Eyenine Interview Exclusive
Michael “Eyenine” Dionne
Interview by: Cait Reagan
I’m sure there are many, but what purpose does music serve for you?
Music is, I guess, what I live for, as stupid as that sounds. If I wasn’t doing music I would probably just not be doing anything. It keeps me going during the day when I’m listening to it, it keeps me creating when I’m working on it, I guess it’s all encompassing like that.
What other passions besides music do you have in your life?
As of right now, not many. It’s actually taking up most of my life. But when I have free time, I like to play tennis or play soccer. Or reading, I guess. See, it’s usually that if I’m not rapping I’m playing other types of music, like playing guitar in a band. I play guitar, bass, a little bit of piano, trumpet, I’m proficient on drums. I guess I can keep a steady beat, just being in like a jam band, trading off instruments.
Do you ever create your own beats to go back and rap to?
Yes. For amusement purposes and for recording purposes; on Afraid to Dream I made half of the beats on it, and Insomnia Sessions I made Typerwriter, that’s the only one I made. The new one I didn’t make any of them, but I’ve made a lot of my own beats and rapped on them.
At what point in your life did you come to the conscious decision that you wanted to pursue a life of rhyme?
When I lost my job because I was doing too many shows. I guess that was the moment. I had a full time job with full benefits working with computers. My boss had to fire me after three years, but when he did he actually shook my hand and said, “This is for the better. You need to concentrate on music more because you’re actually going places.” Shortly after that I ended up getting picked up.
Tell me about how you got picked up by the Wu Tang Clan.
I was performing at a benefit show in Portland, Maine. The night before, Tuesday, Wu Tang got together and played a show at the State Theatre in Portland. A girl that is friends with my friends who run Rap Night, Ill By Instinct and Shupacabra, was working at the hotel and was like, “Oh, you should go check out Rap Night.” So RZA and Daddy-O, who is now my manager, showed up to Rap Night as I was performing and RZA was like, “Who is that?” So they found out, they asked the owner of the club (The Big Easy) who I was. They got my number, then they called me the next day and they were like, “You’re coming out on tour.” So I went.
Who was in your boombox most growing up?
At a young age, it was Kriss-Kross. I guess that’s how it all started. I was able to rap the whole Kriss-Kross tape from start to finish, both Kriss’ parts. Later on was a lot of Beastie Boys, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Run DMC. And I guess Eminem, too, as a teenager.
Is rhyming a state of mind that you have to get into, or is that creative flow always pumping in your head throughout the day? What’s your process for creating songs?
For creating songs, it’s funny, I actually just made a song the other night, but I usually have to be in a shitty mood to create a song because usually none of them are positive songs. But the other night I was with my brother and he wrote this guitar part, he told me, “hey write a verse.” I was like, “It doesn’t really work like that.” He told me to just try it so I sat down and I actually wrote a verse that I really like. I guess it depends on who I’m with and what I’m doing. No pun intended, but there’s not really a rhyme or reason to how it happens. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen and sometimes I’ll sit down and when I stand back up I have a complete song. It just all comes out at once, or it doesn’t come at all.
What’s the freestyle process like?
It’s a little bit different, depending on where I am. If I’m at Rap Night, it’s a bunch of different MCs passing the mic. It’s basically like, be short and sweet, say something that’s entertaining, say something that’s funny. If it’s at Open Mic and there’s a band, usually I just have something in mind, like where I want to start, and then my brain just slowly shuts off and I don’t know what I’m talking about for a while. Freestyling always goes down different paths.
Speaking of Open Mic and Rap Night, what motivates you to stay on the local music circuit?
Well, Rap Night has expanded actually. We still have Rap Night in Portland on Wednesdays, and then we have Rap Night in Manchester, NH on Sundays, and then Open Mic on Tuesdays in Portsmouth, NH. Three nights a week I’m just freestyling and performing, in addition to shows I put on. It’s what’s fun for me, just like what anyone does for fun. Some people play basketball four nights a week, I like to perform. Sometimes I like to just play in an open situation where people are having a good time in a positive atmosphere, and I can just go in and play. It’s fun.
What messages or themes are you trying to capture and emphasize in your most recent album, Dissembler?
If you look up the word dissembler, it means to hide behind a false appearance. It’s talking about the separation between me as a person and me as an artist, the lines are starting to blur and I can’t differentiate if I’m talking to people as Eyenine or if I’m talking to them as Michael. It’s a scary thing; lately more people in my life know me as Eyenine, but don’t know my real name. Dissembler is wearing a mask in public; people don’t know who you are.
Tell me about the artwork on the album cover.
The artwork was done by Josh Tetreault, who also directed my music video for Wasted and did the artwork for Afraid to Dream. So, when it came time to do another album I went to him first. I wanted something celestial, something that looks like it was shot from outer space, but it didn’t have to be real. It could be a painting, or anything. He was working on this project with another artist and they were taking really, really close up pictures of things underwater. It kind of looks like space but they’re actually organisms that live under water. So Tetreault was like, “Oh, I have something right up your alley.” He showed me a few pictures, we chose the ones that we wanted on each of the covers and he formatted them. I don’t know, I felt like the celestial shot fit with the album.
What did you want to do differently from your first two albums on this album?
Slower and shorter. A lot of my stuff wasn’t accessible to people besides like die-hard Eyedea or Sage Francis or Atmosphere fans because it was just too fast. This album is slower, the beats are by El Shupacabra, they’re a lot more music oriented, lots of samples of real instruments instead of the digitized stuff. All the drums are real samples from older records, not drum machines. Also, the first two albums are about girls. I was a teenager when I wrote them, and I just felt like, everyone’s done that. A bad breakup from a long relationship, even Atmosphere did that with Fuck You Lucy, but I’m over that. I wanted to write more about how I feel now as an adult. And it’s probably more accessible to adults and less about, “Yo, I totally loved your album, I just went through that, I was with this girl and she cheated on me.” It’s just slower, more adult.
What other projects have you been working on?
Recently I’ve been working on myriad side projects. I am part of a band, Radiant Flow, where I am the vocalist. If I had to sum it up I I would say it’s like Rage meets The Roots. Human Speakers is a hip hop trio with NH based rapper Seth on Gray Street and DJ Myth. Rhode Brothers is the most diverse of the side projects, Omar (The If In Life and Dead Sun, Dead Earth) makes the music and we both lay down the vocals. Each track we have is dramatically different from the last. One last project is Band of the Hawk, a giant collaborative effort of rappers from New England. The end result should be a classic.
Above: “Eyenine, Ghostface Killah and Shupacabra”
What’s the best nugget of wisdom you’ve gotten from touring with RZA and members of the Wu fam?
Don’t turn your back on stage. That’s a big one. At the end of every show, RZA’s DJ, Skane, and the tour manager KGB, would be holding up a number with their hands as I was coming off stage of with the number of times I turned my back to the audience. It’s just a fatal flaw for artists; it disconnects you from the crowd. As the tour went on the number got to zero and it flatlined at zero for the rest of the tour. Another was dropping beats, Shupe would cut the beat out at important parts and I would emphasize the last line, and then he’d bring the beat back in. It brought a lot of dynamic to the songs. Always be there for sound check. Always be there for sound check, no matter what. And always have someone who can fix your vehicle in your vehicle.
At the end, after the California show, DJ Skane and RZA both came up to me separately and they were like, “You know, when we picked you guys up you guys were just some local artists that we thought were promising, you guys are professionals now. You took our guidance with an open mind, you didn’t fight anything that we said. You took it to heart and made it a part of your set. You guys are professionals now.”
If you could settle down and live anywhere in the world for fun, where would you want to go?
The only other place I’ve found that I could live would be Austin, Texas, during anytime but the summer. For just the summer, it would be Venice Beach. Anything else, I couldn’t live outside of New England. New England is perfect.
If you could freestyle with any rapper, dead or alive, who would it be?
Eyedea, if he were still alive. I got to hang out with him; I got to make a song with him. I got to freestyle with Kristoff Krane and that was an amazing experience. I never really got to do that with Eyedea, but I did get to hang out with him and talk to him. I never got to get up on stage with him and freestyle, play off of each other. It would have to be him.
If you could stop everyone in the world for 30 seconds and have them listen to you, what would you say to them?
Nothing Matters. Stop freaking out over little things, cut the bullshit, smarten up. Nothing matters. Life is too short. Live and have fun.
What’s coming up next for Eyenine specifically?
My new EP, titled ‘A Little Above Low Key’, is set to release within the next few months. It is fully produced by El Shupacabra and it features collaborations with ECID, Louis Logic, Ceschi, Witness and Seth On Gray Street. I also have some big shows coming up throughout the summer and into the fall. I will be performing with EPMD, Biz Markie, DJ Abilities and others. There is definitely a lot going on this year. It’s a great learning experience working on so many things at once and managing somehow to not spread myself too thin.
Take a moment to pay some respect to people. Who would you like to give praise to?
Eyedea, Adeem, Sage Francis, the Wu Tang family, Kristoff Krane, Grand Buffet, everyone up in Portland doing their thing, Shupe, Ill By Instinct, Dilly Dilly, Spose, Chris Moulton, Adam Gray, my manager. So many awesome people that keep me going.