Urthboy Gives Us The Signal /// Interview

Urthboy The SignalkTpure: How did the Sydney Album launch go last week? Was that your first sold-out solo show?

Urthboy: It wasn’t the first but you really appreciate them when they come along…knowing that everything is in place before doors open. It’s always more of event if you’ve got tickets to a soldout show.

kTpure: What are the main differences for you with a solo show and a gig with The Herd?

Urthboy: The Herd is an 8 person big band live show while my show is stripped back and much more grounded in the DJ and MC tradition of hip hop shows. I love doing the solo thing… it’s so uncomplicated and brings it all back to the dynamic between the two rhymers and the DJ. At the same time, I enjoy the herd shows so much I never tire of playing the same songs over and over.

kTpure: Congratulations on your second solo album in three years…no small feat with everything else you have going on. Is there anything you have learnt specifically from making/releasing this album?

Urthboy: You’re always learning as you go and finding out new recording and engineering techniques. As far as the actual album goes… I knew what I was doing, the timeframe I had as well as the way to go about it. I don’t consider myself an expert but the process is no mystery to me. I spend my days either creating or working on music or overseeing other people doing it so I have a very practical expectation of what is required.

kTpure: If you had to pick one track of ‘The Signal’ that you enjoyed making the most, what would it be?

Urthboy: Modern Day Folk. It happens to be a sentiment I feel strongly about…that of hip hop being essentially folk music (music of the people) but at the same time the song is a warmly delivered piss-take (“trying to save the world, a brave new world”) that some people ‘get’.

kTpure: Same question, but in regards to doing it live?

Urthboy: The Signal…it’s a hot beat delivered up by Count Bounce and it has an urgent energy about it. Plus we perform it differently in the live show than on the record.

kTpure: And what about you favourite track to listen to?

Urthboy: I don’t listen to my own record… once it’s out it’s already been mercilessly thrashed by the time I’m at mastering stage so the last thing I want to do is kick back and relax with the same tracks I’ve been analysing to within an inch of their life.

kTpure: With so many guest MCs, vocalists, producers and musicians I do wonder how a track evolves. Do you have an original concept then you go from there?

Urthboy: In my solo work I take care of the concepts behind every song. On the new album I came up with almost all the melodies and harmonies and tracked demo vocals of everything myself, before handing them over to people who could not only sing, but I considered to be great artists in their own right. The only song that I didn’t track myself was‘Over Before It Began’ with Mia Dyson. She wrote that chorus.

kTpure: How does using live instruments on a track affect the production process as opposed to purely using a beat?

Urthboy: I assume you also mean samples when you mean a beat. The use of samples in a song is in principle exactly the same as instruments, it’s gotta be in key and it’s got to sound good. Every song on the album started with samples and moved from there… sometimes we brought in instrumentation/synths on top but its pretty much sample based songs. It’s a balance, you usually can’t replicate the uniqueness of a good sample by simply replaying it with instruments. But then again, samples can be problematic not only in a clearance sense, but also because you can’t simply change their key to fit with the rest of the song…hence why the sample often forms the basis of the tune and you go from there.

kTpure: You have become quite the seasoned live performer…what have been some memorable touring moments for you?

Urthboy: I take the live show very seriously and every artist should, if you have a long term outlook. Everything from signing prosthetic limbs backstage in Byron Bay to tearing around tropical islands with Hermy and Batla after performing at a Hennessey party in Kuala Lumpur -nothing wears off the novelty of copious amounts of Hennessey quicker than the hangover. The reality of touring is that most of it is a pain in the arse but that one hour you have on stage is what makes it all worthwhile – that and hanging you’re your mates. The rest of it is completely over-rated.

kTpure: I read another article that described you as the ‘lynchpin’of The Herd. Is that how you would describe yourself?

Urthboy: I would never describe myself like that, as it gets the inner-workings of The Herd all wrong. We’re a very democratic group and although Batla and I tend to handle quite a lot of the lyrics, there’s no one person that drives it. If anything, I get called things like that because I’m often the face of the label. There’s no way on earth I could manage the label and band by myself…it’s a joint effort and everyone has some kind of role and contribution to make it work.

kTpure: So from what I understand you do a lot of the label management duties for Elefant Tracks. How did that delegation eventuate?

Urthboy: I manage the label and handle the business side of things, but once again, this is only in partnership with the other members of The Herd. For instance, our bass player Dale and Unkle Ho do all of the graphic design, Kenny handles some IT stuff, Jane works on merch, Batla comes into his own on the gig front. Whilst this explains some jobs, there’s so much more to it and everyone just contributes their time when they can. I just hang out talking on the phone taking all the credit.

kTpure: What is a typical day in the life of Urthboy?

Urthboy: Wake up, go to our studio. Check email and make calls. Harass some arsehole reviewer who tries to get his name as a comedian by dissing one of our releases. Monitor the progress of artists that are within 6 – 12 months of releasing an album. Ensure jobs (manufacturing, promotional products etc) are on schedule. Delegate jobs to Dale or Unkle Ho. Liaise with our distributor/publicists about releases and future plans. Organise the logistics of an upcoming tour, put budgets into place and double check bookings. Answer requests for live shows and perhaps pass them onto our booking agent to handle. Post CDs, posters. More email, more phone calls. Stuff.

kTpure: I can only imagine what it is like to have to deal with the business side of things on a particular day that you feel like being creative. Do you have any strategies to prevent a schizophrenic episode?

Urthboy: If there’s a job to be done it must be done – that’s the catch of running our own business… there’s no one else to pick up the slack. If we don’t do the job it won’t get done. So my creative time is when I’m out of the office – I rarely cross the two over as it happens enough automatically.

kTpure: Do you have a business mantra you live by?

Urthboy: I think it’s very important to establish good working relationships and maintain them. I learnt a long time ago to hold my tongue and not burn bridges – I keep coming across people in the industry who at one point were giving us grief for some reason or another, then 5 years later they are working in some role where you’re forced to interact with them. It doesn’t help if you’ve written em off cos you were young and had no self-control…maybe now that person is in a role where you actually require their help. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good confrontation and they’re inevitable along the way…but usually it’s better in the long run to let the beamers through to the keeper. Relating back to the question, another crucial factor in our kind of business is that there’s not enough money to not be calculated in how you prioritise budgets.

kTpure: Obviously both you as a solo artist and The Herd have gained good rotation on JJJ. What do you think about the state of radio in Oz?

Urthboy: It’s a dogfight. Triple J and community radio have been really supportive of some of our releases but commercial radio has barely ever gone for anything we’ve done. Commnuity radio is a key here because often they set the tone and they’re usually very accessible. I can acknowledge that we’ve been luckier than some crews so I’m not going to be a victim here – but we’ve also worked very hard at what we do. Musically we’ve always done whats come naturally to us – and we’ve been blessed in that we’ve connected with people. You can always spot a fraud and the people that used to take shots at us for somehow not being genuine in our political stances are very quiet nowadays. It all comes out in the wash.

kTpure: Where do you see Elefant Traks in five years?

Urthboy: Who knows – we follow our instinct. I’d like to see a few more artists get a good foundation through the infrastructure we’ve developed – that’s one of the most rewarding aspects of the job. I think a secondary element of all these tours and releases is that we’re helping create part of what the whole music scene is, and hopefully ushering in the change we want to see.

kTpure: And where you see yourself as a solo artist in 5 years?

Urthboy: On a secluded island in the tropics.

kTpure: Here’s a tricky one – where do you see the Oz scene/community in 5 years?

Urthboy: In all honesty I feel that the growth of hip hop will allow Australia to develop some shockingly good groups that have greater international impact. There’s quite a few ill acts out there at the moment and they’re the ones who are allowing for the future artists to run away with the crown. Similar to how acts like Def Wish Cast are the reason why we have our success now. Their role and their influence (and I’m talking about a lot of the older crews here – I guess DWC are the most prominent), even though lauded in the hip hop scene, is still greater than a lot of people know.

I can’t see the scene getting closer – if anything it’ll become more fractured between the underground and the more mainstream acts as each alienates the other. Unfortunately I see the Kiwi-influenced American sound only getting bigger and dumb Aussies supporting it more than Australian stuff. Why do I say “dumb Aussies”? Well we’ve got a situation where New Zealanders are openly hostile towards Australian hip hop yet we lap their shit up and send em platinum. I have an uncomfortable opinion about Australia/NZ musical relations – cos though a lot of Kiwis are cool…I’m astounded at how discriminatory their music scene is towards Australian music. I think it’s disgraceful and I find it hard to be positive about anything across the Tasman. Rather than being conciliatory about it – I’m drawing lines in the sand. This is my life, my passion and my business and I’m finding it increasingly difficult to be tolerant of people who fuck with that.

kTpure: What are you listening to at the moment?

Urthboy: The most recent record I bought was by Marcia Griffiths as I listen to a lot more reggae than I do hip hop. I’ve also been impressed by the new Vents and 13th Son albums and I’m liking what I’m hearing from Spit Syndicate.

kTpure: Do you have any outside hobbies or passions that don’t involve music?

Urthboy: I’m sports mad. I play cricket, soccer, tennis, ping pong, kicking the Sherrin around. Whatever I’m up for it – we were trying to establish The Herd as the backstage cricket band for a while there…once summer comes back it’ll be on again. I’m also keen on reading.. and stay up til all hours with good books.

Urthboy – The Signal – Out Now on Elefant Tracks with Inertia Distribution


[alert type=white ]All Rights Reserved OzHipHop.Com 2002 /// This article originally appeared here on the OzHipHop.Com Forums by contributor kTpure in 2007 [/alert]