Music, OldVenue

Interview: Scroobius Pip

So, how’s it going?

It’s going good, yeah. It’s good to be back in Norwich again, it should be a good one tonight.

How many times have you been here?

Erm, we’ve been to Norwich a few times. On the last tour me and Dan played the Waterfront and it was a really good crowd. We had B Dolan with us as we have today and he went down really well, so it’s one of those … like, we know it should all work tonight, they should all understand, they’re all familiar with it all so yeah, it should be nice.

What date is this?

This is the tenth I think, B’s with us for another seven or eight, then we’re off to Ireland for five of six, so it all ends towards the end of November.

Has it been going good?

Yeah, it’s been going down really well. It’s mainly my most recent solo stuff, but people who have seen me before will generally have seen me with Dan. We weren’t sure how people would react, if they’d know the songs or if they’d be a bit annoyed that I’m not playing the [Dan] le sac vs Pip stuff, but Dan’s not here so I can’t really do that. So yeah, it’s all been going down really well, they all seem to know all the songs and seem to be enjoying it. I think the more it’s gone on the more relaxed we’ve got.

You’re playing with a live band then?

Yes, that’s correct.

I guess it’s not Travis [Barker, drummer, Blink-182]?

[laughs] No it’s not Travis. We did all the auditions for a drummer and it was all kind of friends of friends. Because we’ve been touring for four or five years you kind of know a lot of different bands, so we held these auditions and I hadn’t organised it very well [laughs] so they were just having to play along to the CD, which isn’t the best way to do it, I should really have sorted click tracks and all that. The first two guys came in and we were kind of saying, “We know it’s not going to sound-perfect ‘cause you’re playing along to a CD”, and they both kind of said, “I could do it this way, or that way” and they were good. But then the third guy came in, we put the CD on, he played it all perfectly [air drums], next track [more air drumming] and just did all three songs that we’d sent perfectly, so we said “Cool, we’ll be in touch.” And it was just that everyone else had given some kind of, not excuse, but they said, “I could do it better like this or like that”, whereas he just came in, smashed all of them, and said, “Alright, I’ll see you later guys.” He’s Paul Glover and he’s been doing great on the tour so far.

How did the Travis collaboration come about?

It’s all a weird kind of circle of events. Danny Lohner, who’d produced the track [Introdiction], got the drums off Travis, but it was always pending his approval. We finished the track, sent it to him, didn’t hear anything, kept hassling him, and didn’t hear anything and it was all starting to get a bit panicky. We hadn’t announced to anyone that Travis was on it. I think I put the video up and hadn’t even been able to tell anyone that Travis was on it, and literally, it was coming up to the Monday the record was going to the manufacturer and I still hadn’t put Travis’s name on the sleeve ‘cause we didn’t have clearance. I mean we were still going to release it, we’d just claim someone else had drummed or something, but then on the Sunday night I got home from an 11 hour studio shift and went on Twitter Travis had tweeted “Check out the video for this song I’ve done with Scroobius Pip, it’s amazing” and it was a real sigh of relief. We had clearance which meant we could put his name on there and it was all good. It was literally up to the last minute though, if he had tweeted a day later it would have been even more awkward ‘cause we’d have had to say, “Well it’s coming out, but your name isn’t on it.”

It must feel amazing having achieved that, given Travis’s wealth of experience in the hip-hop world?

Yeah, Travis is very picky, that was the thing that Danny kept saying; he’d given us the drums to work with but that he’s really picky, particularly with hip-hop, so it was great to get that. I’ve chatted to him ever since on Twitter and hopefully down the line I’d like to do more with him ‘cause he’s very good at what he does [laughs].

How long did it take for the beard to grow back?

Erm, I don’t know ‘cause it’s when it’s constantly on your face it’s hard to know how long it was. It was a weird one. I cut it off and I shaved my hair in the video and I went home to tidy it up, ‘cause I’ve cut my own hair and stuff for years ever since I was a little punk rock teenager thinking I wanted a Mohawk, and I went to tidy it and just thought nah, it’s alright [laughs] it was fine from the video. So yeah, I’m keeping it around at this length, I’m trimming it every month or so … sorry this is really boring information. It was weird the time I did it after I did the video ‘cause I just did it in my bathroom, and last time I did it there happened to be a camera there and the video had like 200,000 views, it was very inglorious and underplayed.

Seriously though, was it a conscious decision, showing a break in your career, a desire to move on?

Look, the music industry’s really tough at the moment and I take no shame in saying it was a marketing thing. I’m doing this all on my own label [Speech Development] and I thought right, we’ve not got the budget to have billboards and crazy big adverts, so for everything on this record I thought “What can I do to bring attention?” and that was one of the things. I was aware this album was different to the le sac vs Pip stuff so some people aren’t going to feel it, but I wanted everyone to give it a listen and make their own mind up and I thought “What would make anyone who’s ever heard any of our stuff wanna have a look?” and that was if I cut my beard off in the video. That’s going to make them all at least go, “Oh we’ve gotta have a quick look at that” and it seemed to work. It seems to be dirty these days, artists saying things are marketing tactics or ploys to get attention, but it’s just the way the industry is now. If you wanna keep doing this you need to earn a living from it otherwise you’ve gotta get a job again and you can’t tour as much and things like that. So it’s one of them that, and not to rant against illegal downloads, but if people are going to take money out of your pocket then you’ve gotta find other ways to get attention and be creative.

Did you get the money from the highest bidder on eBay?

[laughs] £227, and it all went straight into Speech Development, even though I thought I was going to buy cake and more cuddly toys to burn.

Is your label going to be an on-going thing then?

Yeah I plan to, it’s just a really weird thing. It’ll be a few months before I can really analyse how this record’s gone but at the moment it’s doing well, but it’s hard to say if it would work if I was just the label. It works because I’m the artist and the label, so I’ve got those two areas and it all pools in together. The touring: I count that as earnings from the record. A lot of labels now are doing 360 deals where a label gets a percentage of live shows and a percentage of merch. I wouldn’t wanna do that ‘cause it feels morally wrong to me. It’s the way the industry’s going, but the label is there for the CD and the touring is to promote that, so to then go out every night working and gigging and living in a van and have the label say we want 20 per cent seems wrong. But for me, ‘cause I’m the artist and the label, it’s all going fine. It’s a weird one, I plan to do more stuff through Speech Development, but that’ll just be a future solo record from me or maybe something from other people. Plus, indie labels are dropping like flies at the moment ‘cause it’s really hard just to keep ticking over, not even to make money or make a profit, it’s hard enough to physically keep having enough money to get your CDs made and get everything out there and to pay for artwork and licensing and studio time and all those things.

Yeah I see what you mean, especially in hip-hop, with even The Beats [Mike Skinner’s label] going under a few years ago, what chance have the indie labels got?

Exactly, exactly. It’s one of the reasons I did this, to try and dispel some of the myths about how tough it is in the industry at the moment, and it kind of did and kind of didn’t. I found a lot of stuff like, I spent far less on this that 90 per cent of releases on small labels in the last year, and it’s because I just went, right, we’re not gonna spend five grand, I mean, five grand for a video is really cheap, but I went, no, just because you see that as cheap you’ll be happy to spend the five grand, but we could make it for like 500 quid, so I’d say over the three videos we’ve done I think it’s been about three grand at the most actually.

I was at Bestival, and you did load of flyering there, was that all part of the plan?

Yeah, the main part of the physical marketing I did for this was getting 10,000 flyers made up for Bestival, and I handed 5,000 of them out myself and the other 5,000 I met up with people through Twitter and asked them to hand them out. So there was that and some posters put up around town in London … Oh no I didn’t do that. They were put up by people who are not associated with Speech Development, so Speech Development cannot be sued or held liable for any illegal flyer postering [laughs] … So yeah it was all things like that, again, a few hundred quid dropped on the marketing campaign there rather than tens of thousands as it would normally be, so yeah it’s been interesting seeing how it all unfolds.

Bestival was amazing by the way, especially the spoken word stuff [Pip played live and also hosted a spoken word stage].

Yeah, it’s always good fun, I love it there. It was great, people all in trees and shit, all watching and just paying attention and taking it all in, I loved it.

Now you’ve got away from Dan, can you enjoy your spoken word influences a bit more?

At the moment, yeah. I just want to say though, that we are working on a third record in the new year so he’s going to be back for that. But yeah, the spoken word scene’s amazing and Norwich has got a wicked scene, they’ve been doing it for ages and they get really good nights and get good people down; it’s really strong and it just needs more and more people there. The thing I always say at Bestival and things like that where the crowds are always insane, is that there’ll be spoken word nights all around the country that have got 10 people at the most there. I used to do open mics and I’d attend four or five open mics a week in London and you’d generally just be performing to the other poets and that’s just how it was, other people who were wanting to get their chance to get up there and do it. So at Bestival I always point out that it’s not just this weird festival thing, it’s like, you’ve really enjoyed this, you can see it in your town cheaper than going to a gig. When you go to a festival and see a band, you then go a see them in your town on tour, but people don’t seem to do it as much with spoken word, but they should, ‘cause it’s cheaper and you can just pop along. It doesn’t have to be that we’ve all booked our tickets for the Scroobius Pip gig at the Waterfront, there’s just loads of really good stuff and this is an area that really should be making the most of it ‘cause it’s one of the deepest pools for spoken word in the country and people don’t seem to realise that. Yeah, it’s wicked.

Are you still quite involved in the spoken word scene then?

I try to be, I’m not as entrenched in the scene as I was because I’m touring and that all the time, but I love doing Camp Bestival and Bestival line-ups. I’ve been to a couple, three or four maybe this year. I’m as involved as I can be but, you know, I can’t claim I’m down there every week anymore but I try to keep in touch.

What do you think of slams?

I like live poetry, is what I think of slams. If it has to be a slam to get people in or get them involved … again a lot of people hate on slams cause it’s competitive but it’s just all part of making it unusual and entertaining. One of my favourite spoken word gigs was at a slam and I did a 10 minute set and it was one of the first times I’d done Angles, Thou Shalt Always Kill and Letter From God To Man. I did them in 10 minutes and I came off thinking “That went pretty well … ” and it was one when you just get scored at the end and I thought “Yeah, I might have this” and this other guy got up and did one 10 minute piece that just blew everyone out of the water and that’s just amazing to see. I think the spoken word scene’s alright in that way, there’s slams but there’s not really the competition, it’s not like I was going around shouting “Oh fuck, he beat me” I was more thinking “That was dope, you deserved to win” so yeah I think they’re all good. Any live spoken word is exciting. I much prefer poetry live than on paper. I like to watch the person who wrote it deliver it how it was meant to be delivered.

So your passion for local spoken word is obvious, but is there any truth in your live skit, which derides UK hip-hop?

It’s a little bit of panto. I get a lot of stick for that from UK heads who are like “Nah, this guy’s really good” and “Have you heard Klashnekoff?” and I’m like “Yes, everyone’s heard of Klashnekoff, he’s been around for years and has never done anything [laughs] not really, that was just a joke”. But I like that sort of thing ‘cause its throwing down the gauntlet, I love being proved wrong. A lot of people assume that because there’s quite a few opinions on things in my songs that I’m going to have all the answers, but I’m a 37-year-old guy who lives in Essex, I’m not going to have all the answers so I love being proved wrong. So, if some UK hip-hop comes along and makes me think “Oh right, I’m wrong actually, it’s amazing” then great, if not I’ll keep slagging it off [laughs].

Most of the collaborators on the album (P.O.S, Sage Francis, B Dolan) aren’t British. Was that intentional?

It wasn’t a conscious thing really but I didn’t wanna overdo the guest vocalists. I wanted to work with other people, it just happened that the tracks that were finished, and those that came the most naturally were from those guys and so after I had three rappers on the album I realised I didn’t wanna force someone into every song, so I kind of left it at that. But there are some great UK hip-hop people. Generally I like the ones from the spoken word scene more, just cause I’m more experienced there. I’ve spoken before with Sway about doing something, I’m a big fan of his I think he’s a great writer. Yeah, there are a lot of good people out there really, it’s just all a bit of panto to rile people up, and it’s fun ‘cause anything you say on a microphone at a gig people assume you’re meant to cheer [laughs] So, so you go “Do you like UK hip-hop?” “Yeeeeeah!” “I don’t, it’s rubbish” “Oooh right, erm ask if we don’t like it …” “ …do you not like it?” “Naaaaaah we don’t!” and it’s just good fun to mess about with the crowd. There’s a comedian called Mitch Hedberg who used to do a bit about how he went to see Monster Magnet and they do this thing were they go, “Yo, are there any humans in the crowd tonight?” and then go “Are there any monsters?” and everyone cheers after monsters, but he didn’t know there was a second part to the question so cheered after humans and I like that kind of thing. Even though we do it every time we play, there will still be people who fall for it and I get to say “No, it’s rubbish.”

Have you ever had an entire crowd not play along?

We have started to get that a bit. The weirdest was before we got really out there but had written Fixed [the track the skit precedes in the live set] and we opened for Lethal Bizzle at his album launch, like, his actual album launch. We were kind of asked if we weren’t going to do it, but it was like, well there’s no point in us being poncey dudes going to our indie crowds and going “Oooh, let’s laugh at UK hip-hop” when we were preaching to the converted, so we did do it and it was literally a line down the room; half were feeling it, loving it, and the other half were literally stood there, angry, screwed up faces. So I then spent the whole show delivering my lines firing up the guys who were hating on it, it was interesting.

You allude to feeling like an outsider in Introdiction and Let ‘Em Come, how much truth is in that?

It’s as much about where I live as anything else. Not to sound grandiose, but it’s weird going and touring all around Europe and America and then coming home and having people shouting “Oi, terrorist!” because of my beard. Like, the nearest pub I can go drink in is a 40 minute walk ‘cause most pubs round my way are too rough, and if you look like me or aren’t the typical Essex, you’ll get into fights and rows and it always gets a bit heated. It’s a weird thing, but I love where I live; I’ve had the chance to move out of Stafford but have chosen not to. It’s weird having that feeling of not really fitting in, but I wouldn’t wanna look to living in London or something like that cause I’d just turn into a wanker. We’d all be little artists and we’d all be going “Yeah, I’ve done this and that” and we’d all be bands hanging out together feeling great about how we’re changing the world, whereas when I’m in Essex, I go home and I’m just that beardy twat who’s always walking through town all the time, and I’m happy with that.

The album title itself [Distraction Pieces] suggests the tracks are simply fleeting ideas, but the content itself goes deeper than that.

It’s a weird one, ‘cause it was really written as a side thing. Originally I was going to write it with some other people, and them Liam Howlett [The Prodigy] hit me up asking if I wanted some beats. We’d been discussing working together for ages, I was going to write some stuff for one of their records but it never came together, and he hit me up asking if I needed any beats and I said “Yeah, I’m working on this project.” The difficult thing with doing music as your day job is because I had a specific sound I wanted for this, so I said to Liam, “I don’t want a Prodigy beat, that’s not what I’m looking for” and having a distraction piece like that can be the most amazing thing. You get so bogged down trying to write what you’re writing, if you can switch off and write something else for a bit, in a different style that’s not in a specific template, then it can be great for going back to the original project. So that was what it was going to be. I was working on bits aside from the things I was working on at the time, and Liam was going to be doing that and Danny Lohner was working on tons of stuff when he did Introdiction and it was that idea of a distraction piece. I find the busier you are the better: I wanted to just make it, bang, then hopefully be fired into other things.

An old English teacher of mine said a similar thing; that if you are starting one short story, start another three at the same time.

Yeah, exactly, and that’s the good thing about having the loose term of a writer. I can be writing something that’s quite poetic, then I can drift off to write just real hip-hop all about the rhyme and the flow, and then I’ve be working on a novel as everyone in the world has been *laughs* But it’s great to have the variations of style so you can still be being creative but just jumping from one thing to another.

You really feel that moving through the album; that you start freeing up new ideas and perhaps become more daring.

Yeah, yeah, and that’s what’s always enjoyable. I think there is a frivolity about this record which I only kind of found out because I thought of it as, not like a throwaway, but that it was a side project with not as much attention, so my aim was to please myself with the record, rather than think of anything commercial, and yeah I think it benefitted from that.

I assume you think you achieved that?

Yeah yeah, I’ve been really pleased with how it went, but having everybody who got on it has pleased me more than anything else. Let ‘Em Come was an interesting one. I’d written two verses and P.O.S. was going to write a verse but he was taking ages, he’s one of my favourite MCs, he’s one of my favourite writers, but he was still taking ages. Then because it was being released in America with Sage [Francis]’s label I thought I’d send some stuff over to Sage who said “I’ve started writing a verse for Let ‘Em Come” so I had to say that I’d saved that slot for P.O.S, to which he replied “Alright, cool” but just recorded it anyway and nailed it. He smashed it, it was really good, so I was in a position where if P.O.S didn’t come through I had this … and then P.O.S delivered his and it was awesome as well so I had no idea what to do. So I actually dropped my own second verse [laughs] I wasn’t going to drop Sage or P.O.S cause they both smashed it and I’m a huge fan of both, so it was good to have that realisation that everything about the record was about pleasing myself … I’d got some really good lines in that second verse, but it wasn’t about that [laughs] it wasn’t about the crowd needing to hear my lines or me having the bigger amount of time on the record. For me, it was exciting to be on a track with Sage and P.O.S, so that’s how it went down.

Random question just to end … Do you know the words to the Fresh Prince of Bell Air theme?

Yeah, everyone does. I was shocked that B Dolan did, cause B’s a big hip-hop head, and knows some awesome stuff, so I thought, “He’s not going to know the Fresh Prince” and in the sound check the other day he’s always just going over other rap songs, he pulled out the Fresh Prince rap and I thought “Wow, he actually knew it”.

Excellent, thanks for your time.


About Author

alexthrossell Alex was the editor of Venue 2011-2012.

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