Scroobius Pip interview, conducted by Roy Marmelstein

Scroobius Pip is a jazz hip-hop poet from Stanford Le Hope. His single with Dan Le Sac, Thou Shalt Always Kill, has just reached the top 40 and the (rather cool) music video has been admired by hundreds of thousands on YouTube. We published two tracks by Mr Pip back in October 2006 and he also headlined the first Platforms:live gig in January.

I met up with Scroobius at an orange pub in Whitechapel, shortly before a Love-Poetry-Hate-Racism gig.

Roy: So what's next?

Scroobius: At the moment I want to have a couple of days of recovery from the heavy gigging but after that... we are getting more gigs out of London now so we want to ease things off in London for a bit. Not wanting to be mean in any way but we played London so much over the last few months. Then we just want to get a second single out and get the album done and in the bag. We are really keen to show people that there are more songs than Thou Shalt Always Kill. I mean, everything I'm doing at the moment is Dan Le Sac based.

Roy: Are you worried that people might be simply looking at Thou Shalt as a novelty hit?

Scroobius: Yeah but it's fair enough. At the end of the day it's a list poem with tons of pop references in it and things like that and people are going to interpret it that way and one of the bonuses is things like MySpace because people can instantly go and see that we've got more stuff and if they want to look into it, they can see that that's not what we're all about. That's one of the reasons why we are keen to get a second single.

Roy: How ready is the album?

Scroobius: We could put out an album in a couple of weeks but we don't want to. We want to spend more time on the album because at the moment, each song we're writing seems to be of a higher and higher standard and so... that may not keep going on forever but we definitely want to write another four or five more and mix them about.

Roy: Is it still the same creative process, of Dan Le Sac laying the beats and then you add your lyrics over the top?

Scroobius: It really varies, we've done it every way. Dan sent me a bit and I've already had about half of Thou Shalt as a spoken word that I was doing so I edited bits of it and sent it back within an hour of receiving the beat but with A Letter From God To Man, which is hopefully going to be our next single, I knocked up an incredibly rough version of the beat because I've got no skills and I sent it to Dan and he made it a million times better. It seems to vary how we write, it is a very fluid and natural process.

Roy: Do you actually play any instruments?

Scroobius: I played guitar and bass badly for years and then I realised there are other things I could do a lot better... I try to sneak a bit of harmonica into our set sometimes but that's all just a bit of fun.

Roy: Do you believe that the future of poetry is in hip-hop / rap / music?

Scroobius: In a way... I'm taking a few months off from doing spoken word gigs, it seems to be pretty busy with me and Dan at the moment but I think the spoken-word scene, without music, without beats is gonna explode and get bigger and bigger and hopefully the exposure we're getting is gonna help that. We always bang on about our favourite poets in every interview and name people along the way.

Roy: Ok, so who are your favourite poets?

Scroobius: Well there is a group of poets called A Poem In Between People [PiP] who I recommend you look into... the poets are a guy called Musa [Okwonga], Joshua [Idehen] and Inua Ellams and they are all linked to on my MySpace I think. I like them best as individual poets. They are London based and they are really good. There is a guy called Polar Bear, he's amazing. The one time I've seen him live, he got up and because he's quite fluid and its more hip hoppy delivery, I thought it's not gonna be great but two lines into it, I was stunned. He's got such a way of telling a story and such a great style of speaking.

Roy: I was confused at first as there's a really good modern Jazz band called Polar Bear...

Scroobius: Yeah. Yeah and the guy from Animal Collective is called Panda Bear and he's just released an album and it's just too much and I don't really know who I'm actually talking about because I like all of them. I say Polar Bear and anyone can interpret that as whoever they think it is.

There's some really good guys, there's Nathan Penlington, he organises a lot of poetry events in London. He's really good as a comedian and as a poet. There's the two Nialls... Niall O'Sullivan and Niall Spooner Harvey, they're both great. I should probably leave it there...

Roy: Have you ever considered releasing a printed collection of poetry?

Scroobius: I'm kind of in talks on that at the moment, because... yeah, I was going to say that I don't know if I'm meant to talk about this but screw it... basically, I don't read a lot of poetry. I find watching it performed a lot better because when I read poetry, I impose a delivery upon it which isn't necessarily right for every poem so I was kind of reluctant to release just a written thing of poetry but I was thinking of getting a few graphic artists and illustrators and do a graphic novel of each poem so all they have is the words and all they need to do is fit them in in the correct order but they can take it how they want kind of thing. Just to make it a bit more varied and that, a bit different. I would like to go with that at some point but it's still a long way down the line. It'll be good to get some established artists and some people I know and that kind of thing... a bit of a mixture.

Roy: I told you about my friends being out in Oxford and hearing someone shouting "James Cunning is just a band"...Do you think that the success of Thou Shalt might be diluting the message?

Scroobius: It's tough. I hate it when bands get all precious over a song. If people are liking it, I'm fuckin' delighted. There is a serious message but there are also a lot of jokes in there. There is a lot of tongue in cheek stuff. If people are getting the serious point behind it, that's good. If it needs "just a band", to get their attention and then they will pay attention to the "Coke" stuff and that sort of thing then so be it. It's all a compliment, I'm flattered whoever's listening.

Roy: Are you drinking Coke by the way?

Scroobius: No, I'm drinking Pepsi. Very careful.

Roy: You come from Stanford-Le-Hope and I looked it up on Wikipedia and the entire entry is just a massive advert for an Indian restaurant called The Way of The Raj, is it really that good?

Scroobius: No, I've never been. Stanford-Le-Hope is legendary. It's a tiny little place. The good thing about growing up in a small town is that it forces you to go elsewhere, because there's nothing much to do, because you don't want to go to The Way of The Raj.

Roy: What do you think of LDN Is A Victim?

Scroobius: I thought it's great. Only heard it the other day and Myspace didn't let me sign in, I wanted to leave a comment and say, "Why didn't you mention us, I'm far more pretentious, arrogant, poncy than any of the other guys". Yeah, I think it's great. It mentions people like Adele and [Kate] Nash that I'm a huge fan of and they mentioned Jack Penate as well, didn't they? It's a good laugh and they've done well..

Roy: The press seems keen to compare it to Thou Shalt...

Scroobius: Yeah. It's good and I'm sure it's probably been done by someone in the scene or something like that.

Roy: What's your policy on adverts?

Scroobius: Hmmm... I'll be really wary just because of Bill Hicks' old comment once that anyone that does an advert, instantly deserves no credibility ever and should burn in hell and die a painful slow death. But if the advert was right and the pay was good, then fuck it. I don't know. It'll be tough for us to get into an advert because the stuff we write about is very specific, we don't really have a drifitng chorus or anything. We've got a new song, me and Dan, and Dan thinks this one could be used in films a lot because it's a bit of a weepie about relationships and Dan says it will make us loads of money. If the right thing came along...

We've just been contacted by a film, asking to use Thou Shalt... The Lesbian Vampire Killers it's called...

Roy: Yes!

Scroobius: ...and I want to be in the back of a van, actually singing along to it. We were like, we're well interested but can we have a cameo, like driving the van or something... I thought it's gonna be some trashy low-budget thing but apparently Emma Griffiths is in it, I love her, she's amazing.

Roy: Are you influenced by the visual arts?

Scroobius: Yeah, hugely. I mean, I was a photographer by trade for a year or so, I did photography at university and dropped out after a year.

Roy: Is that how you know Overview [photographer, on this month's issue]?

Scroobius: I've known him through work on music and then I stopped doing photography and he started doing more and yeah, he's great. When he started off, I had a bit more techincal knowledge whereas now I don't do much and I was more actual film and he's more digital, he's far exceeded everything I've ever had. So yeah, I'm hugely influenced by photography and film and stuff. Tracks like Angles are completely influenced by film. There's loads of songs where people are telling stories but it always made me wonder, just because it is a song, why do people have to stick to a linear narrative? I met the girl on monday, took her for a drink on tuesday... and with Angles I wanted to do it more like a film, have twists and turns, take things on a journey and kind of surprise people. Films and visuals are a huge influence.

Roy: Do you have a favourite artist?

Scroobius: Jean-Michel Basquiat. I love the guy, he's a genius. I mean, I've been a stencil artist for a while as well and he was one of the first street writers and he'll just write individual lines and that. He's amazing. He made me angry at myself about art because I always thought, you should look at it, if you like it then you like it, if you don't, you don't. But with him, I've read about his stuff and it made me like certain pieces more and now I know what he meant with all the little references.

Roy: Apparently his family signed a deal for a Basquiat-shoe with Reebok [the shoe is out now, limited edition, it's called the Rebopper]...

Scroobius: We were in a meeting over labels the other day and I couldn't concentrate because there was a painting with tons of Basquiat stuff and a Converse All-Star. It's fantastic. I'm gonna look into it. See if we can get a Basquiat album cover.

Roy: English or French mustard?

Scroobius: Not a mustard man. My dad would say French mustard and I would stand by that firmly but I'm not a mustard man. I like a good ketchup. I don't think there's a need for any other sauce in my opinion. Just ketchup, as made by God.

Roy: Heinz.

Scroobius: Our lord Jesus Heinz, yeah.

Roy: What superpower would you choose?

Scroobius: Invisibility and then I'll just spend the day hiding. It'll just make me laugh. I've always been a good fan of a good hiding place. Even when I worked in HMV and even though I was a supervisor and all that. If a big box came in, I'd empty it and hide in it and wait for someone to come in. The best one... they had shelving all up the walls in the stock room and I climbed up six shelves and lay along the shelf and put the boxes in front of me so at the end you just had my head peeping out and just went "tsss...", "tsss...".

Roy: But when you're invisible there isn't much point to hiding.

Scroobius: Yeah there isn't much point but it'll still be the buzz, knowing you're there... I don't know what other superpowers I'd go for.

Roy: How about stretching like Mr Fantastic?

Scroobius: That would be nice. Not having to leave your seat.

Roy: Do you own any pets?

Scroobius: I've got a cat called Mingus.

Roy: After Charles?

Scroobius: Yes! You got it! Most people just go, what? He's a good lad. He's a rapper. He's got a solo career under the name of Stunning Mingus, the dirty south rapper [I really don't know if that's what he said, tape was fuzzy]. Or so I tell people, he's just a cat really. He's black and white. He's a bit mental, we got him as a kitten and at first we convinced him he was a dog and he played fetch and he wouldn't sit on laps and be stroked, he wanted to be petted and run around and chase stuff. It was great but I think he knows he's a cat now. He's realised.

Roy: What are you listening to at the moment?

Scroobius: In the last year, I don't think I bought any new music because I was so focused on gigging. So the new music that I'm into is all just people I've either seen live or played gigs with... Adele and Peggy Sue and The Pirates, Kate Nash, Jack Penate I played a gig with. I saw Amy Winehouse the other night and she's AMAZING live, really blew me away, really so effortless. I expected her to really belt out all the songs but she didn't belt out any. She had such an effortless style, it was really cool. Really amazing. Of new music, yeah, everyone who's listed in LDN is a Victim. That's secretly me, I made that song, I'm jealous of them all.

Roy: Would you ever shave your beard?

Scroobius: No way.
No, I don't know. I'm not crazy, I'm not gonna let it go past my knees but other than that, who knows? Can I mention three more new acts, three more that I'm loving?

Roy: Sure.

Scroobius: Jackamo Brown, he plays acoustic kind of bluesy stuff. A band called I Shouted Gun who I've done a song with recently and I've liked their music for ages. So much that I started to turn up at their practices and I was turning up at 4 or 5 and just sat there getting drunk, they suggested we do a song together. And this girl Amy Bullman, she's really good.

Roy: Is she the one with the massive lips?

Scroobius: Yeah, yeah, she is. Her stuff was with a full band and now she just stripped it down to a guitarist and it's really good, it has a Billy Bragg type thing with just one electric guitar. Everyone's doing the acoustic guitar thing but she's just one electric guitar and vocals. They're worth looking into. They're very much on the verge of breaking through.

Roy: Now this bit is a game, I give you an answer and you have to give me the question.

Scroobius: Jeopardy?

Roy: Yeah, basically.
First one is "It was a hellish hot day. The air-conditioner was broken. My eyes were blue and nobody loved me".

Scroobius: What did you get up to on Thursday, Scroobius Pip? That's exactly that day... it was hellish.

Roy: The second one is " I get it, it's all about girls, right?"

Scroobius: The age old of question of what's the meaning of life. Someone asked me recently in an interview about girls and do they dig the beard and I think it was either Shakespeare or Keats who said "Well, if Kurupt gave a fuck about a bitch he'd always be broke and never have no motherfuckin indo to smoke". I think that sums it up perfectly, sorry.

Roy: The third one is David Cameron.

Scroobius: David cameron is the answer?

Roy: Yeah

Scroobius: Ha. I was... why is he saying David Cameron? No... the question is "who's your biggest influence as a poet?". It's David Cameron all the way, he's been there from day one.

Roy: What question really annoys you that people ask you in interviews?

Scroobius: Not in interviews but the question in general that I get annoyed with the most is "so, what's your real name?", Originally I was happy to tell people. There's a few promoters and that who I told them my real name and they say it all the time now and they feel that it means that they know me better whereas, as my real name, I'm quite a private person. I keep myself to myself. As Scroobius Pip, I open my heart out and tell everyone the deepest secrets and that so how does knowing my real name makes people know me more than listening to what my actual music is like... That's why it gets me but not many interviewers are cheeky enough to bother me with that.

Roy: Where did you get the Breaker cap?

Scroobius: I got it from The Flying Duck in Greenwich and I'm gutted because I need to get some spares and they changed the actual supplier of the hat so while the print's the same... I've got a massive head and that hat, is the one hat I found that doesn't reveal I've got a massive head, every other hat just looks a bit small and kind of points a bit.... so the new hats don't look the same.

Roy: You always wear a suit for gigs, what are you going to do in the summer?

Scroobius: The suit thing, there's a reason behind it... when I used to work at HMV, I could wear jeans and trainers, quite casual and I liked the juxtaposition of finishing work and getting into a suit. So often I'll finish, change into a suit and everyone thought there was something wrong with me but now it's gone wierd because performing is my job so I wear a suit for work now... I'm doing a lot of gigs now in shirt and tie but jeans and kind of getting a mixture, I'm wearing shoes for the gig tonight, I've never worn shoes for a gig, I always wear trainers. I haven't actually worn shoes in about three years probably, I got these shoes at a shoe shop in a bus station for five pounds the other day, I was delighted because they are proper old man things and they are slip ons and they've got a good old heel. I don't know what I'm going to wear in the summer. Probably still wear a suit and just sweat profusely.

Roy: Could you draw me a self portrait?

Scroobius: Excellent.

Roy: [fishing for a pen] Here's a pen... and a highlighter if you need one...

Scroobius: Have you listened to any of Mitch Hedberg? You should listen to him, he's a comic, a genius and he's got this line "I've got highlights in my hair because I felt some pieces are more important than others". He's easily as good as Bill Hicks and he died a few years ago, he's good.

[back to the self portrait, he draws]

Scroobius: Should I have a cap on? Going off to one side slightly.

Not going too badly so far. I've got a beard still, haven't I? I forget sometimes I still have a beard. In photos I always.... at the Camden Crawl, loads of people in the street recognised me because of the video and when people ask for a picture of me, I always go for a confused waxwork as my looks. If you try to look cool, you end up like a complete twat.

Roy: Some of the video was shot near The Barbican, right?

Scroobius: Yeah. It was all shot within five minutes of The Barbican because the guy who did it was squatting at a flat just down the road, a big studio space. It was all done for free and they did all the background stuff and all that. We were so pleased. Nick Frew, just can't give him enough respect for that. He's just great. He's been hugely influential on how well the song did.

This isn't going too bad. Should I continue for a body? I'm quite enjoying this... I've never drawn a picture of myself... Man, I should be an artist, this is turning out well...

Roy: It's quite a muscley Scroobius Pip...

Scroobius: This is end-of-summer me, I'm gonna build myself up. I'm a hairy guy. It looks like I have scars. I'm a self-harming guy. A belt.

I don't know what I'm wearing on my feet... my new gray shoes? That's the zip, not a bulge.

Should I write my name above it?

Here it is:
Scroobius Pip self-portrait, Platforms Magazine