By Tom Tozer
The Scribes have had some time to master their art and to say they have done so is an understatement. The multi-award winning hip hop three-piece have built a reputation around their energetic flow, impressive freestyles and crowd rousing live performances. We first got our first serving of them at Leopallooza festival in 2018, where they sent the mainstage into a frenzy, and again in the VIP area, turning the small backstage tent into an array of arms, beats and lyricism.
Unfortunately due to the current pandemic, it may be some time before we see them live. However, this won’t stop them from releasing music, such as their most recent EP ‘The Totem Trilogy, Pt. 1’.
We wanted to catch up with the guys and get to know more about them, their influences and stories of hip hop royalty arguing with locals in Oxford.
Tom: Hello! Firstly, how are you all during this strange time? How have you been keeping creative and more simply, sane?
J: Definitely keeping busy and trying to keep healthy. Nothing like a pandemic to shame you into finally doing some goddamn exercise.
I: Aside from this EP/video launch, I’ve been keeping busy getting as much done towards the next two EPs in The Totem Trilogy as we can do during lockdown. Also starting to find a bit of time now to reach out and pull together what’ll hopefully be some interesting isolation music videos and collaborations that should be coming soon. Can’t wait to get back on the road to be honest, these are strange times that are affecting everyone.A: I’m doing my best as an individual, I lost an old work colleague who died helping the nation, bless my man RICO and Osaka King, both men died helping people. Legends.
Tom: So how did you all meet for the first time? Also, when and how was it that you decided to begin creating music together?
I: Me and Jonny met in primary school in Bristol at the age of like 5 and just haven’t been able to shake each other since! Did a fair bit of drunken/stoned freestyling at house parties in my teens and I think we probably both started getting into making our own music around 15/16 using things like “hip hop e-jay” and “playstation music”, pretty basic stuff! I had this truly bizarre recording set up involving an ancient PC and a two-tape karaoke machine where I could record a vocal on an instrumental I’d made but only in one solid take and only onto tape cassette. Not ideal. We got a bit more serious and graduated to better software pretty soon after and made a sort of demo cd with ourselves and a few other friends, I’d guess about 18. I moved from Bristol to Plymouth for University and started doing some nights down there, biggups Stereotonic, Suave, Spinz, Blake-o-tron and DJ XL for putting me on! I was mostly just dropping bars over instrumentals, semi-hosting really, but then a spot came up for a 30 minute set at an event so I called up Jonny, we worked out enough material to cover the time, came up with the name “The Scribes”, and the rest is history!
A: As for me I met Jonny at an open mic night in Bristol, I was playing some of my beats and Jonny got up and started spitting some bars to them and we decided to make music together straight after that! That turned into making music for The Scribes and DJing for their live sets a few times as well. With the legend MC Duke, I first connected with him in a studio session at Sound Work Studios way back in 2006 and we’ve stayed in touch since!
Tom: You have such a unique mix of talent with beatboxing, freestyling and a wide range of genres within your music. Do you all have common influences? How did you blend all of this talent, was it hard finding a musical direction for the band at the beginning?
A: Well hip hop as a genre samples all kinds of different music. To blend all the styles together is the name of the game, one ingredient can’t make a meal for anyone! As for musical direction, the only direction I’m concerned with is moving forward, and I try to surround myself with artists who think the same way!
“We’ve never really found it difficult finding musical direction because we tend to work with nothing off the table.”Ill Literate
J: I’d say we all had wildly different influences growing up but like Astro Snare said, with hip hop as our vehicle for expression we’ve been fortunate enough to have the nerdiest and most all encompassing genre available! It’s really allowed us to blend our cultural differences into a sound that works.
I: Being hip hop has definitely helped, I think we also all really appreciate and respect each other’s skill set which has made it easier. We’ve never really found it difficult finding musical direction because we tend to work with nothing off the table. If any one of us has an idea or a track or a hook, we’ll try and make it work or at least incorporate elements of it in some way. Our musical direction tends to be making whatever we personally like, making music we would personally buy or go see. We’ve managed it with no big fallouts over music so far!
Listen to the new track ‘I’m Back’ ft. MC Duke here:
Tom: How much of your time is put towards the band? Had you known that music was what you all wanted to do from a young age?
I: It’s a 24/7 thing man, from booking shows to arranging press to organising videos, we are fully independent, which means we control our own destiny entirely but have to put in a lot of work! From a young age I mostly wanted to be a professional wrestler, ideally a heel (baddy), but as soon as we started performing as a group I knew it was what I wanted to do long term. I still love every aspect of it man, it really is a passion as well as a job!
J: Even though we are living in different cities we have a lot of regular conversations about recording and releases every other day or so and each try to work on the bits we can while apart. That said, I’ve got 2 kids now, so rocking shows between dad life is a full time juggle.
Tom: With many prolific live performances under your belts now, including Glastonbury and Boomtown fair, what do you want to further achieve? Do you have any goals in mind?
I: Onwards and upwards man! It’s still exciting to be playing things like Glastonbury and Boomtown every single time, so it feels like a new achievement each year we do it. Our touring schedule is pretty constant, keeps us very busy, but I think going forward we’d like to achieve a more regular release schedule with more online content for people who can’t make the shows. We’ve started up our YouTube channel at youtube.com/scribesmusic and are moving onto releasing EPs instead of LPs to help with this. Hopefully that will mean we can continue gigging as much as we do and out out more music as well!
J: I still think there’s plenty more that we could do with the live show. Everytime we see another act play, there’s always something inspirational that you can take from it (crowd interactions, track transitions) you can take a lot from performances of all genres.
“We’ve been lucky enough to work with and perform with some absolute legends in the game and it is insane to think that we’ve come from tape cassette recordings on a karaoke machine to where we are now.”Ill Literate
Tom: When sharing the stage with the likes of Wu Tang Clan, Jurassic 5 and many more musical legends, how does it feel thinking about these moments when looking back at the beginning of The Scribes?
J: Pretty fucking good! We’ve done well, but still feels dangerous to start reminiscing too much when there’s more music to make. We can fawn over how far we’ve come when we’ve retired. Till then, I’ll say we’ve done alright.
I: For sure, we try not to dwell on successes (or failures!) for too long. We’ve been lucky enough to work with and perform with some absolute legends in the game and it is insane to think that we’ve come from tape cassette recordings on a karaoke machine to where we are now. It is absolute honour every time we get to hit the road and share the stage with these huge names that we’ve always looked up to, but you can’t rest on your laurels, so we tend to look forward a lot more than we look back! Though to be honest when I do think about some of the things we’ve been able to achieve it blows my mind
Tom: What was the influence behind your most recent album ‘Quill Equipped Villainy’? What is the groups writing process?
J: ‘Quill Equipped Villainy’ carried a lot of bravado in the lyricism, we carry ourselves as confident in our abilities but then showing off to an outlandish degree where the cover was more of a Dickensian villain. The sort of narcissistic villain that has an urge to tell you the entire plan (schemes and wordplay) so he can revel in it, more Jigsaw than Donkey Kong. We’ve worked from a distance a majority of our lives, our writing patterns are very different. We’ll develop choruses and themes together but write the verses separately.
I: It does vary from track to track, like on the new EP, “The Totem Trilogy Part 1”, a lot of the hooks were written together while driving from gig to gig, but then we’d go off with those hooks in mind and write our own verses. Sometimes we’ll have instrumentals in the live show that aren’t even formed tracks yet and we’ll figure out what the song’s going to be based around crowd responses to different ideas. It changes a bit but our normal process does tend to be find a beat we all like, write a hook to set the tone, write our own bars then come together to record.
Tom: Do you have a particular method when recording? Or is it more of an in the moment type of thing?
A: Recording wise it depends on so many factors. A vocal sound can depend so much on what mic we use for the job at hand, whether it’s a singer or a rapper, so we have to keep all these things in mind when recording a track and plan accordingly. Production wise it can be more spur of the moment, it’s a case of how I’m feeling at that time! Might be a hard beat or a softer piece depending on my feelings and emotions in that moment!
I: We also tend to squeeze a lot of recording into small bits of time we have in the studio between gigs, so we do plan as much as possible in advance to get as much done in a day as we can do! Though we do also have the odd day where we can just jam in the studio and see what happens, some of our best work has come that way in fact, so it’s a real mix.
Tom: Finally, we like to end things with a story. So is there anything that comes to mind while touring or something along those lines that was particularly funny, odd or just straight-up crazy?
A: I remember opening up for Ghostface Killah of the legendary Wu Tang Clan in Oxford. After the gig Ghostface was outside chatting with a sax player who busks around the venue and the man was playing away because Ghostface asked to hear him. Unfortunately this was at about 4:15 am and a man, rudely awoken by the sound of the sax, opened his window and yelled “Stop this sh*t, I have to go to work in an hour!”. Ghostface yelled back “You know how I am? I’m hip hop royalty!” to which the unimpressed man replied “I don’t give a f*ck who you are, I’ve still got work, now f*ck off!”. Fact.
I: Man there’s been a few crazy moments along the way, too many to pick out just one! We’ve played beach festivals in Italy, performing in perfect sunshine while over the crowd we can see fork lightening striking out over the sea, played street festivals where the rainwater was like an inch deep on stage and must have been a real danger with the electronics, been out to Urban In Ibiza events at the most plush spa places you’ve ever seen with four poster beds by the pool and free tattoos being done on site, performed in a still working metal works in London dressed in animal onesies for Rumpus Party, painted ourselves gold, shared one mic between us for a festival performance in wales due to equipment failing, performed in Brixton, Anglesey, Bristol and Cornwall all within 48 hours in a bit of particularly bad planning, it’s been a ride! There’s so many more and, hopefully, so many more to come!