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Cullah taps into our senses with his magical 'Cullahtivation'

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Samer Ghani
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All December, Radio Milwaukee is paying tribute to our favorite Milwaukee releases of 2020 and speaking with the musicians who made them. This is Milwaukee Music’s 20 of 2020, presented by Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.

It was really cool jumping on this call with Cullah for Milwaukee Music's 20 of 2020. In all transparency, I hadn't heard much of his music outside of the tracks we've supported on the air here at 88Nine. When I tasked myself to interview Cullah, I dove in head first and now can honestly say I am a fan!

Cullah | Photo by Meghan Stark

Did you know he has dropped 14 albums and he hasn't even hit the age of 30?! I can't process that either. Where does one get the energy to create such work, and amazing stuff at that?

I'll tell you something, the versatility he has to offer as a musician is evident in the breath of work he has put out into the universe. In the interview we talked his beginning, his now and what he has in store for number 15.

Stream our conversation below.

https://radiomilwaukee.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Cullah-Interview-Final.mp3
Cullah interview

Kenny Perez: So "Cullahtivation," it's a great album. You've been producing music since you were about 12, 13. Am I wrong?

Cullah: Oh, you're right. Yeah, that it's something like that. 2006. So I released the first album when I was 15, but I have stuff recorded from 2001, 2003, but that will never see the light of day.

KP: Yeah. But you know what? The album in 2006 -- this is why I was so intrigued by you when I heard the first album. You dug in at the age of 14, 15 years old. And you did your thing. And I was like, so inspired. I was like, wait a minute. This is like 2006. There's this breadth of like artistry, right? Even though we're young, we're creating on Fruity Loops, we're creating an Ableton. Now we're moving to Pro Tools. There's, there's this artistry. Talk about that, that whole from 2006, that first album "Adolescents" to "Cullahtivation." Talk about that, that growth process.

C: I was just talking about that the other day about someone, about how it honestly doesn't feel that different. Like it's, there's so much that is different about the process in a lot of ways, but in a lot of ways, it's not. I was thinking about that 2006 , it was all instrumental, just me composing in a mini, a piano roll and just kind of messing around with different sounds. I honestly wasn't thinking too much. I just felt a really overwhelming desire and urgency to make the music as soon as I figured out how to do it. And as soon as that started to come out and started to flow, I just couldn't stop. And so before I knew it, I wasn't trying to do an album a year until maybe until maybe like 2013 or 2014, then I really started to be like, "Oh, wait, I'm doing this every year."

KP: Did you find out that you could sing rap song rights after that? You talked about just being musical composition, where, when did you find your voice?

C: So the, the stuff that won't be ever see the light of day, it's the stuff with my voice when I was well before the 2000s, I have lots and lots and probably five times as many songs as were released on "Adolescents," but all with my voice. I was using windows sound recorder before that, like, and you can only record 30 seconds at a time with this thing. At least I thought that's what you could do. And I was just using like an on his old, huge tube monitor with like a microphone built into it. And, and I always kind of knew I could sing. I was I was singing to myself all the time, trying to just pretend like I was an opera singer and singing sing in the school musicals and stuff.

My, my mom is one of 17 kids and they were all in a family band and they all learned how to sing and play music. But my mom, as soon as I was born, basically she stopped. She stopped doing all the music altogether, but encouraged us to play. But so it was kind of weird. It was like she stopped, there was still this huge, like momentum of music coming from her and from her family and inside me. But there was just this kind of void now of her just transitioning to other things. But it was still inside me, I think. And so I kind of took up the baton and kind of kept running with it.

KP: So there's definite musical background. It sounds like. And from listening to a lot of the album from listening to a lot of your albums that's, and that's 14 of them, if you didn't know out there it's 14 albums got a 15th coming out next, April 27. What's the, what's the significance of that date?

C: April 27 is the date that I was born. So it's it's my birthday. So the significance is simple. Sometimes less is more, but originally I released it on my birthday to try and get people to listen to it in high school. Because before, before even Myspace and Facebook, although Myspace came in pretty hot in my high school years. But before that people just had to know if it was your birthday, you know, someone would know, or someone would. And they'd, everyone would have to tell each other.

KP: And, and congratulations, you have the 15th coming out on April 27 of 2021. But, "Cullahtivation," talk about that. It's been an interesting 2020. You talk about social injustice, this pandemic and other things, but talk about this. When did when did you start working on "Cullahtivation?" Was it specific for 2020, or was it before that, that you just dropped it?

C:So the part of the releasing things on my birthday has tied me pretty strongly to a yearly lifecycle of an album. Right? So every year, except for 2012, which was just a terrible mess, like a lot of my gear was destroyed that year by accident. But, or maybe no, 2011, sorry, but the I've, I'm so tied to this, this release state that like a lot of the pandemic and social, like all the George Floyd protests and everything happened almost immediately after I released my album on, of cultivations or around that time. So I had finished, I'm almost, I finished all my stuff by probably the beginning of March or late February now. But back in some of the earlier albums, I've finished them the day before. But now, now I have to like send it off to vinyl. I have to do all these things ahead of time.

So almost immediately, like day one, or even like those last weeks in to coming up to the, the album release, whatever I'm working on goes on to the next year. So "Cullahtivation" was new 2019, really? So like you hear that and that's really a 2019 cycle. But from April to April, and then this 2021 album is going to have a lot more of the whole pandemic and social justice aspects to it. Cause that's really the reflection of 2020. It's because I'm constrained to that date every year. It's kind of like a little sonic autobiography. That's what I call it. Like people can tune along, and like I've had people who said they'd been listening since 2009 or whatever, and they listen every year and they looked in. It's that random, specific date that no one would ever know about care or care about.

It's not a holiday, it's not anything. But because it's consistent and because I'm constrained to that, people know exactly, they know exactly when to expect it. But yeah, it's my 30th birthday and my 15th album. So it'll be 50% of my life releasing a music every year on my birthday. Wow.

KP: "Cullahtivation" was definitely after listening to it really internalizing. It was a beautiful record, man. Congratulations on that. One of my favorite tracks on the "Cullahtivation" album is "Runaway." I love the, I love the vocals, man. I loved that the drums and the electronic sense that you capture in that track, but really congratulations. Then I appreciate you. I appreciate you for being on. Is there, can you give us just a little something where we can find your music? What can we do to support you?

C: The best way for people to support and what I've been doing these last couple of years has been doing a pre-order fundraiser-type drive for each album now. So what people are interested in supporting me that the best way is to go directly to my site, Cullah.com, and they can go and give a certain amount to pre-order essentially either vinyl or people can get their name shouted out in songs, and they can get their name written on the back of the vinyl. And they can, you know, give. Give whatever they want as a thank you or however they decide to do it. But that's all it goes directly towards all the expenses. And this year's fundraiser, I'm giving 15% to the North American independent venue association to actually do something about the fact that all these venues are just, are just dropping like flies. And it's really scary to be totally honest. But, but yeah, so that's the best way to do it. And I really appreciate, I really appreciate you having me on, and I love all what 88Nine does for Milwaukee has always been a huge fan for forever. So always happy to be part of it and super honored to be included in the 20.

88Nine Assistant Program Director & Afternoon Drive Host | Radio Milwaukee