an activist campus. So I was able to plug into all three things at the same time and look for places where there is synergy too, but, at the same time, they’ve always been three separate parts of my identity. I just got lucky that the circumstance allowed that to happen and I’ve been really to have community around me both in Madison and here in the Twin Cities. That’s been really supportive and helpful.
W: Why did you pick Minneapolis? Because with your broad range of interests you could easily be as actively involved in a larger urban city. What keeps you here?
G: A lot of it was, again, about community and personal connections. Like when I was living in Madison Shá Cage and e.g. bailey who run Minnesota’s Spoken Word Association here in the Twin Cities were coming down once a month or so to do work in Madison and I met them. We hit it off and they invited me to join their crew, their record label and it was based in Minneapolis called Tru Ruts. I had been wanting to make the move anyway and Minneapolis is just a bigger community, there are more opportunities, more things going on – even though there are bigger communities out there I think Minneapolis is a really great place to do what I do as a spoken-word artist and a hip-hip artist and an activist – there are those communities going on. It made a lot of sense to move up here. I’m not actually on the label [Tru Ruts] anymore, but I still really appreciate everything that they did.
CHANGING IT UP
W: You have a ton of upcoming events like a workshop and a performance at Carleton and then you have Hip Hop Against Homophobia at Central High School, and things like that. I hate to ask people like, “How do you do it? You’re so busy! How do you handle it all??” But it’s not like you’re in a band playing the same songs every night, it’s always a different sort of performance or different material, so how do you stay grounded?
G: It may seem counterintuitive but I think it actually helps that every time I do a show it’s very different, because it’s always a new challenge. It never gets boring. Like last night all I did was spoken-word and then I went and workshopped a speech team, basically, who were practicing for their speech nationals, and that sharpens a certain of my brain. And another night I’ll just do a hip-hop set with a DJ and that sharpens a different part of the brain. It’s fun. On one hand, it’s the constant challenge on the artistic side but also just like as a small-business person or whatever being able to be versatile like that has opened up a lot of doors to me. And then on top of that, being able to do workshops whether that’s teaching or talking about poetry and performance or whether that’s a social-justice-oriented thing being able to do all three in any given situation has been a blessing.
A LOUD HEART
W: So you’re invested in spoken-word and in hip-hop, but you have this group with Claire Taubenhaus called A Loud Heart and it’s this mix of folk and rap. Why did you want to mix these genres?
G: I think the impetus behind that project, and this relates to poetry and hip-hop too, is that I am very much a concept person. For me, not just my own stuff but the stuff that I listen to, I care most about the words and the substance. I’ll listen to a rapper who has wack beats if he’s saying something interesting. And I’m also much harder on artists who, even if they’re brilliant artists, aren’t saying anything. I really care about substance and I think that lines up with spoken-word and hip-hop but it lines up very much with folk music which traditionally it’s not about having the most complex guitar progressions or the most beautiful, perfect singing voice – it’s about saying something and about foregrounding the content and the substance. So I’ve always wanted to experiment with that and when I met Claire she was really down to do something similar too and it was a very natural partnership. I’m happy with – actually, it’s gotten a lot of bad reviews – but I’m really happy with how it turned out.
W: Really? Because, well, I guess I haven’t looked into the reviews, but I’ve only heard positive things from college kids and those I’ve talked to in the poetry community.
G: That’s great. I mean, I expected it to get some bad reviews because I want everything I put out – for people to either love it or really, really dislike it, because there’s so much that’s in the middle. There’s so much B+ hip-hop out there that does everything right but doesn’t do anything great that a big part of that project was trying to reach beyond that and just try something new and of course that’s going to turn some people off. But I’m really proud of it. I think some of those songs are some of the best songs I’ve written and Claire did a really, really great job.
W: A Loud Heart released one album, but do you have any plans to go further with it or do any more shows? You have one coming up, but anything beyond that?
G: We’re going to keep playing shows and promoting the album we have. The thing is, part of being involved in a lot of stuff is that it’s tough to find time, particularly to do a follow-up to that one. Claire has a solo album that’s going to be coming out in a couple months that she’ll be pushing and I have the next Guante and Big Cats! album which I plan on pushing for a very long time. It’s a really, really big release. So if we ever do a follow-up to A Loud Heart it won’t be for quite a while.
GUANTE AND BIG CATS!
W: Guante and Big Cats!, the latter also know for The Tribe & Big Cats!, you guys are releasing…this is your fourth release, right?
G: Yeah, I guess, technically. It’s our second album album, but in between that we put out an EP and a mixtape.
W: The new album is called “YOU BETTER WEAPONIZE.” Do you guys have an official release date for that?
G: Right now it’s just Fall 2012, so I’m thinking October but it’s still up in the air in terms of the specifics.
W: What can we expect from this album compared to your other releases?
G: I know every artist will say this, but it’s definitely the best thing that I’ve ever done and I think it’s some of the best work that he’s ever done too. He’s been doing some really amazing stuff with The Tribe lately, but in terms of the production it’s right up there with The Tribe stuff. Then for me it’s been kind of the culmination of everything I’ve been working on for the last five years, in terms of songwriting, like being able to frame the message that I want to put across in an interesting way but also understanding pop songwriting. Not “pop” as in it’s a pop album, but just the idea of how verses and hooks build and the dynamics of songs. In terms of the substance of it, it’s a very challenging album, but in terms of the sonics of it, it’s, I think, a very traditional album. It’s 16-bar verses and 8-bar hooks, but they’re catchy and they’re funny. The thing that I’m really excited about with the album is that just about every song, I think every song except for one or two, is a concept song. They’re songs about stuff, which seems really stupid, like, “Isn’t every song about something?” But so much underground hip-hop isn’t about anything, it’s just like, “This kinda sounds cool.” It’s just stream-of-consciousness. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but this is an album is definitely a statement of: if you’re going to be a songwriter you can only benefit from having a hook or a concept or some kind of central thesis. And they’re interesting too. There’s a song about the way that sexuality is used in American politics. There’s a song about being mixed-race. There’s a song called “The Guide To Revolution” about forgetting the whole conspiracy theory bullshit and just talking about where change really comes from, and everything is around this kind of theme.
ON CONCEPT MUSIC
W: You talk a lot about social and political issues in your poetry and your music, I mean, pretty much everything you’ve done is a concept piece. But there’s sort of a stigma around this sort of music that, a lot of the time, tends to make it not the most popular form. What has been your experience putting it out?
G: I think there’s truth on both sides of the argument. On one hand, I think a lot politically-oriented music isn’t very good, it’s just kind of yelling and preaching to the choir and a lot of rhetoric and platitudes that don’t really challenge people or push people. So what I’ve tried to do as a songwriter for all the new stuff, and even the stuff I’ve been writing for the past couple years, is go beyond. It’s one thing to say, “Don’t trust the government! blah blah blah the President is bad,” or whatever. It’s something else to really try to dig deep into these issues and not just hit them from a surface level, so that’s where I think the challenge comes from. And on the other side of the argument, there’s always going to be people who just aren’t trying to hear that, people who don’t want to listen to that stuff. So you can kind of say, “Well forget you then,” to some of them, but then on the other hand if you can write a song that, despite its content, is still an engaging song and sounds good and is fun to listen to, you can reach some of those people too. So I’m luck to have Big Cats! who is a phenomenal producer who has a really great ear for pop music, for what people want to hear. It’s a balance of the concept being challenging or substantive and the music which just by itself is really great.
W: What are the projects that you’re most excited about coming up?
G: I mean, definitely the Guante and Big Cats! album is the best thing I’ve ever done and I’m really excited for people to hear it. Beyond that kind of stuff, I’m helping to found this website that’s…I don’t know how to explain it really. It’s really, really short, simple answers to commonly misunderstood social-justice concepts. It’s like a 600-word article on what is “identity,” what is “privilege,” why the term “reverse racism” isn’t really a thing, talking about rape culture, talking about feminism – these things that people routinely get wrong in Facebook arguments or Twitter arguments or in real life. I want it to be a resource so if you’re in one of those Facebook arguments with someone you can just post a link to a page that will hopefully break it down in as simple language as possible. So that’s something I’m excited about. It’s not public yet, so people can follow me on Facebook or Twitter and they’ll hear about it.
Show listing and tons more: www.guante.info