ASM (A State of Mind) had a massive year in 2010, touring with the legendary Wax Tailor (aka JC le Saoût) across Europe at sold-out concerts and the biggest festivals, and also gained widespread success in their own right, culminating in the release of their European debut album, Platypus Funk. Their sound incorporates old-school Hip Hop with funky horns, Reggae and Jazz. At the band’s core are MCs Green-T and FP the Funky Poet and ‘MPC-wizard,’ Fade. The extended crew includes Ludivine Issambourg on flute and 6ix Toys’ Mack-Hi and Pow-Lo on saxophone and trombone and they perform with special guests such as Dj Vadim, Bonobo and Mr Mattic. Their live show is totally authentic and real. When I saw them in Leeds in December an impromptu break-dancing circle formed in the middle of the club! I finally managed to catch up with Green-T to find out about what’s been happening and the band’s plans for 2011.
So how did the collaboration with Wax Tailor come about?
We met through myspace in 2007. He hit us up for one of the tracks from our Japan release album, Cosmic Flavour to play in a DJ set and then, two weeks later he hit us up again and sent us the beat for what would later become, ‘Positively Inclined’, our first collaborative single. He said “If you can record on this in the next two days, and I like it, then I’ll use it for the album”, so we had to fly over to Germany, and I wrote the chorus on the plane with little plug headphones and we wrote and recorded the track like real quick. Since then he started inviting us on a few shows and festivals, and we ended up becoming part of the tour entourage and then this year we did the whole Wax Tailor tour and started doing ASM support slots on all the spring time venue dates in France.
And how’s it been touring with Wax?
We haven’t had much time off, but it’s opened a lot of doors for us. It’s been incredible to get to make our passion our life for the first time, travel a lot, see amazing places and meet a lot of like-minded and interesting people. All credit to JC!’
You’ve been getting more and more successful in France and ASM has really blown up in Europe, how are you finding it?
France is our biggest market, primarily because of the Wax Tailor collaborations. He’s our friend, our collaborator and he’s now our label boss as he put out our record, Platypus Funk, which was the first ever release on his ‘Imprint’ kind of thing, Lab’Oratoire. It’s a really professional operation but the most important thing to us is that he’s someone who we relate to on a personal level and who, importantly, shares the kind of like beat boy culture and hip hop background, because despite the fact that a lot of his recent stuff has a more cinematic, down-tempo kind of vibe, his culture is fundamentally old school hip hop.
He strikes a broad kind of spectrum, you know. We’re opposite ends, there’s the Charlotte Savary side (vocalist with Wax Tailor), the down-tempo, cinematic, slightly melancholic side and then the more upbeat funk heavy hip-hop stuff, which is us. We owe everything to him, he’s catapulted us into a viable platform, and there aren’t a lot of people doing our kind of music now in Europe who have such wide exposure and as big an audience, and I think that’s principally down to JC, and his leverage and his influence. On the other hand there aren’t a whole lot of people who are in our cultural paradigm, you know, we do old school funk heavy hip-hop, that’s what we love, that’s what we live, that’s what we grew up with. And there are fewer and fewer people who are engulfed in that kind of culture, and it makes us stand out.
How have you found the response to your music?
At the end of the day it’s good music, I like to think. And people do respond to that. It’s interesting for me to see that, when we started out, 5 years ago, hip hop clubs, stuff like that, and our fan base, target demographic, our audience was all like nostalgic heads, you know, people who were older than us who digged our shit because they felt that it reminded them of the good old days. It was always like “Oh, you guys sound like The Roots” or “You guys sound like Jurrasic 5” and I remember that shit, and it strikes a chord with me because it’s reminiscent of a time when I was younger and I was in the whole hip-hop culture kind of thing, but now its like completely shifted. Now our demographic, especially in France and Switzerland, is more kind of like younger kids, 18/19/20 year olds who don’t have that history and don’t have that cultural background and who respond to it simply in virtue of the fact that they like the music, which is cool because I always feel like if it’s good music people will like it. And the main barrier to reaching a wider audience is just access channels, the corporate institutions and the fact that major labels and commercial radio dominate and dictate the taste making. The whole Wax Tailor connection has allowed us to circumvent that and reach more people than we usually would. The response we are getting is an affirmation that it’s a universal thing.
How have you found the Spanish crowd?
We had one night in Madrid in May last year, opening for Wax Tailor at Sala Caracol. It was our first time playing in Spain and the venue was sold out - it was a crazy night, great response and a really lively crowd. Mack-Hi and Pow-Lo had played in Madrid previously at a funk club and kept telling us ‘we need to go to this funk club, we played there and they loved us, we’re legends there!’ and we said ‘yeah yeah, shut up. You guys are dicks!’ and then we went to this place for the after party and when we got in they had a framed picture of the 6ix Tours above the bar and they gave us free drinks all night for the whole ten man crew… it got a little bit out of hand, we had a wild one! Neither ASM or Wax Tailor have had any kind of promotional exposure in Spain on the kind of scale we’ve had elsewhere in Europe, so it was cool to see that our show was sold out by virtue of word-of-mouth. I’d love to play Barcelona - book us!
So, Wax Tailor aside, you’ve already done a whole load of collaborations with some incredible artists. How did those come about?
We wanted Platypus Funk to include collaborations with people who were kind of like- minded fellow travellers we met along the way. So a lot of the people on there like DJ Vadim and Bonobo, Kid Kanevil and (obviously) Wax Tailor are just friends of ours who we’ve played shows with in the past and have the same kind of musical and cultural vibe. But then there’re other collaborations on there, like the Sadat X feature, he’s from old-school hip hop group Brand Nebium from New York from the early 90s, and Wildchild from Lootpack on Stones Throw records. That was kind of child-hood dream stuff of ours, like ‘Now we have a platform and a little bit of funding behind us, who do we want to make some music with?’. These two were long-distance collaborations; we weren’t able to record together in the studio, but it was important to us to pay tribute to that early 90s Hip Hop culture that we grew up listening to. All the collaborations on the album are natural, people who are like-minded and that we get on with on a personal level.
You’ve been quite outspoken about certain aspects of Hip Hop today, and your music is different from the commercial sort. How do you feel about Hip Hop culture today?
Green-T: It’s strange to me that, as an MC, I spend a lot of life justifying or apologising to people who don’t share a similar kind of culture. Like when people ask me, ‘What do you do?’ and I say, ‘I’m a Rapper’, I always have to suffix it with a ‘But, it’s not what you think it is…’ and its sad for me, because to me, the culture we grew up with, especially when you talk about Hip Hop, its got nothing to do with all the things that are typically attached to it nowadays in terms of materialism, chauvinism, all that kind of shit. Hip Hop originally is a culture of self-empowerment and it’s also a lot more than just the music. It’s graffiti, break-dancing, all that too. I don’t know man, it’s understandable to me how people have this misconception of Hip Hop, given what is forced into their skulls by the commercial radio, MTV, all that. But it’s a misapplication of terminology: all that shit should not be called Hip Hop. Hip hop is an ancient culture… well, maybe ancient is a bit too strong a word, but its been around for a while, like the early 80s, its 2011, so thirty years! And in those 30 years it’s had a lot more to offer us than Lil Wayne and Kanye West. It’s given meaning to a lot of people’s lives and given a lot of people a channel for expressing their identity and also, importantly, it’s traditionally been a medium which is strongly associated with rebellion and social dissatisfaction, if you think about things like Public Enemy, and then the whole Native Tongues thing, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. So to us, it just happens to be the medium that we use, I don’t see that we should have to justify ourselves or categorise it as something different from what most people’s conception of hip hop is, most people’s conception is false. Like you wouldn’t lump together Slipknot with The Doors. They’ve both kind of evolved in a similar paradigm, the rock paradigm, just as KMD and A Tribe Called Quest have evolved from the same paradigm as Lil Wayne and 50 cent, but they are fundamentally different tangents of a shared musical and cultural background. That’s why we called the album, Platypus Funk, because we wanted to draw attention to the Funk thing, rather than Hip Hop thing. It’s funk with rapping.
Yeah, what is the Platypus about?
It’s a reference to our mixed cultural background, because we all met at school, we went to an international school and we all have dual nationality. It’s a reference to the hybrid, mongrel nature of our constellation and also to the diverse musical influences on us. We draw a lot from Funk and Soul but also Jazz, and roots Reggae, Brazilian music, West African music. So we identify with the Platypus on a lot of levels because we are also kind of mongrel hybrid creatures. The Funk thing is important to us, that’s why we started wearing suits on stage, like funkster outfits, to distance ourselves from the whole stereotypical rap thing, you know. But at the same time I don’t want to distance myself from rap as a craft, because rhyming, rhyme skills and patterns and structures mean a lot to us. We’re rhyme nerds. We’ve studied the patterns and the approaches of a lot of gifted MCs, and we still have that ‘battle’ element of the Hip Hop culture… so don’t fuck with us!
Noted. Ok, so aside from touring, what are you working on now?
We’ve been touring, playing shows and travelling… consuming obnoxious quantities of alcohol… But we’ve been recording and in Paris we’ve got our crew, Fantastic Planet, which is another side project we’re involved with and we’ve been recording some stuff with them. But we’re always writing on the road, when we’ve got a couple of hours. If you’re sincere about the stuff you do, you can’t help but work on it, shit just comes to you, certain ideas you have to write down. We’ve been working on the new ASM album for 2011. The process is a lot more intricate now than it used to be. Before, Fade would make a beat, then me and FP would write some verses and boom that’s the track. But now we work more with session musicians, so the creative process is more drawn out. Also, the live show is constantly evolving and changing and a lot of the stuff that begins as ideas for the live show evolves into recorded tracks later on. We’ve been shooting music videos on the side.
Who does the artwork for the videos?
Our homie Tenas did the Postively Inclined video. He does our album artwork too, he’s a French graffiti artist who also does Wax Tailor’s art work. The art work stuff for ASM is shared between him and Nearski who’s our homie from way back who’s in Japan at the moment. On the Say Yes video, they all gave us a lot of input, Wax, Tenas and us corresponded for that. We conceived the Boom to the Bap video in conjunction with Luda, a guy we went to school with. On a creative level it’s on like a ‘Friendship First’ level, we’re all homies from ten years ago, which is something Hip hHop culture was traditionally always about which has now has been lost, you know, it was groups of friends that then make music together, or do graffiti together, or whatever. The crew thing, which now doesn’t really exist anymore, its now, ‘you’re one artist and you should surround yourself with features who are popularly successful and will give you a leg up in the industry’ which is the antithesis of the culture as it should be understood.
As well as loads of collaborations, you’ve been doing gigs with some of the biggest artists of the moment…. Who’s nice and who’s nasty?
We’ve met a lot of people on tour from the higher echelons of the popular entertainment industry, especially on the festival circuit with Wax where we’ve been playing a lot of really good slots, Saturday night, midnight, main stage kind of thing with crazy huge crowds, 20,000, 30,000 50,000, and through that we’ve met a lot of people that we’ve never interacted with before – before, we always just interacted with the Hip Hop cats and the Funk cats in 400 or 500 capacity venues. It’s weird, people surprise you positively and negatively…. I always think its weird when peoples egos get so inflamed they forget where they came from. We’re all still fans of music, so there’s no fucking difference, we’ve just got lucky.
What’s next then?
We’re on the never ending tour…last year we did the end of winter tour in Switzerland and Germany, Spring in France and Spain, England and Germany, Summer festival scene, the ASM autumn tour in France and then Greece, Germany, Ski season in Switzerland, a UK stint and then the spring tour again and then the festival tour again! Hopefully by the end of this year we’ll have the new ASM album.
It’s not what most people would know you for but you’re a pretty mean chef. Have you had the chance to get on Masterchef yet?
Not yet… but I cooked three or four courses for the ASM crew on a German TV programme and they framed it in conjunction with the ASM Hip Hop thing. I cooked deep fried goats cheese salad with pomegranate and caramalised walnuts and I did a pasta course with prawn, rocket and lemon zest and then slow roasted shoulder of lamb with fried shallot mash...