'Spirit Of Apollo' From N.A.S.A.

Working together, hip-hop producer Sam Spiegel (a.k.a. Squeak E. Clean) and Brazilian DJ Ze Gonzales call themselves N.A.S.A. — for North America/South America. Their debut album, Spirit Of Apollo, also features Tom Waits, George Clinton and MIA.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back now with Day to Day.

ALEX COHEN, host:

When you hear the word N.A.S.A., you probably think of the space agency. But it's also an acronym, North America/South America, for a duo - one from North America, the other from South America - that's creating otherworldly music. Their debut album is called "The Spirit of Apollo." Derek Rath invited them in for a chat at our NPR West studios.

(Soundbite of music)

DEREK RATH: N.A.S.A. is the brainchild of American producer Sam Spiegel, also known as Squeak E. Clean, and Brazilian DJ Zegon. Their CD, "The Spirit of Apollo," boldly takes us on an otherworldly flight of discovery. It all began as an idea at a party, and now, after five years in the making, their debut CD features a galaxy of their friends and their musical heroes, often in unusual combinations.

(Soundbite of song "The People Tree Song")

Mr. CHALI 2NA: (Rapping) Understand, God's the one in command…

RATH: Here we have Chali 2na, formerly of Ozomatli and Jurassic Five, and one of the most respective rappers around, alongside David Byrne.

(Soundbite of song "The People Tree Song")

Mr. DAVID BYRNE: (Rapping) Two legs to walk, and eyes to see...

RATH: Other contributing artists include George Clinton, Tom Waits, Kanye West, MIA, Chuck D, Reggae Star Sizzla and Brazilian actor and singer Seu Jorge. Squeak E. Clean shares the N.A.S.A. philosophy.

Mr. SAM SPIEGEL (Hip-Hop Producer): It's about bringing people from completely different worlds together through music. Me and Ze are people from completely different worlds. He comes from Sao Paulo; I come from New York. And music has this tremendous power that brings people together, and we really wanted to celebrate that.

RATH: The artists come from all over the globe. But this is definitely not world music in the accepted sense. It's a funky mix of hip-hop, reggae, funk and rock beats, commonalities in music the world over. It allowed the duo the space they needed for audacious experimentation.

Mr. SPIEGEL: It's like finding the common threads through polar opposites and mixing them up. After that, we just - we kept - we were like, now we know what this record is about. Let's think of the craziest combinations of people that we could possibly put together, but people that make sense, combinations like Tom Waits and Kool Keith, two people that completely live in their own world and are totally unique, but somehow, they fit together because of that.

(Soundbite of song "Spacious Thoughts")

Mr. TOM WAITS and Mr. KOOL KEITH: (Singing) Got to (unintelligible) In a second set(ph) Breaking out your cold sweat I'll meet you in the music…

RATH: And the Spirit of Apollo hurtles on still further into dance or disco from some future place with Sizzla, Love Foxxx and crew.

(Soundbite of song "A Volta")

SIZZLA, LOVE FOXXX and CREW: (Singing) (unintelligible) you can't take me I'm on to bring the place that got you (unintelligible)…

RATH: And then, present collides with past as Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs moves into the virtual realm for a mashed-up duet with Ol' Dirty Bastard, a track he recorded just two weeks before his death in 2004.

(Soundbite of song "Strange Enough")

RATH: But how did they persuade all these folks to get involved?

Mr. SPIEGEL: These people that are just people that we love their music and really looked up to, they shared a similar taste and aesthetic with us, and you'd be surprised, you know, as a musician, if you just reach out to somebody that you're a fan of or that you love their music, they're probably into the same kind of stuff that you're into, and they'll be down to collaborate with you.

(Soundbite of song)

RATH: MIA just wandered in on her own accord.

Mr. SPIEGEL: We were trying to reach out MIA and never heard back from her. And we were doing the song with Spank Rock and Santogold, actually, and MIA just showed up at the studio.

(Soundbite of song "Whachadoin?")

MIA: (Singing) Whatchadoin? All the girls in my house, and they say this is...

RATH: "The Spirit of Apollo" ping-pongs between disco frivolity and deep thought.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) (unintelligible) losing money…

RATH: And that spirit extends to a collaborative of graphic artists. Shepard Fairey did one of five ultimate CD covers, filmmakers and a dance troupe they hope to take with them on tour.

Mr. SPIEGEL: And the other thing that we're doing now is incorporating visuals into our sets. We're bringing QuickTimes and editing videos to our live sets, attaching them to the tracks, and you can - with Serato, which is a program we use to DJ, you can control the QuickTimes with your vinyl.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Anything you want that you need Whatever you need that so sweet…

RATH: DJ Zegon recalls that in the beginning, they made a list of artists they wanted to work with, and George Clinton was near the top.

(Soundbite of song "There's a Party")

Mr. GEORGE CLINTON: (Singing) All together now We're winner…

Mr. ZE GONZALES (Brazilian DJ): Who is the best? Who's number one? We said James Brown, and right after was George Clinton. And we were thinking about both together. It's impossible not loving George Clinton and P-Funk. If I go back like, in 10 years, I will never, like, imagine something like that.

(Soundbite of song "There's a Party")

Mr. CHALI 2NA: (Rapping) One nation One nation, special dedication To each and everyone of the planet's inhabitants...

RATH: N.A.S.A.'s the "Spirit of Apollo" is rather like a Facebook, or should I say, Spacebook wall of friends, where as Tom Waits sings it, you meet those you have never met through the music. Squeak E. Clean.

Mr. SPIEGEL: The N.A.S.A. record could be a way of like introducing friends to other friends, you know, like pass one, the friend of David Byrne off to another friend in terms of fans, fans of David Byrne are going to get passed off to the other people on the record. In the best-case scenario, it could do that.

RATH: For NPR News, this is Derek Rath.

(Soundbite of song)

Various Arists: (Singing) Everybody on Everybody on ...

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