The sounds of N.A.S.A. can''t be confined. An acronym for North America/South America, N.A.S.A. is the cross-continental collaboration between two freewheeling DJ/producers—L.A.''s Squeak E. Clean (Sam Spiegel) and DJ Zegon (Ze Gonzales) of Sao Paolo, Brazil—neither who care for sonic normalcy.
As the duo first bonded because of a mutual appreciation for old-school Brazilian funk, their debut, The Spirit of Apollo (Anti-, 2009), naturally carries traces of that Rio party sound. But throughout the five years it took to complete the project, N.A.S.A.''s output has considerably transformed. Summoning more than 30 of their favorite artists to join the movement, Squeak E. Clean and Zegon have created a peculiar platform where gruff singer/songwriter Tom Waits can feel right at home sharing the mic with left-field MC Kool Keith (on “Spacious Thoughts”).
“I think that people''s taste is so eclectic right now—more than ever,” says Squeak E. via cell phone from his studio in L.A. “And certainly me and Ze''s taste is very eclectic, which is part of why the record ended up like that—with so many different artists involved.”
Not too long after their first freestyle studio session where the pair found themselves manipulating old Brazilian tracks on Technics SL-1200 turntables and an Akai MPC2000XL, they recorded their first song with Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, ex-Pharcyde MC Fatlip and the late great Ol'' Dirty Bastard. That single, the aptly titled “Strange Enough,” is a part-rock, part-electro, part-hip-hop experience that defined what N.A.S.A. would become.
As Squeak E. explains, “Once we did the Karen/O.D.B. track, I was like, ‘This is what this record is about''—bringing people together from different worlds and [making] every song a crazy collaboration with people you would never expect together but that somehow makes sense.”
In addition to taking influence from what they dub their “dream list” of guest stars, it was Squeak E. and Zegon''s experiences as DJs that helped make The Spirit of Apollo an ever-evolving release. “The record really started off heavily hip-hop influenced [with] a little indie rock,” says Squeak E. “Then as the record progressed, it got more and more futuristic sounding, using stuff from dance music as we started to DJ and play more electro and B-more.”
Keeping true to their tastes, working with everyone from Karen O to Kanye West and relying on both the MPC and the Moog Voyager, N.A.S.A.''s debut represents progression. As Clean says, “We always try to come unexpected.”