The Herbaliser

Talking to Jake Wherry from the Herbaliser is like talking to a grumpy old lecturer. You know he’s willing to impart knowledge, but is a little peeved you don’t already know about what he’s talking about. It’s a little obnoxious now that I think back, but he’s an idol of mine and at the time it was like getting instruction from a wise sensei. We spoke at length about the Herbaliser’s new album Take London, as well as their last visit to Australia. They remember Adelaide, but probably not the way Adelaide would like to be.

I began asking about Generals their new single, as on the Ninja Tune webpage for the video it read: “The Herbaliser and Jean Grae have been filming the video for the outstanding ‘Generals’ single in London – the rest of the Generals crew were not allowed on the plane at Dulles airport (USA) due (as far as we can tell) to dodgy passports”. Wherry set me straight right away. “I can now share with you,” he begins conspiratorially, “Generals is all a big myth, a lie we created. Jean Grey did all the ‘Generals’ voices. I’ve got some stuff in my studio that can distort voices to make them sound more male or female. We told a Radio One DJ and he went “so what?” and we were like “what do you mean so what? You think it’s normal we can make one woman sound like 3 men and 3 different women?” It is a pretty amazing feat, considering it is so well done – it really does sound like a whole posse of rappers.

I asked about another favourite, Gadget Funk. It’s a very groovy number, sounding, to me, like Quincy Jones. Knowing Quincy Jones was of some inspiration, I asked Wherry if Jones influenced this track. “No,” he states bluntly. “Gadget Funk is very much inspired by the music of Washington DC.” Before I get to ask, he explains, patiently. “When I was 14 and started going clubbing Go-Go music was really big, we’d hear it along with early hiphop, rare groove and funk. The music was funky, but it was a really percussive led music. Bands like Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, Trouble Funk, EU. These bands are still going in the Washington,” he adds, “and for some reason Go-Go really broke out of Washington in 84 and lasted to 86 –87. You heard it in the clubs in London and the States, and then it got forgotten about and people moved on.”

“Some of these history of the DJ records – by Cut Chemist, Stienski’s The Lesson, some of the beats Coldcut use on Beats and Pieces – they’re sampling Go-Go beats,” he elucidates. “I think you’ll find that young people these days have never heard about Go-Go, and it’s such an awesome music that we decided to do a Go-Go Track to get people to talking about it and asking questions about it.” It’s certainly got me interested, as it is one tremendously groovy tune and I really am glad I asked.

Then I mentioned how I really enjoy their DJ set last time they were in Adelaide. “Hey, that was one of the worst shows on the tour!” Wherry exclaims “The show where the sound man thought it was better to fall asleep at the sound check and be totally asleep through the gig, and the lighting guy decided not to come until about an hour into the show.” Oh dear. Nice impression to leave.

But the rest of Australia isn’t rated too highly either, as I found out when asking about the possibility of the Band touring here. “To be honest,” he begins, “before we came out last, in the previous years I’d been turning down DJ offers from Australia. We wanted to bring our band over, and we felt that the more DJing jobs we took, the less they’d want the band. But last time we kind of gave in, said we’ll go over to big up our name and get ourselves more known,” he says, “and it just seemed it really worked against us. We were only meant to play Olly (Teeba) for and hour and he’d finish and then I’d play, that was the show that was booked. And on our own backs we decided to go in to a rehearsal room and work out a four-deck set so we could both be doing something at the same time. It was beyond what we were contracted to do. We thought since we’re not bringing the live band out, lets give them something a bit more than the regular ‘one guy play after the other on turntables’, you know?”

“But after we did that tour we got a few really abusive emails, and there’s some webpage in Australia that everyone goes on to talk about things for music (probably inthemix), and people were abusing us, saying how shit it was and that we’re rubbish. We’d never had hate mail before!” he says incredulously. “And all along people just wanted us to bring the band out. But unless our records start selling better I don’t think there’s a chance in hell we’ll get the band out there, unless it’s a big sponsored event”, he laments. Which is a really sad thing, considering they’re recognised as one of the best live dance acts in the world. But don’t despair too much, because the album is great and well worth picking up.

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