An interview with DJ Ollie Teeba of The Herbaliser
By Gary Lewis
I’m probably not going to win the lottery this week, but life throws little surprises at you now and again. Like the chance to interview Herbaliser — a production duo responsible for a slew of albums that are firmly rooted in the classic jazz/funk/soul/hip hop mould. With current single, ‘The Lost Boy’, pinging around my brain on repeat, it’s time to drop some questions and see what lands…
Gary Lewis: Congratulations! 18 years together, seven albums in and you’re still going strong. Are you in a comfy slippers stage, where the groove is good, or do you still compete to fire each other up musically?
Ollie Teeba: We know what we like and I think we always have been very much a group that does its own thing regardless of what the current trend might happen to be. In doing so, over the years we have settled into a sound and have to try and inject new elements and combinations into that to keep things fresh.
GL: Do you have any rituals when producing each album, or does the vibe change by absorbing new sounds, or meeting potential collaborators?
OT: Collaborations are always a good way of creating a new energy and often push you into a different way of working. Its important to move out of your comfort zone from time to time.
GL: You’ve quoted the funk/soul/jazz greats as your influences; are there any contemporary artists out there making new sounds who offer any inspiration?
OT: We are always checking for new (underground) hip-hop artists in particular. Right now I’m loving Quakers, Gangrene and Freestyle Professors. We also check for all sorts of other stuff but have to admit to having fallen out of love with a lot of dance music recently.
GL: Do you prefer digital crate digging or still enjoy the sweet feel of a newly discovered sleeve and vinyl?
OT: There’s nothing like getting your fingers dirty.
GL: With a full touring band, do you prefer the vibe of a club night, or a gig?
OT: I love both. I’m a DJ first and foremost. There are few things that feel as good as when it’s working well and you have a crowd in the palm of your hand but there is something separate and occasionally a little lonely about DJing. When you are performing with a band you are connected both to the other musicians and to the audience in a way that just isn’t there even on the best DJ shows. When I am doing a lot of live band shows, I miss DJing and vice versa.
GL: You’ve had some amazing MCs rap over your beats in the past. Have you guys ever tried it yourselves?
OT: Only for laughs. Occasionally I write rhyme ideas down but never record any. Its better to play to one’s strengths.
GL: The upcoming gig with DJ Cam, DJ Food and Belleruche sounds like a funktastic feast. Who has been the most rock’n’roll on the road with you in the past?
OT: If by rock’n’roll you mean wild, then I think that prize goes to Chris Bowden whose general debauchery was almost as legendary as his saxophone talent. He’s much better behaved now. Classic quote: “I thought I was going on tour with a band not a troupe of girl guides”. I must say, I had to laugh there for a moment seeing the name DJ Food and ‘most rock’n’roll’ in the same sentence. He’s one of my closest friends and I don’t think I know anybody less rock’n’roll than him.
GL: In the pantheon of Ninja Tune artists, if Coldcut are the gods of cut and paste, Mr Scruff the god of hot beats and beverages, what deity would you be?
OT: I don’t think we are gods of anything. We’re demons; the accursed demons of heavyweight smoked beats.
GL: Living or expired, who would be the ultimate vocalist you would work with?
OT: Sorry but that is the most impossible question to answer. Even if you just said ‘living’, I still couldn’t answer that one. Too many great, great artists.
GL: Most esoteric tune ever played in a DJ set?
OT: If I told you it wouldn’t be esoteric any more would it?
GL: What’s the best gig you’ve ever seen?
OT: For me, it’s the Pharcyde at the Jazz Cafe from sometime in the 90s when they were all still together. I think Jake’s is a George Clinton gig he saw in the 80s.
GL: What can new/old fans expect from the latest album, and what does the next 18 years possibly hold for you?
OT: After Same as it Never Was we felt the need to return to the harder darker sound of our earlier releases as well as trying some new combinations. So, I think that original fans will hear something new wrapped up in something familiar. Any new heads will hopefully find our sound a warm refreshing alternative in this era of overly digitized, over-processed, robot-voiced EDM.