Escape Music: Interview with The Mouse Outfit
The Mouse Outfit are a household name, synonymous with the all to familiar resurgence of British hip-hop. The Mancunian collective push a unique sound of classic hip-hop breaks, met with pungent lyrics that yield a beautifully boisterous sound. The collective have been particularly embraced by the festival faithful, particularly at festivals like Boomtown where thousands of baggy-trousered philantrophists flocked to the main stage for their fix of dance-floor satisfaction. We caught up with Defty and Chini to discuss their collaboration with IAMDDB, the heritage of hip-hop and their love of Leeds.
Hey guys, we hope you are doing well. It seems like you had another fairly crazy summer with a load of shows since the album release, what have been the highlights (Favourite shows)?
DEFTY: We had a pretty mad weekend on an island just off the coast of France called Belle Ile En Mer - we didn’t really know what to expect - but we played to about 4 or 5,000 people and the energy was crazy. It’s always humbling turning up different parts of the world and finding people there who know about us.
CHINI: It was nice to play in Berlin for the first time this year as part of a tour we did in Germany + the Netherlands. Berlin is where the label who presses our vinyl (HHV Records) are based so it’s been on our wish list for places to play for a while.
How have you found the reaction to the album?
DEFTY: The reaction has been great so far - we weren’t really sure what to expect. This album has more melody and more of a jazzy chilled vibe than our previous outings…. also a very different lineup of vocalists. But looking back at the album a few months down the line - we’re really happy with what we achieved.
CHINI: We released ‘I Wonder (feat IAMDDB)’ as the lead single in late 2017 and it quickly became our biggest track. It now has over 1.2 Million views so far so clearly that track has been well received. I think that because the album it’s a departure from what fans were used to it’s taken a while for everyone to embrace it but we’ve had so many compliments now that we realise lots of people are really enjoying the evolution of our sound.
Collaboration is something you guys have always championed, if you could collaborate with one current British artist who would it be?
DEFTY: General Levy - we’ve been on the same bill as him at multiple festivals in the past - on a live show he absolutely kills it.
What is the story of IAMDDB featuring on the album?
DEFTY: IAMDDB’s rise has been pretty meteoric over the last year or so - we just happened to be working with her before all that happened. Most of the tracks were recorded in the first half of 2017. We knew about her before this - she was actually a student at a music college in Manchester that both myself and Chini taught at (check her cameo in the Sip A Little Bit of Rum video) - however her work rate and attitude has been quite inspirational to us and other artists in Manchester.
CHINI: Yeah IAMDDB was a vocal student at our college + we asked her down for a session. We played her some of the beats we had and she just started coming up with melodies and lyrics straight away. She wrote and recorded four tracks in two sessions and all of them ended up on the album.
I saw you guys recently post on Facebook about Ellis Meade’s ‘All I can do’, announcing it as being criminally slept on. Could you give us some more examples of slept on tracks, that people might have missed out on?
Here are a few of our favourite underrated tracks from Manchester :
Bluntskins - Mellow Highs & Everybody,
Free Wize Men ft Layfullstop - Starz,
Abnormal Sleepz kill miami - Come Around
[ K S R ] - Alien Boo
FD - Always Something (feat. Fox)
HMD - Good Yute
Misha B – Rosa Parks Flow
Do What You can – Dubbul O + Tyler Daley
I know you guys are Manchester through and through, but what is your relationship like with Leeds? Do you have any favourite Leeds venues or artists?
DEFTY: We’ve played Leeds loads of times - we love the parties at the Beaverworks but for venues with great sound our favourites in recent years have been the Wardrobe and Brudenell Social Club. As far as artists go - I’m fans of bands that have come out of Leeds such as the Haggis Horns, The New Mastersounds and Cinematic Orchestra - and in fact quite a lot of our musicians and producers from the album have come through Leeds Music College - namely Sam Vicary, Ashley Henry, Deese and Pitch 92.
What sort of music did you listen to when you were growing up, did it have any significant influence on your own music?
DEFTY: Lots of hip hop producers seem to discover jazz and soul through hip hop. I think I kind of did it the other way round - as a musician learning different genres I came across hip hop tracks that sampled tunes I was already familiar with - after that I was hooked and just kept going deeper into the genre.
CHINI: My dad is a big jazz fan + he always had music (vinyl/cassettes) on at home. He plays the piano and it’s his favourite instrument so we used to go to see lots of local jazz piano trios when I was growing up. Manchester has a pretty decent jazz scene + some incredible players so there was often great music to see in little pubs + clubs nearby . When bigger names came to town he’d take me to Band on the Wall or bigger venues and we saw British piano players like Julian Joseph, Keith Tippett + Stan Tracey as well as international stars like Miles Davis, Buddy Rich + Eddie Palmieri all before I was 16 years old. I didn’t really consider a career in music until I was 22 but clearly I’d had a lot of music in my background.
What kind of affinity do you see The Mouse Outfit as having with Hip hop acts in the UK?
DEFTY: It’s hard to say - when we first started out people tended to fall into one of two categories - either really impressed that we were ‘doing hip hop’ with live instruments OR feeling that we’re taking away from the heritage of hip hop by playing with a band …. lacking authenticity. However on the production side of things - even though we have tried to experiment with different styles - I don’t think anybody can argue that we are students of hip hop 101 - creating head nodding loops is pretty much what we try to do all day. And now you see so many major hip hop acts performing with live bands I think it’s become a bit more acceptable.
CHINI: We’ve been releasing music tracks for 5 years now + have around 60 tracks out with dozens of MCs from across the UK. We’ve played at most of the major UK festivals and met/seen or supported most of our favourite acts from the UK Hiphop scene. We’ve received lots of praise for our live show + I think other artists appreciate how hard it is to tour with an 8 or 9 piece band over a sustained period. We’re all struggling to make ends meet in a difficult + constantly changing industry so there is a mutual admiration for those artists who are also chasing their dreams.
Do you guys find that the creative process has changed for you guys over the years in the studio, is it a different approach with each album?
DEFTY: As we make albums we’re learning all the time, hopefully adding more tools to our production game. We made a concerted effort on this album to be sample free and to make the instrumentals more varied. That’s probably why people feel Jagged Tooth Crook has a different vibe to our past efforts. It’s a move away from a more traditional hip hop sound because it’s a bit less loop based than in the past.
CHINI: As Defty said, making music without samples was the main focus for this album. It led us to recording with many more musicians than the previous releases and produced a more live, organic sound than before. Metrodome hadn’t worked with us before but was very heavily involved in the production and development of tracks + he has definitely left his mark on the album. There’s definitely nothing like experience when it comes to creating, developing + finishing tracks but it’s still takes a lot of work for us to craft a sound we’re happy with.
You have a string of shows coming very soon, which ones are you most looking forward to?
DEFTY: Our hometown shows Band On The Wall are always lots of fun - but on this tour we’re mainly hitting up the cities that are always busy for us. Sometimes we’re breaking into new territories / countries etc and thats exciting but we also never know what to expect. It’s great to head out on tour and pretty much know that every show is gonna be rammed out!
‘Escape Music’ was the album that really threw you into the scene, how do you look back at the album all these years on?
DEFTY: I think musicians have a tendency to hate their early work, however our tracks are collaborations with vocalists who we don’t always tour with - so for me the tracks haven’t become stale. The album is a snapshot of where we all were in our lives, who we were working with, the parties we went to that led to the collaborations on the album.
CHINI: I’m very proud of ‘Escape Music’ and feel blessed to have worked with so many great vocalists in creating the 19 tracks.
Is there a song you are most proud of on the new album?
CHINI: The 1st track on the album ‘Pass Me the Ashtray’ We recorded the vocal over a basic Fender rhodes + drum groove that Defty had made but really struggled to finish the track. We tried several musicians and arrangements but nothing was seemed to gel. We persevered though and a year after the initial vocal recording we did a session with Sam Vicary and his bassline brought everything together. Metrodome found a variation in the Rhodes the next day and suddenly we had our track. Some beats we’ve made in less than an hour but this one took over a year. It was very satisfying that we got it finished a few weeks before the album deadline.
What can we expect from you guys next(New releases, extended tour dates?)
CHINI: We’ve just done our 1st official remix + it went really well so we’re thinking of remixing some other people. We’ve also been working on our DJ sets and are hoping to take the DJ/Soundsystem show to some festivals next summer as well as performing with the live band.