Band Bonding: An Interview with Schäffer the Darklord

Photo by Ben Trivett

I had the wonderful pleasure of sitting down with Schäffer the Darklord recently for an interview. He is truly a sweet, nerdy, and down to earth guy and we got to talk for quite some time about many different things and I discover as a fan myself that we had a lot in common from music to video game to movies and more.  I am very thankful that he took the time out to meet with me and talk. I hope you guys enjoy reading this at much as I did doing it. Enjoy!

Me:  How young were you when you first started having an interest in music?

Schäffer the Darklord:  The very earliest memories as young as possible. My dad and my older brother were both big into music and my mom too.  My earliest memories growing up were learning lyrics to The Beatles, The Doors and Led Zeppelin.  I’ve always had an interest in music.

Me: In school were you in the choir or anything like that?

Schäffer the Darklord: Oh yea I did the whole bit. I was in concert band, marching band, musical theater, chorus and jazz band. Any of the sort of music curriculum’s in high school I could do I did.

Me: My follow up to that question is did you always want to be a musician or did you have other interests at first?

Schäffer the Darklord:  When I was young and all of my friends wanted to be things like astronauts, you know those early really idealistic ambitious when I grow up type of things? The first thing that I remember wanting to be is a special effects artist for horror films.

Me: Wow that’s really specific.

Schäffer the Darklord: I just remember seeing movies possibly the Star Wars movies even before watching horror films and that’s what I wanted to do.  Then when I was in grade school I wanted to be a comic book artist. It was always dorky pop culture stuff. It was probably middle school/high school when I decided yes I want to be a musician.

Me: Did you always have an interest in hip hop?

Schäffer the Darklord: At first it was an interest in heavy metal I had always wanted to be a heavy metal drummer and I was for several years.  I played drums in a bunch of hard rock/metal/noise bands over the years.

Me: Did you have the long metal haircut?

Schäffer the Darklord: Oh god yes and I used to play shows and have large chunks of drumstick in my hair. Oh yea the whole bit.  I always enjoyed hip hop but my more directed early aspirations were to be a rock and roll drummer.  I didn’t try to start creating hip hop till I was in college but I can definitely say I always wanted to be an entertainer and music would be a part of that.

Me:  When I saw you perform live I noticed you are true and true a performer on stage. Yyou work the crowd, you were very funny like when you perform “Do Sex” and there is a lot of fan interaction.  I think that’s great. It’s always nice when it’s a give and take.

Schäffer the Darklord:  I cultivated that because I felt that when watching an energetic rock band there is always something for you eyes to look at like if you get tired of staring at the singer you could always look at the guitarist or the drummer and there is a lot more going on visually.When I started doing a one man rap show with pre recorded tracks I always felt self-conscious like this isn’t enough and that it might not be entertaining enough and it has to be big, there needs to be something for them to look at so I just gave them my arms waving them all over the place, pointing and gesturing wildly because I was like this will work if I exude a ton of energy they won’t get tired of watching. I wanted to do something that I wouldn’t get tired of watching. When I first started doing it is when I moved to San Francisco and I had already been recording rap songs but didn’t think the songs themselves  were enough so on top of cultivating this hyper energetic persona I also did a lot of standup comedy open mics just so I could not necessarily just be funny but more so get used to working with transitional material to keep the audience engaged because I would get so bored when I would go to see rap acts and they would be like song, intro, song it was more of a recital than a performance.

Me: I mean yeah if you want to hear song, intro, song you could just listen to the album.

Schäffer the Darklord: Yea if people wanted to be watching someone standing in place they could just see a DJ and watching someone playing the songs when they could just be listening to it.

Me: Apart from music what do you when you want to relax or unwind?

Schäffer the Darklord:  Pretty much everything, I’ m a collection of stereo types, you could look at me and pretty much tell I like watching movies, playing video games I have a PS3, I read comic books.

Me: Impromptu question who is your favorite superhero?

Photo by Ben Trivett

Schäffer the Darklord:  It’s Batman. How could you not even with all the bad material out there is so much content that it just gets drowned out.

Me: Have you played Arkham City?

Schäffer the Darklord: Of course!

Me: When you’re writing what comes first the music or the lyrics?

Schäffer the Darklord: It’s different every time. There  isn’t just a formula. Often times I’ll write lyrics that I’ll just sleep on for months.  I’ll get this great idea for a song but just wait on it because I don’t have the right beat for it and then right beat comes along and it works.  Sometimes I’ll get a beat and immediately be inspired and then I’ll get the lyrics for it. Sometimes I’ll get down to the end of the barrel and I’ll just have some loose ends here and there like here are a few verses I wrote towards a concept and  a chunk of a beat that I haven’t used yet and I’ll start shoving things together till something works.  Sometimes that really works out and I end up with a song that I wasn’t expecting. Most of the time though it just ends up as a filler track on the record but yes every time is different.

Me: What is your favorite album of all time?

Schäffer the Darklord:  If I had to pick just one it would be Check Your Head by the Beastie Boys. I know even among hardcore Beastie Boy fans it’s not a popular answer. Check Your Head was the first one where they really did that combination of experimental hip hop with combined instrumental stuff and it still really felt kind of raw. I like a good record where it sounds like the artists don’t really know what they’re doing going into it and they’re figuring it out as they go. I feel like after Check Your Head it became a formula. Subsequent albums they were like “well we have X number of rap songs and X number of instrumental songs and  we have one good punk rock jam and one good kind of somber instrumental.” With Check Your Head it felt so urgent and real and I’ll just never be able to get enough of that record.

Me: How did you get involved in the nerdcore scene?

Schäffer the Darklord: I feel they adopted me. I had already been doing my act for a few years, I had put out my first record and done some modest touring to hand full’s of people who didn’t like me and were just strangers in dive bars across America just sort of chipping away at it. There was this old forum of torrents in the early days of nerdcore where all aspiring nerd rappers were posting stuff and some body on one of those forums had posted a link to something of mine and was like hey I think this guy counts cause I had glasses and I was singing ridiculous songs about Satan. I mean let’s face it even the hardcore metal bands like the black metal bands that wear all the Goth make up and they pose in the forest at night for black and white photographs are such dorks when it comes to that stuff. It’s all nerdy fantasy.  I feel some savvy early nerdcore fans pick up like that guy counts and I just found out that they had been discussing me on these forums.  I think MC Frontalot taking me on tour with him and playing for a bunch of his diehard fans across the country really drove it home.  I never had to come out and declare “Hey guys me too!” they decided for me and they were like “No you’re one of us.”

Me: What’s your favorite kind candy or chocolate bar?

Schäffer the Darklord:  I would say Hersey’s Special Dark. I love dark chocolate I know it seems like the obvious thing to say because of my stage name but I do love it. That’s my jam!

Me:  My favorite happens to be Kitkat.

Schäffer the Darklord: Kitkat’s are also awesome.

Me: Was there a specific musician or band that has influenced you and your music most?

Schäffer the Darklord: Probably the Beastie Boys. I remember being 10 years old when MTV premiered the video for No Sleep Till Brooklyn and it’s one of those things that if someone were to do a bio film about my life that would be a scene.  Me just watching it with my jaw a gape “there’s like electric guitars in this and heavy metal drums and they’re are just a bunch of goofy white guys rapping about bullshit and having fun and one guy is wearing a suit of armor!” It just blew my mind and I feel like I ended up doing what I do not just because the Beastie Boys but also because of that moment and that video. It had such an effect on me and I’ve remained a fan of them ever since.  I’ve seen them live a bunch of times. A couple of their shows still remain some of the best live music performances I’ve ever seen.  They are the closest thing I have to religion.

Me:  I have a Fan Question from Mary she would like to know Which darklord inspired your stage name?

Schäffer the Darklord: Oh! Darth Vader the Darklord of the Sith. In the original movies they never refer to him as the Darklord of the Sith but there was a picture book that came out for one the movies and it was in that where they refer to Darth Vader as the Darklord of the Sith and I never forgot that I was like “Yeah that’s badass!” So I hung on to that because I frickin love Darth Vader since I was a little guy. Yea it’s been one of my consistent interests since childhood, Darth Vader and Batman. I’ve never stopped being enamored by those characters.

Me: For me my favorites are Boba Fett and The Joker

Me: Is there anything new coming up you want to let your fans know about?

Schäffer the Darklord: I am working on a new album right now. I hope to have it out by the end of the year. We’ll see out it goes because I’m not just recording but I’m still writing. I’m on a more focused regimen now to try and get the a fourth record out this year. So I’m still writing so I’m chipping away at that and I’ll probably shoot  a couple of music video this summer and then when the record comes out there will be touring because that’s the thing fans give me a lot of grief about if I put anything on facebook on the Schaffer the Darklord profile anything like “Oh my god you guys this orange juice is delicious” there will be at least one person “come back to South Carolina!” all the time and I don’t slight them for that because I understand and I’m touched that they want to see me so badly and I understand it’s got to be frustrating when a lot of the other artist they like come through every 6 months or so and I don’t. I tend to keep my tour focused when I have a new album to support.

Me: Did you grow up in New York?

Schäffer the Darklord: No I grew up in rural Iowa and then I moved to California, I lived in the bay area for several years and then moved here.  I have only lived in New York for eight years so I’m still pretty new to New York. I mean I don’t feel like a tourist anymore but I know that I’m a bit of a newbie.

Me: What was it like in rural Iowa?

Schäffer the Darklord: We only had 1,800 people in our town. No stop lights and trackers driving on main streets.

Me: Do you miss it?

Schäffer the Darklord: God no! I miss my family. I go back and see them every couple of years but I’ll stop in Iowa on tour in the college towns in Iowa City which is on the other side of the state and still not see my family because it’s four hours away.  I don’t get to make it back to my little corner of the state very often. I went this year and it was great to see my family. Whenever I go back I just think how can I be a rapper living in new your when I grew up here?

Me: Tomgirl happens to be one of my favorite songs.  I can relate to it. What inspired you to write it?

Schäffer the Darklord: It very much is a true story. It’s a personal experience. I’ve always felt like since I’m a little bit weak and I’ve never been stereotypically macho or into typically macho thing and I don’t just mean I like comic book not watching professional football it goes deeper than that.  I felt like I spent most of my adult life smirking at rumors that I’m gay which I’m not but friend of mine had a term for it something like ” I’m not gay I just have sugar.” and I always liked that but it wasn’t quite right. I felt like I’m not the only guy that must feel like this and it was very common to hear growing up “oh that girl doesn’t like to wear dresses and she wants to play in the mud. She’s a tomboy” but never really heard it said the other way and thought that wasn’t fair and there had to be others out there who were heterosexual men who just happen to be pretty effeminate and into stereotypical girly things. I also felt this song was great opportunity to poke fun at things that are masculine and feminine. These things are all insignificant and don’t really matter like in the song I mention the I love watching America’s Next Top Model and I do I love that show but it doesn’t mean anything.  I love that show so frickin much it’s like sports to me! It’s just poking fun at if you like “this” but don’t like “this” your somehow non gender conformist. I had gotten fascinated with the idea of gender politics and I thought I’d write a song for people who felt similarly. I felt that giving it a title gave me the ability to poke fun at it.

Me: What’s your favorite movie of all time?

Schäffer the Darklord: Empire Strikes Back.

Me: Without a second thought!

Schäffer the Darklord: I feel like I should even say it because it’s so cliché to say but I’ve been saying that since I was kid that’s why it’s so well rehearsed.  I don’t know if it can truly be considered one of the greatest movie of all time because it’s hinged on two other movies and doesn’t stand alone. Within that universe of films it’s just amazing. It’s a masterpiece of filmmaking.  If I had to choose outside of that I wouldn’t say this is the best movie but it definitely deserves more recognition than it got. From Dusk Till Dawn. I love that movie so much and in college I worked in a video store and it blew my mind so I forced upon all my friends. Even customers I would be like “You’ve got to see this!” to all of my friends. Unfortunately so many of them were just disappointed and thought it was garbage. I could watch it all the time and I would never get tired of it. It’s just so well paced, fun, exciting and weird. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite movie of all time but it’s one of them and definitely under appreciated.

Me: For me it’s Scott Pilgrim Versus The World.

Schäffer the Darklord: Scott Pilgrim is also a hard contender as well.  Me and my girlfriend saw it in the theater last summer and just walked out of it with our minds kind of blown and then she’s such a sweetheart she bought it for me for my birthday on DVD and we’ve probably watch a dozen times.

Me: My girlfriend had to tell me to stop at one point because I was watching it at home, on my iPod and I was listening to the soundtrack all the time.

Schäffer the Darklord: Oh my god! Me too! I was watching all the time.

Me: Do you believe social networking has hindered or helped you to connect with the fans? As well the music industry itself?

Schäffer the Darklord: It has only helped my connection with my fans. I feel like I would be nothing without the prevalence of social networking. It allowed people to share my songs which turns other people into fans and it allows me to connect with them so I can get back to them and actually interface online. I feel social networking has built my notoriety. As far as the music industry is concerned I feel social networking has all but destroyed the music industry. We don’t need it anymore. Artists can now release their stuff on their own and get it directly to their fans without the need of big labels. By enlarge we don’t them anymore. Record labels barely have a relevance except for the major labels but the smaller and middle level ones don’t really have a place anymore because of social networking.  It used to be a thing the dream was to get signed by a label but that not something anybody even really says anymore.

Me: What was the video shoot for “The Bender” like?

Schäffer the Darklord: Brutal!

Me: Really?

Schäffer the Darklord: Yeah we shot it over four days.  We did two days over a weekend and then shot the rest of it a month or two later.  There was a big break between shoots and they were just long days,  twelve hour shoots and multiple locations. It was exhausting and I suffered some injuries on it.  The bit at the end  when I’m flying around on the glowing box, I’m tethered into the back of a pickup truck and we’re just doing donuts in a parking lot in Red Hook at like three in the morning at the end of a day of shooting all day long.  Yea I definitely got beat up a bit.  The director Burke Heffner abused me a bit but it all worked out in the end. The shots where it’s close up on my face and hands are just handing me things. The pills aren’t real but all the weed is and we shot that for like 4 hours.  He told there was an alternative that we can burn that looks like smoke but I’ll be upfront I’m a total pothead so I was like we’ll do this for real.  It was a lot of fun to shoot. All of those people we great I got so many of my friends from the New York Burlesque scene. They all came out and worked the long hours and gave great performances. Burke was amazing and did a really great job. He’s a very talented filmmaker and I felt really lucky that he was interest in doing a project. I’m completely happy with how it came out but I had a rough couple of weekends. I remember the fake cocaine scenes that had people just dumping pounds and pounds of this baking soda on top of me and then going home and showering it just being everywhere.


Me: My last (and kind of cliché question) is do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring musicians?

Schäffer the Darklord: That’s a good question. I would say learn your craft before you try to make a name.  I know there so many people who just learn the very basics of an instrument or get a group together with only a couple of songs and then immediately go out and play a show and it could be because of our social network/instant gratification generation but they play one show and they’re already trying to book more shows, design a logo and make t-shirts and stickers when they would just get more benefit from spending some more time learning their craft. I feel this translates especially well to nerdcore rappers because I wrote songs on my four track for years and years before I ever did a show. I must have recorded 40 or 50 songs before I ever did a live show and they were terrible and no one will ever hear them and there are people out there who want to but most fans are never going to hear that shit and shouldn’t because I feel like there are a ton of people who have been inspired by MC Frontalot and other nerdcore rappers and they take a quick tutorial on garage band and make a song about their favorite video game without knowing how to rap yet.  Maybe go out write a ton of shitty rap songs first before you do the ones about the stuff you like and shoe horn it into the flavor you want.  I feel like learning to create your art before booking an act is key.  Get some chops before you start putting yourself out there.

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  1. Cool interview. Side note: I actually worked as a PA on an indie movie Burke Heffner directed. I know his wife is a burlesque dancer, which is probably the connection Schaffer has to him. Small world…

  2. Nice interview, although it could stand to have a couple of those random comments from the interviewer clipped out (Interviewer: What’s your favorite animal? Interviewer: I like squirrels!)

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