New Blood: Stanley Odd
Stanley Odd are leading the charge in Scottish hip-hop. Signed to Circular Records, they tour and gig tirelessly up and down the country, gaining rave reviews and faithful fans wherever they go. The interplay between charismatic emcee Solareye and golden-lunged singer Veronika Elektronika drives the band, while T-Lo (piano), Scruff Lee (guitars), Ad Mac (bass) and newest member Samson (on drums) deliver the riffs and beats with a precision musicianship rarely found in live hip-hop. Drawing comparisons to The Roots or the Beastie Boys might describe their sound, but perhaps because of Solareye’s wonderful West Coast dialect and banter, it doesn’t quite cut it as a description. Quite simply, Stanley Odd are that rarest of beasts: a Scottish hip-hop band with broad appeal who put on one hell of a show.
You’ve been touring a lot recently guys – it must take some determination to keep going back out on the road.
Solareye: Is it determination or just a refusal to listen to anybody? I don’t know! We just love playing live. In terms of the social media side of things, you can see the blips every time we play a new place.
Scruff Lee: It’s a good way to push CDs and music too.
How does the energy of the live band translate to the studio?
T-Lo: It’s tricky. We haven’t found a formula yet, and maybe we will never find one – which I don’t mind, because it means every album’s going to be different.
Veronika: With the new material, we wanted to attack it differently and see what came out. You can certainly hear the difference between the album and the EP. We recorded it first, then started figuring out how to play it live. We seem to get better results that way – it’s fresher, more organic.
Oddio was certainly mellower.
Veronika: It’s a journey, I think. On the first album, the songs started out as Solareye’s solo tracks. With the new EP, the tracks started as an idea, which we then built on as a band. So this EP is more representative of us as a band, as a collective. You can really hear Samson’s influence on this EP, without a shadow of a doubt.
What role do you each play in the writing process now?
T-Lo: Compared to other bands, it’s slightly different. You have that role to fill, that part to play, and I’m just trying to do that as well as I can. I can only come up with ideas, and then see if Solareye or Veronika like them. I’m just trying to fill out the space – make sounds that work. And when we play live I jump about like a madman!
Veronika: T adds an element of interest – I’ll bring him some element that’s like a pop / soul thing, and T-Lo will cringe in horror, then decide to make it a bit more interesting. He kind of edits my input!
Ad Mac: I bring style and class to the process.
Scruff Lee: It’s different from being in a guitar-based band. In a grunge band, the guitarist has his part, and he’s always there. With our band, there is a lot of space - there are as many breaks as there are moments to play.
T-Lo: It’s a collaborative thing. We’ll all be playing, then someone’s ears will pick up on something, and they’ll say hold on, you shouldn’t play that...
Veronika: Scruff brings the pedals and effects to the band. He’s a showman!
Samson, you also make dubstep under the name Dunt for Abaga records. Did I detect your influence on the chiptune-flavoured ‘The Controller’?
Samson: It started as a beat I wrote, just an idea. I sent it over to Solareye, and he came back and said he had a few ideas based around this idea of somebody playing a games console, and controlling the people in this block of flats. I’d been writing a bit of chiptune stuff using LSDJ, running off an old Gameboy. I played some sounds and ideas to Solareye, and he leaped on it, said ‘Let’s get that on the next EP.’ The original beat changed drastically – it was a completely different beat with everyone else’s input. I really like the way it turned out. We didn’t overdo the chiptune: I would liked to have done everything through the Gameboy, but I think we got a good balance between the band and samples.
T-Lo: It has been a big change adding a new drummer to the band, but I think you can really hear his influence in the production on the new EP. He thinks less as a drummer and more as a producer. Our first drummer was amazing, but he was definitely more a drummer than anything else.
Do you think that having Scottish accents will stop you getting noticed outside of the local hip-hop scene?
Veronika: There’s always that element of fear. It kind of goes for us and against us: we are very obviously Scottish, and a lot of people love that. It kind of makes us unique, compared to other bands. At the same time, people have tried to give us constructive criticism in the past, by saying that we’ve kind of limited ourselves by being so Scottish. I think it’s important to stick to that formula, because it’s what we are. In all fairness, at the gigs we have played down south, people have responded really well to the tunes. I think the more we progress, the more people are picking up on different elements. If you ask ten people about us, every single person will say a different thing.
Solareye: I don’t think you can tell stories and be authentic and have a false accent. It’s as simple as that. If you’re trying to reference a time and a place, you can’t kid on that it is narrated by someone who is not there. In terms of authenticity alone, it’s got to be what it is. You do get people from all backgrounds who are opposed to Scottish dialect, or to any dialect that isn’t transatlantic or London-centric. I think there are just as many open-minded people who are into it, or would dig it if they heard it.
What’s it been like dealing with Circular Records?
Solareye: It has been super helpful in so many ways. We’ve done a lot of things we could not have done otherwise. Just to have the support and the belief of people... Part of that’s financial, part of it is having people who take on jobs so you can concentrate on the music. It’s also gives you that self-belief, you know? If these people are backing us, we feel driven to make the effort for everybody else as well.
Scruff Lee: If we didn’t have someone saying: ‘Guys, this needs to be done by next month,’ we would spend six months on it.
You project the image of being a gang – how close is this to reality? Do you know each other well?
Scruff Lee: We learnt a lot of stuff about each other at five am this morning.
T-Lo: It is amazing what you learn about each other when you’re stuck in a van for six hours on the A9, not moving.
Solareye: For all the conspiracy theorists out there, we’ve had three vehicles break down on our latest tour – but we’re still broadcasting ‘Pure Antihero Material’! Yeah, we have spent a lot of time in each other’s pockets, and so far there have been no fatal injuries.
Veronika: We are lucky that we genuinely do all get on. I laugh so much. I have never laughed so much, in a band or in a group of people. You can be in the most stressful situations, the most high pressure environment, but just laugh all the way through it. It’s so important. Once that’s gone there is no point. For me, it’s still there.
: I was quite proud of us last night. Six hours in the dark, in the freezing cold, and you could still hear people giggling.
‘Letter to a Critic’ was a very passionate rant, but it allowed you to describe the architecture of the emerging Scottish hip-hop scene – tell us more about that track.
Solareye: It’s split in half basically – the first half is a petulant rant, a sulk if you like, about something that somebody said about the band which was very relevant, but still hurt. The second half is an opportunity to namecheck some peeps I like, and to get to talk about Scottish hip-hop a bit. We do have that kind of crossover audience, not necessarily just hip-hop heads, so hopefully people will go and look up the names we mention. Go and look up Black Lantern, or Loki, or Madhat, or The Being. I mean, one of my criticisms of hip-hop in general is that most people like to talk about their crew, they don’t often mention other bands unless it’s in a negative context. It’s like it’s one of the rules of hip-hop. It would be nice to do away with that, especially in such a small subculture or genre or whatever you want to call it that we have in Scotland.
With gigs coming up in a town near you very soon, and their new EP doing the rounds, it seems like we’ll be seeing a lot more of the Odd Squad in the months to come. There’s a remix EP coming soon with work by DJ Noface and superproducer Scattabrainz; plus Veronika is collaborating with Mangomad. Do yourself a favour – check them out live, and leave your preconceptions at the door.