I stumbled upon Serious Music by chance, scrounging for music on the internet. That's a shame. Not that I found them but that there wasn't a more direct way of finding out about this band and their music. Pot Lista remedies the industry's slackness in the best possible way! Now you get to hear about Serious Music from Serious Music. No 'music critics'! Hollin direct!
How many are there in the core of the group? Do you often have guest musicians?
The core is the three of us - Hollin, Matt and Mao and when we play live we have performed with Chalk MC, a local rapper, and we often have our scratch DJ too, Cutterz. He is an incredible DJ and has supported 50 Cent and Ghostface amongst others... In the studio it's usually mainly me doing the various writing, recording and producing tasks, though Matt is there for the drum sessions and Mao writes all the words. It's a pretty organic process... it takes us a long time to do things because we like to do them properly. Everyone has an input.
What's your musical heritage? How did you chose to do hip hop/funk/etc.?
I don't know if it was a choice or just a progression really. I grew up on blues, jazz and dub music and was then in some blues and later indie bands. When I got to Bristol in 1999 I got really heavily into hip hop, but I've always listened to all sorts of music. Matt is a bit of a musical chameleon and can do more or less any kind of drumming - his day job is in a rock band. Mao has been in punk bands and of course he brings a lot of his native Colombian flavour to the proceedings. He's switched me on to a lot of Latin American music that I wouldn't otherwise have heard about. Funk I think is one of those things that most good musicians can just do instinctively but ultimately we just do what we feel sounds good. It was never really a conscious decision to cover loads of different styles, it just seems to be what we do naturally.
Why the name Serious Music? do you have idea how hard it is to google you guys..? :)
It's just a name really, it's the name of a very old track that I did years ago. Thinking of names is really difficult in the age of the internet. You spend ages thinking of a good one then you Google it and find it's already gone. Some people think the name means we're really serious about music which we are, but in a good way. If you came to one of our gigs you'd see it's about as far from ponderous navel-gazing or pompous self importance as you can get. So we have a laugh, but at heart we love what we do and it's really important to us. When you actually stop to think about most band names they are utterly meaningless anyway - it just needs to sound snappy and not too daft and not already be in use.
How is the pay-as-much-as-you-like model working out for you
It's OK, it lets me keep complete control. A lot of labels are run by complete clowns who are only interested in the flavour of the week, super-trendy bands and that's not us. They also take a cut and when there's very little money, that's not very helpful. I'm not a control freak but if it's a choice between doing more work and keeping control or handing everything over to someone who doesn't really care much about you or your music but still wants to dictate what you do, I'll take the former. I think because we don't fit easily into some lazy musical pigeonhole or uber-trendy subculture it makes it a lot harder to get support from a label. Obviously I'd appreciate genuine offers from someone who really cared, but the music business doesn't have many of those.
Do you guys make enough money off of your musical endeavour or do you all have side jobs and what do you do when you're not making music?
Not at all... making a decent living from doing music is virtually impossible in this country unless you are already famous, you deliberately make music that you know will get on Radio 1 or you just spend every waking moment promoting yourself. And even then, it's not guaranteed. A lot of bands or artists that get great opportunities like playing Glastonbury or supporting big bands on tour pretty much live hand to mouth, or have to do low level jobs to make ends meet. It's a choice, and I do admire the commitment of people who do music full time but the reality is that a lot of them are always short of money. We all have jobs but they are all music-related in different ways so that is one saving grace. We love music but we have responsibilities as well, so it's a case of striking a balance. Running a band can be like a black hole for money so you have to spend what little money you have wisely.
How well know are you now? Do you get gigs abroad?
We're pretty well known in the South West and we've had good national airplay but there are millions of bands all trying to compete for the same attention nationally these days so without a PR budget it's tough. It helps if you are a band "of the moment", doing whatever music is popular at that point, but those bands always fall out of favour as quickly as they were hyped up. We had a review once and it said something like "this band has evidently chosen to take their time and plow their own musical furrow rather than jumping on any bandwagons" and I think that's pretty accurate. It makes things slower and ultimately tougher but I'd rather do music we believe in and love than just copy whatever is popular that week. People seem to love us, especially at the live shows, so we must be doing something right. We have been offered a few gigs abroad but haven't done one yet because of the costs involved, plus a few other logistical problems. We'd love to do one though, just as long as it didn't bankrupt us.
Whats the difference between your music on records and live? Why the difference in presentation?
On record it's obviously more layered and complex because you can do that in the studio. Live, we make a pretty good job of recreating it though there are always a few compromises. We turn these into positives though, making it much heavier, which always gets the crowd going. Any gig that you watch it's the heavy, crazy shit that people really love so we try to do as much of that as we can. On record you can be more expressive and show off your production skills a bit. We don't run backing tracks like a lot of bands do, though we have a clever technical setup that lets us use loops and samples but without tying us to any particular song structure. We keep it to a core of three people because it's just so difficult to co-ordinate large numbers of people, with everyone's availability being limited.
Back in the day it used to be DJ first, MC second. Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, Eric B and Rakim, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5 etc. These days DJ seem to be push into a distant second place, rarely heard and almost never seen in videos. Serious Music has a DJ and he's definitely heard. in your opinion just how endangered are (scratch) DJs in hip hop today?
I'm not really an expert on that so you'd have to ask Joe but I think it's pretty obvious that he's a really important part of our sound both on record and live. In some ways scratch DJs seem to have been marginalised into their own corner of hip hop but I think it really adds to a performance if you do it right. He adds a lot to what we do and though scratching can seem a bit anachronistic if you do it wrong, he definitely does it right so that's not an issue.
I saw on your myspace music page that you dig say Edan and mod def. Some say that boom bap rap is throwback music. How true can that be?
We were talking the other day about how most of the hip hop that people still listen to is either old skool or mid skool. A lot of what gets called hip hop these days is just awful...it's really R'n'B, which I absolutely hate. I think that people rely too much on slick production these days and not enough on getting decent beats or rhymes. Having said that I'm a bit bored by a lot of hip hop that's just cut up samples as well. For me personally the hip hop that I always come back to is the stuff that is musical but has attitude - like a lot of mid period De La Soul, Black Sheep, earlier Wu Tang and more recently Edan and Mos Def. The Blakroc album was great too. I didn't grow up with hip hop, I came to it only when I was about 20 so maybe that's affected my perception of it, I don't know. I love DJ Shadow's first album too, though I think that's as much dance music as it is hip hop - though that's probably why I like it. That mixing of genres is really hard to get right though.
Your label name is Calumet City and yet your unsigned? Whats up with that?
Well it's my own label, so we are signed and we aren't if you see what I mean. I put records out on the label but I manage everything as well. if anyone feels like bankrolling it, that would be really heplful.
How is the neoBristol scene? The post Wild Bunch scene? Any cool recommendations?
Bristol is a really musical city and there are loads of bands around but I am shamefully lacking in knowledge about most of them. To be honest it's hard enough running a band, a label and a career without keeping track on what everyone else is doing. I know some of the jazz guys around town and some of the bigger bands too, but I'm probably not the best person to ask about the 'scene'.
Whats in store for Serious Music in the future? When can we expect you peeps in Croatia? :)
We're working on a video at the moment and lining up some more gigs. The new album is underway but we're still working on that. If you felt like arranging for us to come to Croatia we'd love to!