Geoff Barrow is very well-known as a key figure in the development of modern music for his work with Portishead. Their 90s albums helped to shape, define and expand the somewhat meaningless genre of Trip-Hop, and the group became one of the most fondly remembered bands from the period. After disappearing for 10 years Geoff Barrow and Portishead returned with the revolutionary Third which received widespread, justified, critical acclaim. Barrow, personally, received acclaim beyond his work with Portishead becoming well-known for his work as a remixer and receiving some attention for his production on records such as The Horrors – Primary Colours and Anika's debut album. In recent years he was also produced work with the excellent Beak>.
One of the areas in which Barrow had become well known was his work in hip-hop under the pseudonym Fuzzface, setting up both Invada Records and Invada UK. As Fuzzface Geoff has teamed up with long term collaborators Katalyst and 7Stu7 to create the wonderful Quakers collective. Quakers is a 35 strong group of MCs headed up by the trio who provide all the production. The album is a fantastic romp through different personalities and lyrical styles, classic sounds and some experimental beats. A true labour of love to hip-hop and the work of three masters of their craft. To be released on the 27th of March it's well worth a listen.
This in mind The 405 was delighted to catch up with Geoff Barrow to ask him all about the project. Geoff was lively, enthusiastic and was more than happy to tell us everything anybody would ever need to know!
What are the albums you've got coming out?
I've got Quakers, an album with Beak> coming out in May and then there's an album called 'Drokk' which is in conjunction with 2000AD, the comic, and is music inspired by Mega City One from Judge Dredd. A purely electronic record really, that's out next month.
Is that a soundtrack?
Yeah, it's not a actual soundtrack to a film but it's our soundtrack to Mega City One if you know what I mean.
You must be really busy then?
Nah, it's all right. These three projects have been going on for ages. Drokk's being going on for six months, Quakers has been going on for three years and Beak> has been going on for two. So it's just happened that they've all come out at the same time as I want to get on with and write Portishead stuff and if I'm releasing records I can't do that.
How did the Quakers Project come about?
Basically, myself and Ashley Anderson (Katalyst) knew each other from my time when I lived in Australia in the late 90s, he's a kind of Hip-Hop producer based in Sydney we worked together on some things. Stuart, who's been the manager of the studio with Portishead as well as one of the engineers, so we've worked together on various things too. So really it just came that we've all be massive hip-hop heads, all three of us, and we're not getting any younger so we just thought “let's make a hip-hop record! Let's just make a hip-hop record without any bullshit involved, without any egos, without any standard hip-hop rubbish that you hear about!” It's not really out there to break any new ground, to open up hip-hop or anything, it's just something that we've wanted to do for a long time and we wanted to have made our little mark on music we love.
Why the name?
Two meanings really. The first one is the earthquake one. The traditional late 70s early 80s Hip-Hop jam flyers and stuff with big old school writing and stuff, with those cracks everywhere. Graffiti artists used to draw cracks everywhere. It was a way of aging stuff, you know. It's kind of our take on those flyers, we took on the idea of an earth quake y'know?
And then it's not really connected to Quakerism as a religious movement, but the concept that you can go to a Quaker meeting with any belief. You can be an atheist, you can be a catholic you can be anything you want and sit down and if you are so guided by something to stand up and speak you can. I like that idea of it, I'm not a religious person but the idea of having something that opens up to everybody of all types and creates a place where people can talk about their feelings. Actually, not their feelings because that sounds like a fucking AA meeting or something (laughs), but you know, vent what they've got to say without any judgement. So on the album you've got hardcore Christian ex-gangbangers and college kids. People who wouldn't usually end up on a record together y'know?
There's a lot of different MCs working on this, how did you go about finding and choosing all your collaborators?
I used to spend a lot of time drunk on Myspace! When it worked, I used to get a bottle of wine or two and sit down all night and just rifle through people's Myspace pages till I found somebody that we, as a group, liked and then contact him as Quakers. It's wasn't “Geoff Barrows Portishead” but instead “we make beats, here's our beats if you want to jump on, you can” and a lot of them did.
Why did you choose to work with so many different people?
So you don't get involved in their lives. I've been involved in making records before and when you take on production you have to take on the lives of the artists you're working with. I didn't really want to get into that. I didn't really want to have a long term relationship, I didn't want to talk to managers. I just like the idea of showing them a beat and them doing something over it and then it's all good from then on. Some of the MCs I don't even know, I've never even spoke to them. I just like their vibe and they like our beats.
Do you think each MC brings a different style to the record or is it more consistent?
They definitely bring a different style. There's people who roar, making stuff up on the spot, they haven't written anything just freestylying. Then there's people who have sat down for ages and worked out exactly what they're going to say. There's people who've done thousands of battles and released hundreds of records and there's people for whom this will be the first time they've ever appeared on a record ever.
Did you have all of the beats written before you contacted each MC for each track?
Yeah we had a lot of beats written and we had a Myspace with Quakers on it and we just sent them there. If certain beats were taken we'd upload new ones. Actually Katalyst did all that leg work, he worked really, really hard on this record.
Did you give each MC a remit to rap about what they wanted, or did you work with them very closely?
We just let them blow on it! We wouldn't be there, they wouldn't come into the studio, very few of them did, they recorded the rhymes on their computers or in a studio where they lived and that was it. Sometimes we dug them, sometimes we didn't. There are MCs that never made it on the album, it just didn't work out. But that was pretty rare.
Are you planning on performing live with Quakers and bringing all 35 MCs with you?
(Laughs) That'd be fucking mental! It could end up in a massive fight! I would like to, Katalyst is probably more able to do that sort of thing then I am because he works with MCs loads and goes on tour with DJs and does the whole thing. I've never really done that, just rock and roll tours really. It would be good to get a few of the MCs together and go somewhere, there's talk of us doing Germany maybe.
It'd be difficult to get all 35 though?
Oh yeah impossible!
Did you, personally, take a similar approach to song writing with Quakers as you did with your previous work?
No, it was really different. It's an entirely different thing. There's lots of audio chopping and things where with Portishead it's more more based on traditional writing.
You've worked with both of your collaborators before under different circumstances but did you find it different working with them this time?
No! Stu never says anything so he's really easy and Ash is a really good mate and works so hard so he's really easy. I probably had the easiest ride of the lot to be honest, it's them putting up with me!
Did each of you tend to work together on each track, or were you more independent?
The beats come from different areas. We produce different beats ourselves but we would combine work on them in the end. There's lots of input from everyone. Ash would do a mix and then send it over and we would criticise and so on.
The track that has just been released, 'Fitta Happier', is directly inspired by Radiohead. What was the thought process behind this song?
(Laughs) It's just a heavy loop! We did that a long, long time ago. That must be three years old ago. I can't even remember, sometimes beats come and sometimes they don't. I know that's a bit vague but there are certain reasons I want to be vague about as well! I'll just say “God wrote it!”
Did you rely on sampling or did you record most of the music yourself?
It's a bit of a mixture really. There's lots of stuff with no samples, some stuff with re-recorded samples and some stuff with none!
There's a lot of horns, is that deliberate?
Nah not really. I guess you could say there's always been the heavy side of horns within hip-hop. Also the big stuff, like Ante Up by M.O.P. We didn't go out of our way for horns but the bigness of them is always a heavy thing.
Who were your key influences in creating the album?
For all of us I would say Dj Premier and then RZA, Madlib, Marley Marl, Pete Rock, Dilla, Mugs, Erik B, Public Enemy. It's kind of endless really, all classic hip-hop.
Would you say it's more of a classic Hip-hop record then a modern one?
I couldn't ever say classic myself, I'd need balls the size of footballs for that!
I mean in terms of the sound?
Yeah, I think it is. It's all the stuff that we've been influenced by. But Hip-Hop is incredibly diverse, in a more classically recorded way. There's some recognisable angles on it but some of it is still a bit out there like Stu's synth stuff and Ash's chops.
Most of the songs on the album are very short, the longest being 3 minutes, was this deliberate? Would have you liked to create a much longer album?
They just get boring! (laughs) We just wanted to keep on smashing it.
Would have you liked to create something longer?
Nah, I think we wanted to keep it moving. We didn't want to to settle into a familiar grove, the idea that it would keep on changing up was just fun for us y'know?
Are there plans for future releases from Quakers?
Yeah, we'd like to do a second record. We've already got some beats down for it and we're talking to some MCs already. But we'll just do it under the same vibe really. I know it's ridiculous because we've got 35 featured artists on it but we didn't want to make a big featured album y'know? We didn't want it to feel like there's some buy on MCs. Wanted it to sound more fucked that that y'know?
Will the line-up stay consistent?
Yeah, if there's people that want to jump on again that's cool! We're speaking to some new people, some people that we couldn't get on the last one that haven't even heard the first one. It's also about discovering new talent.
Is that a big part of it for you?
Yeah, because when people have got their own records it's nice to here their voices on stuff but if you're hearing fresh new people it's also exciting to hear as well as the beats. Also it gives credit to people that have been busting their ass in hip-hop for years and years and never got any coverage, and if we can guide people to their back catalogue then that would be really good!
What other releases from the genre are you excited about?
I'm always excited by everything that Stones Throw does. I am really looking forward to hearing the Jonwayne record.
The self-titled Quakers album is out now (head here to buy it). Head to the site tomorrow for our review and an interview with Katalyst.