Calligraffiti Grand Analog

While it’s safe to say most music lovers could readily claim a particular genre as their personal favourite, ask anyone to run down their dream collection and you’ll no doubt be surprised at its diversity. Still, relatively few artists seem to reach beyond one or two very specific styles, which is part of what makes the latest project from Mood Ruff MC Odario Williams’ latest project so interesting. Backed by a rotating band of players tied together behind his new Grand Analog nameplate, Williams takes the lid off his long simmering hip-hop stew and tosses in every stylistic ingredient that has ever crossed his palate, from deep dub grooves and stoic electronic soundscapes to fuzzy, classic rock guitar riffs and sparse blues licks. Using the ever-present boom-bap as his guide, the ’Peg City representative bounces vibrantly over the tight, guitar-rooted rhythm of "Touch Your Toes,” sliding through the old-time reggae vibe of cuts like "Around This Town” and "Weekend Love” before dicing up a classic ’80s old school break on "Social Butterfly.” What’s most impressive is that nothing here seems unnatural or forced; it’s a unified collection of familiar musical elements we’ve all been blessed with at some point. Well done! (Urbnet,

With all of the different styles you’ve managed to throw into this record, from classic rock to dub reggae, was it a conscious effort to be so diverse?
It was, and the reason for that is that I was bored with the beats and rhymes style of hip-hop. I had stacks of beat tapes and I didn’t think any of them represented me right now, and I mean I had enough beats to make, like, ten albums. Back in the day, if I were to just sit and make a beat [myself], I would try to implement things that my previous projects didn’t really work with. So [this project] was perfect because I was free to do anything I wanted and to bring my history back into it, and to try my hand at songwriting as opposed to beats and rhymes.

Of course, a big threat in being so diverse is that you risk ending up with weak nods to each genre. Were you ever worried about that?
I wasn’t too worried about it because I knew my limits. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of folk music because I think that they’re the best songwriters right now. But I’m not stupid, I’m not going to try and write a folk song — I know I will hack it badly! But it inspires me to write songs, and what moves me is what I grew up to, which was my dad’s dub 45s, the punk rock my skater buddies were listening to and the hip-hop that I was born into. Those three come natural to me without saying there’s a conscious effort.

One of the reasons that this album sounds so cohesive comes from the fact that you never lose hip-hop as your music base. It that just how everything worked out or was that the plan from the beginning?
I really tried to force it to come from somewhere else, because I knew that hip-hop would take it over anyway. I tried to force that dub groove, or a melody or a riff, because I know that the beat was going to come and eat it up in the end.

How far back does Grand Analog go, because I noticed you mentioned them on your last record?
About six years ago I tried to start a rock band and I was going to rap all over it. That’s when I realised I don’t know how these rock dudes do it — I couldn’t get a rehearsal time to save my life, in a month! One guy had a girlfriend he was way too much in love with, another guy had a kid and he was a single dad. Another guy was in a different band that got signed and then it made me realise that it would be impossible to take this on the road. I didn’t want session players on the road — I wanted it to be a family vibe. So that’s why I have my brother as the DJ and a couple of my good friends whenever they can come. Grand Analog has turned over the last five years from a live band to an open concept group, meaning there’s a lot of different members who can play whenever they’re around. It makes every show different.

So it’s more of a rotating entity?
I have members, guys that I trust that understand the goal of the project, so only those guys will come up and play with me wherever I end up. And another thing that changed it from the live band was the resurgence of the electronic movement. I was really heavy into the electronic scene back in the day with drum & bass, and then when grime came back and London came back with people like M.I.A., where people like LCD Soundsystem are considered a "band” when it’s really the DJ and the mic. It brought back the party vibe of the DJ and the singer/MC.

As far as this being a side-project for you from your regular gig with Mood Ruff, and given the direction you took with this disc, is this a record you feel you needed to step away from the group to make or could it just as easily have been the next Mood Ruff record?
Well, I think men go through this life-changing thing, those days when you couldn’t care less if your beard is growing up into your nose and you stop shaving and your hair changes, and you couldn’t care less about certain things. That was what was happening to me about two years ago when I started writing the first track for this, and I knew that the other members of my Mood Ruff stage weren’t going through the same things I was going through. I wanted to make music that even my dad would appreciate, and I wanted to show him that hip-hop could be something that could be appreciated by any age. I didn’t think that other people that I’d worked with in the past were on the same wavelength as I was in this writing process, and now this path has created a whole new life form for me that right now is a completely separate entity.

You’ve always been about the live performance but how different has it been performing with a band as opposed to working in the traditional hip-hop setting of MCs, b-boys and a DJ?
Well, it’s liberating. I was inspired by Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew era on this. There are certain shows that we’ve done that we didn’t rehearse [for], we just jammed out the show, and whenever there’s some space a certain player will just take a solo and just do it and the next thing you know the interpretation switches on the song. I love that. For NXNE, the sampler broke down on stage for the set and we had to jam out with just the bass and keys, and we created a whole new song by doing that.

Mixing hip-hop with this kind of hodgepodge of sounds that so many of us have grown up with has definitely been gaining force and even some commercial success in recent years, with someone like K-os being a prime example. Why do you think that is?
I personally think that the older generation wanted to appreciate hip-hop and wanted to like it but wasn’t given enough reason to, and I think that this could have happened earlier but [the] younger generations felt they couldn’t do that kind of thing because they wouldn’t be appreciated enough for not following the traditional values of hip-hop. I think finally, those two things are meeting, ’cause if you think about it hip-hop’s what, 30-plus now? There are people from the "golden age” of hip-hop who have kids now and what else are they going to listen to? It’s all amalgamating right now, it’s all finally coming together full circle and hip-hop has now seeped into everything in the best possible way, as I see it. (Urbnet)