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Don Miguel on Echo Park Lake (2)

Michael “Don Miguel” McManus, the multitalented producer and musician from New York, is coming off the release of his debut producer album, the impressive Waiting for Carmine featuring the likes of Guilty Simpson, Blacastan, ST 2 Lettaz, Rapsody and more. A passionate creator, Don Miguel not only produces music, but is also a studio musician and multi-instrumentalist. Forget the bullshit, he’s just about the music – something that is sadly rare these days, especially in the world of Hip Hop.

We got a chance to catch up with Don Miguel recently to talk about music, the success of Waiting for Carmine, and his recent and upcoming projects – including a project with Heems from Das Racist and a release with his band the Gamblers. He also gave us the drop on his new video with SamueL, “FVCK IT” ft. Monsignor Ghost and Bonez from the recent ‘LDNYC’ album.

Enjoy an honest look into the life of a hard-working artist focused strictly on the music.

Last time we talked you were dropping your project, Waiting for Carmine. That project was a big success. What are your thoughts looking back at that project?
It’s something I’ll never forget, working on that project. I would say it was successful in a way. I like that a lot of people heard it and seemed to generally think it was good. It was the first time that a sizable number of people I didn’t know personally heard my music. I think it accomplished a lot for what it was….an uncompromising underground hip hop album. You’re never content though, ya know?

It was your first producer album. What did you learn from that release? Would you change anything?
No, I wouldn’t change anything because I learned what I know now from going through the process. I learned how to be upfront and connect with people both in person and online in terms of collaboration. I learned how much work goes into things outside of the music itself with the videos and press campaigns and staying in touch with a million people at once, organizing the release party etc.

Did Waiting for Carmine open up new opportunities?donmiguel
It did in terms of having a wealth of credits under my belt with just that one album. For instance, when I was first talking with Heems about doing some work for him I was able to list who I’d previously worked with.

Naturally, you got a lot of attention for the beats and overall production. Are you planning a sequel?
At some point I will do another production album and hopefully be able to get a bunch more artists that I love to be a part of it. I don’t know if it will be driven by a theme like Carmine was, but you never know.

How do MCs usually find you, or more likely, vice versa?
I’m very accessible on Twitter and my email is listed on their as well, same as you’d find most people now days.

Do you get a lot of questions from other producers?
Nah, it’s pretty wack. I try to show love to some producers, but I feel like there’s this lame competition that I have no interest in. I just like making music you can keep all that extra shit. I don’t even care to talk about making beats with people, everyone has their method, if you like it you like it if not then that’s fine too.

What’s your typical beat-making process?
If I’m sampling then I’ll either find a record or a digital file that I like and go from there. A lot of times though now I’ll just build it from the ground up and maybe add a sample later. I use FL Studio to make the skeleton then I’ll do my over dubs in Logic or Pro Tools.

Do you go digging?
If I’m looking for something specific like Indian records for Heems then I will, generally I’ll just listen for stuff online though to be honest.

Saw the podcast on your Soundcloud. Speak on the importance of Jeff Buckley to you
He’s one of my favorite artists of all time for sure. There’s no way I can adequately express how much his music means to me to be honest. I love him a lot.

As a studio musician, do you bring in a lot of live instrumentation to create beats and loops?
I do yeah, I generally play them too. I grew up playing in bands and have done a bunch of session work so it’s something that is definitely a big part of what I can bring to the table as a producer. I’ll also bring other musicians in to collaborate with me. Derek Smith from the band Rice Cultivation Society was a big part of Carmine for instance, he played guitar, keys, strings etc.

How did the experience of Waiting for Carmine change your process? Either creative and/or release strategy?
I was forced to learn on the fly how to deal with organizing everything and budgeting and setting up meetings blah blah blah. It made me “grow up” as an artist for sure. I don’t how much longer I’ll be trying to make this work as full time career but the experience of producing “Waiting For Carmine” at least put in to perspective what needs to be done to even be in the game at all, if that makes sense.


Since then you’ve stayed busy. Besides the projects with SmamueL and Heems – which we’ll talk about later – what have you been up to?
I’ve been wrapping up the debut album from my band Gamblers and we are taking meetings now trying to find a label to put it out. We shot a couple videos too. Gamblers is a band from Brooklyn that I started with my friends Gary and Boris. Boris was actually the engineer on WFC, that’s how we became close. Other than that just your typical life shit I guess. I try to keep the drama low. I’m 26 years old now and it’s my first time since I’m 13 that I don’t have a day job, which is both exciting and scary.

Alright, let’s talk about LDNYC. How did you link up with SamueL?ldnyc
He found me on SoundCloud because I had an early version of my track “Crop Circles” with ST 2 Lettaz up and he was a massive G-Side fan. After he hit me up I checked out his stuff and I thought he was really talented.

So you were just tossing beats and songs back and forth over the pond?
Well the first thing we did was I had him jump on a track that ended up becoming “Braille” from WFC. After that I sent him a beat that I thought he might want to use. I forget how or why but we just kept doing tracks like that and we were going to make it like a little EP. We just kept pushing ourselves and ended up making it an album.

What’s the vibe behind this project? I believe its a salute to your respective cities?
I mean, it’s loosely that I guess. It’s more of a salute to our friendship, which has really evolved to more like a cousin-hood or brother-hood. He’s one of the closest people in my life now.

You guys weren’t actually together during the recording process, right? How do you find success working with an MC that is remote?
We’ve only done shows together here in NY. We haven’t toured or played in London yet, although I’d love to. The project was a success because we got on extremely well and we both have the same work ethic when it comes to music.

Tell us about the video you are premiering - “FVCK IT” ft. Monsignor Ghost and Bonez
This video was shot last year while SamueL was in New York for the second time and we had just finished tracking the album.

Why did you choose to do a visual for this one?
Well, we chose this song because we thought it would be cool to do it in the style of a cypher, since we had two other rappers on the song. We used one location in Long Island where the kids from my neighborhood used to drink before we could get into bars, this kind of wooded area we used to call “the wasteland.” The second location was a place called Centerville which is like an artist house where people in bands live and work out of, that’s where SamueL was staying. The third location was actually the warehouse where the album art and merchandise for Waiting For Carmine was produced. The video was shot by our good friend Sean Ageman of Washed Up Media.

You’ve got some dope features on this project. I take it you both brought those connections to the table?
It was really more Sam honestly. I brought in ST and some of the American rappers and singers we had, but it was mostly Sam making those connections.

You guys have a great chemistry – looks like you have a lot of fun (saw the interview video). Are you just fast friends? Did you actually meet up after the project was finished?
Oh, we’ve spent a great deal of time in person as well. He’s come to NY three times now and the first time he actually lived with me for a month. We became friends immediately, sometimes you just click with someone I guess.


And LDNYC is out now! Bandcamp and iTunes right?
Yes indeed.

Now to your upcoming project, tell us about that.
That would be the new Heems album.

How did you connect with Heems?
We met while we were both hammered at a bar in Brooklyn.

So you just randomly met? I take it you both had heard the other’s work…

I loved him already as a rapper. No, he didn’t know me at all. I would have been really surprised if he did. I just introduced myself and said I was a producer and I told him if he needed anything on Long Island to holler at me because I knew he lived out there and that’s where I’m from.

He ended up texting me asking if I knew of any studios he could work out of out there, so I set up a session for him at the same spot I have all my mixing and mastering done, Westfall Studios in Farmingdale. I brought him out there and it was actually my birthday, so he came back to the crib and had cake with me and my family and we just bonded pretty quickly.

What kind of cake?
It was Vegan Chocolate cake that my Mom made because she loves me.

What came out of that session?
That session in particular he was just recording a feature for somebody, it wasn’t my music being used. But I proved that I was reliable I guess.


So then you just kept connected? When did you start collaborating?
After that he needed help at one of his shows so I worked the merch table for him. Then he actually hired me as his assistant, so for a couple months I was working for him more in that sense, but then it eventually turned into making music. He was looking for beats for his next album and he gave me a bunch of his old Indian records to sample.

Have you worked with those types of samples before?
Actually yeah, I love sampling Old Indian music.

What’s the theme of the project? Is it all indian based beats?
It is yeah, I don’t want to speak on his behalf but he’s spitting some real shit on there, dealing with a lot of things head on in the music. It’s sounding amazing so far.

How many tracks you guys have ready?
I made a lot of beats for him and then over the course of about a month we made 11 songs.

So its done? What’s the plan with that release?
The original plan was to put that out in January but that’s most likely going to be pushed back now. He just went out to Europe for tour and then he’s going to do some more recording in India. When he get’s back we should have a better idea of what’s going to happen with that record and when people will hear the stuff.