In June, Matt Grant talked to Gran Cassa about who they are and how they got started, their name, releases, instruments, touring and lots more. If you like the sound of some live hiphop from these shores, check this out. Conducted in June.
When you say 'live hiphop' to a hiphop head they usually return with 'Oh like The Roots…' and when you say 'live hiphop' to a non hiphop head they say 'Limp Bizkit' or if they're even less in the know they say 'Eminem'! This crew are one of the few live instrument based bands in this country that have taken the genre in, chewed it up with some funk n soul and then spat it back out… and the results are refreshingly flavoursome with a sound that can get the head nodding and get a crowd hyped… Matt Grant speaks to their vocalist via some frantic emails… step up Timmy IllFinger…
Firstly, for all those who don't know, who are Gran Cassa?
We are the biggest, baddest, most gorgeous funk, hip-hop and soul band on the frickin' planet! Well, that's what I reckon anyway. We have eight members, and these are…
Yi Yi Trickali a.k.a Dirty Lou/Mr Frosty – DRUMS The Chilidog a.k.a Chico Madieros/Dogzilla – BASS Barry Mannerless a.k.a Duracell Bunny/Git Carter – PERCUSSION Girth Gurdler the Goat Hurdler a.k.a Vidal Monsoon/Brian Maiden – GUITAR Greenback a.k.a The Blubba Monkey/ Wedgie Kray – TURNTABLES Hot Stu Von Handles a.k.a Mr Palm/Kin Andsome – SAX Def Steph a.k.a Lady Shave/Charisma Teef – VOCALS Timmy Illfinger a.k.a Mr Sick Digit/Lord Mucus – VOCALS
How did the band start out?
Trick, Girth, Barry and myself all played in a band with each other before – I was a bass player then. Trick went round Oz for a year and when he returned, he was of course dying to have a jam. Chilidog was also an old mate, we basically all grew up together, and the three of us met up to lay it down. Chilidog was also a bass player so I took to the mic! The rest is mystery.
Right so you came to the name 'Gran Cassa' which means 'drum n bass' in Italian right? It says on your site bio you had other names, can you give us some of the funniest?
For the name, we all came up with a load of names and put them in a hat. We then pulled out 2 at a time, 1 went through, 1 went out. Then the winners went back in and we started over again until we were left with 2 names, the final! It was "Gran Cassa" versus "Spanish Man-Whore". Phew. Can't remember all the names, there were a lot and it was 4 years ago, but here is a list I found with some suggestions… Her Majesty's Secret Serpents, HMS Khazi, Special Branch , The Stink High Chair Hoodlums, Bizarre Fruit , The Unusual Approach, What Cobblers, Lesbie Avenue , The Crop Report, Great Scott, Monkey Harris, Macaronic Verses, Major Scale , Mythomaniacs, Radial Loop , The Rhyme Dojo, Metamorphic Rock, Carnal Knowledge, The Royal Jam Cabinet, Bedlam District Council , Slapstick Men , Local Folklore , Hur Nam Jin (The world keepy-uppy champion, a good story) , Mandom, Punch Perm, Digitated Folk , Fur Q , Ruby Murrey, Potent Aroma , Freaktown UK, Sick Pack,
There's some classics in there and am sure some heads will be eyeing a few up but moving on, what's your take on UK hiphop, what sound are you pushing?
I truly believe we have one of the most exciting scenes in the world, there's allsorts of different styles and topics being covered and yet it just can't seem to break out into mainstream, but we're bloody close. Gran Cassa are a live funk band, which means we get to play in venues that have never seen a UK Hip Hop act before, and it's working. We all love playing live and it's just the natural way for us to do it, we're just another razor sharp fang in the beast that is UK Hip Hop! We go into our rehearsal room, jam for 4 hours, pick the bits we like and then I go home and write lyrics. The following week we'll arrange it into a frickin' masterpiece. Here is the playlist for "Passport Approved" a radio show on indie 103.1fm (www.indie1031fm.com) in LA, USA. Not the kind of place you would normally find a UK Hip Hop act, we're spreading the infection…
KEANE "THIS IS THE LAST TIME" (Interscope)
BLACK STAR LINER "SUPERFLY & BINDI" (Warner UK)
THE ORDINARY BOYS "WEEK IN WEEK OUT" (B-Unique UK)
VERRA CRUZ "SOUL COLLIDES" (Crazeltown UK)
SCISSOR SISTERS "LAURA" (Polydor UK/Universal)
STYLUS "SICK OF THIS" (Wildside New Zealand)
KRACE "PORN STAR" (MNW Norway)
THE CRIMEA "BABY BOOM" (Double Dragon UK)
ELBOW "FUGITIVE MODEL" (V2) THE HAVE "MONDAY THROUGH FRIDAY" (Shock Australia)
SARAH BLASKO "DON'T YOU EVER" (Due Process Australia)
LHB "OLIVIA NEWTON CHRIST" (Telstar)
FAITHLESS "MASS DESTRUCTION" (Cheeky/BMG UK)
THE DISSOCIATIVES "SOMEWHERE DOWN THE BARREL" (EMI Australia)
MUSE "HYSTERIA" (Warner Bros.)
P*NUT "HEY HEY HEY" (BMG UK)
THE DARKNESS "CURSE OF THE TOLLUND MAN" (Must Destroy/Atlantic)
SKINNY "MORNING LIGHT" (Cheeky/BMG UK)
STERIOGRAM "WHITE TRASH" (Capitol)
GRAN CASSA "ST. GEORGE'S SPECIAL FORCES" (Unsigned UK)
You are very much a live instrument based UK hiphop act, do you think this is quite a rare thing in this country? I know that I generally don't come across that sort of an act…
Yes, it is. Most musicians want to play in a band and be successful, and the odds of signing with a major label, playing in a UKHH act? The only people who want to do it are DJs and MCs because that's why they became what they are, but someone has got to try it and I wouldn't want it any other way. I get up on that stage and spit and scream my head off, over a 6-piece funk band – it's bliss, it's my therapy. We would never do anything we couldn't do live, Greenback cuts and drops the odd sample but there's no Macs running things. Go check out a wicked live Scottish act LiveScience for the music go to LiveSciences/Music. They're very much on the same wavelength as us, but we're on a funk one and they're more the jazz thang.
Just how integrated are you in scene, are live instrument hiphop artists perhaps a bit removed from the rest of the UK hiphop scene?
Well, they are in the fact that, like everything in UKHH, there's not enough money and support behind it. It's a lot more effort and money to put on a live 8-piece band than a DeeJay and Emcee. We do have our own sound system now, which is powerful enough to blast any venue out, so there's no excuse now Mr Promoter man.
What instruments do you use to create your sound?
We have drums, bass, guitar, sax, turntables and a well "tooled up" percussionist.
So for artists out there thinking of getting involved in the more live instrument based hiphop, what's your advice? What are the key elements to creating this sort of music?
Never limit yourself to one form of music, I listen to hip hop 95% of the time but I also dabble in dub, roots, funk, soul – I've even bugged out to opera. That's the creative side, when it comes to playing you have to trust the people you play with, rock is easy but funk is a little more intricate. And, of course, in hip hop you've got to have your stops and starts and crazy fills. Trick and me were drummer and bass player for about six years – we made a pact when we were about 14 to always play in the same band, aaaa!, I think this has helped me in a big way because I just know the way Trick plays his beats, and the others have jammed so much now that it's all become quite easy. You've got to be friends, you've got to be able to go out for a beer after practising for hours on end and have a laugh, they're my frickin' family!
Moving on, how much of an influence does funk and jazz have on your band, are there certain groups you draw inspiration from?
A massive influence, more funk than jazz I would say – Sly and the Family Stone, The Meters, James Brown, The Crusaders… funk is the music that feels natural to play, I don't think rapping over death detal is quite one's bag!
How varied are the tastes in your group, do you all share common musical tastes or do you come from different angles? And more importantly, how does this affect your own music?
Well there's obviously hip hop and funk, but also artists like Aretha Franklin, Augustus Pablo, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Cure, Santana, Thin Lizzy, Red Snapper, Coldcut…the list could go on and on. We all branch off but our trunk is funk, the Gran Cassa family tree!
So you started playing pubs, how does the regular pub goer respond to your music?
Without sounding big-headed, frickin' well… We have honestly never not been able to rock a crowd, we have played with all sorts of acts and to their followers and never been upstaged. People are coming round to UKHH and the more it's pushed and presented in different ways, the sooner we can start out selling the horrors on the radio that cause my ears to bleed.
And what's this about you playing at a "Sheep Festival" on the Welsh Borders? I bet you can guess what sort of horrid things I am thinking… yes that's right, people having sex with rapping sheep whilst playing instruments…
If the Sheep are better rappers than me I'll do anything to shut the little bleaters up! It's a music festival in Presteigne, Powys on the Welsh border. It runs from 16th July through to Sunday 18th July, Gran Cassa will be the second to last act of the weekend, on stage at 8:15pm before "Trans Global Underground". It's a World Music Festival and Gran Cassa are probably the only hip hop act there, they tried to get acts of all genres from all over the world. Information Line 01544 350491 Full weekend tick (inc. camping) £45 Friday night £14 Sat and Sun 2 day ticket (inc. camping) £33
Are you planning a UK tour at any point?
No, not yet. Not until we have something worthy of promoting, all we have recorded so far are nothing more than demos, but we could pop up anywhere and are always interested in gig offers!
And what about future releases, you've had a few demos out so far so can we expect an album or an EP?
That's the next step, we're pushing for a pucker recording and have some interesting options starting to arise. Like the bloke behind Jimmy Nail, and an A&R Company in Beverley Hills, USA. If nothing comes up, then we'll do it ourselves but it's going to be pricey to get an 8-piece band into a decent studio. We have about 20 tunes ready for recording at the moment and we're consistently writing new stuff.
In terms of your lyrics and general vibe, it seems very positive and at times humorous; do you think this is the Britishness
By Jove I think it is squire. Everyone in the band loves their comedy, almost as much as music, and it certainly plays a big part in our noise making, we enjoy jolly good banter most of the time, the rest of it is spent kicking six shades of whoopsy out of each other.
In recent months Goldie Lookin' Chain, a hiphop act with a positive light hearted take on UK hiphop, have gained quite a bit of success nationally in the same way Aspects also did, do you think this is the direction British artists need to take for success?
It's quick an easy to get attention if you're saying something funny, it's the English humour again, but gimmicks wear thin very quickly. Most "funny" acts are probably 1 hit wonders. You've got to stay funny, if that's how you want it to be, and I think the comedy aspect could be what eats it's way into the limelight, opening the gates for all the other different styles we've got to offer. We've got "Don't Like Living In A Pig Sty" about doing the housework, "Do What I Say (Or I'll Have You Fired)" about rich girls (like Paris frickin' Hilton). I just like to myself laugh when I write lyrics, the music the others make is so good I could do a selection of owl impressions and it would still sound good.
Before we end this discussion, I hear you are involved in a new crew called the Eccentrics – what's the deal with them? What are you planning and how can heads find out more?
Eccentrics is me (Timmy Illfinger), Greenback, Barry Mannerless and another DJ by the name of M-Phatic a.k.a Mike Fresh. He is the Lord of the T-Shirt, go check www.strictlykings.co.uk and say hello. We are working on about 6 tracks at the moment, lyrics are done it's just finding the time to lay it all down. We should have something out by the end of the summer, keep checking the Strictly Kings site.
And to finish, do you have any final words of wisdom or shout outs for the great unwashed reading this article?
Come and bounce to our crazy beats, you buggers! Keep pushing and supporting the scene! Shout-outs to Sian, Sarah and Michelle (the Chicks), Andy Walker (www.optionclick.co.uk) for our supreme site (www.grancassa.co.uk), Joe for his camera work, Craggles, Justice Jee, Elbow, Captain Taurus, The Mighty Muzza, Snowy, Bobby Militant, La Pew, Wezzer, Aspects, Def Tex, Junior Disprol, DJ G and his amigos at www.17thletter.co.uk, DJ Fairplay, Disorda for all his fine work and feedback…all the peeps that come to our shows and everyone creating.
Related Links: Grancassa.co.uk