clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Tour Tales | How Clockwork DJ and Mac Miller became brothers on the road

Clockwork details Mac's minimal tour rider, his prayers before shows, their trip to South Africa together, and how his own new song "E-Z" finally came to be after many years.

Gunner Stahl

Musicians are barely getting a slice of music industry revenue, largely eating off of live performances instead. For 'Tour Tales,' we dig into the rider requests, delayed shows, diligent preparation, and future of touring by talking with the multitude of people that move behind the scenes. Record executives, photographers, tour managers, artists, and more all break down what goes into touring and why it's still so vital to the livelihood of your favorite artists. What happens on tour stays on 'Tour Tales.'

Picture this: You're isolated from your family for months, have difficulty maintaining a romantic relationship, and nearly everything you do revolves around the whims of one person. Yet, you want more.

That was part of touring for Clockwork DJ, Mac Miller's longtime DJ, and it's how he found a brother on the road over the last eight years.

"I would hope that you would form a relationship with the people you're on tour with," Clockwork DJ told REVOLT TV. "A lot of those people you're going to see everyday. That's what happened with me and Mac's situation. Not that we were forced to become that. But we spent so much time together and we were so cool that Mac became my brother."

For more than five years, Clockwork has been stitching together a debut project, entitled Ignored, with the disparate pieces of time he has for his own artistry. Now, he's ready to drop the album as early as the end of 2018. After Mac Miller's death due to an accidental overdose, Clockwork's career been changing, but the memories remain.

For Tour Tales, Clockwork talks to us about the sacrifices he made to tour with Mac, him possibly embarking on his own tour as an artist, and what he remembers from the last time he deejayed for Mac on stage.

You're known mostly for being Mac Miller's DJ, but you have a new song "E-Z" coming out this week. How did that come about?

Originally, the record was created a few years ago. I wrote the whole record, had a loop of it. I sent the record to a friend of mine. We were sending each other beats back and forth, and adding to each other's beats—some producer nerd shit. I sent him the record and he loved it. Now, keep in mind this is years ago; more than a few years ago. I sent him the record, he heard it, and added some key elements to the record, and sent it back. I loved it. He later texted me that same day like, "Hey, I have an artist in the studio, a singer friend of mine named DRAM. Actually, he didn't even tell me his name was DRAM, he just said he has a friend in the studio who had a nice hook he came up with and [asked] if I minded him recording on it. I was like, "Of course."

He cuts it, sends it over, and I love it. Then, it just sits there. Maybe a year later, I get a text from from my friend. He's like, "Yo, Snoop Dogg Dog has heard your record somehow, someway." DRAM was in the studio with Snoop, Snoop heard it and he wanted to get on it. He never ended up getting on it for whatever reason. Now, we're back to square one with just DRAM on the hook. Another year goes by and I'm digging through my library, and the record comes on again. I'm like, "Damn, this shit is dope." So, I texted my producer friend: "Are you still fucking with this record? This record is insanely good."

Long story short, he was like, "Let's do it." I have a relationship with Talib Kweli because I toured with Talib and Hi-Tek in 2010 as an understudy on the 'Reflection Eternal' reunion tour. So I reached out to Kweli and said, "I have this record I want you to be on." This was like last year, so now we're all the way up to last year. He heard the record, loves it, and drops his 16 on it. He gets his artist on it, and I also get his band to play on the record. So I'm thinking I'm done with the record. I got Kweli on it. DRAM on it. Kweli's new artist is on it. We about to kill shit.

Wow. That song took a while to get fin—

Then I get a phone call. Kweli gets into it with his artist that he has on the song. Now they not fucking with each other, and now I have to take both of them off. This other artist I was newly introduced to through a friend of mine, they come to the studio, working on some music, and I just thought in my head, "I can get this guy on it." I played him the record, he immediately got on it, and immediately did his two verses. Killed that shit. Now we've got the record.

Is it hard to make music while on someone else's tour?

Yeah, definitely. I wasn't on a Clockwork DJ tour. I was on a Mac Miller tour. So everything moves how he wants to move. What I mean by that is [that] there's no real time for yourself. The only time you have for yourself is early in the morning, before everybody wakes up, and really late at night. Throughout the day on tour, it's hectic. People are just everywhere. It's pretty crazy. It's really, really hard to make your own music on tour. But then again, it can be really easy. It's just all about how you devote your time.

How did you become Mac's tour DJ, and how did that relationship develop over time?

It actually happened pretty quick. We met on Myspace. After I got off the tour with Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek, my then-manager asked me, "Yo, you heard of this kid Mac Miller?" I was on my high horse. I just got off the road with some legends. I'm like, "Nah, I ain't heard of him." He was like, "Check this video out." Remember, I just got off tour with legends. I grew up in the 80s, so I love 90s and 80s hip hop. When I heard Mac rapping over a Lord Finesse sample "Hip 2 Da Game" for the "Kool-Aid and Frozen Pizza" track, I'm like "This is crazy. This some white boy rapping like this over this rap shit?" I was really fucking with it. He was like, "Yo, I'm thinking about booking him in Ohio for four shows, would you be down to DJ for him?" Dog, this was literally a week after I got off the tour. It was probably not even a week. It was probably a few days. I was just like, "Let's run it. Let's go. Whatever you're trying to do." He books Mac in Ohio. Literally the day I met him, it was just like, "Oh, I'm about to get money with this kid. We about to do a lot of shows." We instantly connected. It was just a cool vibe. After we did those four shows, I think he got booked for this little East Coast run and he called me like, "Yo, you want to do these East Coast shows with me?" I'm like, "Hell yeah, let's do it."

You were ready do whatever. That sounds like a great time. What were the unglamorous parts of touring?

For me, I didn't start realizing this until I got a little bit older, but whenever I would go out on the road with Mac, I would sacrifice. Sacrifice the isn't the right word. I dedicated more of my time to Mac's situation, and I put my life on the sideline. Life keeps moving, with or without you. So I was giving all my energy and all my time to Mac Miller's situation. But, on the flip side, family members were upset I wasn't ever home. I was starting to miss holidays. I was missing birthdays. When I did get a girlfriend when I was still touring, that didn't work because I was gone for two months and she was back home. You get what I'm saying?

I've talked to other managers and DJs that said touring can be very isolating and lonely at times.

Yeah. Then I would hope that you would form a relationship with the people you're on tour with. A lot of those people you're going to see everyday. A lot of those people are going to start to become your friends and your family. That's what happened with me and Mac's situation. Not that we were forced to become that. But we spent so much time together and we were so cool that Mac became my brother.

You two looked like you had a real special kinship. Were there any rituals or rules that you had on tour?

We never had rules within our circle. But a ritual that we did was we always had a big family prayer before we went on stage. Those prayers were really, really good, and Mac led every prayer. I would always tell me him, "You should write a book called 'Before Show Prayers.'" His prayers were always crazy, bruh. He would just be off the top of the head for like three-minute prayers.

Three minutes?

I'm exaggerating [laughs]. It was probably a minute or two. When certain people in the crew be going through certain things he would pray about that. That was probably one of my best times, and best moments, on tour.

That's beautiful. One show I wish I could have gone to was the Superbalist Is Rocking the Daisies music festival in South Africa, back in 2016. What was that like?

It was incredible. It was incredible on so many different levels, but mainly because I went down there with a white boy. He brought me to South Africa. A white kid brought me to South Africa for my first time. The respect he got down there was crazy. Kids were coming up to him. Little black girls and little black boys rapping his lyrics. I kept looking at him like, "Bro, you have to understand, we in Africa. It's not just lyrics, man." He was even kind of shocked. It was nothing but black kids down there. Usually at his shows it be a bunch of white kids. And we in Africa, bro. When we went out on stage, when he performed, it was 25,000 people out there, and he was the headliner. It was one of my favorite, favorite shows. It was beautiful. It was absolutely beautiful.

Your last time performing with Mac was Lollapalooza in Chile this past March. What do you remember about that last performance?

I remember it was nuts. He was killing shit, as usual. It was our first time in South America. He was excited about that. It was more excitement for his Swimming album. That was one thing that he was really excited about. He was even recording when we were in South America. I don't think any of those records made it on the album. He was just really excited about that. He was just in a really good place with that. He seemed like he was in a really good place with himself. I just remember the show being massive, and people loving him far beyond his expectations.

The last time I saw him was during a taping of his Tiny Desk performance for NPR. It was so organic and it sounded like he was gearing up for a tour with a more orchestral flavor to it. What were some things you had two planned?

Man, I don't even know. I know it was going to be some beautiful surprises, man. Unfortunately, I just don't know.

What was on Mac Miller's rider? Had it changed over time with his live show?

It changed a little bit. He wanted white T-shirts and American Spirit cigarettes. But you better had made sure he had them cigs, boy. If he ain't have them cigs, somebody definitely getting cursed out.

You said you were Hi-Tek's understudy during the 'Reflection Eternal' reunion tour. What were some things he taught you about being a tour DJ?

Timing. Timing was something that I had to really understand. How to drop a beat, and drop it back in on beat. How to pay attention to the artist and vibe with them when you're doing the drops. That was a big thing for me. Also, making sure your scratches aren't louder than the current record that's playing, or there aren't too many scratches. He basically just showed me how to play my position in the back. You're really not in the club right now. This ain't your show. This is the artist show.

With the new music you have coming out, have you talked to any DJs about what it's like touring as the main act?

Yes. But, to do that, you have to start creating original music and creating followers, and people that are engaging in your remixes and shit that you put out. Once people start buying things, or you're getting streams, and you're getting views, and you start doing these smaller shows, you can find out what the ceiling is once you start small.

According to a Citigroup report, artists only made 12-percent of the $43 billion made in revenue the music industry earned in 2017, with most of the artists' earnings coming from live performances. As someone who has toured for eight years with an artist, what are some tips and advice you want to impart on upcoming DJs, from a financial standpoint?

I think you need to be able to stand tall and ask for what you want. Actually, ask for what you need. There's a difference between asking for what you want and what you need. That goes for how much you pay. Any deal you set up, any situation where you're signing papers or contracts, you need to get things proofread. You need to not be so quick to say 'yes' just because you're going on tour and you'll be in a different city every day and every night. Eventually that shit gets played out, and then you're wondering why you're not making ends meet, and you're still on tour. That's something I had to learn. Of course, trust me, I got way better at it. But when I first started, I didn't know shit about that. I was just happy to be there. Also, make sure that you're represented. Make sure that you have a team, even if it's a small team. In this music industry a lot of people will try to take advantage of you. They'll try to pay you crumbs for a job that should be paid [in] bricks. Don't be afraid to ask for what you want.

More from Keith Nelson, Jr.:

Sign up for the newsletter Join the revolution.

Get REVOLT updates weekly so you don’t miss a thing.