Since releasing their third disc last year, Big Quarters have taken their message to new levels, opening for Atmosphere on the "Welcome to Minnesota" tour and maintained their monthly showcase for aspiring producers, the Last of the Record Buyers.
Brothers Brandon "Allday" and "Medium" Zach Bagaason have been as passionate about mentoring young artists as they have been about promoting their own work. Their new EP, Somos no Joke, captures the duo as full of pride and passion as ever. They'll celebrate its release on Friday at the Icehouse. Gimme Noise met the brothers in their south Minneapolis neighborhood to talk about the past year.
Gimme Noise: Did your experience touring with Atmosphere lead you to consider leaving the Twin Cities to pursue a bigger audience?
Brandon Allday: Our family is from Minneapolis -- well, our Dad is from Northern Minnesota and our Mom is from south Minneapolis, just a couple blocks over there. My wife and I bought a house five blocks the other way. All our family is here and even though we were born and raised in Illinois, Minneapolis and Minnesota is home base for our family. There's real strong support for us here.
Medium Zach: I feel like when we moved here twelve years ago I didn't want to move again. It remains a goal now that we're able to make music and tour. Six years ago when were were playing out of town in LA and said we were from Minneapolis, people knew about what was going on here.
BA: People were asking about our friends - 'Do you know POS? Do you know Brother Ali? Do you know Los Nativos?' We see the influence that the Twin Cities has all over. There's an international presence in hip hop here.
MZ: Growth can get stunted if you don't leave more. We're working hard to get out of town more. We're new everywhere we go, and touring is a lot of fun because we get to do the best we can for a new audience that hasn't seen us before.
GN: You're pretty grounded here not just a performers, but as mentors and educators.
BA: We've developed our role in the Twin Cities and we're proud of it. We're proud of having a hand in creating a hip hop producer community, and what we've done with the Last of the Record Buyers. We have a following and we're privileged to have an outlet. We can put out something like Somos No Joke and say this is what we're doing right now.
BA: We fund our records by playing shows. We don't have [label] support. We don't have a publicist, we don't have anybody who's booking our shows. Our message is that we control the message by putting it out there ourselves. We retain creative control. Because where we come from and our story is different, there's not a lot of people who see the same vision we see. Our album From the Homes of Brown Babies and White Mothers, that was something that few people addressed, especially in an album title. We're multi-racial. The people who identified with that became Big Quarters fans and supporters.
MZ: Chicanos are our biggest fans. We're representing something that's under-represented in Minnesota and in the Midwest. I wouldn't have it any other way.
CP: There's also Los Nativos, who played at your release show for Party Like a Young Commie.
MZ: Los Nativos are friends and mentors. They were doing it before we were. When I was in eighth or ninth grade our Mom gave us a CD, a Mexican Minnesota CD, and there were mariachis and stuff and one rap song. It was Los Nativos. She said, 'Check this out.'
BA: We feel pride in where we come from and it feels great to feel the pride that others have in our music.
CP: For the Somos No Joke release show you've booked a couple newer acts, Manny Phesto & Julian Fairbanks and Bomba de Luz.
BA: Julian Fairbanks and his crew have been playing shows nonstop for the last year and a half. They [Audio Perm] opened at the POS release show. Julian has a project with Manny Phesto called "Social Capital" which they released online for free. We've known them for years.
MZ: I place a lot of value on a whole album. We tell young people to create whole projects. I like hearing an album where there's a consistency or an aesthetic to it, or a good relationship between an MC and a producer. I want to shed more light on that, and they were one of the first names that came up. We always want to introduce our audience to something new.
Bomba de Luz is a four-piece - drummer, bass, singer and guitar. They're all students at Central High in St. Paul. We met Lydia Hoglund when we were working at McNally Smith's hip hop workshop camp with Sean McPherson. We had the campers divided into three groups and Lydia was in mine. I've run into her since and she always tells me what she's up to - I really like what they're doing, and we want our fans to enjoy what they come out and see.
BA: I've been doing youth work consistently for the last eight years. We were invited to help develop the hip hop program at McNally Smith, and I've been teaching entrepreneurship at high schools, working with students to develop business plans.
MZ: I teach one class, hip hop production at McNally Smith.
BA: And we've also been working with Hope Community Center for eight years. We've gained a lot from working with young people. We're inspired by them, especially at Hope Community, but it's not something we're trying to take out of the experience, it's something we're trying to give back. Funding for youth work in the arts is really hard to come by right now. We've seen it because we've been contracting for eight years, and the work we do with Hope is seasonal. For us, a social justice perspective and our views on education tie into our music. It's not separate.
MZ: The reason we can sustain Big Quarters is that it's just the two of us and we reinvest everything we make. We're making music because we're passionate about it.
BA: I talked to Brother Ali and he said, 'When I hear your music it's like hanging out with you.' I feel like we can represent ourselves a hundred percent on record. There's parts that are loud and intimidating and confrontational, and parts that are vulnerable. There's parts about hanging out with our crew of friends, and there's parts about our travels in hip hop, and parts about our family and where we come from. That's all in our music.
Big Quarters will celebrate the release of Somos no Joke at the Icehouse on Friday. Also performing will be Julian Fairbanks and Manny Phesto, and Bomba de Luz. 10:30, $7 cover.