Photos by Junette Reyes/FIUSM
Junette Reyes/Entertainment Director
Diego Saldaña-Rojas/Staff Writer
In the series of sit downs with local artists, FIU Student Media has had the opportunity to previously sit down and interview artist Smurphio from the local electronic funk band known as Afrobeta, local hip-hop artist Flight Williams from the collective rap group known as Outta This World, local DJ and producer Jesse Perez, Harlowe G. and Lauren from Jean Jacket, and Juan Turros and Michelle Forman of ¡Suénalo!.
This time around, FIUSM got to interview The Cornerstoners in collaboration with the WRGP Radiate FM program called Local Radiation.
The Cornerstoners is comprised of emcee Michelangelo, drummer Alana Dym, guitarist ChrisP and bassist Sean.
Michelangelo: Back in around 2005, there was a venue in South Wynwood. It was called The Cornerstone. It was on North Miami avenue and 20th street. That venue lasted up until about 2007. Some of the original band members started at that time. We all came together at that venue and started jamming together at their open mics. We just came up as individual musicians. We eventually decided to call ourselves The Cornerstoners. The venue closed down and we just carried on the name and the whole spirit of the place.
ChrisP: I’m not from the original lineup but from what I understand the Cornerstone was an unbelievable arts collective.
Michelangelo: It turns out I’m the only original lasting member from back in 2007 with Alana. Afterwards, then Krispy, then Sean. Back in those days, we used to have another emcee; his name was E. Grizzly. He’s a really dope emcee. We were more of an organic hip-hop band, organic in the sense that we used hand drums and more acoustic instruments. And we would just rap over that. Eventually we just evolved into a full grown sound of a fusion of hip-hop, rock and funk.
In terms of hip-hop, what are your biggest influences?
Michelangelo: I think as far as hip-hop, I probably bring the most to the table. Alana brings a lot of the hip-hop rhythms to the table, of course. But my biggest influences growing up…I really like Tupac. I love Tupac so much because he was an emcee whose lyrics came from a place of emotion. That’s what I feel like, my lyrics when I write them, they come from a state of emotion. We’ve got some emcees that are like catchphrase emcees; they’re all about the punch lines, they’re all about tricky metaphors. To me, Tupac was always somebody who just came straight from the heart. He spoke about what he learned growing up with his momma. He was just real and there’s something you can trace to a certain emotion that you felt in your past. And that’s why I feel like his music resonated so much with me. I would say Tupac is one of my biggest influences as an emcee growing up.
ChrisP: For me, my favorite hip-hop group would have to be The Roots. I love The Roots through and through. Black Thought is one of my favorite emcees. I really do admire poetry and I love everything Michelangelo puts down. But something about an emcee that is gonna spit at 120 bpms, 150 bpms. Be like spitting 16th notes and it’s all funny and it just feels good. That really does it for me. That’s why I like Black Thought.
Alana: When it comes to The Roots, I really gained a lot of influence from Questlove from The Roots. Not just from The Roots but all of his side projects. Working with D’Angelo and how he basically pioneered neo-soul. He just adds a sound to the field that is completely unique. That is really something I try to strive for with my sound as well.
ChrisP: That really fire, drum tone that sounds very tight and compressed but adds this really nice neo-soul groove. It kind of paved the way.
Michelangelo: A lot of my writing has changed from the past couple of years. A lot of the material that we have right now, that we’re pushing and promoting right now, I speak a lot about time. It’s kind of like a recurring subject in my lyrics. I talk a lot about past, present and future, more so focusing on the present and acknowledging how the past is the past and the future is not promised. That’s definitely a recurring theme in my lyrics personally, time.
What genres tend to seep into your music?
ChrisP: The first album was a nice fusion of everything from Cuban jazz to hip-hop and funk and rock. But now, we’re more so moving in a direction for what we’re composing for the second album is a lot more groove-based rock. Kind of like Rage Against the Machine or Queens of the Stone Age would be with a lot of cool progressive effects like Incubus would use. Incubus as a whole isn’t all progressive rock but they have some progressive rock. It takes groove-based rock and funk, funk guitarists used to use in the 70’s, and it kind of takes that and it pushes it in a very post 2000 rock kind of psychedelic sound.
The reason why I reference Incubus is because there are lots of discrete sections and everything is very much calculated. And sometimes live, we’ll throw down sections where we have nice jams going on. We’ll have guests solo; we keep it free flowing and jazzy in that sense. But everything is very structured and hard-hitting in Incubus’ songs. We go way beyond taking one groove and kind of meld the groove throughout the song to kind of come back and hit. It’s all over the place in the sense it’s always interesting. People are always finding new rhythms inside to kind of make the body bounce.
Is there a sense of spontaneity or improvisation to your live performances?
ChrisP: Yes, absolutely.
Alana: We really focus a lot on our live shows. It’s kind of like a very structured chaos almost. We plan on improvising basically. We work on all of our sections while still leaving it very open to moving around within the sections and letting things happen as the energy moves us at the time.
How’d you get involved with the Virginia Key Grassroots Festival?
Michelangelo: The first year at Grassroots Festival, Alana and ChrisP actually volunteered and they hung out with the festival organizers and helped at the festival. Everybody knows the first year at Grassroots was amazing but it got rained out. The second year, we found out that they were coming back so we just kind of hit them up. They didn’t respond immediately. Kind of ended up where they were having a jam at the Grassroots house, they were having a get together. I think ChrisP and Alana showed up and they just jammed and kind of hit it off with the organizers. I really think that maybe the word spread throughout the musician community that “Hey, we like The Cornerstoners. The Cornerstoners really get out there putting out flyers and putting it on Facebook,” etc. I think maybe Grassroots saw that as this local Miami band is good. I think that might have been a big push for them.
ChrisP: You know who also gave us a reference too? Massive Ideas. They do a lot of cool electronic shows around. They put in a good word for us and while we were chilling at the party and then we showed up and started jamming. And those guys are just awesome. They’re all just really real people coming down from upstate New York all the way down to the Carolinas.
Alana: They’re just in it for all the right reasons. They love music. It’s just a really good vibe with those people and the festival is awesome.
Michelangelo: It’s awesome to be working in the festival. We have such a great trajectory. It’s a pleasure to be working with a group of people that really know how to put on a festival.
What do you have to say about the local scene?
Michelangelo: It’s under supported. It’s a different perspective for everybody. Sure, there’s a lot of people working together but at the same time, there’s still a lot of segregation going on between genres and between different groups. That’s why I think festivals like Grassroots and festivals like the one we put on, Fish Out of Water Music Festival, brings together different genres and different people that come from different backgrounds and different disciplines that normally wouldn’t be brought together under any other circumstances. I think the Miami music scene is growing a lot more because of festivals like Grassroots and because of different events that are being put on nowadays where more and more different subdivisions of the Miami music scene are coming together under the same roof.