DESPITE ADHERING TO AN ETHOS BASED ON CHANGE, THE HERD FINDS THATSOME THINGS STAY THE SAME, ESPECIALLY IN A POLITICAL SENSE. OZI BATLASPEAKS TO RIP NICHOLSON.
Ozi Batla interviewed @ 18.30 AEST – Thursday 24th August, 2011
For Street Press Australia & Rip2Shredz Press
Words by RIP NICHOLSON
“Same as always, things start off as bare bones and they get thrown back and forth and people add little bits to the Frankenstein, here and there until we get an entire beast and set it out on the unsuspecting public,” says Ozi Batla (aka Shannon Kennedy), of The Herd’s latest LP, discussing the group’s attack on bringing their new music to life and the personal and political sides to it. He’s one of many in The Herd, but alone the MC has just come off the back of his Wild Colonial LP to partake in the massive new Herd album, Future Shade. And it’s the long-standing friendship behind the band, the record label and a large slice of New South Wales’ avant-garde and independent music fraternity that has kept The Herd close at all times.
The Herd came together over Scallops in 2001 and the line-up has solidified into MCs/producers Urthboy and Ozi Batla, Unkle Ho (producer), Toe-Fu (guitar), Sulo (beats and guitar), Traksewt (piano accordion, clarinet and beats), Rok Poshtya (bass) and Jane Tyrrell (vocals). Having released five albums to date, very few outside of the Wu-Tang Clan have managed one album, never mind a career-spanning discography, yet The Herd conglomerate has always made it work through lifelong friendship and of course a common thread in similar interests in all styles of music.
“It’s been about friendship from the start, so you know I suppose that’s what threw us together in the first place – and the music. But you have your friends that are gonna be there for a long time and when you’re doing music together every day, it’s been our lives moreso than being a band or a record label,” says Kennedy, who admits there are still creative clashes during their making-of sessions. “Always, but that’s why the friendship is important. It would take away from the process of what we’re doing. We know each other’s tastes and how each other works.”
Their most recent chemistry is in the present shape of Future Shade and a welcomed relief for all involved. But now the circus begins, getting all members together to travel the Future Shade tour nationally – or taking a holiday, as Kennedy quips. “It’s definitely a relief after seven months of recording, but for us getting out on tour has always been the reward for us, as far as being a band. I’m just really going on holiday with some mates. It’s just gonna be one big explosion for any audience, so it’s gonna be exciting. Us and them and trying to figure them out.”
The Sydney collective has always held a level of excitement with fans for the ways they stretch the far reaches of good funk and soul, jazz and rap to deliver their music. This versatility has kept them rolling out new sounds and re-innovating the moulds of indie hip hop. And that, as Kennedy suggests, has always been The Herd’s ethos. “There’s been a constant evolution in the sound of the band, but in some ways we’ve come full circle and returned to the experimentation of our first album. We’ve never felt compelled to write hip hop tunes, but in this case some of the stronger songs ended up having really different influences, like folk, early rave and Eastern European soul. Part of the appeal has been that we have adhered to an ethos that could be summed up with the line ‘everything must change’.”
And that extends to the political. The Herd have always been outspoken in their beliefs. Their second big single, 2003’s 77%, caused a controversy with the line “_77% of Aussies are racist_”, referring to the nation’s response to the Australian federal government’s treatment of refugees during the Tampa affair. Kennedy felt compelled to revisit the issues because, eight years on, ain’t a damn thing changed.
“The themes for our songs arise pretty naturally depending on what’s going on in our lives and the world at large. Signs Of Life was a response to the crazy summer that saw the Queensland floods followed by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, then the Christchurch earthquake on top of that. [Title track] Future Shade was inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings, Red Queen Theory touches on the NT intervention and the Malaysian Solution, the state of refugees and the way they are being treated. It’s not worth it, trading people back and forth into care of a country who has a terrible human rights record for refugees and 100,000 people waiting to go somewhere else? Shihaba tells the story of Kenny [Sabir AKATraksewt]’s niece, trying to enter England and she gets rejected, just for a fucking holiday. So yeah, there’s lot of issues that concern us and it’s part of the more personal play on the album. So we’ve tried to weave more of the political into this one and I think everyone pretty much knows where we stand on most things. As far as some of the themes, unfortunately not a lot has changed since we began, we’re still smashing out 77% and it seems as relevant as ever.”
Still on world news, Market Forces has Kennedy driving the tour bus south of the border to deal with the grim and awe of capitalism at large while wrapping it into a tasty enchilada of classic Spanish influence, detaching from the seriousness of lyrics by serenading the hook so fluently in Español it’s scary. “It was one of two songs – the other didn’t make the cut – that dealt with the sinister undertones of capitalism. I started the tune thinking about the situation in Mexico, where 30,000 people are being killed every year in a war over a product demanded by the US [cocaine]. It’s always good to fly under the radar or make lyrics subvert the feeling of the music; it adds another layer to the tune. That’s me singing the hook – not the first time I’ve rapped or sung in Spanish! It’s something I love to do but obviously it doesn’t suit every song,” admits Kennedy, who has always coexisted as both solo MC and Herd member. “They’re different beasts. Both have their pros and cons, but honestly I’m just happy to be on stage playing good music. It’s a blessing.”