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INTERVIEW | SMBR: How it begins

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by Sara Dollens

Derek Malchow, aka SMBR, is an up-and-coming local hip-hop artist from Stillwater, Minnesota. I recently chatted with him about his experience playing music, his goals as an artist, what his plans are for the future, and more.

GMN: Who are you?

SMBR: I am SMBR (Somber). State of mind that doesn’t sit well with most, due to the meaning it brings.

GMN: What experience do you have with music?  I understand that you used to play drums in a hardcore band; can you elaborate on that?

SMBR: Yep! I was in the band, Before They Fell! I had joined the group when I was a junior in high school and had just moved back to Minnesota from Arizona. I had been playing drums for about two years at the time. I didn’t know what hardcore music was until my friend who was also the bassist; one day showed me the song “Pi (The Mercury God of Infinity)” by local group After The Burial, and then from there showed me the song, “A Steady Decline.” I was hooked. Later him and the guitarist wanted me to drum for the group they were forming and so I joined them. We were a band for maybe three years with a few months on hiatus, but we got to share the stage with some amazing bands, got to play venues non-existent anymore, and for me personally, was the start of my musical career.

GMN: Why did you decide to venture into the hip-hop scene and are you still playing the drums?

SMBR: I decided to get into hip-hop when I realized I wanted to have more of a voice. I didn’t listen to hip hop a whole lot since I was focused on hardcore and metal music and sharpening my skills behind the kit, but there was three events that got me into hip-hop…

  1. A friend of mine had shown me local rapper P.O.S. and I was shocked to find that he had a punk and hardcore background yet turned it into hip hop. I still jam his song “Never Better” like it came out just yesterday.
  2. I watched the movie Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai. The song “Samurai Showdown” by the RZA became a favorite of mine and from that I found the hip-hop revolutionaries the Wu Tang Clan.
  3. I love the anime Samurai Champloo and I wanted the soundtrack for it. I downloaded the album figuring I’d try my hand at rapping and I ended up writing my first song to one of the tracks on the album.

These three events have brought me to where I am today. They continue to inspire me to keep writing and speaking my mind through lyrics and hip-hop. And also, of course I still drum. I plan on tracking drums myself for an album(s) eventually. Nothing in the works yet, but it will happen.

GMN: You just released your first song, “Awaken” on Bandcamp a while ago.  Can you explain what this song means to you and why you chose it as your first release?

SMBR: “Awaken” is the intro to who I am, what I stand for, and what I intend to do in the music scene. I wanted my first statement and release to be hard hitting, something to make you think about, and have to listen to a few times to be able to catch everything.

GMN: With your first song released online, what’s your next step creatively? 

SMBR: I have my first mix tape ready, just got the final song back. Not sure what the title will be but it’s going to be my introduction and just a showcase of what I can do. I have one of my best friends and local rapper on a few tracks; he and I are currently writing what will be our first collaboration EP, so I’m constantly writing lyrics for that project and for myself. I’m looking to book shows for the winter here and have a release show in my hometown of Stillwater. I’m going to Arizona to part take in a contest down there and other than that, just keep the art flowing and let creativity take over for new ideas and opportunities.

GMN: What are you hoping to bring to this scene that’s new and different?

SMBR: I’m bringing something raw. Something that is grimy. Something that I think will have people drop their head to the side and have to think about what was just said. I want to invoke a new train of thought to what is played on the radio, promoted on YouTube, etc. I’m looking to bring a sound that has the ferocity of the hardcore scene, yet the poetry and realism of hip-hop. I’m looking to literally bring something somber to the table and paint you a rainy and gray portrait.

GMN: Where do you see yourself heading in the next few years?

SMBR: Next year and the year after that, there will be as many shows booked as possible. Hopefully I’ll release at least two more mix tapes of mine and the collaboration album of my buddy and I next year. I also hope to have a full-length album of my own and maybe a few more mix tapes released the year after. I hope to accomplish all of this as well as get more embedded into the Twin Cities scene with all the talent and artists that flourish from there. From that point, I have musical ideas and projects that I’m not going say now only because its all in the works, but if all goes as planned, they’re ideas that will bring Minnesota a new sound in a few years. You can count on it!

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