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'Whole Foods Parking Lot:' Q&A with the Supermarket Rapper

In what’s a sure sign of the impending musical apocalypse, a new rap video has gone viral that’s not about the mean streets of L.A., but rather a rough ride through a Whole Foods parking lot.

Composer Dave Wittman, who’s scored music for such films as The Son of No One (starring Al Pacino and Ray Liotta) and a recent commercial for Pepsi featuring David Beckham and Sofia Vergara, came up with the nearly four-minute ditty, which brilliantly rhymes the colloquial “brah” with “Quinoa,” and pokes fun at the chain’s clientele and exorbitant prices with lines like: “Some girl in yoga pants is lookin’ at me funny / I'm just trying to find a decent Pinot Noir for under twenty!” He shot a high-quality music video guerilla style at two Westside locations (Venice and Santa Monica).

“It was something we did down and dirty,” says Wittman of his unlikely Youtube hit, which he pieced together with the help of a handful of friends from the Fog and Smog collective, a group of SoCal and Bay Area collaborators. “Whole Foods has a pretty strict policy about not shooting in their stores, so I didn’t get permission.”

But it was Whole Foods who first reached out to Wittman once the video started gaining traction on Youtube (the clip is currently at 1.5 million views and counting), not to scold him, but to praise his efforts. “I got an email from their corporate office and my immediate thought was, ‘OK, here’s the cease and desist — the gig’s up, it was fun while it lasted.’ But they said, ‘We love it. It’s done in good taste. It’s funny and coming from an honest place. We’d love to be able to use it on our website.’ Now we have an agreement. It worked out really well.”

Wittman is also selling the track on iTunes (via CDBaby), but while he’s intimately familiar with gourmet fare like a Kale salad with a lemon twist and has the rhyming skills of a seasoned pro (he cites rappers Common and Mos Def as influences), he has yet to figure out how revenue will flow. “I’m not sure how it works or how many have been bought,” he says, “My goal is to do some sort of merchandising for this song, like a reusable bag that Whole Foods can sell and give proceeds to a charity for high school music.”

Still, people are calling. “Friends who know agents tell me, ‘You oughta be in the room with so and so’ and it sort of turns me off,” adds Wittman. “I got an offer to be in an adult film. I’m weighing a lot of different options. That’s probably not going to be the one.”

Ultimately, though, Wittman doesn’t see a future in supermarket songs either, but he understands why this one is resonating. “It’s about the absurdity of all these different lifestyle touch-points: the cars we drive, the products we use,” he says, “It’s a snapshot of where we’re at in our culture right now.”

See the video below and read an extended Q&A with Wittman after the jump…

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The Hollywood Reporter: What is your musical background? Are or were you an aspiring musician?

Dave Wittman: I’ve been having fun with music since I was a little kid. I grew up DJing and playing drums in Berkeley and was heavily influenced by hip-hop and jazz in the mid 90s like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, DJ Premier, Gang Starr. But I was making beats for years. This is the first thing I’ve done, inspiration-wise, that’s struck a chord, but frankly, I haven’t been trying to make a record career happen. I’ve been doing film scoring, and working to picture mostly.

THR: What was the inspiration for Whole Foods parking lot?

Wittman: Real life. Or what my manicured, somewhat-foofy West LA life is like. It’s funny where inspiration can come from. I was really annoyed at some guy who cut me off in his Prius, and in getting all heated from some gangster-ish perspective in my mind, I was, like, “Are you kidding, dude? Look at yourself. You’re on the West Side of Los Angeles. Take it easy.” The joke came from there, from mocking these things that people don’t necessarily connect with each other: like yoga culture and the Kombucha tea and fancy things that cost so much. The reality is everyone has balance in their life: days that are good and days that are tough. Sometimes you have to laugh at yourself when your tough days involve picking up expensive organic chicken.  

THR: You shot the video guerilla style, were you ejected from either Whole Foods? 

Wittman: We got kicked out of the one in Venice on Lincoln and Rose. They were really polite and cool but we were sort of dejected. The next day we tried to get some interiors and strapped the camera to a shopping cart. They kicked us out again, but we were able to get one verse recorded. Then we went up to Montana [in Santa Monica] and they’re more mellow. One guy was even so cool as to be on camera and say, “We’re out of cheese.”

THR: How much did you spend on the video?

Wittman: I bought the camera, a Canon 5D [$3,000 with lens], instead of renting it. I thought we can make a collective where, if you have an idea, you can do it. We’re all people that work in professional capacities surrounding entertainment, we’ve done some films, let’s do more stuff together, empower ourselves to do good creative work. So getting the camera was a big deal. That changed it from being just a song, though I did put the MP3 on SoundCloud a good month and a half ago, and people really liked it, but the video was what got attention and spread. It says something about the instant gratification generation of today.

THR: Has anyone reached out to you about making a record or representing you?

Wittman: I didn’t do the song [thinking], “OK, let’s get a hit,” and I didn’t think about making a record. If someone is interested and it’s a natural evolution that’s in line with who I am and what I want to do musically, then great! But I’m happy when I hear “thanks for the laugh,” or when someone tells me, as one girl did recently, “I’m really inspired to do more than push through for a paycheck. I’m inspired to go live an exciting life, and do something meaningful, and thank you for that sense of inspiration.” I really couldn’t have expected something that cool. It blows me away. It’s really touching.

THR: But with 1.5 million Youtube views and iTunes sales, you’re bound to make some money down the line...

Wittman: I’m no stranger to the commercial side of things, and I do need to make money. I’m paying for my wedding coming up in November and that stuff’s real. I know what it’s like to work hard and to get things done for a paycheck and for art and the line you have to walk between those things sometimes. But I have a job and the company that I work for, Elias Arts, they’re good enough to let me pursue my creative endeavors as I continue to hold it down.

THR: Never thought this question would come up in an interview, but what is your favorite produce?

Wittman: I’m really into f---ing quinoa right now. My fiancé does it with this chicken stock and it’s got this good flavor. A little chicken on the grill, some kale salad with lemon, and the quinoa just brings it together. It’s filling, but it doesn’t have the weight of a starchy thing. I love it. I also like hamburgers and burritos.

THR: So what do you hope happens next?

Wittman: I don’t exactly know. People talk about viral success, and this is a cheesy analogy, but I think trying to go viral is like trying to fall in love. If you go out there looking to execute it, it probably won’t work. Whereas if you stay true to yourself, honest and you listen to your intuition, you may come across something that connects. That irony is what this song is about, so trying to turn it into something that’s outside the flow of my life is sort of antithetical. I just hope it increases my ability to work on music I like. If for some reason, people think I’m funny and want to laugh, that’s terrific. I just hope it pushes things forward for everybody in a positive way.