Marc E. Bassy tells us about his days in a boy band, living in Nic Nac's studio, why he's been welcomed by the hip-hop community, and his new "Groovy People" EP.
Marc E. Bassy radiates Cali. Rocking an overgrown but expertly quiffed hairdo and a tie-dye Eagles shirt, he clearly descends from a tribe of “Groovy People,” which is the title of his new EP. He’d probably thrive in the San Francisco hippie heyday that brought his parents together. His far-reaching brand of Cali-centric R&B is informed by the funk, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll his parents raised him on, though Bassy’s favorite music has always been rap.
He’s learned to incorporate the slick stylings of Bay Area hip-hop into his singing, and he’s also capable of laying down some bars on tracks next to The Bay’s top guys. He helped write and sang the hook on G-Eazy’s “Some Kind of Drug,” off When It's Dark Out, and he opened for Eazy earlier this year on his tour in support of the same album. Bassy collaborated with Eazy once again on his own now-buzzing single, “You & Me,” a catchy summer jam about the strange day-after dynamic of a breakup; “It’s not us no more, it’s just you and me.”
The Marc E. Bassy moniker has only existed for a couple of years now. Like the behind-the-scenes hitmaker Bobby Brackins, who introduced him to G-Eazy, Marc got his name out as a songwriter, working for guys like Chris Brown, Sean Kingston, and Cee-Lo. And before songwriting, he was in a five-man pop/rock group called 2AM Club. Though made up of guys with similar backgrounds, the group soon found their image and sound at the whim of their label. It took a friend’s intervention to make Marc split from the boy band and find his voice again.
Since 2AM Club, there have been ups and downs – the tough times usually remedied by bouts of debauchery – and a few years spent with his mattress parked in different studios. Through it all, he’s made sure to soak up all the musical inspiration that California has to offer.
Soon before the release of Groovy People, Bassy came through to give us a rundown on his unpredictable history in the industry. He explains how his love for hip-hop has made him a better singer and why he’s found it essential to keep footholds both in LA and The Bay. Groovy People is a pre-release to Bassy’s debut album, due out later this year, which will bring with it new collabs with YG, Sounwave, Nic Nac, and Thundercat. With a decade spent trying to make it in music, he’s now dropping the grooviest shit of his career.
Marc E. Bassy, thanks for stopping by, man. I saw you were out on stage with G-Eazy last night [at the Barclays Center for "The Endless Summer" tour].
Have you been joining him for the whole tour?
Nah, I just pop up in certain cities – whenever it coincides with us doing something else, or if he wants me to be in a particular city to sing those songs. I have the "Some Kind of Drug" song that I wrote and sang on on his last album. So I come out and do that. And then he’s on my single "You & Me," which is out right now. I sing that too.
You went on his previous ["When It's Dark Out"] tour, though?
Yeah, I was on the "When It’s Dark Out" tour as an actual artist – like I was on tour playing my own set. But on this, I just kind of come out and do like two songs.
What was that tour experience like?
It was unbelievable. G really brings ‘em out. And his fans – they come early. So we were playing to thousands of people every night. Right as we dropped – we had dropped new music in December – so it was cool to just be out there.
You and G-Eazy have a few collabs out now. When did y'all first link up?
Uh, three. Actually – four. But we’re both from the Bay. There's a lot of connections between our camps. One of my managers went to middle school with Gerald. Crazy like that. But also, we just met at the lab, and I wrote the song called "Friend Zone" that he dropped with me. That was the first one. I met him through Bobby Brackins. He was working with Nic Nac – my roommate and one of my best friends.
So you're from The Bay, but you work out of LA now?
But you're still part of this Bay scene, where everybody's coming up together.
Yeah, we just need each other. Most of the producers I work with are from The Bay, but we have a strong tie with LA now. We’ve been down there since right after high school, so I feel like I’m from LA now, even though I’m from The Bay. The fact that we’re always around Bay Area culture, it keeps us tight.
Why do you think The Bay scene has been so popping lately?
I think The Bay Area in general is just a really exciting place. So much culture there. Everywhere is being gentrified, which is kind of bad, but also, it’s that time for The Bay when people are being exposed to new things and cultures are meeting each other for the first time. It makes for great music – it’s a free place. No one is beholden to any shit they used to do. Every thing out of The Bay was Bay Area rap music, and now you can have a G-Eazy or a Kehlani or a Nic Nac or a Bobby Brackins. Everything. And people ain't even know – behind the scenes, songwriting. Ricky Reed Wallpaper, he’s like the number one – the most successful producer in the world right now. He’s from The Bay.
Let’s talk about the single, "You & Me." Would you say that’s the biggest track of your career?
Definitely. It’s kind of crazy – we didn’t make that song thinking about it like that. I wrote that in New York over some random piano chords. We were in a studio – my homegirl was playing "Hometown Glory," the Adele song. I was like, 'Those chords are pretty, can you flip those?' And then we played ‘em the other way so that there’s no copyright infringement. Don’t sue me, Adele.
I had this melody, and we threw some drums on it. Then when we got back to LA, we were like these melodies and these changes are so dope, but this song was kind of dragging. Let’s put this reggae feel under it. And that was a year and a half ago. And then when this whole reggae vibe started poppin', so that was good timing. Honestly it’s just getting started. It came out a few months ago or whatever. But it’s really just getting started, so we’ll see.
Can you tell me about the concept?
Yeah, it’s a breakup song, but it’s kind of about dealing with a breakup in a way that you’re strong about it. As opposed to being heartbroken or something. And just taking ownership of yourself and not...
–Is it based off personal experiences?
Is that true with all your songs that have to do with breakups or romance?
A lot of songwriters will write about something they read about. Or something they saw – like they saw a movie and it made them wanna write. To me, I like to tell my little stories. It’s almost like my own personal therapy session when I write a song. Really if you listen to my music, whatever I’m saying – that’s what I’m going through. Whether it could be about dealing with females and all that, or struggling to make it in music. That’s all really personal to me.
Without trying to box in your sound, how would you describe your music, and why do you think it's been embraced by a hip-hop audience?
I started off rapping, and I’ve always been a part of hip-hop culture. I just love classic soul music, classic music in general. Not classical music, but I just love great music, and I’ve always been curious and excited about like – oh shit, we could play this or that. I’m not just gonna chase trap drums around and see if I get poppin' off one song. And I’ve got a chip on my shoulder all the time about rapping because I still think I’m the best rapper in the world.
When you can sing, you have to sing. Singing is impassioned speech. So if you can sing, you’re obligated to. I think this new shit I’m about to drop [Groovy People], I don’t know if HNHH has posted anything remotely like what it is. Big piano, organ, guitar, drums. But it’s all coming from a kid who grew up on Bay Area rap music and R&B. I think that’s why it’s being embraced. We can go to the club, I go to San Francisco, all the D-Boys are throwing money, popping bottles. And they give me the mic, and everyone’s like, 'WTF' – but they always go up. Because I come from that culture, and that’s the music I listen to.
If you look at all the singers that are popular right now, they all used to be rappers: The Weeknd, PND, Jeremih. There’s amazing singers that don’t get poppin', and I can tell they’re always like, 'Why? I’m so much better at singing than Marc E Bassy. How come I’m not popular?' You didn’t listen to the right shit growing up. You thought rap was a phase or something.
Yeah, all the best singers right now – you can hear their hip-hop sensibilities.
Let's talk "Groovy People." It's a pre-release for your upcoming album?
Yeah, it’s something my label does that they like to do. I was kind of on board with it too. If you listen to "You & Me" right now and you look me up – that’s my biggest song – and then everything else is older. So we wanted to give the fans new music to show people where I was going and where "You & Me" is leading. ‘Cause "You & Me" is not really indicative of how my music is gonna be. I’m not turning into a reggae singer – that was a one-off. So everything else is on a different wave.
Where did the title come from?
I wrote this song a long time ago called “I Was Raised by Groovy People” about my mom and my dad because they were into groovy music. My dad was always putting me onto Sam Cooke and Donny Hathaway, Bob Dylan and The Beatles. Me and my mom – our landlord when I was little was Tracy Chapman. So my parents, growing up they were just cool as fuck. Thinking about my mom with me as a baby – running around, doing all types of shit. Having parties, cool people always being around. On some San Francisco hippie shit, and that’s what I was raised in. Everything is kinda groovy now, so the title fit.
Let's take it back to the band: 2AM Club. How long was the group around for?
2AM Club was around from 2008 till 2013. Five years.
How do you look back at the experience?
I’m very fond of that experience. It was very cool. That was a weird time in music. We were all hip-hop kids, but it wasn’t cool. When I was growing up, I didn’t wanna be a white boy rapper from the suburbs. That was dumbass corny. The only white rapper is Eminem, and he’s one of the best of all time. To me, unless you’re like that, I’m not gonna touch that. I don’t wanna appropriate the culture being where I’m from. That’s what I listen to, but if I’m gonna make music, I gotta use these guitars and instruments and shit, and everyone in 2AM Club was like that.
That’s why it sucked – everyone was talkin' like we were a boy band, and I was like, what? That idea that I was in a boy band – that didn’t make any sense to me. I hate that music, I wasn’t part of anything like that. I was still smoking blunts all day, fucking girls, being a psycho. As it turns out, that’s what guys in boy bands do [laughs]. I didn’t know that. I didn’t get it, I couldn’t see what other people saw when they said that. If you don’t have an idea of what your brand looks like to the outside world, you’re not gonna make it. So that was kind of the struggle.
Music was a struggle, too. ‘Cause our producers didn’t work with our sound. But I learned so much – my band was really talented. The piano player is Macklemore’s piano player now. The guitar player was one of the best guitar players in the country. Really. So I learned through most of that how to hear chord changes, harmonies, how to do all that. That was like my college.
Do you feel like being in 2AM Club prepared you for going solo?
Yeah, it was crazy. I relinked up with my [current] manager, who was my good friend when I was 10 years old. He was like, 'You gotta get out of this band, that’s not you bro. What are you doing?' It was good to have someone who grew up with me be like, 'Don’t you remember who you are? That’s not representative.' And then we started breaking away, thinking about solo shit. I was writing for other people too at the time, which was like grad school. I look back at it like, obviously I have no regrets, but it taught me a lot about the business and all these people.
What changed after 2AM Club that made you feel confident enough to bring rapping back into your repertoire?
Well, everything is different now. Rap music is not something you have to be a certain person [to make] – it’s just music.
I’m glad they don’t care anymore, that was stupid. When I was in high school, everybody focused on if this person was real or not. Is he authentic? But now it’s about if it’s good music, good energy. Everyone is about this positive shit. We played with Logic last night – he’s all peace, love, and positivity. That wasn’t cool when I was in high school. I’m glad that music turned that way. Peace, love, and positivity. Groovy people!
Tell me about how you got your break in the songwriting world.
It was just natural – I didn’t even know that you could write for other people. If I would've known that, then I would have been doing that the whole time. I just thought that everyone wrote all their shit. So when I went back to LA after the band broke up, Nic Nac was like, 'Yo, you should just put your mattress in my studio and live here. And whoever comes in, just write for them.' Sean Kingston came in the first day. We had a joint with Sean and Chris Brown in the first 10 days I lived there.
And then I was in there and I was playing Chris a bunch of shit, and he sat down was like, 'Is this you?' I was like, 'Yeah,' and he said, 'Bruh, you should do this yourself, this is hard. You’ve got a good voice, you’ve got good tone.' I remember that, that was tight. So yeah, me and Nic – we went through some wars tryna write for people. We’ve probably written about 100 songs. Me, him, and Bobby Brackins, too.
You were writing mostly pop and R&B?
Yeah, I did the Sean Kingston, Chris Brown shit. I did Cee-Lo, I did Charlie Puth.
Nic Nac is a Bay guy, right?
Yeah he’s from Thee Bay. He’s a Bay legend. We drank a gallon of vodka the first night we met. And had our shirts off, punching each other – nothing’s changed, been that way for years.
Do you still work out of that studio?
We still have it. Now it’s more official. We actually all just moved out, so now it’s just a studio. It’s called Dad's National, we just got the fluorescent sign.
How long were you living in there?
That was like two years. Crazy. Writing every day.
What was the first song that took off for you after going solo?
The thing that kind of made a dent a little bit was this song "Chemical High." And I put it on my SoundCloud – I remember every song was getting like 300 plays, and then I came home one day and it was like 9,000 plays. I was like, 'Damn, how the fuck did that happen?'
And then – I dunno – I’ve been doing this music, putting it out and living humbly my whole life. It’s never really felt any different ‘cause I have the same routine, although now it’s changing. It’s definitely still just about making songs. I don’t really trip off being successful, or failing. I just stay upright.
The first project was "Only the Poets," which had a few big guest spots, including Kehlani. How'd you link that up?
They just started fucking with me. Kehlani, G-Eazy. Chipass was on there – one of the most underrated rappers on earth. Nic Nac had production on there. It was a very Bay-centric kind of thing. When we first started playing shows, they were just Bay Area parties. All the HBK cats would come out, too – started putting me on the map a bit. In that way it was a success. People now are learning about that. When they see "You & Me" – I’m getting a lot of people hitting me up about Only the Poets. They’re rediscovering.
Tell me about the "East Hollywood" project. That one felt more conceptual...
–It was better.
So you'd been camping out in East Hollywood at the time?
Yeah I had my homegirl who was always traveling for work. I was staying at her crib in East Hollywood. East Hollywood is kind of a grimy place that’s really inspiring. I dunno why. It’s very dirty Hollywood. Something about that just makes you wanna make music. And go for it.
It sounded like there were a lot of highs and lows during that period.
Is the lifestyle much the same these days?
It’s a little nicer now. I’ve got my own place now. East Hollywood time was just really – I broke up with my girlfriend, not knowing what was about to happen. Everything was very uncertain. The music reflected that.
What's gonna be different about "Groovy People"?
It's the best music I've ever made. Especially production wise, sound wise. I learned a lot in the last year just in terms of making stuff sound right. People don’t put enough emphasis on that – sound quality, production quality. It’s so important. Getting the mixes right, the tones right. That’s been the push.
I assume your go-to producer Count Bassy will be on there.
The EP is all Count Bassy. But the album has Sounwave, Nic Nac, and Count Bassy. I have a song with Sounwave and YG – sounds crazy. And Thundercat. It's dope. The album is supposed to drop in November – but I’m not really tripping. I’m happy I get to put out the EP. I guess I should say for the people, if you buy the EP, that goes toward buying the album. So you get these five songs, and then the cost will be deducted from the album cost. You’re basically buying half my album.