Interview: Scroobius Pip

When Scroobius Pip launched his debut solo album ‘Distraction Pieces’ this week, he also declared war on the major record labels, donning military hats and riot shields in a series of YouTube videos as he watched his independently released album overtake Coldplay, Daffy and numerous other heavily-financially backed records and make its own impact on the top ten of the UK iTunes chart. Having made his name as the borderline-spoken-word rapper half of ‘Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip’, Distraction Pieces is by no means the end of Pip’s well-documented collaboration, but does represented a marked change in direction, with the rapper exploring his punk-tinged roots. We caught up with him to find out just where he’s headed, and found even a passer by asking if Pip is Beardyman (“I get that all the time”) isn’t enough to put him the thoughtful lyricist off his stride…

You’ve been part of a very powerful collaboration for some time. How was working without Dan Le Sac?

It’s been really interesting. Dan and I had got so good at working together that we had our way of doing things and that was it. When I was working with Steve Mason from the Beta Band, we stayed in his cottage in Scotland, and just spent the days in the studio. I’d never done that before. In the past it’s always been a handover, followed by a rejig and a restructure by those of us overseeing the record. This worked in a completely different way.

We’ve heard you’ve taken on quite a different style, too?

Yeah. The reason I wanted to make this record – it was nothing against Dan, we’re going to be working on our third record soon – but I’d written a few songs that I felt needed to have more of a punk and hardcore influence. It’s what I grew up listening to, and I felt that it needed that punch, that edge. Above all – and even before we worked together – I’m a fan of Dan Le Sac, even though we obviously know each other really well. I wouldn’t tell Dan what our next record should sound like, because it’s not just me. Dan didn’t grow up listening to punk or hardcore. He could easily have made one or two abrasive beats for it, but a whole record would have started to become stale. Instead, I got the idea that I’d work with a lot of different producers who maybe hadn’t worked in that area before. It’s better than pushing Dan to do an entire record like that, as well as for our fans. It is a bit different.

We were half expecting you to put out a spoken word record…

A lot of people thought that, I was worried about that. If most people said they were making a solo record you wouldn’t expect spoken word. What I mean by solo is that it’s not with Dan. Very few solo artists are just the artist and a guitar, they have a full band. It’s just a solo record.

Are there any big messages – big social political stances – on ‘Distraction Pieces’?

There are a few, but it’s not something I set out to do, it’s just what happens to come at the time. There’s one on ‘Distraction Pieces’ that’s about soldiers that I wanted to write, and it’s worked really nicely. I was worried it might come out wrong. A lot of people I know were really anti the war, yet I get them asking me to support Help the Heroes, stuff like that. I find that a little bit confusing. I mean I can understand it, and I don’t want this to be misinterpreted – it’s terrible that soldiers have gone out and got injured and they do need help – but it’s in a war that I didn’t support. I’m not saying I wouldn’t give money to Help the Heroes, but it’s a weird thing to be anti-war but pro-soldiers. If the soldiers didn’t go to the war we couldn’t have the war. I’m not saying it’s the soldiers fault, it’s the politicians, but it’s struck me over the years. We have to turn down a lot, as you get so many charities, but Help the Heroes always felt a bit awkward. So yeah, that’s just one of the subjects.

Do you find your ideas come across as well outside the UK? A lot of the political and social aspects of your work are very UK-based…

Yeah, I do. If you think of it politically, it’s really only ‘Stake a Claim’. People don’t generally know this, but I wrote that about France. It just happened that then there were all these protests in the UK, about elections. I’ve always been impressed with how France acts as a nation. It’s a historical thing; their history is written in revolution, and UK history isn’t like that. There’s a little spiel I do in the middle of ‘Stake a Claim’ that I’ve never been able to do in Ireland. It’s telling people to rise up and stand up for what they believe in. I’m some prick from England, and the Irish have been doing this for a long time. The Irish know about standing up for what they believe in.

You certainly don’t seem to be a man who shies away from your messages.

We try not to. We did a gig a few years ago supporting Lethal Bizzle at his album launch, and we have a song called ‘Fix’ which is about how crap we think the UK hip-hop scene is. I respect Lethal Bizzle, I think he’s a very hard working MC and he’s been around a long time, but obviously the crowd at his album launch are all going to be supporters of UK hip-hop. There was talk of us dropping that. When we did the O2 Wireless last year we were asked if we were going to do ‘Fix’ as it might cause shit. But we did. Both times we did. It shouldn’t just be about preaching to the converted. It’s easy to perform to our fans. We’re never having a go at anyone, we’re just throwing down a gauntlet, saying ‘this is what we think is bad about UK hip-hop’.

Do you think people take you too literally?

All the time. It’s one of the reasons I’m so active on Twitter. I want people to know that I’m a very average bloke from Essex who’s into football, as people think I’m more intelligent than I am. I freely admit that I’m not as intelligent as people think. I’ve always enjoyed thinking outside the box; thinking creatively, but I’m not well-educated. I did photography at college and dropped out after a year. From a school level, all I’ve studied is artistic stuff. There’s no law or English… there is a problem with people taking things very literally.

There was a guy on Facebook who picked me up on this stanza that I wrote before the FA Cup Final. He wrote saying ‘I think it’s shit that you’ve sold out’. I’ve been going to Millwall since I was six, and I got paid £150. I did a second one I didn’t even get paid for as Setanta went bust. I love football, and I love spoken word, so the opportunity to put the two together was exciting to me. It might have got some people who weren’t normally into spoken word to go ‘this isn’t always crap’ because of the way it was presented. This chat on Facebook went back for 30 or 40 comments, with him going ‘the Pip that I know you to be wouldn’t have done this’. That’s why bands always struggle with the clichéd difficult second record. It’s not difficult to write, it’s difficult for fans to accept. Fans have listened to the first record and built up an entire persona on that. When the next things come, it’s never going to be exactly what people thought you were. You can’t judge people by ten songs. Hopefully there will be a career of hundreds of songs.

Scroobius Pip’s career makes an abrupt about-turn with the brilliantly edgy ‘Distraction Pieces’, out now on his own label, Speech Development Records.

As published in AU Magazine, September 2011.

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