To quote the late, great Aussie poet Bon Scott, "It's a long way to the top if you wanna rock 'n' roll." For LA native Cairo Gold, the "long way" included years of selling, delivering and transporting cannabis. The modern soul singer released her single "Torture" in March, and her debut EP dropped May 11. In between, she talked with PRØHBTD about her days in the weed game.
Cairo Gold sounds like a great strain name. Has anyone told you that?
Oh, no, but I love that. Oooh! That's actually the best thing anyone has said about my artist name.
If it was a strain, what would it be?
I was a Blue Dream girl forever, but maybe it would be a Gorilla Glue crossed with something like Jack Herer. I would defer to you to tell me.
I don't know about specific strains, but the genetics should come from Eurasia or the Middle East in the same way Acapulco Gold comes from Mexico. Or maybe it should just be hashish.
Ooh, I like that.
How did you start in the cannabis business?
I never reveal my sources, but there was somebody very close to me at the time who was very heavily involved in the business, and I was always watching from the periphery. I remember thinking, "There are a lot of unreliable people in this industry, and I think I would be really good at it." I'm trusted. I know how to be a chameleon and fly under the radar when necessary so it was always in the back of my mind. Then I had some things go wrong—I wouldn't say wrong, but I had some twists and turns—and I needed to make a living that would also support the music. I started small time, just slinging smalls, and then I was like, "Studio time is how much? Alright. Let's take on the risk. Let's start driving it."
So you started out delivering to people?
Exactly. I started as the quintessential local California girl who sold a little—an eighth, or a couple grams here and there—and people liked dealing with me because I always made it kind of cute and packaged it nicely. I'm not just like the sketch dude… you know what I mean? It became a nice thing, but then it wasn't enough. At a certain point I needed to expand.
Were people surprised when you first made a delivery to them? What was the craziest reaction?
The reactions were never crazy. At first, people would be a little awkward and then they would try to flex a little bit on what they knew. I'd be like, "No, no, no, I know that, too. It's fine. We don't have to do this." I never got any bad reactions. They were mostly just a little stunned. You know how this industry is. It was kind of just weirdos or granola hippies [that] I dealt with, nobody too rough. I had a few rough things go down, but I definitely can't talk about them, and they had nothing to do with me being a girl or me being me.
I bought a lot of cannabis from a lot of different people before I started going to dispensaries, and never once did I buy from a woman or hear about a woman who was selling it.
I heard that, too. When I first started, there was another woman I knew was in the same game, but she was a lot older than I was. She looked like somebody's mom, which is kind of awkward in its own way.
So were you actually delivering to individual people, like the dude in High Maintenance, or were you doing runs from Humboldt?
It started out small-time like our friend on High Maintenance, and then it translated into other things.
When did you know it was time to stop driving?
It wasn't as lucrative at a certain point. As things legalized—which I'm stoked about, it's what we all want—I realized I could be doing other things and making more money. I was moving full-time into music, and there was just no time for that.
Is there a moment you remember as particularly meaningful from when you were in the game?
I had just finished playing a gig, and I immediately needed to go and do a run. It was an eight-hour drive, it was midnight, and I had to get in the car and head out on the road. I got there when the sun was coming up, and it was a really special moment where I realized, "Wow, you're really in it. You're really going to go the hardest for your music." I just had a moment where I felt proud of myself for how hard I was willing to work. It dawned on me that I was willing to go the distance.
Can you perform high?
Do you always perform high?
No. When I'm high and performing, I'm really feeling it, so I don't want to do really important gigs high. I'm just not willing to fuck up right now, so I don't, but when I'm doing smaller acoustic gigs, I do it high. Sometimes it's good, and sometimes I'm too lost in it, and maybe I won't hit the right note on the guitar or my pitch won't be as perfect. Or sometimes it is. It's just a little more unstable, so I don't do it often.
Do you smoke different things for songwriting—as opposed to recording or performing—or do you have a strain that works well overall?
I always stick with a hybrid when it comes to creating or performing. If I go straight sativa, I get lost in my head too much, and if I go straight indica, I’m too tired—you need energy to sing powerful music that requires you to project.
Any particular dispensaries you like?
I like dispensaries a lot because I love the culture of it. I love that I can go to a place and take a look at everything like it's the farmer's market and pick what I want. I get delivery from HERB, and a lot of people have given me stuff, so I have a stash. I haven't been to MedMen yet, but I'd like to see what they're about.
Have you written any songs about cannabis?
The EP has a song called "Down," and the song opens up with, “I pull the car up, I brought the good stuff / put the seat back, let's ride.” It's about that quintessential California experience, cruising with a little joint in your hand when you're with your person. It's kind of about the California stoner dream.
Do you remember the first time you smoked?
I think I was in high school, maybe a freshman, and we were all smoking cigarettes because we thought we were super cool. Then some kid came around and said, "I got weed. We all smoke. Have you ever?" I was like, "Oh yeah, for sure." I wanted to be cool, so I took a big-ass rip of a blunt and I was not ready. I took way too big of a hit for my little teenage-self, and I was like, "Whoa." But I loved it, you know? It knocked me off my socks, but I was like, "Okay, I've got to do this again, just not as hard."
How is the creative process different between being sober or high?
That's a really good question. When I take a few hits, sometimes it separates my relationship to music as a business, and I'm able to re-approach it just from a creative standpoint. That's honestly when the best stuff happens for me, when I stop second-guessing and editing myself. When I'm a little high, I just don't care, and then I'm able to flow. I don't always need it for that to happen, but when I'm at a block and I take a hit, I'm good. The block is gone. I can flow.
You stop thinking and start feeling.
What artist from the past did the best job of incorporating cannabis into his or her identity?
[Jimi] Hendrix had a really cool way about it. The song, the poetry… [it] wasn't overpowering [to] where you're like, "Wow, bro. You're just blasted." He did it in a chic way. I don't know a ton of women who were really open about it.
Anything you want to add about cannabis or music?
I'd like to say this album is coming out in an interesting time. There's a lot of interest in me from the cannabis culture, and I love that because people are seeing that I can be open and honest and vulnerable, and that's what I want to say about this album. This is an open, honest, vulnerable, confessional album, and I'm okay with whatever people want to say. I'm okay being the girl who's singing with a joint hanging out of her mouth, and I want to encourage people to feel a little more open to it. That's what I would say.