The great thing about maturity is how it can open your mind to a broader world than you perceived in your youth. The same might be said of hip-hop which now embraces a wider range of styles and artists than at any time since its birth. Among the artists taking advantage of this new freedom is Dark Time Sunshine.
The duo pairs young producer Alex Zavala and longtime rapper Onry Ozzborn (born Michael Martinez), who helped found the Oldominion hip-hop collective and is also a third of the hip-hop group Grayskul. They formed four years ago, after working together on a friend's project. From the beginning he was struck by Zavala's musical vocabulary, which tends to feature tuneful, flowing synth-psych cut with sputtering drum'n'bass breaks. The connection was nearly instantaneous and deep-seated.
"I've never had the chemistry like this," says Ozzborn. "You know how Guru had Premier? That's what I've got with Alex. He makes the music that I've always kind of heard in my head. I've just never met anyone who's been able to bring it to life, and I can't make it myself."
Zavala's unique style developed out of necessity. He wanted to rap, but couldn't find anyone writing the kind of beats he was looking for. So he wound up making his own, developing a spacey, experimental style that recalls DJ Shadow but is less disjointed and spooky. Ozzborn plays the foil, but he's not the only emcee onboard. Their two full-lengths, along with a couple of EPs, feature a wide array of collaborators, including P.O.S., Aesop Rock, Champagne Champagne, Child Actor and Busdriver.
"They're all people we've grown to know very well, toured with or just really good friends," Ozzborn says, calling it one of the fringe benefits of a 16-year career.
Dark Time Sunshine's latest disc, last summer's ANX, was inspired by Zavala and Ozzborn's individual encounters with panic attacks and anxiety over the years. The music sometimes mirrors that, with sounds springing up everywhere like cans of snakes.
"Alex has dealt with anxiety since junior high, and I recently got it a few years ago while we were making this album," says Ozzborn. "Alex told me one day he was having some heart palpitations and the anxiety was kicking his ass. We were trying to finish the record, and I was like, man, I'm going through the same thing. And it wasn't even stress from the record, just life and all that."
For Zavala, it's something he's slowly learned to control. "I don't have it looming over me like I used to when it was super-crippling," he says. "How I got out of it was pretty much being really healthy and working out."
Both artists also keep busy when not touring together. Ozzborn's currently finishing up work on a new album, while his partner is doing some recording with a female vocalist and continuing to redefine his sound.
"I don't know if I want to be able to live off my music like anyone else does," Zavala says. "It's more or less about doing what you want to do, what you believe in and what comes naturally. Because even if this shit doesn't work out, I'm always going to be making music."