By Margaret Welsh
Pittsburgh Current Music Editor
As most Pittsburgh musicians will tell you, the local scene can be a warm, supportive place.
“Everybody in Pittsburgh, if they’re around you, they love you,” says Cody Maimone, one third of the Pittsburgh-based production team One800. I think that’s the point of Pittsburgh: This is where people live. This is our house, this is our home.”
But locally-based artists of all genres often describe a lack of support when and where it really counts. Sometimes it’s a material issue, a lack of financial investment, which keeps talented artists from making a living off of their work. (As long-time promoter Justin Strong told the Current in April, “The price of gas has gone up, the price of milk. And it’s like, what do you want to be produced for five bucks?”)
Pittsburgh City Limits is now available on all music streaming platforms.
And the city has long suffered from a certain amount of defeatism regarding what Pittsburgh-based artists can achieve. As much regional pride as we may have when someone like Wiz or Mac (or Code Orange or Girl Talk or Rusted Root) gain global recognition, it’s often coupled with raised eyebrows: Can you believe that someone from Pittsburgh got famous?
“I think that’s why there’s so much negativity and why it’s so hard [here] for creatives,” Maimone says. “[In this city] we almost want to put the creatives down because [that kind of success] is unfathomable to the majority of Pittsburghers. There’s no [musical] ecosystem here that’s really prospering.”
One800 wants to see that change. Today, they release Pittsburgh City Limits, which features tracks from some of the city’s most exciting artists, including Clara Kent, Mars Jackson, Benji, Choo Jackson, Walkney, DeeJ, livefromthecity, and PK Delay, among others. It’s a whos-who of Pittsburgh hip hop, R&B and pop and it’s likely to get anyone who cares about the scene — or about music in general — psyched about what we have right under our noses. “I would love for someone to listen to this whole project and then say to themselves “These artists are from Pittsburgh?” Maimone says.
One800, which also includes Jeremy Rosinger and Dom Pompselli, began to take shape just a few years ago when the three — all long-time musicians — were getting ready to graduate from California University of Pennsylvania. Each recognized that the others were talented. So, what if they joined forces?
“The original idea was just to bring multiple talented people together under one roof,” Maimone says. “Combine those forces to not only have those collective talents … but to have that collective opinion.”
The trio quickly exhibited a knack for spotting talent, bringing fellow CalU student and former Penn Hills resident Anthony Willis, A.K.A. My Favorite Color, into their fold. Nowadays Willis is making music in L.A., and seems on the edge of blowing up. But three years ago, when Maimone first heard him in the studio, he knew Willis was something special.
“We basically took a chance with him and said, ‘Let’s work with you, let’s exclusively work with you,’” Maimone recalls. “The trio was basically legitimized by My Favorite Color. …One800 would not be the same without My Favorite Color. Although we’re not part of the same entity, those two entities were created under one roof.”
My Favorite Color appears twice on Pittsburgh City Limits: The trippy, dancy, strangely heart-rending Move; and chill-wavy Audios, with rapper NVSV, who recently relocated to Brooklyn. Both are standouts on a record loaded with gems. Clara Kent, who recently finished working on Mysterious Shit with NVSV, makes an exquisite appearance with the rich, sultry “Try.” Sierra Sellers’ “Casual” is singer-songwriterly pop-R&B at its best, creating a warmth that is quickly unsettled by Treble Nils excellent dark trap track “Pop.”
“When we finished recording there were 20-plus songs and I was like, “What the hell are we going to do with all these?” says Maimone. “There are so many different genres, some of them are pop songs, some are straight hip hop, some of them are a combination of pop-rap, some are alternative, almost.”
On a superficial level, the record is loosely tied together with audio clips from a film from the 1930s called Conspiracy. But even across genres, Pittsburgh City Limits has a sonic cohesion which is a natural product of the way One800 works with artists.
With My Favorite Color, Maimone says, “Willis would literally come with nothing more than himself. We would pick up different things, Jeremy would get on the drum pad, I’d pick up a guitar, and maybe Dom would get on bass and we would jam. [And Willis] would start writing songs to these live instrumentals. It gave us a very interesting organic vibe, which really took us a long time to, I think, articulate the way we wanted to.”
They approached this project in the same way, writing beats in real-time, building songs from scratch in the studio with the artists, many of whom they were meeting for the first time. “It added a very interesting energy to the room,” Maimone says. “I’d pick up a guitar, play a few chord progressions, sometimes i would go through 10 different things before the artist would say, ‘That’s the one.’
“Oftentimes an artist will go into the studio and they’ll just have a producer play them beats. And who knows what the producer was doing or thinking of when he made that beat,” Maimone adds. “When you sit down with an artist and start playing music live… you come up with a way more natural, way more genuine energy that is undeniably real.”
One800 ended up with a lot of music that didn’t make it to Pittsburgh City Limits, which they’ll release later. They’re also planning to expand their brand to podcasting and gaming, among other things.
“You gotta give people more than just music,” Maimone says. “To build your platform you have to build your fans from all different sections, it can’t just come from your latest single.”
Maimone wants to help create the musical ecosystem that the city is lacking, providing more support and potential for success.
But he’d also like to see more of the financial support and attention that already exists directed to the artists who most deserve it. When there are limited resources for artists, and a lack of investment on both personal and structural levels, the act of making music or art — as fulfilling as it may be for you personally — isn’t in and of itself enough to warrant approval or success. Too many people, Maimone argues, want others to take their work seriously, but don’t take it seriously themselves.
“In Pittsburgh, we have created an environment that coddles. …We’re coddling each other,” Maimone says, acknowledging that he might offend people by saying so. “We never wanted to play that game. That’s why we banded together to create music. We’re talented people, but we’re humble enough to know that we need to balance each other in some fashion.
“We need to be accountable… Like, ‘That vocal track isn’t cutting it, you need to do that take again,’” he says. “We know what it’s like to make songs. I know how hard it is to get a good take that actually sounds good. I’m blown away at how many artists are just not that series about their craft.”
While the members of One800 have considered relocating to LA, Maimone says he has enough optimism to give Pittsburgh one more solid year, at least.
“I do believe Pittsburgh is on the up, and it’s only going to come from pushing it and challenging it the way I believe we are doing or trying to do.
“I do have hope,” he says, “But we need to be real with each other. We need to stop supporting shit that’s not good.”