Last fall, my friend showed me an album that had just come out called by an NYC–based jazz collective called Standing On The Corner (SOTC) led by Gio Escobar. I was blown away by the complexity of the songs, the themes of uncertainty in the future as a minority in America, and the ability of the album to be so incoherent, yet flow like nothing else. The website for the album is layered with images spanning from famous Worldstar videos to Jim Crow signs. I was confused and amazed at the same time. I was hooked.
When I heard that Caleb Giles, the saxophonist for SOTC, had released a rap album, I immediately downloaded it. I came to learn that Caleb creates thought–provoking music that feeds off of the same vision of Gio while forming his own unique take on his experience living in NYC. After listening to his most recent album , I wanted to know everything behind the religious symbolism, the post–apocalyptic imagery, and his ability to create such a dark mood that is simultaneously uplifting. Last Tuesday, I got the chance to chat with Caleb over FaceTime about his new album and his work with SOTC. With his hair back in cornrows, relaxing in his bedroom covered with art of El Caminos, physical representations of EQ/compression techniques drawn by his friend Jasper (producer of the album), and a map of Africa, I got to know all about his music and what he has gained from the past year making it.
Street: You tweeted a week ago, "There Will Be Rain is winter music." What do you mean by that?
Caleb Giles: What that means is some of the songs on it really are for the colder months when you just feel in your bag. You are just in your mood and I just feel that at least, to me, it perfectly translates that feeling really well. Some of the songs like “Wondering,” maybe “Impatient,” they really just tend to have me in my bag, ya know what I’m saying?
Street: How did you decide to mix it to create that dark mood?
CG: It really wasn't up to me, it was what came to me, it just kind of came through me. All of the music, um, and it was just what I was going through at the time. The shit I was saying and just all the changes that were happening in my life. I wasn’t necessarily in a dark or sad mood, but that is just how it came out. The tone of the record was shaped by my response to all this stimuli going on, and I had to say it as blunt as I could. No theatrics behind it, just trying to get it across.
Street: What were some of those stimuli? What inspired you to get like that on those tracks?
CG: One of the bigger, not the biggest, but one of the bigger things that happened is that this girl I had been seeing for two years, we had broken up, and I was a little upset, but I was more, like, experiencing just a new place. I was in a new place, not really held back by anyone per se, so I was able to experience new things. I went back to my sister’s house in Detroit where I spent a lot of time as a kid, and I was able to connect with my family and just seeing them really put me in the zone and I recorded some of the songs out there in Detroit.
Street: Getting more into the album, what is the ‘rain’ to you?
CG: The rain...The rain to me represents anything that you can’t control, that will of course just take you over. To me personally, the rain just represents change, and change is inevitable. So you know, all the changes that were happening in my life, I identified them with quote unquote "rain" that you can’t control. It’s just change that you can’t have no control over.
Street: Your album is super faith–based, so how does faith impact your daily life? Why do you decide to make it such a large part of your music?
CG: A short answer is one of the largest things to happen to me over the course of recording this record, I had a really intense spiritual experience, like an awakening, and it really just shook up my whole world. It coincided with me breaking up with this girl too so you know it really started when I was recording the record and I was so new to this, my faith. In my daily life, I’m fasting for about a month just for clarity. It’s a part of my life, it’s the most important part of my life, it’s just super important to me...my mom had us in the church, I played saxophone in the church band for a while. I believed in God, but I wasn’t a MAN of God. But this past April, 2017 this whole shit was just like flipped upside down. I just came into a new space spiritually and I was just overwhelmed. I made the album more or less about that because it was in my face. I had to speak on it.
Street: Why has the story of Noah had such an impact on you and on this album?
CG: It came from what I read over the summer, The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin for the first time. At the end he quotes the song that he named the story after. The intro of the album is a sample of the lyrics from that song. It wasn’t the story per se, but the song that sparked that idea. And it just tied together with the theme of rain and fire and everything. It just made complete sense and came together by itself.
Street: This album is heavy man, it’s a storyline of sorts. The tracklist is important; it’s not just like a mixtape. Why was it important to you to make an album that was linear, rather than just a compilation of dope music?
CG: So when I started recording, I had just come off the , the first record I dropped and I was really...I didn’t have an idea for a new record. I was making a bunch of music, with Mike, Donny, and other cats in the city. I didn’t have a real direction until I read The Fire Next Time and this other book The Parable of the Sower and I read a bunch of other books...I was just focusing on what I was reading, what I was listening to, what I was writing. I was really central, I was in one place the entire summer, which got me in one state of mind...I didn’t make a conscious choice to connect. I can’t really say how, it just did.
Street: How was the making of the album a spiritual experience in itself?
CG: I was removed from myself. I allowed myself to be, as corny as it sounds, a vessel or a throughway to the people. I wasn't really thinking about what I was rapping. I wasn’t thinking about "alright this has to connect here, X, Y, and Z" and it took not too long, like five months to record everything. It really just flowed through me so naturally. Looking back, I was just listening to the album yesterday on the train and I just thought "Damn, this is what it sounds like when you are tapped in to something else," you know what I’m saying?
Street: What are you trying to accomplish with Standing On The Corner as a project, and where do you guys see yourselves as fitting into the current scene of music and creativity in New York today?
CG: What I am personally trying to do in SOTC is help my brother, Gio, see his own vision through. I want to help facilitate just real good music. Just being a part of that crew helps me understand myself more and my music.
Street: With everything with SOTC, I’m assuming a lot of it is improv. Where do you see the importance of improvisation in music today?
CG: I think it is extremely important, period, just because art is freedom and I want to be free when I’m making something. So I think in music, especially in jazz or hip–hop, improvisation is so important to the art form. Free–styling and having a solo or some shit like that, I think these ways to communicate, to let shit come out of you uninhibited and just trying to connect as clearly as immediately as possible. I think that is a real gift, to be able to communicate in that way. Black music, period, should have that energy in it because it is just important in the genre, in the style, and in the medium.
Street: Is there anything you want to speak on about yourself, your music, or your album that you want people to know?