"We didn’t want it to settle..."

A hip hop record produced by three middle aged white dudes, featuring a near endless volume of guest MCs - it doesn't bode well...

Yet, somehow, Quakers have pulled it off. Promptly re-Christening themselves 7-Stu-7, Katalyst and Fuzzface, the trio blend Golden Age production styles with a knowledge of the Low End scene.

Deeply varied yet somehow displaying a rare unity, Quakers' debut album emerged earlier this week on Stones Throw. Featuring a vast, imposing array of guest MCs the long player is both a homage to black American culture and determined artist step in its own right.

ClashMusic caught up with Fuzzface (aka Geoff Barrow, him out of Portishead) to discuss the project, their album and his life long love of hip hop.

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Have you always harboured ambitions to make a hip hop album?
See, I started off listening to hip hop and continued. I suppose you could say that when I first got a bit of kit I was looping samples from EPMD, or something. Using Ultimate Breakbeat albums. Being a fairly useless DJ, that kind of thing. I went down a different road which eventually led to Portishead. It’s the first – I’ve done some remixes but they were terrible, really. I think I was too nervous. Now I’m 40 I can just kind of go: it doesn’t really matter any more. Because I was just in awe of hip hop, in awe of American black culture and how cool it was. Obviously, getting to know people over the years you realise that it’s just people making music like me! That’s where it’s kind of led to now, really.

I actually interviewed Gonjasufi a couple of months ago and all he would talk about was Bristol.
You can kind of hear that, you know what I mean? We were totally blessed with Tricky. I mean, I’m not really a Bristolian – he’s a Bristolian. Lyrically, what he was talking about, connecting to the world and everything else he changed the game for a lot of rappers who had had enough of that whole bullshit side of it.

How did Quakers come about?
The thing is that I’ve known Ash – Katalyst – since the late 90s, in Australia.. when I lived out there for a bit. He was working on a record and we shopped it around. I had experience but he didn’t really have experience of that stuff and we couldn’t find a label.. there were all interested in making very ordinary kind of rock music. Even though dance music had just started to hit. We set up our own label for it which was Invada Australia, through a distributor. He carried on doing that and he worked with different people, different MCs. To be honest, I kind of got out of hip hop by that point – I was disillusioned by it, and also disillusioned by loops. Things going round and round and never really feeling like things could progress. It was only really with people like Madlib, DOOM and Dilla that changed that aspect of it. So yeah, we talked about it and Stu – who runs the studio in Bristol called State Of Art – he was always making beats as well so we hooked up with him. We didn’t want to make it like some kind of grand project, phoning up managers and going: this is the guy from Portishead, I’m making a rap record. Because that would have been crap! We wanted to avoid that altogether, so instead we went on MySpace – lots of nights, lots of bottles of wine to find some MCs.

Ash had some contacts with people touring Australia so we could catch up with people. Mainly the people we sent our beats to just kind of went: yeah, I dig it, let’s do it. I would send them an email – which wasn’t from Geoff Barrow, Portishead – it just came from Quakers. I’d say “look, we’re making a record, we will get it released, these are our beats and if you want to use one of them please do. If not, good luck and we rate your stuff”. You know what I mean? That’s how it ended up. People came back and did it – or not. It all went into Ashley’s hard drive in Australia and he spent night after night trying to get through it. Playing around with it.

Did you manage to get everyone you wanted, then?
No we didn’t. But rather it was the point that they were just too business like, it was all kind of like.. usually it was the bigger guys. We just thought, oh we’ll try the people we like – you know what I mean? People who had major deals all just started.. even when it got to the point of “oh it’s the guy from Portishead, who’s the manager and so on...” it was like, let’s not worry about it. Let’s not go that route because the expectancy level goes to high, people think it’s something it’s not... it’s not rocket science – it’s a hip hop record.

Did you have the beats first?
Yeah we did. I think only one track got remixed after the track was done, we only changed one beat underneath somebody. Some of those beats are four or five years old – actually they’re older than that, five or six years old.

So this has been at the planning stages for some time?
Yeah, well we’ve all been doing other things. Ash has got that ultimate dedication towards something, he can sit in front of a computer screen and put five takes together.

What producers inspire you?
Before that it’s got to be Premier. Muggs. Eric B. Obviously Dre. 45 King. I mean, endless basically. Guys who you don’t even know their names – sometimes you don’t know. Hip hop crews will have rappers and DJs but then they’ll go into the studio and make a record, you know what I mean? They’ll work with a producer who’s just finished a country record and they’ll somehow make a hip hop record. Hank Shoklin, the Bomb Squad. It’s endless. People who have been really creative with it, really.

Quakers sound like Quakers, were you conscious of developing your own style?
There is a distinct sound – only because I know it – working between the three producers, so yeah. I mean, I think we’re just all on the same wavelength we just didn’t want it to be boring, really. We didn’t want it to settle. Hip hop sometimes – there’s nothing wrong with it – but it can be a little bit complacent. A lot of rap fans love that side of it, where the beat goes around, the MC comes on and it stays simple. We wanted to do something a little more kind of adventurous, possibly. There’s lots of albums with lots of tracks on it which have been done before and like I said, I don’t think we’re breaking new ground but it’s great if you say it sounds like itself. If someone said that to me, oh it’s a 41 track, loads of MCs hip hop record out on Stones Throw I would just go: really? Because that’s the trouble with hip hop, that’s where it’s got to. But like I said, this has been going on for a couple of years, this is what we’ve done with it and generally what we’ve done so far has been received really well. Ash was saying the other day that some guy called it ‘backpacker’ – I was thinking, I don’t really care. They can call it whatever they want, really! We’ve done this thing and it’s good – it’s good for us.

How did the Stones Throw tie up come about?
Well I met Chris back in 98 / 97. He was DJing with Andy Smith somewhere in New Orleans. I met him and we kept in contact, not close or anything, but recently the Anika record – which I produced – went out through Stones Throw and I’ve always loved the label and I like where it’s going in the future. Chris has got some really good acts on there. It seemed like an obvious thing, really, for us to ask and see if he was up for it. And he is!

It seems like a natural pairing.
Yeah. I suppose, with Chris the label has gone a lot different recently than people really expect of it. Which is brilliant – I hope to do the same with Invada. I think we’ve got to, really. I was a bit nervous, really, because it is a hip hop record and I didn’t know if he wanted to do that. But he was up for it. It does work really well, as the label to be on.

Is this everything that the three of you have recorded?
No, no, no – there was loads more! I think there were another forty tracks. Just instrumentals.

Can we expect more hip hop from you in the future?
Yeah. We’ve talked about Quakers 2 and stuff. A few MCs have come out the woodwork and said “I’d like to do that” or “Do you want me to rap on your track?” and we’re like: man, it’s out! That’s just hip hop for you – people in space! Ash has got a load of beats already because he’s endless with his stuff. We’ll get into it at some point. I suppose there will be at some point, yeah.

Would you know take on more remix work?
No not really. I would maybe work with people rather than remixing it, because remixing – I’m not really into it, I’m more into the idea of creating something with someone. I think that’s a lot more fruitful, basically.

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'Quakers' is out now.

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