Scroobius Pip: “Dan Le Sac and I were quite lucky that the first stuff we wrote blew up”

Door Paola Verhaert

With those words hip-hopper, spoken word artist and, above all, storyteller Scroobius Pip entered the music scene in 2007 with composer Dan Le Sac by his side. Ironically, five years later, Pip’s applauded and admired writings lifted him up to a heavenly high pedestal. Today, he tours the world with his second solo-album and his own live band. On the first stop of this tour De Moeial had the pleasure to have chat with the man behind Great Britain’s most infamous beard.

de Moeial: The new album just came out – congratulations. What were the reactions after the release?

Scroobius Pip: Thanks, ‘Distraction Pieces’ just came out and it’s all been overwhelming. It’s the first thing that I’ve released on my own label and I expected it to be a tiny little side project, but it’s just gone down really well. The reactions have been great, the videos have all been well and the UK tour was 90% sold out all the way through. It’s good to get out in Europe to see how it goes in here. We’ve got a month of hitting up Belgium, Switzerland, France, Germany, Holland, Ireland, a bit of the UK again.

It’s definitely getting you all over the place. One thing that is central in all your projects, is the word. Still, the stage holds an important place in your heart. For example, you’re known to use props on stage, do these complement your performance?

I think the writing is the start of it and the completion is performing it on stage. I don’t even think about recording or finishing with writing a piece. The completion of a text comes when it is shared with other people, that’s where it feels like it was meant to be. On stage I often use props and things like that because particularly when you’re talking about some quite serious and dark subjects you need to make sure it still remains an entertaining night out for the audience. In the end, people don’t come to a lecture, they come to a gig. It needs to be visually as well as orally stimulating.

How important is direct contact with listeners and readers for you, as well as the actual articulation of a text?

It surprises me, but I’ve always been a far bigger fan of hearing or seeing poetry rather than just reading it. I believe that so much is on the delivery and on how it comes across. That could just be because I haven’t had any education. I haven’t studied poetry at college or university, so in my mind, if I read poetry, it’s one thing. But then if I see that poet perform his poem, it’s a completely different thing. So yeah, I prefer watching or hearing it the way it was meant to be delivered.

The Idiot Box

Literature – let alone poetry – has been expelled to the slums of popular culture. Do you think that by confronting your audience with music, it gets easier to get the message across?

Yes, I definitely think it gets easier to take in, in a more comfortable way. But it’s a weird thing with texts and literature, because I think it is hugely important, but I also think that there are a lot of mediums that don’t get the credit that they deserve. There are definitely film and television series that have moved me at least as much as any novel I’ve ever read. That scene is being looked at as just light entertaining and nothing serious, whereas a great novel is this wonderful and respected thing. And I think there should be a time where they kind of get together and meet. There are amazing documentaries around. It’s the obvious one everyone is gumming about, but ‘The Killing’ was one that really got a lot of attention in the UK, and it was the first series I saw that a lot of British people were watching and that wasn’t in English. it gets clear how television can be more than just light entertainment.

Equally in literature, there are as many crappy books as there are crappy television series.

Exactly. It’s easy for everyone to say how television is the idiot box and that there isn’t more to it than X-Factor, but there’s a lot more to it if you want to find it.

Do you think or hope that by confronting these two mediums – text and music – more young people will be charmed by the art of writing?

Yeah, definitely, to stories as much as anything. A lot of the stuff I do is just story-telling. I really like writing and telling stories, and I think that’s something that has escaped a lot of music for a long while. Music can be great in many different ways. I don’t think that everyone should put in serious content or stories in their songs. There are many different levels on which it’s important to appreciate music, but I think it’s great to have more of an emotional connection and reaction to it. That’s what I like about the kind of music I fell in love with.

It’s not through anyone’s failing, but to me it feels like it became the standard for music to have a linear story.

How do you feel about people who are rather pessimistic about today’s youth? In the music video for the song ‘Get Better’ you seem pessimistic at first, but then, above all, you want to be constructive about society’s children.

Yeah, that’s it; it is about trying not to be pessimistic. I worked in a record shop for a few years and in London, there was a security guard working with me. He was a big skinhead guy, looked mean, talked like a right geezer, but my friend and manager at the time told me: don’t take him at face value. The more I talked to him I found out that his family where all BMB members – BMB is basically a racist party in the UK – and that he’d grown up around that. He had a tattoo of a bulldog with a Union Jack on his arm and it was the thing he was most ashamed of in the whole world. All the time he was working there it was to afford to get laser treatment to remove his tattoo. That always struck me as more impressive. The fact that someone can come from a bad background and that kind of upbringing, and get through that, is more impressive than all the people who have had great, nice and friendly upbringings.

Did story-telling take up a big place in your own young life?

Not so much, it always surprises people that I wasn’t so much of a reader as a kid. I read a lot more now and I thoroughly enjoy it. But again, I think just as much of the storytelling comes from interacting with people and actually talking to people about stories. I haven’t got a degree, I’ve never been a great one for book smarts, but I love conversation and discussing stuff with people. I am happy to be proven wrong and to learn new things. But then also, I learned a lot about the storytelling through music and through film. ‘Angles’ was one ofthe first tracks I wrote that was very much a narrative and it was actually inspired by film. It occurred to me that in music there is generally a standard linearity. We wouldn’t accept that in cinema, we wouldn’t accept every film to be like that. It’s not through anyone’s failing, but to me it feels like it became the standard for music to have a linear story. Whereas in cinema, they spend years trying to find different ways to tell the same kind of story. I think we should do more of that in music.

Thou Shalt Always Be Honest

When listening to your music, the first thing one notices is the brutal honesty. It is quite refreshing, because generally there are few artists who love the creating of something more than actually being an artist. Is it hard for you to be that honest?

Not really. I mean, it’s a weird thing but Dan Le Sac and I were quite lucky that the first stuff we wrote blew up. ‘Thou Shalt Always Kill’ was the first song Dan and I wrote together and it got in the top 40 in the UK. So at that point, there was no reason to be shy about holding it back, because we didn’t really expect anyone to hear it. But because that blew up then, all I ever knew was writing in a very honest manner. In a way it can feel like a bad thing, because you’re pouring your heart out to sell records. So again, you can look at it in a negative manner. I’m bottling up my emotions and then selling them.

The way it feels to me is that you would be equally as happy to write down everything you feel and have no one read it or pay for it.

Yes, it’s on levels. I really think the completion of it is people hearing it. So as long as some people are hearing it, then that’s the thing that counts. But at the same time, I remember that I did an interview in Texas once with Saul Williams. He was saying how he has no entry to the underground and I really identify with that, because if you want to write about something that is important to you, it’s important to have that ambition. To think, as long as someone hears it, that’s all you need. Surely if you’ve written something that you’re proud of, you should want as many people to hear it as possible. You get a lot of bands who moan when they start to get success or start to get exposed. I’d love to be number one in the pop charts, but I wouldn’t change the way I write to achieve that. So if I was number one in the pop charts, it would feel like a great achievement because it would mean that people on a large scale are identifying and investing in something that is more honest and more challenging.

That is something that really attracts people to your music, they can identify. Another thing a lot of people do is read into it. Surely, one can say that the ghosts of writers like Schopenhauer or Nietzsche appear while listening to your lyrics and they could think that you have had a broad education. Do you agree with the saying “to write one has to read?”

No, I don’t. I think that you have to have lived and experienced. It doesn’t have to be restricted to reading. Of course, it depends on the kind of writing. I also think that as soon as you write or record anything, you then have to let it go, you can’t be oppressive over it. I love all the things people interpret in different lyrics of mine. Alot of the time, it’s not what I meant at the time, but that’s great. It’s great that they’re taking it in that way and I’m really pleased that I have the kind of writings that allow that. It’s not too specific. If you can’t identify with it, then forget it. I think it has to do with the fact that I write a lot of characters and stories. If I’m writing about me, and I’m living in a small town in Essex, then you might not be able to identify with that. If I’m writing about looking at another character, then you’re looking at that character as well and you can still observe.

The stories are versatile and can be interpreted in many different ways. It’s kind of similar to re-reading a book a couple of years later. You wonder if it’s the book that changed, or if it’s you that changed.

Completely, it’s weird. I’ve had to bite my lip sometimes because people would interpret stuff on ways I don’t agree with, but in a way it’s not my place to disagree. The one time I did kick off over it was when the English Defense League, which is basically a mini-BNP, started to use a song by me and Dan called ‘Stake A Claim’ which is all about standing up for what you believe in, regardless of what others think, regardless ofwhat society or the government says. They started to use that song to promote some of their marches. And I’m really against them; I think they’re absolute scumbags. But really, I shouldn’t say anything, because the song is about standing up for what you believe in, regardless of what anyone else thinks. So they used it in the right context, but me and Dan still had every video where they used it taken off of Youtube and told them they couldn’t use it. Really, I should have stepped away, but just as a petty person I couldn’t allow that, because I think they’re stupid racists.

It’s something I’ve only just realized last night: it should always be a now or never.

Now Or Never

After the collaboration with Dan Le Sac, you have now released your second solo album. Were there things that remained unsaid while working with Dan?

We’re starting to work on our third album soon. When we were writing our second album, there were a few things that I wrote, but it felt like they didn’t fit with the way Dan and I made music. The music I loved the most growing up was punk and hardcore, and Dan hasn’t got that influence. I would never be one to tell Dan how we should sound, because it’s very much an equal partnership; I do the lyrics, he does the music and we put that together. So I had a certain amount of lyrics I felt I wanted to do with a live band and with that aggression. We needed a bit of a break anyway, just because ever since ‘Thou Shalt Always Kill’ it’s been full on. We planned to have a season off and it just so happened that in that time I got this record together.

You’re busy as ever. To round up, could you give our readers a quote to think about?

This is really random and at the moment, but I was having a conversation last night. And I want to write about it, but I haven’t figured out how to do it yet. It’s something I’ve only just realized last night; it should always be a now or never, whether that is in a relationship or in a job. If it can’t be now, then you can’t waste your life waiting. If it can’t be now, then you need to focus on what is now, rather than dream about it. That’s how it should always be, and sadly that isn’t the case. Sadly there will be times when you’re pining after certain things for years, but really you should realize that if it can’t happen now, it can never.

Unfortunately, the end of this chat has to happen now as well. Thank you for the interview.

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