Like the mythical creature of Edward Lear’s poem, Scroobius Pip is an artist who evades simple categorisations of genre. Rising to prominence in 2007 with the meteoric hit ‘Thou Shalt Always Kill’, Pip and his grime house cohort Dan le Sac went on to produce two stellar albums of spoken word/electronic crossovers to the delight of thousands worldwide. Pip returned to his roots this year with his second solo release Distraction Pieces; an incisive fusion of beat poetry and visceral hardcore punk. Lazing in the green room of Cork’s Cyprus Avenue, State caught up with Scroobius Pip to discuss his lucky number five socks, Johnny Depp and the virtues of Casio watches.
When did you first read the work of Edward Lear?
“It’s a weird one because I never studied literature, and as a kid I wasn’t a big reader. I think The Scroobius Pip might have been the first Edward Lear poem I read and I was a bit older than the target age; I probably was 16 or 17. A lot of people assume I’m well-educated and I’m not really; I just blag it”.
It’s always rewarding re-reading authors like Lear and Lewis Carroll at an older age.
“Definitely and I think we’re at a time now when people see the value of both old and new mediums. There have been loads of really important films and documentaries over the years even though people traditionally saw moving images as just a bit of fun and books as the serious artistic medium. I think there’s a lot more variation now that cinema is getting to a ripe old age; we have a good history of it now. It was a completely understandable notion 50 years ago, you’d see cinema as entertainment and books as the meaningful medium but now that idea doesn’t seem as valid”.
It’s the old debate of commercialism and artistry…
“Totally, and people get precious over it all and I still know people who say ‘I don’t watch TV’ and I think well why not; there’s loads of really good TV. There’s still a lot of shit out there but I think that mentality is born out of ignorance; it’s not like they’re above television; they’ve just never looked past X-Factor.”
Was there an underlying significance in using the moniker Scroobius Pip? In the poem, it’s the creature that eludes characterisation.
“At the time, it was purely because I was doing a lot of different things like street art, photography, music and film and it developed from the realisation that you don’t have to simply be one of those things, like ‘I don’t have to be a photographer’; that doesn’t have to be the only thing that I’m doing. You don’t have to fit into one category, you can be your own combination of all these categories and creatures, so I read the poem and I really liked the idea and that’s where it came from”.
Was there a particular age or defining moment when you had that realisation?
“I think it was around the time when I was at university; I did a year at Uni so I would have been 18 or 19. I dropped out after a year and it was all a bit of mess. I was there because I had said ‘photography is what I’m going to do, therefore I’m going to focus on it’, but I wasn’t enjoying it. For some people, it’s beneficial to focus on one particular thing and again, I ended up focusing on music but that developed naturally; music naturally filled more of my time so it wasn’t a conscious choice; music was the one that took over”.
How did you hone your craft as a musician?
“I started doing spoken word because I was tired of relying on mates in a band and I live in a small town in Essex so I don’t have a ton of producers knocking about so I just practiced in my room and got it tight and then I spent a few months touring England and living in my van and just performing on street corners and going to open mic nights. I performed a lot outside of Essex and London while I made myself a little album so then I could go to those places and have the illusion of already being successful and a professional. If you’ve learnt it tight enough and you can go up there and not be fumbling over paper, you just smash it out; then it instantly gives it that extra level. I still climbed far quicker in the scene than I had any right to; It looked like I had only been doing it a few weeks and then I was getting paid bookings; again it’s that illusion of being already successful, ‘I’m doing this open mic to try out some new stuff’ rather than saying ‘I haven’t been doing this very long’; it’s giving out a different impression and it seemed to work”.
Were there particular people that influenced you when you first came to spoken word?
“People like Saul Williams and Sage Francis and a lot of Hip-hop; I was into Hip-Hop before I was into spoken word or poetry. I took that route into it. Seeing people like Sage and Saul Williams and Gill Scott Heron, who all did spoken word but weren’t necessarily defined as simply spoken word artists”.