May 09

Song stories and credits for Alia’s Understanding.

Cover Art

This is an image of the planet of New Alia, from the Book Of Water.

Painted by Sarah Laverne Antrim.

The project title ‘Alia’s Understanding’ is scribed over space by Shaper.

Graphic design was done by Jeni (Dalia) Kozicky.



Move Through It

The middle section is a passage from the book This Is Where I Am, a memoir about growing up in South Minneapolis, in the 90s, written by Zeke Calijiuri. Zeke is a longtime friend, and one of the most cerebral people I’ve ever known. His book is amazing. A dark inside view reminder of the Minneapolis I moved through in my teenage years. The passage is read by my brother Elijah Combs, who spoke for Zeke at the book launch in late 2016.

Produced by Mike the Martyr.

Rhymes by Big Zach.

Honeycomb Splash

On New Years Day, 2016, homies were day tripping over at a house in the Northside Lows. With a short day’s worth of sunlight spilling in through the windows it was a bright beginning of a new year. The day brought several experiences that have stayed with me, including a silly comment made by Axel Foley, “When there is nowhere else to turn …turn up.” A fun comment that could have blown away in the moment, though I reached out, caught it, and put it in my pocket.

Months later, in the wind down to a bugged out weird weekend at the homegirl Bri’s house on Medicine Lake, my phone showed me I had an email from Twinkie Jiggles (Sean McPherson the bass player of Heiruspecs). The email held rough bassline ideas to be forwarded to Mike the Martyr. Luckily I was with Mike, and he was with making music. Mike took a bass snippet, and within minutes built a track around it with an old school summertime touch. In tune with Mike’s magical way of making music, I got in a good zone, imagining myself moving through a festival grounds at night. There are flashes of inspired experiences from Summerset and Harmony Park, mixed into a little Magical Park fiction. For festival friends, the lyrics should translate, though, for readers of the Book Of Water, there are deeper dimensions. I was able to channel lyrics in the moment, so what’s heard on the recording are first or second takes all recorded within the hour of conception.

Few days later I was back in the Lake Street Store (Mike’s studio) working on music with Mike, when the homie Franz Diego, came through. Franz hosts the longest running dance party in the Twin Cities, Turnt Up. Since our song had a chorus that was turning up and down, it made sense for Franz to splash the song with backup vocals.

We sent the track to Twinkie, and he made time to come to the Lake Street Store and record live bass and keys. He seemed like he liked the song, though most of his excitement could have come from the repeating lyrics, “Turn up the Twinkie Jiggles” which is a reference to bring up the bass. Twinkie’s extra energy gave the song a Heiruspecs feel to me.

Somewhere in the summertime, I was bugging with a couple friends walking through Uptown, and we came across a couple sitting outside an apartment building on Garfield and 23rd street. One of them, a woman who introduced herself as Bee, recognized me and said she liked the song Speak that I made with Useful Jenkins, which opened up a friendly conversation. Bee’s boyfriend, Matty (Moonshie Sax), told us the moment felt crazy, because he’s a saxophonist, who was trying to create his own form of music with saxophone over hip hop beats, and his girlfriend Bee, had just said to him, “You should make a song with Big Zach,” and then I came walking down the street. It all made synchronicity sense to me, so I asked Matty to play me some of his music, and in return, I played him the current version of Splash off my phone. Without a saxophone in hand, Matty soloed sound ideas with his mouth. It was good enough for me, so I called Corey Hess, and booked time at Cedar Tone Studio for Matty to come record.

I spent some of the following that winter out in California. Around Thanksgiving, I caught a call from Mike Martyr, who had run into Corey Hess at a Friendsgiving dinner. Mike felt Corey should play some form of percussion on Splash. Since Corey recorded the saxophone parts, the music was already at Cedar Tone. Corey ended up playing along with the track on his box drum, which gave Splash more of a campfire festival feeling. At first, I questioned if I should rerecord my lyrics to follow the new drums, though once they were mixed in the music that question went away.

For months I bugged DJ Gabe Garcia to come play around inside of Moonshie’s saxophone solo. I didn’t think Gabe was feeling the idea, though last minute he came through for me. We set up a turntable in the Lake Street Store, with intentions to knock it out real quick, but Mike’s studio computer needed to reboot, which took about 45 minutes, giving Gabe a bunch of time to play with the saxophone sounds. The homies Axel, Shannon, and Gillian came through and the Lake Street Store started to feel a little like a party. I was nervous we wouldn’t stay on target. And though it seemed Mike might have lost focus a few times, some Martyr magic seemed to sprinkle into the scratches and Gabe’s fresh cuts made the song feel festive. Reminded me of Big Gigantic.

When it came to the master mix, Mike felt I should bring Splash back to Corey, because there were so many instruments. Though my studio session with Corey was slightly stressed on time, I made one of the best decisions of my life by giving Corey creative control to play with the song. With his help the song evolved into Honeycomb Splash. And when I listen to it, it feels like a festival at Magical Park.  

The entire creation of the song lasted 14 months.

Produced by Mike the Martyr.

Bass and keys played by Twinkie Jiggles (Sean McPherson).

Front vocals by Big Zach.

Back vocals by Franz Diego.

Sound scratches by DJ Gabe Garcia.

Vocals, bass, keys and sound scratches recorded at the Lake Street Store.

Saxophone played by Moonshie Sax.

Box percussion by Corey Hess.

Saxophone and box percussion recordings along final master mix done by Corey Hess at Cedar Tone Studio.


Evolving Phoenix

The best feedback I received from the first album I created with Mike the Martyr (It’s In The Water) was for the song Evolving. Tony Bones of Long Doe wrote a really nice post about it, and Jake Heintz of Greenroom Magazine told me the song made him proud to be my friend. On the end of the original song is an outro that Martyr and I felt could be extended into a second version of the song. We reached out to Rastar from Uprok and Chance York from the Crunchy Kids to rap on the remix, though eight months went by without any of us finding the inspiration to write.

I have a friend named Emily, whom I met in Northfield before she moved up to Prospect Park/Minneapolis in 2016. Because of personal experiences in the Prospect Park neighborhood, I believe there is some sort of magical energy moving around up there. After sharing that belief with Emily, she nicknamed her new home the Witch Cottage. I suspect Emily could be a witch herself …though that would be her personal business. So the first night I went to the Witch Cottage, Emily and her roommates had a fire burning in the backyard. Sitting around the fire the tide of conversation got me to make the comment that the suckiest thing in existence was either racism or sexism, and without thinking it through, that the two are probably equal in evilness, I was leaning towards racism. Emily replied, “Yeah, but sexism is older.” I’ll dive into the depths of that statement in a later installment of the Book Of Water, though for the story of the song we’ll just say Emily’s sentence stayed with me.

That winter when I was in California, I started to write for the new version of Evolving. It had been a while since I had created lyrics without mind expanding drugs. I have learned how to use medicines like marijuana as tools to create quickly. For me, writing sober just takes a little more effort and a different kind of focus. Though for this topic, I wanted a clear stream. Searching for inspiration I thought of Emily’s sentence about sexism. I thought of Emily’s feminist opinions as I wrote. And when I was down to the final few bars, I checked my other friend Emma’s facebook page, and found a recent post which helped finish the song. Oh …on a back story, the original Evolving song lyrics were inspired by a poem Emma had posted, which brought everything full circle.

Next time I found myself at the Lake Street Store, Mike stretched out the beat and I recorded the verse. I felt great about how it flowed around the claps. We sent the verse and beat to Chance and Rastar, though neither of them caught inspiration to write. Couple months passed and Mike got Chance to come to the Lake Street Store late one night, hoping Chance would channel a verse on the spot. As I watched Chance listen to the music, I was excited for the song to move forward, though deep down I felt he should take time and write the right words. He felt the same way and took home the homework.

Couple weeks later Chance emailed us a rough take of his verse. I felt the song coming together, and reached out to Karen Kozak, the violinist from Useful Jenkins, in hopes she would play a solo for the piece. Karen and I exchanged a few messages and I booked studio time with Corey at Cedar Tone to record both Karen and Chance. As we came closer to the studio date, Karen went a few days without responding to my texts, I got a little nervous and reached out to Oliva Quintanilla, the cello player from Useful Jenkins. Now normally, I would have taken Karen at her word that she would be at the studio, though in this case …Karen was nine months pregnant with her first child, and she was due less than a week after the scheduled studio date. So I left timid messages, not wanting to pressure Karen into anything. You know I’ve never woken up nine months pregnant, with a baby kicking in my belly, so I had to consider that Karen might not feel up to coming to play the violin that morning. Luckily for the song, Karen and Olivia both confirmed. Olivia and I had actually gotten together over a year before, attempting to create a new Useful Jenkins & Big Zach song about women/beauty/mothers. We sent cello samples to some producers, though none of them got back to us on the idea. As Olivia called me with ideas, I began to feel as if the Evolving Phoenix was our idea coming to life the way it chose.

I’ve never had great visions for music videos. Sometimes I enjoy hanging with friends while everyone video DJs off Youtube, though when I’m alone I rarely watch videos. I prefer to experience music through only the sense of sound. I guess because, many music videos, especially ones with rappers in them, are trying to sell the artist. Sell the artist’s appearance, or that the artist has a cool lifestyle or some shit. I talked with my homeboy Chad out in California about it. Chad loves videos, and told me sometimes a video will make or break a song for him. I contemplated how to create a video for Evolving Phoenix, using the most honest visual energy. I reached out to Abhi Nav, who does videos for Cherry Sky and the Long Doe crew. We got together for dinner at Pho 79, with our homeboy Aqua Fresh. While we discussed video ideas, Aqua Fresh noticed two women sitting at a table in the restaurant, and told our waitress he wanted to buy them drinks. “Actually,” Aqua said, “just send over one Heineken, with two glasses, and say it’s from me.” We watched the waitress deliver Aqua’s one beer and two glasses to the women, point over to us, and as the women looked over Aqua turned his head away and told us, “Alright I’m not even gonna talk to them.” I couldn’t tell if Aqua had suddenly gotten shy, or if he was just being silly. Either way, it was hella hilarious …..maybe you had to be there. Aqua’s move has nothing to do with Evolving Phoenix, though we laughed a lot. Female humans are surrounded by all things.

Abhi joined us at Cedar Tone Studio to film. I told Karen and Olivia how much I appreciated them blessing the song, and though I was confident we would come up with something awesome, I didn’t have a great vision of what they should do. Karen and Olivia had ideas. Olivia recorded a solo first. Abhi and I thought it was dope. Reminded me of Portus Head or something. I probably would have rolled with it, though Corey and the girls were unsure it was right for the song. Right before Chance showed up, Corey had the idea to have the girls record at the same time, doing a duet through the entire song. I appreciated how Corey took the lead and it all worked out wonderful. Capturing Karen play the violin while she was nine months pregnant was the motherly energy that belonged in the song idea Oliva and I had had a year earlier.

This is on silly since Chance and I have been friends and allies through music for like 15 years -I felt a little intimidated by his presence. Maybe ‘intimidated’ isn’t the right word. Chance is my favorite rapper in the moment, so to create a song with him made me excited. Lyrically Chance embodied the vibe of the song, smoothly catching where I left off, in moments mirroring his own version of the style I used and even created chemistry with the strings.

I walked around for a few days lost in my headphones unsure if the song was done. In synchronicity with my thoughts and feelings, Rastar came out of a café I walked by, shouted my name and expressed that he had been meaning to call me and write for the song. I sent Rastar the current version and we traded some texts and emails, though he finally expressed that it wasn’t the right time for him. This is a bit beyond my understanding, though what I think was being felt, is that Evolving Phoenix, is part two, to a three-part piece of music. I had also spoken with emcees Osp and Longshot. Olivia and I envisioned the other members of Useful Jenkins on it as well. I had reached out to Dalia multiple times hoping she would sing on the ending or something. My sister sent me a spoken word poem, and I thought of adding it to the music. Several pieces of energy were still out in the universe moving around the unfinished song.

I brought it all back to the Lake Street store. Martyr gave it a little magic. Playing with the strings through the sample sounded like classical Wu-Tang Rza production. When DJ Gabe Garcia came to the Lake Street Store, to record sound scratches for Honeycomb Splash, we ask him to take a quick shot at cutting Dalia’s vocals from the audio book I’ve been working on. “We invite you to re-comprehend color,” is the first line of Hula-hoops & Vampires, spoken by the character Alia Bright. So adding Alia’s voice intertwined the song, books, and video.

The young woman Emma Bentley, whose facebook posts had inspired both versions of the song, agreed to be in the video. Emma was one of the first people to message me she had finished reading Hula-hoops & Vampires. For the video we filmed her pretending to reread the book, while we played her Evolving Phoenix for the first time. I felt that energy would be honest. I prepped her, that though some of the song was inspired by her, she was in no way obligated to like the song. Though …I think she liked it. I mean …I hope she liked it.

Following my belief that videos can at times have a commercial feel, because they are trying to sell the artist or other products, we used the video to plug/support local businesses we are connected too. Cedar Tone Recording Studio, Abstract Habitat Design (Dalia’s home business that does most of my artwork), Lake Street Store and Radiant Life Yoga. Radiant Life is owned and operated by two friends I went to high school with, it is my favorite place to practice, and it is where Chance received his teacher training. We filmed footage in Radiant Life, after one of Chance’s Wednesday night classes.

Though I feel the video came out really well, I should have given Abhi I little more direction on how to film the girls hula-hooping. Visually he did an excellent job of capturing the movement and lights of the hoops, though I feel we missed capturing how well the girls can hoop. Though the girls look cool moving in slow motion, the video doesn’t represent their personal skills. It is on good though, it just gives a reason to make a new song and video.  

Video by Abhi Nav.

Emma Bentley, is our one and only actress.

Vie Boheme, Willow Olson, and Lejla Mujic, are the badass yoginis that blessed our video.

The awesome hula-hoop flow artists are Miranda Lynn Johnson, Audra Lewis, and Nezzie Garcia.

Song production and mixing by Mike the Martyr in the Lake Street Store.

Lyrics by Big Zach and Chance York.

Cello played by Olivia Quintanilla.

Violin played by Karen Kozak.

Sound scratches by DJ Gabe Garcia.

The voice being scratched is Dalia, taken from the Hula-hoops & Vampires audiobook.

Master mixing by Corey Hess at Cedar Tone Studio.

Hula-Hoops & Vampires audiobook sample.

Narrator: Zachariah Combs (Big Zach)

Alia Bright: Jeni Kozicky (Dalia)

Abby: Kelsey Owens

Alex Hole Garcia: Adam Davis McGee

Recorded, produced and mixed at both,

Cedar Tone Studios by Corey Hess, and Cloverleaf Audio by Max Altmark.



Produced by Jaylap.

Raps by Big Zach, Jaylap and Sam Wayne.

Singing by Gabriella Jacobs.



Hand drums played by Corey Hess.

Electronic production by Matt Carter from Duenday.

Rap lyrics by Big Zach.

Singing vocals by Olivia Spitz.

Recorded, mixed and mastered by Corey Hess, at Cedar Tone Studios.


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