CALIFORNIA IS FOR RUNNERS
IN CONVERSATION WITH ELLIS NEWTON
Can you give us a short bio?
My name is Ellis Newton, 24 years old, recent UC Berkeley grad. I am an athlete, music producer, aspiring model, and assistant teacher. I grew up just outside of Los Angeles and I have been living in the Bay Area for six years. I've been running since I was six.
Why is California for runners? Being born and raised there, how has California shaped the runner you are today?
If you are from California and you've competed in high school track and field/cross country, then you know how difficult it is to be considered good. Because it's such a populated state, Cali has a very competitive high school championship system under what is called CIF. From a young age we are trained pretty rigorously, trying to be the fastest athlete in your division, section, and eventually the state. Some of us continue running in college, as I competed at UC Berkeley for another four years. Where I'm going with this is that I was left with this persisting love to train once I finished as a competitive runner. I feel as though my journey isn't over yet. Living here in California gives me unlimited access to the region's vast park and trail systems, beaches, and ridiculously good weather. It's a runner's paradise.
The cornerstone of the Satisfy ethos is The High, that feeling we chase during a long run wherein the repetitive movements of the body are operating so seamlessly that our physical awareness melts away and allows us to reach a higher state of consciousness—a kind of mechanical intoxication. What comes together for you during a run that allows you to achieve this state? Given your middle distance background at Berkeley, is this a state you think you've attained even during the 800m?
Ah yes, it's the euphoria that keeps me coming back.
Picture this: You're heavy, lungs heaving, legs clunky, but you are somehow weightless at the same time. The sound of your feet crunching on the dirt below, coupled with the rhythm of your breath creates a harmony... a hypnosis. Oftentimes without noticing, this happens and I reach a zen-like state. My mind becomes calm and goes on auto-pilot, and my body follows suit. Thoughts and worries become fleeting. It's a state of bliss.
Reaching this state in the 800m is well.. hard... but it's possible. I love the 800 for its intensity and split-second-decision making. Nonetheless, I found that my best races occur when my mind stays quiet . Thinking burns too much energy in a race like that. I feel that staying calm in the heat of the race, and waiting for the right moment to strike is key in the 8. I feel like that calm I get in the 800 is a byproduct of the High I feel in my longer runs.
I know you use an Akai MPC — the legendary old school music controller popularized by producers such as J Dilla and Madlib. Can you tell us about the very physical process of what making a beat on an MPC is like? Does The High play a role in your creative process for beatmaking?
The MPC is such a great tool for hands-on beat making. Each of it's sixteen pads can be programmed with melodies, drums, whatever sound you want. Where the advantage lies for me is that I'm able to Feel what I am making. I collect vinyl records and find melodies to sample, chop, and rearrange. Once I have a nice melodic loop going, I'll go through the databank for the snappiest drums I can find. Feeling out the drum pattern is my personal favorite part of beatmaking. I like my loops hypnotic, undulating, but still hip-hop. Here is where I feel The High from running has influenced me - I very well may be recreating the rhythmic zen I find from running.
In your room you have some of my favorite records of all time on your walls — *Donuts* by J Dilla and *Madvillainy* by Madvillain (MF DOOM & Madlib). What's your favorite Dilla beat? What's your favorite DOOM bar? Why?
Favorite Dilla beat? ooooh that's a tough one. Off the top of my head: "Purple". Dilla had this ability to make the simplest loops bring you... elsewhere. From the snares, to the kick, to the bassline, to the swing of the hi-hats. Everything is present, perfectly done. Smooth as glass. It reminds me not to overthink when I'm making my own beats.
Favorite DOOM line: "Slip like Freudian/ The first and last step to playing yourself like accordion"...... was that not confusing to read? I love DOOM because of how profound his bars are. The rhyme itself was awesome, but I really had to think about this line and I love bars that make the listener think.
Hip hop and running are two completely different cultures for so many reasons. Can you speak to the differences? In what ways do you personally feel there are similarities between them and how do you think the cultures could intersect and/or learn from each other?
Hip hop culture and running culture are two totally different subjects. I'd say their main differences lie in the lifestyle and presentation. Plain example: most people don't see a ten mile run as enjoyable.
Personally, I've come to learn that most runners live alternative lifestyles. Most of us have many facets. We tend to be creative and eclectic people. However, I feel that in competitive culture, we tend to adhere to a persona that imposes itself over other forms of expression. Sacrifice is highly valued, and many of our other talents are shunned.
On the other hand, music is freedom. Music is liberation. Hip Hop is freedom personified. College helped me understand that it was okay to pursue what makes you happy. For the first time, I was somewhere where all social circles blended. I lived in this place we called the Fulton House, filled with members of the Cal track team who lived outside of the borders of a runner lifestyle....It was wild. Rappers and producers would hang out with us daily, they knew we were Division 1 athletes, but our energy complimented well. I think the reason we meshed so nicely was that we all had goals, regardless of the medium, and it was the relaxed, but consistent work ethic that glued us. We mutually benefited off one another this way. They fed our creativity and we fed their drive. After a while there was no longer a real separation between us.
Eventually my social circle expanded into the greater Bay Area hip hop scene, and my running lifestyle was accepted with nothing but love.
As a runner, I get inspired by videos of Madlib or Dilla and their ridiculous work ethic... making music for days straight. At the same time, that intoxicating trance of your favorite song gives a high similar to that of a good run. The High is translatable. I feel that runners can learn to gain a deeper level of expression of themselves through hip-hop, and HipHop creators/listeners can find more structure and zen through running culture.
There is conflict however. Runners tend to be early birds whereas Musicians tend to be night owls. Missing studio sessions to get sleep before early morning workouts is common for me..... going to the sessions & losing that sleep is also common... haha.
What's your favorite track you've made? Why?
2344 Fulton for sure.
Context: Following multiple disappointing seasons at Cal, I decided to leave the team and discover what else makes me happy. I made an album called Ellsworth, which narrated how I was feeling in the months after leaving the team. The song 2344 was an ode to my friends and former teammates who were there for me. I chopped up sections from Lonnie Liston Smith's Summer Nights, and also chopped the opening drums of Dilla's Let's Ride instrumental. I sprinkled lines of that 90's movie The Wood throughout the song to create a track that I'm just... well... proud of!
Any departing words for the people?
Find what brings you joy, and be crazy enough to pursue it. Do not allow yourself to become limited or confined. Live, Love, Express. and lastly, be safe. New Project: 'Outside' coming soon