Published by Josh Mills
Over the weekend I spent some time in "The Zone” with Pyramid Scheme and discussed their upcoming album. They shattered my vision of what a trap artist’s life is like, explained their long journey to “Thundercat” and beyond.
"The Zone” is a suburban retreat of a multi-million dollar studio. It is not the least bit flashy. It’s more of a hidden blue collar escape where it just so happens Lil Jon and the Ying Yang Twins made multi-platinum records. You would only know that because they are hanging on the wall. This is the base of operations for Pyramid Scheme who consists of Adam LaRossa and Sterling Pike. These two sat down with me and explained their rise to releasing Thundercat on Mad Decent and how success did not happen overnight.
Josh: How did you get your start in music?
Adam: I started playing drums and then switched to electronic production after taking a college class in Baltimore. I fell in love and started spending time after class working on it. While I was there I was lucky enough to work with a mentor who helped me get a job working at Firaxis composing music for video games. Due to the lack of creativity allowed I decided to move into music engineering which I thought would allow a little more freedom. I moved to Atlanta and got into engineering music for pop artists while beginning to work on my own music at night. I bounced around to a few studios until I met Billy Hume. Billy is a music producer that worked with the Ying Yang Twins and Lil' Jon. Working for Billy was like boot camp but I learned a lot from him. So 9 years ago through putting in hard work with Billy I got to meet the Ying Yang Twins. After a few years of this I got a little disillusioned with trying to make my own music. I moved out of Atlanta and ended up in Seattle working sales jobs. It was really Sterling and I linking up that got me back into music. We both knew of each other from Atlanta but when we started collaborating things started to click. We kind of saved each other.
Sterling: I started by throwing parties in Atlanta that were called Wobble Wednesdays and then I started pushing to get my own gig with Zach Debroka through RSVPATL, who I had done promotions with before. They were reluctant to let someone unknown secure a spot at well-known Atlanta venue, Wild Bill’s so they wanted to hear a mix first. I had to convince them a mix was unnecessary and that we had a new way of doing things and half of our product was our live show. I explained it’s really about the individual performance and a mix wouldn’t be a fair demonstration of our product. I told them I wasn’t looking for a weekly commitment and that I wanted one to do one show and that would be the audition. I told them with confidence I knew what I had and because of our history I came to them first.
It was an absolute blast. I learned to DJ on stage in front of thousands of people.
Josh: I think that’s called hustling.
Sterling: Ha yeah maybe. This made Zach really nervous. The time slot we landed was on a night that typically wasn’t too packed but the manager came in a said “Ok guys we have a big night tonight.” Zach was sweating bullets because it just so turned out thousands of people showed up for whatever reason. I remember Chiko from RSVPATL turning to me nervously asking if I had this because their reputation was on the line. I told him “Oh yeah no problem man.” I always did things sort of freestyle back then and there were two of us on stage to handle any worst case scenarios. That set was nothing but worst case scenarios but we were doing things in EDM that hadn’t really caught on yet by mashing up rap and top 40 tracks into EDM tracks. The mixes may have been absolutely atrocious but the track selection killed it. That’s all it took, the crowd loved it. It was a mix of songs they could sing along to but in a way they had never heard before. After that we landed a regular spot there and DJ Spy, who headlined that night, started teaching me a few things from there. It was an absolute blast. I learned to DJ on stage in front of thousands of people.
Josh: So coming from the Midwest one of the first things you notice about Atlanta is how you just get immersed in the rap culture down here. How did you guys get hooked up with Ying Yang Twins for Thundercat?
Sterling: Well Adam has a background with them and my friend was throwing an event featuring them and told us to stop by. Adam hadn’t seen them in years and I never met them. I grew up with them on the radio, listening to them in high school and luckily we got to go back stage and kick it with them. We just mentioned we were into making music, we would send something over to them and see what they thought. So it was really from just kicking it with them and Adam doing some work with them in the studio previously. Those are just the random things that you can do in Atlanta. It provides easy access to meeting some really cool people. If you go see Ying Yang Twins in LA, you are not getting back stage to meet them but Atlanta is a city where you can get away with that.
Adam: Atlanta has a little bit of LA in that you can run into celebrities but it has a looseness to it where you can actually meet them. It does have a bit of a “bubble effect” because Atlanta is kind of separated, it doesn’t have any other big cities nearby it and coming from Seattle it still has kind of a small town, high-school feel for a big city.
Sterling: It creates kind of an echo chamber on social media here. It is a stage and everyone is tight knit and knows everyone else.
Adam: Downtown Atlanta itself isn’t that populated. The suburbs are huge but not the downtown compared to other places I’ve lived. No matter where I go when I go into the city I run into people I know. I’ve sat and pondered with Billy many times why Atlanta is like this focusing so much on social media and can deceivingly be so cut-throat.
Josh: What is a typical week for you right now?
Yeah, it’s not like we just called up the Ying Yang Twins and said hey we’re gonna make EDM now.
Adam: We are working on a new album and going through negotiations right now but really our day is waking up and working. Literally 5-6 days a week we work 15-16 hour days working on tracks, emails and on the phone.
Josh: So it’s not the party life style most people think of?
Adam: Not really, I’ll go out maybe one night a week.
Sterling: On my night off I’m watching Netflix.
Music is so competitive. I think of it like basketball. We are in the NBA, everybody wants to be in the NBA.
Adam: I think more DJs than you would imagine live like this because music is so competitive. I think of it like basketball. We are in the NBA, everybody wants to be in the NBA. Everybody wants to be a DJ. I mean there is probably some 16 year old kid out there working more hours than we are.
Sterling: I don’t understand how these DJs that party do it. I don’t even drink alcohol.
Adam: Most of the time when we go out we are playing shows or going to see our moms.
Sterling: Yeah man we go to see our families and stay on our business. Some people think you get one hit and then you can just sit back. It’s not like that though. It’s like any business you have to have a long term plan.
Adam: Yeah actually I don’t even like telling people how long I’ve been doing this.
Sterling: Yeah, it’s not like we just called up the Ying Yang Twins and said hey we’re gonna make EDM now.
Adam: Yeah that was nine years in the making. I was working with the Ying Yang twins nine years ago.
Josh: So tell me about how you got linked up with Mad Decent?
Sterling: It actually has to do with this tattoo of my buddy, Julio Nunez’s logo here. He goes by the name Havok Roth. When we first started Pyramid Scheme we were up to about 2000 likes pretty quick and he had about 8000 likes. I told him at this rate we would hit 10,000 likes before he would even though he was 6000 ahead of us. I was so confident that I told him whoever got to 10,000 first had to get a tattoo of the other’s logo. Two weeks after Facebook cracked down on the like for song download scheme so he ended up beating us by months and now I have his tattoo on my arm. So I show Julio next time I run into him that I stayed true to my word. We got to talking about what I was up to lately. I told him to check out a track we just completed with Trinidad James. Julio knows some people that work for labels and is pretty well connected in the industry and asked who we released this under. We were about to just release it for free like all our other downloads at the time. He felt this track was a perfect fit for what Mad Decent was releasing at the time. We thought that was way above where we were aiming with this track but he had us email it to Paul Devro who does A&R at Mad Decent. Paul’s just a really influential guy and well known in the industry. Paul responded that it was too late because we were trying to release in 18 hours but the fact he got back to us and wanted to hear new music from us was enough. So fast forward to SXSW we were hanging out and we had just come up with this new track with Ying Yang Twins and we sent it to Paul at Mad Decent and this was it. Paul was excited and said it was the best Ying Yang Twins vocals he had heard since 2008. So they ended up picking up the Thundercat record. You just never know how things are going to work out its about getting out there and making things happen in the most random ways. Just get out there, be respectful and be happy to meet people.
After that I had to shut the recorder off so I could hear some upcoming tracks. Thundercat is only the beginning, 2016 is about to be a big year for Pyramid Scheme. Hard work is about to pay off.