Monday, April 03, 2017

Emcee, Lyricist & Battle MC Felman shares his wisdom and reflects on EP Good Grief in Exclusive Interview

The rapper/emcee/poet/musician Felman, previously known as Mos Prob has had a wild ride through hiphop and life in recent years. Just before he jetted off to the USA to keep his battle skills sharp he kindly sat down to answer a few questions about his excellent recent project the EP "Good Grief" currently available on Bandcamp. Mad props to the man himself for such enlightening/philosophical/intriguing responses, enjoy the read!

Good Grief kicks the EP off in a fairly melancholy tone. You say you were looking for respect and hearing laughter. Is this still true? 

Because I did four comedy rap albums and maybe twenty pretty silly battles before writing anything heartfelt, I did feel like I had a lot to prove. The more I funnelled into my funny stuff, the more popular it became, but I was getting less and less happy. There came a point at which I had no option but to make Good Grief, and there was a lot of that in the opener. I've been rapping for twelve years and I was definitely getting nervous that I was piling a lot of time and effort into being a laughing stock. I think I stopped caring at a certain point. Obviously the respect of others is important and you don't get too far without it, but ultimately it's about self-respect as much as validation from external places. I think I've found a fair bit of self-respect since I wrote Good Grief and I think less now about how I'm received. I'm better at rapping than I ever thought I would be, and I've had some great feedback and encouragement so I'm happy. But only because I've started to get on with myself. Otherwise it would be largely meaningless.

 I do enjoy some of the visual imagery you create such as "picking out little scabs and ripping them open" comes to mind. How do you go about finding inspiration or hone your observational skills in order to develop these sorts of vignettes? 

 Books, weird books, and lots of them. I like reading stuff I don't understand and forcing my head around the metaphors until they make sense or reinforce a picture that fits. I love writers like David Foster Wallace, Kurt Vonnegut and Mark Leyner for that, they just have a sense for vivid pictures that sound good at the same time. I try to incorporate as much of that density as I can. I guess with the headspace I was in for Good Grief I overthought stuff a lot as well, so didn't feel the need to explain what they meant in the track or ram the meaning and emotion down anyone's throat. Otherwise I let the multi-syllable rhyme dictate possible options, and then work with the words I can fit in. There's no science to it. I just wrote three songs for every song and cherry-picked the bits that made enough sense. My observational skills are actually pretty piss-poor, which is why I write in a more abstract way.

You say that you are man enough to start living by a better system...I like the sound of this, what would your ideal system be? 

I'm talking about that sense of balance that's nigh on impossible to come by. I had a pretty thorough meltdown after recording Good Grief and had to really sort myself out to keep my job and my life together, but since then I've been working on a system where every day is its own mission, and the various parts of my life are different things I have to do in that day, rather than have 50,000 overarching goals like I used to. My ideal system has space for other people, a filtration system for those people (so you're only surrounded with positive influences) and time to make yourself happy and fat. Maybe with a bit of gym time so the fat part isn't so galling. The ideal system would change with you anyway, and be ready for any odd or tragic situations life can put forward. So it's hard to say what it would be like. But you wouldn't have to think about it much - it should be self-sustaining. Just a natural part of your day going about doing everything that makes you happy and empowered.

I like the L.Ron Hubbard reference. I don't know a great deal about the man, whats your POV? 

He's a dangerous lunatic, a marketing mastermind and, from what I've heard, a pretty shoddy sci-fi writer. It's kind of fascinating to have seen a religion spring up from the ground more or less in our generation, though. I saw the Church of Scientology in LA and it is absolutely colossal. I reference him in another track as well where I'm travelling space with Gishnchips. We share a joint in the bath and discuss theories on life. I think I keep talking about him because he has a stupid name. I should probably stop.

I love the upbeat bounce of Fairweather but I can imagine it being a difficult listen for some of your past acquaintances, especially those who "Led you to meds" is this track still a reflection of a feeling towards some people who have not been the greatest help on your artistic journey?

It's actually not about too wide a net of people. But I guarantee you they wouldn't play my record to save a puppy at gunpoint so it's never going to be an issue for me. Truth be told, there's some bullshit that was too painful to let go but too old and buried to be worth digging up in front of concerned parties so I just channelled it. I've felt a lot better since. At that point, I'd become pretty distant from people that still matter to me, so the song was a kick up the arse for me to hang on to the ones that have me covered. Some of the song came out as anger when it was really misdirected loneliness. I see a lot more of my real friends now.

Hail RGB confused me for a little bit until I discovered that RGB stands for the Red Blue and Green colour based model of our human perception that is usually associated with television (and I then also presume mobiles/screens of all kinds). I was just thinking that the quirky sound effects are great but aren't you just too young to remember those modem dial up tones!? 

 How old do you think I am? I spent many-a-fifteen minutes waiting for a ten second porn clip to loads at 64bps during my youth as well, you know. The modem noise was actually my wife's idea, which means she's technically old too. The song was based on a David Foster Wallace essay about TV eating up six hours of your day, and the power that gives to the people behind it. And I just got to thinking of TV as this manipulator that always finds a way to stay at the centre of people's lives even with the bewildering array of options we now have. The modem verse is a struggle between TV and the Internet for dominance. It's my first sci-fi story track, essentially. But it is pretty pissing weird. By the end, the TV mentality still manages to end up dominating the Internet and making its way into people's pockets. There's going to be a lot more on the next album, Tidings, that sounds like Hail RGB. I've been pretty limited with my setup until now. AWAIT THE SQUELCH.

Somnambulist! Fucking love this track, obviously a labour of love so is writing or performing still embedded in your grave, cradle and is still your crutch?

I think I have writing and performing more in perspective now. At the time I wrote Somnambulist (it's actually the oldest track at five years) I really needed it, at the expense of being an actual person. So since Good Grief I stepped away from gigging to fortify myself a little. I love music a bit more now that it's not the be-all and end-all of everything. It's fun again. Ive listened to this track many times on repeat but there is a certain bit of quick fire spittery I still cant catch; could you please help me out!? "Happy calamities happen when trapped in a labyrinth.....(something I lost a long the way.....slow it down!!.....Dentists for Basilisks.... Happy calamities happen when trapped in a labyrinth Stabbed in the back with a catalyst Average mannequin capturing Anadin gradually rabidly panicking, The hourglass smashing and shattering, There's still some fragments of sand in it, Happy Samaritan, gathering arrogance shambling back at the battlements, Avarice seeping and bleeding between every crease of my fracturing, cracking lips, I snack on the hand that bit, bites back and it grins so I'm not even mad at it, A permanent capturing of a passing glimpse of every crack in the manuscript, Antagonist shaking hands with it, fact of the matter is scratching your back is inadequate, Reactions are frazzled and battered and damaged and cannot quit snapping and hammering, The back of my hand is a land unexplored and I'm bored of pretending to handle it Dentists for Basilisks.... telling 'em they should have less of the saccharine. One day, I will learn to rap this kind of stuff fast Til then, just make do with fast.

Three Forty Five, a beautiful, poignant track that tells a great story in itself. When researching this I found the juxtaposition of such personal lyrics with the newspaper splashes that your proposal generated as a Battle Rapper pretty nuts. What lessons do you take from this mainstream media attention and how has this track been received by other audiences? 

Never, ever put something that personal in that public a scenario again. It was cool, and a bewildering and interesting experience, but a moment like that is too special to make everyone else's, I think. I didn't clock that it would blow up like it did. And I love the memento, the actual ability to watch it back and see that moment - that's irreplaceable. But that moment will never just be ours, and I do often wonder it would have been like as a small, intimate gesture. I've got quite a selfish mentality about it, but it's also our moment to be selfish about. We didn't even really get to share the buzz when it was going viral because she'd already flown back to the US and I didn't know when I was seeing her again. So it was bittersweet. Either way, we aren't forgetting it in a hurry. It's most people's favourite track on the album, which is weird for me for two reasons. Firstly, I wasn't even going to include it because I didn't feel it fit and it's really old (I'd been writing it on and off for four years) and secondly, I wrote it as directly as possible for Jackie, throwing in references I knew only she would get. For some reason, personalising it like that made it more accessible for more people.

Do you both still enjoy Ibsen, and what's the deal with Heda Gabbla? 

 My wife was in Hedda Gabler (nice try) when we met up at the Edinburgh Fringe - I felt like referencing it made that just our story. When I saw Jackie's production I obviously enjoyed it a lot but I haven't seen any other Ibsen stuff. Jackie still loves the guy and there's a production in London soon she's taking me too, but she's the theatre head. I just smile and nod. I love the homely line "We did it mate" From one happily married man to another happy but as yet unwed bloke, what advice do you have for a successful relationship? You know the smiling and nodding thing? Applies here too. Nah, just share everything, do right by each other, always try to make each other laugh and don't text your wife pictures of your poo. It's just being a team and giving a tremendous amount of shits about each other at the end of the day. What's also important is keeping on with your own stuff and making sure the relationship is just part of that overall balance.

 You laudably donate any proceeds from the EP to the charity MIND....what does the charity mean to you and how well do you think Mental Health problems are currently being addressed?

 Around 2012 I'd hit a brick wall with depression and couldn't really form a dialogue with anyone about it. I finally reached out to a friend with experience in that field and he first opened my eyes to what it could be. I had another friend who took the opposite approach, and it was really damaging. I saw the value that open dialogue with someone who understands and wanted to put the money from this towards supporting that, I actually don't have a personal connection to the charity outside of an appreciation for the amazing work they do. But I sure could've used knowing about them when I was younger. It hasn't ended up being a huge amount, donation-wise. It's quite a small project that did pretty humbly. But I'm deeply grateful to anyone that has supported and continues to do so. Felman

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