Interview: Scroobius Pip
Published on October 10th, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
Last month, Scroobius Pip unleashed his debut solo album Distraction Pieces, an intellectually pugnacious and star-studded affair jam-packed with killer hooks both lyrical and instrumental, on his own Speech Development imprint. This month, he embarks on this twenty-two date debut solo tour of the UK and Ireland.
He also runs a burgeoning monthly club night called WE.ARE.LIZARDS.
And yet, he still finds the time to maintain that terrific beard. JDs and lentil men, it’s dan le sac Vs Scroobius Pip wordsmith Scroobius Pip!
Congratulations on the album, Scroobius Pip. At this stage, can you tell how much you might continue in a solo vein or whether you’ll still mostly work with dan by default?
Thank you very much. dan and I are definitely going to be working on a third record – that’s planned and we’re looking forward to it – but I really enjoyed making this one. The ‘live band’ kind of element is getting back to my punk and hardcore roots, and I definitely intend to make a follow-up to it down the line. So there’s plenty more to come.
There’s a Saul Williams kind of feel to parts of the album. Is he an influence?
That’s cool. I haven’t really been conscious of that but that’s a great compliment. I guess there’s that hardness and rowdiness from the “List of Demands” kind of era.
Who are the rappers on “Let ‘Em Come”?
That’s Sage Francis and P.O.S, an amazing rapper from Minneapolis who’s on Atmosphere’s label Rhymesayers. He released an album the other year called Never Better which is one of my favourite hip hop albums ever, so I jumped at the opportunity when he said he was up for doing the track. Sage Francis owns Strange Famous Records [home to recent Rocksucker interviewee Buck 65] and has been the king of that scene for many, many years.
I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if I hadn’t heard Sage around six or seven years ago and been blown away.
I read that Renholder, Travis Barker and Zane Lowe all contributed to Distraction Pieces. What did they each do?
“Introdiction” was produced by Renholder from Nine Inch Nails and Travis Barker played the drums on that – and smashed the shit out of them! He did a great job. Zane Lowe produced “Death Of The Journalist”. It’s been good working with all these people from different areas.
What was Liam Howlett going to do on the album initially?
Liam Howlett inspired this almost. Originally it was just going to be me and my mate Worgie making the album, but then Liam was keen to make a beat for it. That gave me the idea of asking a lot of different producers and guests. Liam couldn’t do it in the end but I can’t get mad at him!
How much of a ball-ache can it be getting clearance on all the samples?
There aren’t really many samples on the album – the producers made the beats. On “Death Of The Journalist” I had to get clearance for a sample by a band called The Lovely Eggs but I literally just emailed them and they said, “Yeah, that’s fine.” That was the only bit of clearance I had to get – everything else is original sounds and production. I wanted that live band feel rather than a sampled hip hop feel, so it was all fine.
I thought I recognised the guitar riff on “The Struggle”.
No, that was Steve Mason from The Beta Band [click here to read Rocksucker’s interview with Steve Mason from May 2010]. It’s obviously a kind of blues standard in its structure and progression but I didn’t have to clear anything, basically! I went up to Scotland to stay with Steve for a few days and we wrote that track together. Actually, the last track [“Feel It”] is a cover of a Kate Bush song so we did need to get clearance for that, but that all went okay.
Who’s the lady singing on that?
She’s called Natasha Fox. She’s from a local band down in Essex who were called The Sam I Am but they changed it to Boudica. She’s been on the scene for a while. Yila produced that and got her in to sing it, and it sounded great.
The first line of the album sees you coming across a dead fish on the pavement. Does that represent anything in particular?
No, I was walking to my girlfriend’s house and I literally saw a dead fish on the pavement! I enjoyed the deception of it because, although that looks like a weird thing, in reality it’s the most logical thing there can be: why would a fish on the pavement be alive? There’s no water, so it would be dead. I thought of that line and Tweeted it, because I’m Tweeting all the time, and it ended up being the first line on the album.
What about the following line from “The Struggle”: “My name is Johnny Depp and I kill people”?
That song is kind of analysing the idea of celebrity. I was reading this book and there was a quote in it saying how someone would rather be a pauper than a king, because a pauper can dream of being a king whereas the king of England can’t dream of being the king of France or whatever – he’s already got that stature. I thought that translated well to celebrity, that when you get to that level…I mean, we all get shocked when celebrities are caught cheating or acting up but the world in which they live is so alien from our own, so it shouldn’t be surprising that they go down a slightly different path.
I thought of the idea of writing a song about a celebrity being a serial killer and I decided that Johnny Depp was the best one for it. I didn’t want to go for someone who’s known as a dark, eerie character who always plays villains because that would be too obvious. I also didn’t want to go for someone who would seem too unrealistic, so I went for Johnny Depp because he’s always kept himself to himself, never gone crazy on press and things like that – so, yeah, he’d make a good, anonymous serial killer!
Who or what is “Domestic Silence” about (other than “that girl in that James Bond film”, of course)?
It’s easy for us to feel sorry for someone who’s got a visible problem – if they suffer from domestic violence, or have a drug addiction, or lost someone close to them, things like that – but sometimes there are people who just feel alienated from, or struggle to interact with, other people. So the song is exploring that, how an inability to interact with other people can be as crippling or debilitating as anything else – and what is it? Is it a medical issue or a social disorder? It’s looking at that, and how it can cause depression and things like that.
I love “Death Of The Journalist”, even though I am a fraction of the offending blogosphere.
It’s interesting, that one: it’s pissed off a lot of people but a lot of people can relate to it as well. It’s not as attacking as it sounds – I was genuinely just looking into and exploring it. If you listen to it, I don’t really come to a conclusion on it as to whether it’s a good thing or a band thing – but, yeah, it’s angered a lot of people!
That just makes me like it even more! I read an interview with you in which you said that you don’t mind a music writer not really being ‘into it’ as much as you mind badly-written pieces…
Yeah, I don’t mind bad reviews because it’s music and it’s all down to taste – there’s tons of music I don’t like, doesn’t mean it’s bad music – but a poorly-written review just annoys the hell out of me. If it gets something wrong or misinterprets something. Then there’s the never-ending need to push up the word count by putting “Scroobius Pip” and then, in brackets, “real name David Meads” – that doesn’t add anything to the story. It’s not journalism, it’s just listing facts.
Rocksucker (real name Jonny Abrams) hears what you’re saying. Are grammatical errors also a bugbear?
It’s more the misinterpretation of stuff. For example, when “Thou Shalt Always Kill” came out, one guy wrote an article saying something like: “He talks about how hip hop shouldn’t just be about guns, bitches and bling, yet he praises Johnny Cash who sung a lot about guns and murder.” The problem with that is that half of “Thou Shalt…” contradicts itself – it’s meant to, so that the “think for yourself” line at the end is pointed. For example, it says not to put bands on pedestals but earlier on it said not to take the names of Johnny Cash and others in vain. Hip hop began as a way to stop violence, with people like Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa, to give gangs and troubled youths a way to battle without fighting: an MC battle, a breakdance or a DJ battle.
The four elements of hip hop [as originally outlined by Afrika Bambaataa: MCing, DJing, breaking and graffiti-writing] all came down to bringing people together in a positive way. Whereas country music, which Johnny Cash did, began as a way to tell stories and they would often be stories of murder, of death, of adventure and things like that. So it’s perfectly logical that country songs would talk about guns because that’s in its roots and in its history, whereas hip hop’s origins were quite the opposite of that. So that’s just one example of a writer not really thinking it through. “It’s rubbish because it doesn’t make sense” – okay but explain why it doesn’t make sense.
Another one that’s bound to get people talking is “Soldier Boy (Kill ‘Em)”, which is infinitesimally more relevant than the original. I like the depiction of Kim Jong-il, Osama Bin Laden et cetera as “Disney villains”.
Yeah. That’s kind of stolen, in a way – it was imprinted in my mind by Sage Francis. He had a song just after 9/11 called “Makeshift Patriot”, an amazing bit of writing in which he talks about there being typically dark-skinned Disney villains. You look at the way they were portraying Bin Laden and all these other people and they were all made to look like Scar from The Lion King or Jafar from Aladdin. It makes you realise that that’s been ingrained in us for years – the baddy’s always that silhouette, the dark, eerie character.
The line “how can a lie be a lie when you mean it at the time” from “Broken Promise” sounds quite rueful. Is this an autobiographical song?
I think a lot of people will be able to associate with that, particularly people over the age of about 25. When you’re growing up, there’ll be funny things that you say and mean at the time: you’ll fall madly in love with someone and, although you might look back on it as not being that big a deal, there will have been points where you were saying things like “no matter what, I’ll always be there for you” or “we’ll always be friends. But people grow up and change, they go in different directions and different paths, and it turns people into liars. “Broken Promise” is exploring the fact that that just happens and you don’t have to beat yourself up over it. I don’t know if it’s me using it as a get out clause but that’s the way life is sometimes. It’s not because you’re a bad person – it’s because you grow up, you change as a person and you move on.
You brought out Distraction Pieces on your own label Speech Development. Do you have any plans to release other artists’ material on this imprint?
Not sure. There’s nothing in the pipeline at the moment but this has gone really well and, if I make some money from it, hopefully I can use it to put out other stuff. Music’s an incredibly tough industry to break even in at the moment. It’s funny, people say that bands shouldn’t complain about illegal downloads as it brings more people to their gigs – which is fine, but that doesn’t help the labels at all. So, although the band might be making alright money, if the labels go bust then there’s nowhere to put the music out on.The reason that the first release on my label is my own release is so that it’s all interconnected: if the record does well then more money comes into the label through me touring or selling merch. Whereas other artists…I hate the fact that a lot of labels are pushing three-sixty deals now where they’re taking live and merch money from bands. It should be a separate thing. But it’s tough for labels to exist at the moment because it costs money to make CDs, get them in the shops and have videos made. I’d love to release stuff by other artists but at the moment I’m not confident enough that the music industry at the moment will allow me to.
Quite a few labels and artists were badly affected by the riots. Do you happen to know how any of those affected are getting on?
Sunday Best [label to dan le sac vs Scroobius Pip] had a lot of stock destroyed in the factory that got burned. dan was meant to have a solo record out at the end of this year but he’s had to push that back to next year because a lot of the stock has to be re-pressed and remade. So yeah, it’s having a huge effect on labels. Some people were trying to play it down a bit, saying that there’s insurance and all that, but it’s not that simple. A lot of these small labels have put their hearts and souls and it’s not easy to replace those quantities.
How is your WE.ARE.LIZARDS club night going?
It’s going great. It seems to be rammed out every month and it’s good fun for me to go down there and play some songs rather than having to go onstage and perform. I’m there all night drinking and chatting to people and then I play some music with a massive rubber lizard mask on, and then I go home a little bit drunk and fall into bed! What more could you ask for?
Why did you decide to name it that? Is it a David Icke reference?
Kind of. I had a spoken word night a few years back called Satin Lizard Lounge – I don’t know how I came up with that name, I just liked it – and I was going to call the club night the same thing but it was hard enough getting it across to people that it’s a club night rather than a spoken word night or a gig night. So I decided to change it and it seemed to work. I wear a big lizard mask, so it is kind of referencing David Icke, shape-shifting lizards and all that insanity!
Are there any obscure and/or up-and-coming artists you’d like to recommend or give a shout out to?
There are loads all the time. I’m taking B. Dolan on tour with me on this October/November tour – he’s an amazing American MC who’s done stuff with Buck 65, El-P and all them. He’s just fantastic so I highly recommend him. Sound of Rum, who I’ve toured with before, are also great, an amazing live band. Every year they’re the festival highlight and get so many new fans that have never heard of them but catch them playing at some little bandstand, and they just get blown away.
Finally, if I asked you right at this moment to name your top three albums of all time, just off the top of your head, which would you pick?
My favourite album is between Rancid – …And Out Come the Wolves, which is a great punk album, and a jazz album that’s just called John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman – it’s just a session they did together and it blows me away every time. For the third one…at the moment I’d go for P.O.S. – Never Met Her because it reignited my passion for hip hop.
Scroobius Pip, thank you.
Scroobius Pip’s debut album Distraction Pieces is out now on Speech Development Records. For more information and a list of live dates, please visit scroobiuspip.co.uk