We all know Mr Scruff as the tea swilling, fun loving DJ. Now for news of his imminent return to Australia and chats over his latest album.
Mr Scruff; Ninja Tuna: new album, new label..
Quirky beats, phat bass, and a man who’s heart lays in providing excellent dance potential (and tea) to crowds in clubs ….
Q. Mr Scruff. How long did ‘Ninja Tuna’ take to make?
“I’m not sure really. It’s been about 3 years but, generally, most of that time was spent getting back into it (the studio). After ‘Trouser Jazz’, I was touring almost constantly; I had the weekly radio show, residencies, gigs and tours and stuff. It took a while, but I realised these kinds of ‘extra things’ were preventing me from making music at that time – and at some point I started thinking about getting back into the studio. There was new equipment, and getting my head ‘round it all… I was still DJing – I love doing everything and don’t like being secluded away for too long. I really enjoy being in the studio in the week & DJing at weekends.”
“I had 30 or 40 finished tracks and 100’s of unfinished ones, and I thought “right, well if I’ve not nearly got an album in there, then maybe it’s time to start thinking about doing something else!” It was just when it felt right, it was instinct really, I wasn’t gonna rush anything, it was just like,’ right out try loads of stuff, see where my heads at, and then when the times right, cobble it together and make an album’, and that’s kinda what happened...”
Q I read that a lot of your stuff for this album was passed by in the clubs before you decided to lay it out in the studio…
“Yeah, it’s really nice to be able to road-test stuff, just basically because I was using a different studio, the room was a bit different, the acoustics and stuff, than I was used to. It’s always good to do something in the studio, and think ‘that sounds OK’, and then test it, at night in the club, and see the response to it and then if it’s cool then you leave it, if it needs a bit of a tweak, then you take it back in and test it out the next weekend. It’s really ideal actually, I think it’s a real luxury just being able to play stuff out, check it, and then by the time the album’s come out, everything’s been road tested.”
Q So ‘Ninja Tuna’ is not a concept album in any then way ?! It’s a work in progress, a real-time thing?..
“Yeah, definitely. I think it’s just really nice having the studio and then DJing at the weekends. They’re both almost like pressure valves, and also kinda inspire and inform each other each as well, and when you test out studio stuff at the club, that’s a very natural connection.”
Q You’re using a new studio then?...or new equipment in your home studio?...
“Yeah, I’ve got the studio in my cellar, the weather over here’s been so bad (UK!), for the last few years, we’ve not had a summer! So after my cellar flooded for the 2nd time, I thought I’m going to hack this off! (laughing) I’m going to use a studio in Manchester… It’s really good actually, ‘cause I’m not the kind of geekiest of studio people. Andy and Phil, who own the studio, it was really nice having them around just doing that stuff, teaching me how to use the equipment, they have a great selection of kit, and I think when there’s more than more than one of you, you’re much less likely to go off on a kinda self-indulgent tangent - and also it’s fun.
They know how to set all the mics up and all that kind of thing, so it’s great, whilst I’m programming something, they can be setting the mic up and then we can be recording it, and you just get a lot more done a lot more quickly…”
“So it’s a bit more of a new approach, but then you get to see other people’s working practises and all that kinda informs the way you write and record as well… and the sounds really good as well, because it’s not a great big studio, but the thing is, all the equipment they’ve got is really good quality.”
Q. Sound quality has always been really important to you..
“Yeah, yeah, definitely. Either with DJing or the studio, I think it’s good to make a good quality recording and then use that as a basis. It’s like if you’re a DJ and you’ve got knackered styli, then the sounds gonna’ be really bad, and if you don’t know how to set up your mics in the studio, or you’ve accidentally distorted it or whatever, then you’re just starting off with a shaky foundation really. I mean there’s nothing wrong with deliberately recording stuff messed up; a lot of the funk bands are using really quite cheap mics, or people have a lot of hiss on the recordings, there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m not saying that it has to be squeaky clean. I love recording stuff clean and then messing it up, to kinda of my specifications really.. yeah it’s good, and if you’re using a lot of elements in your tunes like I do, you’ve gotta make sure it’s all recorded clearly so it doesn’t sound like a big mess at the end of the day.”
Q So were the last 2 albums done pretty much solo then?..
“No I’ve always sort of worked with engineers, just generally for the stuff that I have difficulty with, you know like - certain aspects of mixing or recording live stuff, it’s always good to have someone there who knows what they’re doing…
You know, if you’ve got a vocalist in the booth and they’re asking for more reverb on their headphones, I’ll spend 5mins doing that, whereas a good studio engineer would have it there in 2 seconds, and also I can be chatting to the vocalist while the other person is making sure that technically everything’s OK.. it’s just nice, and it’s a bit of teamwork as well… and then I don’t have to make my own tea all the time.”
Q. Collaborations: ‘Music takes me up’ (track 2) – made with Alice (Russell) and Andy, was quite a collaboratively created track ….
“Yeah, well Andy’s a really good musician, fully trained, he’s been playing since the age of 4, and properly studied music; he’s a pianist, a vocalist, he’s a good percussionist, he can get by on bass and that…. He played the piano and the Hammond organ on that tune and Alice came in and we were all writing lyrics together, and all kinda chipping in. Andy was working a lot with the harmonies, which was pretty different to all the previous stuff to what Alice has done,.. a lot of Alice’s harmonies have been pretty orthodox, goaspally, soulful and all that, and Andy took her into almost operatic territory, which she’s perfectly capable of, it’s just not something she had really done before…I think that’s one of the good things about a collaboration – is just going ‘well, you don’t have to do what you normally do’, and that goes for both of us really, that’s half the fun, it’s pushing yourself a bit more, and going a little bit outside your comfort zone, but also having a lot fun at the same time.”
Q That’s one of the things that shines through on the album, how much fun you have working with Alice (‘music takes me up’) & Will (‘Quantic’ Holland, ‘donkey ride’ track 3)...
“Absolutely, they’re both really good friends, and I think when you’re that comfortable with people; I mean I’ve never worked with Alice before, but we’ve spent so much time together and she always stays with us when she comes to Manchester. We’re really good friends so that’s a really good basis to start off on…and when you’re that close as friends anyway, then you don’t feel bad.. I didn’t feel bad about mentioning stuff to Alice about the way she was singing and stuff.
You know, whereas if all I’d done is heard her records than I would have gone, ‘Oh bloody hell, it’s Alice Russell, I’m really nervous!’ I might have bitten my tongue a bit more! It was really good fun, and it’s nice when the vocalist starts chatting to you about the music, and you’re like “aw.. how bout singing it like this?..’ I think once you’re that relaxed that you start meddling in each other’s, sort of, territories, then that’s great fun. I don’t get enough experience working with vocal melodies or writing lyrics, so when Alice was a bit stuck, you have to chip in and that’s how you get experience.”
Q Roots Manuva collaboration (‘nice up the function’ track 6): having worked together before, was the process different this time? Did u it write for him?...
“Yeah, I did write something for him.. I mean he likes quite wonky beats and stuff. Just the way his flow is and his natural rhythm, and his turn of phrase, all lends itself to stuff that’s a bit, sometimes almost falling apart, but he holds it together with his huge voice. It’s one of those things, when you have in mind collaboration; it’s one of those things you can think about too much. I just sort of messed around with a beat, and thought, ‘right, this has got Rodney written all over it’… and then sent him 2 or 3 slight variations, and went ‘right, there’s an idea, I’ve not worked on it loads, I don’t wanna mess with it too much before you have your input’ and he sent it back, a little demo on one of the beats, and we then took it from there….”
Q. Ninja Tuna – The label as opposed to the album. How is that (label collaboration) giving you something different than you had before with Ninja Tune?
“Well, it’s more just a way to, I suppose, bring together all the new stuff I’m doing. It’s almost like a fresh start really, because I’ve not done stuff for so long, it was nice to combine things, obviously still with the cartoons and stuff, cause that works really well, and is kinda who I am, but I thought well, it’s quite fun to have my own sort of, pretend mini-label, and also because I’m releasing so much stuff now; like I’ve got 3 singles out this year, I’ve got another single in November, there’s another single in December, and there’ll be another 2 singles before February, so pretty much every track on the album’s coming out as a single. So I thought, if I’m being that productive after my sort-of studio hibernation, it makes sense to almost have my own sub-label on which to do that really, and the visual thing has always been a big part of my work anyway. It’s the same again, it’s just daft little idea…as most of the things which I’m now associated with were.. (tea anyone?!). People say when they come to my gigs, or they hear my music, it’s just daft little ideas that I wasn’t really serious about at the time, and Ninja Tuna was one of them. It’s my take on Ninja Tune, I suppose it’s like a collaboration between me and the label, both in a literal sense, and in the name.”
Q. Will you be releasing other peoples’ work, or is it just for you & Ninja Tune?
“I’ve no idea, absolutely no idea, but I love the fact that I don’t have a clue! I think it’s got the potential for other peoples stuff, I just need to get my own house in order before I start trying to be label manager or anything. It’s good to have a bit of room for manoeuvre, and just see what happens, if someone hands me some amazing music you never know; but then I don’t think I’m in a position where I could properly commit time, signing up people for who knows how long and stuff like that. That’s pretty much getting into the full time job, and especially in this day and age, when you’re extremely lucky to make any money out of music or sell any of it… Never say never, but it’s nice to have the option.”
Q. You’re coming to Australia?!
“Yes, I am, very excited actually! I think we’re coming over just after Christmas, for 2 or 3 weeks, yeah, it’s been a while (since the last visit).. and we’re really looking forward to it!
“It’s all still getting finalised, all our crew are getting really excited as well. Be good holidaying, we need some sun; we not had any over here for about a year really!! Flipppin ‘eck, crazy!”
Can you imagine? Two years without a decent summer… and then hitting Oz in January to tour? We are all in for a little Scruff magic, old school, new school, Ninja Tuna-tastic. If you needed any other reasons to smile this summer, then this is it.. .
Mr Scruffington can be seen in Australia;..
Thu 1st BBQ Beats Brisbane $66 More
Sun 4th Days Like This Sydney $97 More
Thu 8th Prince Bandroom Melbourne $32+b/f More
Fri 9th The Bakery Artrage Complex Perth $35+b/f adv/$40 door More
Mon 12th Sydney Festival: Becks Bar Sydney
January 4th – Days like This festival, Entertainment Qtr, Moore Park, Sydney (If you haven’t got tickets to this – SORT IT OUT NOW. You WILL kick yourself if you don’t..). Word.
Mr Scruff’s ‘Ninja Tuna’ is out now on Ninja Tune through Inertia. For more info, visit www.inertia-music.com