[audio:http://ugsmag.com/media/selfhelp-sitting_by_the_wIndow.mp3|artists=Selfhelp|titles=”Sitting By The Window”]
[audio:http://ugsmag.com/media/selfhelp-half_price.mp3|artists=Selfhelp|titles=”Half Price” (ft. Ceschi)]
Introduce yourself, crews, affiliations etc.
Selfhelp, typically known as 1/2 of Bending Mouth (the other half being Thesis Sahib), I am in a close-knit crew with my wife and son & I am a friend to all animals of the Earth.
It has been 7 years since you bust on to the Canadian Hip hop scene with Bending Mouth why has it taken so long to release your first solo album, what have you been doing since and what has changed as far as releasing music between then an now?
During the time of Bending Mouth my life was quite unstable and I could usually be found on a friends couch. Without any financial support from family and bad relations with my step father I had nowhere to live a lot of the times. I remember at one point I opened up for Sole (Anticon) in Toronto and after the show I went and slept on a park bench in the rain. I should mention that had nothing to do with Sole, it was the promoter that said he could not pay me a dime and so I was broke and had nowhere to go and was sick of asking friends if I could sleep at their houses. It was embarrassing. That morning when I woke up soaked and shivering on a bench is when I decided that rap needed to be put on hold till I could get my life together. I worked for a month at a call center and took every cent I earned and moved out west to the mountains with a plan to totally stabilize my life and that is what I did. Five years later I had met my wife, I had began building my studio and finally after a bit more time I could rely on myself and nobody else to begin recording at my house with the quality I expected out of myself. I also had a son a year ago so that has been my number one focus in life since he was born. Beyond those changes I guess these days it is even easier to market yourself through the ever popular social networks on the internet and various other tools so readily accessible in our modern times. Not like we didn’t have this stuff in 2002 but nowadays it is more developed and easier to reach more people.
How long has this album been in the works?
Well I actually started a solo album back in 1999 before Bending Mouth but for the reasons listed above things never came together on that. Of course as time flies and you develop artistically you bury old songs and create newer ones. About a year and a half ago I realized that I had quite a few songs building up that I was proud of and the realization that this project could actually come into fruition began seeming very plausible. At that point I really began buckling down and tying up loose ends to finalize this album.
Do you feel somewhat as a new artist since it has been so long between releases? What challenges have you faced as a result of that?
In one sense yes I realize that to some listeners I might be a new artist but more often than not I am amazed and humbled by how many people have heard and enjoyed Bending Mouth. I guess the challenge has been that after so long in the dark a lot of people are unsure about the validity of my art and are hesitant to purchase my album…maybe they are waiting till a friend buys it so they can burn a copy or something but this is just a sign of the times. People do not buy music as often as they used to and that is just the way it is. So sales of the new project are slow but I am just happy that if I really wanted to I could fill my bathtub with my own CD’s and do a belly flop into them.
What is the significance behind the title Old Friends?
The title has a few meanings to me. The more direct explanation would be that since my journey into stability began I have moved around a lot and went from city to city following a path that took me away from a lot of my good friends. Due to the fact that this release is a major thing in my life I can’t but help reflecting on my past where I developed musically and was inspired by so many friends. The more abstract explanation actually comes from an old friend of mine who had overdosed on drugs many years back and actually had his heart stop. At the hospital he was technically dead for a very short time and a few weeks later after he was released from the hospital and recovering I went to visit him. In reference to his experience he said that when he died he felt the presence of a lot of Old Friends around him from another world or dimension. I feel that these Old Friends guide our lives and watch over us. So Old Friends also refers to our guardian angels I suppose.
How has moving to Saskatchewan influenced you and this album and why in the world did you move here?
Saskatchewan has influenced me immensely because I am quite isolated from any social scene. I work from home as a freelance graphic artist for a company from the States and considering I moved here so late in my life I have accepted the fact that I will never be a part of any big network here. Naturally I get more time to create music and art without the distractions of “hey let’s get drunk tonight” and at the same time the fact that I am not really involved on that level affects my art to be more worldly and ethereal. This is why I tell people I live in Cloud City, Saskatchewan because no matter where I am these days it is all in the mind. I am living above Saskatchewan up in the clouds of Bespin mentally but physically I am down on Earth in the flat lands raising my son and eating a lot of pizza. I moved here because my wife is originally from here and considering she followed me from Banff back to Toronto when she asked if I would move here so that she could finish schooling I decided I would give it a shot. It has been a blessing in disguise as the cost of living is much cheaper than in Ontario and the people are in general more considerate of each other. I would rather raise my son here over anywhere else that I have visited in Canada.
Is the track Dead Cities a prophecy of the world to come?
It is more about my past actually. Basically referring to when I began my journey out west. I was frustrated with the way things worked in the system and unhappy with my experiences in the city of Toronto. Beyond a few really good friends in the city there was nothing but a struggle for me there and the same for other cities I had lived in prior. There is a line in the song where I am speaking in third person as though somebody else is talking about my disappearance and they mention that it was weird that before I left I destroyed all of my art and this line actually happened to some degree. I recall a few days before I left I brought four full sketch books of drawings and rhymes that I had over to a friends bon fire in his backyard and I lit them all ablaze. It was a significant and symbolic moment for me as it was truly like a sacrifice of my art to get to a better place and move forward with not only my life but with my art as well.
I couldn’t help but notice Thesis Sahib is absent from this album what is up with that? Is there going to be a second Bending Mouth album?
It is funny because a few people have mentioned this but perhaps have skipped the fact that I did not appear on either of Thesis’ two solo albums that he has released since Bending Mouth both of which were released throughout the last 7 years. The truth is that we have remained really close friends since Bending Mouth but we just live really far from each other. We have spoken a lot about making a new Bending Mouth and both of us would love to make it happen. We actually wrote a few songs last year when he came out for the Bending Mouth reunion show at Rap is the Best # 1 up in Saskatoon. Unfortunately we only had a few days alone at my house and we did not find the time to record which was sad because our writing chemistry was on a whole new level even for Bending Mouth. Maybe one day somebody will finance a trip specifically for Thesis to get out here and finish this and then put out the album on their label. If that doesn’t happen I am sure we will do it someday but as we get older it is just harder to dedicate time to make a full album especially because both of us have so many responsibilities these days. I feel that making a full album with two people has to be done in the flesh to some degree. Bending Mouth was done partially long distance but the bulk of the album was recorded over a two week span together in London, Ontario. We just don’t have that leisure anymore.
How did you link up with Mattr for the bulk of the production on this album?
A few years ago I was on myspace and perhaps my Old Friends subconsciously directed me to his page where he had a bunch of beats up. I found his songs to be quite undefinable but to attempt describing them they had this electro feel without sacrificing the integrity of genuine rap. I sent him a message seeing what he thought about working together and he responded ecstatically. He actually owned the Bending Mouth vinyl already and knew about me and shortly after we began talking on msn a lot and became quite good friends. His enthusiasm was contagious and soon enough I found my inbox filled with literally around 100 amazing beats which Mattr had said “take any of these you want”. It was a lyricists dream come true to have such a vast selection of really dope beats all at once. I really began carving my album and envisioning the project when I began working with him. Originally we planned to make an album with him as the only producer but I realized that I had a lot of good songs already recorded on other peoples beats. At this point a plan was devised to put out this Selfhelp solo album first with a lot of his production giving a prelude of what is to come and the next time we work together will be fully him and me no other producers, maybe a few guest rappers but that would be it. We shall begin work on this soon. Last year he also came to Canada from Switzerland and stayed at my house for a few days which brought our internet friendship into the flesh and was a great experience. I brought him to the bird conservatory here and we were attacked by 1000 Canadian geese. It was awesome! I highly recommend it as a way to welcome people to our country.
You have a track produced by mcenroe that is a pretty rare thing to see how did that go down?
mcenroe and me have quite a long history stretching back to around 2000 when Peanuts & Corn was touring and doing shows in my area. I assisted in setting up and organizing a bunch of shows for him and fellow Peanuts & Corn affiliates over the years wherever I happened to live at the time including London, Toronto and Banff. In 2002 he also mastered the Bending Mouth album. Years passed and then at one show in Toronto that I had helped organize with mcenroe for Pip Skid and Gruf I accidentally threw my friend directly through the 12 foot front window of the venue. He was utterly drunk and wanted to bar hop and when I told him I had to stay till the end to pay everyone he slapped me in the face quite hard when I was not looking as a joke. You have to know tiny Reagan to understand his innocent drunken smile. You just can not get mad at a tiny drunken leprechaun like him. In retaliation I light heartedly (with no real ill intentions) pushed him and he drunkenly stumbled forward seemingly gaining momentum as he went and next thing you know he went head first right through the massive window out on to Queen street in front of the bar. He basically could have died and it was kind of a scary moment but in the end he was totally fine with just a cut on his hand from impact with the glass. With that said I was still able to pay the performers quite well but with the extra money from the cover charge and a little bit from my own pocket I had to pay for the window on the spot. When mcenroe got word of what happened he offered to send me a bunch of P & C records and a beat which amazed me because it really had nothing to do with him and was all my fault for pushing a drunken leprechaun. Of course I snatched up the offer and the rest is history.
You really push yourself on the mic as far as styles go. Did you set out to do that from the onset or is that something that developed over the course of making this album?
Thank you for saying that. Well I think that it comes down to the fact that I wanted to be able to express myself clearly at times on this album as opposed to the more cryptic Bending Mouth styles but I also wanted to share my strengths in poetry and word forms. Rapping fast has it’s place and I wanted to do a bit of that also to show my range. I think it was both a conscious effort and also something that developed over time. It isn’t like I had a checklist and was like “fast rapping song – check, singing harmonic flows song – check, drunk party anthem – check”.
You have some amazing guest spots and one of the ones that really stands out is Ceschi on the track “Half Price” which Ira Lee is (and I am also thinking it is a front runner) calling the Canadian hip hop track of the year. How did that collaboration come about and are there any plans to do any follow up work?
For the Motherboard compilation Ceschi had submitted an experimental singy song which was very cool (and appears on the compilation) but I messaged him back asking if he also had a song to submit with him rapping since I know what he is capable of in that department and always loved what he does. He hit me back asking if I wanted to do a song together for it instead. I was very much interested and I sent him some beats by Mattr to choose from for the collaboration. Considering we had been involved in lengthy discussions about racial issues existing in the modern work force already on the forums it seemed natural for us to focus on this subject matter for the song. He selected the beat and recorded his parts and the chorus and sent it back in near record time. Unfortunately I had some technical difficulties and did not want to release the song rushed and recorded poorly so I sat on the track and Ceschi and I decided to hold off on putting it on the compilation and instead get it more polished for my album. As for follow up work we have not spoken about anymore songs but we did talk about releasing a 7″ picture disc on his No Friends Club initiative which I designed a logo for based on a painting he saw at my house when he came through my city on tour a bit ago. The No Friends Club will basically be a club that you pay for a membership and receive a bunch of exclusive 7″ picture discs throughout the year. I would be on a split 7″ with somebody else on the other side. Tom Quinlan mentioned the other side being Thesis would be really dope and I couldn’t agree more. We will see what goes on with that. As for another song.. if yer reading this Ceschi…lets do it!
What is “the price we pay” to make indie Canadian hip hop?
Depends how many CD’s you want to press I guess. If you are dedicated to music and are a free thinker that wants to share a little piece of their soul there is no price to pay besides a financial blow to the wallet. There is only recognition to be earned and some weight to be relieved from your chest. It is like I paid myself for my own massive therapy session that helped myself and hopefully others in the process.
So you are the founder of the motherboard aka the forum for the rest of us. What inspired you to build that online community?
Well I am actually the co-founder of the community and the idea was conceived of by Th’ Mole. He basically contacted a bunch of artists with the idea that we all had our own forums at one time and none of them panned out so if we banded together it might actually provide an online community that could share with each other, work with each other and keep itself afloat. I hopped on board and in November of 2006 Mole had created a preliminary forum on a free site with ads all over it. During this early stage nobody was really getting involved in the development beyond Th’ Mole and myself and I felt that if this forum was going to succeed it was going to have to be designed professionally and independently with no ads and if I was going to be involved it was going to have to be done right. I set forth and designed the forum and began hosting it on my website in December of 2006.
You are no stranger to drinking beer, what are your favourite beers?
Typically I drink Heineken and I like Corona in the summer. I am a sucker for free things though and if a beer company has some promotion with a beer glass, t-shirt or a hat that I would never wear I usually end up buying that. To be honest though I am not picky about beer. As Wordburglar would say like pizza and sex even when it’s bad it’s still pretty good.
You are really into Gremlins, Dune, Jim Henson, Star Wars, what influence do those things have on your music?
Well as they say “you are a product of your environment”. For example kids from genuine ghettos of the United States that were raised in poverty and violence naturally are inclined to make thug rap and share their experiences. Even though I can say that I shared similar experiences being in a low-income household and can relate with their rap on that level I can’t relate with the gangs and violence so to stay true to me and where I come from I can share my passion for the “real shit” of my youth. Just so happens that the violence I saw was usually lasers that seemingly never hit anybody in G.I. Joe or massive robots that could transform and talk and so I make songs about what I know. I am a thug for Canadian kids from the 80’s I suppose. As for Jim Henson…his life’s work blows my mind and the fact that he told so many epic stories through the creation of life via cloth, various fabrics and materials always compels me to make something out of nothing.
Do you have any last words, shout outs, stories etc?
There are too many people and I have already probably given one of the longest interviews on ugsmag. So I will just give a big shout to the entire UGS community and a mega shout to everyone on this planet that is truly filled with uncompromising compassion…who’s only mask that they wear is their true human face, open and honest…divinely beautiful. Oh and to everyone out there…support Canadian rap! Please feel free to pick up my album just check myspace.com/selfhelp for details. Don’t dub it for your friends or download it for free somewhere and if you do send me a few bucks when you get a chance. Help me make more music by letting me know you are out there and listening. Artists need support…we do this for a living.