Raymond “Boots” Riley is not your average, modern-day rapper. Far from a world of self-indulgence, materialism, Cristal and platinum chains, the Oakland-based activist–cum-music artist is distinguished for his campaigning against social inequality.
Active in the music industry for over 20 years now, Boots entered the game as leader of the controversial political rap duo The Coup. Renowned for their communist-driven tales of poverty and capitalist exploitation, both Boots and the group’s DJ, Pam the Funkstress, have long been regarded as one of socio-political hip-hop’s most respected forces.
In 2005, he went on to form another group with Rage Against the Machine’s guitarist Tom Morello. As the Street Sweeper Social Club these two music veterans released two CDs in quick succession, culminating in a politically provocative fusion of hip-hop, funk and metal.
As The Coup get set to embark on their first official European tour, Boots kindly gave up his time to answer some questions on his past, present and future projects.
OHZ: What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a new album for The Coup, which is the soundtrack I wrote for a dark comedy film about my life working as a telemarketer.
The film is called ‘Sorry to Bother You’ and is being produced by Ted Hope, the same guy that produced ‘21Grams’.
OHZ: When can we expect both projects to be released?
We are currently recording the album. It should be ready for May to be released in September, while the film will be released at the beginning of 2013.
OHZ: How about the Street Sweeper Social Club? Any news on that project?
The Street Sweeper Social club will happen once I’m done finishing with The Coup.
I’ve actually been trying to convince Tom and Zack to put together a new Rage Against the Machine album. Tom is down, but Zack ain’t so sure. Right now the world needs another Rage album.
OHZ: What made you choose music as a means to express yourself?
When I was really young, about 12, I wanted to be Prince, but then I got involved in organising and stopped being involved in music.
Later, I realised that a lot of things we were doing weren’t really reaching that many people. I was looking for ways to get the message out there.
One day we organising in these projects in San Francisco and this woman called Rosie Hawkins and her eight year-old twins were beat down by police. The police claimed they were dealing drugs and so everyone in the projects gathered around to complain.
Two weeks before another guy got beat down and he died because the police arrested him and refused to take him to the hospital. Anyway, the folks there didn’t want to see the same thing happen to Rosie and so they stood there and defended her.
Eventually the police started firing off shots and, despite being scared at first, they stood their ground, took their guns and turned over their cars. In the end the police were forced to walk out of the projects without their guns!
Anyway, back then, in 1989, the top song on the radio was Public Enemy’s ‘Fight the Power’. People were chanting ‘Fight the Power’; the song gave them the strength to stand up to the police.
This made me realise how powerful hip-hop music was and was my main reason for pursuing it. In those times I used to rap at school, but I was terrible. After that moment I became determined to perfect my craft and use hip-hop to empower the people.
OHZ: Was there a particular person, or moment, that inspired you to fight for equality?
Rather than being inspired by an individual moment or one particular person, my path to activism was a gradual thing.
It really began when I was 15. I went for a weekend as part of a summer project working for anti-racist farm organisations, which was part of the Progressive Labor Party. We would organise rallies and door-to-door campaigning, which really changed me as a person.
Before then I could never have imagined myself at high school handing out flyers and being vocally involved in political projects. It was the feeling of being involved and fighting for those causes that really had a huge impact on me. In the end, I ended up spending three summers at those camps.
OHZ: Is it true that your parents were radical organisers?
My father started out in the civil rights moment in North Carolina and both my mother and father were also involved in the Progressive Labor Party.
My father was fully involved and so we moved around a bit. I was born in Chicago and moved to Detroit when I was 1.
OHZ: So your parents also played a key role in shaping your political opinions?
My father didn’t even believe I should be accepted into these groups. As far as he was concerned, I hadn’t read enough and didn’t have enough knowledge to be a member.
In fact, my father specifically didn’t speak to me about politics and thought that I should get into it on my own. He never pushed me into anything and just wanted me to be my own person.
OHZ: It’s hard not to notice, when listening to your music, your hatred of shitty paid jobs. What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
There have been many. I’ve had so many shitty jobs. Definitely one of the worse was when I was 14 working in a Mexican restaurant as a dishwasher. The boss would get us to do some really disgusting things. I remember we had to wipe the plates clean with our hands before putting them in the dishwasher. He treated us like shit.
Otherwise it would have to be when I lied to get a job on a construction site. They thought I had experience and left me to construct a red deck. At the beginning I managed to pick some things up, but when they left me to do that shit on my own I had no clue what I was doing.
Door to door salesman and telemarketing jobs, they are evil too. I’ve worked both them jobs plenty of times.
OHZ: As you dedicate a lot of your time to various political projects, how do you manage to financially stay afloat?
I could probably make more money if I wasn’t involved in the local projects. We’ve even been offered ad campaigns from the likes of Levis. I couldn’t ever do that though. We’re talking about social change and moving people. We have to stick to our word. How am I going to come out saying ‘the revolution, sponsored by Levis’?
Luckily I haven’t had to have another job. Only after ‘Genocide and Juice’, when I had some kinda mid-life crisis, did I end up changing direction. I was like 24 at the time and decided after making two albums that I no longer wanted to do music.
I quit and with a group of other guys created the Young Comrades. In order to get some finances together during the Young Comrade project, I was working one day a week for a telemarketing company. I got good at it and managed to make some money out of that.
However, I realised that I wanted to put ideas out on a much bigger scale, which lead to me returning to music and recording ‘Steal This Album’.
OHZ: Are you able to make much money from touring and record sales?
Touring is the main thing that pays, selling records doesn’t. In order to make money in music you have to alienate yourself from the life you live and your community.
You lose touch like those gangster rappers who talk about selling drugs when they ain’t done it in 10 years. You pretty much get to the stage where you got nothing to talk about besides actually making music. You get detached.
But yeah, somehow I always seem to get by. I often fall many months behind with the rent and I’ve had my lights turned out quite a lot, plus it’s been more than a decade since any credit card would ever touch me.
In the US I sometimes can walk into restaurants and get offered free meals. I just somehow have always managed to stay afloat without having to take on another job.
OHZ: Are you ever tempted to cash in on the fame and lifestyle associated with the music industry?
You can get sucked into the attention, the crowds and everything, but for me that was really just the icing on the cake. I’m in it for other reasons.
OHZ: Is it true The Coup have never previously toured in Europe?
The reason we’ve never properly toured Europe is mostly down to a combination of bad management decisions.
During the ‘Steal This Album’ era we signed to a UK record label, Circus Records. They wanted to get The Coup on the final leg of the Puff Daddy tour in England. In fact we did play Birmingham as part of that tour, but after that it seemed like Puff wasn’t paying any of the drivers so they all went on strike.
I’ve never crossed a picket line and never will, so that tour kinda ended for us at that point.
Apart from that we did some festivals in Europe with Galactic, but it was all done on a very small scale with little promotion. The only other time I toured in Europe was when me and Tom did a show in Switzerland.
OHZ: What’s currently happening with Occupy Oakland?
Occupy Oakland is still in full effect. The media claim it’s been shut down because there’s no longer an encampment, but this is only a temporary thing until the weather improves. It’s getting cold here at the moment so there are plans to set it back up when the weather improves a little. It definitely hasn’t gone away though.
In Oakland, as part of our movement, we recently moved a women back into her foreclosed home and have got the bank to sit down and enter negotiations. There was another woman who came to us because she could no longer afford to pay her loan. We shut down the bank and forced them to renegotiate her conditions.
Here in Oakland a lot of people are broke and are working in places like McDonalds and Walmart. These companies could afford to pay $16 an hour. They see how poor these communities are and yet in the heart of these places these companies are making billions.
OHZ: Here in London the Occupy movement had an ambiguous impact. At the beginning it raised a few eyebrows before losing public interest and eventually becoming associated with groups of middle class, attention-seeking hippies.
Firstly, I don’t know that much about the movement in London, but it is anyway the case that every single social movement in history was at the time looked down on by the media. It’s the same with the civil rights movement in America. The media were blaming it on a small group of ‘outside agitators’.
The problem, however, remains that we are still at a stage where we rely too much on the mainstream media for publicity.
The media in this country have been terrible. They only have reported on certain things that reflect their own particular interests. When we saved a women from being homeless and fought her back into the home that she got thrown out of, the media attacked her for not paying her bills.
The economy is fucked up because of banking and real estate, not because some poor women couldn’t afford to pay her bills.
OHZ: So what is the best way to spread the word?
The internet plays a role, but for me it’s also about door-to-door canvassing.
The media just report on things the way they want to portray the world. And I’m not saying that’s down to the individual journalists or whatever, but down to the editors and the power struggles that exist in any organisation.
Let’s be honest, there were economists talking about it and yet nobody in the media predicted the financial downturn. That’s not the media’s job. The media’s job is not to make us lose faith in the system and the way the world works.
OHZ: Do you feel, in light of all the recent global protests, that progress is being made?
This is a time when people are listening to things that are happening throughout the world. The world is interacting and certain events are linking each and every country together. The Arab spring for example, that spread through so many countries that found strength and power in others to fight against oppression.
The Arab spring then influenced the creation of Occupy New York, which then spread throughout the US and then throughout the world.
In Nigeria there was a strike that shut down the country for a week. There are big education protests, people fighting for free education in the world. In India there were labour strikes recently and one million people participated.
People are inspired by each other, we are constantly in interaction.
OHZ: What do you believe to be the best form of protest?
The most effective means of social change is a labour strike. The economy functions on production and so if you shut down industry it will have an effect regardless of the media.
OHZ: Maybe people are scared to strike because of the recession and the extra fear of losing their job? I know here for example that a lot of business owners and managers use the recession as an excuse to exploit people further and basically make them feel more vulnerable.
The only answer is more militancy. Don’t adhere to what the bosses say because of the economy. We need to get our messages across by any means.
European tour dates:
March 31st- Agen at Le Florida
April 1st- Bern at Dachstock
April 3rd- Zurich
April 5th- Bristol, UK at UWE
April 6th- Saint Germain (Paris suburb) at La Clef
April 7th- Lille at L’Aéronef
April 9th- Berlin at Bohannon
April 10th- Nuremburg at Desi
April 11th- Venezia at Rivolta
April 12th- Milano at Biko
April 13th- Roma: The Coup will play at La Strada (Boots Riley will speak at Strike)
April 14th- Helsinki at Funky Elephant Festival
Composed of Eazy E’s former rap protégé, ex-Manhole/Tura Satana lead vocalist Tairrie B and her multi-instrumentalist husband Mick Murphy, My Ruin first broke onto the scene in 1999 as a vehicle for Tairrie’s solo material. Releasing her debut album, Speak and Destroy, that same year, the band have since distributed numerous LPs including their most recent 6th studio effort, the “reflective and apocalyptic” concept album, Ghosts and Good Stories.
Defined by a sound consisting of “passionate vocals set against heavy rock beats”, in the early days the group, led by rapper turned metal vocalist Tairrie B, was made up of four members. As chopping and changing became an ever-present feature of the band’s identity, much like Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails, My Ruin was to essentially be a project that reflected Tairrie’s aesthetic direction.
Such changes were too however be steadied by the presence of Mick Murphy, a versatile, multi-instrumentalist musician who has assumed the role as My Ruin’s principal songwriter, producer and musical director. Establishing his trademark southern-drenched sound alongside Tairrie’s screaming, heartfelt vocals, the Los Angeles-based duo finally found their musical utopia as an authentic underground DIY band, following years of frustration tangled within the greedy constraints of music industry politics.
This rejection of contemporary, superficial industry ethics is further characterised by the duo’s friendly and very much humble nature. Illustrating a generosity that has over the years benefitted many up and coming bands, it is their magnetic aura coupled with a hungry, irrefutable passion for music that has enabled cult independent bands, such as My Ruin, to flourish amidst times of global recession and uncertainty.
As a testament to their dedicated, workaholic attributes, since completing their UK tour the band are currently juggling various other projects that include: Death Work Professionals – a throwback to old school gangsta rap, Blasphemous Girl Designs – Tairrie’s own custom jewelry line, a book documenting their vast experiences in the industry and a new music video that is set to air within the next few weeks.
Indicating the levels of hunger and drive still inherent within these “old school” music veterans, OHZ sat down with the band to discuss topics as diverse as religion, the evolution of music industry politics, their new album and the story behind Tairrie’s acquaintance with rap pioneer and celebrated legend Eazy E.
My Ruin – Excommunicated (Ghosts and Good Stories)
OHZ: How has “Ghosts and Good Stories “ so far faired on both a commercial and critical level?
TBM – My Ruin is not really a commercial band. We never have been. We don’t make music to appeal to the masses with a label and management team directing our every move behind the scenes. We make music for ourselves so that term really does not apply to us.
On a critical level, the press has been amazing. We’ve received some of the best reviews of our career with this new album and we’re very proud that so many fans who have listened to it have embraced it and also given us such a great response both online and at the live shows. It’s always heartwarming to see people screaming along with me in the audience and rocking out to our new material the same way they do with our older songs.
With each new album we record I feel we grow and learn about ourselves as artists and become better at our craft. I’ve come a long way since ‘Speak & Destroy’ which was the first My Ruin album [and without Mick] that I recorded in 1999. ‘G&GS’ is definitely a testament to our staying power as a band and as a couple. Over the years together, we’ve really worked hard to hone our own style that is unique to us and we feel ‘G&GS’ is our finest work to date.
OHZ: Listening to the album, it’s evident that religion plays a key role in underpinning your frustrations with contemporary society. What are your key issues with the church?
TBM – Sadly religion has been the cause of much hatred, violence and murder all over the world for centuries, turning man against man and man against woman in various cultures and societies. It has fueled wars, rapes, killings and terrorism. That being said, I myself sometimes do not understand why I am drawn to it or why it has always played a heavy role within my lyrics throughout the years, dating back to my days in Manhole and Tura Satana.
I suppose you could say that I’m a hammer and nails type of girl because I enjoy using religious imagery explicitly in the metaphorical sense, yet I don’t just gravitate to it for its aesthetic. I find the potency conjured up by certain words and phrases to exude an array of mixed emotions within myself and others. I love the language of The Bible and it has often been an inspiring muse with its exciting and dramatic tales being both frightening and comforting. I don’t necessarily find it all that believable but I do find it to be one hell of an interesting story.
As far as the Church goes, I have many key issues that reach far beyond the Catholic and Christian religion, which is evident on ‘Eyes Black’, a song both deep and, because of its subject matter, difficult to write. However, I felt it needed to be addressed just as the situation of so many women suffering and forced to live in submission worldwide needs to be addressed.
‘Abusing the Muse’ is another track that I felt compelled to write where I am not using religion in the typical form I am used to. Instead, it is a full frontal assault, call and response condemnation of the Church and all the self righteous evangelists, preachers, priests and prophets that judge and persecute others in the name of God as they pray for profit.
I am certainly not in a band to push my personal agenda or preach from my pulpit, but I do have many strong opinions on organized religion based on personal knowledge. I’m not in favor of brainwashing. I believe in free thinking so it’s hard for me to get behind the idea of certain aspects of the Church and what it represents. While heavy metal and rock & roll are about as anti-establishment as it gets, religion is the extreme opposite. I know the two contradict each other completely and make for strange bedfellows, yet I find when they are combined in the way I bring them together, they make for a fiery dichotomy which is really intriguing to me musically speaking. I loathe talking religion because I am really not an authority on the subject and it’s hard to explain how my mind works when I write.
OHZ: As is often the case with the majority of metal albums, the content of your latest release is brimming with anger. Does this aura of hostility play a role in your everyday lives or are you characteristically laidback when away from the recording studio?
MM – I am a pretty laidback person in general but I can get angry or frustrated just like anybody can. I really like music with energy and aggression so I write with a lot of both. Tairrie’s lyrics are intelligent, confrontational and venomous so this inspires me to come up with riffs and songs that innovatively throw down in a musical way.
TBM – Back in the day I could have easily answered yes to this question but now I hope I’m a much more calm and relaxed person. Like with most artists, my music is my therapy and a release for me. Many things make me angry and sometimes those emotions do help to fuel my lyrical content, but I consider what I do as a vocalist to be more about passion than hatred. I prefer substance over fluff and I don’t scream for the sake of screaming or write confrontational lyrics just to show how pissed off and mean I can be. I write them to convey a clear and concise message of intent which goes hand in hand with the instruments.
Many of our songs are strong message oriented anthems of defiance and rock & roll middle fingers that both men and women can connect with and relate to. I try not to label myself as an angry artist because I have many sides, just as our music has many sides and that’s the beauty of what we do. In our everyday life I am a pussycat. Just ask my husband. Meow!
OHZ: In terms of your collaborative process, do you both tend to write the album’s lyrics or is the songwriting process considered to be more Tairrie’s terrain?
TBM – I write the lyrics however, I enjoy running thoughts and concepts by Mick and getting his input on my ideas. We work as a team in our songwriting and he does the same thing with me when he is demo-ing a song. Mick has always been the main music writer in My Ruin
and now he’s also producing our albums and playing the bass and drums in the studio, as well as the guitar. He’s become a one man band when it comes to the recording and we know each other so well after 11 years that our music comes very natural to us.
OHZ: Who came up with the album’s title and to what extent do you feel that it effectively represents the music on display?
TBM – I came up with the title and also with the cover art, which is actually a vintage shot that was taken of my great grandparents in front of their house back in the early 1900’s in Michigan. From the moment I saw the image it spoke to me with its very otherworldly and somewhat haunting mystique surrounding it. I set the photo aside on the desk in my office and found myself looking at it daily during the time we were in the studio.
After writing ‘Diggin’ for Ghosts’ – which is the opening track on the new album – the photo just sort of became my silent muse to the point where I knew it had to be the cover art. ‘Deathknell’, which is the album’s closer, was written as a love letter to Mick with the photo as inspiration for lyrics. It’s a very epic sounding, ominous doom, heavy spoken word tale of a couple who have weathered so much in the house they built together and with all the trials and tribulations they have experienced from outside forces, yet still remain as strong as the music they make. It represents us completely.
OHZ: How would you compare “Ghosts and Good Stories” to your previously released material?
MM- I think it fits our evolution nicely. It takes the music to new places while staying true to our style and roots. I’m really happy with how “G&GS” turned out, from the songs and production to the artwork, and I believe it is our best one yet.
OHZ: What would you define as being the major difference between the US and UK metal scene and what factors do you attribute to your success in the UK, in relation to your reputation in your homeland?
MM- I don’t really claim to be an expert on the modern metal “scene”. The UK has been great to us for many years and it has become our home away from home. We have also had great experiences in France, as well as many amazing shows in our hometown of Los Angeles and all over the USA, where we discovered that there are many My Ruin fans spread all over America.
OHZ: What are the key reasons behind My Ruin’s transformation from a traditional four-piece band into a present-day two person project?
MM- Simplicity. I write the music and I know the parts inside out, so why not just play all the instruments on the record? It saves time, money and energy however, I obviously cannot play everything myself live so we have a rhythm section that we take on the road with us when we tour. For our last big LA show and UK tour in March it was Luciano Ferrea on bass, who is new to My Ruin, and Matt LeChevalier, who previously toured with us in 2006 and recorded drums on our album “Throat Full of Heart”.
OHZ: When, where and how did you first meet each other?
TBM – I met Mick in 2000 at the home of fashion designer Terri King. I had modeled in her show earlier that evening at the El Rey Theatre and was at the after party in the Hollywood Hills when I was introduced to him by a mutual musician friend who had toured with me in 1999. I was sitting on a purple velvet couch at the time. During the evening I remember telling another friend that he was the man I was going to marry. My friend laughed and said I was drunk and didn’t even know the guy, but after exchanging phone numbers, written in my red lipstick on brown paper bags, here we are still together 11 years later and married. We tied the knot in 2008 on Christmas Eve in Mick’s hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee so I guess I was right!
OHZ: Does your status as an “underground” band ever frustrate you and are you ever tempted to sign a deal with a major record label?
MM- I have a hard time imagining My Ruin on a major label, however it does get frustrating when you feel like your band isn’t getting the promotion it deserves from a label or from the people hired to work your record. It would be nice to have the budget to buy on bigger tours in the US and Europe like other bands, but we don’t have a team financially supporting the band by bankrolling everything. When we tour, we usually have to headline the shows ourselves and that can be a little frustrating as well at times because it gets difficult to build your fan base outside of the people who already follow My Ruin.
TBM – I’ve been signed to more than a few labels in my career, both big and small, and it’s all the same. Today it’s almost harder to get a decent booking agent than a label. I am not excited about the idea of working with another one at this point. I want to self release our next album. Looking back, I wish we had done this with ‘Ghosts and Good Stories’ because it would have saved us the headache and aggravation of having to deal with Tiefdruck Musik and owner Daniel Heerdmann, who is the Devil in my opinion. Releasing our album on this label was the worst experience we have ever had dealing with someone in the music industry and that says a lot considering our history. We cut all ties with Tiefdruck right before our record was released and we’ve never regretted the decision.
OHZ: Has the rise of downloading and subsequent decline of record sales at any point threatened the existence of future My Ruin projects?
MM- It certainly doesn’t help. You can pretty much forget record sales if you’re underground. You have to find other ways to survive and that’s what we do. You really have to do this for the love of making music because, more often than not, it’s going to get downloaded for free.
OHZ: Do you consider the music industry to be financially viable for new up and coming DIY groups?
MM – Some bands will do well and many more will fail. That’s just how it goes. The game has changed immensely over the past 10 years so the methods of business, for better or worse, have evolved with those changes. The internet and social networking sites are now flooded with self promotion to the point where it’s a sea of spam, so it has gotten harder to stand out from the crowd in certain aspects, but on the other hand you can reach the whole planet from your garage studio too. It is a completely different world from when I started 20 plus years ago.
OHZ: What type of music do you both tend to listen to in your spare time?
TBM – We listen to a lot of classic rock & metal, old school gangster rap, early punk & hardcore, low rider oldies and stoner doom. At the moment we’re listening to a couple of bands we recently discovered called “Firebird” & “Ghost”, who I believe may be slowly putting a spell on me with their not so hidden satanic messages and romantic vocals. They sound a bit like Blue Oyster Cult meets Mercyful Fate and Pentagram.
OHZ: To date, what do you both consider as being your greatest achievement?
MM – Having stayed true to ourselves and our musical beliefs.
MY RUIN – UK TOUR MOVIE – 2011
OHZ: Given the fact that your vocals require a great deal of screaming etc, what is the secret behind you being able to consistently perform while touring?
TBM- There is no great secret, touring is hard on everyone vocally and it can take its toll when having to deal with harsh weather conditions, cold venue temperatures and germs, which get passed from fans to bands because of all of us being in such close proximity. I also enjoy getting into the crowd and sharing my microphone with the fans which, despite being characteristic of My Ruin and well worth the risk, probably doesn’t help matters much.
I try to stay as healthy as possible before and during our tours but, being a California girl, I’m used to a warmer climate and sometimes the change is very shocking to my body. Although I’ve been going to the UK & Europe since 1996, I’m still not used to it. I make sure to drink a lot of tea on the road and in the studio. Throat Coat is the best with honey and fresh peeled ginger root added to the mix. I also use a throat spray called Vocal Eze which is a bronchio-dilator and strong respiratory anti-viral, anti bronchical that lubricates and stimulates immunity. Vocal Eze contains a mixure of herbal remedies like marshmello, ginger, osha, echiancea and licorice roots, along with propolis that together help to soothe and heal a raw throat. I never tour without it.
OHZ: Having been involved in the music industry since the 1980s, how much do you feel the industry has changed and to what extent do you feel these developments have had a positive or negative effect?
TBM – A great deal has changed since the days when I first started in the business and many things have remained the same. Being that I came from the rap world, the majority of my experiences were on a different level than what I have had to deal with in the rock world, but there will always be those similarities that exist on both sides and still hold as true today as they did back then, especially when it comes to men and women. I am not a fan of the music industry in general, based on what I have been through on both major and indie labels. I would like to believe things are slowly changing for the better so that one day labels will be extinct and artists can do it all for themselves, but that may just be wishful thinking because labels seem to make artists so deeply dependant on them.
Another negative would be that, thanks to the internet, there is really no mystery left in music these days. Everything is there at the push of a button and sometimes even the things you don’t want to know about someone. Mick & I always remember when we were growing up and used to buy an album to read the sleeve and this was all that we really knew about the bands we loved, other than interviews we read about them in certain rock magazines at the time.
Now the internet has taken over and with the invention of so many social media outlets like My Space, Facebook, Blogger and Twitter, where people feel the need to inform the public on every move they make and thought they have all day, it really does not leave much to the imagination and I am guilty of this myself. My Space is done and dusted for all intents and purposes and we recently deleted our Twitter accounts because it just became too much. I love connecting with the fans and friends of our band on Facebook, but even that can get a bit scary at times because it’s so personal and can start to feel a bit invasive when people get creepy and cross the line.
Back in the day, MTV started as a positive. It was a groundbreaking company that introduced the world to the art of music video and many amazing bands and musicians. However these days it just caters to the lowest common denominator and promotes bad behavior with its ridiculous reality shows and lack of decent music. As far as music goes, there is nothing I find interesting on MTV or VHI. Most of it is of no value because it’s all so dumbed down lyrically and watered down musically.
The current landscape of women in music leaves a lot to be desired and little I find I can relate to as a woman. As an artist, I understand that times change and you have to grow and go with it in order for what you do to remain relevant, however, this does not mean following every trend and becoming something you are not comfortable with to satisfy someone at a label who simply wants to make money and views you as a product not a person.
We all view the world in our own way and what I might deem, musically speaking, to be intellectually defunct or lacking substance, because it’s sold a million copies to a mainstream audience yet still sounds like complete rubbish to my ears, someone else might see as creative genius based on those same figures, without necessarily paying attention to the lyrics or music and just the hot half naked chick singer. The music industry is a shallow graveyard filled with dead bodies of rockstars who became famous and couldn’t handle it, or who couldn’t handle it because they never became famous. It’s an ugly place that I would not recommend anyone entering unless they have a thick skin and can take rejection. It takes a great deal of dedication and hard work to keep your dream alive in the rock underworld.
As far as the positive attributes of the industry go – we love making music and connecting with the fans of our band, and it’s hard to imagine doing anything else because we love it like we do despite all the drama that comes with it. We’re very grateful there are people out there who care enough about our music to continue to want to hear it and inspire us to continue creating it. We enjoy playing live, writing and recording. This is what keeps us going. Everything else is bullshit.
OHZ: What were the circumstances behind you initially meeting and signing a deal with Eazy E and overall how was your working relationship with the late, controversial rapper?
TBM - I was introduced to Eazy through Jerry Heller, who was his manager at the time and co-founder of Ruthless Records. I met Jerry through a friend of mine backstage at a rap show. When he found out I was a rapper he was surprised because I was white, but he gave me his card and invited me down to meet him and Eazy at Audio Achievements, the recording studio where NWA worked during this time.
I went to the studio a few days later by myself and armed with only a one song demo called “Foxy Lady”, which was produced by Quincy Jones Jr [QD3]. This track featured a sampled hook of the original song by Jimi Hendrix, scratchin by DJ Crazy Toones [Ice Cube’s current DJ and little brother of WC from Westside Connection] along with some beat boxing by DJ Lethal of Limp Bizkit & House of Pain. Eazy, Dr Dre, MC Ren, Yella and The D.O.C were all there. Eazy listened to the track and was very quiet so I thought he didn’t like what he heard. I took my cassette tape, said my goodbyes and started to leave and that’s when he asked me if I wanted a record deal. I thought he was joking because I only had one song, but he wasn’t and I signed with his new Comptown Records label via MCA soon after.
OHZ: How would you describe the climate at Ruthless Records in your period signed there and how did you find the experience of being a white female in an industry largely dominated by machismo and gangster personas?
TBM – I found it exciting one minute and frightening the next. I went through a lot of crazy experiences in a short time of only a few years while being signed with Eazy’s label. There are also some very far fetched misconceptions and rumors about how and why I got signed, which I find hilarious to read or have people ask me about on occasion. For the record I was never personally involved with anyone within the Ruthless family and I left the label on my own terms because I wanted to start a rock band. Eazy did not understand this and I left without his blessing and did not get contractually released from my record agreement until two years after I left and only weeks before his untimely and unexpected death on March 26, 1995.
There are machismo and gangster personas in the rock world as well as the rap world and I think my being white was almost secondary at times to my being female. There is and has always been a double standard when it comes to women in music and misogynist attitudes can be found in all areas of the music business no matter what side of the stage you’re on, so it’s important to have self-respect and integrity in what you do. I had no problem holding my own and speaking my mind back then and I still don’t. The only thing that’s changed is my hair color.
OHZ: During this period, did you witness any tension concerning the ongoing beef between Ruthless and Death Row?
TBM – I witnessed a lot of things when I went to the Ruthless offices for meetings and was privy to various intense conversations and stories by both Eazy and Jerry Heller, when he was showing off and acting like a big shot trying to impress me and my female manager at the time. There were bodyguards, guns and many shady characters which were not the normal things you find when at a record label and it began to make me uncomfortable when I was frisked just to enter the building for a meeting.
The atmosphere was always thick with tension because of whatever drama was happening at the moment and you could cut it with a knife, whether Eazy was there at the time or not. I knew about the conflicts with Ice Cube and later Dre, but I tried to steer clear of other people’s business and personal affairs because I had enough problems of my own dealing with Jerry Heller. Over time and once I grew to know what a creep he was, I began to completely understand why both Ice Cube and Dre hated the man and felt the need to leave Ruthless. They both made the right decision and obviously their careers were better for it in the end.
OHZ: What is the story behind your metamorphosis from rap to metal?
TBM - Well, that’s a very long story which would require more than a paragraph so I think I should save that one for my book, which I have been quietly working on this past year. I’m a screamer. It has come very naturally for me since the beginning. I feel it was what I was meant to be doing on the microphone and I have recorded many albums with both My Ruin and my previous bands, Manhole & Tura Satana, that I am extremely proud of.
However I will always have a special place in my heart and respect for old school rap and the hip hop culture which I revisited recently with my side project “Death Work Professionals”, a collaboration with Mick and my good friend Rhiis Lopez, vocalist of the metal band Ana Kefr. We got together in the studio and recorded a fun little cover and video of Dr Dre and Ice Cube’s classic rap track, ‘Natural Born Killaz’. In fact since people seemed to enjoy it so much, we have recently started writing and working on new material for the project, which you can download for free at www.deathworkprofessionals.bandcamp.com
OHZ: Before meeting Tairrie and jumping onboard the My Ruin music train, what type of projects were you pursuing?
MM – From 1989-1995, I was in a progressive metal punk band called Hypertribe. We were based out of my hometown of Knoxville, TN where we built a large following and played many insane shows. We toured the eastern US from Florida to Ohio, self released many demo tapes and released an independently distributed full length CD on our own label in 1994. In mid ’95, we played a string of shows in Hollywood. After that we decided to move to L.A. and changed the name of the band to Movement, as our style had morphed into a darker, stoner alternative metal. From 1996-1999, Movement played around Los Angeles looking to be “discovered” and eventually sparked a demo deal with Noise Records in ’99. Despite everything it didn’t work out, so after 10 years of rock n roll evolution and adventure, the band called it a day.
OHZ: Do you ever feel any frustration towards the fact that Tairrie is often the first name to be associated with My Ruin?
MM – No that does not frustrate me at all because she started the band and she fronts the band. Her lyrics, vocals and imagery are a huge part of what the band is. Tairrie has been a trailblazer for women in modern heavy music and she deserves recognition and respect. There are a few women in other bands from her past who she’s helped through the years and even put on record and introduced to her fans & friends by way of speaking about them positively in the press or taking their past bands on tour, yet they seem to continue to have a hard on for her by demonizing her to anyone who will give them and their current shitty bands the time of day. It’s pretty pathetic considering how much she helped them get known in their own careers.
Both Manhole & Tura Satana were bands that were ahead of their time and Tairrie opened the doors for many of the female screamers out there today. She has stayed true to herself as an artist doing heavy music since 1993, when she first left the rap world to pursue metal alone and without the comfort of a manager or label to guide her. She’s made mistakes along the way, learned some very harsh lessons in business and in loyalty, but on the flipside she has made some records that will forever stand the test of time and for that she can and will always hold her head up high. I’m proud to have her in my life, both in my band and as my wife.
OHZ: Despite being able to play many instruments, which particular one do you consider to be your personal favourite?
MM – I would have to choose guitar by a mile. Rock guitar has been a huge obsession of mine since I was 4 years old, rocking to my older brother’s KISS Alive! record.
OHZ: Have you always, from a musical perspective, associated yourself with the genre of metal?
MM – It’s always been about music with attitude, interesting guitar work and riffs. My favorite genres are probably classic rock, heavy metal, jazz, fusion, thrash, punk, hardcore, alternative, doom and stoner rock.
My Ruin: Diggin’ For Ghosts Live: April 2011
Dubbed as the “raw, riff-tastic” DIY support act, UK metal outfit Sanctorum are currently on tour promoting their recently released third album ‘Semper Fidelis‘ – Latin for ‘Always Loyal’. Being their first independent release following a relatively successful stint signed to Corpo Records, the four-piece metal group now hope to transform critical success into a wider sense of recognition.
Originally hailing from England’s east coast county of Essex, the band, then known as Devolution, first broke onto the scene back in 2002. Consisting of a tight-knit group of school friends, they proceeded to tour their local area while putting the finishing touches on their self-financed 4 track debut EP ‘Penumbra‘.
In 2005, as the band’s identity began to gain momentum, the Essex quartet, in order to avoid confusion with similarly named bands, opted to change their name to Sanctorum. Representing a major step forward in their development, this tweaking of identity coincided with the release of their critically acclaimed, first full length LP ‘The Heavens Shall Burn’. Gaining plaudits for its powerful venom, Kerrang magazine enthusiastically lauded the band as being, “fresh British steel with heaps of potential”, while other publications similarly followed suit by showering the album with praise.
Since their introduction and subsequent critical acclaim, the down to earth quartet have frequently gained kudos as a live act, a fact that has culminated in them touring with illustrious heavyweights such as My Ruin, Ill Nino and God Forbid. Now acknowledged as being a reputable band within metal circles, changes to the original line-up and a lack of financial prosperity have yet to deter these passionate rockers from calling it a day.
With heaps of talent, a growing cult fan base and plenty more fuel left in the tank, OHZ took the opportunity to catch up with vocalist and guitarist Aaron Sly, as the band embark on the final leg of their UK tour.
Sanctorum: Ancient Worlds (The Heavens Shall Burn: 2006)
OHZ: How’s the tour going?
Its going really well cheers. Having a great time with our My Ruin family, the band is really killing it every night so we are real happy.
OHZ: For those of us who aren’t familiar with your music, how would you define your style?
It’s a mixture of all sorts really. As a band we are inspired by so many different styles of music, but firmly at its core it’s Metal, kind of a mixture of the classics and with a modern twist to it.
OHZ: How did the band initially get together?
The original line up formed during our school days, but this line up met through other bands that we had played local shows with. Then when the time came it was kinda like, ‘hey what about that guy he was really good when we saw him’. That’s how Adam came to be in the band, while Al was recommended to us by a friend of the band and he instantly felt right.
OHZ: What should we expect from your new album ‘Semper Fidelis’ and how does it differ from your previous releases?
It’s still very much a Sanctorum record but on this one we wanted to push some of the ideas musically that we had touched on before. Like some more groove, great melodies but still retaining the guttural grind of the band as well as some more extreme textures and dynamics. We didn’t want to make an album that people would expect us or a modern-day metal band to make. We wanted to try and separate ourselves from being labelled as just another metal band doing the same kind of thing as everything else that seems to be coming out. Hopefully people get that when they hear the album.
OHZ: As far as the songwriting process goes, which issues do you consider as being central to the bands’ identity?
I think really the central idea is really to try anything when we write. If it sounds cool or interesting we’ll explore it. We tend not to worry if its ‘not metal’ or anything like that, for us making records is about pushing ourselves technically and musically to create something that we really enjoy to play and are 100% passionate about you know?
OHZ: What was the reasoning behind you setting up your own label?
Well we have worked with labels in the past, some of who have done a pretty good job, but with this album we wanted total control over everything rather than handing it off to someone who usually only sees pound signs rather than being really passionate about the music we create. Also being a DIY band from the start, this way we stand to be in the best position to continue doing what we love in the future.
OHZ: Who would you say are your biggest influences?
As a band I would probably have to say Black Sabbath, Metallica, Machine Head, The Haunted, Pink Floyd etc. We all have our own personal influences that span most genres of real music.
OHZ: What was the last album you bought?
The Haunted – Unseen
OHZ: And your first?
First real album I brought myself was Master of Puppets. I think that was a while ago now!
OHZ: What kind of music do you listen to?
Ahh man there is too much to list. Basically anything that has a good groove and atmosphere to it that is honest really, can’t stand anything that is more style than substance.
OHZ: And now for the ultimate cliché: If you were stranded somewhere, which five albums would you bring along for the ride?
Metallica – Master of Puppets
Clutch – Robot Hive/Exodus
Machine Head – The Blackening
Devin Townsend – Ocean Machine
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
OHZ: How would you define the metal scene in the UK?
That’s a tricky one, depends where you go in the UK. In some places it’s really alive and great, but I think for the most part it’s become a little narrow-minded in terms of the bands that are coming out now days, certainly in the mainstream metal avenues. In my opinion there are too many people trying to sound like someone or that one great album and on the other side of things it seems that a lot of people need to be told or have read what is the next great band. There aren’t as many people going out to their local venue to discover what’s about and supporting the next generation of bands, which I think is a real shame and one that I hope changes.
OHZ: What are your thoughts on the current state of the music industry?
I think it’s a bit of a catch 22 really. On one hand there seems to be a real shift happening by putting more control and power back with the artists who create the music. What with the ease of digital distribution and the power of social networking, it can only be a good thing as it will mean artists could potentially afford to continue more comfortably.
On the other hand you have people getting music for free which is only making the artist’s position harder. Combine that with less people at the smaller shows and it’s a real dark side to it all at the minute. I think the true music fan, the one that buys the records, merch etc and comes to shows to enjoy the music live, as it’s intended, is a dying breed which is sad.
Music shouldn’t be a fashion accessory that is disposable as soon as something deemed as the new cool comes along. For the guys that work hard, sweat and bleed just to try and scrape by doing and playing what they really love, it’s tantamount to religion and is something that nowadays only a handful of true fans understand and have a great time sharing the journey.
OHZ: What advice would you give to anyone aspiring to get into the music industry?
Play what you love too, don’t compromise or water down your vision just to move forward. Be prepared to work hard and take the time to ensure you are really happy with what you are doing. Nothing worth having comes down an easy road but most of all enjoy yourself, after all that’s why we do it isn’t it?
OHZ: As far as personal goals are concerned, what do you hope to achieve within the next five years?
We hope to continue to make records we are proud of and play more shows hopefully further afield than we have so far. Finally we hope to take the Sanctorum machine as far and to as many people as we can.
Sanctorum’s latest album is now available in all music retail outlets, while for details of their ongoing tour and latest developments, check out their official website: http://www.sanctorum.co.uk/
THE SPECTRE: EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
Growing up in London’s bourgeois district of Kensington, Ludovic Vickers, aka The Spectre, doesn’t at first glance fit the typical profile of a potential rap superstar. Boasting postgraduate qualifications together with an upbringing in one of the UK capital’s richest zones, his background goes somewhat against the grain of a genre renowned for its poverty ridden, so-called gun-toting associates. In fact while many established rap artists have never even held a gun, served time or pushed crack, their post/zip code has granted them a credibility that record execs often tend to value over any questionings of raw talent. Such considerations could possibly explain why such a talented emcee has yet to find a deal, as modern society and its businesses appear more infatuated with the marketing of its image rather than the more pressing concern of discovering true talent.
Of course certain options do exist besides the obvious fundamentals of persistence. For example the “backpack” scene in hip hop has seen many non-ghetto rappers find success, thanks largely to its focusing on everyday life issues, philosophy and political activism. Whilst “gangsta” rap is stereotypically interpreted to be simply hood music filled with misogyny and violence, the “backpack” rapper is contrarily stereotyped as being the sub-genre of “intellects”, a generalisation that subsequently leads to it being classified as more “bourgeois”.
Opening up a potential marketing avenue for a non-ghetto rapper, the fact remains that the art of creativity should lead one to express himself in his or her natural way, a theory left suffocated by the pigeon-holing boundaries laid down by commercial businesses. With profit therefore being favoured over the true expression of one’s art, The Spectre and anyone else hoping to break it into the music industry must contend with simply being told what type of music to make, based on a quick categorizing glance at one’s background and general physical appearance.
While I have no doubt regarding the value of a versatile artist, I do feel the music industries methods of practice do to some extent take the heart out of the music. For example I remember several years ago reading about a successful rap artist, whom while searching for a deal received offers that threatened to undermine everything he stood for. In fact besides being told what type of music he would have to produce, he was additionally told to grow an afro and completely go about changing his whole style and dress code.
So why is it that the likes of Soulja Boy, Gucci Mane and numerous others rake in millions a year off mediocrity, whilst many true masters of the art are left on the scrap-heap? Maybe it’s down to luck or the fact that they were seen as marketable, a factor that is steadily proving, at least on a commercial level, that Nas’ theory of hip hop being dead is not entirely dismissible.
Putting the analyses of record company policies to the side, I first came across The Spectre in 2004 thanks to a chance encounter with one of his closest friends “Smitims”. In fact when Smitims first informed me that one of his mates was a rapper, I couldn’t help but think that this friend was one of many on the post 8-mile bandwagon. Having already come across hundreds of other self-professed emcees, I had begun to almost predict that The Spectre would be another one of those recording inaudible bars with a shit mic and lack of charisma.
As you’ve probably already guessed this couldn’t be further from the truth, as my first introduction, a track called “A Syndikut remix”, awakened me to the enduring talent that he conspicuously possessed. While hardly flawless the track already began to show the birth of a worthy flow, an aptitude that has continued to flourish over the past 6 years. From radio freestyles to numerous mixtapes and live performances, The Spectre’s 9th year as an emcee appears to show no signs of fatigue or creative discouragement. Remaining hungry as ever in his quest to leave a mark on the industry, Openheartzoo took a brief moment out to catch up with the emcee as he prepares to unleash his new T-Shirt range, together with a brand new mixtape.
The Spectre: Love Me (9side records, 2009)
OHZ: When did you start rapping?
I started rapping when I was 14. I had just bought the Dr Dre 2001 cd in late 2000 and would keep rapping those tracks all the time. I used to hit http://www.ohhla.com to understand all the lyrics and learn them by heart, and ended up meeting a blogger who introduced me to rapping and how to rhyme. I started rhyming from then and writing as much as I could, whenever I could.
OHZ: Who would you say are your main influences?
Obviously Dr Dre and Eminem motivated me to start rapping. I suppose because what they were doing at the time was approaching rap from a more humorous angle and that detachment from the gangster image was great to listen to. But I also used to listen to lyricist lounge whenever I could, and was obviously inspired by the greats like Pharoahe Monch and Black Thought. To this day I claim Pharoahe to be the greatest rapper alive. I also used to love listening to Wu-Tang as well and loads of French rappers. Stylistically I still think French rap is unbelievable, as I feel the French language allows for more emotion in the rap somehow.
OHZ: According to dictionary definitions a spectre is an object / source of terror or dread. What is the story behind your choosing of this name?
First off according to my definition a spectre is a ghost. I’ve always had a million names, I guess that’s the Wu-Tang influence, but I always had trouble picking one. For a really long time I was MC Siik (pronounced sick), but I felt I needed an add-on you know like Shyheim the Rugged Child or Jeru the Damaga and shit so I created Spectre. I had always liked the name Kasper for some reason, I think probably because I watched Kids and identified with the main dude, (not because he’s raping chicks and getting AIDS though), so I ended going with the spectre and that’s what stuck ever since.
OHZ: What was the first rap record you bought?
I bought the Best Rap Album in the World when I was really young and despite some good tunes, like Regulate and Jump Around, I don’t consider it to be my first rap record but more one of those poppy rap compilation cds you get when you’re cruising through tower records. The first actual album I went out to buy knowing it was going to be true hip hop was Wu-Tang Forever. The crazy thing is I still bump that to this day and feel Wu Tang has never made anything so complete since. It’s not just the brilliance of the music on that album, it’s the whole vibe that flows throughout. Only a few albums, like 2001 for example, keep a vibe running through like that. And to all those Wu-Tang fans who think 36 Chambers is better than Forever, UR CRAZY!! Double LP for Wu-Tang Clan, its yourz!! Haha
OHZ: Out of all the tracks you’ve recorded, which is your personal favourite?
I have made so many tracks it’s difficult to say which one is my favourite. Obviously the heartfelt ones make an impact on me even years after I’ve written them because they bring back feelings I had at the time. I think recent tracks like Fairytale or I Represent Hip Hop, which you can check on the MySpace, have that vibe in them. I think it’s important to be introspective and find your truth in order to appeal to others.
OHZ: For how long have you been actively seeking a record deal and in general how have you found the experience?
I haven’t been actively seeking a record deal. I sent demos when I was young and understood it was a waste of my time. I then teamed up with a friend of mine in Paris who was running an indie label, 9side records, and he produces me to this day. What I am looking for now is a distribution deal because it’s all good making an album and making it sound crisp, but then you gotta sell it and that’s the hard part.
OHZ: What are your thoughts on…
– The impact of the internet, downloading and the subsequent fall in record sales?
To be honest I’d be a hypocrite if I said I didn’t download. I think we all do and obviously as an artist I see firsthand how that affects my plan and my potential for revenue. You have to adapt to that strategy and basically become a promo and touring machine if you want to be successful. The problem is what if you’re not that type of emcee? What if you’re like Enigma? They used to make amazing music but never did gigs… what happens then? If it was up to me, and I’m sure they’re working on this already, I would try to find some way to put id’s in mp3s that would prevent illegal file-sharing or otherwise just confiscate computers. One track gets one month confiscation. But actually follow it up!
- The great “hip hop is dead” debate?
You know I think the death of hip hop falls into the death of music as a whole. I’ve done lots of research on revenue in the music industry and how to still make money in this business and to be honest you’re pretty much fucked as an artist these days. I think hip hop is dead deals with the fact that the mainstream has sold hip hop out, but as whole I think the internet and downloading has sold all of music out. Look at the charts today and there are pretty much no artists with integrity, everyone is the product of some type of manufacturing. Music isn’t about music anymore; it’s about promo and revenue, associated brands and touring associations. I’ve always been a studio emcee I love the creative process, but for me that part of the game has died. It’s now all about performance and being on the road 24/7 which I think puts a lot of pressure on artists who used to make music to listen to at home and not at concerts. I don’t think I’m gonna be endorsed by miss sixty any time soon you know?
- The current UK hip hop scene?
I’ve never really listened to UK hip hop so I don’t know if I’m fully able to judge its progression. I’ve rated certain emcees along the way, but I wouldn’t really call any of it hip hop. While not a bad thing, bar certain acts like Jehst and Klashnekoff it always remains grimy or dubsteppy in its own way. The UK has always had its own sound and continues to create its own sound for its own people to vibe to. Garage and jungle like you hear in London for the longest only existed in London and I don’t think garage ever really got exported, or whether it was even exportable. The effect on hip hop is the result of those influences and I just don’t feel anyone has ever truly made real hip hop in the UK, or if they have they’ve been like Jehst and Skinnyman and stayed so real to it they never made it big. Again though that’s a problem with the industry and the consumerist nature of the UK music market, as you have to sell out to make a buck here and basically make pop like Tinchy Stryder or Chipmunk. That’s not hip hop.
OHZ: If you could work with any artist/producer who would you choose?
I think I’d like working with Timbaland or Just Blaze, simply cuz I love the big beats and I’d love to spit over one of theirs. I love the feeling when you’re in the studio with a beat maker and he’s making you listen to all the beats and every new beat provokes a new feeling. Sometimes you just can’t wait to spit some bars. It was like that for I Represent Hip Hop when I was in the studio with Wisla. Wisla makes most of my beats these days and he’s getting his props in Paris now too, deservedly cuz he’s got some awesome tracks.
OHZ: What is your favourite song/album of all time?
You know I really don’t have a favourite song I have a real strange taste in music. I’ll be listenin to some Westside Connection and Jedi Mind Tricks one minute, and then the next minute I’ll be on some old school cheesy ass music like Bobby Goldsboro or retro French music. I got some Celine Dion in my iPod! Honestly I like a bit of everything. It’s like I said, if people are true to themselves in their music that’s when they connect with others and I don’t believe that connection is limited to musical genres. Before I was listening to hip hop I would swear by Guns n Roses. So rock, jazz, classical, it’s all good.
OHZ: and finally… Off the top of your head, who are your top 5 dead or alive?
top 5 dead or alive:
1- Pharoahe Monch
3- Big L
4- Big pun
5- Jay Z
I’m not sure about the order… I’m just placing these guys in order of how much they have meant to me or how much they’ve inspired me. 5 are not enough though! Where’s Inspectah Deck? Where’s Busta? Where’s Vinnie Paz? You should’ve given me 10!!