A-Trak The Exclaim! Questionnaire

A-Trak The Exclaim! Questionnaire
What are you up to?
I'm on tour overseas with Kanye West. My DVD [Sunglasses Is a Must] is about to come out in less than a month and I have two mix CDs that just came out — one with GLC [Drive Slow] and one is just a live mix [Oh No You Didn't! Live in Vancouver]. I'm also working on my album. I got to spend some time at home in January so I was able to make some new beats, and when I'm on the road I just try to get some collaborations going.

What are your current fixations?
I'm obsessively listening to Lil' Wayne's album. I generally don't watch many movies except on the plane, but then my boy just hooked me up with a bunch of movies for my iPod Video so I'm having a great time watching some movies that I probably wouldn't have otherwise. My fixation this week is discovering that I can get all these bootleg films for my iPod. I wanted to watch that Johnny Cash joint (Walk the Line) on the plane except I was eating and missed the beginning. It was one of those planes where you had the little TV in the seat in front of you and I kept missing the first half-hour of all the movies I wanted to see, so I just decided to watch something that I didn't care about, which was Cat in the Hat. It was really bad. Like, really bad. So I said, "Screw this" and went to sleep.

Why do you live where you do?
I live in Montreal because it's my home base. I don't spend a lot of time at home in any case so I like the fact that I'm just comfortable going back there in between trips. I also have my whole record collection there. I do plan on possibly moving to New York in the near future but I haven't done it yet because it would be a pretty big deal. I don't really go out when I'm home anyway. I just stay home and work on music, so Montreal has a really good atmosphere. It's a pleasant place to be.

Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
When I listen to Three 6 Mafia I feel like I'm hypnotised.

What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
The Tableturns second anniversary in New York, 1999. I had been working on a lot of new routines and I premiered them that night. It was memorable because I was happy that I was able to pull them off and made my mark at a show where there were other turntablists. At the same time it was inspirational because I was playing alongside a lot of other great DJs and I would see them practicing in my zone and my style. So when I did my set and it came off and then saw another guy come on with a style completely different than mine then I thought: "I need to learn what he's doing in order to cover that base also." When your show goes particularly well the feeling that you get is a feeling that you want to reach every time.

What have been your career highs and lows?
It's hard to think of a career high because when you're in the middle of something it's hard to compare. When I won the first DMC, that was one of the highs, because that synchronised with joining the Skratch Piklz and really got my name out. Even around 1999 when I was battling with the Allies and we were going after every title — that was also kind of a crest. And even in the last year with the Kanye gig and the set-up for the DVD and album — that feels like a high as well. I don't think there's ever been a period where I felt like things were going bad. There was one summer around 2000 where I remember I was burnt out and was pushing myself too hard, with school and battles. I had to take a break for a few weeks and looking back that was a rough period of adjustment.

What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
I remember a show with the Allies where we got booked at some random, wack ravish show in Oakland where we were just like, "Why are we here?" We collectively got people in the crowd saying, "Just play the record!" I remember coming off the stage and thinking, "Fuck! We shouldn't even be here. This sucks."

What should everyone shut up about?
I really hate it when people talk about having good chemistry. I hate when you watch Elimidate and they say, "I like it when someone's really spontaneous and we have really good chemistry." I think that's complete bullshit. I think [those] words that have no meaning. I hate it when people talk about being "excited" about something. Pick a better word, you know?

What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
What I most dislike would be my stubbornness because I'm a hard-headed Aries and I don't like being stuck in my ways. Especially in music, because it's good to be open to everything and adapt really fast. I like my work ethic though.

What advice should you have taken, but did not?
That implies admitting that you're wrong, which is hard. That Aries thing again. My brother told me to move to New York a year ago. Maybe I should have just made that move. Every time I go there I get a month's worth of moving done in a day. When I think about it on the spot I say, "I can't. I just bought an apartment and all my records are here." And then I look back and think: "Fuck it. I could have done it."

What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
I would say a foul smell, for both. But I can't recall having done that.

What do you think of when you think of Canada?
The moose. It should be our emblem. I don't think I've even seen one, but I really like them. I'm sure I've seen one.

What is your vital daily ritual?
Eating, pooping and sleeping.

What are your feelings on piracy, internet or otherwise?
I don't have anything against it. I like the term "piracy" because I imagine some guy in a pirate suit and a parrot on his shoulder: "Yar! I will find this MP3." I'm cool with internet piracy though because that's just how the world of music and DJing has become. Through email or blogs, that's just the quickest way to get access to new music. I still think it's kind of a promo tool for people to be able to download music and it doesn't stop consumers from buying music. Personally, I won't download a whole album on Limewire because it's a hassle. I don't want to have half the versions at a really crappy bandwidth. It's just annoying. If I hear about something I'll download it and if I really want to own it I'll buy the album. I still buy 12-inches because I still use them for my routines, even though I use Serato and use MP3s for 90 percent of my sets, but I still like having 12-inches for my vinyl collection. I haven't cut down on my consumption. So yeah, I'm down for piracy. I've gotten on these mailing lists where I get MP3s. I don't even know how, but I get MP3s really quick and sometimes you literally find out that you got the song the day after it was mixed, and then the 12-inch will be out three or four weeks later. So it just changes the way you play and how you have access to your songs because when you finally do see the record in stores you say, "Oh cool. Let me buy it because I want the instrumental," even though you've been playing it for three weeks. And you see on other people's playlists that they've all been playing it too so you don't want to hold off and wait for the 12-inch. Especially when you own Serato.

What was your most memorable day job?
I never had a day job. I've been DJing since before I hit puberty. Come on now.

How do you spoil yourself?
Maybe once a year I'll take one of those full day spa treatments. I've only done that like twice, but that was the ultimate spoiling experience when you're covered in seaweed goo and they're playing whale noises. It feels good. That and buying gadgets.

If I wasn't playing music I would be:
I'd be a student. I should be in school right now but I can't because I'm in England, but I've always been pretty serious about my studies. It was only when I started university that I started going part time. Up until then I was in the same cycle as any other kid my age. I just mainly accepted gigs on the weekend, which would infuriate my agent because I would be turning down a lot of stuff he wanted me to do. I did homework on planes and all that stuff. And then when I got to university and had the option to go part time, I did.

What do you fear most?
Insects or hurting my hands or wrists. I refuse to do most sports because I have friends that have permanently damaged their hands or wrists from snowboarding. It's also a cop out because I suck at sports. And I forget that I'm scared of insects but then I saw King Kong recently and during that part where they're in that cave and those giant insects come out of everywhere I freaked out. Well, not freaked out but I couldn't look and was really grossed out. I didn't scream like a woman. My brother turned to me and said, "You're scared of insects?" And I said, "I guess so!" I remember being on a date once, eating on a terrace in Los Angeles and a cockroach walked right under the table. I did scream that time and I sat on the top of the chair and raised my feet. The girl I was with really laughed at me, but luckily she knew me well enough to find it oddly charming. I called the waiter over and said, "That's a cockroach" and he said, "Nah, that's a waterbug." A waterbug is a euphemism for a cockroach. Put that on the list of stuff that I hate. I wish people would stop referring to cockroaches as waterbugs. As far as I know there's no such thing as a waterbug — it's what a waiter will say to calm you down when you see a cockroach.

What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
Tom Cruise, last week. We did this show in Los Angeles the day before the Grammy's and Tom Cruise was there because Kanye is doing the theme song for Mission Impossible. I did a solo that night at the show and he was backstage so I said, "Yo. Let me get a picture" and he said, "Yeah man, that was so crazy. In my days they used to do drum solos." I just thought, "That's Tom Cruise. The crazy guy."

Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
I'd like something just way out there, like Charlie Chaplin. And I would serve him those dinner rolls with the forks in front of them just to get him to do that dance thing. I'd be like, "Huh? Huh? Forks. Rolls. Huh?" I'm sure he'd be like, "Shut up, kid." I'd want it to be someone with a persona just so I could see if they're really like that in person.

What does your mother wish you were doing instead?
Resting and taking care of my health. It's nuts right now. My brother hit me on my Blackberry and said, "Where are you?" Burning out isn't really on my mind but that's one of the things that I really try to keep in my consciousness. I think I still need to learn a lot about awareness and what my body limitations are. I tend to just push, push, push and sometimes I just hit a wall. It happens every six months or so and then I get the flu or something. My mom wishes I would spend a little more time just chilling out and having fun. Watching a movie outside of a plane. The most she can do is feed me whenever she can so she can say, "At least I know you're eating well." So when I go home I eat like a king.

Given the opportunity to choose, how would you like to die?
Not at a young age and in my sleep. I don't want to go out in a helicopter that runs into a mountainside. Just a peaceful old death.

Talk about your child stars. A-Trak (born Alain Macklovitch) used his Bar Mitzvah money to buy a pair of Technics 1200 turntables and claimed the World DMC Championship two years later at age 15. Fast-forward ten years and every turntable title imaginable and now he's rocking arenas across the globe as Kanye West's DJ. Now his impressive career (so far) has been documented in his first DVD, Sunglasses Is a Must, which follows A-Trizzy from routines at county fairs in front of baffled elders to the bizarre world of MTV, rubbing shoulders with hip-hop legends. How on earth did he manage to keep his head on straight through this entire ride?

"I think it's in my personality to not get overwhelmed by things," says the Montreal native. "I just stay focused and have fun, but at the same time I know that I have a good support system. I have a brother that has no qualms about telling me that I'm shit if he thinks I'm getting a big head." A-Trak was already reaching Gretzky status in the turntable community when he retired from battles — after winning five championships, and only 18. After Kanye West caught his in-store in London, A-Trak joined the mega-producer on tour, a role that is developing rapidly. "When I first started it was just me, Kanye and John Legend," he recalls. "We were opening for Usher so we couldn't really stray away from the music too much; I would just play the tracks one after another, cutting over some of them and then doing a solo. Now the shows sometimes have a string section, keyboards, percussion and other musicians that can contribute to the song and build transitions. That leaves me more room to control things, and the more musicians that we add the more I become the Paul Shaffer of the organisation." Get down, boy. Go head get down.
Noel Dix