With numerous festival appearances already this year, and many more to come, this band have built up reputation and repertoire as one of the most blistering live acts around. With two highly successful EPs under the belt, a fantastic new single out now, and another big single in the pipeline, J~bright talks to MC Lazy, frontman for and representing the brilliant – Lazy Habits…
Ok, just to start, sell Lazy Habits to me. Who are you and why should I listen to you?
We are Lazy Habits. Beats, Rhymes and Brass. 9 piece live band including DJ Itchi, a dope horn section two MCs and the Caged Beastboxer that is WanDan. A live monster.
How did it all start? What prompted such an approach to hip hop, and do you have any major influences?
First thing you need to know is that I came up in music through the band route, fucked around with a few instruments to begin with, bit of brass, a little drums.. I got a big ass church organ at home now, an accordion, stuff like that.. Anyway, I was tired of always diluting my ideas in the democracy of a band situation, too many cooks and all that! At that time I really wasn’t feelin’ any of the bands out there that played hip hop either. To me it was generic funk or cross over guitar music with an average mc up front, this was before people like the Beggars had a live band. So I went away and worked on stuff on my own for a long while, got a producer to facilitate my lack of programming skills at the time, wrote a few songs and then started getting the right people in to play it and slowly its become what it is now.
And are you happy with your recording situation, and could you tell us a little more about Run N Jump Records and your relationship with them?
Happy? Yeah I guess so! I mean it would be nice to have the backing and financial clout that a major label gives you but we have been recording our album for a few months now and everyone is buzzing of it, we‘ll see where that takes us.
Run N Jump is the name of the label we have used to put out the last couple of EP’s, which both sold out, and last year we put WanDan’s mixtape out on that too. It more or less belongs to us as a group but myself, DJ Itchi and WanDan are the ones that really work on it on a day to day basis. Most of the heads in the band have their own project they work on away from Lazy Habits and it would be good to be able to put some of those out for them in time. We were also recording a few other artists but I don’t even want to go into that right now.
Live, the band are huge force to be reckoned with and have gained notoriety as such in the UK hip hop scene. Have you guys been approached for even brighter lights?
Brighter Lights? Not really. We wanted to do our own thing to begin with, learn the ropes, earn our stripes, however you wanna put it. We wanted to get a couple of releases out, a heap of shows and a fan base of our own backs, from playing live and shotting tracks, etc. Too many people I know go straight for the bright lights but that’s been like a moth thing, people get burned up real quick and have nothing to fall back on, we turned a management deal down just before we put the first EP out, they didn’t really have a clue what they were going to do with us. The shows we do now, the units we shift and all that is us with nobody’s help or financial backing. Up to this point we have managed, recorded and released everything in house, no help, and that includes the album we are working on at the moment. We have been approached a few times by labels and stuff in the past but have so far spurned advances. Now it feels like we are at the tipping point though, its time to get the right team of people around us and maybe take it to that next level. I spend so much time arranging shows and generally managing the day to day of the Habits that its getting to the point I’m spending more time on the business side of things than the music side, and that’s not the right balance.
How has this festival season been for you? It seems quite a regular occurrence to pack out an otherwise dead tent within 5 minutes of you all coming on stage. Do you prefer the larger or smaller venues?
This year has been ridiculous, we have played about 14 festivals so far, inc Big Chill, Secret Garden and Glastonbury where I even got to host the Jazz World stage for a couple of days. We have been playing on all types of stages from huge outdoor stages or marquees to tiny little tents at all hours of the day. When it comes to preferences I love both. Its great turning an audience, who until 5 minutes ago were unaware of your existence, but at the same time its an amazing feeling playing to a crowd that came to hear you play, have the tracks, know the songs, all that kind of stuff. We all just love playing, that includes just jamming too, when your as lucky as we are to play with so many amazing musicians you can‘t help but look forward to every opportunity you get to play.
[During the interview the phone rings with another booking; Lazy Habits confirm they will be playing the Regents St Festival, a free street party and huge stage set up along London’s Regents St and Oxford St]
You’ve just released a new single ‘Even Out’, which is a take on the fairytale of Jack & Jill, and spotlights the band’s second rapper Skin Horse, with you yourself making a change to singing the chorus. Can you tell us a little more about the single, who came up with the concept, and how the response has been to the single so far? Does this mean Skin Horse will taking a more centralised role in the future?
The response to ‘Even Out’ has been awesome so far. Live its been getting a lot of love over the past few months anyway but now the singles dropped we starting to get props from all over the world, heads from Colombia, the US, Japan, etc…it‘s crazy. We had a couple of issues with getting the promo sorted in time (one of the downfalls of putting it out ourselves and not having a heap of people with money making moves for you like Lilly “I got nothing to do I might go for another holiday Allen) but its all starting to filter back now and its started getting spins on national radio and ish so that’s all good.
Concept wise the whole story side of it come from Skin Horse. Its the first track where he’s the sole MC and he pretty much wrote the hook too. The beat is Habits production of course, but some of the first new material we have written with Paul Silver (Saxophone) and Jimmy Norden (Who eventually replaced Steff Halperin when he left to drum for the Klaxons), so there is a little evolution there. I guess its also got a summer thing going on and a catchy hook too, so that’s all good. Its definitely a little lighter than anything of the Wagon EP.
With regard to Skin taking a more centralised role? Its hard to say really. Again its about suiting something. We don’t write tracks and say “This is for so and so” or whatever. ‘Even Out’ just happened naturally and that’s kinda how it should be.
How has your sound progressed from your earlier work such as the Wagon EP?
After we put out the Surface Dirt EP we wanted to do something a little darker. It suited the mood we were all in at the time too and while we were recording it we would turn up at the studio and the producer would refuse to work coz Pete Doherty had left the place stinking of Crack or we would start recording and Babyshambles management would try and kick us out coz they had forgotten to book the place properly, it was a joke really. But that’s how “On the Wagon” was born. Its definitely a more angry record and completely the opposite to the more laid back vibe of “Surface Dirt”
With the new stuff you still got the main writers there but a few more influences in the mix too. Its evolved as we have as people and sometimes looking back I feel like the other releases were all part of a learning curve, Surface was literally the first four songs we wrote, Wagon almost a complete counter point to that and the new stuff just feels like us, but we had to go through that to get to where we are now, the darker stuff is still there but we didn’t want to drop something too dark over summer. You have to wait till winter for that.
With so much more activity from you this year than the past, both live and recorded, are you now more inclined to look at the business aspect of the music, without disowning your core values as a band?
It needs to happen to a certain degree. Our studio time doesn’t come for free and an album take a lot of studio time, so even just from that aspect you have to look at funds.
The activity thing also comes from the curse of the drummer. Our first drummer joined the Klaxons, winning a mercury and NME award, our second drummer is working full time in a West End musical and our third and current drummer, Jimmy, got meningitis and almost died, taking him out of action for 6 months. So for a lot of last year we were really just trying to find our feet again, this year was supposed to happen last year in a way, but I think it was worth the wait, and good health.
Being a live band with top-trained musicians there is a lot of scope to break some boundaries in terms of classic boom-bap (or as saxophonist Paul Silver describes it, Fuck-Fuck-Shit) hip hop. We see shades of this from the heavily ska-influenced ‘Subliminal Shots’, which signs off most of your shows. What other styles would you like to explore? Maybe with such jazz influence could we see a bold move away from 4/4 time, how would you feel about rapping over irregular beats?
I don’t have a problem at all with rapping over an unconventional beat or time signature but we don’t force stuff like that, we have tapes and tapes of ideas and rehearsal tracks with weird timings or from other styles that people wouldn’t normally associate us with, like blues songs, some grime type tracks, some low tempo stuff etc. We never sit down and say we should work on a specific style. There are enough people in the band that stuff naturally just tends to seep in, we have more ideas than hours in the day to rehearse them. I’m sure that stuff will come when we can give it the time it deserves.
You seem to have a flavour with mass appeal, and with people like Dizzee and Estelle hitting the no.1 spot now, do you see yourselves hitting the charts or are there other avenues more fitting?
Hmmm, good question. Dizzee’s big, I rate him highly and despite a little spat with Estelle I got nothing but respect for her. But are they doing exactly what they were doing before they blew up? Would ‘American Boy‘ have been number one without Kanye and John Legend on it? It‘s hard to say. One thing for sure is that if you throw enough money at it you can get almost anything to no.1, Frogs, Pink Blobs, even Kid Rock.
WanDan, your beatboxer, traditionally showcases his extensive talents in skits dotted throughout your shows. Any plans to make the beatboxing more integral to future tunes?
WanDan has been a fully fledged member of the habits live band for a few years now. To begin with it was just great having someone who could actually make noises like he does, a crowd stopper. If there was ever an indifferent audience or no audience at all at the beginning of our shows then we would send him out to wind them up, five minutes later when it was time to start the show there would be a ready warmed and often full house thanks to him alone. Since then there has definitely been a hell of a lot more integration, he has a couple of his own songs in the set, including a vocal beatbox rendition of ‘Life in Letters‘, he is on recordings of ‘Lazy Anthem’ and new single ‘Even Out’ and he’s been to the studio with us for some of the album recordings. It’s definitely something that needs to be explored more but its been difficult with so many gigs over the summer and every spare minute we find we tend to head back into the studio.
How about your band members, (which added to those already mentioned are Lester Brown (trumpet), and Ross McDouall (percussion)), who all are involved in various different musical projects? Does the band often find it hard to all be in one place at any one time?
Yes and no. We have learnt over time that we had to be versatile. It got to the stage where people were calling us a collective and that’s just not the case. We rehearse a hell of a lot and everyone is fully committed to that, but at the same time we don’t all need to meet in order to write and often we will work in specific parts of the band, be it the brass section together or whatever. Its great to be able to write in different situations with musicians but still keep that overall Habits sound and feel.
Do you plan to release more sung material, or instrumental material, reaching out to the band’s full capabilities?
Definitely! But not because we sat there and thought we should do that or this or whatever. I have had people on my back telling me to sing more for years now, I was singer way before I ever started rhyming, but its not about doing one thing or the other for the sake of it. If something merits a vocal line it will get one, if it needs a whole damn choir it will get one. And it’s the same on the instrumental side. I don’t have a problem sitting back and we have already recorded one instrumental to be considered for the album, and there are more to come.
Do you yourself plan to tackle any more gritty subject matter with your lyrics, or is there an area you’d like to explore? There also seems to be some confusion with your MC name – care to clarify?
Lazy Habits was my MC name when I started the crew but its grown into something bigger now, I think the whole situation will be resolved by the time the album drops but I’ve been toying with a few names recently, you gotta settle into these things, wear them for a bit and then see how you feel, I’ve been through about 3 this year but I will find one that fits and when I do then we will let people know, until then I am/we are!
OK, lastly a couple of quickfire/burning questions:
The Heritage Orchestra because I think it would sound BIG, I’m not just going to pick a rapper that I like to just come along and spit a verse for this, I think the HO would really work. We are already planning to have a string quartet on the album so Its something I have definitely thought about before. We are also writing for a couple of other artists at the moment, Like The Correspondents, J’Nay and Babysol, which hopefully will be ready for the album.
The other thing I would really like is to work with a producer like Mark Ronson or Danger Mouse, it would be really interesting to have someone like that come in and work with the band and to have a big producer like that is something we have never experienced before.
If I can leave the realms of seriousness for minute though I would have to say Tom Waits, it would probably sound a bit weird but he is a genius beyond doubt.
What’s hot right now?
Grime – the shit, or just shit?
Its like most other genres of music, there’s the good that bad and the wrong. For me the good stuff is fire, and some of the most fresh and original music coming out of the UK right now.
Like Nas said, is hip hop dead?
Nah!!! Maybe for him it is, maybe that explains his last album
UK hip hop’s heyday – past, coming, or right now?
As long as people keep calling it that?!?!?! Past!!! People are taking hip hop to other places, its evolving everywhere outside the label of UK hip hop, its exciting times for those who choose to not live by that label.
Jay-Z at Glastonbury – did he pull it off?
Smacked It, it was a bit of a crowd pleasing set, nothing like a club show but I don’t think the whole hip hop at Glasto argument even merits a question, Glasto has had hip hop for days, well before Oasis started lowering the tone of music in general.
And of course…your shout-outs and shameless plugs please:
Hell Yeah! ‘Even Out’ is available for download NOW so go cop that, ‘Please People’ is the next single out on 20 October and we got a launch party at 93FT East on Brick Lane. Big ups to The Correspondents and King Porter Stomp and to everyone that’s seen the Habits over the summer. Thank you.
And the rest of the festivals… Grass Roots, Regents St Festival and Antics Banquet.
EVEN OUT EVEN OUT EVEN OUT
‘Even Out’ is out now, After the summer shows are done, the second single from the forthcoming debut LP. ‘Please People’ will be released on Monday 20th October as download only.
To support that there’ll be two major launch shows.. Friday 17th October, headline show at 93Feet East, Brick Lane, London (free entry) and Sat 18th October headline show at Mr Wolfs, Bristol.