A & E Music | Outside the (Beat) Box
Hachey the MouthPEACE is as tenacious with his career as he is with his beats — and it’s all starting to come together.
By Jamie Tennant
- Canadian Open, 1930. Walter Hagen on the steps of the 18th hole
It is a bright late winter morning, the kind where the arctic air seems to freeze even sunlight, rendering it as rigid and clear as the ice on the sidewalk. The sun offers respite from winter’s obstinate dreariness, but it remains minus 20, and the morning is best enjoyed through a window.
When Jason Hachey arrives, he seems unfazed by the cold. He is grinning when he arrives, a grin that only disappears when he needs his mouth to make music. Talk about Hachey’s music with him, and you’ll find much of the conversation becomes music. He doesn’t sing to you, or rap at you, though he can do both. He actually drops bars of music into his sentences as one might employ a verb or adjective.
Hachey, aka Hachey the MouthPEACE, is a beatboxer. Every sound in his music comes from one instrument — his mouth. The vocals, rhymes, drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, turntable scratches and other sounds audible on his recordings are all created using the tongue, the larynx and the lips. Pioneers such as Doug E Fresh introduced the craft to hip-hop music decades ago as a method of percussion; today, artists like Hachey start with beats and build complete songs. Hip hop, dance music, rock’n’roll, reggae — any genre is open to Hachey’s vocal interpretation.
A YouTube search for “beatboxing tutorial” yields 255,000 results, but Hachey began beatboxing well over a decade ago as a high school freshman. “I started at the best time,” he says, “because there was nobody else doing it. Everything I was learning, I was learning on my own. So it was pure Hachey beatboxing.”
He taught himself with little more than a Rahzel record (see sidebar) and his own ingenuity. Through trial and error he searched for ways to emulate the sounds of the drum kit he played when he was younger, eventually mastering the ability to create a kick drum and snare. His first live performance happened when he and a friend were invited to a hip hop open mic at McMaster. The beatboxing teenage skateboarders immediately felt wildly out of place.
“All these performers had names like ‘MC this’ and ‘MC that,’” he recalls. “Then you hear the announcer say ‘Next up… Jason and Kyle!’ I got my skateboard in my backpack, and we get up and there’s all this commotion, like ‘What the hell, these guys are going to beatbox? What?’ Back then you wouldn’t expect it from two little skateboard punks.”
The two were energized by the performance and the positive response. Their next performance was also at McMaster, for an Indian Cultural show, where the organizers felt “Jay and Kyle” wasn’t an appropriate handle and subsequently billed them as “The Amazin’ Blazin’ Caucasian Sensation.” As Hachey describes the show, he briefly quotes the performance — his mouth produces the rhythm of a tabla and, somehow simultaneously, a snippet of Bollywood melody.
Even from across the table, it’s impossible to grasp exactly how it’s done. Hachey helpfully provides a quick beginner’s explanation using the alphabet to illustrate. Forming your lips around the letter “B” is the basis for making the sound of a kick drum. Pushing the sibilance on an “S” sound creates a snare drum. Singing bits of melody between beats gives the illusion of the two happening simultaneously, while using the muscles in your mouth to expel air allows you to vocalize at the same time, making beats and melodies actually simultaneous. It’s a reasonable demonstration…which might as well be tossed aside the second you see him do it with such speed and precision.
It’s a skill that takes countless hours of practice, but Hachey delivers it with an ease that makes it seem like a party trick — and that can be a problem for Hachey. Beatboxing is musicianship, not trickery. That’s evident when you listen to his recordings, or see him live, where he uses electronic gear to sample his own sounds and sustain them. He will create a beat, record several bars, and play it back on repeat. In essence, he creates his own backing track layer by layer, vocalizing over his own vocalizations. It allows him to recreate on stage anything he can do in a recording studio.
Hachey’s Outside the Box garnered him Special Instrumentalist of the Year at the 2012 Hamilton Music Awards, beating out heavyweights like Harrison Kennedy and Darcy Hepner. It was proof of his legitimate talent, but it took a while to achieve. At one time, the novelty of his craft would sideline him as a novelty act, given five minutes to entertain between other musicians. Over time, however, he gained respect and understanding for his craft, first in the hip hop community and then beyond. He aligned himself with musicians whose music was not inherently connected to beatboxing, dropping into the West Town for open mic night, providing percussive accompaniment for the likes of Alfie Smith or the late Brian Griffith. He has performed with Boris Brott’s National Academy Orchestra at the Harvest Picnic and with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra at Supercrawl. Look at Hachey’s choices and the reason for the title of his record seems clear.
“The whole mission was to be not labelled a party trick, to be recognized as an artist,” says Hachey. “Getting into the Hamilton music scene really helped.”
“Mission” is a word that suits the tenacity with which Hachey drives his career. Though not yet 30, he has been able to check several career goals off his list. Release an album? Check. Open for his inspiration, Rahzel? Check. Perform at the JUNO Awards? Check that too.
What Hachey understands is that all the clichés about opportunity — creating your own, answering when it knocks — are simple truths. He approached playing the Hamilton JUNO Awards as one critical mission accomplished via several smaller ones. When he arrived to perform at a local press conference, not only did he knock it out of the park, he made sure to introduce himself to Allan Reid, the president of the JUNO Awards. Soon afterward, he was invited to play a bigger press conference in Toronto. In the meantime, he provided percussion for John Kirby and Ace Bailey’s “Turn It On,” the song which won the Turn It On Hamilton Songwriting Contest and led to several more JUNO week performances. Eventually, he was invited to open the awards, playing before the televised broadcast on March 15. The only person more ubiquitous during JUNO Week may have been Tom Wilson.
“During the process of trying to do this one thing, I got all these other accolades along the way,” Hachey says. “Which is how my whole beatbox career has been. You have nothing to lose. It’s a learning process even if you don’t achieve the goal. You’re building an experience, and you need that experience. You also need the experience of screwing up. You need to know how to screw up as an artist; you take a screw-up and turn it into something. Half of the beats I’ve learned came because I accidentally put two noises together.”
He may exaggerate when he says “half” his beats are accidents, but it could be true. His ability to improvise a beat makes it difficult to tell, just as it’s difficult to tell just how he makes those sounds in the first place.
“I fully take that to my advantage,” Hachey says. “It gets people really interested in what’s going on. It’s great when people ask me, ‘how do you do that?’ Some people don’t believe it at all. They insist I’m using a backing track.
“That’s great,” he grins, “because you’re pretty much saying I’m unbelievable.”