Anderson .Paak Talks Success, Growth, and Mac Demarco Friendship

Fresh off the release of two new albums, life for Anderson .Paak doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
Fresh off the release of two new albums, life for Anderson .Paak doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Photo by Israel Ramos
“This is fucking crazy man!”

For Brandon Paak Anderson (better known as Anderson .Paak), that’s about the only way these last few years can be summed up.

After all, this is an artist who since 2014, has gone from releasing his debut album to little consideration, to just last month flaunting Gucci across the Met Gala red carpet. Prior to that, there were stints of being homeless, a gig teaching music lessons to support a wife and newborn son, and even a period of quitting music entirely. This is all to say that life for Anderson .Paak is changing at a rapid pace.

To truly understand the ascent of Anderson .Paak, one only has to trace back to .Paak’s 2016 magnum opus, Malibu. Though there were hints of splendor within his 2014 debut, Venice, it was here where the world was first truly introduced to .Paak's versatility and depth as a musician. Blending the influences of Curtis Mayfield-esq funk, the contemporary R&B of Frankie Beverly, and the West Coast flow of Snoop Dogg, Malibu welcomed a different kind of “hip-hop” artist—one capable of creating approachable Spotify-friendly hits that can resonate with any type of music fan, while maintaining a brand of musicality rarely seen in the genre.

Like many hip-hop-centric albums before it, Malibu focused heavily on a break-beat style of drumming to underline .Paak’s signature vocal attack. However, when videos began to appear online of .Paak performing these songs live, the public quickly realized that it was .Paak himself behind the kit, simultaneously singing, rapping, and drumming. In return, Malibu launched .Paak into the critical limelight as the genre-bending virtuoso many have since come to know him as.

Since that time, .Paak has signed with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment, earned himself a Grammy, experienced multiple sold-out world tours, and within the last year, released two more albums in Oxnard and Ventura, both which have only furthered his critical reputation as one of the most exciting artists in hip-hop.

Speaking with him over the phone just hours before the opening night of the “Best Teef In The Game Tour”, .Paak’s tone is light to preserve his voice for the night’s show. Despite the mellow degree of our conversation (and despite this being his umpteenth phoner of the day), the joyous demeanor that has become so associated with .Paak’s character is on full display. Even his way of saying “Hey man,” gives off an infectious sense of care-free positivity—the same positivity that can be found in any track he attaches his name to. When I speak to him about the rapid pace of his success, his tone indicates a genuine disbelief in it all.

“It’s moving at lightning speed. I just woke up this morning to see that we just got nominated for best male/pop artist’s just crazy man.” “It’s crazy because we’re putting out music, putting out a lot of material, and moving really quick, so everything can be a blur.”

The last time Houston encountered .Paak was in 2016 at the House of Blues, where fans heard the just-released songs of Malibu for the first time. In just a few weeks, .Paak will be entertaining a near-sold-out Revention Music Center, a room more than twice the size. As .Paak explains, with this growth has come a new level of responsibility.

“We were on tour in a little sprinter when Malibu just came out. We’ve learned so much, destroyed so many rooms, and drank so much tequila. Now it’s about keeping your routine, being healthy, and now it’s like we can’t do everything that we used to do. The show is just different. I have way more commitments. I’m looking at the tickets like god damn, I would never pay this much to see anybody! And so I’m trying to...exceed expectations. In order to do that I can’t be partying like that 24/7. I have to get some sleep. I have to really take the show serious.”
Throughout our conversation, I notice .Paak’s continuous use of “we” when reflecting on both the past and the present. This is in reference to his backing band, the Free Nationals, who have been with him every step of the way—something rarely seen in the realm of major-label solo artists. When asked about this, it’s clear he and the band share a special bond.

“I love them to death and they’re my brothers, and we’re stuck with each other. They’re stuck with me, and I’m stuck with them. We actually have a new member now too (speaking of trumpeter, Maurice “Mobetta” Brown). Maurice is really like...the light of my life. He’s such a talented musician and he has inspired all of us. I feel like we were getting a little lazy, and when he came in he just elevated the sound of our band. All he wants to do is just play music all the time, and make music, and it got us back to just like yes! That’s what it’s all about! It's not about getting shitfaced all of the time. It’s about getting back to the music. So yea man, I’m really happy.”

Along with the award winning reception of Anderson .Paak’s music has been a growing reputation for his live show, something he and the Free Nationals have spent an extensive amount of time on the road shaping into the energetic spectacle it has become. Now with far bigger audiences to entertain, however, it’s easy to wonder how production will be forced to change, and what drawbacks, if any, these changes will have on the show. In .Paak’s mind, that’s when the familiarity with his band comes into play.

“It’s tough. We’ve added a lot of production to the show. A lot. But we’re still just a bunch of dudes that are playing instruments on the stage, you know, doing the same stuff that we we’re doing in these small dive bars where nobody was even paying attention to us. So it’s dope that a lot of things are changing around us. The show is getting bigger, but I’m looking on the stage and it’s the same guys. That’s the best shit.”

Back in February, when the The Best Teef in the Game Tour was first announced, it was a pleasant surprise for many to see that the eclectic bass-wielding jazz guru, Thundercat, would be opening the entirety of the tour. However, even further a surprise was the announcement that slack-rocker, Mac Demarco, would be joining along for select dates, including the tour’s stop in Houston.

At first glance, the pairing of .Paak and Demarco couldn’t be more unlikely. While .Paak’s music thrives off of the energy of his hip-hop-laden vibe, Demarco’s tunes exist in an entirely different realm—one of care free guitar-pop and surfer jams. Or as .Paak illustrates, one of “chain smoking and alcohol.” What both .Paak and Demarco certainly share, however, is the attitude they have in regards to their chosen profession. Neither tend to take themselves too seriously, and instead take a well-documented hedonist approach to life as a touring musician.

“Honestly, when me and Mac get together it’s just a good time man. We’re just having jokes and eating, and we might jam on some funk or something but we do a lot of partying. I hit him up the other day and I’m like can we actually make some music? What the hell is going on? [laughter] "I just have a good time hanging with them. They’re really my friends."

In a time where packaged tours are becoming less frequent, this unlikely pairing Anderson .Paak, Mac Demarco, and Thundercat is certain to bring a unique night to Houston. Given the rate of .Paak’s acceleration through the ranks of the industry, what it may well further bring is a chance for Houstonians to catch .Paak's highly-touted live show before it graduates to Cynthia Woods or Toyota Center.

Anderson .Paak Live in Houston at 6:30 p.m. June 11 at Revention Music Center, 520 Texas Ave. $59.50-$138.25. Ages 18+
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