Speaking to Nick Barat is like speaking to the yourself you wish you were.
The Fool’s Gold founder and modern renaissance man better known as Nick Catchdubs is almost impossibly awake and relaxed considering he’s just hours away from the label’s DAY OFF festival show in L.A. I’m developing a stress contact high just thinking about the massive undertaking that he and his team are about to pull off, but fittingly Catchdubs talks about the show with the uncomplicated, open-eyes excitement of a high school kid detailing his plans to skip school for the beach.
It might be an extraordinary day, but it’s just another day for a man who’s resume includes the kind of polyglot interests and skills that have now become a blueprint in the age where boundary-breaking has become the norm.
It’s no surprise then that over the course of our half-hour conversation we cover more ground than the Louisiana Purchase. While I typically carve down interviews into select quotes - partly because curation and context is the writer’s job, primarily because most people simply aren’t that interesting for that long - in this case Catchdubs proved to be a conversational DJ. He keeps things moving without ever feeling rushed, and dropped just enough moments of “did you just hear that!” thrills to make me feel greedy keeping all these gems to myself.
So while this isn’t a verbatim transcript, I’ve organized and divided his musings into sections, it’s as close as I can get you to the experience of soaking in Catchdini’s lowkey wisdom in text. From Fool’s Gold’s pioneering music label model to his new Hangover EP with Black Dave to his spirit animal Steve Buscemi, here’s the new epic Nick Catchdubs interview in his own words.
I’m always gonna be more excited about what’s coming up next than what we’ve already accomplished. It’s for other people to tell me. Fool’s Gold really started from nothing, total DIY. No investors, no spending trust funds to fund a vanity label. It’s a real thing that sprung from a real community - wanting to put out our friends music, wanting to put out our music, and ten years later it’s grown into this.
You look at the stuff we were trying to do in 2007 - now the world caught up. The hybrid thing, the bridging of communities, now there’s a generation of kids who grew up with that, so to them it’s second nature. It’s really cool to see the Fool’s Gold fingerprints on so many things.
We’re artists first. I would never present someone with a contract that I wouldn’t sign myself. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing that I’m misleading somebody, or prey on the fact that they’re new to the game. Because Fool’s Gold deals with a lot of new artists, this is often the first music deal they’ve ever signed. It’s their first experience with a record contract. People are used to creating some shit and uploading it themselves. It’s a learning experience, and I’m fine explaining, this is how this works.
Our deals are essentially 50/50 profit shares. We’re going to put out this record, these are the expenses, we account to you this many times a year...I would rather over explain this than have it be a mystery. None of this should be a mystery.
This is fucking 2016, no one needs a label. You should do it because you want to have a creative partner. Fool’s Gold is not a middleman. We want to say, this album is dope, but if we got someone to mix it, it would sound that much better. Hey, this is a cool idea for your cover, but let’s do some fonts that are more unique, that can help tie these pieces together. That’s what separates artists who have an impact from the ones where you say, this is fine, I like this, and then you forget about it.
You need to try to make the coolest project possible, and you can’t dictate how the world responds to it. You just have to care. Every project Fool’s Gold has put out, you can see that there’s real care.
For us it’s really just about telling a story. The recorded music, as a mp3 or whatever, that’s really just one part of the story. The artwork is another part of the story, the live show, the merch and other tchotchkes, that’s all part of the story. Fool’s Gold is as much a philosophy and an attitude as a label. We just give people as many different opportunities and routes to get to us on their own.
It’s a smart sense of fun. We love high and low culture, and we want to smash those things together. A lot of art can get too pretentious, can take itself too seriously. I describe the Fool’s Gold vibe as having a little weight, there’s always some little nod. If you get it you get it, and if you get it you’re one of us.
This is a label founded by DJs, so whether we’re putting out techno or a garage band, there’s a funkiness and a groove that unites it that’s not tied to any one genre or style. I like to think that everything we do is greater than the sum of its parts. It wouldn’t exist if we didn’t foster it into being.
It’s not calculated. It’s not like A-Trak and I sit down and mastermind this arrangement or plot every move out. That’s the benefit of being a small organization - you can be nimble. You can just have a conversation and have it turn into a release
Anyone I’ve ever worked with has come from a personal relationship. I’m not really an email back-and-forth kind of person. Everything I’ve done is IRL music. As a DJ, and as a person, as someone who participates in this culture, I just meet people. Whether it’s the guys from World Fair or Black Dave, I met them at a show or a party and just vibes from there. It’s not like I slid into the DMs like, yo, let’s work, let’s do this fam. It’s a lot more organic than that.
A lot of people in the same generation as me have started to get burnt out or feel jaded, and I’m grateful to feel the opposite of that. A big part of it is focusing more on my own music, my own projects, as much as helping other people with theirs.
I’m a visual artist and a designer as well well as a producer and a DJ...and I guess an entrepreneur. To me it’s just another form of expression, I’m definitely inspired by visual things and creating other art, and that fuels my DJing, my production. There’s movies I’ve watched that have inspired tracks. That’s what we’ve always tried to push - how can we add value, how can we connect the dots, and push it in a new way.
You have to continue to create moments for yourself. I equate the stuff I do with being a character actor. The people I connect with, they’re not the movie stars, they’re the Steve Buscemi's. They’re the people who have this sort of magic that you can’t pinpoint, but you know that whatever they show up in, they’re doing to make it cool.
A lot of these character actors, they say, ‘I don’t really get the kind of parts I want, so I’m going to write the kind of parts that I want.’ That’s the way I approach music. If some artist isn’t knocking on my door to produce a record, I’m going to go out and chase that kind of sound myself.
People know me as a DJ, they know me as a label owner, and they’re just starting to know me as a producer. I just want to continue to work with artists who have a unique point of view. I want to work with singers, dancehall MCs, bands, create things that are this cool hybrid. You don’t have to exist in one box. The reality is, if you’re open to the world, you can work with anybody. As much as I want it to be a calling card for a certain kind of vibe, I just want to work with humans.
The reality is that from a marketing standpoint, from a business standpoint, it’s really hard to have diverse interests. People who pop off, it’s because there’s a very specific, easily recognizable thing they do. But the artists I know who are only known for one thing, those are the only opportunities they get. So while this is a harder road to take, it’s more fulfilling. I do still feel I can wake up in the morning and make whatever I want. So while that’s not the quick path to being a Vegas, mega-corp DJ, I like knowing that people are paying attention.
A lot of this isn’t trendy. The kind of beats I’m into as a producer, it’s not really the sound that’s on the radio. I don’t make Travis Scott-y kind of beats. The stuff that I like is more uptempo, like robots banging on the lunch table. That’s just the kind of stuff I’m personally excited and inspired by. I love the Neptunes, I love all the hyphy Bay Area stuff. Im able to take these influences and years of DJing and pop out something that I feel like is mine. The stuff that excites me is, this isn’t music that would exist if I didn’t will it to.
Dave does a lot of stuff on his own, he doesn’t need someone to help him. We did this because we wanted to. This might be the only Dave record that Fool’s Gold ever puts out, and that’s cool. Our attitude allows for one-offs and singles. If we made something cool, let’s put it out. This project of yours, it’s perfect for us. This other one, maybe it needs a different vibe. Being able to tailor things to the moment, and being super transparent about what we want, it manages expectations.
Take the Hangover EP, that’s a good example of this hybrid partnership. The kids who are listening to that might not have even been born when Spuds MacKenzie was advertising, but I drew the dog with Black Dave’s hat for the cover because it’s an obscure reference in the grand scheme of things, but if you pick up on it you feel like, oh, that’s a reference for me!
People can dismiss it as party-centric music as disposable, but I just want to make the best possible moment. Even if it is candy, let’s make it the best, most interesting candy. Let’s do something unexpected and put our own flavor in there.
[By Nathan Slavik, aka @RefinedHype. Photo credit, Josh Wehle]