Interview: dan le sac Vs. Scroobius Pip
dan le sac Vs. Scroobius Pip
"…Go close to Scroobious Pip and say,
Tell us all about yourself we pray —
For as yet we can't make out in the least
If you're Fish or Insect, or Bird or Beast."
— Excerpt from The Scroobious Pip by Edward Lear
"Thou shalt not worship pop idols
Or, follow lost prophets…"
— Excerpt from "Thou Shalt Always Kill"
"You’re probably the only guy who knows."
I was seated with British Electro-Hop/Spoken Word duo, dan le sac Vs. Scroobius Pip, at Philadelphia’s M Room one sunny Saturday afternoon, armed with a digital recorder, a little bit of beer courage and a nervously conceived list of questions. When they agreed to meet me for an interview, dan and Scroob were on their way into Philly after a two-night stint at New York’s Mercury Lounge. In the midst of a U.S. tour supporting the American release of their new album, Angles, beatmeister dan le sac made the above statement after I rhetorically mentioned the album’s newfound availability in the States.
Up until this point, dan le sac Vs. Scroobius Pip has been an online phenomenon. Hailing from Stanford le Hope, a town in the county of Essex, dan and Scroob had been in the U.S. earlier this year for the Coachella festival and SXSW with no album released in the States. But, thanks to YouTube, their single, “Thou Shalt Always Kill,” which had been getting a substantial amount of buzz in the U.K. before the band had even been signed, virally reached the eyes and ears of some American audiences.
"…there’re so many points where Myspace and YouTube have been the crucial parts in our career so far, whereas it’s normally a certain label, a certain person…something like that," said Scroobius Pip, the vocal half of the duo.
Dan le sac added, "And, it’s kind of doubly important in America: the Myspace and YouTube thing for us, because we’ve chosen to go with a label that don’t have tons of money. With every decision the label makes, and we make, is an exercise in cost. It’s kind of, you know, so…having the Myspace, having these free ways of getting people into your music are really important."
Now signed to Strange Famous Records, underground Hip-Hop label owned by rapper Sage Francis, dan and Scroob’s album saw a September release. Seated at a small table in the dinner section of the bar, a large scale stencil of Sophia Loren as our backdrop, I went the diplomatic route and asked them how the tour was going.
"It’s been really good except we’ve done a lot of small places where we didn’t expect anyone to turn up," stated Scroob. "Places like Grand Rapids and Ames, Iowa…we’ve never been to, we weren’t expecting…except we got at least 40, 50 or a bit, even then we weren’t expecting it. And there’ve been others like your Texas’s and Toronto and New York, where we’re getting really good turnouts and really good reactions."
With their exposure, albeit buzz-worthy, remaining somewhat limited in the U.S., (an observation given some weight by dan’s self-deprecating quip), I wanted to know how Sage Francis, himself being more of an underground presence in America, found them and released their album.
"It was over Myspace."
That sort of stunned me. Pip went onto say that Sage Francis had heard "Thou Shalt Not Always Kill," and liked it enough that he commented on their page.
"We chatted a little bit then because I’m a big…we’re both just a big fan of Sage’s work," he said, "And, then we were looking at labels in the U.S. and we had a few that we were talking to, but they were all taking ages and you know all that coming, I thought I’d just go on his Myspace page and say, 'Look: The album's out in the U.K. and we want it out as quickly as possible in America.'"
Francis was thankfully interested. "It’s great to have someone rather," Scroob continued, "again, has in a way influenced how our, certainly my style, has influenced me a lot over the years 'cause you know, been listening to him for like, 5 years ago so yeah…it’s good to have someone like that appreciate what we do and be into it, certainly enough to put an investment into it for our record."
With Myspace and YouTube being such an integral part of their self-promotion in the States, I asked if that had been the case in England.
"Yeah, yeah definitely," Pip says, "We did two tours before this one and we didn’t have anything released in the country so them two tours were…the fact that we could afford two tours and get gigs and get the trip was all because of YouTube, just word-of-mouth off of the Internet. As I said we didn’t even have a label at that point so…and the album’s out, it’s good, because we got a focal point."
"And this is kind of converse thing as well," dan added, "where in England you need all the press, all the radio, everything to support you before it comes out and a little bit afterwards. Whereas, because, if you’re a small band coming into America, people are constantly discovering you, we can feasibly get press and interest around the album for the next three, six months so we…we may sell as many records as we do in Europe, but it’s just gonna take longer. Okay? It's just gonna gradually build so…it’s quite exciting. If it means we come back to America in six months, that would be cool."
After establishing the group’s origins, I really wanted to talk to them about music. A conversation ensued after I inquired about a section of "Thou Shalt Always Kill," where Scroobius Pip goes through a list of monumental rock bands and, without necessarily denying them their importance or worth, denies them their musical sainthood: ("The Beatles? Just a band. Led Zeppelin? Just a band…." etc.)
With every band cited falling into the Rock, Punk, Post-punk, Hardcore, Grunge or Indie categories, I wanted to know how Scroob's musical evolution led him to the music he's currently making, seeing as no Hip-Hop groups made the list.
"It’s kind of just through no real decision on a genre, if you know what I mean. I was, I was…I’ve been in a few little punk bands and things like that, but I wanted to just write lyrics so it started as spoken word and we made the album. We didn’t sit down and think, 'Are we gonna make a Hip-Hop album? Are we gonna make a Dance album, or an Indie album,' we just made the album, (background interference), lyrically a lot of the punk I was into as a kid, as opposed to a lot of the punk now, or the stuff that’s termed as 'punk' now…"
That won me over.
"… it had more of a drive, it had a message, it had a social commentary and that kind of thing, whereas punk, a lot of genres now, it’s more a dress code; that’s what it’s become," Pip goes on, "Not that clothes weren’t a big part of it when it was coming up but…you can be an Emo kid but there’s not really a list of bands that you’d have to be into to be an Emo kid, there’s more a list of clothes or a certain style, if you know what I mean. Then again, a punk; you can have a punk look, whereas before, if you were a punk, you were into The Pistols, The Clash, you know something, whereas now you’re a punk, you look like that but you could be listening to anything. So, it’s weird how things have changed, but then…it’s keeping that kind of…the social outlook in what we’re doing. It may not sound like what you’d think typically punk to be, but in many ways it’s got as much rooted in it as any of the punk that’s around now."
Sort of a Beastie Boys approach.
"At times, I feel like the Beastie Boys grew too far," dan began, "They kinda…you know, I can totally understand their politics but sometimes it is a little…it's just always a bit…," his face squinted with a loss for words.
Scroob picked up, "My thing is the whole Minor Threat kind of approach of, um…it was always…I always said that it’s great when a band has so many ideas and such passion, but don’t necessarily have the technical ability to get it out, so they just cause this raw sound. So, when the Beastie Boys developed instrumentally, they were doing these big. long, funk, jazz-like bits, whereas, when I see them with a live band, I prefer…everyone gets far more excited, when they drop 'Time For Livin',' or just one of the thrash punk songs. There's alchemy where it can't be. If you develop too far, then yeah, you can do everything far more articulately and competently but it's not that same raw passion as the early days."
After hearing what Scroob had to say regarding his content, I asked dan who he looks to for inspiration in terms of beats and production.
"Um…well it's not really, not really out and out producers that, that I like," he said, "It’s more people like Martin Hannett, who produced everything from the first U2 record through Joy Division, New Order …that whole Factory Manchester scene. Um, it's people like him and Brian Eno…just the alternative take on production."
Following the better-known Pop producers, dan added Squarepusher and Aphex Twin for their," …ingenious ways of finding melody in the most unmelodious things." He continued, "It's kind of just grabbing from everywhere. Dr. Dre has got the best ear for samples. He's just a genius; he will hear a record and just manage just to snatch up those things. I’m not a fan of him, I can't really hear the albums…I don’t know, he may be too aggressive for me."
With them encompassing so much in terms of genre, but mostly reflecting a variation on Hip-Hop, I asked them who their main demographic is.
"Really varied," Scroob emphatically states, "there really is no way to pick. I mean, the only difference between here and the U.K. is, in the U.K., it's even broader, if you know what I mean.”
Interestingly though, in the U.K., Scroob says that there are more instances of fans showing up with their parents in tow, so they appeal to an older crowd.
"We have parent/child come to gigs, like, like quite often, which is really nice 'cause there were never any bands I was into that I go to with my dad or anything…"
With the U.S.'s primary knowledge of the group being through Internet channels, they primarily attract a younger crowd.
As the conversation kept up regarding Hip-Hop music, digging deeply beneath its creatively stagnant surface where you find the talent, I brought up Edward Lear, the poet that inspired Scroobius Pip's namesake. The Scroobious Pip, in the poem, defies classification.
"I took that name," Pip explained, "because I mean, the spoken word, the music I wanted to do wasn't fitting into any genre, but then I was also doing a lot of stenciling and street art and I was playing about with photography and with film and stuff like that. Had a t-shirt company where we're doing all hand-printed t-shirts from different stencils and…when I went to uni, I was doing photography and I got really into Vincent Gallo and it really, him as a character, inspired me to realize that you don’t have to do just…the fact that in Buffalo ’66, he wrote it, acted in it, in most shots, he’s not in his shot, produced it, played most of the music for it; then he also happens to be a musician, and also happened to do a lot of modeling, and do art…he kind of made me realize that you don't have to do just one thing."
It was around 10:30 or so when their set started, following the onstage antics of rapper, B Dolan. Though it was a modest turnout in a modest club, dan and Pip put on a great show, working props into the mix when appropriate and keeping all the drunken Hipsters entertained. Before I left, CD and 7" in hand, Pip was working the merch booth. I shook his hand and thanked him for the interview and the show. I think he said "you’re welcome;" I couldn’t hear by the time I left the venue.
Letters From A Tapehead
*Band photo by Overview