Ollie Teeba (far left) and co-founder Jake Wherry (centre) with the rest of The Herbaliser
Published: 18 October, 2012
by ROISIN GADELRAB
Judging by The Herbaliser’s 15-year international career, collaborating with worldwide superstars and at one time being signed to ultra-cool label Ninja Tune, you’d think they might just have somewhere to put their records.
But now the band has its own label, while they have distribution for most incarnations of new crusade-against-autotune album There Were Seven, they are dispatching the precious vinyl presses directly from the living room of co-founder Ollie Teeba.
“My living room is basically a warehouse, I’ve been making multiple trips to the post office. It’s quite rewarding, it’s like having a proper job,” he says
“Vinyl is here to stay but it’s a niche market. For me, growing up in the 70s and 80s, it’s a special, beautiful thing. When you hold it in your hands you look at the information in the cover while you listen to music. CDs can have even more information but there’s something great in the LP, the artwork always looks better and that’s why we always make them and why we’re doing the vinyl ourselves, a very limited number and dealing with the people that want it.”
Jazz-rap-funk maestros The Herbaliser started out as a duo in 2005 with Ollie and co-founder Jake Wherry, becoming one of Ninja Tune’s most well-known artists. They later developed into a full live nine-piece band and play HMV Forum for their album launch on October 27 supported by Belleruche, DJ Food and DJ Cam.
For a piece of work which wasn’t planned as a concept album, There Were Seven has a long, involved and dramatic backstory, explained in Ollie’s words: “In the past we’ve often crafted soundtrack pieces from imaginary scenes from non-existent movies. We always thought we wanted the record to be something to do with the number seven. Part-way through, we started to work it onto a non-existent story.”
The album, he says, is a metaphor for how the band feels about the music industry they returned to after four years, a reaction to the ultra-synthetic and uberelectronic that dominates.
“We make electronic music, we’re part of the large amount of people in the 90s who helped make it popular, but it seems like popular and dance music has almost completely eradicated the human element of it,” says Ollie.
“So the idea [of the album] is that we’re coming back to this place we see as home and we don’t recognise it any more because it’s been taken over by the machine. We’re like seven Samurai or mariachis, musicians but warriors.
“The idea was there was this beautiful imaginary city full of colour, light and sound, and all the people are like birds. When they speak they communicate musically, which is something you hear in humans anyway.
“There’s this character who doesn’t have this ability and can’t fit in, he’s the lost boy, disconnected from everybody because he can speak but he can’t communicate because they can’t recognise his method of speaking. So he creates an interface which turns his voice into music – like autotune – that wants to perfect everything, including all of the other people.
“You can see the connection. You get all these records with autotune all over them, and in many cases you’ve got perfectly good singers with wonderful voices and you hear their record and it’s all artificially processed and autotuned, it’s computerised, made too perfect, removed the human.
“So that’s the idea, we’ve come back as these Samurai characters to take this thing down, put a spanner in the works and that’s how we feel about the music industry. We’re going to do our own thing whether anyone likes it or not.”
He requests fans pay for the album rather than download it for free, adding: “We need to know people still want to hear from us, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook etc.”
Samurai Ollie still crusades through record shops searching for the perfect sample.
He says: “The most rewarding way is when you’re digging through piles of dirty old records in shops and you don’t actually know the records. You might pick it up because you like the look of the cover or recognise some of the musicians performing on it, when it was made, or the label. If you’re fond of a particular style of music there are lots of clues along the way that you can use to locate the thing you were looking for that you didn’t know you were looking for.
“My favourite thing is taking something that’s a really nice piece from a not particularly great record but then turning it into something that is good.”
Over their long career, The Herbaliser have played Camden many times and Ollie has fond memories, particularly after being a victim of theft after a Jazz Cafe gig.
He said: “We left the stage and I came back after a couple of minutes to pack up my stuff and my headphones, which were quite expensive, more than £100, had vanished. Someone had swiped them. I was not very happy about it because I had to buy some new ones and they’re expensive. That was in winter. Then in the summer we did an event [elsewhere] and my mum was in the audience. She gets chatting to this young lady who tells her that she stole my headphones and she’s really sorry, she was really drunk and just wanted a souvenir. The next time we played the Jazz Cafe, she gave them back.”