Interview: Sumochief

Ashton James Brown interviewed the exciting jazz/hip hop quartet Sumochief and discussed their origins, their thoughts regarding London’s vibrant music scene and how music technology is incorporated into their creative process.

The UK hip hop scene has an abundance of talent when it comes to emcees and producers, however live hip hop bands are few and far between. Sumochief are a London based four-piece whose recently released EP, Sumobeats, and string of exceptional live performances are forcing people to stand up and take note. Consisting of Oscar Lawrence (Guitar), Joe Armon-Jones (Keys), Jack Polley (Bass) and Olly Sarkar (Drums), the quartet plays a dynamic improvisational style of music that is as much jazz as it is hip hop. I caught up with the group and discussed the origins of their distinctive name, their views on London’s music scene and how they use music technology.

Ashton: Every group has an intriguing tale concerning their origins. What is your tale?

Oscar: We initially met at music college. Joe, Jack and Olly were playing hip hop together already; stuff that was stylistically similar to J Dilla and The Roots. They knew I like to get funky, so asked me to come and join them for a weekly jam they held at Jack and Olly’s house in Greenwich. It clicked and we have been playing music together ever since. We started writing our own music and now here we are.

A: “SumoChief” is a rather distinctive name. How did the name come about? Did you have any other names prior to settling upon your current one?

Olly: We used to be called Yancey Boys because we only really played Dilla Beats, but for obvious reasons we had to change that. We were nameless/changing our name for about 6 months! Haha! We went through loads of different names and we couldn’t all agree on one which is why it took so long. We were so close to going with a few other ones, I think Sekoya was one like the tree, Boom Bap Society, Soul Monks were a few of the others and I’m sure theres more! I offered up SumoChief right at the beginning of the search for a new name but it got rejected so I forgot about it, but then I started pushing it again and it stuck. I came up with it because a lot of my friends back home call me Chief (if you’ve seen me it makes sense, a la One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest) and I am a huge fan of sumo wrestling, so I just stuck the two things together.

A: Name your top 10 producers/composers.

Joe: J Dilla, Pete Rock, Madlib, DJ Premier, No ID, Debussy, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Bob Marley and Q-Tip.

Jack: J Dilla, Jon Hopkins, Quincey Jones, Prince, Thundercat, Evil Needle, Antonio Jobim, Miles Davis, D’Angelo, Questlove, Herbie Hancock and Bill Evans.

Olly: J Dilla, Pete Rock, DJ Premier, The Roots, Roy Hargrove, Miles Davis, Johnathan Blake, Tom Harrell, Stevie Wonder and Esperanza Spalding.

Oscar: Duke Ellington, Steel Pulse, Bob Marley, Debussy, Stravinsky, Thelonious Monk, J Dilla, Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye and Wayne Shorter.

A: What is your preferred way of consuming music? Audio files (MP3, AAC, ALAC, FLAC etc) or physical media (CD, Vinyl, Cassettes, MiniDisc etc)?

Oscar: Vinyl, although I hear about most music through the internet. Things like Soundcloud and Bandcamp are great for hearing new and lesser known artists.

Jack: My preferred way of consuming audio is MP3s, and then CDs.

Joe: MP3 is the way that I consume my music. Unfortunately, I was born in the wrong age for vinyl.

Olly: I’m a big fan of having a physical copy of something to hold, but it is so hard to get hold of stuff like that when you’re a broke student! So I get most of music through iTunes. I’m also into bootleg live recordings either checking it out on Youtube or downloading from various websites.

A: Are you into “crate digging”, and if so, what is the most interesting record that you have come across?

Oscar: I am not sure if its strange or interesting, but my favourite record I have found recently is ‘Back to Back’ by Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges.

Olly: I’ve never bought anything through crate digging in a record shop as I don’t currently have a record player, but I’ve had a good look through in the local record shops.

A: If you were to create a time capsule, what album(s) (jazz or otherwise) would you choose to include in it and why?

  • Joe: Welcome To Detroit – J Dilla
  • Sweet Exorcist – Curtis Mayfield
  • Visions of Dennis Brown – Dennis Brown
  • Roll Call – Hank Mobley
  • The Melody At Night With You – Keith Jarrett
  • Kelly Great – Wynton Kelly
  • The Best of Earth, Wind and Fire
  • Enter the 36 Chambers – Wu-Tang clan
  • The Infamous – Mobb Deep

A: Being based in London, what is your opinion of the city’s music scene?

Jack: It is the best in the country, it has the most opportunities and the most to do. I could never leave it. But still love to go out of it for gigs!

Oscar: It is a vibrant place and it’s not that hard to become involved with top players because it is surprisingly small. There are a lot of bullshitters and shit pop gigs for no money, but I suppose you get that anywhere. If you know where to look there is a lot of cool music and a lot of amazing people to perform with.

A: How did you become affiliated with Lunatick Records, and what direction do you envision your relationship with the label taking you in?

Joe: They literally just contacted us having been put onto some of our music, and asked if we wanted to get involved. We really want to bridge the gap between the hip-hop scene in London and other areas such as Newcastle (where the label is based), and then ultimately America!

A: Do you make extensive use of any forms of Music Technology? If so what types of music tech do you use? How do you incorporate it into your music making process?

Jack: I don’t use much music tech. I like to get the music just from the bass. Then I let people fiddle with it afterwards.

Olly: I make beats & compose on Ableton and Logic. I also record and mix music a lot so I’m always thinking of the end product when I write a tune for SumoChief and I usually have a programme in mind if intend on recording it. At the moment, we are making another beat tape so I’ve been trying to come up with some loops and think of the easiest ways to record it with either Logic or Ableton in mind.

A: Sumobeats is a skilfully composed, well engineered and sonically pleasing debut release. What approach did you take to composing, arranging and engineering the EP?

Oscar: Each member of the band wrote a song, and then we rehearsed and edited them a bit. All of the instrumentation was recorded live and the recordings were then edited later with the producer Ben Hayes.

A: Are there any other forthcoming projects and collaborations that you would like to tell us about?

Joe: The SumoBeats Remix EP! Featuring, Ben Hauke, D’vo, MWJ, Auxx, 2Late, Kieron Kai and loads of other wicked producers! That should be out at the beginning of October. We are also working on a 25 track Beat Tape that will be coming out later this year!

A: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview.

Joe: No Problem!

Hi, it's Luke, the editor of Sampleface! Why not subscribe to my Patreon and support the blog?

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