The Herd - Long Live The Herd
Monday, 19 May 2008
Eight years ago The Herd burst on to the airwaves, causing more controversy than a seat-sniffing politician, though it was just this sort of fodder that gave them their modus operandi. Several triple j Hottest 100 entries later and with a new commander in chief to keep on point, the eight-piece powerhouse are back to makes politics cool once more, with their new album Summerland.
Back before the ‘fish n chip song’ and that C-bomb dropping ‘shake-up’, The Herd were Dase Team 5000, an improv group spawning from their collective and label Elefant Traks, which has gone on to become the country’s most popular soulful hip hop and electronica imprint. Summerland sees Ozi Batla, Urthboy, Rok Poshtya, Unkle Ho, Toe Fu, SuLo, Tracksewt and Jane Tyrrell expand their horizons musically and lyrically, and with K-Rudd manning the decks, one has to wonder if their reason for existence might dry up. After all, the best art is created under the rule of an iron thumb. Speaking from Elefant Traks HQ under a mountain of to-be-assembled CDs, SuLo talks me through lead single The King Is Dead.
“We wrote it straight after the election,” he begins. “We thought it would be good to get it out as soon as possible and we were thinking it might be too late by the time it comes out, but it seems to have resonated with a lot of people, still. There has been a bit of time between the election and the last month or so but we’re really happy with the way it’s been received.”
It’s unfair to say that without Howard there is no Herd and given the events of the last year (the album was written in winter when the city was shut down for APEC), there’s still loads to vent about, however this is not a frustrated ball of anger a la The Roots’ last few efforts but a bit more of a freedom march. Channelling the likes of Fela Kuti and Hugh Masekela, the music is punchy and the choruses are catchy, something which is in stark disparity to the grimness of their lyrics.
“We’re not consciously trying to create a contrast between lyrical content and the music,” SuLo says. “There are three main producers who all have different approaches to writing music. We are a tight group and do listen to a lot of really different types of music – there are afrobeat and reggae styles on there but with so many people with so many different ideas, it becomes a melting pot of ideas and sounds and the lyrical content, I don’t know how it works!”
Continually stressing that there is no set agenda to making a Herd record, SuLo paints a picture that suggests they’re not setting out to be “the only band that makes political hip hop”.
“I think it’s something we have always done, there has always been the social commentary and the fun tracks,” he says. “I don’t think there’s pressure to write about the politics.”
He points out how the song When You Escape talks about fashion and music and “how that has taken a new realm of late”. The track, somewhat sardonically (for a song about hipness) marries a waltz time signature and accordion with talk about something a bit lighter than arms dealers and marshal law, and shows the band can poke a bit of fun, too.
The name Summerland is somewhat misleading. The birthplace of all their albums, the title refers to the suburb near Lake Macquarie where the band rent a house to spawn ideas. It’s a corny dig at fictional places where all is well when, in fact, it’s the genus for raucous good times and a little dissent thrown in for good measure.
“[The title is] paying homage to the place where our last four albums spawned. We’ve always gone back to that house to get the ideas rolling only this time we did a whole live-in type thing where everyone was there and we were writing music and jamming and sampling,” SuLo says. ‘It’s always been a big part of The Herd… Maybe we couldn’t think of anything better to call it!”
With so many members all corroborating and submitting their own individual pieces – five offshoot records since 2004 – The Herd are kind of like a mix between The Chaser and Wu-Tang, though SuLo isn’t so sure about that one. We’ve all seen an Elefant Traks hoodie on King St, heard one of the MCs spit venom in an almost mad sense and always wonder how the hell they manage to fit on stage every night but still there’s a lovable charm to them amongst the madness.
“We’re a very tight crew,” SuLo says. “We bounce a lot of things [off each other] and the base of it all, is the record label Elefant Traks. Every single Herd member is involved in running the label; we’re band mates, we’re good mates… we’re business partners to some extent. It’s a bit chaotic at times but it works and over the years we’ve gotten better at making it work. We’re still putting together CDs and very much I’d say the do-it-yourself ethos has not changed.”
Four albums deep and we find the band at their most comfortable. Eight years seems to have flown by, when in retrospect, Howard’s reign was already a couple of years in gear when Ozi Batla was serving mofos in local battles at The Globe and Zen/China White/Whatever-it-was-called-before-Candy’s Apartment. Whilst it’s harder to go for the shock-and-awe of seeing it and saying it when all is quiet on the Western front, it’s good to hear the band expanding their palate of sounds and creating unique Australian political music.
“I’ll be fascinated to see how the album goes,” SuLo admits. “It’s number four and we have had a good run the last few times and I am itching to get back on the road and get a reaction from the people out there. On this record, everyone in the crew will agree it’s a big step up sonically, production wise and lyrically. As time passes on we have become a unified group, in the beginning it was a few collaborations, we were all doing our own thing and as time has passed our sound has become more coherent.
“This is definitely the most accurate account of The Herd.”
WHO: The Herd
WHAT: Summerland through Elefant Traks/Inertia / Play The Factory
WHEN: Out 24 May / Saturday 14 June