I was fortunate enough to catch up with indie-rapper, MC Lars, on this year’s Van’s Warped Tour. For over a decade, this self-producing artist has pushed hip-hop’s boundaries with his smart, literary rhymes and his punk rock influences. Here, Lars goes in depth on why 19th century literature is still relevant, and why he fits right in on the Warped Tour.
So, you have been on the Warped Tour multiple times. What is your favorite part about the tour?
I love how it’s the kind of tour where if you are hardworking and reach out to people, you see a response. You get a reaction, you know? It’s the kind of tour where if you do it again, people recognize you and I feel like it’s been a really good summer for us in that regard.
What is it like being a rapper on this primarily pop-punk and hardcore tour?
It’s interesting because we are definitely in the minority, but a lot of great rappers have done the tour. Guys like Eminem, Slug from Atmosphere, and POS. I think that Warped Tour is cool because it’s kind of like the alternative culture and we fit into that. I think having a live drummer and sampling punk bands and stuff gives us kind of an in. I do a lot of literary rap stuff and it’s been interesting this year seeing how that has really hit a lot of young people in the classroom. A lot of people say that they know my Edgar Allan Poe stuff. That’s been great. So I feel like the rap I do has found an audience here.
Speaking of Edgar Allan Poe, you have a whole EP dedicated to him. What draws you to him in particular?
Well, I studied literature in college and what I loved about him is that he wrote his stuff to be read aloud. He believed in the magic of sound and rhyme, and thought of poetry as an oral culture. And hip-hop I think fits the same place in society and culture. It’s just interesting how he’s remained relevant because his stuff sounds so nice read aloud. So when you put a beat under it, it’s just this natural connection.
So, you did go to Stanford to study literature. Did you ever think that you would end up here?
That’s a good question. I mean I have always dreamed of doing music and it’s such a weird competitive business that, you know, this was originally just going to be a hobby but it kind of became a thing where I’ve never had to get a day job. So with things like the Warped Tour and international tours and stuff like that, it’s just been fun doing my own thing and just really having fun with it. I think as soon as music isn’t fun or you’re not feeling some sort of creative reward from it, it’s time to give up, you know?
So you are on this tour that is primarily punk and I heard that you used to play in a punk band. Is that true?
Yeah, I played bass in a hardcore band.
How did you transition into hip-hop from that?
Well, I used to do my hip-hop stuff to open for my other band. That kind of got more attention. What happened was, I went to school in Oxford in 2003 and then I met a bunch of punk and indie bands, opened for them, and got signed to a local label over there. It came through the skills I learned about booking shows and promoting shows through doing punk rock. So it was kind of like a natural progression. That was in 2003, right when Atmosphere was breaking and indie rap was a new and exciting thing. Nerd core didn’t really exist yet so I kind of got ahead of all of the hundreds of thousands of YouTube rappers that came out in the wake of that. So the old-school punk rock promo, I applied it to a new school genre and then here we are.
You also have these workshops that are going on in the tour. Can you tell me a little bit about those?
Yeah man, that’s cool you know about that. It’s The Entertainment Institute (TEI), and it’s Warped’s teaching side of things. I did one today and basically it’s about how the music industry works, how to make beats, and how to write rhymes. Basically in 45 minutes, I pass on as much info as I can and they have been really cool.
So, since you are kind of all about teaching and literature, give me your quick pitch on why you think that young people should care about literature. Often times it seems kind of hard for them to get into it.
Yeah, I mean that’s a good question. I think that literature is important because there are timeless themes. I like Poe, I like Shakespeare, and I like Herman Melville because they deal with so many issues that we can relate to. I think that 19th century literature is so interesting because that’s kind of the era of America’s adolescence. It was coming into its own, figuring out its place in the world.
I also think that Poe is really relatable because he deals with such universal themes. And I think that in an era where we are all so obsessed with social media, technology, and saying so much without ever thinking about what we are saying, it’s nice to slow down and look at these masters whose words have lasted because they have meaning to them. Words can lose their power now and it’s important to see why certain things are timeless. Also you can learn a lot about yourself. And memorizing poetry and things like that, it helps you deal with the world.