When Ollie Teeba and Jake Wherry met, they immediately shared a love for all that was hip hop, funk, soul and jazz. They knew when they started making music that hip hop writ large was what they wanted to do but none of them were rappers. Throughout their career, the Herbaliser ended up working with an impressive list of “indie” rappers from MF Doom, Blade and Roots Manuva. On their latest album “There Were Seven”, they return to their origins, a darker sound to create their first record on their own label, Department H. It’s also a record in which Ottawa-born Ghettosocks is featured. He will be joining the Herbaliser at the OLG After Dark Stage on
Saturday, FRIDAY June 28th. Apt613 caught up with Teeba and Ghettosocks on the early leg of their Canadian tour to discuss music creation, labels and live hip hop. A special thanks to Dustin Munroe for helping me out on this piece.
Apt613: For “There Were Seven” you were greatly inspired by your older musical catalogue. What made you decide to go back to that darker sound of years past?
Ollie Teeba: In 2008 we released “Same As It Never Was”. Some of the material on that LP had a very soul/funk (with a touch of pop) feel. At first it felt like a new direction and went down great at shows. But after a while of performing these songs and the more ‘showbiz’ turn that the show took, we found ourselves getting tired of the new stuff, which was never the case with the other moodier soundtrack style material, which due to the nature of those tracks is more organic and allows for more inspiration and ideas to be added, hence it rarely gets tiresome to perform.
Apt613: You’ve released your latest album on your own label of Department H. Why did you decide to strike out on your own, and do you have any intention to sign or manage other artists?
OT: The setting up of our own imprint was something we actually did back in 1999. We wanted to release the Session 1 album, as we were getting a lot of requests for a recording of our live sound, which, at that time was quite different to the studio versions of the tracks. Ninja [Ninja Tune – their old record label] weren’t especially interested in releasing it but were fine about us releasing it ourselves. Some years later we parted ways with Ninja Tune and signed to K7. The A&R guy from K7 that signed us, left after a year or so and we felt a bit disconnected. K7 very reasonably allowed us to be released from the contract so we could have a stab at doing things ourselves. We really created the label so that we could have the freedom to release what ever we want and there isn’t so much of an intention to have a roster of artists. However we do plan to use it as a platform to release collaborative projects with others. Right now we are working on a Teenburger album (that is Timbuktu and Ottawa’s Ghettosock’s project), with all music completely produced by The Herbaliser. It’s very exciting as it is our first project that is entirely vocal rap songs.
Apt613 to Ghettosocks: You’ve received lots of praise in Canada throughout the years – Juno-nominated, Top 25 rappers in the country by CBC – and now getting more attention in the UK. How did that come about? Now that you’re spending more time in the UK, what have you been exposed to that you weren’t in Canada? What kind of doors has that market opened up for you?
Ghettosocks: I made the Herbaliser connection several years ago when DJ Ollie Teeba was out in Halifax (NS) DJing. I was on the bill as a supporting act with my Droppin’ Science Productions (DSP) label mates and homies ‘The Extremities’, and we met and broke bread at that event. Teeba and I stayed in touch and I met Jake on my first trip to The UK with producer ‘Fresh Kils’, where we opened for the Herbaliser in London. Since then we’ve had the opportunity to work on music together and tour together promoting the new Herbaliser record ‘There Were Seven’ (which I also appear on alongside DSP label mates Muneshine and Timbuktu). Working with Teeba and Jake have allowed me access to a great fan base not only in the UK, but throughout Europe.
Apt613: What is the difference between the fusion music that the Herbaliser produces and the fusion music of the late 60’s and 70’s that may have inspired you, such as David Axelrod or the Incredible Bongo Band?
OT: Hmm. Never really thought of it like that but thanks for the comparison. We never set out to be a ‘fusion’ band but I guess we are, to some extent. Jake and I, when we first started making music together just wanted to make hip hop but the UK scene at that time was not really happening and, being from Twickenham, we didn’t really know many MC’s. So we just set about doing our own thing with it, instrumental style. We were also very inspired by soundtrack music like Lalo Schifrin, Quincy Jones etc. and decided to use that as a jumping off point creatively. We also put together a band as we knew a bunch of super dope musicians and thought it would be a great way to present our sound.
The first two Herbaliser albums are made almost entirely of samples as we didn’t have much in the way of good recording equipment. As the years have gone by, we improved the studio and were more able to integrate the talents of the Herbaliser band members who are fans of all different kinds of stuff and those individual inspirations find their way into our sound. The difference between what we are doing and what the artists you mention did is that there is a full circle thing happening. They made music that inspired DJs to create this thing called hip hop which in turn influenced musicians. Bringing everything back around.
Apt613: You’ve got a great ear for new hip hop talent and helping them break into the scene. Who’s got you excited in the hip hop scene these days?
OT: It’s very exciting right now as there are a lot of people branching out on their own and making music that they believe in, rather than allowing the music industry to dictate what they should be doing. That is why there is a resurgence of much more authentic sounding stuff. For too long people have been attempting to conform to what they think will sell. Not selling any records and then saying, “to hell with it. If I’m not going to make any money I may as well be doing the music the way I want.” Which is the policy we have always gone by. It does you credit to be non-conformist.
Apt613: Though you are a duo, you often tour with a full band, collaborate with different singers and rappers, and use samples in your music. Is a Herbaliser live show a much different experience than a Herbaliser album? What can we expect at your Ottawa show?
OT: These days, the arrangements we create in the studio are quite similar to the ones that are performed live. But there is a heavy, energy onstage that you don’t get on records. Also the shows we will be performing in Canada this time around will be performed with Teenburger which really takes the hypeness up a whole bunch of notches. Prepare to lose your shit!
Ghettosocks: In the past six months I’ve had the opportunity to do two sets of European dates with the Herbaliser. All of the shows have been great, many of them incredible. The Herbaliser band itself is incredibly tight and I always have to step it up when rocking with them. The entire experience has been overwhelmingly positive thus far.
Apt613: Live hip hop has seemed to have evolved over the last decade where an audience will more often see musicians involved in live shows backing up rappers and DJs, and less often see only rappers and a DJ with two turntables. Do you see the Herbaliser as a pioneer in bringing a more live music feel to a hip hop show?
OT: Not really. When we started playing live, there were already many people that had combined rap with live instruments. I think for us, how we were able to stand out was that it wasn’t strictly a rap show, nor was it a straight up funk or (at the time) Acid Jazz set. At that time, in the electronic dance music scene, there wasn’t much ‘live’ happening. There were lots of shows with laptops or DJs with a bit of percussion. I think we were one of the first to effectively combine sampled elements with live musicians.
The Herbaliser with Ghettosocks play the OLG After Dark Stage Friday, June 28 at 10:15pm.