Gemma Dunleavy on her “everyday chat dressed as sonics” and the community injustice that spurs her on
Father is relaxing on a beige couch at his plush Caledonian Road Airbnb with his feet up, telling Dummy about his newly-purchased red socks and brown Derby shoes (which, he helpfully explains, come in an array of different colours, not only black and brown…) We sit sipping G&Ts while the formerly Atlanta and now LA-based rapper tells us about his recent move to California, abandoned projects, stories of his psychotropic past life, and of course, his newly released LP and recently-announced creative partnership with RCA.
The Awful Records creative director and rapper has been on a two-year hiatus since the release of his 2016 album ‘I’m A Piece of Shit’. Since then there’s been much speculation about what he’s been doing – whether he would release more music, or if he’d just stopped everything altogether. Thankfully, the most pressing question was answered when he began sharing a series of singles such as ‘Thotnite’ and ‘Lotto’. Finally all this climaxed with Father dropping his fourth-album ‘Awful Swim’ at the end of last month, an album packed with a thumping, extraterrestrial attitude. We wanted to know more about this and what he’d been up to, so we made our way over to his Airbnb, before going on to Places + Faces’ behemoth-sized night at KOKO, where he was booked to do a surprise show alongside Baka Not Nice, Octavian and Unknown T.
After our photographer takes a few snaps of Father posing (very naturally) around the house, Bbyspider, Danger Inc. (Boothlord and Louie Duffelbags) and other friends pop by, until we all hit the club and later make our way back to the Airbnb, where we witness a music video taking place in the most casual and Awful Records way possible.
How are you enjoying London? D’you like the grey weather?
Thing is, too much of it can get you kind of down. Every time I used to come here, I’d start off dumbass happy and then by the end of the week I’d be like, ‘Damn, I’m so emotional!’ There was one time I was staying at Ace Hotel, I was just sitting at my window, staring at the rain come down… It springs up at you, like last night I got emotional, I think I was just drunk looking at old pictures, reminiscing and shit.
What do you like to do when you’re here?
Stay in, stay at the crib, look out the window… I don’t really go out that much. I do occasionally go to the pubs, I like drinking here!
What do you make of the pub culture here?
I can’t do it too much ‘cos y’all like to hop, like going to different pubs and clubs. I did that one time and it definitely went overboard. We started at three in the afternoon and I should have stopped by 11pm. I remember the end of the night, like me and [co-president of Awful Records] Gerry cursing at each other and I broke everything on me cause I was so mad. I was mad ‘cos of some other shit. It was a terrible idea. Every time we went to another bar we’d switch drinks. Started off on brown then the next place we’d be like, ‘Hey, let’s get two bottles of wine’, then tequila and vodka. By the end the group was arguing over a charcuterie board! I think there was a political argument that sparked the whole thing off.
Do those kind of arguments not really happen in LA?
One, I don’t talk politics, and then I don’t talk politics with conservatives. I don’t have conservative friends – everybody in LA is generally liberal. But yeah, that’s basically how that argument sparked off – it was one of our more conservative friends. He’s the kind of homie that brings up things that you should not talk about. Honestly, he just says some off-the-hand shit.
Your album just came out – what’s the reaction been like so far to ‘Awful Swim’?
All positive, honestly! If somebody says some shit like ‘Nah this is garbage’, I’m like ‘C’mon bro!’ I touch on a lot of aspects, you can’t say I can’t rap, you can’t say the beat’s not fire, you can’t say it all sounds the same cause it all sounds completely fucking different.
In regards to the production, who took charge of that?
Meltycanon did most of the production. I got a few other friends that did one or two songs and then I did the rest of it, like one third of it! The intro, ‘We Had A Deal,’ and a couple of songs.
There’s something about the record that has a DJ Mustard vibe that I really adore.
Yeah I think that’s the one similar thing between everything. I wanted it to be incredibly bassy.
I listened to the whole album in a car while driving through the most southern tip of Italy, and I was basically just headbanging the whole way while looking at the landscape.
The album has no low!
And is Meltycanon signed to Awful now – does he have a project coming?
Yeah! He’s working on it now!
What was the overall goal behind the album?
It happened when I moved from out of Atlanta. Before that I was working on a project in ATL but it was different, it was very dark and angry.
What kind of dark?
It was like, I’m in the attic and people are downstairs making a lot of noise and I’m very annoyed. That’s what it was sounding like, cause that’s what I was doing, I was just breaking things, being mad as shit. It was actually called ‘Mad As Hell’.
Is it ever gonna come out?
Do you have it on your laptop? Can we hear it?
Nah, nah, nah. I deleted everything off this laptop!
This is the kind of shit that, when you die, people are going to be releasing as posthumous music!
Possibly, I kind of always thought when that does occur, cause you know everybody dies. I do want someone to just put it all out there.
Do you want to have an angry posthumous album, like – fuck you, I’m dead, I’m ‘Mad As Hell’?
Ohh nahhh, that would be funny if my posthumous album is called ‘Mad As Hell’! That would be funny as shit. That would be all the shit I never put out… not all of it though cause there’s some crazy shit I’ve made when I was on Xanax and things that’s just real dusty. There’s a whole song about how I was on tour and my homie was passing me a Xanax and then the Xanax fell into an open bottle of vodka that was open in the car. And we look at each other like, ‘Let’s just leave that in there for a couple days and see what happens!’ So we let it ferment in the vodka, in the hot ass car for several days on tour until we get to Denver or some shit and then we decide, let’s drink it.
Which is a reasonable idea.
Yeah and by this time we’ve taken all kinds of other shit, got some E, we’re doing a lot, just going crazy. So we make a song called ‘Xan in the Vodka’. I don’t remember much else past making that song and the homies wrestling on the hardwood floor, fighting.
How was the cocktail?
I can’t remember, I remember the house we stayed in, ‘cos we were in Denver for four days, but I only remember ten minutes. I remember the crib was real dope, it felt kind of like a haunted house. There’s a couple songs we made where I went back and listened to it now and was like ‘What the fuck’. There’s this song it’s just bass ‘prrrr prrrr prrrr’ (laughs) and just me doing ‘Yah yah yah yah’. It sounds so drugged out and burnt, like breakbeat and just bass, I could never release that.
How do you go about selecting which tracks make the cut?
Once it gets towards album cutting time, I’ll slowly but surely ask people, to see if it’s necessary or not. It’s weird figuring out what is unnecessary, like, could this stand without the project? I’ll move things around, I have different variations of similar songs. But that’s when it gets annoying cause you can’t figure out which one you prefer. I’ll write happy lyrics on darker shit and I’ll put dark shit over happier songs. I like to flip things that way.
How did the album come about, if you were working on ‘Mad As Hell’?
Before I moved I was ‘Mad As Hell’ because I was just withdrawing all the time. I was angry, so I was drinking a lot to suppress my frustration. So I was like, ‘I’m just gonna drink and be angry’. I was like an old man, I’d come downstairs and just be like ‘Fuck this, stop having fun everybody – leave!’ Then I bleached my hair, and bought a bike and that’s when I became really happy. Wind in my hair, exercising, got kind of skinny and would be like ‘Ah man I’m cute like wow, I look good right now’. That’s when ‘Heartthrob’ came about. And I just told myself like ‘Ah, I’m not even mad anymore. So I scrapped it and made ‘Heartthrob’ and then even after that I worked on a couple songs here and there but I guess it wasn’t quite album time. When we started talking with Adult Swim, that conversation came up, so I just decided to slow down and try to get this together and then after that is when the RCA thing started to formulate. It gave me a very big window to really roll through and that’s really what made the break happen.
Was the way you were making music informed by the fact that there may have been a partnership with Adult Swim coming around?
Yeah, I think after that happened that conversation happened. ‘Cos I moved to LA around that time. I was isolated as hell in LA, me and my girlfriend and our puppy, I’m making shit in the crib. The first song I made where I tell myself ‘Oh, I think I’ve started the album’ was ‘She Used To’. Eventually I just started making songs every month and then by the end of the cycle I went to NY for two weeks and banged out like five of the songs.
That’s where ‘Lotto’ was made?
Yeah. My happier demeanour brought on a lot of cool shit afterwards, me being like, ‘I’m whimsical again, this is nice’ and then RCA became interested, and they were like ‘Wow that’s a really nice song, is he gonna continue? Damn that’s nice!
What would you say was the goal of the album?
Honestly I just wanted to make slaps! It’s all about where I’m currently at in life and at that point I was living in LA, having a good ass time doing a bunch of blow. Mansion parties and stuff. I just wanted to do cool shit.
How is your life in California different to what it was before?
Life is very contained and organised. I don’t wanna live on a fucking schedule and shit but in ATL during that time period my life was all over the place, sporadic as shit. A second after I moved into my new spot I would wake up at 8 o’clock and make a coffee, then sit downstairs in my underwear drinking coffee and play video games till like 12 o’clock then the gardener pops in at 1 so I gotta put some pants on. Now I think, like, ‘Let’s get a bigger crib, let’s get a bigger house, I want a fucking poodle’.
Listen to ‘Awful Swim’: