Music interview: De La Soul

De La Soul are playing at O2 Academy Leeds later this month.
De La Soul are playing at O2 Academy Leeds later this month.
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When De Le Soul launched an Kickstarter campaign via the internet to raise funds to record their eighth album little did the long-serving rap trio expect to exceed their target of $110,000 within hours.

Yet such is the fund of goodwill that the group from Long Island, New York have built up with fans in the intervening years since they released the hip-hop classic 3 Feet High and Rising back in 1989, they were eventually gifted six times the intended amount.

The windfall allowed the trio of Maseo (real name Vincent Mason), Posdnous (Kelvin Mercer) and Trugoy (Dave Jolicoeur) to make the most ambitious record of their career, that largely dispensed with samples from other people’s tracks and instead involved jam sessions with live musicians. They dubbed it De La Soul and the Anonymous Nobody.

As a string of British gigs – that include Leeds – approach, Jolicoeur sounds pleased with their good fortune.

“It was a big surprise,” he says. “The first surprise is raising the initial target in the first eight hours. I think we felt like we had fans out there obviously; we didn’t know how far us promoting or just trying to get the word that we were doing this Kickstarter out there would go, all we could think is ‘As long as it gets out there we’ll reach the goal’. But for it to reach the goal within the first eight hours and just continue – maybe within the first week we were at $300,000 or $400,000 – was crazy.

“I think part of it was our fans but also a big part of the Kickstarter community felt like our idea, our dream, our project was something that was worth investing in. It had some real legs and was something cool, something interesting, something new, something impressive.”

De La Soul

De La Soul

Raising $600,000 seems to have imbued the group with creative confidence. “I think it gave us a feeling of ‘Well, we could do whatever we want’,” says Jolicoeur. “We’re not going to be paying sample costs, which sometimes could become really expensive for us, but to now think that we could get musicians of any sorts and make the sound of this record really huge and hire some great people to mix it and master it. It really took it to another level.

“We went from bass, guitar, drums, some percussion and horns to harp, cello and a string section so it gave us the feeling of ‘We could have no rules here, the sky’s the limit in this case now’.”

Having sufficient reserves to be free of record label interference was a welcome first for De La Soul. “It was the best feeling in the world to know that the funds promoted and motivated us to feel comfortable with doing this thing independently and know that we didn’t have to bring in anyone to overlook, finance or be partners with, especially a label. It was so great that it was just Pos, Dave, Mase and the musicians in the room, along with a couple of people who were on staff who were obviously aligned with our vision. It felt good not being policed and not having the pressure to deliver. We just had a great time recording this record.”

Although De La Soul have in the past worked with featured artists of the calibre of Chaka Khan, A Tribe Called Quest and Queen Latifah, ...The Anonymous Nobody includes their most eclectic array of guests to date. The likes of Snoop Dogg, Usher, Damon Albarn and David Byrne figure on different songs.

It was the best feeling in the world to know that the funds promoted and motivated us to feel comfortable with doing this thing independently.

Dave Jolicoeur

Jolicoeur denies they had a wish list of collaborators for the record but confirms there were artists they approached that got away. “We always let the music call for the instrument,” he says. “Not to minimise the value of these people but we see them as instruments, like ‘This song would sound amazing with David Byrne’s voice, his style, his personality’, that’s how it all happened.”

Approaches to Axl Rose, Tom Waits, Lenny Kravitz and Willie Nelson may not have come off but Jolicoeur, 48, does not sound downhearted. “We are older cats so we are pulling out the classics – the Tom Waitses, the David Byrnes and the Willie Nelsons. Sometimes the instrument that we have in our mind is thinking Tom Waits in his younger days and when reality takes place it might not match, but these songs call for an instrument and the instrument lies in the talent of some gifted individual we try to approach.”

On their British tour, De La Soul will be “flip-flopping” between shows with the band the Rhythm Roots All Stars and some without. Jolicoeur explains: “Personally I don’t want to perform a lot of the new songs via an MP3 and just rhythming over them, I want people to feel it like we recorded, I want live musicians to be there playing it but it gets expensive travelling with a 13-piece band. Sometimes with small venues you’re not earning enough to take care of the back line, so some of them are performances with just the three of us and some will be performances with the band.”

De La Soul play at O2 Academy Leeds on February 28. www.wearedelasoul.com

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