20 Questions: Stanley Odd

Stanley Odd is an alternative hip-hop group from Edinburgh. Commenting on aspects of society and culture ranging from Scottish Independence to quality of life to the inexplicable rise of Robin Thicke, it’s fair to say these guys like to keep an eye on things. AAA caught up with frontman/MC Dave Hook (aka Solareye) ahead of Stanley Odd’s appearance at Summerhall’s ever-impressive Nothing Ever Happens Here series of gigs.

Who/what inspired you to start the band?

Stanley Odd happened by accident. One night, Veronika and myself were meant to play a gig with a DJ who couldn’t make it and on short notice a couple of our pals joined us on live drums and guitar. From there it grew arms and legs and transitioned into full Oddity.

How did you come up with the name Stanley Odd – does it mean anything in particular?

Stanley Odd was an alter ego or AKA that I had as a rapper – Veronika suggested that we use it as the name for the band.

I always thought of Stanley Odd as being an awkward wee guy that feels kind of uncomfortable in social situations – there’s a bit of Stanley Odd in everyone.

What was the first Edinburgh gig you ever played, and how it go?

The first ever gig we played was at The Ark (now gone). It was just me, Veronika and two of our mates on drums and guitar as the DJ couldn’t make it (see previous answer!). The first gig we all played together in Edinburgh was actually the launch of our first album – Oddio – at Voodoo Rooms. That was five years ago in May, sheesht.

Can you describe the writing process (from the first idea to producing the final track) within Stanley Odd?

Songwriting for us is a pretty lengthy, collaborative process. Everyone comes to us with musical ideas and sketches which we share in a Dropbox folder, then we get together and try them out in the rehearsal room, sorting out a structure and arranging them a bit. After that I write the lyrics to the songs from ideas I scribble down all the time. We then record them in the studio, chop up the recordings and rebuild them. It takes a while but it feels quite organic, while also allowing us to be creative with production.

Then, once we’ve recorded, edited and mixed the track we have to learn to play it all over again!

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How has the band developed and evolved since its early days?

I think we’ve developed sonically and improved in terms of our songwriting. Really we’ve just got a better idea of what we want to sound like and how to get that across. We’ve maybe got better at writing music we are happy with too. Definitely, we were most proud of and pleased with A Thing Brand New out of the three albums we’ve made.

What’s been the highlight/ greatest achievement of the band’s career thus far?

Oh man, that’s a big question. There’s so many things we’ve enjoyed and been excited to be able to do, from playing T in the Park and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay quite early in our careers; to touring in New York and being shortlisted for Scottish Album of the Year; to playing with Electric String Orchestra; to playing at Lake of Stars in Malawi last year. Those are just a few of the top of my head that really stood out. Making the latest album was a really big achievement too in that it felt that – of all our releases to date – this is most like the album we actually wanted to make.

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How do you manage to fit everything in around your personal lives?

A lot of bargaining, negotiating and very understanding other halves!

The hip-hop genre has changed a lot since its inception – how do you view yourselves within the genre?

Hip-hop has always borrowed and sampled from other genres and art forms, so for me you can take inspiration and musical ideas from any style of music and make it hip-hop. Hip-hop is folk music – using music as a vehicle to tell a story and to give voice to local issues that might otherwise not be heard. It’s also word-play, humour, observation – it doesn’t have to be taken seriously all time or necessarily at face value. Where it’s become commercialised – like anything that gets boiled down to money – it has less content, depth or longevity but that’s just the mainstream version of the culture and the genre, the same could be said about any other style when it’s treated like a paint-by-numbers income generator.

What sets you apart from your hip-hop peers?

I think there is some excellent hip-hop being made in the world right now and Scotland has a wide range of extremely talented artists who I’m proud to consider my peers. It feels like there is a real depth of high quality music being made across the country, everyone doing so with their own unique sound. It’s a good time to be involved.

Which hip-hop artist would you most like to collaborate/work with?

That’s a tough one. There’s hunners of folks I’d really like to work with. Slug from Atmosphere, Chester P from Taskforce, Jehst, Scorzayzee, Homeboy Sandman, Black Thought from the Roots, Pharoahe Monch… while we’re talking pie in the sky Biggie, Big L and Eyedea too! This list could go on and on…

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Which other Scottish hip-hop artists would you recommend to someone?

I could write an essay on this question alone – for starters I’d suggest checking out Loki – he is one of my favourite lyricists in the world full stop; Hector Bizerk – they are going from strength to strength, an outstanding band and Louie is also one of the most formidable emcees on the planet; Scatabrainz – beats are out of this world; Ciaran Mac – I really like Ciaran’s content and delivery, everything I’ve heard from him has impressed; Spring Break – Butterscotch has been outstanding as a rapper and as a DJ for a long time and his new project with Ben and Emily on guitar and vox is superb; Steg G – just an absolute don in Scottish hip-hop both as an artist and as a supporter of the hip-hop community; Mistah Bohze – one of the longest established and still most cutting edge emcees in the country, beats and rhymes are bananas; Segatooth (Harvey Kartel and Samson) – their production is on another level, much more to come from them; Konchis & Physics – unquestionable quality beats and rhymes, always on point… sorry this is all just off the top of my head and could genuinely continue in perpetuity. Suffice to say Scottish hip-hop is in right good health – shout outs to all the emcees, DJs, graf artists, beatboxers and b-boys and girls!

Do you feel the band has paved the way for other Scottish hip-hop artists in which to emerge?

I think Scottish hip-hop has been steadily moving from a very strong underground sub-culture, to being more widely recognised over the last five years. This is down to a whole range of factors. Being a band definitely opened doors for us in terms of the sort of bills that we were able to get on to early in our careers and it’s been good to see more hip-hop appearing on bills over the last few years. It’s amazing to see things like the Boom, Bap, Soup and Roll stage at Audio Soup this year set up by Mark McGhee from the Girobabies – I think that was the first ever dedicated hip-hop stage at a Scottish festival, so that’s amazing. It just feels like what we already knew about hip-hop in terms of its credibility as an art is now being accepted in the wider community.

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Any future plans to tour Europe and America?

Definitely, we’ve just got a European Booking Agent this year and we’ll hopefully be putting together some European dates in 2016. As for the States – we’d love to go back – we’ve had a few offers for different places in USA and Canada so hopefully we can make it all join up!

Where do you see the band in five years’ time?

As long as we manage to perpetuate, I’m happy. Making enough cash and having enough time to make another album then go out and play it to people is a pretty good aim as far as I’m concerned.

What advice would you give to young hip-hop acts starting out?

Work on finding your own voice and style. That only really comes from playing live, making tunes and giving yourself time to develop and evolve. Just get involved. You can’t do it all from your bedroom uploading to SoundCloud so go out and see gigs and meet folks and play live. That’s about it I reckon.

You publicly declared your support for the Yes vote during the Scottish Independence Referendum – what were the positive/ negative aspects of that, if any?

Last year was one of the most exciting years of my life because it felt like the whole country was engaged in one big discussion about what sort of country and what sort of communities we want to live in. The best thing that I feel we can take away from the process is that as a nation we’re so politically literate now, we know the processes, we’re involved in them and we have a idea about how we think the country should change. All of that can only be a good thing. The next few years is going to be a very interesting time for the whole of the UK and Scotland will have some big decisions to make. For us as a band it was just an amazing time to be around and to be writing about what was going on.

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What should happen in order to improve Edinburgh’s live music scene?

I reckon rumours of Edinburgh music’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. There’s a whole raid of outstanding venues putting on quality music every night of the week, touring bands play the city and there’s a plethora of great acts locally. That’s what I like about the Nothing Ever Happens Here series running at Summerhall – it’s supposed to challenge and mock the idea that the scene is dead. Nothing Ever Happens Here every night of the week mate.

Having said all that, it does seem that council restrictions and impositions have made life more difficult for venues around the city and there does need to be a real focus on supporting and nurturing independent music and cultural activities that take place all year round as well as those focused within the festival. The independent, underground, regular music scenes and communities could benefit from more formalised recognition and backing in that respect.

What’s your favourite Edinburgh venue to play, and why?

There’s loads that we love to play, I suppose it depends on what sort of gig it is. We’ve played so many great venues in the city it’d be impossible to pick one. We had an amazing gig at Sneaky Pete’s in April for the Sweatbox Tour – it was sold out, full to capacity and the crowd really added to the performance. Our gig at the Usher Hall last September for A Night for Scotland just before the referendum was also insanely good for a whole bunch of different reasons – sharing a stage with acts like Frightened Rabbit, Mogwai and Franz Ferdinand to a sold out 2000-capacity crowd and the overall positive feeling of that gig was a one of a kind. Our gig this Thursday at Summerhall should be pretty special too – it’s part of the Nothing Ever Happens Here series and we’ve got a big performance planned.

Where can people see performing in Edinburgh next?

This Thursday, 13 August, at Summerhall, with support from Spring Break. It’s gonnae be a belter.

What can people expect from a Stanley Odd gig?

Stanley Odd are in our element live. It feels like the live versions of the songs raise up a level from record. Come and see Nothing Ever Happen Here on Thursday if you want to know more.

Nothing Ever Happens Here featuring Stanley Odd, Summerhall, Summerhall Place, 13 August, 8.30pm, £10, 0131-560 1580

Words: Barry Gordon