Just over a week ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Fresh Kils, a very successful producer/engineer from Toronto and half of the duo “The Extremities” (along with Uncle Fester). He was headed out to South By South West in Austin the next day so I tried our interview short. Over an hour later, I had learned about a variety of things including his introduction to hip-hop, his early years in Toronto and his recent body of work.
MVRemix: How did you get your start?
Fresh Kils: Well I grew up in Toronto, and interestingly enough I wasn’t that much of a hip-hop head in high school. I remember specifically losing friends to Cyprus Hill at one point… I was a late bloomer.
When I moved to Halifax, I went to college and moved next door to Uncle Fester, so basically it’s all his fault. We became friends on a musical level and things sort of went from there. Halifax was a really exciting time, Buck 65 was blowing up, Skratch Bastid was just starting, and a very young Classified was out there doing his thing.
There was a lot of excitement about underground rap and there was an energy to it. There was a sense that what some of these guys were doing was being received beyond the confines of the province, or the country.
I got really attracted to the production. When Fester started showing me drum breaks, sampling and that whole thing I was totally sold.
I was all about the beats for so long because [the raps] just didn’t speak to me. The one record that put it over was The Juggernauts – Clear Blue Skies. When I heard that, it kind of convinced me of the power of the lyrics. It’s not to say that I didn’t listen to the lyrics [before], I just didn’t really understand the power of it fully as an art form until I heard that.
MVRemix: So when did you start with the Extremities? When did you guys become “official” I guess you could say?
Fresh Kils: Well, Fester and I would do so much production together that we’ve technically always been [the Extremities] , we just never really thought of it like that. We had done a number of instrumentals and we had been working on something we’d called “The Extremities” but we didn’t put anything out.
Years later, Fester is working at the CBC [in Halifax]. They were re-archiving a whole lot of their library and getting rid of their old records. Fester, through this process, fell upon some incredible stuff.
Among them were a number of CBC session records. John Kong did a CBC vault remix record years ago on his label, and we sorta had this idea. We were like “Hell, why don’t we do something similar”. So [Fester] pitched this idea to remix these CBC session records that we found.
This one producer in particular really loved the idea but he didn’t want us get into legal issues of trying to figure out where the publishing rights were. He came back to us and said “We’ve commissioned these jazz players to do a record for us an we’re going to give you the ProTools [session] for that. You can make a record out of it.”
It was super intimidating at first because they basically got four or five of the best musicians in the country. One of them being the late Doug Riley who’s got the Order Of Canada for music. So it’s not like I can loop up one of their records and they’ll be impressed. They’re musicians in the purest sense.
We set about trying to do something really cool. I think the CBC, the producers, they were looking for a youthful perspective, and it was funny because we kind of flipped the script on them going “We’ve got to get incredibly musical with this thing” because we want the respect of these musicians.
The point is that that is when The Extremities was something. Fester and I had worked on tons of other people’s records over the years and we’d managed to be able to work together online but when we had that project it really galvanized us.
MVRemix: How was the transition from Halifax to Toronto for you? I mean to go from somewhere with such a tight knit community like Halifax and then you come to Toronto…
Fresh Kils: It was the worst year of my life actually. Partially because of what you just said; I definitely uprooted. In Halifax was I was running a studio and doing everything. I recorded bluegrass I recorded punk records I was doing hip hop records… I was just inhaling music.
The Halifax scene was tight and awesome and with the studio I’d helped developed a bit of the scene. I was diversified, I wasn’t necessarily all hip-hop stuff like I was doing things in other genres, collaborations were getting better and there was everything.
So moving back here I was gonna go to school. I wanted to go to sound engineering school to kinda figure out what the hell I was doing. and also to be here in Toronto where the action is. Halifax is cool but in terms of making money and opportunities it’s not the same.
When I went to school I was really excited. Here I am going to production engineering school and I’m going to be with a whole bunch of musicians and passionate people. What I got instead were kids right out of high school smoking weed everyday. Don’t get me wrong, you’re right out of high school, you’re not supposed to know what you wanna do, but there were just so many people joking around. There was this one girl down there who was like “I was gonna go to law school but this seemed like more fun”. I guess I was just a dick because I went there motivated and knowing what I wanted. I got lost and there was just a lot of bullshit.
The one good thing is that it did help me focus on learning shit that was important. I came out of that and my beats were so much better, I had a good understanding of MIDI, I got my feet wet with ProTools, my mixing was better… I knew what I wanted to know so I asked the right questions.
That year probably proceeded by one of the best years of my life. which was getting my internship straight out of school with K-Cut from the Main Source. They produced some of the hugest hip hop classics… ever.
He was part of that time, he was part of that era. Everyone talks about the golden era of hip hop and he was part of it. It wasn’t like there were 100’s of people making rap music, there was a very small group of elite so they all knew each other. Like Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul… they all knew each other and were friends. So through K-Cut I got to meet and work with some huge names.
And when I thought I’d learned a lot from school, that year changed it. I tracked so many beats with K-Cut, I learned the MPC, I learned how they wrote songs…
MVRemix: You made an interesting comment there talking about the “golden era” of hip-hop. Obviously you’ve been in the scene in both Halifax and Toronto so what do you think of the scene today? How has it progressed? It seems like Canadian hip-hop is gaining a lot more cred as the years have gone by.
Fresh Kils: I think it’s interesting. Toronto, for example, when I moved back, was terrible. There was a whole lot of people in Scarborough doing their own thing, and people in downtown doing their own thing, and people in Thornhill doing their own thing, and nobody’s talking.
There was so much beef. It’s like going to a show and all your ex-girlfriends are there, there’s so much baggage in the room and everyone’s mean-mugging everybody. It was a terrible thing and no one knew anybody or was trying to know anybody.
And now, it’s totally flipped around. Toronto especially. There’s definitely a divide between East coast and West coast… but you’re seeing a lot cross-pollination. You’ll see a lot of people that are collaborating or know each other that you wouldn’t have seen before. There’s a lot more mutual respect for everybody.