More than just a victim of stage fright, Daniel Kuypers has long suffered from chronic angst while spinning hip-hop in his native Chicago. “Every week, my stomach hurts; I get nervous — all these people are looking at me,” vents Kuypers, the DJ/producer/instrumentalist better known as Copperpot.
As fate would have it, this fear of appearing onstage is precisely what inspired his cooperative new album WYLA? (EV, 2007). Short for What're You Looking At?, Copperpot's sophomore full-length saw this anxious act open up the studio doors much wider than on his debut, Chapter 7 (EV, 2005). While still a hip-hop-centric effort (KRS-One, Prince Po and Braintax all appear), WYLA? curiously features collaborations with members of progressive post-rock groups like Tortoise and Isotope 217. These collective experiences may have been just what he needed to cure his crisis.
“As I am when DJing, I do not like that feeling of being the sole recipient of everyone's gaze,” Copperpot admits. “I feel like working with different musicians kind of alleviated that sense of dread.”
The cooperative quest specifically began when Copperpot swallowed his pride and acknowledged that his bass lines needed a boost. Thanks to bassist Matthew Lux of Isotope 217, that void was filled. “Bass lines have always been my weak spot 'cause I don't [often] use a synth,” Copperpot says. “So I was bringing [Lux] in to do bass lines, and then we just got talking about the record and how he wanted to bring in more musicians to play. Unbeknownst to me, these musicians already knew who I was.”
Considering how Copperpot's debut featured quirky reanimations of everything from Central American marimba music to Western European accordion tunes, it's no surprise that some of Chicago's most respected sonic innovators were already familiar. Some of these innovators included guitarist Jeff Parker and multi-instrumentalist Dan Bitney of Tortoise. But before the many guests recorded their parts at Evanston, Ill.'s EV Studios (just north of Chicago's city limits), they watched Copperpot lay down the foundation for each track.
Excluding the occasional use of a Fender Rhodes or Roland Jupiter-6, this vinyl junkie stuck mostly to his Akai MPC4000 — all the while pushing the limits of this sampling drum machine. “I don't really work in simple 2- or 4-bar loops — I usually compose,” Copperpot says. “Even when I'm just making beats, I arrange the whole song. So the beats [for WYLA?] were pretty much arranged with all the transitions and everything.”
Within the laidback confines of EV studios, the freewheeling musicians improvised off of Copperpot's MPC-born hip-hop. “We just jammed out to the beats, and I would take them in a direction I liked,” he explains.
When working with so many players, Copperpot cautions that it's wise to keep an open mind about the direction of tracks because they can take on a new life along the way. Such was the case with “Art of Rap” — the cinematic ode to pure hip-hop featuring golden-era greats Masta Ace and Edo G. What began as a relatively barebones track grew funkier with the addition of a twangy guitar, while the use of cellos and stand-up bass added a classical touch. “I'm kind of a sucker for a song that sounds dramatic or epic, and I think with the cellos and the bass, it has that feel to it,” he says.
No less dramatic are his collaborations with vocalists like German artist Valeska Jakobowicz. Featured on the saxophone-laced slow roller “I Put a What,” Jakobowicz's playful vocals are sparse, yet they leave the listener glued to the impending flirtation. “She's a talented person, and the music on the album that doesn't have rappers is equally accessible and equally qualified,” Copperpot says.
Given how well Copperpot worked with the musicians, MCs and singers, he was no doubt satisfied when it came down to mixing WYLA? in Sony Vegas 6.Moreover, the recording of the album helps him step to the DJ booth these days with a new sense of confidence; well, at least feigned confidence. “I have not overcome my stage fright — just gotten better hookups for Valium.” [Laughs.]