Peanut Butter Wolf is a Los Angeles-based DJ, producer and founder of eclectic independent record label, Stones Throw Records which he began in 1996. Over the last two decades he has been instrumental in releasing the music and developing the careers of the likes of Madlib, J Dilla, MF Doom, Madvillain, Dam-Funk, Mayer Hawthorne, Knxwledge, Mndsgn and Australian’s Mild High Club and singer/songwriter Jonti. Whilst he’s stepped away from production work in recent years, he’s become known for his eclectic musical tastes, ridiculous music collection and his unique epic DJ/VJ sets. On the eve of his tour of Australia where he’s DJing at Womadelaide, Cyclic Defrost sent him some email questions.
Cyclic Defrost: What are you searching for when you come across a new artist? What would get your attention?
Peanut Butter Wolf: At it’s simplest level, something that doesn’t sound like everything else currently on the market and something that’s special. I learned the second criterion from Steve Arrington. He’s an artist I liked as a kid and worked with as an adult. When I first released his album, he said to me, “Chris, what do you think of my music?” and I said, “well you know how I feel. it’s awesome. I love it.” then he said, “yeah, but is it special to you?” My answer was yes, but it reminded me why I got into this industry in the first place.
Cyclic Defrost: Lots of beautiful amazing musical things seem to be happening around the world in lots of little niches, yet somehow it’s all joined up if you negotiate different continents, genres and traditions by making your way through soundcloud or bandcamp. Is this an exciting time or difficult time for a label, as people can potentially find what they are looking for themselves?
Peanut Butter Wolf: I always look at things from a creative standpoint first and the numbers second. From a creative standpoint, it’s one of the most exciting times for me precisely because of the reason you point out: soundcloud, bandcamp, youtube, spotify, social networks, etc. You don’t have to depend on a few commercial outlets (traditional radio, MTV, and a handful of physical magazines) like you used to have to in order to discover music. As far as the paying the bills aspect, things are looking decent again. Not crazy $ in being on the label side, but getting more steady. I guess the only thing that’s kind of sad these days is that some of the music doesn’t appear to have a regional sound the way it used to. When hip hop started, it was predominately happening in New York, then LA, The Bay, Atlanta, Miami, etc all started to develop their own version of it. Now, rappers from every region seem to have a similar sound. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing I guess.
Cyclic Defrost: Stones Throw feels like one of the few labels that has successfully made the transition from the physical (vinyl/ cds, through digital, and possibly back to the physical product again. How important are these changes in preferred formats? How does it affect the label?
Peanut Butter Wolf: We started as STRICTLY VINYL and have kinda changed with the times in terms of adding other formats, but we’ve never stopped making vinyl of pretty much every record that has been released. Being able to hold a physical vinyl record is still most exciting to me.
Cyclic Defrost: Do you feel a curatorial responsibility with Stones Throw? It really feels like Stones Throw just follows your musical whims. How important has it been for the label to exhibit a specific musical identity? Or even legacy given you’ve been in existence for 20+ years?
Peanut Butter Wolf: I juggle back and forth about what Stones Throw “should be”. It’s tough because when you’re known for one thing and people wear a Stones Throw logo tee with pride because they are into that kind of music you’re releasing and you do a 180 and release something in a extremely different genre that moves you just as much but it doesn’t move the fan base that liked you for something else, that gets tricky. But I don’t ever wanna let what I did in the past dictate what I do in the future.
Cyclic Defrost: I found Oh No’s release Dr Oh No’s Oxperiment, really strange, beautiful and exotic, but somewhat jarring due to length of many of the tracks. Can you tell me what attracted you to release this?
Peanut Butter Wolf: Man, that’s an older one. I love everything Oh No has done for us. Not sure if you mean the tracks are too long or too short LOL.
Cyclic Defrost: I’ve always been interested in some of the cross-cultural, cross-generational or cross genre pollinations that Stones Throw releases. Is this an important focus for you?
Peanut Butter Wolf: It’s cool when old people and young people of different backgrounds collaborating, but that type of stuff happens naturally with us because we’ve been doing it for so long, our talent pool is all over the place,
Cyclic Defrost: As far as I’m aware you’ve stepped away from producing music. Why did you make this decision, or was it a decision at all?
Peanut Butter Wolf: At first it was a conscious decision because I was so into artists like Madlib and Dilla who were creating the same kind of music I was making but they were coming up stuff that was more interesting to me as a fan of hip hop. Then I toyed around when jumping back in the studio, but I wasn’t really interested in “making hip hop beats from scratch”. I am in the studio a lot with the different artists I work with on my label, but not as much in the hip hop producer capacity as the old school definition of a producer where you tell the artist, “let’s try this. let’s try that. What if you try this instead of that”. It’s kind of a broader cause these days.
Cyclic Defrost: What do you enjoy about DJing? What do you think you learn about yourself, or even music in general, when you have been doing it for as long as you have?
Peanut Butter Wolf: I think similar to food, the palette just expands. When I was a kid, I only liked cheese pizza, plain hamburgers with no lettuce or tomato or even cheese, and a select few things Mexican Food or Chinese Food. I hated veggies, refused to ever try salad. Never heard of sushi. As I got older, all the things I was afraid of with food, I eventually loved. Music has become more that way for me too. In the mid 80’s, I’d only DJ soul, funk, electro, and hip hop. In the 90’s, it was even a more narrow view with only hip hop, now I enjoy DJing different music for different situations. It’s not always about trying to excite the crowd every time with songs they know as it is trying to play songs they may not know as well and expose them to different stuff. It’s tricky when it’s a bigger audience and/or if there’s booze involved, but I try what I can.
Cyclic Defrost: Can you tell me about the VJ aspect of your set? How do you approach it?
Peanut Butter Wolf: It’s just an extension of the music really. I like doing the videos to give people something else to look at, but it’s not really like watching a movie or being transfixed by the visuals. It just adds another element. I like throwing in rare music videos just to expose people to things they may have never seen before or haven’t seen in that setting.
Cyclic Defrost: Whilst I’m keen to ask about what music has blown your mind recently, but I think what I’m actually interested in is what is the silliest most mind numbingly bizarre piece of music that has blown your mind recently?
Peanut Butter Wolf: Love silly, but silly gets enough viral sharing these days.
Peanut Butter Wolf is playing Womadelaide 9-12th of March 18.