All posts tagged hip-hop

  • The Weekend Australian Review story: ‘The Hardest Hit: Bliss N Eso and Johann Ofner’, May 2017

    A feature story for The Weekend Australian Review, published in the May 13 issue. Excerpt below.

    The Hardest Hit

    Since a tragic incident during the filming of a music video, hip-hop trio Bliss N Eso has changed its outlook on life and music

    'The Hardest Hit: Bliss N Eso and Johann Ofner' story in The Weekend Australian Review by Andrew McMillen, May 2017

    On Monday, January 22, a 28-year-old man named Johann Ofner left his home on the Gold Coast to go to work in Brisbane. Muscled, tattooed and quick to laugh, Ofner was thrilled by the role he had landed as a stuntman in a music video for an upcoming single by Sydney-based hip-hop trio Bliss n Eso. He called his friend and business partner as soon as he was picked for the part, and learned that his hulking presence was required for a scene ­involving a poker game that is disrupted by armed robbers.

    Ofner’s life was large and full, with key scenes, achievements and affirmations posted to his Instagram profile, where he had 19,000 followers. Many people knew him as Yogi, a nickname that had stuck with him since high school. An actor, athlete, stuntman and co-owner of a fitness training and lifestyle clothing business named AMPM, Ofner had recently recorded an appearance on the Nine Network television program Australian Ninja Warrior. It had not yet been broadcast, but he quietly hoped it might serve as the key to unlocking another level of his flourishing career in front of the camera. Ofner’s seven-year-old daughter, Kyarna, was an extrovert keen to follow in his athletic footsteps, as her own Instagram profile — set up by her dad — showed.

    The music video appearance was for a song titled ‘Friend Like You’, the second single from Bliss n Eso’s sixth album Off the Grid, which this week went to No 1 on the ARIA charts. Built on a message about being able to rely on the support of your loved ones during tough times, and a powerful vocal hook by American soul singer Lee Fields — “Is there anybody out there feeling like I do?” — its optimistic motif was in ­harmony with the trio’s overarching lyrical themes. Such positivity has long since struck a chord with Australian audiences: Bliss n Eso’s previous two albums both debuted atop the ARIA album charts in 2010 and 2013, and both achieved platinum certification of more than 70,000 sales. The group’s last major national tour was seen by more than 55,000 fans across the country.

    After a week-long production, the video’s final scenes were being filmed downstairs in a Brisbane city bar called Brooklyn Standard. From the closed set, Ofner posted media on his Instagram of the weapons that were being used in the poker robbery scene. “Our Asian gangster props today!” he wrote alongside a video of the firearms in their packing case.

    During the afternoon, however, troubling reports emerged. Later, detective inspector Tom Armitt addressed media gathered near the bar and announced that a man had died as a result of wounds to his chest. Soon his identity would be confirmed as a 28-year-old stuntman who lived on the Gold Coast. Johann Ofner would not be coming home from work.

    To read the full story, visit The Australian.

  • Good Weekend story: ‘Showcase: Tkay Maidza’, October 2016

    A short artist profile for Good Weekend‘s ‘showcase’ section. The full story appears below.

    Showcase – Tkay Maidza

    Artist Showcase – Tkay Maidza by Andrew McMillen in Good Weekend, 2016. Photo by Paul Harris

    Wearing an extra-large Boston Celtics basketball jersey and towering black platform boots, hip-hop artist Tkay Maidza is bound to attract every eye in the room. It’s close to midnight on a Wednesday night in Brisbane in September, seven weeks before her debut album is released, and Maidza is performing alongside her drummer and DJ to 300 fans as part of the Bigsound music festival. Even with the boots and the raised stage, Maidza is only a little taller than the faithful in the front row. But what she lacks in stature, she more than makes up with lyrical ability and vocal dexterity.

    In Fortitude Valley, a guerrilla marketing campaign is underway: Maidza, 20, appears on posters that bear only her face and her first name, or at least the abbreviated version of it. Born Takudzwa Victoria Rosa Maidza in Zimbabwe, she has lived in Australia since she was five: first Perth, then Kalgoorlie, on to Whyalla and then Adelaide, where her parents still live.

    The transient nature of her upbringing is reflected in her career as a touring musician. Maidza’s travel schedule sees her constantly playing festivals and shows across Europe, the UK and the US. “I don’t really live anywhere,” she tells Good Weekend in a Fortitude Valley cafe prior to her headline performance. “I think it’s cool, because I’m always seeing something new. I’ve been okay with moving to a new city and having to make new friends, because I never settled anywhere, so I learnt not to be attached.”

    Maidza graduated from high school at 16 and began studying architecture at university, before her YouTube covers and early demos – including the earworm track Brontosaurus – caught the attention of record labels here and overseas. Her debut album, Tkay, is an accomplished and balanced showcase of her songwriting in two styles: electronic pop and hip-hop.

    “I know you feel the heat because I’m nothing less than fire,” she raps on lead single Carry On, which features a guest verse by acclaimed American rapper Killer Mike. “I’ve always been a fan of rappers that rap really fast,” she says, beaming. “I’m a person who has a really short attention span, so I want something that twists, or something you don’t expect.”

    Just then, a young girl walks past the cafe and briefly makes eye contact with Maidza. Etched into the girl’s  T-shirt are four letters that Australia will soon be seeing plenty more of. “Oh my God,” Maidza whispers, equally thrilled and embarrassed. “She has a Tkay shirt on!”

    Above photograph by Paul Harris.

  • FasterLouder story: ‘Urthboy – The Storyteller’, July 2013

    A story for FasterLouder; a profile of the Australian hip-hop artist Urthboy. Excerpt below; click the image for the full story.

    Urthboy – The Storyteller

    Andrew McMillen charts Tim Levinson’s rise from petty criminal to one of Australia’s most important musical voices.

    FasterLouder story: 'Urthboy - The Storyteller' by Andrew McMillen, July 2013

    The middle child began acting out in his teens. Spurred by small-town boredom, a desire to test the boundaries of authority, and an absentee father, a fascination with petty crime took shape. The adrenaline rush of “bombing” public property with spraypaint cans, breaking into empty buildings, and shoplifting were all par for the course among his friends. The more audacious would steal cars and nearly run over their accomplices by accident, or go “searching” – their innocuous euphemism for the serious transgression of popping store tills, grabbing the money, and fleeing.

    Stints in juvenile detention followed for these boys, yet Tim Levinson was in awe of the wits that crime demanded. “Those graffiti artists and crims were the sharpest thinkers and quickest responders to nerve-wracking situations,” he says now. “I feel like I was never really that way inclined.” A voice at the back of his head told him, as the age of 18 fast approached, that soon, these boys would no longer be tried as children in the court system. And so the middle child and petty crime parted ways.

    Tim Levinson tells stories. His preferred medium is the song and verse of hip-hop, where he performs under the pseudonym Urthboy, a name which has no greater significance other than sounding cool, an all-important factor for a teenager registering his first Hotmail address. Levinson’s skill in this field has developed to the point at which the 35 year-old finds himself in mid-2013: surrounded by a strong national audience, critical plaudits (three of his four solo albums have been nominated for the industry-polled Australian Music Prize) and widespread respect among his peers of all musical stripes.

    For a genre that was largely derided and dismissed at the turn of the century, this country’s hip-hop culture has slowly but surely moved from the fringes to the centre. And at the centre of that culture is this particular storyteller. His father left the family home in the small Blue Mountains town of Wentworth Falls, NSW – population 5650 – when Levinson was nine, owing to issues over drinking and domestic violence.

    This separation shook up their lives considerably: suddenly, his mum became the breadwinner through necessity, working up to 14 hours a day to support her three children. Levinson processed this abandonment as best a child could, but would still find himself out on the front lawn some nights, alone, watching cars on the highway and wishing that the tiny headlights of his mother’s beaten-up Corolla would come home.

    Music became a refuge during this formative time. His elder brother, Matthew, introduced a raft of influences by sharing his CD and cassette collection. At first, Britpop bands like Blur and Pulp appealed, before his ears attuned to Leonard Cohen. Run DMC’s Tougher Than Leather was the first hip-hop record he truly loved. His own rhymes scribbled on pages would eventually be coupled with beats, and recorded. His first band was named Explanetary, a hip-hop six-piece that featured Levinson and two others on vocals.

    Staying in Wentworth Falls never appealed; he moved to Sydney after completing high school. His musical aspirations slowly shifted from a hobby – something done with friends, and not taken seriously – to a full-time career. Explanetary would only record one EP together: In On The Deal, released in May 2001. Twelve years later, Levinson has released four solo albums, five with influential Sydney-based nine-piece band The Herd, and worked with dozens of hip-hop artists to release their music on Elefant Traks, an independent record label that Levinson co-founded in 1998, and where he still works as a label manager.

    Despite the widespread enjoyment of this once-niche music genre nowadays, it’s worth remembering that it took quite some time for the nation’s ears to attune to Australian accents backed by synthesised beats. “Because hip-hop was such a strong Afro-American music, it was hard to hear it another way,” says Paul Kelly, who Levinson is supporting on a national tour this month. “But to me, hip-hop is like soccer: it’s very portable, adaptable, and can work worldwide. It just needed to seed for a while here, so that our own blooms could grow out of that. It’s well-suited to local vernacular, so once people get their own style, it’s going to work well, wherever it goes.”

    To read the full story, visit FasterLouder.

  • SMH IT Pro story: “‘Larger technical issue’ in Facebook ad system”, December 2011

    A short feature for the Sydney Morning Herald’s IT Pro section. It’s my first work published under the SMH masthead. Excerpt below.

    ‘Larger technical issue’ in Facebook ad system

    Self-service ad platform gives advertiser grief.

    A Facebook employee has suggested the dramatic shifts in advertising rates on the company’s self-serve ad platform may be due to a “larger technical issue”, in an email to an Australian customer.

    The customer, Tim Levinson [pictured], manager of Sydney-based hip-hop music label Elefant Traks, claims to have experienced price hikes of up to 1000 per cent on the social network’s self-serve ad platform.

    Levinson has spent around $10,000 on Facebook advertisements in the last two years; roughly $100 per week, using the site’s pay-per-click model.

    In late July, he wrote a concerned email to Facebook’s ad sales team, noting that the pay-per-click rates had gone “inexplicably through the roof” – from $0.50 per click to as much as $5. The Elefant Traks manager – who performs under the MC name Urthboy, and is also a founding member of popular Sydney hip-hop group The Herd – noticed in July that the estimated cost-per-click suggested by Facebook’s self-serve ad system wouldn’t budge on its ‘suggested bid’ amount, regardless of whether he was bidding on popular – and therefore, more competitive and expensive – keywords such as ‘triple j’ and ‘bliss n eso’, or significantly less popular terms such as ‘sydney underground rap’.

    “I run a music business where a click results in an actual ‘sale’ only a certain percentage of the time,” he wrote in the email. “This is consistent across the board. The art is increasing that percentage through clever targeting. There is no way that $2 per click is value for money, let alone $3 or $4. There is no way that I gain useful information about the best keywords for targeting people who actually buy our product when the fee per click is the same, regardless of the targeted groups.”

    It took two weeks for a Facebook employee to respond. In the month of July, Levinson had been charged between $25 and $71 each day. On August 5, “Josie” from Facebook’s ‘Online Sales Operations’ team wrote back and explained how the pay-per-click system worked, despite Levinson having used the ad platform without problems for two years. His concerns remained, so the email conversation continued.

    For the full story, visit SMH IT Pro.

  • The Vine interview: Kenny Sabir of The Herd, April 2011

    An interview for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Interview – The Herd

    After spending ten years at the forefront of Australian hip-hop, you could forgive The Herd if they became complacent. Ten years in anything is a long time, let alone the music business. Yet complacency is the furthest thing from the minds of this Sydney collective, whose eight members have earned a reputation for both their energetic live shows – owing equally to the live instrumentation and sheer number of bodies on stage – and their want to challenge Australian society and politics thereof. See: ‘77%’, whose chorus call of “These cunts need a shake-up” was directed at the ‘77%’ of Australians who (according to a poll) supported the then-Howard government’s response to refusing to allow a distressed fishing vessel, the Tampa, to enter Australian waters. See also: ‘The King Is Dead’, which celebrated Howard’s removal from office.

    This overt politicisation wasn’t always apparent in The Herd’s musical output, though. Their first single to achieve triple j attention, for instance, was an ode to ordering food at a take-away store (‘Scallops’). During their career, they’ve released four albums; over time, the quality of songwriting and production has steadily increased. Though they’ve got their eyes on release #5 later this year, The Herd are currently embarking on a short run of shows to celebrate their 10th anniversary (or birthday, depending on which way you look at it).

    The morning after the tour’s first show in Newcastle, TheVine connected with Kenny Sabir (a.k.a. Traksewt, who plays accordion, clarinet, and beats), a founding member of both The Herd and their associated label Elefant Traks.

    First things first, Kenny. How’d last night go?

    Last night was great. After not playing for two years, there was that nervous excitement of, “Oh, do the crowd still remember us?” But when you’re up on stage, it comes back to you about how it feels to be playing. The crowd were into it. We got to try out the new single (‘The Sum Of It All’; TheVine review here). It went down well.

    I take it you’re playing something similar to a ‘greatest hits’ set for these shows, since you don’t have a new record to promote.

    Yeah. We’ve got the new single, and we’ve got lots of new tracks, but we’re not thinking about [playing them] on this tour. We’re doing a new beat, but we might use it as an instrumental for freestyles. There’s a lot of stuff we’d love to play, but they’re not fully finished yet.

    I’m interested to know some of the differences between touring Australia now, versus when the band started in 2001.

    One thing is that, when we started, we were very Sydney-centric. The label wasn’t purely hip-hop back then; we were doing electronic stuff as well. Back then, a lot of the focus was on the label itself, The Herd were more unknown. We started to get dedicated fans. You’d see the same faces quite often. Once we started getting more radio play, we started venturing [outside Sydney]. The first gigs in other cities were hard. We started gigging around before the radio [play] really took off, too. But after that, it was a constant groundswell. We’d get a lot of love from Brisbane and Melbourne, and it kept ramping up. Some of our craziest shows have been in the other cities.

    It’s changed a lot. Getting into the festival circuit was very hard initially, as we were independent and we didn’t have the arrays of contacts that you need to get into that circuit. But it’s always been fun, and they’re great guys to be touring with. We still have the same problems that we had 10 years ago, of trying to organise eight or nine people to leave somewhere for breakfast [laughs].

    I’m guessing you take better care of your physical health nowadays, too.

    [Laughs] Yeah. It’s pretty diverse in the band, you could say. There are more things we’re aware of, that we have to worry about now. We’d like to think that we take better care of ourselves now, but when you’re in the mode of touring, you switch on your ‘touring brain’ and you start living how you used to live.

    For the full interview, visit The Vine. For more of The Herd, visit their label’s website. The audio for their new single, ‘The Sum Of It All‘, is embedded below.

  • The Vine album review: Big Boi – ‘Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty’, July 2010

    An album review for The Vine.

    'Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty' album cover by Big BoiBig Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty

    Though they both effectively released a pair of solo albums under the OutKast moniker with 2003’s Speakerboxx/The Love Below, Atlanta-based rapper Big Boi steps away from his songwriting partnership with André 3000 for the first time to deliver nothing less than a monster album in Sir Lucious Left Foot. The title refers to one of Boi’s numerous alter-egos; two more, ‘Daddy Fat Sax’ and ‘General Patton’, are name-checked as song titles in the album’s first half. The key to this album’s thrilling ride lies within this approach: by taking advantage of the freedom to flit between several personas, the rapper can both shrink and exaggerate his true self. It’s less a schizophrenic episode than a tactic to unlock new songwriting ideas and it’s one that works beautifully.

    In a decision seemingly born from label-related frustrations – this album was first due out in 2008 – Big Boi leaked two tracks of originally intended for Sir Lucious Left Foot prior to the album’s release, in ‘Royal Flush’ (featuring Raekwon and Andre 3000) and ‘Sumthin’s Gotta Give’ (featuring Mary J. Blige). A slew of pre-release singles would follow, including ‘Shine Blockas’ (featuring Gucci Mane), ‘For Yo Sorrows’ (featuring George Clinton and Too $hort), and ‘General Patton’ (featuring Big Rube). All of which might seem like overkill  if it weren’t for the monster lead single proper ‘Shutterbugg’ (featuring Cutty).

    Full archived review at The Vine. More Big Boi on MySpace; music video for ‘Shutterbugg‘ embedded below. For mine, this is a real contender for album of the year. I don’t get into most hip-hop, but this is outstanding.

  • A Conversation With Get Busy Committee, Los Angeles hip-hop group

    Get Busy Committee koala/uzi logoKoalas, uzis, and ‘Heartbeats’: Los Angeles-based hip-hop group Get Busy Committee (GBC) don’t mess around. Their 100% self-funded, self-released debut album Uzi Does It was released on their own label, Tokyo Sex Whale, and declared 2009’s ‘hip hop album of the year’ by Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park/Fort Minor off the back of their lead single ‘My Little Razorblade, which sampled the rhythmic pulse of Swedish electronic act The Knife’s distinctive track ‘Heartbeats’.

    Consisting of underground rapper Apathy, Styles of Beyond‘s Ryu, and producer Scoop DeVille, GBC took the unlikely step of releasing the album in a USB uzi format that won them coverage on Wired, thereby reaching a tech-mad fanbase and creating buzz ahead of a digital album launch that saw Uzi Does It offered in mp3 form for just $1 via MySpace Music. Confused? Get busy. Below is an email conversation with the group, which was answered for the most part by Apathy.

    Andrew: Hey GBC. I follow music industry news, I heard about you through guys like Bob Lefsetz (music industry commentator) and Ian Rogers (CEO of online music marketing company Topspin Media). Is it true that all publicity is good publicity, or were you weirded out by having a mid-50 year old guy like Bob write about you?

    No way! Bob Lefsetz has been around long enough to have a good idea of what he likes, and I hope we’re on his good side! GBC does not age-discriminate, and we are definitely NOT for the kids!

    Ian’s involvement and enthusiasm seems to have boosted your profile to a level that other acts might spend months or years developing. How important is his guidance and experience to the group?

    In all honesty, Ian Rogers and the folks at Topspin have been the best thing to ever happen to our career. When in the past we would have a crazy idea, it would just stay a crazy idea. Ian is able to take a crazy idea, add sweet peppers and Giardiniera on top of a paper thin cut of beef, throw it in a French roll, and make a Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich out of it. (Sorry… Man V. Food is on in the background as I write this.)

    We also have to thank our good friend Mike Shinoda [Linkin Park/Fort Minor] for linking us up with Ian!

    “This is a marathon, not a sprint. Get Busy Committee hasn’t even played a live show since the record came out yet,” wrote Ian on his blog. Do you have an interest in the marketing and promotion side of things, or are you happy to let others take care of it while you work on the music?

    Ryu: Yes, we are heavily involved with the marketing of the group. From the conception, it was very important to me that every detail of the group was carefully thought out. From the way we comb our hair, to the stylish clothes we wear. [A reference to their song ‘Stylish Clothes‘]

    I also have a background in marketing/PR with the clothing brand True Love & False Idols. With GBC I wanted our image, logo (koala with uzi), website, and merchandise to be an extension of the brand. Everything is designed by our good friend and owner of TLFI (and sometimes GBC collaborator) Alex (2tone) Erdman. The marketing for this album has been a fun experience for us.

    “Financially we’re doing slightly better than break-even at the moment, which means no one is making a bunch of money but we aren’t losing money, either,” wrote Ian in the same blog post. I take it that – having been in other groups – GBC have been realistic about the financial situations for musicians since you formed a couple of months ago?

    We were very realistic financially with this album. The point was never to become rich off of the album; we just wanted to generate enough money to continue to raise awareness.

    Los Angeles hip-hop group Get Busy Committee

    Hypothetically, what would it take for an independent hip-hop act like yourselves to be able to live off your music – touring, merch, record sales, etc? Is this even possible in 2010?

    An artist being able to live off of [recorded] music, touring, merch, etc is a very real possibility in 2010, provided that the artist is patient, and the margin of profit works in the artists’ favour. It’s also important that you offer a product that people can’t live without. Everyone can live without a CD, but nobody can live without an uzi-shaped USB, with a free album included!

    In the end, the funds you take is equal to the guns you make!

    From an interview here: you said “‘My Little Razorblade’ is probably the worst recording ever. The vocals are all blown out.” What? Are you serious? Fuck pristine, I love the edge this track has. It’s the first thing I heard from you guys, and still my favourite. Was it difficult to clear the ‘Heartbeats’ sample? Have you heard any feedback from The Knife’s camp?

    Thanks! Razorblade is one of our faves as well. We like the blown out vocals as well!

    As for the sample? The Knife have been really cool for not suing the shit out of us. We assume they are familiar with the track, I think one of the band members follow us on Twitter! @GetbusycommittE

    In that same interview, Ian stated that the album is “something that you guys have been working on for over a year; in your spare time, and across the country, and for essentially no money”. You later said “Don’t make a record, it’s the worst way to try to make a living.” What are your day jobs? Do they have any relation to your music?

    We have been fortunate enough in this business to sustain us through the years: Styles Of Beyond, Fort Minor, Demigodz, as well as producing for outside artists have paid the bills for years. Some years are better than others, but we have been very fortunate thus far. Some of the things we do to earn money are:

    Scoop DeVille: His production credits include Snoop Dogg’s ‘Life Of  Da Party‘ and ‘I Wanna Rock‘, Fat Joe and Young Jeezy ‘Ha Ha‘, as well as upcoming tracks on albums from Busta Rhymes, The Clipse, Bishop Lamont, and of course the Get Busy Committee. Safe to say, the kid don’t need a day job.

    Apathy: Shitloads of solo records including the recently released Wanna Snuggle? as well as upcoming albums with Army Of The Pharaohs, and the Demigodz. Production for Cypress Hill, Busta Rhymes and more. Your boy is good!

    Ryu: Get Busy Committee, and PR/Marketing for True Love & False Idols.

    You’ve all been part of the hip-hop scene for over a decade. You knew the music business pre-internet. It must be quite a change to work as GBC, whose marketing and promotional output is almost entirely online.

    Yeah the marketing and promo has changed a lot, but we’ve been in the business long enough and have worked albums in just about every climate of the ever-changing music business, so the new way of doing things hasn’t come as a shock to us. It’s actually a welcome change after spending so much time on major labels. The new style of marketing is much better suited to a group like us. We love it.

    Scoop, have you shown GBC material to Snoop or The Game? What kind of feedback have you been getting?

    Scoop: Yeah I was just out in Miami recently with Fat Joe, DJ Khaled, Cool and Dre, and they loved the USB uzi! I should have brought more with me, everyone was taking pictures with them and shit! The industry is definitely taking notice of the moves we’re making. We’re actually working on a Get Busy Committee and Busta Rhymes song tonight! Shit is gonna be nuts!

    Learn more about Get Busy Committee on their website. Follow them on Twitter at @GetbusycommittE, and watch their bittersweet debut video for ‘I Don’t Care About You’ below.

  • The Vine album review: The Optimen – ‘The Out Of Money Experience’, May 2010

    Brisbane hip-hop crew The OptimenAn album review for The Vine.

    The Optimen – The Out Of Money Experience

    I tend to let most Australian hip-hop go through to the keeper. Not through a particular aversion to the genre, but because when I wrap my ears around a hip-hop release, I want to be inspired. Motivated. Energised. Put simply, I want to hear something great. Which is why I paid attention when I saw that The Optimen had a new release due. Their first album, Boomtown – a term of endearment for their native city of Brisbane – was a class act. It stayed with me throughout the entirety of 2005; five years later, it remains a stellar effort. And though The Optimen did produce beats and record a couple of songs for some of their labelmates’ best work on 2007’s Red Tape Renegade Vol 1, this is Boomtown‘s true successor.

    Full review at The Vine. If you have any interest in Australian hip-hop, check out The Optimen on MySpace.

    It’s true that I don’t pay Australian hip-hop too much attention. If you’re involved with a hip-hop act, drop me a line to try and convince me.

  • A Conversation With Snob Scrilla, Sydney hip-hop artist and producer

    snob_scrilla1Former Californian hip-hop artist Snob Scrilla – also known as Sean Ray – is now based in Sydney, Australia, where he will release his debut album Day One through Ivy League Records in April 2009. Two singles from his first EP, There You Go Again and Chasing Ghosts, have already garnered radio airplay and critical acclaim, while Houston and next single Heartbreak Scorsese are set to continue the trend. Snob kindly shares his thoughts on the state of the music industry and describes life as a full-time musician in 2009.

    Hey Snob! Elevator pitch: give us an overview of your work and your musical career thus far!

    My background in music is almost is as varied as it could possibly be. I’ve done everything: from club nights, to writing pop songs for other artists, to hosting nationally-syndicated radio shows.

    With this project specifically, Snob Scrilla, it’s a bit of a confused child musically. When creating music as Snob, I set out to create music that’s not limited by a marketing scheme or hindered by a target market.

    I want Snob Scrilla to represent all of the random and eclectic musical tastes that I have, and that’s what makes it a bit of a unique thing in this day and age of assembly-line production in the industry.

    It’s 2009. Music is a commodity that we’re often unwilling to pay for. The modern musician’s dilemma: how do you get heard? How do you convince the audience that you’re worth the time?

    You’re not going to convince anybody of anything when it comes to music. That’s not the point of the art. The way you get people onside – though that shouldn’t be the goal either – is by making relevant artistic expressions that people will see a value in listening to.

    I’m not a fan of all of his antics, but one thing Kanye said with regards to his last album has really stuck with me: “art wins in the end.”

    I really believe that. I think that artistic integrity and genuine intentions will always succeed in the end, and that’s where we see the most valuable contributions on the part of the artistic community. Not the convoluted messages that we receive in the formulaic, cookie-cutter albums that are increasingly pumped out these days.

    I think that in order for musicians to get heard, they have to embrace the free music model.

    Artists and labels need to understand that there is no point trying to protect their music from downloads and torrents, because we live in an age where everything will be available for download for free, no matter how much they try to stop it.

    People are only going to buy my album or pay to download my single is if there is a perceived value. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s how it should be.

    snob_scrilla3Labels won’t get away with screwing over consumers anymore, by pumping cash into one single and neglecting the rest of a project only to release a sub-par product. It’s time for everybody to step their game up!

    Your recorded work is a promotional tool to get people through the door at your shows. Agree or disagree?

    I can understand how you could see it like that, but I’d have to disagree.

    While my recorded material is obviously going to be key to getting people to shows, I don’t think that it should be the goal.

    Okay, so what is the goal of your recorded material?

    Well there’s different goals for different art. For my new album specifically, my goal was to create an honest and accurate reflection of where I was at in my life.

    That sounds like a simple – and probably common – goal, but realistically, it encompasses a lot of things; from my personal life, to my beliefs and standpoints.

    Wrapping that all into one cohesive project was difficult, but that was the goal for the album!

    As a music fan, I’ve picked up the notion somewhere along my travels that most albums are released at a loss, and that tickets and merchandise are where the initial outlay is recouped. True or false?

    Yeah that is very true. Most of the time, albums are released at a loss. If they’re not released at a loss, then there’s still a huge recoupment for marketing and production expenditures that were incurred during the creative process.

    This is especially true for debut albums, because there’s generally not a huge fanbase already established and waiting for your project to drop so they can buy it.

    So, for new artists especially, shows and merch is definitely the thing that will get you through the period between releasing and the time it will take you to recoup the money you owe before you get to see any profit.

    Now that we’ve established your viewpoints on the distribution of your art, tell us about your latest album, and your plans for its release.

    Day One is the title of my new project. It’s my debut album as Snob Scrilla and it’s coming out April 24th 2009. It’s the follow-up to last year’s EP, and it’s been the culmination of a lot of growth for me as an artist. The last two singles – There You Go Again and Chasing Ghosts – both had a really hype vibe, and I think a lot of people expected that to be the sound of the entire album, but since I recorded those tracks I’ve grown a lot as an artist and that’s not really the case.

    The latest single Heartbreak Scorsese has been doing pretty well after being added to Triple J, as well as getting some spins on Nova as well. Next I’ll be shooting a video for that track and releasing some cool remixes.

    So yeah, it’s been a very long time coming and I’m very hyped about it man. I can’t wait for everyone to get the chance to finally hear what I’ve been working on!

    Hell, it’s a smooth album man, so you’ve got every reason to be excited. Anyway, you’re signed to Ivy League Records. How’d that relationship begin? I’m intrigued as to how artists get signed; it’s a story that’s not often told. Approached in a smoky bar after a killer show, or something more clean-cut?

    Ha the story of how I got signed is much more clean-cut actually. Basically, when Triple J started playing my first single There You Go Again, Pete Lusty from Ivy League heard the track and dug it enough to get in contact with me. We met a couple times, got along really well, and the entire thing was done in a couple weeks.

    Kickass story, but we’re missing a slice: how did you start getting played on Triple J?

    When I first moved to Australia in 2002 fresh out of  high school, I immediately got busy in the music industry doing any and every job, feature, appearance, or opportunity I could find with one goal: making connections.

    I spent about four years doing that before I even started the Snob Scrilla project. One of the connections that I made was Maya Jupiter, who was doing the hip-hop show on the Jays at the time. She kicked the track to Richard Kingsmill (Triple J’s music director), and the same week he added it to his 2008 new music show.

    Wsnob_scrilla4hat advice do you have for Australian artists who think they’ve got the talent to be heard?

    I think the main thing is getting your music out there any way that you can! You have to be focused on the long-term, not the short-term gain. Like I said, I was grinding for four years before I even started recording.

    Now, I’m not saying that everybody else should wait as long as did, I just mean people need to look at the end goal more than getting an immediate return. This game is a marathon, not a sprint, so take steps now to set yourself up later, and not the other way around!

    Excellent advice. It reminds me of wine businessman Gary Vaynerchuk, who states that legacy is more important than currency. Take the longview, instead of the possibility of immediate financial gain, because thanks to the internet, everything about your actions throughout your life will be easily visible to anyone. I think you’d dig his stuff.

    Alright, so why Ivy League? How much creative control are you allowed? I notice you’re slipping a few free tracks out to your Twitter friends…

    I decided to run with Ivy League because they were the label that really understood what I was trying to do with the project, and so they give me a lot of creative control.

    I’m not the type of artist that likes to have someone basically craft the entire project, or get other people to, and then just put me on to execute. I don’t see the merit in that approach, and that’s the main reason I stayed away from some of the other offers that we had for the Snob Scrilla project. Ivy was the best home for making Day One happen the way I had envisioned it from the beginning.

    As far as leaking tracks.. yeah I tend to do that from time to time. As I always say, I’m a huge advocate of free music. I think it’s something that we as artists need to increasingly embrace, and I do it wherever I can.

    As far as Twitter, it’s kind of ideal for leaking stuff because only the kids that are really paying attention are gonna catch what you’re even doing. It’s cool, ’cause that way I know the ones who are getting the free music are the ones who are gonna appreciate it the most.

    So kids, if you want to hear new stuff for free before anybody else gets it, follow me on Twitter and I’ll look after you! Haha.

    That’s awesome that Ivy League are big on allowing you creative control. Do they provide promotion and booking services too, or are these aspects handled by another agency? Do you think it’s best for one company to direct all of your interests – management, production, promotion, booking – or do you believe in spreading the love between several organisations?

    Initially, I was very much for trying to do everything myself. But I think that’s a very cliche, egotistical artist thing to do, to feel like nobody can look after your art the way you can. This is true in some regards, but once you really start to make any head way with your career you are going to want to have good people looking after your respective areas. And when you get to that point it’s best not to have those people in the same building.

    It’s good to keep some checks and balances to make sure that everyone is doing what they need to be doing to keep you moving forward. If you have everything under the one roof, you put too much control in the one place. It works best when it’s spread out using specialised groups rather than a localised body and spread too thin.

    Beyond Ivy League, can you give us an idea of some of the other groups you work with, and how you made those connections? Your music videos are pretty sweet; who takes care of those? Tie-in question: since you’re clearly still a big proponent of the music video, do you think that the videos hold the same value or importance in this era of broadband and streaming media, as they did a couple decades ago, when the format was first introduced as a promotional tool?

    The Harbour Agency handle my bookings, and that connection came about after having them come to a few shows, being impressed with the show, and approaching me. I’m also working with a group called The Chosen Few who now look after all of my artwork and print image [note: including the images throughout this article]. They’re so mad underground that they don’t have a website!

    As far as the videos I’ve had a variety of people that I worked with, in fact each video has been a different director. But I’ve been taking an increasingly active role with each vid. In fact with Houston I actually wrote the treatment and co-directed the clip.

    I do think that videos still play a big role. Not in the same way that they did before in the promotional sense, but I’m a very visual writer so getting to have a video that compliments the message being conveyed in a song can complete the whole picture sometimes, in a way that you couldn’t get from just listening to the song. It adds more to what can be perceived and inferred and therefore increases the impact of a message.

    At what point did it become too time-consuming to manage yourself? Or, considering your recent growth in popularity due to Triple J exposure, do you think it’d still be feasible to handle management, booking and promotion yourself, in addition to writing words and music?

    As soon as we started taking the project to labels, I had management on board. Depending on who you approach, it’s important to have someone who can put the right foot forward for you.

    As far as having management now, I think if you’re doing things right, you never really stop managing your art to some degree. It’s important to stay active in your own career and interests, otherwise things can slip away from you really quickly.

    Obviously this isn’t always easy to do as things get busier and busier for an artist, but relinquishing complete control can be dangerous as well. You need to find a balance; having another person (or persons) on board just allows you to focus on both aspects of your career: the management and the artistry.

    You’ve recently launched a redesigned MySpace, which I must say looks pretty badass, and I’m not usually one to pay much attention to artists’ MySpace designs. As you’ve mentioned, you’re also pretty prolific on Twitter, so you’re a clear fan of the fan engagement factor. How do you manage to juggle these communication channels, and how do you choose which of these web apps to pay attention to?

    Thanks heaps man! My boy Sam Webster redid the MySpace for me.

    I am a big fan of engaging with people as much as possible and sometimes it does get a bit much to handle everything, but I’m able to find time at the moment ’cause I’m not super busy. It’s actually been an ideal time to build everything up, especially Twitter, because my album is done and I’m basically just waiting until it drops to start doing promo and touring.

    But even when I’m on the road, I have everything linked to my Blackberry, so people on Facebook, MySpace or even Twitter can be in contact with me, no matter where I’m at.

    snob_scrilla2By ‘building everything up’, you mean your web-engaged fanbase? You think that fans actually want to connect with artists? Are you insane?

    Actually, I’m full of shit: the only reason I landed this interview was because you popped up in my Twitter stream, and I’d already witnessed you live on the 2008 Faker/Sparkadia tour, so I had a decent idea of which planet you were from.

    But seriously, where do you draw the line within the ‘always on’ reality that you’ve embraced as an easily-accessible online figure?

    Ha, I don’t know, I guess that line remains to be seen yet. I just feel like the very least I can do for people is reciprocate the energy that they give me when they write or chat or tweet or whatever. I do get some people that add me and IM almost every night with hardcore questions that I would think they would get tired of asking. But everybody is different and I try to have time and patience for everyone.

    I think at some point it will become physically impossible to stay on top of it all – and at that point I’ll have to put a limit on it – but until then I’m pretty committed to the all access all the time attitude and I’m always trying to think of better ways to make myself more accessible, so it looks like it will be this way for a while at least! :)

    Finally, what are your thoughts on those “360 deals” that’re becoming more common? Have any of your musician friends been approached?

    360 deals are becoming more common, and I think they are a joke. They’re a sign of the decline of major labels and their need to find new and different ways to generate revenue and keep afloat.

    At the end of the day, I think they are a bad move for most artists. It all comes back to control. If a label owns everything that you do, then they own you. Everything that you do will be tied into paying back any recoupment you might owe. Your income may be tied up in budgeting and marketing for other projects on a label’s agenda not even related to you, before you may see a single dollar.

    I have had friends approached with 360 deals, and my advice, every time, is to stay away. It might be a harder and longer grind, but the best thing to do is try and find another way to get your music released. If you can, you’ll be much happier for it in the end!

    Thanks very much for your time Snob. What are your plans for the rest of 2009? Any closing thoughts or plugs you’d like to throw in?

    No worries man! Thanks for taking the time yourself!

    The rest of the year is going to just be touring after the release of the album. Day One is the title and it drops April 24th.

    Oh and of course, follow me on Twitter kids, @snobscrilla! Peace for now man!

    Snob Scrilla’s debut album Day One will be released April 24, 2009 through Ivy League Records. Catch up with him on Twitter, MySpace or YouTube.