Artist on Artist Interview: Curbside Jones x Mobley

Mobley Curbside Jones

It has been said by many people that one of the greatest aspects of the Austin music scene is how communal it is, with artists regularly coming together to collaborate, boost each other and admire each other’s work. In the spirit of that, we’ve decided to launch a new series inviting artists to interview other artists from the scene. To kick things off, we’ve paired two of our favorite, hardest working artists in Austin: one man media army Curbside Jones and one man band Mobley.

Right in time for Curbside Jones’ upcoming cross-continental collaborative release Gyakusou Vol.1, Mobley chatted with the rapper-producer-visual-artist about all things Japan, the state of Austin hip hop, finding inner peace during unprecedented times and much more. Please enjoy!

Mobley: First off, I really enjoyed the record. Thank you for sharing it with me. I know it’s an annoying interview cliché, but can you give people who aren’t familiar with you some background on who you are and how you got to this point?

Curbside Jones: Thanks for setting this up for me, I appreciate it. My origin story is a long one but I’ll try to shrink it down some. I started off writing poetry back in 2003 and found a love for writing music shortly after. I started a rap group called, Dem Breakem Off Boyz, in 8th grade for a talent show that never happened. 

Fast-forward to 2005 I found out I was moving from Mannheim, Germany to Killeen, Texas. I told all my homies I was going to get on a mixtape with Chamilitary and DSR…that obviously didn’t happen lol. I recorded my first song in 2005 over Eminem’s “Soldier” instrumental, it was very wack. I put out my first tape in 2005 with a homie who lived in my neighborhood, he ended up getting locked up, so I became a solo act. I put out a few tapes in high-school, passed them out at lunch and in between classes for like $5 a piece. I made friends with Nick Brown aka BZ, who is still my friend today, and we formed a group and I performed for the first time in 2008. I dropped a few tapes, did some shows in killeen, and taught myself how to make my own beats around this time. 

I moved to Austin in 2010 after I transfered to Huston Tillotson, however I spent all my time hanging out at the Art Institute. The project that really got me the most shine and recognition was my 2011 album, The Cherry Blossom Effect: Endless Dream Theory, it was plastered over several blogs, internationally and stateside. 

Once the blogs died I built my following on Twitter and kept putting out work to my core listeners. I did SXSW twice, some stuff in San Marcos, and stuff around Austin. During all this time I honed my skills as a mix engineer, graphic designer, producer, photographer, and writer. I’m pretty much a one-man army.

M: Thank you — that’s an incredible story. I always kind of hate that part of an interview (as an interviewee), but it’s a necessary nuisance. How did you land on the name “Curbside Jones”? For me, it’s one of those names that’s just got a hook to it; the first time I came across it, it was like “I need to know more about this artist”.

CJ: Well, before Curbside Jones I had many different names, some very cringeworthy. I used to go by C.B TV before Curbside Jones, and till this day there are people who still call me that. 

I adopted the name Curbside Jones around 2010 before I moved to Austin. I was jobless at the time and my mom gave me an ultimatum, find work or get out. I was in my 2nd year of college and I was trying to figure life out after the recession and being laid off previously. I came up with an idea for a project called, “Bum Life: The Semi Tale Of Curbside Jones,” comprised of all Marvin Gaye samples. I was deep into the lore of ‘70s movies and music and one day in the car with my parents listening to oldies, it hit me. It represents the everyday man…no glitz, no glamor, just work and a want to succeed. 

Oh, and I did end up getting a job at Zumies in Killeen lol almost missed college orientation at HT because I had to work until I started classes. 

M: Brilliant, man. I love it. So that brings us to 2020. Your new EP Gyakusou Vol.1 is out on July 3rd and is the first installation of a planned trilogy. As best I can tell, gyakusou means something like ‘running in reverse’ in Japanese and traces back to a running group in Tokyo who runs counter-clockwise around parks in the city (contrary to the norm of running clockwise). How and why did you choose the title?

CJ: I chose the title for that exact reason, outside of it being cool to look at. I was inspired originally by the Nike x Undercover collab that has the same name, which is where I learned about the whole running thing. 

I’ve always been told that I go against the grain in most aspects of my life. Joining forces with Ballhead was the perfect way to showcase how I’m never stagnant, always going against the current. I also looked at it in a literal sense, like running backwards. You see it all the time, people thinking that there is only one path to, “success.” If you’re not moving with everyone then you’re moving backwards, but that’s not always the case.

Curbside Jones Ballhead Gyakusou

M: Ballhead (who produced the record) and Muma (the only other rapper featured) are both Japanese. How did you meet them? It seems like Japan looms large over the project. Is that accurate? Why do you think it’s such a well of inspiration for you?

CJ: Yeah, Ballhead and Muma are both Japanese but live in different parts. This isn’t the first time I’ve collabed with Japanese artists. I collabed with a producer named Dyelo Think, formally known as Free Design back in 2013 for the re-release of The Cherry Blossom Effect

I actually found out about Ballhead through Dyelo’s IG posts about the Jazzysports Kyoto stuff and one thing led to another and I was on YouTube watching Ballhead kill his set. I searched the comments like a madman looking for who he was because his beats were blowing my mind. I looked him up on Bandcamp and bought his work immediately after learning his name. He ended up following me on Twitter and my wife told me to shoot my shot, so I shot my shot. 

Originally it was supposed to be one track for a collab EP with a Japanese rap group, LafLife, and Maryland artist Dexter Fizz. I ended up buying more beats and decided to do an EP. He loved the idea and really liked my music so he was down to help. 

Muma is a rapper in a crew with one of the members of Laflife, Oog. Since we were all collabing on stuff anyway, they threw the track to Muma and he laced it for me. Twitter be working wonders for me!

I’m heavily inspired by Japan, I’ve loved the idea of Japan since 1998 when I got into anime. After traveling there in 2017 and 2018 I fell in love with it outside of just anime and video games. I fell in love with the big cities and even the country sides. Everything there is seems so ahead of its time from fashion, to food, to music. I feel like these collabs will definitely open the door to some great content moving forward.

M: What took you to Japan? What part(s) of the country did you see?

CJ: I had been wanting to go to Japan since like 1998. I had the opportunity to go in 2008 but I wouldn’t have been able to do what I wanted since I would have been staying with a family friend. 

In 2009 I watched a documentary about Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, doing a tour in Japan for The Ecstatic… one of my favorite albums of all time. My wife knew I’ve always wanted to go so I went for the first time in 2017 for our honeymoon. We stayed in Shibuya for two weeks and traveled to Kyoto and Osaka during our stay. We enjoyed it so much we started planning our trip once we left. 

We went back in 2018 for our anniversary and took one of my friends and my sister-in-law. We stayed in Akihabara for about two weeks and we stayed a night in Dotonbori…capsule hotels are the future. We mostly explored Tokyo (Shout out to the homie Levi for linking up with us), since it was our guests’ first time in Japan. Once everything opens back up we will head back for pleasure and for music. 

Another Sip Curbside Jones

Curbside Jones’ photo essay Another Sip chronicles his Japan journeys

M: Talk to me about the record. Gyakusou feels like an apt title. It sounds modern and self-assured, but it also eschews a lot of trends in popular hip hop. The lyrics, the interplay of the rhythms within each song, the sonic textures of the productions — they’re all immediately appealing, but seem constructed to reward active and repeat listening. New layers of sound and meaning reveal themselves on each playthrough. What are you trying to say with the EP? What do you want people to hear?

CJ: I’ve been told I pack my verses with a lot of content and subject matter. I take weeks, even months to complete songs because I don’t want to waste any bars. I just want people to sit with it and get inspired to do something positive. 

I tried to make each song represent something different. Gyakusou’s self titled song was made with the intention of giving people inspiration to feel themselves, which is something I don’t do in my music often. “Coffee Stains” is about giving people hope when they feel like things aren’t going their way or when life throws them a twist. “Terrace House Flow” is about finding love, relationships, and loving yourself. Those were my intentions, but I know music is always open for interpretation. 

“Terrace House Flow” is special to me because two days after recording the track, Hana Kimura, a member of the most current season of Terrace House, committed suicide. The second verse about self love hits a little different now. Ballhead actually hit me up and told me she passed, a very surreal moment. 

M: Damn, that’s rough. The themes you describe all have a positive spin, but they also kind of speak to a negative (or at least less positive) underlying reality. How did the ongoing pandemic influence this project and, more broadly, how has it impacted your creative life and process?

CJ: I’ve actually struggled with finding that balance between positivity and pessimism. I think I have a better grasp on how to write songs that don’t get me all in the feels when I’m done recording. 

I’ve been living a different pandemic than most because I’ve been going to work like normal, I never had a work-from-home moment. I work at a residential treatment center for severely abused and neglected children so we never close, I’ve had interactions with people non stop. 

This pandemic did ruin a Japan tour that I had been planning with Dexter Fizz, Laflife, and a few others in Japan for later this year. My creative process has been pretty much the same because I do all of my own recording and Japan got things under control a lot faster than we did. It did at least allow me to share music with my wife for feedback since she was at home. I’m sure she got tired of hearing the same verses over and over. 

M: That’s incredible, man. Thank you for providing such an important service to the community. The way the EP is put together, it feels like you and Ballhead have a lot of affection for boom bap and underground hip hop [feel free to push back if that’s a mis-read]. What would you say are some of your biggest musical influences on this record (whether that’s artists, albums, or even particular songs)?

CJ: I think Ballhead and I both have a love for music in general, but I can’t deny that I LOVE boom bap and Hip Hop. I remember Ballhead tweeted that he used to skip lunch so he could have money to buy records. I used to do the same my freshman year of high school then it turned into me buying music before school. I stood in line outside of Target in Killeen before it opened, in the rain, to buy Kanye’s Graduation album on release day before school. After reading that tweet I realized that him and I are both in it for the love of Hip Hop. 

My biggest musical influences on Gyakusou Vol.1 would be- Black Star, Yasiin Bey, Lord Apex, J’von, MF DOOM, and the homie Dexter Fizz. Black Star helped me get in the mindset of rapping on Gyakusou’s Intro. I wanted to set a tone that said, “This is Hip Hop!” J’von and MF DOOM helped me keep my rhymes sharp and to think outside the box with how to rephrase common sayings. For example, instead of saying “the early bird catches the worm,” I said, “The early bird checks the forecast and packs an umbrella/to reap the benefits of the weather, simple math peep the sum fella.” Yes, it is very roundabout but when your brain hears, “The early bird…” you automatically fill in the blank, so I added some imagery and some wordplay. 

Lord Apex helped me with mood and aesthetic. Yasiin Bey helped me talk about love on “Terrace House Flow,” the whole, “My pops was in love when he made me,” scheme came from his song called, “Love.” Lastly the homie Dexter Fizz made me see it was possible to work with Japanese acts again. He has been doing a lot of work with Japanese acts over the years from rappers to big name underground producers. 

M: Beautiful. It really shows. As an artist working outside of hip hop, I think basically every other popular genre is lagging way behind in terms of using language (especially prosody and complex rhyme) creatively. I try to infuse my work with some of that, so it’s always inspiring to hear. The “early bird” bit actually might be my favorite lyric on the EP, from a craft standpoint.

There’s a growing, long-overdue conversation happening right now about racism in the Austin music scene. What has your experience been like as a black artist in a genre popularly thought of as black?

CJ: Thanks, yeah, I think of writing like a puzzle and it’s always fun to figure out new ways to fit pieces together. 

I feel like the Austin music scene could use more black people behind the scenes and on the forefront. It’s not directly tied to racism but when you talk to someone about Hip Hop they regurgitate the same 4-5 artists that most white people believe to be “real Hip Hop.” I do feel like there has been a number of artists who deserve more praise for their art, merch runs, and performances but they always somehow get overshadowed by lesser, white acts. 

If you ask most people from outside the city they would tell you that Austin Hip Hop is white, but it hasn’t always been that way. People never even think to look here for Hip Hop because most venues only play it to profit off of black people or there are 90 indie bands playing at one time on a Saturday. 

I remember we had hubs like Sole Fresco and the legendary Complete Clothing. Those were the spots where ALL the local cats would hang out and meet, now I couldn’t tell you where those kinds of places are. I would like for something like that to come back because back then it felt like family. At some point venues have to move past only using Hip Hop and Rap to profit and look at it in the same light as indie, folk and cover bands. 

A DJ set inside the now defunct Sole Fresco sneaker store

M: I won’t take up too much more of your time, but I wanted to close this out with a 5-question lightning round.

Question 1 – What’s the first album you really loved?

CJ: The Clipse, Lord Willin’ was the first album I bought with my own money and the album that I’ve purchased the most times…I think I’m up to four times now. 

M: Question 2 – If you could only listen to one album for the rest of your life, what would it be?

CJ: Little Brother, The Minstrel Show

M: Question 3 – What’s your favorite part of being an artist? What excites you most?

CJ: My favorite part of being an artist is playing something for my friends for the first time and seeing their reactions. You never know how the room will react so it’s always this adrenaline rush.

M: Question 4 – What thing (not a person) in your life is the biggest source of comfort right now?

CJ: Terrace House.

M: Question 5 – When the pandemic passes and we’re all safely on the other side of it, what is the first thing you’re looking forward to doing?

CJ: I’m looking forward to traveling again with my wife, we have to make up for lost time and I need to cash out on over 150 PTO hours.

M: Thank you for the time and congratulations on the EP. This has been a real pleasure.

Curbside Jones’ newest work with Ballhead, Gyakusou Vol. 1, drops this Friday, July 3rd via Bandcamp, and Mobley’s newest single “Nobody’s Favourite” is now available via Last Gang Records