Secret Agent 23 Skidoo debuts ‘Mozartistic,’ talks what’s next after Grammy win

VICTORY LAP: The Orange Peel show will be fully choreographed with b-boys and Motown dance moves. Marley Carroll will open and perform throughout.
VICTORY LAP: The Orange Peel show will be fully choreographed with b-boys and Motown dance moves. Marley Carroll will open and perform throughout. Photo by Mike Belleme and artistically altered by Andy Potts

What does it feel like to win a Grammy? Secret Agent 23 Skidoo knows — he took home this year’s Best Children’s Album award for his album Infinity Plus One, which was tracked at Echo Mountain Recording and includes contributions from Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, Ryan RnB Barber, Debrissa McKinney, Marley Carroll and other Asheville-based artists. He gave a shoutout not only to those collaborators but to Asheville itself, his former hometown, in his acceptance speech.

“I am definitely the mastermind of this [album], but none of that would matter if it wasn’t for all the people [who helped]. Nothing exists in a vacuum,” Skidoo says. “Asheville still breathes not only in all my music but in who I am.”

He adds, “I’m superthankful to the musical community of Asheville for being part of the Skidoo project throughout its whole [development]. I’m part of a community, and I know that.” Here’s proof: 23 Skidoo returns to town Sunday, March 19, for a performance that not only includes songs from Infinity Plus One but will also celebrate the release of Mozartistic, a five-song EP collaboration with the Asheville Symphony Orchestra.

Skidoo had approached David Whitehill, executive director of the Asheville Symphony, about collaborating with the symphony “because just the sounds and the richness and the production possibilities are awesome, from a producer’s standpoint,” Skidoo says. “The idea of an entire orchestra is about as good as it gets.”

And Skidoo doesn’t fool around when it comes to thinking big. For Infinity Plus One, “The ideas I had were all over the map musically, and I wanted to indulge all of it, from full brass band and a DJ, to strings, harp, Gypsy-jazz guitar, analog synths — everything,” he told Xpress before the album’s release last year. The album opens and closes with the electromagnetic emanations of Earth, recorded by the Voyager spacecraft in 1977 as it carried the gold records made by astronomer Carl Sagan.

For the symphony collaboration, Skidoo’s original idea was to score some of his existing material, but Whitehill came back with the proposal that Skidoo could create a theme song for Asheville Amadeus, the symphony’s biennial festival, held through March 19. Skidoo agreed even though he wasn’t very familiar with the 18th-century composer. “But that’s how I work,” he jokes. “I bite off more that I can chew, then grow more teeth.”

Skidoo wanted to create something that combines the worlds of hip-hop and the symphony, and that idea first jelled when he realized he could use a string section to sound like record scratching. Skidoo brought Asheville-based musicians and Carroll in to do live scratching. “I decided to [approach] it as if we had all of Mozart’s works on record and we were chopping them up with beat machines to make a hip-hop beat out of it, like sampling,” he says.

The next piece was the “Mozartistic” idea, which became the first track on the resulting five-track EP of the same title. “What really clicked for me was when [Mozart] was 7, 8, 9 years old, he was on tour throughout Europe,” Skidoo says. “Every place he would go, all the older piano players … would challenge him to a battle, and [Mozart] just waxed everyone. … I was like, ‘OK, now this is a hip-hop song.’”

The battle-rapper theme is paired with the idea that, prodigy or not, everyone can take inspiration from Mozart’s story. “You never know what you are capable of unless you try and are disciplined,” says Skidoo. “Not everyone is a prodigy, but if you were and you didn’t try, you’d never know.”

The track’s hook is a triumphant challenge: “Who is the Mozartistic? I am the Mozartistic!”

Local singer-songwriter Indigo DeSouza added vocals, and pianist Orion Weiss performed Mozart’s “Turkish March.” That work is sampled and woven into the fist-pumping, dance-inducing title song.

The album’s artwork is by London-based designer Andy Potts, with text by Stu Helm and layout throughout the package by Josh Rhinehart.

Skidoo is already thinking about future classical and symphonic collaborations — but that’s not the only future project on the horizon. His song “Imaginary Friend” aired on Sirius XM, where actor Jeremy Renner heard it. Renner decided he wanted to make a full-length film out of the song concept. “The central plot point, which I came up with, is that kids have imaginary friends because their imaginations are naturally full of wonder and curiosity and beauty,” Skidoo says. As adults, people try to suppress their imaginations, “but you can’t, so it comes out as anxiety because that’s just a different way of imagining the future. You’re just imagining it in a negative way instead of a positive way, so imaginary friends become imaginary foes.”

That film is still in early planning stages, but it’s an exciting prospect. In the near future, Skidoo will be one of the headliners at this year’s Calgary International Children’s Fair. And there’s the time it will take to absorb the Grammy win. “I’ve definitely had gigs coming in through my booking agent,” Skidoo says. He adds with a laugh, “but it’s not like, ‘I’m a celebrity now!’”

He continues, “I consider the Grammy to be a music business award. … It’s an award for making good music and knowing how to promote it. So I feel good about that. Getting the business straight, as well as the music being dope, will help me get more business in the future, which will lead to making more dope music.”

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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