You may have seen Rhys Podell around campus rocking his big curly afro. Or maybe you were jamming out to his band The New School at Buho one weekend. Without a doubt, Rhys is making big moves in the Wesleyan music scene at this year. Although Rhys performs regularly with The New School, he invests a lot of his time rapping and producing independently under the moniker Rhys Langston. Within the past few months he's released two singles, “Resident Hare Brain” and “Calculus Johnson”, songs indicative of Rhys’ unique yet enigmatic style, leaving the listener simultaneously reflective yet absorbing of the pleasing jazzy beat. I visited Rhys at Music House last week to attempt to uncover the enigma of Rhys Langston.
Rhys led me into a dark Music House and up the stairs into his room, a creative haven. I immediately noticed the plastic basketball hoop on the door of his room, which seemed to clash with his poems and artwork that adorned the walls. I thought Rhys was simply a man of creativity, but the basketball hoop was a remnant of his past life as a jock.
Rhys used to play basketball seriously in high school, at one even doubting his future in education due to his athletic commitment. “I didn't really plan on going to college," said Podell. "I had a very strange life trajectory…I was lost for a while". Rhys realized that basketball wasn’t what he wanted to do when he quit during his senior year, submitting a 13-page letter of resignation. Though quitting the team essentially closed one chapter of Podell's life, the decision opened the door to his love of writing which eventually lead to his passion for music-making.
The codified language Rhys uses is inspired by the poet Saul Williams, though Podell certainly has his own personal style: "With my words I really like to… break and fracture language and kind of use it in a way that one doesn't typically use language by getting myself and other people out of listening to the way things are comfortably said.” However, a large part of Podell's lyrics are his “personal politics” or personal convictions. When I asked Rhys to elaborate, he immediately went into a verse from his recent single “Resident Hare Brain”:
Special Zealotry, hold the cheese
Anne Coulter’s knees freeze buckle, (no tomatoes)
Rhys explains, "And I'm just kinda like framing my world and my politics…do you think I'm on the side of MSNBC?... Even though they're very liberal in their politics, liberalism can be very dangerous too… politics is all about getting people elected." He adds, "I'm anti-plutocracy and industry in a large conglomerate that owns a lot of people and I don't like anyone owning people".
Rhys admits that he knows the listener is confused by what he is saying. In fact, confusion is his intent. "Most of the stuff I write about is very non-linear, especially identity and philosophy because I can't think about it in a linear way. So you not understanding it makes perfect sense, because I'm not writing it in a conventional way when we think of language because I can't express it any other way. It’s like... it’s like how I can most get feelings out, because I really can't translate my feelings and my thoughts". Podell realized that there could be another reason for his use of coded language: "I found out that with a lot of my writings, as much as I say I like to play with language, I hide behind my language to hide from criticism."
As far as production is concerned, Rhys admits that it’s more of a struggle than his lyrics. "My rhymes are always better than my production… but slowly, especially in the last few months, my production has been catching up with my poems or lyrics, whatever you want to call it." Podell is entirely self-taught, a feat to be sure, though he expresses some doubts: "It’s a little frustrating sometimes because I don't know anything about music and I'm going all by ear." Although rap is doubtlessly his strength, Rhys is a huge fan of rock music and admits that he always wanted to give it a try. "I've always wanted to do rock music… I always tell people as a joke, but if I wasn't rapping or doing hip hop, I would be in a metal band rocking out with long hair."
When I ask Rhys about the making of "Resident Hare Brain," a song that enlists stunning images of Rhys walking around Los Angeles, he tells me a bit about the process. "I made the instrumental in late-May and I wrote the lyrics from about late-May to mid-June, and by early-June I was working on "Calculus Johnson." "The second verses of "Calculus Johnson" and "Resident Hare Brain" are from the same poem… so they're very different songs but they have this weird connection between them."
Rhys describes his sound as “free jazz poetics,” admitting to the massive influence of writing on his musical feats. In fact, Podell describes his last project as more of a book than anything: "the words were so dense and meaningful and connected that it was more of an audiobook than a mix tape of slapped together songs. This next one is going to be in a similar vein because I've gotten a lot better".
In the future, Rhys plans to collaborate with a few R.A.W. (Rap Assembly of Wesleyan) members, although he is not entirely sure of what it will consist of. "I don't know what its going to be about. It’s going to have a lot of politics in it. I want to fuse poetry as we think of it, you know, like linear and non-rhyming… I want to fuse that with the music I'm making, get you to be like, 'oh, is he rapping that or is it a written poem or a short story?'" In the more distant future, Rhys would like to continue his musical aspirations: “I have plans to go on tour at least once." He also dreams of transcribing his 133-page novel into music: "If I finish this story, or rather I get it to a point where I'm comfortable sharing it with people, I want to transpose it entirely into music. I mean, it would take years and years, but it would be so cool.” For now, you can see Rhys perform live around campus as part of The New School. Check out Podell's recordings under the pseudonym Rhys Langston on his Soundcloud.