- Mon, 2011-09-19 16:19
With a raucus beard-chopping video announcing the arrival of his new solo album Distraction Pieces, we sat down with spoken-word troubadour Scroobius Pip in his Stanford-le-Hope living room for a lengthy conversation about his music.
"I Like Music because… it can't save the world. But it can save your world." Scroobius Pip
ILM: The beats behind Distraction Pieces have come from a number of different producers, and yet, they all have a certain sound, they're part of one whole record. How difficult was it to get that synergy across?
Scroobius Pip: I had such a specific framework to work within. I think that's why it worked with all the different producers. They were all busy and they all said "I probably won't be able to do anything but..." and in the end they all came through. I emailed a little zip file of music out to all of them. Not that the record had to sound like, but that should influence it. Glassjaw, At The Drive-In, some Rancid, some Minor Threat. It felt like anyone working on Distraction Pieces shouldn't be able to make a beat for it without having at some point heard Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Silence by Glassjaw, you know?
ILM: Aside from your wondrous exploits in the spoken word scene, the majority of your work in music has been with Dan Le Sac. What could you do with a solo album that you couldn't do with him?
Scroobius Pip: I just wanted more of a specific sound than when I work with Dan. With Dan I respect him enough to know he'll do the music, I'd never say to him "I need a beat that sounds like this," whereas on this one I wanted to be more hands on. Originally it was going to be just me and some mates making the record. Then Liam Howlett got in touch. We'd chatted about working together in the past and he'd said "if you ever need a beat..." He was really busy with the Prodigy, but I wasn't asking for a Prodigy beat. That's where the name came from. Often if you're knee deep in a particular record, it's great to have something else to work on, a distraction piece, just to take your mind off, to refresh yourself. It's any excuse to not be doing the work you're meant to be doing at the time!
ILM: The main production credit goes to Yila and Worgie. How did they come to produce the record overall?
Scroobius Pip: It's two guys. Yila did all the vocal recordings and some production on Angles, mine and Dan's first record. Worgie was in a band called I Shouted Gun who were my favourite local band for years, I went to their practice sessions and Worgie and I also started a hardcore side project together called Meet Here Every Tuesday. We never recorded anything but at some point we will. He was the first person I got on board to help me. It felt like a natural thing because I knew he grew up listening to the same albums as I did. Also, if you're working with a number of different producers you need someone to help oversee it and make sure it sounds like an album rather than a collection of random songs. And then yeah, Yila came on board as overall producer, just keeping an eye on it.
ILM: You're releasing Distraction Pieces on your own label Speech Development. You've previously released via Sunday Best, why did you decide to self-release this record?
Scroobius Pip: It's a tough one. Sunday Best have been amazing and I look forward to working with them again. My debut solo record was the first release on Speech Development and by release...I had some made and put it out! I didn't have catalogue numbers or barcodes or anything like that. So this is the first proper release and I always wanted to do it on my own label, I wanted to do it in a different way. In my mind, I can release a record spending a modest amount. Plus, it's all an experiment. I'm convinced that record labels are working to a very old template.
ILM: In what way is Distraction Pieces an experiment?
Scroobius Pip: The whole idea with Distraction Pieces is to not push it in the traditional way, not chasing first week sales. That's what everyone does because that's what gets you into the charts and then you can climb. I wanted it so that as soon as anyone hears anything from it, they can own it if they want to. I'd rather collect all those sales as a gradual thing than just chase a chart position. I'll see if it works. This could be the only thing I ever release on my label. We'll see.
ILM: Now the record is finished and ready for release, how are you feeling about that decision?
Scroobius Pip: It's exciting and equally petrifying. Just being that in control of everything. Being in charge of literally everything. It's been a lot of work. But yeah, if it works...the reward will feel far bigger at the end of it as well. That's kind of how it was with the reaction to Introdiction. All these videos are being made by me and my mates, there aren't any professionals, as such, involved, but if we pull it off we become professionals.
ILM: In the video for Introdiction you chopped your beard off and then put it up on eBay! Where did that idea come from? How much did your well-loved facial hair win you in the end?
Scroobius Pip: I came up with that idea in the video. And it just amused me and my mates. We're going to put it in a bag. Then we're going to put it on eBay. We just thought it would be funny. It's great to have things coming from a place that is our own entertainment, rather than a big marketing campaign. Also, I thought it would be exciting as a video and I thought it would get everyone to at least have a look at what the solo stuff's about. It went for £227! Although they've not paid yet!
ILM: Your work typically explores quite dark subject matter and Distraction Pieces is no exception, however, beneath the surface there's always a lot of hope. In contrast to initial perceptions, you seem to have a lot of faith in humanity?
Scroobius Pip: It's not miserable! A lot of people who mis-understand me from the outside think all I do is sit here and preach and say "this is bad, that is bad," and it's not about that at all. I'm a very relaxed and laid back person! It's discussing these things. I find those subjects a lot more interesting to discuss compared to what a lot of hip hop tends to be about. It's trying to see angles and ways out. And again, rarely having an answer or a solution because I'm a bloke from Essex, I'm not a politician, I'm not going to save the world. It's just trying to discuss these things and look at them.
ILM: You often do that via storytelling. What is it about using 'one man's story' as your framework for discussion that works for you?
Scroobius Pip: I really enjoy that approach. Rather than saying "here's what I think on the subject, see you later" saying "here's a story from that subject." Obviously it will be tinged with my views, you can't help that, I'll have some bias either way. But you shouldn't be too put off by a subject when you hear it told as a story. If someone listens and doesn't agree with it, that shouldn't be the biggest issue because it's one story. You don't have to agree with it, it's something that happened.
ILM: You convey a lot of strong opinions in your music. Do you ever find yourself changing your mind about something you've said or explored in a recording?
Scroobius Pip: I'm always open to discussing anything. On twitter or anything like that. If someone disagrees with something in a certain song and discusses it with me, they could well be right and I may well end up agreeing with them. It just happens that at that point it was what I thought and it's now a record, so it's not like I'm fighting that corner forever. I'm happy to learn and develop and progress as a human. A lot of people think it's so tied down, that the song is it.
ILM: Out of all your tracks, which have prompted the most public discussion?
Scroobius Pip: Thou Shalt. Because that's commandments. A lot of it is throw away, a lot of it is serious, there's a real mixture, but people still call me out on certain things, "Thou Shalt says blah blah blah.." and it's like...the only important one is the think for yourself bit, and that's the only one you're not accepting here. It's always tough because I often get people who are into my stuff jumping in and fighting my corner, which I never like because it can get personal, everyone can gang up on someone, it's not about that. I like open discussion. That's why I chat so much on twitter and facebook, to get across who I am as a person rather than the person you might have built in your mind because of certain songs and certain lyrics.
ILM: How do you think you're generally percieved?
Scroobius Pip: People think I'm far more intelligent than I am in real life! There's a level of intelligence in the songs, but only in comparison to what's in most songs, do you know what I mean? I've not got any degrees, I'm not a well schooled person. It's trying to get across that all I do is talk about ideas and discuss stuff, that doesn't mean you're very highbrow. My brother is far more academic than I am, in a way, I've cheated the system!
ILM: What does he do?
Scroobius Pip: He got his masters in Philosophy, so yeah, he doesn't do much! There's always been that joke that a degree in philosophy doesn't take you anywhere but seeing it from the flipside, if you've got a degree in philosophy, your goals probably aren't the same as a lot of other people. For the last year or so he's been working in a lot of the local libraries, my mum's been a library manager for years so he's working in that kind of thing. I'll often have chats with him about stuff. I really find that a far more interesting way of learning, having conversations with people, getting opinions, discussing stuff. With Death of The Journalist I was on tour and me and my brother were emailing a lot. Full, huge emails really going into depth, just having a discussion.
ILM: Death of The Journalist considers the effect the internet - blogs, twitter, facebook - has had on the art of journalism. Have you settled on a conclusion? Is it good or bad?
Scroobius Pip: I'm still deciding. In the song I'm still deciding. Twitter and things like that, you're just getting facts straight from the horse's mouth but then it was that realisation, it's not the horse's mouth, it's the human's mouth. As soon as it's a human it becomes a perspective rather than fact. Even completely innocently, it will be your angle and the way you have seen it. As we were saying earlier about lyrics, people will interpret them in their own way and that's because they have a whole life's worth of experience to make them view that particular subject in that way. Originally I was thinking it's good that journalism is dead, it's free information and that's great, but it really isn't. There's still going to be the bias. And regardless of whether it's good or bad, it's sad that it's dying as an art form. The people who are really writing well, researching and doing it all properly, they're in a sea of other people who are just chatting rubbish.
ILM: You're obviously very passionate about words, whether written, spoken or sung. Aside from songs and poems, do you write anything else?
Scroobius Pip: I've actually been working on a novel for ages. I'm about 15,000 words into it. It's exciting! It's a story I've had for ages. At college I was like "it's my film! I'm going to make my film!" so I started to write it as a screenplay and then realised my style of writing isn't suited to it at all, so I thought I'd have a go at writing it as a novel! And yeah, I love it. It's one of those things that comes in waves. I had a little period where I was getting loads and loads done, really churning through it but at this point, because of the record, it's been at least four months since I wrote a single thing. But yeah, I hope to get through that and get it finished. The way I'm structuring the novel, as far as I know, is quite unusual and has not been done before...
ILM: In the track The Struggle you talk about underestimating the value of dreams and ambitions, how they can act like a roof over our heads. What are your dreams? What do you have left to achieve?
Scroobius Pip: It's always been the same for me. The target has to be improving, then you're fine to keep going. There's not that end goal. There's a lot of things I'd like to do, which I'm not claiming I'm going to, but I'm as big a fan of film as I am of music (gestures towards the large DVD collection in his lounge). I'd love to go in that direction in some way. I was reading a book called The Book of Disquiet, it's really amazing, by Fernando Pessoa. It blew me away. It's just the most amazing book I've ever read. There's a bit where he's writing from the perspective of the King of France and saying it's better to be a factory worker who can dream of being the King of France, than actually being the King of France himself, because he's his own entity, therefore, where do your motivations come from? Your daydreams, where do those come from?
ILM: And that informed the track's focus on celebrity?
Scroobius Pip: Yeah. I wanted The Struggle to be a song about serial killers and the idea of celebrity. You know, the fact that everyone gets in uproar when a celebrity does something bad, but, to be fair, their world is so different. Particularly with your ultra celebrities, it's shocking when they do stick to our framework of morality when they have existed in a world for so long where they have endless amounts of money, endless amounts of adoration. That's going to change how people are. I was trying to think of a celebrity to chose for that track and the one I chose seemed to fit perfectly. He's at the top of the pile but he's not just done big Hollywood things, he's always been very private and kept himself to himself.
ILM: Your work in spoken word has become very well known. What would be your advice to anyone wanting to get started in that scene?
Scroobius Pip: My main advice would be getting out there and doing it. Getting it really tight and comfortable first too. Turning up and knowing that you know it inside out and can deliver it without a piece of paper. At a lot of open mic nights even the best poets will be trying out new stuff, whereas if you go up there and instantly smash through it, it instantly has an impact. I still claim a lot of it is to do with image and impact more than, or as much as, any quality..! In my opinion, but yeah...
ILM: You're being very modest!
Scroobius Pip: People just assume you're professional. If you can pull that off it's great. Particularly at things like open mic and things that are intentionally amateurish in their nature. If you then see a professional at this amteur thing it's like wow, they'll assume you're getting paid gigs. I didn't get a paid gig for ages....! A lot of people write just for themseleves, which is fine, but for me, it's performing that is the completion of it. It doesn't feel like a poem or rhyme or whatever until it has been performed. For me it's such an essential part of it, in the way I write as well.
ILM: Of all the spoken word sets you've seen, which have been the most memorable?
Scroobius Pip: I was in a slam in a night called Poetry Idol. You get ten minute slots, I was on third or fourth and it was the first time I'd done Thou Shalt Always Kill, Letter From God To Man and Angles. Afterwards I thought "I could win this!" Then Musa Okwonga got up who is a great poet, he's in A Poem between People and he's been in a lot of different collectives. He got up and did this one ten minute piece called Cooper Chimbonda and it was the best thing I'd ever seen. It was so heartfelt and engaging. It was a ten minute story that you were on the edge of your seat for and he won. It's the individual best piece of live poetry I've ever seen and yeah, he was amazing.
ILM: Distraction Pieces is set to go on the road, very exciting news! What can we expect from the live show?
Scroobius Pip: It was amazing to do the first one the other day because people didn't know what to expect! A lot came back saying 'I thought it was going to be a spoken word gig' and it's not, there is a live band. The drummer I've got is amazing and Worgie does guitars and synths so there's a bit of backing where it needs it. It went better than we could have imagined, the crowd reaction was amazing, the energy was right and it had that rawness. I'm really looking forward to getting out there and doing all the new songs. It's going to be nice.