The Scroobious Pip is a fictional animal from an unfinished poem by Edward Lear in the late 19th century. The poem tells of a unique animal of unknown origin and the fruitless attempts of the other animals of the world to classify it. It’s a fitting pseudonym for Mr. David Meads, the immensely bearded jazz hip-hop poet from Stanford Le Hope, UK and half the electro-hip-hop duo known as Dan Le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip.
Has there ever been a hit song in the states by hip-hop artist with a strong British accent? Not that I can think of. But if there was ever a contender for crossover appeal, it’s Thou Shalt Always Kill, the group’s first single. The song is a mixture of new cultural commandments for the 21st century and witty social satire- clever modern philosophy with tongue planted firmly in cheek: Thou shalt not judge a book by its cover / Thou shalt not judge Lethal Weapon by Danny Glover / Thou shalt not buy Coca-Cola products / Thou shalt not buy Nestle products / Thou shalt not fall in love so easily / Thou shalt not use poetry, art or music to get into girls’ pants / Use it to get into their heads.
Thou Shalt Always Kill:
Meads’ chopping, smirking Brit-tinted flow weaves well with the accompaniment of Dan Le Sac’s beat-heavy electronic backing. It’s a great track, despite the inevitable sign-of-the-times novelty label. But don’t write them off as one-hitter quitters- after hearing an advance of their upcoming debut Angles, everyone at Antiquiet’s in agreement (hey, it happens) that these guys have a bright future waiting for them.
After using the wrong country code and losing a furious half-hour screaming match with an international operator, I got a hold of Scroobius Pip to discuss the impact of Thou Shalt Not Kill, trying out (sort of) for Simon Cowell’s X-Factor TV show and why pop music killed the record industry.
My temper was grated and I was in no mood to cover the standard “So how did you guys meet?” bullshit that has nothing to do with music, so we cut to the meat of things rather quickly, and it wasn’t until after I’d hung up that I realized I hadn’t asked him a single question about the album he’s promoting. Keep an eye out for a review of Angles in the next week or so – it’s great, and you need to hear more about it.
Antiquiet: You auditioned for The X-Factor? What the fuck?
Scroobius: (laughs) It’s commonly believed that we did. We did a little promotional video where it looked like we auditioned. We chose to do Ain’t No Fun by Snoop Dogg featuring Nate Dogg, Warren G and Kurupt, but we didn’t actually audition. Just a clever little setup.
Antiquiet: Thou Shalt Always Kill has become a kind of modern ten commandments for the music fan. I’m fully behind you on the spelling of Pheonix.
Scroobius: It just seems better. Again, people argue that it’s from Latin, but it’s not fucking “Phoenix” in Latin. If we’re going to bastardize another language, let’s change it around a little bit to make it read better and make sense.
Antiquiet: You don’t seem the type to get too precious about a song and ruin the fun of it, but at the same time you’re sending across some very real cultural messages.
Scroobius: It’s always been a goal to put conscious content in the song. My job is to narrate, and that should be taken seriously. But it’s also hugely important that people are entertained as well. At the end of the day, it’s music, it’s entertainment, it’s not an essay. Music can be an escape, so you aim to strike a balance between the two.
Antiquiet: How do you approach the industry, having had a hit with Thou Shalt without having to sign your souls away to get heard?
Scroobius: Our only approach has ever been to do things the way we want to do them. If you can get it on your own, if you get to the position where you can choose your own destiny in the industry, that’s when you’ve made it. Not through some multi-album deal with a label that might not be concerned with your creative outlook.
The entire illegal download situation only really seems to affect the execs and massive pop bands where people are like ‘well, I don’t really need to own that.’ They just download it before moving on to the next fad. It’s just all so readily available. But it’s made the industry more cutthroat, because they’re panicking. bands don’t get developed anymore- if there’s no hit, they’re dropped rather quickly.
Both me and Dan worked in record shops for years, because we had all this music at our fingertips. I loved it because I could dive into any genre without making the financial commitment. I got far more into jazz when I was working there, because it’s just not easy to stroll into a music shop and say ‘I’ll take that one’ and have it be the right one. It’s an appreciation you have to take the time to cultivate, and working in the record store I was able to do that.
Antiquiet: You weren’t one of those elitist record store fucks, were you? Where you ask the guy behind the counter a question and he pisses all over you.
Scroobius: No, I definitely wasn’t one of those. It was almost the opposite, because we’d regularly be asked shitty questions about terrible pop music, so when someone came in an asked a good question it would be exciting. There was a guy I’d see here and there who worked in the same shopping center, and one day he came in and asked about an Atmosphere album. And that was it, from then on we’d chat every day.
Antiquiet: I’ve read a few of your other interviews and you seem to have a particular fondness for comedy, specifically Bill Hicks and Mitch Hedberg. First off, what’s your take on the idea that all musicians want to be comedians and vice versa?
Scroobius: Mitch Hedberg’s a genius. I can’t get enough of Steven Wright- the guy’s just an absolute genius. I don’t know if he’s particularly known in America, but there’s a guy named Stewart Lee in the UK who’s just an absolute genius. He could talk about literally anything, and just the way they talk about it and the angle they throw at it all is just so naturally entertaining.
Antiquiet: What three albums do you wish you’d written?
Scroobius: Man… good question. I’d have to just go with three of my favorites. Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane did an album together, and that’s just amazingly beautiful. They just work so well together, have such amazing respect for each other in the way John Coltrane will sit back and let Johnny sing, then step up at just the right time. Their use of one another’s strengths is fantastic. Rancid’s And Out Come The Wolves. That’s one of my favorite, if not my very favorite punk record of all time. The third…. damn, I don’t know what to go for. It’s painful… KRS was one of the first rappers to put it out there that what he’s spitting is poetry.
Antiquiet: Any other new acts out there that are holding your attention?
Scroobius: There’s a poet / MC called Polar Bear who’s just amazing. He really is. I’ve seen him live so many times now, and he’s just stunning. Check my MySpace– my top friends aren’t actually my friends, I try and make it just full of bands I’m into at the time. There’s also a guy named Gideon Conn who’s just an odyssey. I don’t know how well America’s going to get him, he’s very eccentric and his style is very unique
Antiquiet: What does the live show experience mean to you? What do you get out of playing in front of a crowd?
Scroobius: I can’t get enough of it, man. That’s why we do this. Yeah… it’s great. It’s great to play for different crowds, particularly in different countries, just to see how it all goes down and to see the different reactions and different vibes all around. To paraphrase an old quote that’s been accredited to a lot of people over the years, I do the gigs for free. But the fee for the gigs pays for all the traveling and waiting around and the shitty annoying bits like sitting in a van for twelve hours. But actually being on stage, we’d do that for free every night.
Antiquiet: It’s about the passion.
Scroobius: Yeah, it’s pure passion. I don’t get nervous before gigs, because it’s the highlight of my day. It’s never an issue of stage fright. Whenever it’s a gig day, it’s never a nerves issue, cause I’m looking forward to it.
Antiquiet: Do you have a collaboration wishlist?
Scroobius: You know, we’ve actually turned down a couple people who are really quite big and well-known, because the beats just weren’t right. I’d rather collaborate with someone I’ve never heard of but the beat excites me. It’s more about making the right song as opposed to making it with the right person. Hopefully I’ll be doing some work with Sage Francis, and that’s just ridiculously exciting to me.
Antiquiet: How do you feel about politics in music?
Scroobius: It’s become really popular at the moment for bands to sit in interviews and talk about the climate and the state of the world and that sort of thing, and then in their songs they’re just singing about love. About five percent of your fans are going to read that interview, but one hundred percent are going to listen to the songs. The message should be in the music. The goal is to make people think, but it has to be in the song.
Antiquiet: What kind of advice could you give somebody who’s got a spark in them, can play a little bit, and is trying to put together a song or two but they’re just getting lost in the endless options?
Scroobius: It’s really all about taking that first step. The hardest thing after that is playing it in front of your mates, but if you can take that first step, the rest of them are much easier.