For more than 10 years, Andrew Nielsen -- a.k.a. MC Lars -- the self-proclaimed originator of "post-punk laptop rap," has been an underground hip-hop mainstay with satirical, funny songs. The California-born rapper has also tossed aside the negativity associated with certain subgenres of hip-hop and replaced it with good karma -- he's climbing the ladder without seemingly sacrificing his integrity or selling his soul.
MC Lars created a sensation on the Internet with a popular music video for "iGeneration." The song officially landed in "The Laptop EP" (2004) and later on the full-length album "The Graduate" (2005) which also featured tunes like "Hot Topic is Not Punk Rock." MC Lars has since followed it up with "This Gigantic Robot Kills" (2009) and a handful of other full-lengths and EPs, including "The Edgar Allen Poe EP" (2012). These albums were not only full of snarky humor, they also shared his passion for literature.
Since releasing "The Laptop EP," MC Lars has evolved into someone with more than just music on his mind. The Stanford graduate has spoken at two TEDx conferences, taught at seminars from coast to coast, and worked with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. To paraphrase MC Lars himself, it's been quite a decade.
MC Lars is performing at Montage Music Hall on Monday, October 12, so City reached out for some Q&A while he was at home on a break before heading out for The Joyful Smiles tour with Koo Koo Kanga Roo. An edited version of that interview follows.
City: You have said that hip-hop saved your life. How so?
MC Lars: Hip-hop was the only way I could really express myself. It felt truly authentic and unique. It saved my life in terms of giving me inspiration and a purpose in a way that motivates other people.
Do you consider yourself a role model?
I don't think of myself in that way. But I tell young rappers when I do my workshops that going to college and being prepared for other things in life makes you the best artist. If you don't live a life of learning you won't have much to say as an artist. Maybe I'm a role model in that I encourage people to look for the positive things in life.
How has being an English Literature major influenced your song writing?
I do a lot of literary rap songs, I call it lit-hop. I think writing a song is like writing an essay because your thesis is like a chorus; your verses are like defending parts of an essay. Being a literature major taught me to think in metaphors and that plays into my music.
Do you feel that people take you more seriously now that you've been at it for more than a decade?
My third record "Lars Attacks," the whole premise was to make something serious about dealing with all the existential angst of my mid-20's and to purposefully make a record with no parody, no pop culture references, no satire, and I honestly think that I lost a lot of my audience when I did that. My whole quest has been to be funny without being a joke. Having done this for 10 years now, I think I get more respect in the hip-hop community. The fact that I have worked with guys like KRS-One and Kool Keith -- these original old-school New York rappers -- is a testament to the fact that if you don't quit, people take you seriously. I definitely haven't quit and I definitely won't stop putting out albums.
Can you tell us about your new album?
It's called "The Zombie Dinosaur LP" and comes out on November 6. It's got songs with Kool Keith, Watsky, Roger from Less Than Jake, and Stza Crack from Leftover Crack. It was funded by Kickstarter, and it's 13 songs. I'm really proud of it. I think it's my best record.
How is the business-side of things for you in this screwed-up music economy?
It's been great that I get to keep putting out records and do things like Warped Tour, and kind of, find my niche. I think it's harder than ever to get people to pay attention. I'm lucky that I started right out of college and was early on the social media train telling people to steal my music. I feel fortunate that I have a hardcore group of people supporting me through everything.
Rochester has always been, outside of San Francisco, a great community. I owe a lot of the success I get in Rochester to WBER and the culture out there. I have friends that have taken more traditional career paths and been more financially rewarded. But I'm really happy and I don't regret anything that I've done. In the future I probably won't be touring as much but I'll always be putting out music because it's something I have to do. The economics of it are more survival mode than trying to make money.
I noticed the ticket prices on this tour are inexpensive. How do you keep your ticket prices so low?
We wanted to make sure they were low. A lot of the fans we made this summer are younger kids who don't have $25 or $40 dollars to spend on a ticket. We wanted to make sure that everyone who wanted to come could.
Why the name Joyful Smiles tour?
That's something we would say on the Warped Tour because it's a very hard, exhausting tour. We would say that as a way to motivate each other.
Where is the most remote place that an MC Lars song has been played?
In 2012, I toured New Zealand. I was at a used record store in Auckland and they had my album, "The Graduate." I thought that was kind of cool because it's so far out of the way; New Zealand is such a remote place. People were telling me they heard "Download This Song" on the radio when it came out.