If you've heard the name Ceschi, chances are you're familiar with him as either the fearless MC/multi-instrumentalist leader of indie hip-hop label Fake Four or you may have heard tell of the Free Ceschi campaign that saw friends and fans of the artist come to his aid during the trial that subsequently saw him serve a year in prison due to a controversial alleged marijuana "Christmas Bust" which made headlines in 2010.
Released since late 2013, Ceschi's hitting the road again in support of his new album Broken Bone Ballads, and is giving us the exclusive premiere of the first single "Barely Alive" which features indie rap icon Sage Francis. On Thursday April 2nd, Ceschi hits San Clemente's OC Tavern.
We spoke to Ceschi about this new video (see below), his new album and readjusting to being a touring indie artist after being in prison.
OC Weekly (Chaz Kangas): Your new video "Barely Alive" features Sage Francis, who is also playing the album release shows with you. Do you recall your first time hearing Sage's music?
Ceschi: I do, actually. I used to be deeply into hardcore and ska shows, indie rock shows, when I was a young teenager. In 1996, I went to a Vision of Disorder show in New Haven, Connecticut and Sage Francis happened to rap with this hardcore band from Connecticut. I ended up buying his demo tape, a little tape called Homegrown. He was a straight edge rapper, and talked about being straight edge, and I thought that was really unique. I held on to his tape and it really influenced me a lot. It was one of those things were I memorized all the lyrics for the album, and I had been rapping since I was a kid, but that was one of the first times I felt I could really do it. There's maybe 100 copies of that tape in existence. I still have me.
I've always had that history with him, and he knows how much I respect him. Over the last 4-5 years or so, we've become friends. We have a lot of respect for each other, we've both worked together, we both run indie labels. That's the story with him.
Where did the idea for the "Barely Alive" video come from?
I was trying to find some sort of metaphor for what we do, the way we perform in front of people and have to embarass ourselves from time to time. At first I thought we're like kinda clowns to these people. Sometimes you'll go in front of a crowd and feel like you're naked. I was thinking, maybe we could be clowns in front of a bunch of children, playing our hearts out and they're just laughing. Then I thought it would be more interesting if there was some kind of costume.
So, I went to the costume store. I really wanted to have Barney costumes and had written the treatment for these miserable guys to be Barney performers. The lady as the costume store said "We can't do Barney anymore. We got sued. This guy rented a Barney suit from us and then tackled a quarterback at a U-Conn game." They got sued for 40 grand because of this Barney costume she rented somebody.
But she said, "We do have two Elmo costumes though."
I thought about it and I like the color red, it really stands out among a dreary New England scenery.
How many guys did you tackle dressed as Elmo afterwards?
(laughs) Just one, in the video. Was Broken Bone Ballads recorded after your time in prison, or did you start it prior to the proceedings?
I'd say over half of it was done before, and the rest was done after I was released. The first song on the album is as old at 2007. The reason I call it Broken Bone Ballads is because I had broken my arm in an arm-wrestling match with a Marine in Hawaii in 2007, and the first song I did was recording during that period. This album documents a whole period of my life before even getting arrested, then after getting arrested, years of court and then going to jail.
Following your release, did you go back and alter any of the songs with the benefit of hindsight, or do you find it more fruitful to capture the moment?
I think a lot of it was capturing the moment, some of it was revisiting it and some of it I know in certain cases I felt the need to do the performance again because I felt like, maybe, I hadn't executed it properly before and when I got out I had this new found energy in it. Really, it documents 5-6 years of my life in song form.
Let's talk about bringing those songs on the road. You were released in late 2013.
Yeah, and I was on parole for a year. I just got off parole in December. They allowed me to tour six months into my parole, but I was confined to one week tours and I had to stay in the state the rest of the month. I could leave the state for a week at a time. I was able to get these passes to leave, up to ten days in some cases. I did little stints like that and went around the states in year long tours. But this is going to be my first time in years touring the entire United States in one shot, and then I'm heading to Europe for the first time in 3-4 years.
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Once you started getting the one week tour spots, had much changed in the touring world since your last time on the road?
Maybe it was just me, but I felt there was a new energy in our little indie hip-hop scene. Maybe it was just I hadn't been to these places and people were excited to see me again, but all the shows were really good, and better than I remembered them before getting locked up. I don't know if the case and everything spread word about my music more, but I definitely felt the love out there. It got me excited to do music still. It got me excited to get back on the road seriously.