Interview - Free Thyme

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We caught up with Ivan La Rocca and Kosi Dunn of Maryland's self-proclaimed "Sad Boy Folk Hop" duo, Free Thyme We discussed the origin of Free Thyme, poetry versus rap, fire signs, and the evolution of their creative process leading up to their latest release, Free Thyme II.

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CSDC: Tell us how you guys met and became Free Thyme.

Kosi: Do you wanna tell the story or should I?

Ivan: I mean go ahead and give your interpretation of it.

Kosi: Most definitely and certainly. I did poetry –I started out as a poet on campus at UMD, we were both students at the time. Our mutual friend Jeremy sort of introduced us and was like “Yo, if you really wanna do this rap thing for real I know somebody who is really trying to do this producer thing for real.” So he brought me over to his apartment, Ivan was kicking it there at the time and we connected –we sort of had similar taste. And I was like yo let’s just like fuck around, a mutual trade –you need a rapper I need a producer. He knew all the equipment and process-wise, making a beat. So in our free time, whatever we did while weren’t in or doing something around we’d just you know, shoot the shit and mess around in Jeremy’s apartment.

CSDC: So what about the spelling of the spice?

*laughter*

Kosi: We’re just idiots.

Ivan: We’re just dumb and we think we’re really funny but we’re not.

Kosi: We felt like “Free Time” was so serious, you know what I’m saying? So we just turned it into a spice, now it’s funny.

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CSDC: What is one major difference you noticed while creating or just in the complete project of Free Thyme I versus Free Thyme II?

Ivan: Man, we grew into ourselves a lot more. Free Thyme I was us being like ‘OH, we can kinda do this! This actually isn’t bad.” But Free Thyme II is ‘OH, this is how we do this.” It just came organically - all the songs were made in a two month period.

Kosi: Free Thyme I was like when we would make our tracks and say (sarcastically) “OH MY GOD OH MY GOD! We’re like real people now! The universe just needs this!” It’s very compilation-y, you know like there’s some songs where it’s just Ivan and his guitar, there’s some instrumentals, and there’s like my very rap-heavy verses –all those verses were like me trying to figure out how to be a rapper. I think one of our most popular songs on that project, “Flex” literally happened because I was writing this verse on the beat and as a poet I have a lot more room and space to be a little off and whatnot but Ivan just sat me down and he was like coaching me through this verse like ‘RAP IT! On beat!”

Ivan: No no, say this this way!

Kosi: Yeah so it was really me learning how to be a rapper.

CSDC: Yeah, you’re rapping specifically sounds very particular like in the pockets of the production and stuff.

Kosi: Yeah definitely formal and very foundational. I think with this tape (Free Thyme II) we both sort of begun to sort of figure out how we work and it was just a barrage of just like ‘oh that I like that beat let’s do this, let’s do this right here.’ Everything we recorded on that was like the night of.

Ivan: Yeah, I mean our process –we usually come in, I just start messing around with some sounds, and then he’s just back there humming and stuff and then one thing leads to another, I make the beat, he works on the verse –I either sing or just record him and mix it and it’s done within three or four hours.

CSDC: So you guys don’t really revisit songs?

Ivan: We’re not really good at revisiting anything. We have so much stuff in our back catalogue.

Kosi: We’re like impatient.

Ivan: If it doesn’t get done that day it’s a goner.

Kosi: I’m astrology heavy –he’s a Leo I’m an Aries. We’re very fire and like “do it now, we’re not gonna go back later on.” But on this project, we played back a few things many times. We paid closer attention, cleaned a few things up. We played it over, and over, and over.

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CSDC: Cool, so it’s probably a lot more of you two collaborating versus what you were saying with Free Thyme I in terms of it being more of a compilation of your works. Kosi, how is writing for Free Thyme different than writing poetry? You can definitely hear the influence of poetry in your music. On “Tree Top,” specifically, it sounds like you wrote that as a poem intentionally and Ivan came in and kind of worked around it.

Kosi: Free Thyme was the tape that made me believe in us, for sure. In the beginning it would be Ivan with a guitar loop and I would come and spit some shit over it.

Ivan: That’s because my mini keyboard was broken. The first two months we worked together, I didn’t know shit. We were just playing nothing but guitar tracks at three in the morning, that’s how “Tree Top” happened.

Kosi: I think that what’s different between rapping and poetry is that when it comes to poetry, I’ve been doing it since I was 15 so I have a certain training for it from doing slam poetry throughout the city. I have my style of it. Writing these raps, I had to go back and learn rap. I think it’s similar to someone who has been playing the guitar their entire life and then starts playing the cello. There are formal qualities that are sort of the same, it’s the same type of instrument. But you have to approach it like it is completely new, you take aspects of what you’re comfortable with and add it to the process. Something I don’t do with rap that I do with poetry is constantly revisiting the poem and editing it out and cleaning it up. I’ve been rapping more often lately than I’ve been doing poetry because I love and appreciate this freedom I have because it’s new; I don’t have to be so clean and polished. I think experiment comes in. You can definitely hear a lot of my influences when I rap because I am still at that stage where I am collecting data. You can hear a lot of purpose. Maybe in the third tape, since we’re a lot more comfortable with each other, it would be a lot more weird. I would love to melt poetry and rap to find a very specific lane.

*Grey Is Where You Stay begins to play*

Kosi: Or in between. It's my favorite goddamn song.

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CSDC: Yeah. It is a really good song. I was freaking out when I heard it. So, next question: Who are some of your favorite local acts? And can we expect any collaborations on Free Thyme II or just in the future? Anything like that?

Ivan: April and Vista.

CSDC: They are awesome.

Ivan: They are so cool!

CSDC: April’s voice is crazy good.

Kosi: They are like the cool kids in the hall way that you have to like. There is also this dude Eric David. He produced some track for Oshunn.

CSDC: Aren’t they from here?

Kosi: Oshunn is not a local act but they are from here. And I really dig what they are doing. We seem to be in the same headspace. But this dude Eric David I think is really really dope and no one knows of him.

CSDC: Okay. Noted.

Kosi: Is there anyone else?

Ivan: I’d love to work with Overcoats.

CSDC: I loved them when they opened for Matt Corby and it was so good.

Ivan: Maggie Rogers, I wanted to work with her for a little while but she’s kind of passed that threshold.

Kosi: Yeah but we have no features on the second Free Thyme tape.

Ivan: Yeah, no.

CSDC: Okay no features. You don’t need features anyway.

Kosi: The third one we might be a little more social and play with the other kids.

CSDC: Yeah?

Kosi: I don’t want to put a feature in and get killed off anymore. I think I learned my lesson with the song “Kale.” Lex fucking killed me off! I was like "Damn! Lex is a homie. She slaughtered that verse.

CSDC: At the end right? She killed that.

Kosi: But the whole kill was Ivan was making this beat and it was mine. I was on juice cleanse, I was like “I been eating kale all day” you know what I am saying. Lex comes in because she is working up stairs with a friend of ours on a video project. We were just fucking with her like "yeah, throw a little verse on there one time". She freestyles writes this whole 37 bars and just murks us all. I was like "How dare you.” So next time I am going to kill it. Next time I would like to work with Ciscero, but I am coming for teeth.

Ivan: I think that is what it is. I am all about the working together but there is still a competitive nature. Which should be appreciated you know what I mean? There is nothing wrong with it.

Kosi: We would like to destroy you all.

Ivan: But very much we a clicking at the heels right now. You know what I mean?

*enters Marcus, their roommate*

Ivan: This is Marcus. He actually makes really dope music as well. He actually did some of the percussion on "Grey Is Where You Stay."

Kosi: Yeah, in the middle.

Ivan: The claps.

CSDC: Oh, we were talking about that in the car. The claps in the background.

Kosi: It’s really dope because we have a lot of musician friends like Lex Rox. Marcus created a whole orchestra at UMD. He is work on a whole project right now. We just come in and jam you know? This is very recent so you might hear the development of the jam coming in the third tape.

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CSDC: So this is definitely the second tape, and you’re just ahead. “On the third tape,” that’s the third time you’ve said that.

Ivan: We are on the fourth tape. We have had this tape sitting in the bank since-

CSDC: Since the first tape?

Ivan: Since the summer of last year.

CSDC: Why was it sitting?

Ivan: Because we were like “oh, maybe we should take ourselves seriously this time around.” Because Free Thyme I was like Kosi forcing me to just be like "dude we need to release our music" and I am like "No no no, but we still need to mix this we need to change this and I want to do this on this.” He was like "shut up, we are dropping it tonight and that's it."

Kosi: People are like now are listening to the singles from Free Thyme II like "Grandma’s house" and liking the Free Thyme page.

CSDC: That is literally what we do.

Kosi: Oh good, you listen to it.

CSDC: Your entire SoundCloud page is such an easy listen. Like you kind of get stuck and you’re like okay.

Kosi: By the fourth play, people will want to listen to tape two.

Ivan: We are so tired of the first tape though.

CSDC: Really?

Kosi: I am embarrassed.

Ivan: We were so bad.

CSDC: You’re embarrassed of it?

Kosi: We were like "can you just take the whole thing off."

CSDC: Why? It is so good.

Ivan: Any time someone says am I "When I’m On" is a good song or "Paint the Days" we are both like “no, shut up shut up.”

CSDC: "Paint the Days" is beautiful.

Kosi: I think it’s beautiful too –it’s my favorite song on the tape. I wish "When I’m On” never happened. It makes me sound like such a rapper. I am like bragging.

CSDC: Oh I get it. Like the ego, the rapper ego.

Kosi: Like you never hear any of that for the rest of the tape. You know what I am saying?

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CSDC: Yeah that's true. It was good though. I thought it was funny. Well I want to know, do you guys read a lot of books? You guys seem really smart and the lyrics are so insanely good to me that I am like... you guys could write for other people probably.

Kosi: Wow. Damn!

CSDC: Seriously.

Kosi: Because I be listening to my verses and feel like "dog I can go deeper." Cause I am spitting poems.

CSDC: No, but its good. It’s good because if you went deeper…

Kosi: You cannot go too deep.

CSDC: It is an easy listen. And if you listen to it you can kind of catch little Easter eggs but it’s not like you need to be fullyimmersed.

Kosi: I think it’s important to note that we are both University of Maryland dropouts.

CSDC: Okay, good, because that was going to be my next question.

Kosi: So Ivan is a philosophy major and I created a major through an individual studies program. It was called transmedia storytelling.

CSDC: What does that mean?

Ivan: Just digest that, everybody.

Kosi: It was essentially my attempt to talk about a phenomenon which is a case of modern, contemporary media consumption. It was not like I listen to a song or watch a television show of whatever. Now, you have the television show with a mixtape that's ingrained in the television show. The way we consume media is very mass. But yes, to answer your question. Basically we are very voracious readers. I myself have a library in my room.

CSDC: A library in your room?

Kosi: Yeah, my dad is a professor and my mom is a high school teacher. So they’re taking well to the whole drop out thing.

CSDC: What advice would you give people who are considering dropping out?

Ivan: Well, I dropped out first. I don’t know I guess I was a bad influence. But Kosi was hanging on by a thread for a year. I think you should do if it makes sense for you. If you have something you want to do and you’re passionate about it, and that’s where you want to take your life then do it. Life’s too short at the end of the day. If you die tomorrow and you’re not living the life that you want to be living, change your life –make it happen. Give it everything you have, though. Don’t loaf. Don’t just fucking drop out to smoke weed every day. All though, there’s nothing wrong with weed.

Kosi: I think what’s attractive right now in our ages of “Steve Jobs and Kanye West” people think they’re just gonna drop out and get on; it’s just gonna happen. I would tell myself before I dropped out, I would ask “What’s your schedule look like tomorrow?” Just because you don’t like the schedule people are giving you –you’re going to university because you’re like I’ll take this curriculum and schedule these people are giving me and make something of it. Leave school if you already have a schedule. But you have to put yourself to the same sort of standards if you were doing this 9-5. We always say we have to treat this like a 9-5. Don’t think that we’re the most rigorous musicians, we’re just holding ourselves accountable.

Ivan: It’s so clutch that we live literally right next to each other. Behind that wall is Kosi’s room. “Free Thyme” goes on a deeper level-if he’s off and I’m off, we’re probably working. It's cool because we’re both kind of impossible to reach people so we make it work in our free time.

 All photos by Mirr Woods for Capitol Sound DC.

InterviewsAngelie Benn