An Interview with AB Eastwood
"There’s no place to go in town where you can stay late as possible, smoke if you want, and have options to do other things, and also do some live instrumentation. We’re just trying to curate the creativity here..."
Evan Dale // August 17, 2023
It makes sense for a producer to have a wide set of interests. Constantly creating is a challenge all by itself, but creating in an effort to constantly collaborate with a mosaic of other artists is a whole different skillset that requires of a producer breadth, bridge-building, and the creative navigation of thoughts and ideas. For AB Eastwood —who grew up as a multi-instrumentalist and spent a stint learning to produce beats in Miami before returning to his native Nashville — that range of interests is almost as impressive as his ability to tie them together, and link everything back to music. At his studio, called Shangri-La — where dim lighting, comfortable couches, and a barrage of instruments promote comfort and creativity — we sat down with the man whose production has become synonymous with the city’s ever-evolving, always growing rap and soul scene, helping a young class of artists establish their signature sounds, and have fun while doing it. And the conversation was broad, to say the least, and yet still made so much sense in a way that only a producer could navigate so fluidly.
RNGLDR: It seems like in every studio, there’s always a fifth of something.
*Pointing towards bottle of Hennessy on the desk*
AB: Always. It's not a good studio if there isn't.
*Conversations about clam chowder and the dimensions of professional baseball stadium fences*
RNGLDR: Did you grow up here?
AB: Born and raised, North Nashville. Graduated high school, went to art school. Wanted to go to Belmont - but didn’t get in. Went to TSU for a year - and that’s where I met Cauz before I dropped out.
RNGLDR: And that’s when he met [Brian] Brown and all them?
AB: Uh-huh. But I moved to Miami - West Palm Beach - after I dropped out. That’s when I learned how to produce and stuff. You ever heard of Dubba-AA? The producer? He produces for NBA Youngboy. He went to TSU, and that’s where we met. I was his manager at first, but I’ve been playing the trumpet since I was in fifth grade, and picked up the keys. So one night we were just making a beat, and he asked me to put some chords down. Watching him through that process, I was like, “I gotta learn how to do this shit.”
He had made a name for himself down there because he was in a rap group that went really far, and then was a producer who made beats for all the local acts down there. So, I went down there, and we ended up linking with this dude named that was A&R for We The Best, and we were in that studio all the time, producing a lot of Kodak’s early stuff.
RNGLDR: Oh, that’s wild.
AB: Yeah! And what sucks is that we were producing all this dope stuff for him, but he was in jail, so we never had a chance to build a relationship. And so when he got out, I couldn’t even blame him. He didn’t know me - he didn’t know us like that.
We had a pub deal that was terrible at the time, but we were young and didn’t know. And the guys that gave us that pub deal were young and didn’t know shit either. The dude - he had discovered Zaytoven, he had discovered City Girls, too - he was in jail for some shit, and that should’ve been a red flag, but we didn’t know a damn thing haha.
But yeah, I was in Miami for four years, and then came home and started investing in the homies. Here we are.
RNGLDR: There’s definitely something special going on out here.
AB: There is. But we’ve just gotta tighten things up. If we tighten things up and have everybody travel for like six months and spread, get some culture, I think it would be a really great play. There’s just some things that Nashville can’t teach us because it’s just not here. Rappers can’t improve their sonics here. Hearing what kind of mastering and the types of mixing that can be done can be powerful, when it’s not done here man.
I really wanna have a month-long camp in Atlanta with all rappers. Like, “this is how hits are made. Now we don’t gotta make hits, but we need it to sound this good, ‘cause they got it.” If Brian and Tim go down to Atlanta for a weekend man, they can push out fifteen strong tracks. A week here - two songs. Culturally it’s just different. Even with my label, they host their sessions from 9:00 to 5:00 like a job. We are night owls! We ask about nighttime and it’s a very stark gasp in response. There’s just a lot culturally that would need to change for Nashville to have it like that.
AB: Y’all conspiracy theorists?
RNGLDR: I can get behind one if the story’s compelling, but not particularly haha. How about you?
AB: Like when somebody has a really well thought out one, I’m there. I don’t mind hopping in that world with you. I might not live there, but just to see if you can make me believe it. But, we were in here not long ago talking about the Metaverse, and how it’s pretty much set up to have us living in Ready Player One.
RNGLDR: I just watched that movie on the plane here. I’m jumping in this one with you AB.
AB: Haha! Man, because if you put together the Metaverse, NFT’s, Bitcoin, and the coin and money shortage, then it’s like man, this is a dope ass evil villain play. Like if you’re really setting us up to live in a false reality, this is gonna work out well for those guys. I’m also a big post-apocalyptic guy.
RNGLDR: You think you would do well in that space?
AB: Hell yeah! I wouldn’t make it long. I’d die. But I’d be a main character for a while.
RNGLDR: Have you seen Train To Busan?
AB: Banger. That whole Korean cinema wave is crazy.
RNGLDR: This studio is a comfy space, man. Like you can just hang out in here for hours.
AB: And it’s been that, man. There’ve been times that I’m just making beats, and there’s a whole Madden tournament going on over here, or the game is on. There’s no place to go in town where you can stay late as possible, smoke if you want, and have options to do other things, and also do some live instrumentation. We’re just trying to curate the creativity here.
RNGLDR: So aside from playing the trumpet and the keys, I see a drum set in here. Is that for you too?
AB: Hell nah. That’s for someone else. I’ve tried for years but the drums are just not for me. I’m too old, and not in a like “I don’t have it” kind of way, but the way my mind thinks - the way my brain works, which is absolutely wrong - I just don’t know how to split my brain to be like “you do high hat, and you do kick, and you to snare, and all you guys do it at the same time.” I freak myself out too much. I overthink it.
RNGLDR: It’s a lot to focus on at one time.
AB: And to be confident. And to be on time!
RNGLDR: Yeah, that’s why I always think Anderson .Paak doesn’t make any sense. His ability to do that, and sing, and rap is crazy.
AB: Freak of nature. I love what him and Bruno are doing. I think Bruno had this in him, but there was know way he was gonna do it by himself.
RNGLDR: He needed someone to pull it out of him for sure. So, is your whole family musical?
AB: The first instrument in our house was the clarinet, and that was my sister’s. But ever since, I’ve been playing too.
Have you ever been to one of those performances where the symphony is playing the soundtrack to a movie that’s playing in the back?
RNGLDR: Like a live symphony?
AB: Yeah! So they did Star Trek and the symphony played down in front of the screen.
RNGLDR: That’s awesome. Where’s they do that?
AB: Here in town. If you get drunk or high, or my preferred is both at the same time, you sit in those comfortable ass seats, it’s an experience, man. It makes you appreciate movies with really good scores. Like it really sets the tone of the movie and draws everything together. And to some extent, that’s kinda what I’m trying to do with this conversation, and with all this talent out here, too - just pulling it all together.