Portishead’s Geoff Barrow Spills on Quakers Rap Project
'We're not going to pretend to be hip-hop heads, like, down with everyone. I ain't got a fuckin' clue, y'know?'
If you’re anxiously waiting for the next Portishead album… then keep waiting. Producer and spokesperson Geoff Barrow is too distracted working on about a million other things: There’s his Invada label, home to enigmatic chanteuse Anika and sludgegazers Though Forms; there’s his post-rock band Beak>, who are due for a sophomore album this year; and Drokk, an homage to the comic book hero Judge Dredd. Then there is Quakers, an ensemble featuring Australian beatmaker Ashley “Katalyst” Anderson and longtime Portishead engineer Stuart “7Stu7″ Matthews. (Barrow, for his part, uses the alias “Fuzzface.”) Quakers aims to shake the foundations of indie hip-hop with a rolling cast of MCs from durable vets like dead prez and Bootie Brown of the Pharcyde to new jacks like Synato Watts and FC the Truth. Venerable rap label Stones Throw released their self-titled debut last week, which features guest spots by more than two dozen MCs; a perfect storm of rap nerdery despite the fact that Barrow admits that he doesn’t even listen to hip-hop anymore (unless it’s Odd Future, of course).
So why Quakers now? And when is that goddamn Portishead album coming out? For answers, SPIN hit up Barrow via Skype.
So what projects are you currently working on?
I’ve got three albums coming out in three months. Quakers is one of them. Then I’ve got an album called Drokk, which is a 2000 A.D.-inspired synth record that comes out a month later and then the Beak> album the month after that. In 2000 A.D., “drokk” means fuck. You might have seen the terrible film they made of it [the 1995 Sylvester Stallone stinker Judge Dredd.) Drokk was made on a couple of Oberheimer 2 Voice Synthesizers. It’s a soundtrack for Mega City One, which is where Judge Dredd lives. Me and a composer guy [Ben Salisbury] who works for the BBC worked on it. It’s just crazy… Drokk took six months, the Beak> album took two years, and Quakers has taken about four years, on and off. But they’ll come out around the same time, y’know?
The Quakers project started in 2008, right?
The thing is, we’re all lifelong hip-hop fans, right? So that’s where it starts. We were beatmakers, so we thought, instead of approaching it the music industry way, we spent a lot of time with a lot of bottles of wine at night trolling through MySpace, finding people, and asking, “Do you want to rap on a beat?” And then they did. Some of the people didn’t, but lots of people dug it. They would download a beat, or we would get their email and chuck ‘em a beat, they would drop something on it and get back to us.
A lot of the MCs are well-known, at least in indie rap circles.
I wouldn’t know, because I stopped listening to a lot of hip-hop some time ago. I think me, Ash and Stuey… we love it, but we just stopped listening to it. We have more interest in making it than listening to it, to be honest. So, of course you’ve got Prince Po, Buff1, Guilty Simpson, Aloe Blacc rapping on a tune. But none of it came from, like, “This is their manager, we’ve got to do this because he’s cool at the moment.” It was just like, “Do they like the beat? Do we like what he sounds like?” We didn’t want to get caught up in the hip-hop crap. We’re not going to pretend to be hip-hop heads, like, down with everyone. I ain’t got a fuckin’ clue, y’know?
If you don’t listen to hip-hop, then why make a hip-hop album?
We started the record four years ago. It’s like a labor of love. Mosi, it’s kind of on your bucket list, really [laughs]. I don’t know why, now. I haven’t got a clue, other than Ash is a demon beatmaker, and we had this material, I suppose. Some of the things I have on the record, like loops I always wanted to use, have been around from 10 years ago. How relevant it is to the scene, I haven’t got a clue… I mean, I like records that stand out. I like the punk element of Odd Future, y’know, people who cause trouble. I think it’s great. I think music is all about that, whether it’s from fuckin’ classical riots, to punk, to now. I think it’s healthy to have people say “fuck you.”
Where did you find Coin Locker Kid? Out of the MCs I hadn’t heard of, he really stands out.
I’m really glad you said that. He was a guy that Ashley found on MySpace. Ashley has done a whole album with him, and he’s really fucking good. He’s an indie kid who loves Radiohead and makes his own little films and stuff. I think he and Ash are planning to fly to L.A. to meet with [Stones Throw owner Chris Manak]. We’re talking with a few people about it, but it’s in its early days. But the album is done. Ash doesn’t fuck about.
The Quakers album is 41 tracks, most of which are a minute to two minutes. It reminds me of J Dilla’s Donuts, and Madlib’s Beat Konducta series.
Well, not for me. For me, it was more about just trying to smash stuff. It’s a record with ADD, you know what I mean? Some of the MCs delivered second verses, and we just didn’t want to get into it. It’s like, “Nah, just get rid of that.”
It’s almost like a throwback record. It has a ’90s sound, a time when everyone was digging in the crates for samples, which is in contrast to what’s going on in current hip-hop.
The whole “digging in the crates” thing — not physically, because I think rare records are the most boring thing in the world — but the idea of really good samples and beats has always been the hip-hop I’ve been into. I was into that before the ’90s. But that hip-hop was always the stuff, whether it was Eric B & Rakim, JVC Force, or EPMD on “It’s My Thing.” It was beat stuff, it was big and brash.
Where did you get the name Fuzzface?
It’s because I’m always unshaven. [Laughs] I’ve had it for years. A long time ago, I remixed the Pharcyde’s “She Said” under Fuzzface. Geoffrey Barrow is not really a hip-hop name, is it?
So when is the next Portishead album coming out?
Well, that’s the reason I’m doing these records now. Put them out, and then concentrate, just keeping to that life of being productive, y’know? I’m working with Anika this week on some new stuff, and then do the press on these three records, and then stick my head down into the table. It’s actually the most concentrated plan I’ve had for quite a while.
Okay, so the new Portishead album is coming out, uh, fourth quarter 2012?
Well, that would be nice!