Through the Eyes of Music: A Conversation With Marc E. Bassy

Marc E. Bassy
Marc E. Bassy | Photo Credit - Press

Marc E. Bassy’s temperament might be his biggest flex outside of his platinum-selling status. He doesn’t measure success by the numbers despite having his catalog streamed over 1 billion times across DSP’s. He remains grateful: he remains thankful, but as he affirms, “we still have a lot of work to do.”

The San Francisco native identify’s as either an old soul or a brand new one, somewhere in between. Unlike other commercial acts, if he could have his way, Marc could do without the interconnected realm of social media and the death grip it has on society. “There’s always a deeper question about what social media is doing to the consumer, to the listener, to the artist.” With this in mind, he has a very valid point, especially when you consider the length of Marc’s run in music: he’s been around long enough to witness the toxic fallout behind social networking — anxiety, instant gratification, the list goes on. But when promoting content is your livelihood — because after all, this is the entertainment industry — it’s all about finding that necessary balance.

Marc’s affinity for melodies is best attributed to a life-changing moment in time that stems from his teenage years. “I had an accident when I was 17 and I had a brain hemorrhage,” he shares with me over the phone. “It was pretty life-changing even though I didn’t realize it at the time,” Marc continues. Shortly after being hospitalized, while on the road to recovery, the then 17-year-old began to see things from an artistic vantage point, through the eyes of music: “I kept picturing my life like a series of songs that I was just constantly writing in my head.”

10+ years later and the narrative remains true, Marc still sees life through sonic depictions — this time around, he’s a bit more informed as a young adult. Personally, Marc identify’s with the majority consensus, 2020 has been one hell of a year. “Everyone got their own shit to get through,” is nothing short of a plainspoken truth, but this year seems strangely unforgiving.

“For someone who just cracked into their early 30’s, this is probably the toughest socio-political climate that we’ve dealt with.”

Most recently, The Golden City wordsmith penned a collab effort with famed singer-songwriter/pianist Cory Henry. ‘Free Like Me’ blends soulful piano chords with Marc’s emotion-tinged vocals, entrancing listeners with a thought-provoking balance of heartfelt mentions that promote freedom, thematically speaking. Preceding Bassy’s forthcoming 2021 album release, the second project undertaken by his independent label, New Gold Medal, the foreseeable future looks promising for the music industry’s humble treasure trove.

What is your stance on internet culture: is having a strong online presence vital to an artist’ success? 

If that’s how you define success. In the sense that I think you’re talking about, in terms of being commercial, being known, making money: I would say yeah it’s important. For sure, there’s outliers and people who make money without doing shit for social media, but for the most part it’s very important, a priority for most commercial acts. You have to do something out there since streaming is the way that people get music. People don’t know to go stream your music unless it’s promoted on social media. How do you know when an artist is dropping new music: you don’t read it in a paper, you don’t hear it on the radio really, you see it on Instagram. You gotta be active and promote yourself. It’s so many artists in the world, it’s so many people promoting content — if this is your life, you have to promote it like your life depended on it, because it really does — this is your livelihood. There’s always a deeper question about what social media is doing to the consumer, to the listener, to the artist. For me, I would love to not even worry about Instagram and Twitter. I don’t get much out of that personally. It’s mostly like fucking brainwashing to be honest. The quality of my information is diminished if I’m getting it primarily from Instagram. That’s not the top quality of information that I can feed myself, but in terms of being an artist: it’s necessary at this point. 

How big are you on motivation and what drives your ambition? 

To be honest man, it’s not easy. I definitely have mood swings and it takes something: it takes energy, effort and concentration to stay motivated for such a long time. I have little practices that I do to remind myself how fortunate I am. I’m a big proponent of counting your blessings and doing practices where you’re actually taking some time to focus on the things you’re grateful for. I think when you’re grateful and thankful, you create a more abundant atmosphere. If you focus on the positive, you get more positive. I’ve been learning that more. As I get into adulthood — the more you know, the more you know how right now we’re in a jam. For someone who just cracked into their early 30’s, this is probably the toughest socio-political climate that we’ve dealt with. Especially if you’re watching the news and on social media, this is the hardest time that I could remember. I remember 911, that was a wild time: I would say I was younger, but it didn’t feel like this. The world feels more violent now, it feels more apart, people feel more divided. I think Americans have to try and remain grateful and level-headed right now. But yeah, that’s how I stay motivated: I wake up, I get grateful. It’s not easy, it’s not everyday. I’m a singer, I’m not going to act like I have much to complain for — I mean, my life is great. That’s partially why I don’t know how life would be if I was working on a moving truck or some of the shit I did back in the day, I might feel crazy. But the truth is everyone got their own shit to get through, so everyone gotta stay as grateful as they can. 

In a past interview, you made reference to your traumatic adolescence and the need for an outlet. With this in mind, when did music become THE answer to your problems? 

I had an accident when I was 17 and I had a brain hemorrhage. It was pretty life-changing even though I didn’t realize it at the time. There was this time period where I was in the hospital a lot and I ended up having to get brain surgery. I was this normal-ass suburban kid, kind of just smoked weed, rode my bike and went to 711: I was just a normal high schooler. I played basketball and then all of sudden I couldn’t do anything that I normally did for a few months while I was recovering. Music just turned into the outlet and it became obvious: I have to do this because I just kept hearing everything in music. I kept picturing my life like a series of songs that I was just constantly writing in my head. I would walk around and think about what was going on and I would just think about it in a song, it was really weird. I’ve never even really said that, but it’s true. I just see the world like that: just lyrics, songs. I listened to so much classic music when I was in high school. I didn’t even really listen to what everyone was listening to. I listened to Stevie Wonder and The Beatles, I just listened to classic music because I like it. 

Would you consider yourself an old soul? 

I’m either a brand new one or old one, I don’t know. In terms of music, I wasn’t that type of person where my music defined who I was. I was an athlete, I defined myself growing up as being a basketball player. For some people, their music is their identity and they’re really tied to that: like if they listen to this or that they’ll find other people that listen to this and this. I was lucky I had that kind of confidence from just hooping. I was really good at basketball really young, and then I was okay after high school or whatever, but I had a time when I got my confidence from that. Music was just something for me and myself. I didn’t have to listen to whatever everyone else was listening to. I grew up around the same place that Tupac grew up, and I went to his high school: I listened to Tupac religiously since I was 5-years-old. 

Since releasing PMD — Post Modern Depression (2019) — in terms of your art form, what has changed; are you on a constant path of evolution sonically or are you comfortable with where your sound is now? 

Earlier, when we were talking about success, I think different people identify success in different ways. For me, improvement has a lot to do with success. So, I’m committed to having a better sound as an artist, overall, all the time. I’ve been more committed to that than anything in my life honestly. That’s my number one commitment – I mean, I’m very committed to my family — but actually, if I’m being perfectly honest, I’ve been bad at being committed to women. People would say that I struggle with that, but when it comes to making my music better and better, I don’t have to question that, and I don’t know what drives that really, but it doesn’t even matter. My career is about getting better, that’s literally what it’s about. For me, the bar is set by the best musician — alive and the best ones from the past — and that’s all I ever think about. I just think where does this stand, in my own opinion. So yeah, I’m committed to that, I’m always trying to get better: play with better musicians, get better mixes, figure out how to master this shit, so it’s a lot of things, figure out where the right tone in my voice is, all that.

What was it like working with Cory Henry on ‘Free Like Me’ – how would you best describe the in-studio dynamics of that session? This feels like a statement record. 

It was a pretty funny story. I never met Cory and I posted him on my Instagram, I’m a fan of his. The same night I posted him — and I wrote on the post it would be crazy to work with him — a friend was over two nights later and we was making music, just hanging out, and he was like, “I gotta bring my homie Cory through here” and I was like, “Cory who?” and he was like, “Cory Henry.” I was like, “Get the fuck outta here bro, I just posted him.” And he was like, “Bro, you don’t understand, Cory lives five minutes from here.” 

So wait, y’all are legit neighbors? 

We’re damn near neighbors. 

(Marc E. Bassy continues)

So, he comes through and we didn’t make music the first night. I was just playing stuff and talking about music, and it’s cool because Cory’s a singer too: Cory Henry’s an artist. A lot of people aren’t familiar with his music yet, but he’s really big on YouTube and Instagram — I mean he is one of the most talented keyboard, organ players alive probably, so people know him a lot for that, but he’s also an incredible songwriter-singer. I was just thinking about what do I even have that’s worthy enough for him to do, what do I have that’s worthy enough of having his talent on a record. You know how they tell you you never want to be the smartest person in the room, you never wanna be the most talented — one of the reasons why I think that’s a fact is because when you’re with people that are better than you, you can only present your best thing, just to try to keep up with the room. With “Free Like Me”, I knew he could get on that. Two days later, we did it at Westlake [Westlake Recording Studios] in the Michael Jackson room, where Michael Jackson made “Thriller”, and to be honest: Cory came at like five in the morning. He doesn’t deal with time, he’s more on the Prince thing: time doesn’t exist to Cory. Cory came and listened to the song bro, and if I’m being honest, he’s so incredible, once he sets up the organ how he wants it, it’s just a couple of patches and it was perfect, it was something that we didn’t have to labor over for too long. 

When you think of the word “freedom”, what is the first thing that comes to mind?

I think freedom for me is when I can control how I feel, when I can be happy. When I’m in control of my happiness. When I can wake up and be like no matter what, I’m grateful, I’m thankful. Obviously there’s so many people in the world that are in slavery, persecution, bad relationships etc., everyone has some way that they can become free, it’s in your own mind. Being free is being okay with what is: having acceptance of the world and knowing okay, this is my reality, I live here, and somehow making peace with that. As long as you’re in opposition with your reality, you’re not free. 

Since New Gold Medal’s inception, what has been the most valuable lesson that you’ve learned so far as a label head or executive, something that may not have crossed your mind as an artist? 

I don’t really think of myself as an executive yet, I’m an artist right now. I have a partner, who’s also my manager and we have a team: they’re the executives, I’m an artist on the label. I will be an executive in the future, and even as an artist, I guess slash executive, you have to think about ownership, but you have to think about marketing, you have to think about producing your work, and you have to stay balanced, nimble and flexible. That’s just the way business is, that’s honestly what makes it fun, business is an art form in itself. I own my business period, the whole thing. It’s not like I have to own every single percentage of everything I’ve ever made. 

Personally, what does ownership do for your ego? I know that has to be a gratifying feeling transitioning from an artist to an executive. 

I’m not part of the mega priority of the ownership wave. I was always a big fan of Nipsey and especially his persona. I was always listening to his interviews and I was always inspired by the type of entrepreneur that he was. Everyone is always talking about ownership, ownership, ownership and it’s very important, but for me, as someone who is constantly trying to create and turn around product, there’s a middle ground too. I need ownership but I also need cash flow. I need cash so that I can bring my ideas to life in a big way whenever I want: so I can get features, so I can make videos. It’s not just about ownership, it’s about running your business the way the way that maximizes your skill set. It’s like sometimes I have to give up ownership for that extra bag so I can make the next video and keep everything rolling. The greatest companies in the world, they end up going public. Ownership is very important, I understand, especially in music, with the history of the music industry. For right now, as a young artist making music for myself and everyone else, it’s always a balance. You can’t become obsessed with ownership, because if you lose all your money owning your first weak ass album and you don’t even have enough money to make the next one and grow as an artist: that’s no good. It’s more complicated than just ownership. 

Would a younger Marc Griffin be proud of the man Marc E. Bassy has become? 

Yeah, of course. I try to make my younger self proud all the time. I think there’s definitely a lot of room to grow. I think I’ve fulfilled a lot of the surface-level things I’ve wanted and now I gotta work on the other stuff. I’ve become pretty successful: I’ve played in front of one-hundred thousand people, I got like four or five platinum songs, I got a bunch of plaques in my house, all that type of stuff, those things I wanted to do when I was younger — sometimes I forget they’ve been done, all those things I dreamed about doing. Now, it’s more internal stuff. I think that comes with age. First, you wanna party, and have threesome’s, all the rockstar shit is cool, but then you get to a certain age. For the most part he’d be proud, but we still have a lot of work to do.

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