Pedazo de Carne con Ojo Takes Us Through Their Collaborative Third LP “Pedazo”

Steven Perez and co-producer Malcolm Martin offer a track-by-track breakdown of the project, out now via Citrus City Records.
Track by Track

Pedazo de Carne con Ojo Takes Us Through Their Collaborative Third LP Pedazo

Steven Perez and co-producer Malcolm Martin offer a track-by-track breakdown of the project, out now via Citrus City Records.

Words: Taylor Ruckle

Photo: Emily Burtner

March 15, 2023

Steven Perez closes Pedazo, his third solo LP, with a simple but serious vow: “I swear, I’m not done.” The Philly-based experimental producer has been releasing music as Pedazo de Carne con Ojo since 2019, blending choppy, sampledelic loops of Latin percussion and brass with poetry, freak folk, and, this time around, orchestral synth movements. Keeping an indie music project afloat hasn’t gotten any easier in the past four years, but on Pedazo, Perez marshals the help of a growing creative community to recommit himself to it in spite of the bleaker post-COVID outlook.

Pedazo de Carne con Ojo was always collaborative, originating from the same scene that fostered acts like Body Meat and Spirit of the Beehive, but with each release, the list of credits has grown longer. Pedazo marks the first time Perez has worked with a co-producer—long-time friend Malcolm Martin, who helped mix Perez’s last LP Dun Dun and who relocated to Philly during the making of Pedazo—and it features a host of new guest vocalists like Virginia rapper Alfred. and Danny Miller of New York experimental pop act Lewis Del Mar, all of whom inspired Perez to write better verses and compose better loops to keep up. 

The results speak for themselves—full of meditative piano and flute textures, Pedazo is Perez’s most thoughtful work yet. The album is available now, and you can stream it below as you peruse Perez and Martin’s track-by-track breakdown.

1. “Chiquito”

Perez: I had found the drums in the beginning, that sample, on a related video rabbit hole on YouTube, and I was like, “Oh, I’m gonna save that for later,” and I was just…not angry, but in a passionate mood one day. Maybe I came home from skating or something, and I was like, “I really want loud drums,” which, as Malcolm can tell you, is not what I wanted for this record.

Martin: A month prior he’d said, “I wanna make a record with no drums.”

Perez: I guess the contrarian in me was like, “No, fuck you, Steven.” It was really just that first half for a long time, and then listening to a lot of classical music, I was like, “You know what? Let me make this as melodramatic as possible.” I was having a lot of fun with string sounds.

Martin: We took the sample, cut it up on the drum pad, and then I reinterpreted it live and ended up using that to double over the sample, so it has this really cool feeling where it’s live and sampled at the same time. I really love the strings, and I feel like it’s a great way to open the record, ’cause it gives you two sides—it’s like an overture.

2. “Running” (feat. ZekeUltra)

Perez: Malcolm had the sample in mind and brought it to a session we were doing. I sent it to Zeke, and we kept talking for months, like, “Well, we’ll work on it,” whatever. We hadn’t brought it up for a few months, and he came over and wrote that verse in 15 minutes. It was kinda crazy. I’m playing it over, and he’s like, “Oh, I got something,” then goes. I had my verse for a really long time, and I was like, “This shit sucks.” Zeke did his verse and I was like, “Damn, maybe my verse could work for it,” and I was like, “Alright, let me just try it and I’ll let the room judge.” Malcolm and Zeke were both like, “The fuck you talkin’ about?”

Martin: It was perfect. I’m glad we were in the room before that got deleted. Then the way Zeke came in here—I really love his voice. Not just his rapping, but his singing. It all came together really nicely.

3. “Jump”

Perez: That one was before Malcolm got here. You know what’s crazy? We were on Zoom talking about the mix and the drums he did on “Stuck in the Crib” from the last record, and I was like, “Yo, you wanna hear any new shit?” I played him “Jump,” and immediately we were like, “Oh, when you move here, we’re gonna work on this one.” That’s probably my favorite song to play live. Like, top two.

Martin: I think you remixed it a little bit after playing it live, right? ’Cause feeling those drums come through the loudspeakers really makes it hit different.

Perez: That’s true, we were hearing them live, and I don’t think they were in the right key. I went kinda neurotic and re-pitched every drum to make sure it was right.

4. “Distance”

Perez: That one’s taken a lot of different shapes. How many times did I send that to you [Malcolm], different bounces, and I was like, “It’s gonna be on the record, but I have no vocals for it.” The video is footage from a trip to Guatemala we did. We played in Guatemala this past summer, and that was such an incredible experience. We were there for like a week, and I was writing for this record a lot. Usually once I know musically what’s gonna be the body of the work, I’m reading and writing a lot, so I was journaling every day. 

I wrote that verse, and it was an idea I really wanted to talk about and felt a little nervous to, ’cause it’s hard to talk about relationships sometimes—friendships, or whatever it is. That one was really personal, but was really spawned from the beauty of Guatemala, and being like, “Yo, I needed to be in a different country and see a different way of living.” Although that can be tough, to be away from people, it reminds you how much you need to care about people when you get home.

Martin: I think it’s a beautiful song, and that trip to Guatemala was incredibly humbling. The overwhelming hospitality of the people who were hosting us—this band Easy Easy that’s based there, friends of theirs, and friends of ours who were with us—and just seeing the way people live there. It’s a much slower way of life, more modest. I think the culture shock was humbling, just as people who live in a city where things are very instantly gratified, but also the way people were grateful for our presence there. It was a really cool experience and a beautiful culture.

5. “Cenar”

Martin: I’ll never forget when you played this for me [on Zoom]. I went crazy. I was like, you have to send me this right now.

Perez: I had this one in the chamber, and I kinda knew. I was like, “Oh, shit.” The real boomy drums were all Malcolm, and that trash can sound, which I was not feeling in the beginning. I remember—

Martin: Like, “Hear me out. I’m hearing trash can.”

Perez: Exactly. We’ve had trash can sounds on old recordings of old bands. We’ve talked about it a lot. That song introduced a new way for us to perform live. Before, it was just Malcolm doing drums. Now we’ll have two drum pads live, and be able to really have fun with it. I don’t know that there’ll be a vinyl for this, but we love records, so we always think of that stuff when we’re sequencing. That, to me, is the sickest side closer. Positive, fun, summertime.

6. “Cleft” (feat. Alfred.)

Perez: I almost called the whole album “Cleft.” It’s beginning side B for a reason, and it’s, in a lot of ways, the thesis. A lot of the record is dealing with being caught between a rock and a hard place. I mean, Malcolm and I are both at ages where we’re thinking about our lives and what kind of futures we have. A lot of the record is like, “What is success? What am I chasing? What is love? What am I chasing? What is family? What am I chasing? What am I battling in terms of tradition versus just stubbornness, or maybe even selfishness?” That first line, “A cleft in the conscience,” it’s being at this precipice, or this fork in the road.

I sent it to Alfred., and they just bodied the verse. They had this whole poem in the beginning which was really beautiful, but I needed some space for tension between our verses, so, had to cut it, but I was so blown away by their writing. This is another one where I had something written, and then I heard somebody, and I was like, “I have to redo this.” I’m really grateful for all the artists that collaborated on this. They all made me way better, in all ways.

7. “Camino” (feat. Lewis Del Mar)

Perez: I had this piece of music for a long time, and was like, “I don’t know what the fuck to do with this,” ’cause it’s hard to find a vocal pocket. It’s such a theatrical song. Then one day I was playing it over and over, and I was zoning out, and Malcolm did this crazy layer on top with congas and different percussion around a drum rack I had built. He just came in super crazy, and I remember at that moment being like, “Alright, I cannot fail this song.”

I sent it to Danny [Miller] from Lewis Del Mar, and he had done his vocals—I got ’em at night while I was asleep, and I woke up and listened to it with coffee, and I was blown away that someone would give me that much beauty. I didn’t feel like I deserved it—I really felt that way. Same with Zeke’s verse, same with Alfred. All of these artists, it was just like, “Damn, people are really providing for the songs that we’ve made.”

Martin: I think this song has a very special energy about it. When Steven played me the vocals, it was like a train hit me.

Perez: It reworked a lot of the album. There were a lot of songs where I was like, “Yo, I can’t let them not be as good as this song.” I don’t really know how to describe it, and that really excites me with music and art. It’s just such an honor to have such beautiful stuff added to it. I’m eternally grateful for that song.

8. “Benefit”

Martin: The bulk of that track is Steven. At least, the instrumental was fully formed when I heard it, but in the end, that last loop starts playing with the congas that Steven had recorded on it. I heard that and I was like, “Please, hand me the drum sticks. Give me a kick and a clap.” I just could not unhear this—so danceable, so much fun. The rhythm is irresistible, and it’s so cathartic after that opening swell. And that was before Steven put the vocals to it. This is probably my favorite on the record, at least right now.

9. “Machine” (feat. ZekeUltra)

Martin: This is another one where I suggested something for us to mess with, and we ended up creating this loop—we just built it together, then I played bass to it, I put some drums to it using a couple drum racks that we had built on another song, and it came together very quickly in the moment. That was another one we had played for Zeke that same day, and what he wrote fit so perfectly. Another moment of serendipity.

Perez: Kayla [Childs] came in with Spirit, who did vocals on this one—shout out Spirit, a local musician in Jersey/Philly. Kayla was fucking around with synths, and just seeing an incredible keyboardist like that play—I mean, Kayla’s a genius. Will take over the world soon. I really truly believe that. Very honored to have them perform, and then any time we hit pause on the music, Spirit’s like, “I got something, let me go.” It’s like that person at a basketball court that’s playing five on five, and they’re like, “Yo, I’mma play every game.” Spirit was just like, “You can’t sub me out, I’m playing every minute,” and had so many great ideas.

10. “Atrás”

Perez: This is about a tour we went on not too long ago, and just seeing…the pandemic has made music tough. The industry is in a strange place, especially for smaller artists. It was a pretty harrowing tour. Like, it was such a great experience; there were so many beautiful people we met, and the people we toured with were incredible, some of my closest friends. But we learned a lot, and that song—it wasn’t supposed to be at the end, and I know Malcolm will still contend that it shouldn’t be.

Martin: I’ve let it go.

Perez: That song is about, “Yo, I’m not gonna let this thing I love kill me.” The industry side of music can make you feel that way. I’m a very small artist, but you start to feel it every time you play, and you get older, and you know the way this country works. I had to close the record with this as a kind of mantra, like, “I’m not gonna let this kill me—this is sustenance for me, this is what I need to be a human being, money or not.” It was just like, “I’m not done, I’m not gonna be done.” I also want to say, shout out to Malcolm. He spearheaded this one production-wise.

Martin: I do really love the drums on this song. Very driving, obviously, and they add a lot of color to what Steven had already built. I really appreciate this one closing the record now