HE’S BACK FROM THE DENTIST AND STILL SMILING. NICK ‘SOLO’ BRYANT-SMITH ON HIS WAY TO AN ELEFANT BBQ TO CELEBRATE NEW LP, KING AMONGST MANY – HIS FIRST IN FOUR YEARS – PAUSED TO DISCUSS WITH RIP NICHOLSON HOW HORRORSHOW STAY KING AMONGST THEIR PEERS.
SOLO interviewed @ 15:50 AEST – Thursday 15th August 2013
For Street Press Australia & Rip2Shredz Press
Words by RIP NICHOLSON
[Full Q & A below]
“I’m stoked,” claims Bryant-Smith. “And it speaks volumes as to how strong the connection is between our fans and feeling the music that they weren’t concerned with us coming back with a smash single and the (record) label was willing to wait, which really gave us that sense of having that calm and enthusiastic energy and I think our music means a lot to the people that listen to it, they really invest themselves into it and get passionate about it. And that’s great. That’s what you want from your supporters in a climate as you explained where attention spans are so short.”
A slow-building album can sometimes wander off course from its original conception. So when asked if King was close to how they had envisioned it, Bryant-Smith replies, “Hell no! For this record we wanted to do more classic-sounding hip hop, like a boom-bap feel to the music… a throwback to the classic era of what we grew up on.”
Producer Adit keeps active in the studio, responsible for producing Spit Syndicate in the One Day collective and most recently indie-electronica band Left. The beats he churns out are very exploratory, which finds Bryant-Smith having to readjust his pace.
“He’s definitely stayed real busy in the studio. Adit is more in the frame of seeing what comes out and maybe following that. So while we started out with a very concrete plan, Adit started experimenting and realised that he wanted to do other stuff and not feel limited, you know, constricted by that original vision. He kinda followed those more spontaneous moments and then I readjusted. So there is that play in there from the original idea but it’s definitely been expanded on with stuff we didn’t picture happening.”
Bryant-Smith played the tortoise in this race. Such a poet, as evidenced in the very touching tribute, Down The Line (Mana’s Song), but a poet who puts in work at his own pace. “I’m just a pretty slow dude. Like, most shit that I do in daily life I do it pretty slowly, whether it’s making a bowl of cereal or writing a song,” he admits.
The process between the pair is always a negotiation, he explains. “In the making of this record there have been beats laying around for ages waiting for me to write to them or me being on a certain tip and not really having the beats that match that but having another five beats there that I was supposed to catch up on. You know, it’s just a constant negotiation and there’s gotta be that mutual respect and teamwork and a good level of trust between us that the other one is going to come through. And history shows that we do come through in the end.”
But if everything is for a reason, Bryant-Smith admits there is room for self-improvement and senses a strong need to exercise more diligence on his division of labour.
“One thing that I have to take from the process of making this album, and if I want to better myself as a writer and as an artist, I need to up my productivity. I need to learn how to not take four years to write a song. There are other times when certain guest verses I have done, like the spot for the Hilltop Hoods, I was only given one week to write that verse, when I got the call when I was in Adelaide recording it. So I have shown myself that I can write quickly and the results are going to be strong. I just think there’s this extra thought when it comes to Horrorshow, like ‘this is my body of work, this has got to stand the test of time.’”
Despite the album’s wandering focus, the yin and yang of MC and producer and time spent figuratively off the shelf, the feedback from fans and peers alike has been affirming for the boys striving for their product to reach the higher shelf. King Amongst Many topped iTunes and hit #2 on the ARIA Charts on debut and has been tipped early as a defining album for the pair. But what’s most important for Adit and Solo is gaining that respect from their peers, to be king amongst their own in hip hop.
“(King) definitely defines how I’m looking at what we do right now, which is to say, that I want to believe artists should be striving to make the best art they could possibly do. You should be trying to push and really master your craft and be regarded as king, what we call ‘king’ in hip hop. Someone who is regarded as king has undeniably put in the hard work and earns the respect of his peers. And as participants in hip hop I think that’s what we’re aspiring to. The title is really indicative of where I see us at right now. We tried to make the album of such high calibre that we have a place hopefully among those who are considered king in hip hop and if it doesn’t happen on this record then that was definitely our underlying intention for every song that we do.”
[Full Q & A below]
Q+A with SOLO
Three years and ten months have passed since Sydneysiders Solo (MC) and Adit (producer) dropped Horrorshow’s first LP, Inside Story, and they haven’t had a release until this month. The time without new material in a market with short attention spans would be career suicide for an act whose notoriety hadn’t stacked enough clout across the homegrown market. Bryant-Smith, sitting outside his home, is interrupted when a passerby fan recognises him and shows him love. Horrorshow, it would seem, are still getting their dues and running their own race.
Nick what’s good man. What are you up to?
I have actually just come back from the dentist, which is never pleasant. My apologies. It went much longer than I had anticipated. I didn’t have any problems, but they’re very thorough by nature. So that took me longer than it should have and I’m just about to head to a BBQ at Elefant Traks to celebrate the release of the record and recent chart success. So yeah it’s been a busy day. How’s your day going?
I’ve been laying floors at a mate’s place who has decided to tear up the inside of his house. A very different day to what I am used to. So, you’re off to the BBQ to celebrate the new album. It’s been out for what, two weeks tomorrow?
Did it come out as you both had envisioned?
Hell no! Hell no! I think when we started we thinking about the record four years ago we wanted to do a much more classic sounding hip-hop. Like a boom-bap feel to the music like a throwback to the classic era of what we grew up on. But, as we went along on our journey and Adit started experimenting with different sounds and stuff it kinda went off in another direction. So there’s a bit of that play in there from that original idea but it’s definitely expanded and incorporated some other stuff that we didn’t picture happening.
It takes on a life of its own?
Definitely, yeah. It also depends on the artist. My lyrics are definitely well thought out over time. if I sit down to write a track or make an album or whatever, my approach is fully think about what I wanna do before I start doing it. So I often do come with the mentality of making a plan and envision what I wanna make before I make it. That way I know what I am working towards. But, other people that I work with and Adit they’re more in the frame of seeing what comes out and maybe following that. So when we start out with a very concrete plan and I was envisioning it in my mind how step by step I would get to that goal, but as we started and Adit had started from that point of view as well but as he started experimenting and realising that he wanted to do other stuff and not feel limited, you know? Constricted by that original vision. he kinda followed those more spontaneous moment and then I re-adjusted and adapted to the direction the music was going.
There is a lot of introspection and emotion here, what shapes the mood of a Horrorshow record, you writing to suit a slumbering beat from Adit or your lyrics kick the mood off?
It can definitely go both ways and the tracks on the record that came about in both of the ways that you had just mentioned, so the hard out process is that Adit will make beats and give them to me and I will tell him what’s resonating and what type of lyrics are gonna work with that beat but then there’s other tracks on the record where I put in the concept or brought in the mood that I wanted to touch on he starts to shape something around that. So, I guess an example of that would be the track ‘Backyard’ with Jimblah, that was definitely where i had the concept or topic and knew that i wanted to write something on those issues and I asked him if he could come up with something that would be a good canvas for that. Both approaches are incorporated when we approach the record, but yeah, for the most part it’s me listening to the beats tryin’ to hear for the story and concept that lies in the music and then fleshing it out with words.
‘Down The Line’ – great ballad. But it’s tracks like that that make you a poet among rappers. I’m just sayin. But that seems like a very lyrics-first track. Adit must have taylor-made the beat after your writing?
That’s interesting because it happened the complete other way round. It’s one of the oldest beats on the record and has been kicking around since we made the last one in 2009. I knew as soon as I heard it that I wanted to do write something about my Grandfather on it that’s why the sampling on the record is very crackly and vintage and it’s got a very kinda nostalgic feel to it. The whistling through the track, my Grandfather was a great whistler and that really resonated with me personally and I knew that was the topic I wanted to run with and what takes so long is working out how to actually get there. Doing research into my family history and interviewing my Dad and Grandmother and all those bit and pieces that go into formulating the record. So, I guess I know what you mean that that track is very much driven by the lyrics and the story behind it.
Over the years Adit and I have done certain tracks where there’s just a synergy going on from the moment I hear the beat, you know. Every now and again he’ll make a beat and from the first time I hear it I know that I can instantly do something with it and I can use it. So on previous album tracks like ‘The Rain’ have had that moment as well. Tracks like ‘Inside Story’ and that’s when I know I’m onto something good. When that moment strikes you know the outcome is gonna be great. A lot of people are responding to that song ‘Down The Line’. And I guess it’s pretty epic. I’m trying to cover 80 years of my family history as well as trying to touch on the bigger picture as well that period of Australian history and that’s a pretty mammoth task as a writer and it took me a long time to pull it all together. it was all driven from the very first time I heard that beat. It just spoke to me and when that happens I know that I have to follow those instincts because the results are they’re always our strongest tracks.
The fact that you’ve turned a personal track on your family and related it to all-Australian life back then really, is a testament to your writing ability man. Anyone can love a rap record but to understand it… that takes a good MC.
(Nick, who is sitting out front of his house breaks to return the love a fan gives up as he walks by the rapper.)
That was the aim of that track. I wanted to pay tribute with a personal story but I also think it’s a story that’s typical of the huge shifts and major change in the last few generations of Australians and I think a lot of Australians have background like that and maybe their families have a rural origins or I know heaps of people who have relatives that served in world wars and I think as young people maybe we don’t stop and acknowledge that stuff enough. And I think there’s a tendency to, when you’re young, to be so caught up in what you’re doing and and what exciting things you’re doing you maybe don’t think about your grandparents whether they’re in a home or live alone, and I was very guilty of that myself to some extent in the last few years. As my grandparents came to the end of their lives i reflected on all the amazing and unimaginable things that they have been through, especially my Granddad, you know, fighting a soldier and living through the depression and stuff. I just wanted to lay tribute to that stuff on a personal level but also on that macro level, so cheers man. I appreciate that you picked up on that.
Well it’s here now and what maturity. You seem like you’re finally reaching that level where your music is being communicated and completely understood. That must feel pretty fucking special?
Yeah, I think we occupy an interesting position in the landscape of hip-hop in the country because the genre’s growing every year and there is a lot of support for it. Maybe some of the stuff makes it on the radio and gets a look-in in the quote-unquote mainstream and we still make party tracks which is still fun. I think it’s important that fans have one or two to have fun to and we occupy an interesting position because now you have people that have come to expect more thought-provoking stuff from us. So, on this record we really chose to embrace that and come up with records that will accentuate that, you know? And play to that strength, and i think at some point I was worried that maybe we had gone too far in that direction and there were times where i thought maybe I have packed too many views in here and it’s too dense and maybe people are gonna listen to it and feel like I’m giving a lecture or reading an essay to them. But, all reaction so far has been overwhelmingly positive. People have said how they’re enjoying the thoughtful place the record has taken them to. And that’s the feedback that we adhere to.
It’s awesome. I’m stoked to the responses we’ve had and really look forward to building on it by taking the album out on the road and yeah it’s an exciting time for us and what we’re doing.
Does King Amongst Many define the Horrorsquad?
Well in your record you mentioned yourselves as the Horrorsquad. I don’t know whether that’s a broader term for a larger group that you may have in your team?
The interesting thing with that line is that the Horrorsquad is actually the name of our street team, a bunch of kids who are really dedicated supporters and they’ve made a little club and they help spread shit online or they help put posters up, that kinda stuff. And uh, in exchange we give them early access to our music or there’s way that they can earn free tickets, that kind of stuff. And the name of that little group is the Horrorsquad.
I actually wrote that line before we had the Horrorsquad but then the Horrorsquad definitely fitted as the name of our street team. So with that line I’m really representing myself and our band but also our supporters, you know?
So as far as your question, does this album define the Horrorshow? Um, I dunno. it definitely defines the record and that time when we made it. But it definitely defines how I’m looking at what we do right now, which is to say, that I want to believe artists should be striving to make the best art they could possibly do. You should be trying to push and really master your craft and be regarded as King, what we call King in hip-hop. Someone who is regarded as King has undeniably put in the hard work and earns the respect of his peers and they deserve it. And as participants in hip-hop I think that’s what we’re aspiring to. So it definitely defines that, to me and Horrorshow is my vehicle for doing that. But I think as we move through different phases and that’s the great thing about making an album and giving it a title, you’re presenting a body of work with a certain theme. So at the time we made Inside Story, that title was really indicative of what we were trying to do at the time in getting a little cryptic in my writing and make the story hidden inside the music a little, whereas one thing that weighed on my mind in making this record was having been away from our audience for so long, having this big gap between records but also having done so many shows and really built the band stay up in that period. The title is really indicative of where I see us at right now. We tried to make the album of such high calibre that we have a place hopefully among those who are considered King in hip-hop and if it doesn’t happen on this record then that was definitely our underlying intention for every song that we do.
Four years between albums in such a fickle time where attention spans are gone within minutes of a song ending. For you guys to have stayed where you’re at, that’s a huge mark. No-one waits four years between albums because it’s too hard to stay relevant. But to be where you’re at and proud of the work you’ve put out you’re already winning the game man.
Yeah dude, I’m stoked and i think it speaks volumes how strong the connection is between our fans and feeling the music that they weren’t concerned with us coming back with a smash single or the record label was willing to wait long periods of time really gave us that sense of having that calm and enthusiastic energy that shows when we did deliver on the album. And I think our music means alot to the people that listen to it. I don’t think people listen to it in a casual way they really invest themselves into it and get passionate about it. And that’s great, that’s what you want from your supporters in a climate as you explained where attention spans are so short, so yeah we’re really stoked and really thankful to the people that went out to support us and buy the record. it sends a big message to us and to maybe people that don’t know anything about what we do so it sends a big message to the kind of commitment people have to our music.
And now you have a chance to give back. King Amongst Many Tour kicks off early September. Looking forward to it?
Definitely very excited to get back on the road.
You guys have toured with some big shifters, shared stages across Europe with them. But is it anything like headlining your own national circuit?
Every situation has got it’s different challenges and it’s great being a support act. There’s always an attractable energy playing with other groups but there’s definitely another level of energy when you have a whole room of people that have come specifically to see you, so before when they’re at home listening to your track and there’s this feeling that they are about to experience all this live, the energy that comes with all that caught in that moment, yeah… it’s pretty untouchable.
From your bio you and Adit have a different pace of work. There is a synergy picked up on your records, so it works. But, hard to imagine a bike running on two wheels at different speeds. How do you manage that?
Yeah he’s sent feelers out in other directions over the last couple of years and started to work on other projects and do different kinds of music. He’s definitely stayed real busy in the studio and I’m just a pretty slow dude. Like, most shit that i do in daily life I do it pretty slowly whether it’s making a bowl of cereal or writing a song I definitely… I’m not known for doing things quickly and Adit’s known me for so long, he understands that and has the faith that i will come through in the end.
There has always been an element to our process in how we start it but it’s become more pronounced in the last couple of years. Sometimes that has been tricky in the making of this record where beats have been laying around for ages while i try and come up with something for them. Or me being on a certain tip and not really having the beats that match that but having another five beats there that i was supposed to catch up on. You know it’s just a constant negotiation and there’s gotta be that mutual respect and teamwork and a good level of trust between us that the other one is going to come through and history shows that we do come through in the end.
But one thing that I have to take from the process of making this album is maybe try and, if I want to better myself as a writer and as an artist, I need to up my productivity. You know, I need to learn how to not take four years to write a song. Because, there are other times when certain guest verses I have done for other people like Urthboy or for example, the guest spot I did for the Hilltop Hoods. I was only given one week to write that verse. Literally to when i got the call to when I was in Adelaide recording it was a week, you know. And there’s other examples as well so I have shown myself that I can write quickly and the results are going to be strong. I just think there’s this extra thing when it comes to Horrorshow. ‘This is my body of work, this has got to stand the test of time.’ I really think I just agonise over it all and that comes out in how the raps are delivered, but I tell you one thing I have to take away from this process to kinda better myself it’s to learn how to speed up that process and make more music and be a bit more spontaneous with it because we definitely don’t wanna have another four year wait between records. It’s definitely not something that i want to repeat but this is what had to happen, we needed that moment to collect everything and put it all together.
Life always gets in the way anyway.
Nick, have fun at the BBQ man.
Thanks man, thanks for your time too, we appreciate it.
All the best for the tour coming up soon too.