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young influencers: bardo & robles levine of allied forces

Q & A with bardo & robles levine

LeslieWrites: How long have the two of you been making music together?

Robles Levine: We’ve been making music together since our freshman year of college but we’ve been friends since the 5th grade.

LeslieWrites: What brought you together in the studio? Why did you decide to collaborate?

Bardo: There was this guy on Facebook who is a friend of a friend. He and this other guy were making beats together and we were like, “Oh this sounds real nice.” Antonio had just gotten the Maschine by Native Instruments. It’s like a groove station or a newer version of an MPC. This guy’s stuff was cool but we thought we could make music that was even better. We were just messing around initially and discovered that we didn’t necessarily have the same taste in music but our tastes overlapped in some interesting ways. Antonio turned me on to the whole European/electronic kind of music. I wasn’t really into that kind of stuff and I turned him on more to hip hop. We do have different interests musically at times but there’s a middle ground where it kind of overlaps pretty nicely. That’s where we compliment each other as far as production goes.

LeslieWrites: Where did this love for music begin?

Robles Levine: It started in 5th grade for me when I picked up the cello. I loved the tonality of the cello. It has such a vibrant sound. I got pretty serious about playing the cello in 7th grade but I didn’t start doing production until my freshman year in college. I really like DJ’ing and that was sort of a gateway for me to start in the production world.

Bardo: I think my love for hip hop probably started when I was a kid because my dad would always play A Tribe Called Quest and artists like that in the car. When I was real young I remember my parents playing music all the time, not always music that I liked though. I remember times when I thought I would jump out of the window if I heard The Roots or another Sade song but just being around music helped me appreciate it. When I was a sophomore in high school I just started rapping and playing around with Garage Band. That’s when I realized that I could mess around and experiment with music. I started to like it a lot when I could formulate my own stuff, even if it wasn’t that good at the time, and put my own spin on the music that I liked.

LeslieWrites: So, the direction you’re heading in in terms of producing and Bardo, for you, rapping, is this something you’re doing as a hobby or are you trying to make this a career?

Robles Levine: Like Bardo said before, at first we just started out messing around and seeing what we could do but then we started to define our sound and it took a little while because we were just making random beats. As we developed our sound and started to blend our stuff together, we both sat down and discussed the fact that we could do this seriously.

Bardo: For me this is definitely what I want to do as a career. Even if the rapping doesn’t work out, I would like to be a producer because it’s the only thing that I could really see myself doing. There’s nothing else that I enjoy enough to do all the time for the rest of my life.

LeslieWrites: Let’s talk about the mixtape you just released. Why did you name it Out of Body?

Robles Levine: When I listen to music I love being in a state of relaxation. A lot of music I’ve been getting into lately is like ambient, chilled house music and it puts me in a frame of mind that I’m not normally in. We wanted to create something that would give our listeners that kind of feel.

Bardo: As far as the production on the tape goes, we just wanted to have every song envelop or surround our fans. We wanted to have sounds that fill the room and feel like it’s kind of surrounding you. I listen to hip hop a lot and I hear a lot of songs where I can point at the beat because it’s just sitting right there. The beat is right here and here’s the guy rapping. We wanted to make those lines a little blurry and just make everything have kind of a “surround sound” feel.

LeslieWrites: Where did you record the mixtape?

Bardo: Soundscape in Ukrainian Village on Western & Chicago Avenue in Chicago.

LeslieWrites: So why did you decide to make a mixtape instead of shopping your music around to record labels in a more traditional way?

Bardo: These days it’s hard because of the way the music industry is, especially in hip hop. It’s almost impossible for a rapper to get signed strictly off of talent. You can’t just go to a label and start freestyling and think they’ll say, “Okay we like you and want to give you a $1.5M signing bonus and we’re gonna drop your debut album in a month.” It doesn’t happen like that. You have to have some kind of buzz going on and some kind of presence, especially with social media. Artists do so much for themselves now as far as self-promoting using YouTube, Twitter and SoundCloud for example… things that the labels used to do more of from what I understand. Also, as an artist I would rather not go into a label situation without a lot of buzz anyway because from what I’ve seen and read, they can strip you of creative control. I would rather have some sort of control and leverage in the creative process.

LeslieWrites: I know you just officially released Out of Body this month, but what kind of early feedback are you guys getting?

Robles Levine: We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback. I feel like there are a lot of artists out there who put out a mixtape or an album that appeals to one or two types of people. We’re hearing that it appeals to a lot of different types of people so the response has been very positive and it feels good that we’re getting such a widespread response. It’s definitely going in the right direction.

Bardo: Yeah, like Antonio I’ve been pretty surprised by the feedback. Nobody has been like, “Oh this is trash,” at least not to my face, so that’s cool. [Laugh] I was expecting that some people would say, “This is not my thing,” but we haven’t gotten any of that so far. A lot of people that I didn’t expect to like it or have any thoughts on it have given us some real feedback and commentary talking about specific things within the music and we appreciate our friends and fans for taking the time to tell how they feel about our music. We worked hard on this project and feel proud of it.

LeslieWrites: Well, from what I’ve read and heard, in addition to the quality of the production, part of the early buzz comes from the fact that you guys didn’t really talk about the project to anyone except for a few select people in your circle who knew what you were doing and how hard you were working. So now that it has dropped, I think people are probably blown away. I think it’s a huge surprise because if people saw you walking down the street they would never know that the two of you are an up and coming force in the music industry.

Robles Levine & Bardo: Thank you!

LeslieWrites: Have you been compared to other artists?

Bardo: I heard someone say I sounded like 50 Cent which made me mad [Laugh], but one person said, “Man, this is better than the Carter IV. I’m playing it right now!” I don’t know if this is true but it was nice to hear. That’s all I’ve heard so far. Antonio and I always talk about all these wack trends going on in music and in hip hop especially so I’m glad there haven’t been too many comparisons except for that 50 Cent reference which is a problem. [Laugh]

LeslieWrites: Bardo, your rap style, the lyrics… where did all of this come from?

Bardo: When I was a sophomore in high school, I would just sit in my room and freestyle for hours. I gradually started writing stuff and it was very wack at first and I kinda knew it. [Laugh] I knew I had to keep writing stuff and keep working on it. I guess it’s been a progression. I’ve been writing for a long time and working on different sounds. At first I would model my style after certain people but that would change everyday which I guess is good because I didn’t get stuck on one kind of style and it allowed me to develop my own style. As far as the writing goes, pretty much with every song I would approach it the same way: I would be at Antonio’s house listening to the beat play over and over until I could figure out exactly how it made me feel or a situation that popped into my head. It was really about the production… how it made me feel, what it made me think of and I just went from there.

LeslieWrites: Who or what inspired you to get into music?

Robles Levine: Not getting a real job inspires me. I’ve always been into music and going into business or pre-med is not appealing to me and it’s not something I would enjoy doing. I love music and I really like the feeling of making music. As far as people I look up to — in hip hop both Bardo and I really like Ryan Leslie from a production standpoint. He’s very talented. I think he’s one of the most underrated producers and artists in the music business. I also like a lot of progressive house music. There’s a lot of subtlety in it. I love when producers put a lot of subtle things in their music. You can barely hear it but you know it’s there and it shows that they really know what they’re doing and care about the music.

LeslieWrites: So, with the music that has inspired you, there’s a lot of substance and texture to it beyond just a basic beat, which is something Bardo also talked about earlier. There’s more depth to it. This is what you guys are trying to accomplish with your music, right?

Robles Levine: Yeah, there’s a lot of one-dimensional music out there and we want to make our music three-dimensional. Like Bardo said, it should encompass you. It should be an engaging experience and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish.

LeslieWrites: Bardo, other than the idea of not landing a corporate gig after college, who or what inspires you to pursue music?

Bardo: I like a lot of different rappers and producers for different reasons. What inspires me is making a difference in the genre. If I had to pinpoint one or two individuals who inspire us, I would say The Neptunes (Pharrell Williams & Chad Hugo) because they are a production duo like us so that’s the obvious answer but also because they dominated radio and hip hop in the early 2000s and they came in with a completely different sound and changed how everything sounded. They are still the go-to producers. But just changing hip hop and leaving a lasting impact on it is what I’m trying to do.

LeslieWrites: Allied Forces is producing for Bardo but as a production team are you also starting to produce for other artists?

Bardo: Yeah, if you need some beats holla at us!

LeslieWrites: Ummm, okay I’ll remember that. Thanks. [Laugh] What do you want the world to know about Allied Forces?

Robles Levine: From an Allied Forces Production standpoint, we’re different. I like to make music that I like to hear and I personally think we’re making music that no one else is making, in hip hop especially. A lot of thought was put into the music and I hope more people will catch on with our style and what we’re trying to do. I think when people hear it, they will appreciate the music. I think with the Out of Body mixtape, the only real criticism people might have is that there are so many things going on in the music. Like with “Black Tie,” there’s classical orchestration and then there’s “Exhale,” you know, a chilled, summertime feel. It all sounds like us. It’s not like we put a whole bunch of random beats on there and made a mixtape. You can tell it’s an Allied Forces production and I hope people know that we can make all different types of music and incorporate hip hop.

Bardo: Yeah, it’s definitely different but it’s not like we’re trying hard to be different. Personally, I think if you get to know us and you like us, then you’ll probably like our music. The music is just a representation of who we are. Lyrically I try to convey as much of who I am and my personality as much as possible and I refuse to rap about what everybody is rapping about these days. That’s not going to happen.

LeslieWrites: Outside of making music, what do you do for fun?

Robles Levine: I love hanging out with my friends, walking downtown and people watching. I like being out and being with friends. I also like playing video games.

Bardo: Aside from making music, I like listening to music. And I like to play basketball. That’s what I do.

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