Our correspondent Max meets up with the newest vintage remix act to come out of Bristol, the Swinghoppers to talk about their debut ep.
I had the great opportunity to catch up with one of the Vintage Remix scenes new exciting acts, The Swinghoppers. The group consisting of: Offbeat, Pye (AKA Pieman), Sharleena Ray and DJ Awesome Wells, they come together to combine the sounds of 1930’s Swing with Hip-Hop. I spoke with them about their latest EP release and got to know a bit more about who the Swinghoppers are.
MAX: First things first, who are the Swinghoppers?
Pye - The Swinghoppers is a new group that aims to fuse the feel good vibes of 1920s Swing music with the swagger and energy of golden era Hip Hop! It’s a collaborative project between Offbeat (Rapper), Pye (Beatboxer), Sharleena Ray (Singer) and DJ Awesome Wells (DJ). All of us have a deep love for both of those genres (and know lots of other people do too), so we just want to mix them together and create something that's exciting and fun to listen to.
MAX: Tell us a bit about what you guys are all about.
Offbeat - I’ve been rapping over Electro Swing for a couple of years as a solo artist (you can check out an interview I did with Jack the Cad on my own here ). I’d wanted to put together a band for ages but didn’t know any musicians who were right for it. I met Pye at Boomtown in 2016, through a mutual friend (a DJ who goes by the name of Dutty Moonshine). We hit it off straightaway and discovered we just lived round the corner from each other! When we got back to Bristol we met up a couple of times and discussed the project. He mentioned he’d been working with a singer called Sharleena and eventually we all met. It wasn’t until then that I even thought of forming the band with vocalists rather than instrumentalists. The final element we needed was a DJ who understood both hip hop and swing music inside out, as well as knowing how to rock a party. Then it hit me, I'd met Awesome Wells through my solo career and he fits the bill perfectly. We arranged a meeting, we hit it off straight away and we’ve been performing together ever since.
Sharleena - Fresh to Bristol a few years back, I was looking to build a new music community and set up an alternative, entertaining and light-hearted choir doing dance tunes called "Voices From The Rave". We were after a beatboxer to hold down the tempo and low and behold, Pye showed up. We ended up doing some workshops at festivals together and a few open mics, and then he told me about a rapper he’d been working with called Offbeat. We all met up at an open mic one night and performed. It went really well and when we went to the bar afterwards the barman said “That was great! How long have you guys been together?” we all looked at each other and said “Uh, about 20 minutes!” and the rest is history!
MAX: Congratulations on the release of your new EP. Tell us a bit about the process of how it all came together.
Offbeat - Thanks! The E.P. is called ‘Welcome to the Family’ and is available to download for free from our website (http://theswinghoppers.com). We called it that because it’s really an introduction to what we do, we’ve got a couple of classic Hip Hop tunes we’ve Swingified and vice versa. We’ve deliberately picked songs that everyone knows but then put our own unique spin on them, so for example the opening track ‘Minnie’s Revenge’ is a reimagining of Minnie the Moocher, but instead of Minnie being a victim, she’s actually a femme fatale who’s playing the other characters off against each other. We’ve made a film noir style video for it as well which is a lot of fun and you can check here https://youtu.be/dJJurzwpgPg
In terms of how the E.P. came together, we actually used a producer called Odd Chap who’s based in New Zealand. He’s produced a lot of my solo stuff and I love working with him, so it was an obvious choice to bring him in for this E.P. as well.
Pye - For me working on the E.P. was really special. I performed as a rapper when I was growing up but for the last 10 years I've been pretty focused on beatboxing, working on solo stuff, as well as working with bands, such as The String Project. Anyway, I was a bit apprehensive when I suggested to the others that I write some lyrics for The Swinghoppers. But they were really cool about it so I sat down and started turning some dusty old brain cogs to see what came out. As soon as I put pen to paper it felt right. It was like a door being reopened and suddenly I was able to explore a creative side of myself which I'd been neglecting for the better part of a decade. Hopefully that experience comes across and you can hear the joy and the freedom of it in the E.P.
MAX. We know you and the other members have worked on other projects in the past, so how does it feel to have come together to collaborate, and how does it contrast to working as a solo artist?
Sharleena - For me, it's been super productive and a real whirlwind. Having a team helps massively: as well as having extra people working on it, you also have a constant feedback loop of good ideas and enthusiasm. We're also super creative individually so as a four it's an endless bubbling pot of ideas, not to mention jokes.
Offbeat - As a solo artist I was used to getting my own way 100% of the time, so at first it did require a bit of adjustment to take on constructive criticism and hear other people’s points of view, but ultimately that has led to a better end product because there are things I may have let go or cut corners on that I’ve not been allowed to!
The main thing though is just the sheer power of having four equally driven people striving towards a common goal. In the past I’ve done everything myself but working with other people who I trust to get the job done just makes me feel like we’re unstoppable!
That all sounds very businessy, but from a musical point of view I just love working with these guys. They’re so talented, passionate and knowledgeable that it genuinely feels like a privilege every time we perform together.
MAX: Do you guys have any particular inspirations or artists that you admire that have helped to influence your own sound?
Sharleena - Personally, the heartbroken vocals of Nina Simone and Billie Holiday together with the extravagant scatting skills of Ella Fitzgerald.
Offbeat - This list is endless for me as I’ve got rappers who inspire me with lyrics, ones who inspire me with voices, ones with flows, ones with performance and showmanship - and that’s not even mentioning any other types of musician or genre! I guess if I had to pick two rappers who I have inspired me the most it would be Ice-T (as he was my first real introduction to Hip Hop) and Mys Diggi who showed me you can be yourself and have a sense of humour with lyrics.
Pye - Such a broad range of influences for me. I was listening to rock music in my early teens, then got into soul and reggae and hip hop. Especially the UK hip hop scene, but also well crafted American hip hop like Jurassic 5, Deltron 3030 and The Roots. More recently I've got into drum n bass, ghetto funk and electro swing and am listening to people like Father Funk, Jenova Collective and Mista Trick. In terms of beatboxing, I was influenced by Rahzel when I was growing up but I always take inspiration from people at the forefront of the art form, like D-Low (Current UK Beatbox Champion) and Freddy Beats (Spanish Champion).
Awesome Wells - I also listened to a lot of rock music growing up, and started my career as a vocalist in a metal band. These days I am a full time DJ, playing all sorts of stuff from classic jazz, swing and rock n roll, to electro swing and drum n bass. My main inspirations as a DJ are DJ Lethal, C2C and The Avalanches.
MAX: What music production software do you guys use to make your music? Any particular reasons for your choice?
Offbeat - You’d need to ask Odd Chap that but seeing as he’s in New Zealand we’ve transported him through the magic of Social Media to answer himself:
Odd Chap -“Ableton Live 9 - I’ve found the layout and features easy to use, it's has everything you need for music production and if you want to take your tracks live its easy enough to do that.”
MAX: What is next for The Swinghoppers and where can we see you perform?
Awesome Wells - Well at the moment we’re just trying to get as many shows as possible to get our name out there! We’ve got quite a few booked already for 2018, but the next big show you can catch us at is Dec 8th at Swing N Tingz in Bristol! We’ll be supporting our good friend Professor Elemental and we’ll already have some more new material we’re working on at the moment so it will be a show to remember!