Eric Coleman of Mochilla
B+ of Mochilla
If you’re just coming into the TIMELESS series, then you might not know the brains behind it: Mochilla. Named after the Spanish word for backpack (in jest to the derogatory term for underground hip-hop), the production company has been producing unique and groundbreaking albums, films, and photography since 1997.
Formed by Eric Coleman and Irish native Brian Cross (aka B+) over their love for photography, Mochilla has thrived, working with such artists as Madlib, Count Bass D, Quantic, and J Rocc, pushing the LA art and culture scene forward to a worldwide audience. Both men are highly regarded in their field, with B+ documenting the burgeoning LA hip-hop scene in the early 90s, creating album covers and photography for the likes of Q-Tip, and Eazy E and most notably, J Dilla, while Coleman has worked with such esteemed photographers as Peter Lindhberg, Melodie Mcdaniel, and Steve Heitt.
In celebration of the Timless DVD release, and the Timeless screening taking place in DC this Saturday, I got a chance to chat with Eric Coleman and B+ about Mochilla, making Timeless, and their plans for the future.
Eric, what got you into photography?
My interest in photography began around the age of 10. My father was a “picture taker”. He passed away when I was very young. I searched through hundreds of his photographs as a child. Many of my childhood memories, if not all, are captured on celluloid and through this the interest began.
B+, you’re originally from Ireland and became one of the foremost hip-hop photographers of the 90s. How did you get involved in the LA hip-hop community?
Basically I was a grad student in photography at Cal Arts here in LA who had always loved the music and as much of culture as I was able to glean from Ireland. Then while I was there I received a commission to photograph the LA scene for a French Literary magazine and well, started shooting. Pretty quickly I started to realize that a lot of dots weren’t being joined, within a year I had photographed The Watts Prophets and The Freestyle Fellowship and I just felt like I needed to join in. Make myself available to the most powerful cultural force to come along in my lifetime. And that was it really.
Man, you’ve done album covers from everybody from the likes of J Dilla to Eazy E. How did you get into cover design? Which cover do you feel is your best work?
Well, covers back in those days were where the money was. That’s where you end up if you are any good. But some of my favorite stuff were Rappages covers too. The first actual cover I did was for Eazy. The 187um joint. But I’ve done a lot of covers over the years. It can be heartbreaking and it can be amazing. My favorites are hard to say, there’s a lot. But doing the Madlib one for Blue Note is a highlight, doing the Axelrod record for Mo’ Wax was a highlight, Shadow Entroducing, all the classic West Coast records for Jurassic 5, Blackalicious, Dilated, Ras Kass – I’m blessed really. “Jamrock” for Damian Marley. But the one I’m doing next week I guess is my favorite to borrow a phrase from Duke Ellington. Damn… I could go on.
Eric, in addition to photography, you’re a DJ and a musician. How would you describe your music? It seems like it pulls from a variety of styles.
Yes. I am a photographer, DJ and a producer. My music can be best described by a quote from Yusef Lateef as, “AutoPhysioPsychic”. Music for the physical, mental and spiritual sense. My inspiration comes from many genres of music, mostly from places I have traveled to. The experiences from traveling predicate what type of music I am making at that moment. The range of musical styles vary quite a bit from hip hop to samba-house and everything in between.
How are you able to juggle so many jobs? And candidly, which one do you prefer–photographer, promoter, or musician?
I don’t really see it as juggling at all. It’s Mochilla during the day and the DJ/producer thing at night. Besides, when you love something it’s never work. As for which one I prefer, I can’t just pick one because I would’nt do one without the other. They’re all the same to me.
Eric, can you explain what exactly is Mochilla?
Mochilla is a photo, film and music production company which was formed 10 years ago by B+ and myself. The name is taken from the Spanish translation for Backpack. The idea of backpack relates to a way of thinking–a way of being committed to a practice that prioritizes personal engagement over production values. We decided to add an extra L to kinda make it different. This company is really a labor of love.
For the record, Timeless is probably one of the best things to happen to music in a while. What inspired you and B+ to do the series?
Eric: Thank for that amazing compliment. Timeless is one of the best things to ever happen in music in a while. The inspiration for Timeless started with a question. “If you were stuck on a deserted island and only had 5 records, which would they be?” The list was enormous , but we narrowed it down to Dilla, Astake and Verocai.
I know you’ve photographed J Dilla before and knew him personally? Can you speak on the Dilla legacy and what inspired you to create the Suite for Ma Dukes?
B+: Well Suite for Ma Dukes was created by Carlos Nino and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. Mochilla became involved after the first song Nag Champa was recorded. We helped to produce and record what became the EP and then we really imagined it live and found the funding through our friends at VTech to make it happen and filmed it. Miguel was the person who really dealt with the music. Carlos guided it into being and Andrew Lojero championed it to Mochilla. It was possible only through a humongous amount of support and patience on the parts of a lot (hundreds) of people.
Dilla in the end is the one who created that environment through his music. How else can we speak to his legacy?
B+, What was it like going to Ethiopia with Quantic to speak to Mulatu about the Timeless project? Can you talk about that?
Ethiopia is a whole other deal. It is one of the most amazing places on the earth. The vibes there are deep, very deep. We went there to meet Mulatu really. Timeless was hatched there but it didn’t find a home until much later in a meeting between Eric Coleman, Andrew Lojero and myself. I just knew that we needed to bring him here. He has such a great energy and he showed us his city very proudly but with a nice humility. He is a very special cat in musical terms. His stories are all worthy of film treatment. It was a total dream to be able to have him here and to have him play with the best that LA has to offer. It was a real treat for us and for him hopefully.
Are you surprised by the reaction that Timeless has been getting across the world?
Eric: I am very surprised by the reaction. We knew we had something special when we started recording the first show. It just seemed to get better and better. This is our biggest project to date…not to mention the biggest response we’ve ever had for a project. It feels great to have people respond with such positive energy.
B+: Yes. I mean all our projects are weird history/music experiments and so it is always nice to find out that people are there with you. The internet has been a huge help I have to say. It has made us all work faster but it puts you directly in touch with your audience. And I feel like people are ready to hear things like Arthur Verocai and Mulatu and see them in a similar light next to Dilla. Its pretty amazing to me….this is big lifting for a visual arts driven company no matter how you look at it.
What’s next For Mochilla?
Eric: Very Big Things!
B+: A lot of stuff that seems far away! A film about the North of Brazil and the amazing heavy scene that there is there. Hopefully a photo book for me this year. I’ve been saying it for years now but it’s beyond time. Someone should make a documentary from Dave Tompkin’s new book How to Wreck a Nice Beach – would love for us to do it…. We also shot a good chunk of the new Exit through the Gift Shop Documentary that’s out, directed by Banksy. Make sure to see it! Some more collabs with Quantic for sure.
TIMELESS screens in DC This Saturday at Midnight at the Wooly Mammoth Theater in Penn Quarter with a video mix by J.ROCC Followed by Q&A with B+ and Coleman