Beats from the Throne Age: A Conversation with Blacktop Megaphone

Andrew Saltzman isn’t slouching in his throne. In January, he released an instrumental album, Tape Lonely Boy, under his production alias, Blacktop Megaphone, and he hasn’t stopped there. February saw him spearheading a benefit project for Planned Parenthood–a series of singles put out by Throne Age, the label he co-founded with his brother (stage name: dug., who also released an instrumental tape in January). They aren’t slowing down, either. I caught up with Saltzman to talk tapes, beats, and the artist’s relationship with loneliness, and to get a taste of what Throne Age has in store for the rest of the year.

Let’s start with your own music, particularly your Blacktop Megaphone project, Tape Lonely Boy, which you released in January. How long had that project been in the works?

I’ve been working on putting Tape Lonely Boy together since December of 2015. A few months prior to that I bought a Tascam 388 1/4 inch tape machine, and shifted my focus away from music produced digitally. I had also just started to get into sampling and using an MPC, so the building blocks for the project were all just kind of in place. At that point it’s just stacking beats and ideas, and following the thread of what works. Since this was the first project that I didn’t use a band or collaborate with vocalists for, the theme of loneliness just made sense. It’s been a touchstone of my existence, and I’ve been schemin’ on doing a project about it, and so it was.


How did you first get into making beats? What was your setup like, and how has it changed?

I really just started making beats similar to the lonely boy project in 2015 when I got my hands on an MPC and started flipping records and recording to tape. Before that, the projects I was putting together were more ensemble oriented. My first project, Tall Tale Medicine Machine featured a group of 25 musicians, with myself on bass doing all of the composition. I’m just really into composing and producing sound.


Do you plan on performing these tracks live at all?

100% – A couple of live projects in the works. Live lonely boy material, as well as some other freaky shit with Mussle David, as a live trio.


As the title of the tape and its mode of composition suggest, you’re a fan of cassettes, which I’ve noticed are making a resurgence, especially among people producing underground hip-hop these days. What’s your attraction to that medium? What makes it something you’re still interested in preserving and using?

I’ve always been into the sound of analog tape. The hiss, the warmth, it all just sounds so pleasing to me. It’s just really comfortable for some reason. I think it’s cool to have the option to step away from computers, and create something that sounds different utilizing are alternate recording process. It’s just good ol’ fashioned fun the whole family can enjoy. I like things that sound fucked up, and human. Tape boosts those elements for me I guess. There’s a certain truth to the sound.


The album revolves around a theme of loneliness–you use a number of vocal samples that examine the idea of being lonely or solitary–how do you view the relationship between solitude and creativity? Do you think artists need to cultivate a certain kind of loneliness?

Personally it’s a can’t live with it, can’t live without it situation. Solitude is often an essential part of what I do. Just being alone with an idea feeds the development of it for me. I also would not enjoy making music as much if it weren’t for the ability to collaborate and make art with others. Depending on the project, too much solitude may hinder its ability to grow. With Lonely Boy, creating something alone was always the intention, so I just went all in on that in terms of doing everything myself with no real feedback or collaboration with others.


Who have you been listening to recently?

Man I’m lucky as hell to know and work with my favorite musicians. I’m always listening to what dug. Is doin. Denmark Vessey is a must, Martin Lucid Dream & Cult Classic are a mainstay in my rotation. Also the work he’s doing with Azarias is crazy, people are going to flip when that project drops. My favorite album of last year was Skiptracing from Mild High Club, and they’re family.


I’d also like to talk a bit about your label, Throne Age, which you were involved with launching late last year. What was the impetus behind your DIY approach?

My brother dug. and I wanted to create place to release music that we create on our own terms, and offer that same platform to the amazing people we’re lucky enough to work with on a regular basis. We both dig art and want to provide the best art we can to anyone interested in enjoying it.


This past month you guys put out a series of singles from a compilation album, February Singles Club, which is a benefit project with all proceeds going to Planned Parenthood. It’s an admirable move, especially with things as up in the air as they are right now for the whole country. Do you think artists have a responsibility to use their art as a means of supporting political change?

I think that’s a personal thing. It is really important to me. Some people just aren’t into getting political or using their work for the purpose of activism, and that’s no big deal. The number of artists wanting to engage politically is likely increasing everyday in our crazy country, which is dope. With February Singles Club, we wanted to bring a diverse group of artists together to rally around an important cause, and couldn’t be happier with the results. Raised some money, and created a heater of a compilation in the process.


What else does Throne Age have in the works? Who should we be keeping an eye on in the coming months?

We’re goin crazy this year. We’ve got a project from Azarias coming out in the spring. The production he is doing right now is some of my favorite.  Also an album from A.M. Son, who is based in LA, and is playing keys in Mild High Club. Later this year we’ll be dropping a project created by dug and I, we go by Roger Murray when collaborating on production. Everything else is top secret at the moment, but expect music from us on a monthly basis, as well as another possible non profit compilation later this year.

Dope, thanks for talking to me. We’ll be sure to stay tuned.

Henry Whittier-Ferguson