Interview 4080 - oddCouple talks HEAVN, previews Liberation, and names his favorite collaborators
Words by Frank Fernandez
Photo by Cooper Fox
By far the tallest member of the Closed Sessions roster, Zach Henderson, better known as oddCouple, is a producer who has worked with many of the hottest artists to come out of the city in the last few years. His collaborators include Chance the Rapper, Joey Purp, Lucki Eck$, Saba, Pell, Michael Christmas, Kweku Collins, among others. Fresh off executive producing HEAVN, Jamila Woods’ debut album, oddCouple has shifted his focus to completing his second solo project, Liberation. I sat down with oddCouple to discuss working with Jamila, becoming liberated, and his favorite artists to work with.
What was it like to work with Jamila on Heavn?
Working with Jamila on her album was amazing. It was such an eye opening experience because it was the first time I really got to work cohesively with an artist in the studio on an album from start to finish. Playing rough cuts of stuff, start ideas with them, listen to other tracks and get inspired from that, it was really my first time getting to executive produce somebody. It was great because it was a lot of give and take that I learned and I developed a lot from. At the same time, it was good because I was going through a lot of stuff where I was maturing as a man and working on this project with Jamila was amazing release therapy. Her music is super soothing and she puts so much emotion into everything and it all has a powerful message behind it, whatever the song is. She gave me something that I could really connect to and I’m also here making my own more ambitious, turn up-y, producer vibe music and it’s awesome. I’m taking things that I learned from her project and putting them into mine and it also allowed me to not want to force certain elements into my project because they were going on hers. I felt really free making my own project because I didn’t feel like I had to do this vibe or that vibe. A lot of the stuff I loved on Chatterbox (oddCouple’s 2015 project) I got to do even better on Jamila’s project.
How did the song ‘LSD’ come together?
Low key, I made that beat a long time ago. I made it in 2014, I was on a binge and was just coming up with a lot of hot ideas but the beats weren’t there. Jamila really has a talent at hearing an idea and you can see her light up when she hears something she likes, so I could be like “Okay, let’s develop this a bit more.” When we had our original sessions, she heard that one, and a couple others that may end up on her next project, but "LSD" really stood out to her. The Donell Jones sample got her right away, a Chicago cat and everybody knows that song, and she’s got a crazy story about that song... So when she heard it, something clicked and we kept writing and writing and we’d have the sessions and she would tell me different ideas.
One of the ideas was that we should get Chance on it. I was like, “Yeah, that’d be awesome, but…” I worked with Chance for the first time back in the winter of 2012 and that was the last time I worked with him directly on a track. So my whole thing was, if it happens that’d be great, but I’m not going to push that. I didn’t even want to get in the mindset of, “Oh, I hope he does it” because you know, that’s the homie and if he can’t do it, we’ll make it hot regardless.
Long story short, he ends up writing the verse in the studio, he was just working on it and vibing and really in a zone. He gets in the booth and starts spitting the verse. We had just been talking about "Mr. 3000" and he shouts out “Rest in peace, Bernie Mac”, which was great to me because I’m a huge Bernie Mac fan, anybody who knows me knows that. He dropped the cousins in Milwaukee line, which is very ill because I’m from there and that shit is glorious. His verse was just hot and you can tell that when people work with Jamila, they just catch the energy from her and there’s a lot of care in her music and it makes everyone else do the same. I naturally did that when working with her because you can just see how much she cares about her art.
Do you think the overall message of her album is important, especially in light of recent national and world events?
I think it is super important. Every infrastructural, political, or social time of change has soundtracks. In the 70’s, there was the psychedelic and fight the power rock, and now a lot of what Jamila is making is this bright music to power this push back against racial inequality and the blind eyes to it. It’s amazing to say that I got to produce a song like "VRY BLK" and see people listening to it and have them say, “Man, this song is awesome.” The message there is unbelievable and it’s really important for people to have a project, not only that they can gravitate towards, but it can also help power them through these times and they can feel a release through it. People can sing a song like "VRY BLK" and actually feel better or use it to champion this feeling of, “I don’t need to change, other people need to change. I’m me and you need to let me be me, the way that I let you be you.”
You mentioned it a bit before about picking up things from Jamila in the studio, but are there things she did that will stick with you and you will use in the future?
Definitely, she’s got great patience. I work a lot, like a full 40-45 hour week and I don’t sleep enough and I make a lot of music with different people, and Jamila was always patient about me getting back to her with stuff. She was super patient with everybody else about getting her pieces and even to the last minute, she was in it and the project never came off the rails and I never doubted her caring about it for a second. It was always like, “Oh, we’re just waiting a bit” or “so and so has to do this or that,” so that patience is something that I’m trying to take into my music. I just went down to the studio and did this hook on a song I’m doing with WebsterX for the third time and that’s just because everybody wants it to be perfect. As a producer a lot of times, you just feel like you can make it perfect by just finessing things in, but you got to really cherish it when you have artists who want to make their contribution perfect. They don’t want to look back and say “this was an 8, it could have been a 10,” instead they just go “here’s a 10, now what do you want to do with it?” That’s the kind of mindset you need to make classic records, and I was lucky enough to see and help someone make a classic. Now I want to keep applying that mindset to not only my own music, but the next Jamila project or the WebsterX project or the next Kweku project or whatever it is I’m a part of, I want to always bring that mentality. Jamila definitely helped me see that and it’s a turning point in how I create.
How is your new album, Liberation, coming along?
It started as just a four song thing, I made the four and I wasn’t really feeling it or feeling the vibe. I was just finishing up with the Jamila project and also trying to get out of a personal funk, like a sophomore slump if you will. I kind of just put myself in the box after Chatterbox, no pun intended, but I was in this mindset of not knowing which direction to move in. I was like, “Aw man, I don’t know what to do. People want to hear this soul shit, but it’s so hard to pull off...” I just realized that I needed to just relax and have fun with it. Once I got back to that, I started having a great time and I’m having more fun making music than I have in my whole life. I feel like I’m five years old making beats now because it’s enjoyable and the process of working on Liberation and Heavn has allowed me to take a much more fun turn. While it is fun, my music has become much more serious, and it is really collaborative music that people have made together and built through influencing one another. Almost every song has a message to it that you can take away and you can see what I’m seeing the light on and what we need to see the light on. There’s two aspects to the liberation: we need to find liberation, but also I found mine and you can find yours in yourself. If we do that, we can all be liberated.
Is there anyone you’ve been working with that you’re especially excited about?
It’s crazy because I’ve been working with so many people and the best part about it is that everyone involved is my homie! Like GLC, that’s the big homie, and the first time I met him, he just instantly became one of my favorite people. He’s amazing and hilarious and so street smart and it’s just so crazy to get to work with him because I’ve been listening to him since I was in like sixth or seventh grade. To be able to hear him killing it on my beats, it gets me pumped because he’s so cold! We’re really about to take this back and to be able to work with an OG is something I definitely had on my bucket list.
I also love to work with WebsterX. We have the coolest vibe, that’s the homie from Milwaukee and it’s so cool to get back to home roots. I know exactly where he’s coming from, exactly what he’s talking about, we always end up talking about the same places like “I used to get burgers at so and so” and it’s just cool because we’re on that level. It’s great to work with him because we have similar energy and he’s just a cool ass dude and we get along really well.
Obviously I love working with Kweku. That’s something I can’t even really explain too much. I met Kweku and it was instantly little brother and big brother, like that’s just my homie. We been through a lot of cool and weird and different shit over like the last year and a half that we’ve known each other. I’m just so invested in his career, that’s probably my favorite person to work with just cause I can see where his trajectory is going and sometimes he doesn’t even know it, so it’s so cool to just be able to say “aw man, you about to take flight!” That’s the coolest vibe and seeing how positive his music makes everyone around Closed Sessions feel is awesome.
Where did you get the name for your upcoming album, Liberation?
So, Boathouse made a project called Hibernation and the whole idea was for all of us to make our own hibernations. I was supposed to make one and Kweku was supposed to make one, and Boathouse was just going to kick it off. However, Boathouse’s project was so hot, I realized that I didn’t want to do another one in the series cause then it becomes a whole thing of “who did it better” and I don’t want to have that energy between me and him. I thought I should flip that and I was thinking “what’s the opposite of a hibernation? Hibernation is for the winter, what’s in the spring?” I thought about rejuvenation, but then decided against it and just thought it would come to me.
I then had a really bad fight with my brother, like worst fight we had ever had and my mom was freaking out. We ended up squashing it and got over a lot of shit from the past 15 years and it all happened in one night, it was just done. I felt like a new dude, like I had the weight of the world taken off my shoulders. I also broke up with my girlfriend, it was getting pretty serious and then it just hit me that it wasn’t right. It was a whole thing, I started at this temp job and before I know it, I’m full-time. I went from having a job I hated to being unemployed to getting a job with one of the best start ups in the country and I love it. So many things flip flopped on me and it’s not the things I thought. I expected to be popping with my music, but I don’t really care about that shit. The things that are going on around you and within yourself are what you need to deal with; if you do that, everything else will work out. I started focusing on that and enjoying the little things that were happening in my life, not saying that fighting with my brother and breaking up with my girl are good things, but the burdens and shedding all of it was liberating.
So I’m thinking and thinking about the name of this project and I just feel free as hell, like springtime is cool and all that, but it’s really about how I feel. I went with Liberation, which I chose in the middle of February, right around the same time Kanye dropped “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” and I could just feel it within myself that I was making the right decision. Sometimes God just places things around you and you weave through it and end up like “Ah this was a good trick” and that’s pretty much how it came to be.
How do you think you’ve grown as an artist/producer since you put out Chatterbox?
I’m 7’2” now! I’m dunking on Shaq! No for real, when I put out Chatterbox, I had this false idea that I was going to put this out and everything was going to change. I started to get a little shine, I got the blue check on Twitter, I got articles being written about me, but that’s not what it’s all about. You have to do this consistently and I’m a consistent producer, and that’s the state of mind you’ve got to keep. Stay focused, stay in it, and don’t get caught up in all the extra little things that come along with it. It’s crazy because I dropped that project and got some buzz off it, now things are way bigger than I thought they were then and right now I’m just thinking it’s cool and I got a plan for what I want to do once this wave is up. I know what I like and I know what is important to me, which I’ve super realized since I dropped Chatterbox because I thought I wanted fame but I don’t care about that. I care about making good music to the best of my ability, making sure my family and friends are straight, and that I’m doing right by everyone in my life, including myself, and everything else will figure itself out. I thought Chatterbox was a coming of age story for me, but it’s far beyond that now with Liberation.