In an era when lyrical genius is gauged by who can fit the most references to beer and birds into a chorus, Scroobius Pip sticks out as a bit of an oddball.
A maverick even on the spoken word scene, his collaboration with beat guru Dan Le Sac has resulted in one of the year's most unusual debut albums. 'Angles' is packed to the brim with indignation at a music scene dominated by heartless acts that peddle the same old cliches. Scroobius Pip chose to tackle these attitudes head on, with songs that rage against the dying of the light.
Not that everyone was impressed however. The group's lyrical span, their musical magpie vision and their downright unclassifiable bravado brought some severe criticism, from people who felt that they were merely a novelty act. Clashmusic.com sat down with lyricist and frontman Scroobius Pip as the band prepare for an extensive UK tour.
...some of the album can be hard to swallow
What initially drew you to performance poetry?
Well I had always written, but I had also always been in bands and it had become a nightmare trying to organize a drummer and a bassist so I was drawn to doing some spoken word as that was something I could do on my own and not rely on anyone else. After a few gigs I began to really enjoy it, and of course now I’ve ended up doing music again but it’s all worked out pretty well.
How did the team up with Dan Le Sac begin?
Well in the start I began to try things out with music, like I did an album with a jazz band, and then I met Dan at a show and we seemed to get on personally so we tried a few thing out together. That lead to ‘Thou Shalt Always Kill’ and that was a success so we thought we’d just keep going.
I find performance poetry to be more of a live spectacle, you can speed up slow down in an improvised fashion, how did you adjust to the studio?
It a case of getting yourself motivated in the studio. I mean that’s the frustrating thing with performance poetry, you always rely on the audience and you sometimes struggle without that audience, in a way. The great thing about working with Dan Le Sac is that the audience can be replaced by a beat or something else to interact with.
On the album you mix tragic and humorous themes which sometimes jar – is this a deliberate effect?
Yeah that’s very true, particularly with some of the darker material. There’s two reasons for including the humour: number one is that some of the album can be hard to swallow, it can be a bit heavy going whereas it should be an enjoyable experience. Then number two is that the material hits all that harder. If you have some light-hearted material and then the more serious stuff comes along then it has all the more impact.
The use of humour sometimes means the group are labelled as being a novelty – something you would resent?
It’s individual opinion. It’s great that due to the internet so many people can hear our stuff and have an opinion. I don’t see us as that at all, and if people listen to the album beyond a couple of tracks they’ll see that there is a serious side to it. But then it is all personal opinion.
You have a love/hate relationship with hip hop how does it influence your work?
There’s a lot of hip hop I love, but then there’s a lot of hip hop I dislike. Its weird, when they album came out we got some great reviews but then the negative things we got came from people who were reviewing it as a straight hip hop album which is isn’t – it’s a blend of spoken word, hip hop, electronica and a lot more. It seemed weird.
I like hip hop, not really restricted to an era just anyone writing with a conscious. There are people now who I really like: Saul Williams, Sage Francis and a lot more are all doing amazing stuff. But the general public’s perception of hip hop is 50 Cent and so on, which isn’t the hip hop that appeals to me. There are some people in that scene I enjoy but generally its more left field and underground stuff.
I want to approach things from a different angle even on the more common subject matters.
On the album you frequently look at things from a female perspective or include female characters. What point are you making?
Well a few of the tracks, such as ‘The Beat That My Heart Skipped’ and ‘Look To The Woman’, they try to examine relationships but look at them from an angle that isn’t normally approached. There are a lot of songs that only dwell on the aesthetics and nothing deeper, so I want to approach things from a different angle even on the more common subject matters.
The ULive tour of student venues is coming up, were you ever a student? What was your experience?
Yes I was, I did photography for a year but I dropped out to pursue other goals. Dan Le Sac has a degree, which is also in photography, strangely. Personally I loved uni, having all the equipment was an amazing opportunity, but it can be restrictive. I spent more time doing my own work rather than ticking the boxes for tutors. Again, it’s a very individual thing.
You’re known for an unusual live show is there anything special planned?
We’ve got a few covers in our arsenal at the moment that we are toying with at shows at the moment. We’ll see what’s appropriate.
The performance poetry scene is apparently growing from strength to strength is there anyone you would name?
On the spoken word scene there’s so many! Polar Bear is a personal favourite as are a group called Benin City. All the people in the group have been on the scene for a while now, but seem to have really struck gold with collaboration. There’s also a performer called Kate Tempest who I really love.
Any new material for the tour?
We’ve got a couple of new tracks that we’re working on, we’re toying with doing a few on the tour.. But then we’re also thinking of holding off as we’re taking some time in January to prepare the next album but whether or not any of that gets aired we are yet to decide.
How do you decide between a spoken word piece and a ‘Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip’ track?
It just seems to work. ‘A Letter From God To Man’ and ‘Waiting For The Beat To Kick In’ are both spoken word pieces, mainly, but Dan seems to be able to craft great electronica to go with it. I mean when I work on something I always test it live in a spoken word environment to make sure it stands up, because ultimately my role is to make sure the lyrics are good enough. So when it’s combined with Dan’s beats it takes things to another level.
Right Guard Presents: Off Guard Gigs at Bestival 2010
Here is an exclusive interview and performance from Dan le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip in the intimate setting of the Right Guard camper van HERE and check out more of our coverage at our Off Guard Gigs hub page HERE.