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"I Make Pop Music for the Average Schmuck" - A Piece Of The Cataracs Returns, as Momma

He shares music and a video from his new Momma project with Felix Snow.

You may not know David Singer-Vine by name, but you definitely know his work. Going by the name Campa he spent most of the last decade as one half of The Cataracs. This wildly successful production duo is responsible “Like A G6” and “Bass Down Low,” both sticky-sweet sugar-rush monster hits featuring Dev. The Cataracs’ sound encapsulates a specific period in the late ‘00s when a strange brew of rap and electronic music began dominating radio—think Kanye shades, EDC Las Vegas and the Dawn of Instagram. This brief period soon slipped into the“Selfie” era, but The Cataracs were subtly distinct: they didn’t make EDM with rappers. Rather, they combined rap and dance music into a true hybrid form, lacing fizzy synths and upbeat tempos with a grimy sensibility years in the making.

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Campa and Niles “Cyrano” Hollowell-Dhar first met in 2003 at Berkeley High School, at the time a fertile breeding ground for the nascent hyphy movement. I would know; I enrolled the year after The Cataracs graduated. They were already Bay Area legends for songs like “Blueberry Afghani,” a collaboration with friends and school-mates The Pack. You can discern the outline of “Like A G6” in the song’s skeletal bounce and rubbery bassline. Five years later, the Hyphy scene they'd grown up in gave The Cataracs an edge at reducing songs to their most effective elements. They found global success infusing major label dance songs with off-kilter Bay Area energy. In 2014, we can connect the dots between DJ Mustard, "Bass Down Low," and the enduring resonance of the Bay Area. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again: the Hyphy movement was the single most influential development in pop music this millennium.

After a few years working deep in the industry, Singer-Vine decided he’d had enough. “Sometimes there’s this feeling inside when you know its time to close the chapter,” he explained to me over the phone last week. He left L.A. and the The Cataracs in order to spend several months crashing with a friend in China. He needed the chance to “become an ant and disappear” after nearly a decade on the grind.

Eventually Singer-Vine ended up in back in Los Angeles, with a renewed passion for music. He released a few songs (including the terrific "Crush On You") with his friend Nic Nac (the producer of "Loyal") before ending up in the studio of rising producer Felix Snow. The two formed a new project called Momma, and now they’ve blessed us with the premiere of their first ever release: a four song self-titled EP, and the video for the single “Maybe,” directed by Aris Jerome. It’s catchy, futuristic pop with a warped edge, courtesy of Snow’s uncanny production. Watch the video below, and stream the rest of the EP on Momma's Soundcloud or download it on their website. While you're at it, read our interview and get to know one of the decade’s most successful pop voices.

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Tell me about growing up in Berkeley. What was the creative environment like?
Berkeley is just the strangest, coolest, most dangerous environment to grow up in. But it’s just so awesome and such an adventure, and especially—you know Berkeley—it’s a cultural, socioeconomic clusterfuck. When I got into Berkeley High, that’s the age when you can start making music on a computer, or you can wrap your head around it. Of course, that’s where I met my boy who I’d go on to form The Cataracs with. He was one of these kids who had gotten the first version of Fruity Loops or some shit. That was the first kid I knew that was like, woah, you make music on your computer?

How did you guys first start working with The Pack?
My brother was in this legendary skate clique, and one of the leaders of the skate group was Young L. So we all go back before making music. Niles was in an afterschool club with Brandon, with Lil B, when they were 13 or 14. This was all East Bay connections. So when they did blow up, it was like a favor to an old friend when they agreed to jump on Blueberry Afghani. Don’t get me wrong, the beat was hot as fuck. Of course they wanted to, but no matter what they were gonna do it.

What do you think makes the song so special?
Everybody gets their own turn, it’s a true posse cut. B’s got a 16, I’ve got a 16, Niles got a 16, but everyone tells their own story, there’s hella personality. And it was just a strange collection of people, you know? And it all got wrapped up in that super intoxicating beat.

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What were those recording sessions like?
You know, Niles’ house was right below Berkeley High, so it was the perfect location. It was like a superhighway for the hyphy movement, I swear, every single artist in the day passed through Niles’ mom’s house. The Pack was just doing their thing and they stopped by. Honestly, I think we had Requiem for a Dream on that day. I think I watched Requiem For A Dream with Lil B.

From your perspective, what happened to hyphy?
You know, I feel like that type of music works so well with social media today.Anything that’s really hot in a super-localized, super-regional way. I’m talking about the bubble that the Bay had. You see it in Chicago and Atlanta now. If only the Hyphy movement could’ve had Instagram and Vine. The minimal sound really works with the internet. I dunno, you explain it to me, maybe it’s the bleepy-bloopy-ness of it all, but I think the Hyphy movement should’ve worked and it kind of did work in a weird way because everybody pays homage to it. All these people don’t shout out Mac Dre for no reason, you know. A lot of rappers who never reach mainstream success in other regions, you’ll never hear their name. Of course it didn’t work on a mainstream level, I just think it could’ve really used the tools that they have now. Myspace wasn’t enough. There was no Noisey for the hyphy movement.

After high school, how did the Cataracs transition into becoming a major label production powerhouse?
We felt like we were hitting the ceiling with the sound we had accomplished. We loved mainstream music, you know? We loved what we heard on the radio. We loved pop music. And so we decided to make pop music. We wanted to reach people, straight up. When you discover that you want to try to make a more powerful sound, you have to learn it in front of people. So many of our, as you say, ‘powerhouse pop productions,’ came from hella works in progress. That’s how we stumbled on “Like A G6,” on accident. We were trying to please people but we also didn’t know how to not be ourselves, you know what I’m saying? There’s a fine line of making music for other people and yourself, and that just became a clusterfuck.

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What were some of the most frustrating moments for you in the maw of the label system?
Once you wake up and you feel like you’ve kind of lost grasp of what exactly you were trying to do. Dude, its funny, sometimes there’s this feeling inside when you know its time to close the chapter. I loved what I did, but its frustrating, the more and more it hits you that the passion you had for it is gone. And doing something without genuine passion is frustrating as fuck. So yeah, I mean if you’re looking for any answer as to why I decided to step away, there you go. You know, did I panic a little? Sure, but thank god all my relationships with everyone I was doing music with was beyond music. Everybody supported me, even Niles, of course he just wanted me to be happy. There you go.

So how’d you end up in China?
It was the only place where I had a homie livin’. I had just been doing the same thing through high school. We hustled, I sacrificed so much, especially, Cataracs was always constantly on my mind. It took over my life, as it should’ve. Going to China was just to do nothing but on a huge, on a Chinese scale of doing nothing, which is awesome because you really can become an ant and disappear, and that’s what I needed.

Tell me a crazy story about your time there.
Dude like—my crazy stories are insanely embarrassing, and I don’t think people would look at me right afterwards. How about this man—karaoke is huge out there, and the moment where I saw weird little bootleg photos of me in the karaoke machine with all the Cataracs songs there, it was mindblowing. Made me proud of what I’d done and pushed me back to go back and do music. I knew I was like fortunate, but it made me really realize it.

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What’s it like doing karaoke of your own song?
Pure cringe. Honestly, my Chinese friends would just put it on to humiliate me. It would be like “Bass Down Low” or “Like a G6,” and all these people would stand around me not saying anything.

So how did Momma come together?
When I got back to LA I was referred to work with this dude Felix Snow. He sent me these super raw beats, and was like, “Yeah man, I believe in you as a solo artist, I loved ‘Crush On You.’" Post-Cataracs, no one had ever wanted to work with me like that, to be honest. No one as talented as Felix. It just hit me that I was actually getting sent incredible beats to do something for myself, because no one besides Nic Nac would really fuck with me. So there it is. I wrote some songs, I went to his house. Momma is my usual dirty take on pop music. I feel like I make pop music for the average shmuck. I’m the Woody Allen of pop music. Maybe more like the Larry David, whatever. So that’s how Momma happened from my side of things.

How would you differentiate between Campa the solo artist vs. the protagonist of Momma?
I say a lot of things that are really unique and personal to me in this. But Felix’s sound, there’s never been a production that fit with the 26 year old me’s voice. I feel like more of an adult on these records. Momma feels more like a band to me and not a solo production. Felix has a background in production as an instrumentalist, so he plays guitar and drums. I just really feel like I’m working within a band for the first time, an actual band. I’ve never worked with someone I’ve been intimidated by from a musical standpoint, and this is why I’m so excited about this Momma shit. The Cataracs is music from the future. For something computer generated it has so much soul. But the reason why I say this is the adult me, because this is the first time I can send stuff to my mom and she really fucking loves it.

Any last advice for the kids?
This is so cheesy but it’s so true—follow your heart, because your heart keeps you alive and if you don’t, you could really hurt it. Your heart could start to beat too fast or too slow and fucking cardiac arrest sucks!