Name: Stanley Odd
Members: Solareye, Veronika Electronika, AdMack, Scruff Lee, T Lo, Samson
Interviewees: T Lo, Solareye
Occupation: Rappers, producers, songwriters
Current Release: Stanley Odd's Stay Odd is out now Handsome Tramp Records.
1. Looking forward to reading Ryan Gattis’ new book The System – loved his last books All Involved and Safe – so that’s next on the list. He’s a great writer.
2. There is so much great Scottish hip-hop that we’d love to point people towards, but it’s too hard to choose a single track- so we highly recommend this Scottish Hip Hop playlist curated by Steg G.
If you enjoyed this interview with Stanley Odd, visit the band's website for more information and music. For current updates, check out their Facebook account or Soundcloud profile.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Thilo: I started writing my own music when I was about 14/15 years old. When learning the piano, I never had too much interest in learning the -mainly classical- pieces and would always just try to make up stuff on the instrument myself. I founded a band when I was sixteen, and have been playing with other musicians ever since.
Although my first band was a metal band – as this is what I was listening to at the time - my earliest influence is probably Uwe Fahrenkrog-Petersen of NENA fame. Especially his keyboard pad sounds really connected with me when I was a small boy. The sounds would somehow transport me to a different place, they felt kind of otherworldly to me. Plus I guess he’s got similar hair to mine, so that’s a connection right there!
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Solareye: Exactly as you describe here.
When I started rapping I didn’t really know other Scottish people rapped – they were out there, there’s a history of hip-hop culture in Scotland going back to the 80s – but pre-internet it wasn’t easy to find and tap into that. So, I started imitating American emcees, firstly West-coast gangsta rap like Snoop Dogg and Cypress Hill, then found East-coast NY stuff like Nas, Big L, Pharoahe Monch and so on. Then I found UK rappers like Chester P, Jehst, Rodney P, Roots Manuva and finally I found people on my own doorstep. Artists like II Tone Committee and Steg G and the Freestyle Master who paved the way for the rest of us.
I heard Evidence (Dilated Peoples) quote James Mtume saying ‘first you imitate, then you emulate, then you innovate’ – I think that makes a lot of sense as you learn your craft and start to develop your own voice.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Solareye: When we started work on our new album ‘Stay Odd’, the biggest challenge for us was finding the time to all get into the same room together. There are six of us in the band, and everyone is involved in other projects and has work and home life to manage too.
For several years, we had been steadily building a mountain of raw material, songs, demos and recordings that we could shape into an album. We booked time in the studio whenever we could make it all work and would try and spend at least 2 or 3 days at a time to make the most of the opportunity to work together.
When lockdown happened, it removed the option of being in the room together, so the challenge shifted to finding a way to work remotely whilst finishing the album. The result was many, many group calls, constant file sharing through dropbox, a never-ending amount of whatsapp messages and an album that was mixed and mastered on headphones in a living room.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Thilo: The first CD I recorded was done on 16-track reel to reel tape recorder with a couple of compressors and one multi effects rack - so certainly the processes and possibilities have changed since then. While this is generally a brilliant development – Stanley Odd records probably wouldn’t exist, or would definitely sound massively different – I have recently re-discovered how important it is to limit yourself. I remembered how I was producing some of my most creative work while studying at uni, and one of the main reasons for this was that computers had limited educational version of music software such Reason and Pro Tools. This forced you to find workarounds within the limitations on offer.
After graduating I purchased full versions of Logic, and later Ableton, and struggled with having too much choice, which massively slowed down my creative process. No one needs 20000 samples, that’s total madness. Over the last couple of years, I got into modular synths/eurorack. I really enjoy the hands-on approach and limitations it has. I basically just record the stereo out from my system into Ableton and take it from there. A lot of decisions are then already printed and you have to find a way to make it work as is.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Solareye: Ableton Live software has massively changed our approach to how we write and perform our music. Most of us in the band now use Ableton as a compositional tool as well as our main workhorse for recording and production.
Our approach has always been to chop up and re-imagine each other initial ideas, and Ableton made the process quicker and more creative. It also allowed us to share full sessions with each other rather than always printing and sending STEMS, so this helped to change the collaborative approach too.
In a live setting, 3 of the 6 band members have incorporated Ableton Live into their set up, utilising a combination of sample playback, backing tracks, etc. Knowing that you have these tools for reproducing the sounds in a live situation lets you run wild in the studio without worrying about how to perform the tracks live.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Thilo: In Stanley Odd we usually have a very long collaborative process until we end up with the final version of a song. It could all start out with a jam session, which we later chop up and re-imagine in the studio, or someone takes an idea from this jam and develops it further, another band member adds some parts until we end up with something resembling a song.
Since we are now all living in different parts of the country our main way of writing is done through file sharing at the moment. We have a massive Dropbox folder where everyone dumps their ideas into, and we all add our parts or suggestions to that. We then go into the studio and built the final track from there.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Solareye: Unfortunately, it’s quite difficult for us to have any sort of routine for music-making at the moment, and it tends to be a case of trying to find the time in between other commitments. More often than not, late night and into the wee hours usually feels great for making music, as everything else quietens down and there are less distractions.
The work we all do in different musical projects tends to feed back into our process and output as Stanley Odd and vice versa. Music is definitely woven into the fabric of everyone in the band’s days and lives, so it would be impossible to keep all the elements separate.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Thilo: You always think you latest album is the best, so naturally I’m going to say ‘Stay Odd’ is the most accomplished work we’ve done today. However, there are other factors that I feel support this claim. Any previous albums we’ve released always felt rushed, as there was a deadline set by which it had to be finished by. We were never 100% happy with these releases. For ‘Stay Odd’ we took our time and worked on all the details until we were completely satisfied. And I think you can really tell. It’s our most complete work to date.
In terms of events, I have to mention our small US tour we did in 2013, and the New York shows in particular. We’ve played so many great venues we’ve always wanted to play – including in Central Park!
Personally, I also would count the two shows we did with a string orchestra as a definite highlight. I guess every keyboard/piano player feels they’ve got a symphony somewhere lurking in them – and this was as close as I got to this dream. ;)
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Thilo: Phones and computers are by far the biggest distractions for making music – and for life in general! One of the main reasons I love my eurorack system is, that I don’t need to have my laptop on while making music. So there are no notifications or other digital temptations to interfere with the music making progress. This can unfortunately end up with me being completely immersed in music for hours when I just wanted to have a quick play before going to bed – which is rather detrimental for my sleep!
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Thilo: I work with young persons from a care background, where most of these had experienced trauma in their childhood. We create music, beats and make songs, and we encourage these kids to use this as a tool to speak about these experiences and express what’s going on inside. Music is a powerful medium and should be much more incorporated and utilized to help people.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
Solareye: Exchange and hybridity is a core element of hip hop culture. The syncretism of a range of sources and materials into something new that also references the spaces and places from which it is formed. Clearly this is a utopian perspective whereby all being equal we could borrow and synthesise ideas and styles from all sources how we see fit.
In reality the dynamics of any borrowing relationship should also take into consideration the balance of cultural value and power. In this context I think it is important that we think about where and how we borrow from and are inspired by other cultures. Ultimately, I think it comes down to respect and trying to always show respect and consideration for how we are inspired and influenced by culture.
When this works best I think is when you manage to combine the global, the local and the idiosyncratic. That’s where new forms can combine with local cultural and community elements, spoken in the voice of the individual. Musical authenticity is hybrid and fluid here I think.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
Solareye: Definitely the way sound feels, like being able to feel the bass rattle your rib cage or vibrate up through the floor. Being able to touch sound with the air that the speakers are pushing. TLo in particular is really focused on the vibrations the subs make and the energy that gives to a live performance. I love that when you close your eyes the music gets clearer and more detailed.
I read somewhere that a song is a painting for your ears and a painting is music for your eyes or something like that.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Solareye: I just want to write songs. Like a compulsion. I love playing with words and telling stories. I love reading stories and watching films and getting lost in the worlds that people create and the characters they draw. And I kind of want to do that with songs. Tell stories, paint pictures, create wee worlds for the listener to step into, get fully immersed in and live in for the duration of the song.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Thilo: If you imagine a film without music you would be missing a vital ingredient. Music sets the mood, creates atmosphere and emotion. It gives meaning to a character's actions or translates their thoughts – which is exactly why music is such a powerful tool. It speaks to our subconsciousness.