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'Our Memories of Things Matter': Rap Trio Previous Industries On Their Singular Debut

Thursday, 04 July 2024 Written by Tom Morgan

Photo: Robyn Von Swank

The pandemic was a well-documented time of upheaval. It was a period when things either came together or broke apart, with little in between. Comprising Open Mike Eagle, Video Dave and STILL RIFT, the inventive, reflective rap trio Previous Industries fall into the former camp.

The project coalesced via a series of hang-outs and writing sessions at Mike’s house, with whiskey and introspection at their heart. “We were having a lot of vulnerable conversations,” explains Dave. “Within the sanctity of these sessions, a lot of our writing became about stuff we were going through and stuff that had been dredged up by that moment in time.” 

If it isn’t already clear, the trio go way back. Dave explains that “Mike and RIFT met each other in high school, I met Mike in college.” Since then, they have worked on each other’s myriad projects, intertwining and colliding across the course of their ever-growing discographies. 

Mike has developed a particularly large body of work, extending beyond music to podcasts and a Comedy Central TV show. “Around the time I started working on the show, Dave and I also started making music and touring together,” he adds. “That dovetails with me and RIFT, who started rapping in high school, through to all of us finding ourselves in L.A. and starting to create together.”

A very 2020 sense of out-of-time strangeness courses through the trio’s brilliant debut album ‘Service Merchandise’. It’s a gentle, thoughtful and off-kilter work, with a production style reminiscent of those long lockdown days when you found yourself constructing mental wormholes, kaleidoscopically sifting through your psyche. 

Similarly, the trio’s introspective lyrics shuffle personal memories like a deck of cards. One moment Dave might be reminiscing on childhood grocery errands (Fotomat) and the next Mike’s recalling the excitement of opening presents on Christmas morning (Babbages).

‘Service Merchandise’ builds this intriguing psychological architecture around a distinct theme: defunct chain stores. All 11 tracks share their titles with discontinued North American retail chains. Most will be unfamiliar to overseas readers. There’s the Midwestern convenience store chain White Hen, the drive-thru photo developers Fotomat as well as department store chain Montgomery Ward. 

Just searching these stores and their wares is enough to send your own mind racing back to similar memories of a pre-online shopping world. These named chains are ones the trio all hold personal affection for. RIFT highlights Zayre “because my parents spent a lot of time shopping there.” Mike brings up video game chain store Babbages, which later became GameStop. “It used to be that there were a ton of game stores,” he explains. “To me those were the most awesome places.” 

The notion that people will relate to the trio’s warm nostalgia for these stores runs   counter to modern anti-consumerist thinking. However, there can be something calm and secure about shopping in a familiar chain. This feeling functions as a microcosm of why nostalgia is so prevalent in today’s precarious, ever-changing world.

On the album’s central metaphor, Mike theorises that, “capitalism disposes of things that are no longer on sale. It seeks to reduce the value of things that are no longer available and this extends to musical acts. I love Prince Paul’s albums, but my love seems out of step with the industry, which treats it as disposable because it hasn’t sold five million copies.” 

He pauses and adds: “Putting an intentional focus on retail stores gone by reminds us that our memories of things matter and I find it very valuable to excavate that space in art.”

The album’s nuanced thesis feels a million miles away from the pastiche-heavy nostalgia/retro style so common today in music and wider culture. “Our nostalgia is very separate from all that,” Mike explains. “We’re taking the time and making the space to process stuff from our own history that natural, everyday life doesn’t give you the chance to.” RIFT adds: “When longing for the past becomes overwhelming and distorts one’s ability to make new things is when it becomes harmful.”

Appropriately, the record does a fascinating job of subverting nostalgia. The lyrics are ultra-introspective, but the accomplished rhymes and imaginative beats (provided by man-of-the-moment producer Child Actor) are fresh and singular, bursting with invention. The glistening textures are abstract but approachable, boasting rhythms that wobble and stumble while remaining upright and hypnotic in their momentum. 

“I think a lot of our initial creation involved the three of us bringing beats to the table and seeing what resonated,” explains Mike of the LP’s singular palette. On Child Actor’s influence, Mike refers to him as “one of the most productive producers I’ve ever known, he always has new stuff for us.”

Mirroring its temporally-disjointed themes, Previous Industries set no limitations on their sonic parameters. Mike describes the group’s sole creative criteria as being that they simply “had to be feeling it.” Dave concurs. “We hadn’t set the table, we just had to like it,” he says. 

It’s fun to imagine what sort of explorations the group’s future work might follow. There are endless avenues to venture down with music that explores the thorny complexities of its creators’ past and fuses it with thrillingly contemporary beats. 

However, Mike is coy on what happens next. “We’ve got some plans,” he says. “I don’t think we’re ready to dole them out yet. But we’ve been scheming for years, so what people are hearing now is just the tip of the iceberg.” 

RIFT is a little more open. “I do think that there is just an inherent theme of experience that’s going to be pervasive in what we do because of who we are,” he elucidates. “Everything’s informed by what we’ve done already. Our ethos is to be able to tackle current and new things from the lens of the people that have gone through what we’ve been through.”

“It’s kinda like solving an algebraic equation and instead of just giving you the answer we’re showing you the work,” he concludes.

Previous Industries’ ‘Service Merchandise’ is out now through Merge.


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