By James Lanik
Local Music Director
Being a BROCKHAMPTON fan has never been boring. With the lightning-fast pace of self-reinvention and brisk stream of releases, within only a couple of years, the boy band managed to establish a universe and lore around themselves that would likely take other collectives years to achieve.
Things feel decidedly different this time around, however. For the first time since their inception, a calendar year went by with little heard from the band members, save for a string of B-Side releases on YouTube taken down after only a few days.
The band’s newest record, “ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE,” is the first to include credited A-list features (ASAP Rocky, Danny Brown and Charlie Wilson). And on several cuts, they aren’t afraid to let the guests take the spotlight for the duration of the tracks.
Compared to the crew-cut style tracks of the Saturation era, in which nearly every vocalist was passing one-liners back and forth to one another with brisk adolescent energy, “ROADRUNNER” gives everyone time to breathe. And in light of the current events of the modern-day, that is likely what everyone needed.
While they may have reinvented themselves artistically many times, their mission statement remains steadfast and deeply rooted in their familial commitment of understanding and compassion.
“ROADRUNNER” could have been a Top 40 chasing pop record, and no one would have blamed them for that direction. 2019’s “SUGAR” proved that they have the tools to craft those viral moments. But instead, the album proves to be a blank canvas for what each member needed.
There are moments of hit-making, commentary on America and perhaps most notably, personal healing. Joba steals the show with some of the band’s most heart-wrenching and difficult lyrics of their career on this record, and by the end, it is clear that they are less concerned with billboards than they are with giving their family the platform they need to express their grief and recovery, reminding everyone what made them so unique in the process.
BROCKHAMPTON’s origins in San Marcos are well documented but rarely discussed these days. Joba sat down with me to discuss the band’s birthplace, where they are headed and why they keep going.
Joba: San Marcos holds a very special place in all our hearts, including mine. I mean it’s just a beautiful place to be man. It was exactly where we were supposed to be. The energy of the place kinda gave us room to figure things out. It’s very calm there.
James Lanik: Was that the first place you guys met up as BROCKHAMPTON? I know that several of y’all went to the Woodlands High School and then recruited a lot more members through the Kanye to The forum.
Joba: I was one of the ones that went to the Woodlands, but I missed the whole Kanye fan-forum part of it.
I used to have a little home studio, and I would record the guys before I was part of the group, and as time went on, we eventually became BROCKHAMPTON. Kevin asked me to become an artist and I asked to be the engineer as well.
I went out to Texas State to go to school and everyone who was in the Woodlands came out to San Marcos. That was originally the birthplace of BROCKHAMPTON, where other members came from various parts of the country, and even Jabari coming from Grenada.
We all met for the first time in San Marcos. We used to live off of Moscliff, and another apartment down the road, and for a while, I had my own spot with a really good friend of mine but eventually end[ed] up moving in with all of BROCKHAMPTON in one of the two apartments we had rented.
JL: I’m somewhat claustrophobic and watching all of y’all crammed into that small apartment in the “ALL AMERICAN TRASH” documentary gave me so much anxiety, but it looked so much fun.
Joba: It was a lot of fun man. We all shared a common goal. One could argue we were delusional, but I feel like you kinda have to have some amount of delusion to ultimately risk it all.
JL: What’s always interested me is when I watch the local artists grow here, I see a lot of them adopt that same mentality that you guys popularized of not having this huge network of industry people or anything and instead relying on your group of friends as graphic designers, webmasters, producers, etc. I’ve seen so many of these little groups pop up, like PNTHN, with this same mentality.
You were once a Bobcat, and if I’m not mistaken, this was a major reason why BROCKHAMPTON decided to group up in San Marcos. How long did you stay at Texas State before pursuing a career with BROCKHAMPTON full time? What did you study?
Joba: So I went to Texas State in hopes of getting into the Sound Recording Technology (SRT) program…
JL: Haha, I did too! I didn’t make it.
Joba: Me neither, but before that I was going to Lone Star Community College studying voice, singing in choirs and solo classical stuff. That continued a bit into Texas State, but juggling the BROCKHAMPTON thing at the same time was a lot.
I don’t know what your experience was like, but I talked to the guys at the SRT program and was like, “Alright man, what do I gotta do to get in here?” And he said I had to get an A in Physics. I never took physics, I took Principles of Technology, which is basically simple math.
I tried man. One of my best friends at the time- he was a true genius when it came to numbers and physics. I paid him to tutor me and I gave it the college try. But I was always the last one to leave lab if I even finished- very rarely would I finish lab work.
I would fail every test, and through the course of realizing that I wouldn’t get into this program, Brockhampton kinda mutually agreed that if we’re gonna do this… we have to go LA. We took that blueprint of just cramming all of us into a house together and put it over there.
JL: Just to speak a little bit on your earlier beginnings in San Marcos, how did the idea for filming the “Flip Mo” music video in Gil’s Broiler come about? I know you weren’t featured on that track, but I wondered if you had any insight.
Joba: I was there yeah. That place has amazing hamburgers. I think that was the reason we went, haha!
It was a cool place. I forget who asked- I think we just used to go there and one day we asked if we could film a music video there and clearly they were okay with it. We just made the most out of what we could and what we thought was cool.
That’s an interesting video though, and a weird song.
JL: Did public perception of “ALL AMERICAN TRASH” meet your expectations when you all held the release party at Dahlia Woods Gallery?
Joba: I don’t know what I was expecting. I just believed in the project.
I tried my best at mixing. I think I had like two days to mix it, so I remember everyone was like, “Yo we gotta go to the Gallery.” I was like, “Oh s–t, I gotta finish mastering.” Which ultimately just meant making them equally loud. I’m not really a mastering engineer by any means even to this day.
I pulled up late with no sleep in a suit; I was in this weird phase where I was like wearing blazers. I don’t really know. College is a weird place and time. The fact that anyone was there meant a lot. I’ll never forget it. Is it closed?
JL: Yeah Dahlia has been gone for a while. This place has changed a lot. A lot of student housing complexes have uprooted the venues that used to be here.
Joba: Triple Crown was one. There was another one man… I think it was Astral Lounge or something?
JL: Back when y’all were here I woulda been about 16, so I think that one might have passed me by.
Joba: Oh wow, haha!
JL: Everyone always raves about the Saturation era, and for great reason- I love those albums too- but I feel like with these more recent records, many members seem to be coming into their own spotlight in a way that I could see them having an incredible solo career, such as yourself.
On “ROADRUNNER” there are many more tracks that feature only one or two vocalists, which is a change of pace compared to the cipher-like tracks of the Saturation albums.
Your lyrical contributions on “ROADRUNNER” are unforgettable, but are there any tracks on the album that you led the production work on? Do you have a favorite?
Joba: I had a big part in “What’s The Occasion” production-wise, and most of the basslines on the album I laid down as well.
That’s one thing that BROCKHAMPTON does really well. Even if someone is not on a track, everyone has this space to speak their mind and give their opinion and have their opinion be considered.
JL: Does everyone have a say in what songs go on the album? I’d have to guess that if you guys’ productivity is anywhere near as intense as it was during the Saturation days, you probably have a lot of songs left on the cutting room floor, so is that a somewhat democratic process?
Joba: There’s always gonna be those tracks where there’s a divide down the middle. Some people like it and some don’t, and then there’s those where everybody loves them… “ROADRUNNER” was a lot of that for us.
It took us a long time to get to that point- to realize what we wanted to say, especially as the world kept changing and as it continues to.
JL: Probably the most memorable part of the “BUZZCUT” video was you puking out Danny Brown. Well, I guess there were a few times you puked in that video. Was this your idea?
Joba: Haha, no that was the director’s idea, Dan Streit. I walked into the set, and he basically just called me out and said like, “Yo, I feel like you’ll throw up,” and I said, “You’re absolutely correct.”
I had a big half-gallon jug of milk dyed blue, and I have a mild milk allergy so it really came out. It was really violent vomiting, and it was very strange being filmed doing it and having people around me.
When he told me, “You’re gonna vomit and Danny Brown is gonna come out of your mouth,” I couldn’t even wrap my head around it, but it sounded awesome and I’m glad I took one for the team.
JL: If I’m not mistaken, most of the band now lives separately from each other. Has this affected the way members of BROCKHAMPTON collaborate?
Joba: I mean it’s different. If you’re living with someone, you’re influenced by what they’re going through [and] what their energy is day by day. It’s different in the sense that we don’t know everything that’s going on in each other’s lives, or what we’re inspired by, what we care about, what we’re thinking or trying to achieve.
All of that stuff is now internalized, but when it comes to the collaborative process of getting into the studio together, yes it’s changed for us individually, but as a group, so long as that common goal is there, it’s just another force that propels us towards it.
It’s kind of like a crash course of getting caught up and it’s really fun because someone will say something on the record and you can ask them about it, and then you’re learning about what they’re going through or what they’re thinking. There are a lot more conversations that happen during the process that I’ve realized I enjoy a lot, and I think that that benefits us when we work together.
JL: Sure. And I think as bittersweet as it can be for the fans, and of course for yourselves, to have a soft due date on when y’all wanna wrap this project up and start going more individually, I think it’s smart, especially as you guys start living in different places it can be difficult sometimes.
I have to imagine the Saturation days of having over a dozen people crammed into the same house produced some pretty crazy results.
Joba: Yeah, it was stressful conditions too. We had to get out of there [to] where we were. We didn’t have enough money, but we had to make it work.
When I was in Texas- and I think everyone in BROCKHAMPTON can relate to this- LA was a place where your dreams could exist on a pillow for you. You had this lurking notion that until I really give it all I got, it may or may not work.
So you bury your dreams in a place like LA and it’s so pretty the way it sits on a pedestal, but once you get there, I would wake up and just say to myself, “I have to make this work.”
JL: I can’t speak from personal experience, but I have to imagine for a place like Los Angeles- living there as a creative-type- there’s so much there that is equally inspiring, but also probably a bit terrifying.
Joba: It’s definitely daunting, and even still to this day it’s still kinda daunting, but not in a bad way.
JL: So, to touch on this subject very sensitively, your father’s passing is referenced very heavily in “The Light” (Pts. 1&2).
Is it difficult to write about such personal hardship in such a large group dynamic as BROCKHAMPTON, or do you find that that group dynamic provides catharsis/healing through those friendships?
Joba: It was definitely challenging… Writing about it- weirdly enough- was really easy. Most of those verses I wrote in like five minutes. It was really strange.
I remember I was writing them, and I asked Kevin, “Dude, why do I do this?” And he asked me back, “Why do you do it?” I really held onto that.
My answer was to help people. Not on some savior complex or anything like that. It’s just that sometimes the only way you can make sense of life is paying it forward in the only way you can and for me, doing it in such a tight-knit group of people that know me through and through, and also stand by me while doing so and allow me the space to feel that through regardless of how it’s received.
It’s about being respected and heard. It’s another opportunity to put something behind you. I feel like when people stand by you, that’s all they ever want; For you to move forward. So it was definitely healing.
Now that it’s out, I’ve been struggling a little bit with how many people are hearing it. When you go through the motions you don’t really realize how personal the process of making art can be.
But yeah man, it’s an interesting one to put there. It’s also just an interesting life development, you know?
JL: I have to imagine that the process of writing it and the process of actually distributing it, is very different.
I mean, I’m a pretty private person, and to put something out there- Well, I don’t think I’d know how I’d feel about it, but I do know how it makes other people feel to see you lay bare so much, and the healing that it brings for them. The fact that you’re willing to share such personal trauma is healing for so many listeners in a very cathartic way.
Joba: One thing I’ve kind of based my life on is that talking about things takes the power away from them. And that’s something I really live by. All these things are temporary.
JL: Well thank you so much for talking with KTSW today. At the end of the day, all I really am is just a really big fan of you and the band, and so to be able to talk to you directly rather than reading someone else’s interview or commentary is very rewarding, and I know everyone in San Marcos and the station are going to love to hear about it.
Joba: I’m glad you guys are still killing it out there- [KTSW is] the best radio station in San Marcos.
Special thanks to Joba for speaking with KTSW 89.9.
“ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE” is out now on all streaming platforms.
Featured image courtesy of Joba.