In terms of building a prototypical celebrity resume, Cisco Adler has essentially done it all.
Step one: possess a renowned family connection.
Adler’s father, Lou, is a Grammy Award-winning producer who dabbled in film (The Rocky Horror Picture Show), music management (Jan & Dean) and live entertainment (LA’s historic Roxy Theatre) over the course of his illustrious career.
Step two: establish a presence on reality television.
In 2007, Adler served as the centerpiece of VH1’s The Rock Life; an unpredictable (and often uncomfortable) look at the trials and tribulations of his upstart rock band, Whitestarr. In 2008, Adler returned to the small-screen with MTV’s Buzzin’; a viewer-friendly window into the writing, recording and promotion of Malibu rapper Shwayze’s debut album.
Step three: date a plethora of famous women.
Prior to his engagement to Barbara Stoyanoff in 2010, Adler dated Lauren Conrad, Kimberly Stewart and Mischa Barton, making him a paparazzi target and staple of Hollywood gossip columns.
Step four: have a naked photograph widely disseminated.
No explanation necessary. We all use Google.
Step five: achieve legitimate mainstream success.
In 2008, Adler garnered significant praise and attention for his visionary role in rapper Shwayze’s debut album. Co-written and produced by Adler, the album debuted at #10 on the Billboard 200 and hit #2 on the U.S. Digital Albums chart. The duo followed their initial success with 2009’s Let It Beat (peaking at #10 on the U.S. Digital Albums chart) and 2011’s Island in the Sun (peaking at #13 on the U.S. Rap Albums chart).
Adler has also gained production credits for his work alongside Mickey Avalon, Dirt Nasty and Mike Posner (amongst others).
Today, Adler is trekking across North America in support of his debut solo-album, Aloha. Released in October on Bananabeat Records (Adler’s independent label), the disc speaks of carefree days, late nights and summer love.
After all, it’s a Cisco Adler album.
I sat down with Cisco to discuss his formative years, experiences with celebrity, and benchmarks of success for Aloha and beyond. Our discussion is presented below.
1. Let’s start at the beginning. Tell me about growing up as Lou Adler’s son in Los Angeles. Did you always get the sense your dad wasn’t like everyone else’s?
I don’t think any kid knows that, but you realize it as you get older. My mom moved me to Hawaii when I was nine, so I grew up there for most of my childhood. I’d come back and forth, but I guess everyone has their own environment. It’s one of those “it is what it is” kind of things.
2. Over the course of your career, you’ve transitioned almost seamlessly between genres. I’ve always assumed that stems from your exposure to diverse music as a kid. Do you think that’s accurate?
I definitely grew up having a wide array of musical influences thrown at me. But at the same time, it relates to the era I grew up in. When early 90s hip-hop hit, it took over. I grabbed onto that music as my own. Then, as I grew older, I started looking elsewhere to find my own musicality. I went back to 50s Motown, oldies, and all the stuff I was given as a kid. I remember “Rollercoaster” by Buddy Holly and the Crickets being one of my first favourite songs. I remember my brother giving me the Thompson Twins and NWA. When I started making my own decisions, I was into the Farcyde, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. But even then, the guys I carpooled with were listening to ACDC and Metallica. Plus, in Hawaii, you’re hearing traditional island music every day.
In the end, I’m just a melody-dude. I just want melody.
3. In 2008, I got heavy into the Shwayze record. You had the deal with Suretone, the show on MTV, a top 10 record, and an album full of summer jams. To an outsider, it seemed like the stars had aligned. Did you get that same feeling?
I definitely did. You felt it going on. But when the stars align, it’s only for a moment. After that, it’s figuring out how you keep them aligned for an entire career. That’s what distinguishes artists.
But with that album, it was definitely something magical. It honestly started as soon as we walked into the studio. And when the record was done, and we started playing it for people, the response was crazy. To be honest, I made that record just to make music I enjoyed. That’s what I’ve learned to do. When it comes easy and you like it, other people tend to feel the same way.
4. In hindsight, what went wrong with Shwazye? Why didn’t that record explode like it deserved to?
The major label system isn’t always set up for lifestyle acts. We were a true lifestyle act.
The MTV show gave us an incredible sense of visibility. Because of that, we came out and sold 68,000 records in the first week. To me, that was a massive success. Knocking the Jonas Brothers off #1 was a huge success, too. But at that time, the business was really transitioning into pop acts, so it became a different world.
But in music, there are always artists that kickstart a movement for a bunch of other artists. I think we did that.
5. Which artists are you referring to?
6. With The Rock Life and Buzzin’, you’ve been through the ringer of reality TV. I can only assume the process isn’t as glamorous as people might expect.
It’s definitely not glamorous. It’s a total mind-fuck. It’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. The Rock Life was one thing, and we were a bit naive going in. But with Buzzin’, I knew if we made it about the music and what we were doing, instead of drama, we’d succeed. And we did. You can see what that show did for us.
To be honest, I can’t look back and watch The Rock Life. You never saw what we were really about. But with Buzzin’, that was about two dudes going out and doing crazy shit to make sure everyone heard their music. I’m so glad we captured it. I was actually with Warren the other day, who was on the show, and we were saying “hey, in 50 years we can look back, and still have this”. It’s going to be hilarious to watch then, believe me.
We made sure Buzzin’ was as real as possible in the spectrum of reality TV. Everything that happened on that show actually happened. I mean, we definitely put our clothes back on and re-shot some scenes, but we made sure it was real. It peeled back the onion on the music business, at least for a second. That was dope.
7. In the era of cell phone cameras and internet message boards, a lot of teenagers will go through a situation where a naked picture gets out. You’ve gone through that. Talk to me about what that’s like and how you handle it?
8. When I listen to Aloha, there are times I’m reminded of “Shotgun” on the Rich Girls mixtape. There are other times, like on “Boom Boom Boom”, where I hear a Wyclef Jean influence. Then, when you hear the grooving bass lines and guitar upstrokes, the Sublime influence is evident. Where did the inspiration for this album come from? What were you listening to?
From the perspective of an artist, it was sort of a backwards approach. As a songwriter and producer, I’d worked with so many artists on so many different records. So, when it came time to make my own record, I could finally dip into all my influences and decide what kind of impression I wanted to make.
For me, it was about going back to my roots. Not just Hawaii, but the good California music and strong pop melodies I grew up on. From there, it was just about honing my craft. It’s all about trying to make every record the best record possible.
9. Is this album going to resonate with Shwayze fans?
It already is. I see those kids coming out every night. I think it’s important for people to realize that the person making the music on those records is the person making the music on this record. So, in that sense, the only difference is Aloha isn’t hip-hop, per se. It’s just good music. There’s hip-hop, reggae, rock, pop and everything else.
10. Aloha dropped October 23rd. What’s the logical goal or benchmark for this album? It might not be #1 on Billboard, but is there a level of success or career path you look at and say “yeah…I want to get there…and I can get there”?
I always want a number one album, so I’m shooting for that. But for me, the beauty of Aloha is we’re releasing it on Bananabeat Records, which is my own indie label. We obviously don’t have the same budget as major labels, so to be on the top-ten beside those labels would be amazing.
I’d really like this album to have a slow-climb. I want people to discover it over time, and have the record grow naturally. This record is very autobiographical. I fell in love with my wife over the course of this record, and she changed my view on a lot of things. When I look at Aloha as a whole, that’s me.
11. As we’ve discussed, your career has transcended genres and conventional expectations. After Aloha, where do you go from here? What’s next, musically or professionally, for Cisco Adler?
I’m looking forward to releasing the next few records on our label, which are all produced by me. I just finished a record with Tayyib Ali, who’s amazing. We also have the Mod Sun EP coming out. So in that sense, I look forward to Bananabeat growing both as a label and a brand. I just kind of flow with the river, and hope it flows in the right direction.
12. What was the first song you downloaded on Napster?
I never used Napster. Even then, I was against it.