When the Stereo MC's first formed inspired by the likes of Run DMC and Public Enemy there was no such thing as a British Urban Scene. This situation led them to tour with the likes of U2 and The Happy Mondays and after the success of "Connected" and "Ground Level" they seemingly disappeared until "Deep Down And Dirty" in 2001. The band have just released their greatest hits album "Retroactive" and are touring the UK before heading back to the studio to complete work on their fifth album. We caught up with frontman Rob Birch to find out why in 2003 there is still no Urban band competing with the Stereo MC's.
Q: The British Tour has just kicked off and I guess the live shows are where your at at the moment. Despite the profile of Urban music in the UK there still aren't that many artists heading out and playing live shows. As far as the live arena goes there's no competition for you guys. Would you agree?
A: You know we've always been into the live side of things and we've always felt it was an important part of what we did because we grew up seeing bands that played. When we started making the records we make we always envisage we play them like a band even though we wouldn't do it in the conventional manner. It's about getting a performance that sounds good and excites people and that you can feel something.
Q: As you just said you guys grew up watching bands. When hip-hop bands came over from the States were you ever disappointed sometimes at them rhyming over Dat tapes?
A: In the early days seeing Run DMC in the late 80s in Brixton was bloody amazing, man. Just seeing them doing those tracks and throwing the hats to each other. And seeing Public Enemy, I always thought they were a great live band, you've just got to check Chuck D because he always brings it off when they do a live show.
When we started out people were saying if you wanted to play live you can only do a PA in a club. We were like - No, Rock bands get a decent sound system when they play live. So why can't we? - so we got a drummer and started touring supporting rock bands because it was the only way really that we would actually get to play with a decent sound system.
I think the hip hop bands, the ones that do best are probably the ones that check they're going to have a decent sound system. They maybe come over and think they'll just do a club show, but club sound systems are notoriously crap for live music.
Q: You had the greatest hits album "Retroactive" out last week. I guess the reason behind it is to show some of your younger fans where your from and what's been happening for the past 10 years. Was it hard compiling the best of four albums down to this one collection?
A: For any new fans they can see where we come from and for us it was quite an interesting thing to hear our four album mixed together. The record company had been hassling us for years to do and we kind of did it under pressure, but we felt happy with the outcome of it. We put it together ourselves and we liked the artwork the guy had done. And it's just good for us to be doing a few more shows before we get on course with our new album which we in the process of making at the moment.
Q: Are you embracing new sounds or will people be able to instantly recognize it as the Stereo MC's? How's the new album taking shape?
A: People ask that about every record you make and kind of I say I can't tell you right now until we've finished a whole bunch of tracks. We've got a few tracks down and whole bunch of ideas were working on and until you've finished them you don't really want to say too much about it. It sounding really good, but until the vocals are nailed they ain't saying anything because that's the essence of the song - the vocals and the lyrics.
I think if anything the record were making now will sound a lot more simpler than the last one. And I think because we all DJ and were big fans of music were always buying new records and listening to new things that are going. You can't really not listen to stuff that's going on when you live where we live anyway because even if you didn't buy new music all you'd have to do is walk down the road and you'd probably hear anything from bhangra to tap to garage to reggae to dub just walking down the street. There's so many different cross sections of music playing in the shops - it's just how it is where we live.
We want to get it out this year to continue the new foundations we've been building with our last record. Were a bit like a new band in a lot of ways because we had a long period between our 3rd and 4th album and the way things are in the music business these days, things move on a lot quicker than they used to. It's a bit like being a young band again really!!!
"Retroactive" is out now on Island Records
The band are on a UK tour throughout February
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