A few days ago I was lucky enough to interview a real-life genius-man, Scroobius Pip (who I may or may not have mentioned several thousand times before on this very blog) for my student paper, the Newcastle Courier. He was a bloody nice man, and what you find below is what happened…
Well, given that we’re a Newcastle paper, why aren’t you coming to our fair city on the tour?
It’s terrible isn’t it? We tend to alternate between Middlesbrough and Newcastle, but we’re not making either on this tour. It’s purely because with the offers we got in, and the space we had time-wise it’s all we could fit in. If you look at our gig listings, and they’re about to be updated to even more, we literally haven’t got a day off in between. But at some point I’m sure we’ll get back to Newcastle.
Having heard the new single, ‘Get Better’ and songs like ‘Angles’ and ‘Tommy C’ on the first album, do you feel you write about issues more than subjects?
It’s about tying the two together really, tackling particular subjects that are issues. All I’ve done there is reword your question and it doesn’t mean anything! It’s looking at issues and subjects aren’t normally covered in songs and try to address those things. It’s always annoyed me, particularly in the last few years, for example green or political issues have become really fashionable for bands to talk about in interviews and then on their actual songs they just go and sing another love song. 10% of your fanbase will see that interview and get that message, whereas 100% of your fanbase will hear the song where you’re talking about absolutely nothing. It’s always been my thought that if there was something I would talk about or felt passionate about I’d put it in the songs, where it’s getting directly to the audience.
So are you trying to get a message across to change your fans or are you just expressing your own views?
It’s just my own views. It’s always something that people can misconstrue, they see all of it as being preachy, but it’s always my own views. Often I’ll turn them into a story as a vessel for getting my message across, but there’s also a huge awareness that I’m a 28 year old dude from Essex you know? I don’t think I’ve got all the answers, my opinions change regularly, I’m sure there’s stuff on Angles [Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip’s debut album] that I’d feel differently about now. It’s just opinions, it’s not saying “if you disagree, you’re wrong”. ‘Thou Shalt Always Kill’ is a prime example, the point of that is half of it contradicts itself anyway, the only important one is “Thou shalt think for yourselves” because you shouldn’t be able to listen to every opinion in the song and agree with it. It’s things like not putting artists on pedestals when I’ve previously said ‘Thou shalt not take the names of Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer in vain’ – they do contradict themselves and that’s the whole point. A lot of people did say, “you shouldn’t tell people what to think” and I’m not! I’m saying think for yourselves.
When you re-recorded the song with Posdnous from De La Soul were addressing some of those changes in opinion then or were you just adding to that list of contradictions?
It’s a bit of a weird one, I wish that there was a thought of “I have to put right what I got wrong” in a Quantum Leap kind of way, but to be honest it was originally just going to be just new vocals from Pos and the old vocals from me, but we got Pos’ vocals through and it just had me itching and I said “I just have to write some new, better ones”. It was just hearing a legend, I listened to 3 Feet High and Rising at school and to have Pos covering one of our songs was amazing, and I couldn’t just put that with the old lyrics, so I then rewrote and added some new bits purely out of excitement and being a hip-hop fan.
So when you say he was covering your song, did he offer to do that or did you approach him?
It was the label that asked him if he was interested, and he was! He wrote his parts and we actually recorded it all before meeting because he was in America. Then he came over and we did some press together and it was just amazing hearing him saying what he liked about the song. On 3 Feet High De La Soul basically invented the hip-hop skit and he said that people don’t realise that those skits are just as important to the group as the songs, and that ‘Thou Shalt’ reminded him of those skits but we had the balls to go and make a whole song out of it. It is quite light-hearted but has a serious point, just like those early De La Soul skits. It was just great hearing all that from a living legend.
You reference a lot of your favourite hip-hop artists on ‘Development’, do you have any more star fans itching to work on your new records?
We’ve not got anyone lined up, but there’s obviously numerous people we’d love to work with. Actually, through Pos we got details for people like Q-Tip but we never got round to actually doing it basically because we stopped working with our American manager and things like that so it never came about. It would be a dream to work with them, and now I guess it’s strangely achievable. We never expected to get the chance to work with Pos but now that that’s happened you can sit there with the most ridiculous list of hip-hop legends when a month beforehand you never would have dreamt of getting a chance to work with and go, “well, it’s possible”!
You referred to them as hip-hop legends and yourself as a hip-hop fan – do you not consider yourself a hip-hop artist as much, or is that something that’s growing as you continue doing what you’re doing?
It’s really tough, because the term hip-hop is a really awkward one these days. Generally, hip-hop is thought of as Kanye West and 50 Cent and I’ve got no problem with them but I wouldn’t consider the genre that we do to be the same as the one they do. I’m a huge hip-hop fan, and particularly on the new album there are certain tracks that are very much hip-hop tracks in beat, delivery and content so I still see myself as a hip-hop fan who just happens to have the chance to make the music and work with some amazing people.
A lot of people refer to you as a spoken word artist or a poet, do you see yourself as that rather than a hip-hop artist or do they work together?
I come from the spoken word scene and the first stuff I did with Dan was when he did remixes of my stuff. So I do come from that scene but I don’t think there has to be a definition between them. If you listen to some of the KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions stuff, Public Enemy, Rakim, it can be as powerful, productive and moving as any poetry. When I got into Sage Francis and Saul Williams I realised that it doesn’t have to be one or the other, it can be one and the same thing. Saying that, I do generally refer to myself as a spoken word artist just because of that confusion over what people might perceive to be hip-hop. Literally, I speak words, bang. It’s descriptive and blunt, that’s what I do for a living.
Speaking of spoken word, are you planning to do anything like No Commercial Breaks [Pip’s debut spoken word album] again?
I’m not sure. At the moment all the focus is the work with Dan. A lot of people ask if I’m planning to do solo stuff and that’s not really how my brain works. I’ll be writing something and think, “man, I need to talk to Dan and get a good beat to this”, not “I’ll put that in the solo cupboard”. At some point I would like to do another solo EP that would be a change from the sound Dan and I have developed but it’s not on my radar at present. It’s just too exciting to have a new record to push and be doing what I’m doing.
So with the new record, do you feel there’s a switch of style since Angles or has there been a development?
I think there’s a development from Dan and I on this one. There are tracks with a really full sound but then there’s tracks like ‘5 Minutes’ where Dan’s made an amazing, basic drumbeat. Even the single’s a beautifully bare electro beat that builds up and gets bigger. What I loved about was the swell of it – the original had an intro that was about a minute and a half long as we slowly added more synth sounds. I guess it’s something that comes with more confidence or experience as a writer as there’s not the need to jump in and start the song immediately, you can let the beat build and then jump in. I think there is a development of Dan’s production and with my vocals – I’m a bit more at flow as well as with my subject matter.
The single’s been described as Italo-Disco, was that a conscious effort by Dan?
I wouldn’t really know! We work over email and the reason for that is because I have no knowledge of dance, beginning, middle or end. I mean, I know what I love and the reason I started working with Dan isn’t because of his name in the dance scene, it was just because I thought his work sounded awesome. It’s weird to have got more into the dance scene, because dance is the one genre I’ve never really got my head round! To be in an act that in a lot of record shops comes under the dance section is quite strange, but it’s great in that respect. I’ve always been into punk and metal, and then hip-hop, but dance is the one thing I never got. I’d go to clubs at uni and people would be loving it, off their nuts, and I’d just be going “Nah, I don’t get it”. In that way, Dan’s opened the door for me.
Do you feel that, as an act, you’re quite far removed from other artists because of that fusion of genres?
Yeah, we don’t quite fit into the dance scene because I’m not a garage or drum ‘n’ bass MC, I can’t just jump up and ramble about nothing. Equally, we don’t sit comfortably in the UK hip-hop scene because the sounds of Dan’s production are so diverse and different from what the UK hip-hop scene is. There is an unusual mixture, and I don’t mean that in a “look, we’re so special” kind of way, because it was never a planned thing – it comes from both of us working in record shops for years and having such broad musical tastes that they come together like they do.
Are you planning on hitting the festival season this year?
Last year we really eased off because the year before we headlined a stage at Reading and Leeds and we wanted to come back with the new record. We’d done two years of playing every festival with the same songs, and it’d feel weird to do another season and say “here’s the songs we played two years ago, hope you enjoy them again, I’m wearing a different shirt”. This time we’ve got so many new tracks and it’ll be great to get them out there.
Do you enjoy touring and festival season as much as the recording process?
It’s the variation that makes it exciting. After a month or two of gigs you get a bit tired of it and then you’ve got festival touring which tends to be a bit more broken up and you’re not playing to just your fanbase so it’s a different task. Writing and recording gives you time off, so being able to switch between them all is what makes the job exciting.
What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
I don’t have that, I don’t think there should be any guilt in pleasure. A good song is a good song. We used to cover ‘Push the Button’ by the Sugababes and that is a fucking brilliant song. It should be a guilty pleasure but I show no guilt at all about it. I’m one of the biggest Cyndi Lauper fans you’ll ever meet. If you look into her back catalogue, ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ is nothing to do with Cyndi Lauper. She’s a legend, and I would never refer to it as a guilty pleasure.
What was your favourite album of last year?
I sound like a wanker because it wasn’t even released in the UK, so I sound like a real muso snob but it was just because I didn’t get that much new music last year that excited me. It’s a guy called P.O.S., he’s an American rapper and the album’s called ‘Never Better’ and it’s just amazing. The thing that appeals to me is he comes from a punk background as well and the sound of the beats and delivery sound like no hip-hop I’ve ever heard before. He’s got hints of Chuck D in the way he seems so comfortable and can deliver stuff with such intensity without having to shout. It’s just a great hip-hop album. He toured supporting King Blues and punk bands, and it was great to see punk kids saying “What, this is hip-hop, it doesn’t work” and then winning them over. There’s a great line about when you first become a punk, and that got everyone on board, he just knows what punk’s about.
Now a few friends wanted to ask you some questions of their own, is that ok?
Go for it.
What’s your favourite colour?
Brown. Just because I’m standing in my living room and I’ve got a brown sofa, a brown rug and brown furniture. It’s all brown.
I’m currently on the chocolate crunchy nut clusters. That’s because I’ve just moved and I’ve got particularly deep bowls and they don’t go soggy, that’s the key. With the deep bowls you usually get to the bottom and it’s all soggy, but that doesn’t happen with the clusters.
That was a more technical answer than I expected.
You’ve gotta give technical answers to light-hearted questions.
I’ve got one particularly strange friend who wanted to know if it was actually your beard that does the rapping and you just move your hands around…
The beard has the power. I’d recommend any artist to grow one. In all seriousness, when I was doing spoken word gigs it’s easy to say “the dude with the big beard was good” and you’ll remember the dude with the big beard.
I suppose that works across the board because people refer to Fleet Foxes as the folk band with the beards!
It really does work. Just on a recognisable level, I get recognised when I’m out a lot and it’s not because I’m world famous, it’s just I’m easier to recognise than most indie bands. They’ve got that generic look, I’ve just got a massive beard.
Dan Le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip release ‘Get Better’ on 1st March, and the album ‘The Logic of Chance’ is released on the 14th. Coincedentally, that’s also the day they go on tour. Hoorah!
Dan Le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip – Waiting For The Beat To Kick In (and ‘Reading My Dreams’) (YSI)