“THERE’S SOMETHING TO BE SAID FOR PERSEVERANCE.” THE HERD’S MC OZI BATLA REFLECTS ON A DECADE PLUS CAREER WITH RIP NICHOLSON.
OZI BATLA interviewed @ 17:45 AEST – Tuesday 20th March, 2012
For Street Press Australia & Rip2Shredz Press
Words by RIP NICHOLSON
Doing what they have always done is what makes The Herd just as intriguing now as they were in 2001. Their longevity in the scene, perseverance and consistently bringing about change with every record has made them one of Australia’s most premier live hip hop acts. It’s 2012 and The Herd is acknowledging their unity of over ten years and MC and writer for the collective, Shannon ‘Ozi Batla’ Kennedy highlights this as he explains where The Herd’s long-standing one-headed opinion is at now.
The eight-piece outfit is a segmented octagon of producers, instrumentalists and MCs such as Urthboy, Unkle Ho and Kennedy, who returned after his first solo LP, Wild Colonial to co-write Future Shade and insists that the work is the same in either a group or solo record. “It doesn’t matter what you have done with solo work the hard things are hard and the easy stuff is easy. In some ways it’s a relief to put out a solo record, having total control and when you go back to the collective mentality it’s also a relief that you’ve got someone either side of you to bounce ideas off and inspire you.”
Together with many individual talents, they are set to converge on stages across our major cities with – on selected dates – Thundamentals and new Elefant Traks MC, Sky’High, on the A Thousand Lives tour, aptly named after the track off their latest LP, Future Shade. “That song’s a reflection of our time in the band,” says Kennedy on naming the tour as they did. “That has become a minor theme running throughout the album as well. And it’s also a reflection of our ten/eleven plus years of touring.”
The Herd’s agenda has always been one of political awareness over their five studio albums and despite the political maelstrom that invokes such an opposing opinion in the band’s writings, Kennedy explains, new material can sometimes be hard to raise without revisiting subject matter from many of their previous tongue-in-cheek slights at the befuddled balance of power governing this great land. “I don’t know about anyone else but, yeah, sometimes the writing can be hard. And I think the reason is when you have a catalogue behind you, after time it gets hard and you scratch your head to avoid covering the same ground. I think with our focus always on the political theme and in our approach through all our music, with how those in charge are running the country, it’s never gonna be too hard to keep coming up with new subject matter. And we won’t run out of topics anytime soon with guys like Clive Palmer and Bob Katter running around. Did you hear Clive Palmer’s one today?” Kennedy asks rhetorically of the mining magnate. “The mining tax is basically a conspiracy between the Greens and the CIA to rob him of his wealth. He went on the ABC and said it.”
The band’s long-enduring career opened in 2001 when the core artists of indie label Elefant Traks collaborated together to showcase the roster. The Herd released their self-titled LP that same year and spawned an Aussie classic,Scallops. But it was their 2002 follow-up An Elefant Never Forgets that gave the band their controversial tag with tracks Burn Down The Parliament and 77%, the latter attacking at the heart of Australia’s racist element. The Herd left behind an indelible stamping of political correctness on their outspoken and building controversial reputation. Counting four albums forward (which includes a remix album) and while the politicking stays coming thick and ready, having all the artists falling back into step, away from family, careers and other music commitments was not easy, as Kennedy admits, despite him being the drifter of the bunch.
“No. No, not at all. For me, I’m the unattached drifter and I’ll do a gig whenever. You know, there’s a whole bunch of kids and jobs and households that have to be left for possibly their only time off and time with the family for a gig every weekend, so it is a big commitment and Toe-Fu has really been putting in the hard yards recently. He lives in Newcastle and it takes him a good two/two and a half hour drive [to Sydney]. He’s been trekking down for rehearsals and it’s hard to get everyone together. I’m really grateful to my bandmates who do have a lot of other commitments and they’ve stuck with it and at this stage in our careers there are some of my favourite bands that have packed it in. When you have the choice of working nearby and making a lot more money and having a lot more free time it becomes tempting to pack the music in. So I’m really grateful to them that they’ve stuck with it. There’s something to be said for perseverance.”
Last August’s fifth LP shows the band never grows moss as they roll in continuous momentum, seeking higher grounds of musicality. This has given the band a true appreciation in creative currency. Kennedy places the secrets of holding relevance in a youthful and energetic industry down to each of the band’s eclectic upbringing, a worldly bunch of enthusiasts brought together in a melange of homemade hip hop. “The Herd has always been constantly heading in new directions. I think it’s in the nature of who we are and the backgrounds that we come from, musically. It’s just been a constant process. I think the difference with this one perhaps is that it’s like a collective coming together on a compilation of different artists’ tunes while still being part of The Herd. But this brought about such a cohesive approach to our writing.”
As all eight descend upon our live scene once again, coinciding with the release of their new EP Better Alive, their shows promise to bring with them all the lights and lustre of some of Australia’s most celebrated hip hop live musicians through a newly developed concept of narrative and visual performances. The Herd is very lyrical-based and going live with the more serious-toned and softer-spoken tracks like Shihaba and My Sister’s Palace from Future Shade there is the threat that it disrupts the crowd’s rhythm. “At our last shows we played these in the quieter moments in the set,” says Kennedy of how The Herd handles those sombre moments. “I think when you start getting conscious of the peoples’ reactions you can loose your confidence on stage pretty easily and you can get nervous if you think people aren’t jumping around and dancing then you’ve somehow lost them. But that’s certainly not the case, so we really want to provide some lightness and darkness contrast to the set. And you know, our knees are getting old – we can’t dance around for an hour and a half anymore,” Kennedy quips.