WR829: Super Duty Tough Work

Episode 829 September 20, 2023 00:48:58
WR829: Super Duty Tough Work
Witchpolice Radio
WR829: Super Duty Tough Work

Sep 20 2023 | 00:48:58

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Hosted By

Sam Thompson

Show Notes

Great conversation on this episode with Brendan Grey, frontman of acclaimed Winnipeg live-band hip-hop outfit Super Duty Tough Work!

We talk about the heavy, politically and socially conscious new LP, ‘Paradigm Shift’, maintaining focus on music that matters, being both inside and outside of the Canadian music industry, hyper-local references, and much more.

Want more SDTW? Brendan was interviewed on an early episode of the podcast (#167, Feb. 2016) guest-hosted by Elliott Walsh.

This episode brought to you by our pals at Devine Shirt Company!

Huge thanks to everyone who supports the podcast on Patreon! You can help out for as little as a couple bucks a month if you like the show and want to throw some change in the guitar case!

As always, if you like the podcast, please tell a friend or 20! Rate and review on your podcast player of choice! Word of mouth is still the main way Witchpolice Radio reaches new ears. Thanks for listening. 

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Episode Transcript

WITCHPOLICE RADIO: Welcome to Witchpolice Radio. One of the cool things about doing the show as long as I have is often guests show up on an episode that happened many, many years ago, and then they're back on an episode now and you can kind of catch up. The guest on this episode was on the podcast, but it was an episode that I didn't have any part in hosting. It was one that Elliot Walsh hosted when he was contributing to the show way back in the early, I guess, early 2010s. And I've been kind of hoping to have you on the show for a while since then. And I know we were talking about it online and you said when we have a new record coming out, that would be great timing. And now you have this new record that just came out. So I think that there's a lot to talk about there with the album and sort of with just the way that the group has been going in the past few years. But maybe to start this off, if you want to just introduce yourself and give a bit of background about what it is you do as an artist. BRENDAN GREY: Yeah, well, thanks for having me. My name is Brendan Grey, and I am, I guess, primarily known as the frontman for the group Super Duty Tough Work. My role is... I don't really have one particular role. I wear many hats in this group, behind the scenes and on the scene, I suppose, right. But I guess primarily I'm the frontman, the MC, and the one who stands center stage. WR: Cool. And I guess the past few years there's been a lot happening in the world of Super Duty Tough Work. Not only do you have this new record that just came out, but it seems like there's just been kind of consistent attention given to the group sort of over the course of putting out that first tape and then playing lots of shows and then suddenly watching your social media. You guys are touring in Europe, you were on the Polaris list. You're getting a lot of kind of growing attention from critics and fans and just listeners, which is really cool to see. How long has the band actually been a band? BG: Well, initially the group started, I think, in its first formation in late 2013. So I believe the first show was December 20 or something like that. 2013, maybe. 2014, actually. So that was the very first show. And then it took some time to develop the group and go through personnel and we had different lineups and so on and so forth. And we've had this lineup for a while now. This is the lineup that's been with that is Super Duty Tough Work, essentially. WR: Okay. BG: Yeah. But in the beginning stages, it didn't just come and be as it was. It took some time to get the hang of things and kind of figure out lots of things, frankly. But, yeah, I think we're in a good space right now. WR: Do you think that you've sort of been able to narrow down over almost a decade of existence sort of what the Super Duty Tough Work sound is? Because it's obviously drawing from a lot of different areas. Clearly it's hip-hop influenced. I mean, there's very strong jazz influence and funk and soul and all these other genres coming together. Have you sort of figured out what it is you sound like? ...other than just saying, yeah, it's rap with live instruments? Because that seems almost like a throwaway description, you know what I mean? BG: Well, if I'm being honest, I like that description. WR: (laughs) All right. BG: Yeah, there's lots of elements involved, I suppose the group, as we have so many players, right? Everyone kind of has a different we all kind of come from a similar background, I would say. But at the same time, we all come from different backgrounds, so we're all kind of obviously the common ground is where we're meeting. But like I said, everyone has their own tastes. Sometimes people have tastes that are similar to others and other times it's completely left field from what someone else in the group might be listening to. Right? So obviously that's inside all of us and it comes out in one way or another in this group, you know what I mean? But I will say that people always try to characterize us. I feel like when people and I could be wrong, but when, you know, people try to put these other labels other than hip-hop on us, it's an attempt to kind of reach more, I guess, a wider audience, which is fine. But to me, at the core of what we're doing and the heart and the purpose, really is that we are hip-hop music. Hip-hop group, you know what I mean? So to me, that's enough to just say it like that. And honestly, sometimes, even though some of us do, myself included, we have jazz school background... I feel that especially when that word jazz is thrown in, it's really someone's attempt to they feel that jazz has this kind of like a sophisticated air, I suppose, and they want to bring that in, which is fine. But as I said, to me, it's enough to just say hip-hop. Sure. You know what I mean? WR: Sure. BG: When I'm asked, I say hip-hop and then sometimes, honestly, I get a little bit like I don't know, because the other thing is, frankly, is there's a stigma in the hip-hop world that is kind of attached to live bands and then jazz rap, right? So for better, for or for worse, hip-hop. WR: No, that's cool. And that kind of maybe brings up two other things. First of all, all of those genres that I just mentioned, they're all part of hip-hop historically in terms of just developing that genre and in terms of samples and things like that, that's a lot of what hip-hop is drawing from. It is soul and R&B and jazz and funk and all these things to make up sort of the hip-hop as a collective genre. But the other thing I noticed is on your new album especially, there seems to be definitely a focus on maybe not a focus, but there are references to sort of it almost seems like frustration with artists who are not using their platform to say something. And that just kind of reminded me what you were just saying about people using jazz as sort of almost a way to soften it and say, oh, this is not hip-hop. I don't know, is that something that it seems like it's something that's affecting you as far as the lyrics anyways, is hearing other artists doing music like hip-hop, which has roots in struggle and in political and in social values and things like that, and then using it for kind of fluff music, right. And I mean, that sort of was what reminded me of it, is the idea of, like, oh, it's jazz, so it's okay, it's not that kind of hip-hop, right? Is that sort of what you're getting at? BG: Right? A little bit. I think you touched on it. It's funny because this particular record was made, you know, post 2020. In the shadow of that, I would say somewhat. And prior to that, I've been an MC for a long time, frankly, and been on the scene for a minute. And I would say that in my opinion, whether it's overt or covert, hip-hop always has some kind of social commentary, you know what I mean? And sometimes it might be very direct and in a way worth criticizing, whatever, the government or whatever. And other times it might just be like it might seem like it's a party track, but even in that sense, it's still commentary, you know what I mean? But in my early years or years prior to 2020, even up until then, we as a group and myself as an MC, we caught a lot of flak, like low key and sometimes high key from people for having that political element, you know what I mean? So it was interesting to see how when the summer of 2020 hit, how so many people started, just essentially flipped the switch, did a total 180, and then everyone thought that they needed to engage in some kind of statement making or whatever, you know what I mean? To me, that's great. But at the same time, it was interesting to see how people, like I said before, were criticizing us, and then all of a sudden we're doing the same thing that we've been doing. And I felt that a lot of it, although it's good, it's great. That's what we need. We need critique and analysis and all that stuff. But I felt that a lot of it was essentially quite disingenuous and just trying to be on trend, to not seem to be on trend, right? Because that's what, in the moment, it helps them to sell records or grow your platform or whatever. And if you're not staying with that, then people are going to pass you by, right? So there's that element. This record was made with those kind of feelings in mind. So it's not just that I'm saying and we want people to have a critique, it was also saying, it's funny that you have a critique now and how deep is it, you know what I mean? Even saying that, it's interesting now, three years later, to really see who has sustained that stance, who was still talking about various issues and who just kind of was doing it for the summer, and then, boom, right back to something completely different. You know what I mean? WR: Yeah. Did that kind of experience going, see seeing people doing that, seeing people jumping on a trend of having something to say, did that make you want to come even harder with this one? Because this record seems like right from the beginning, it's pretty uncompromising. It starts and ends with just kind of like it's heavy. You're saying something. It doesn't stop, it doesn't let up. Was that something that came out of that is just wanting to double down on your own messages and your own values and your own sort of ideas of what should be said on a record? BG: Yes, simply, in theory, there was a shift in public consciousness. In theory, and as that's the case, that means that we have to shift also, because I think we want to think that we are providing an analysis that is that is different, possibly ahead of the mainstream. So if that moves, we have to move also. You know what I mean? And even if it doesn't move, we're always still learning. I'm always learning, getting more facts and researching more and reading more and all those things. So naturally, my opinions and ideas are going to shift also. Right? So on one hand, it was kind of influenced by the need to say, okay, so everyone's on this page, well, that's great. So now let's examine it even deeper. Right? One hand, it was related to that. On the other hand, it's just a natural progression. But honestly, for better or for worse, I think I'm glad that in theory, we had this shift, because I don't think that collectively we were in a very good place in terms of our analysis before and at the time, I don't know, like I said, I'm not sure how deep it is. The cynic in me feels it. A lot of it was very surface level and there is some kind of, I guess, reactionary lyrics in that sense on this record to that. But at the same time it's like okay, if we really want to talk about these things then let's really talk about what the real issues are not just aesthetics, you know what I mean? WR: Yeah well, do you think that there's any sort of permanent shift that's happened? Obviously, like you said, there definitely were some people sort of being on trend and then going back to whatever they were doing before but do you think the events of the past few years, I mean, on top of everything that happened in 2020, we've all gone through this global pandemic, people's lives have been uprooted worldwide. Do you think that there's any kind of maybe shift towards people wanting to express I mean, art has obviously always expressed struggle and difficulty and things like that, along with more positive stuff. But do you think that there's a shift maybe in terms of culturally, in terms of people wanting or being more open to hearing something that is reflecting serious issues and not compromising on saying what needs to be said? BG: I think is there a shift in people being open? I think yes. I think for better or for worse and again, I might be quite cynical about this but people are understanding things in a different light for whatever reason. There is to some degree more of an understanding of some issues, you know what I mean? Now, I don't know if that's led to actual material change on the ground, I think maybe not but I can tell you for sure that we definitely get it's very different now performing Fuck the Police than it was before, you know what I mean? And I guess we'll see what comes in the future. But I definitely think people are a bit more like people who wouldn't have been receptive or open or understanding to hearing things like that. Now they're less taken aback, which I honestly don't know if that's good or I don't know if that's a good thing, because part of what we do and part of art is not I wouldn't say to offend, but it is at some points, I think, putting people, including ourselves, having to confront uncomfortable just elements. Right. Is it good that people are more comfortable with these uncomfortable happenings and still seeing no material change? I don't know. WR: Right, because you want to be able to confront people with it and then sort of show them like look, you open your eyes to this, look at this, this is what's actually happening. And yeah, if they're almost desensitized to it because they're sort of immersed in reading about it and everything, then, yeah, maybe it's not going to be as drastic of an effect on them when they hear. When I first heard your tape, the previous tape I come from, punk rock and reggae were the two genres of music I listened to the most and still do. And so when I heard your tape, it was refreshing because a lot of the music I listen to, whether it's 30 years old or whether it's from last week, it deals with that kind of stuff. It's very direct, it's very confrontational. It's very outspoken on issues and on topics like the social issues you're dealing with in your music. And I think I hadn't heard anything like that in a while, especially in hip-hop. Not to say that there isn't...I mean, there's tons of people doing hip-hop of all different stripes worldwide, and plenty of people are doing socially conscious hip-hop, politically conscious hip-hop. But I think that it was yeah, I hadn't heard something that hit that hard in a while. I mean, songs like Fuck the Police, for example, it's so direct and I think that for a long time, people had been sort of hinting at things or using metaphor and you just come right out and say it on this one, too, it seems like it's lyrically harder and musically harder, too. It seems like everything is just a lot more sort of in your face and confrontational and yeah, I really appreciate that. Nothing about the record is I don't want to say it's not subtle because there are musical subtleties and lyrical subtleties, too, but it's very much kind of this is what we are, this is what we represent. Here it is. Make of it what you will. BG: Yeah, well, thank you. I appreciate that. WR: Are you going for that? You want to have it sort of just once it's out there, it's open to the interpretation of the listener because depending on who hears it, especially with some of the songs that are more I mean, your single there with the video Guillotine Dreams, right. That video is very effective. It's very hard, too. Who is that being directed at? Is that being directed at someone who maybe is ignoring some of these issues? Or is it directed at someone who already is sort of aware? And what's the sort of target audience for something like that that comes that hard? BG: It's both. I would say in our music, we like to I mean, Guillotine Dreams is a perfect example. And before I'll say that, because people always say to me, oh, Fuck the Police is my favorite song, I'm like, Great. But the truth is all of our songs are "fuck the police", you know what I mean? So when it comes to a song like Guillotine Dreams, that may be the most kind of overtly song that overtly tackles some of the subject matter, but at the end of the day. All of our songs are always kind of like whether it's overt or covert underlying or in your face. We have the same goal all the time. But one thing that we're trying to do, or a few things that we try to do is first is to be hyper specific, but also have a broad range at the same time. So we might have examples that are super local to Winnipeg and at the same time be talking about things that anyone in the world can relate to because they're seeing the same thing happen in their community or their city or country or whatever. And at the same time, we want people who have similar experiences to us and who may have similar ideas to us to feel, to see themselves and hear themselves and be like, yes, I can relate to that. I understand that. We want them to see themselves reflected and then, yes, of course, people that may not have the similar experiences or may not be on that same page quite yet. We are trying to or wanting to, hoping to maybe be part of the force that maybe makes them think about new things or think about different things and move in a different direction, possibly. You know what I mean? So it really is for both of those audiences. WR: You mentioned the local references, and I do like those on there. I always like music... that's just personal preference. But I like music that even if I don't recognize the specific references, I like when I hear specific references. I mean, like, you know, someone like Wu-Tang, for example. I don't live in New York. I don't live in Staten Island. But there's so many very hyper local references you're talking about, and it's almost like a puzzle trying to put together. I mean, you're saying stuff know, references to Sam Katz kicking kids in the head and stuff like Winnipeg, that evokes something because everyone remembers that video, right? But yeah, to someone even in Toronto or something, that maybe isn't going to be such an obvious connection. But I think that the localness of it makes people hopefully want to sort of seek out, okay, who's Sam Katz? What did he do? Why is he being referenced in this way on this song? And that kind of thing. I mean, I hope people do that level of digging. I always like doing that when I hear music that is very specific to a place. BG: You know, that's one thing about hip-hop, right, is that there's always this hyper local or geographic element to it, right? It's always like, I'm from anything, this block, this neighborhood, this city, you know what I mean? And it's always about shouting it out and talking about the things around. So, like, why would we not do the same thing? It wouldn't make sense for us to be constantly trying to use references that appeal to whoever, someone in Toronto or someone in New York or whatever, you know what I mean? That wouldn't make sense because we're not there. That's not where we're from, right? And again, part of, at least in my mind, one thing that we aim to do just as a whole with this record and beyond is place Winnipeg in that global context, you know what I mean? So that's part like all these local references, that's part of it, just like you said, hopefully, maybe people, if they don't, maybe they will be drawn to look it up or at least it'll be in their consciousness somehow. And then they'll be like, oh, that's what that means, or this is that. You know what I mean? It places it kind of I don't want to say elevate, but one of the goals is to kind of bring more of just a connection to the global context of everything. Culture, music, all those things. That's one of the reasons we have so many. Just to say when I'm writing it, it's not like I'm going to use this reference and it's going to be local and they're going to think and blah, blah, blah. It just comes naturally because I think that's just what comes to mind at that point. WR: Well, that makes sense. And it's interesting you say it would be weird not to reference Winnipeg and to have those local things, or to sound like you're from somewhere else and try to reference things that are more appealing to someone in whatever, LA or Toronto. But that does happen a lot. I mean, especially with hip-hop, it seems like more than any other genre, I see local independent artists and nothing about them kind of exudes Manitoba, right? I mean, it's just they're trying to appeal to someone who they don't interact with every day. And it's not the people that they're surrounded by. Which always seems weird to me that if you're going to make art, whether it's whatever it is, whether you're a country singer or a rapper, or you're making techno, whatever it is, your experience has to be filtered through it somehow. It always seems strange and disingenuous when someone is not reflecting on their local community and their local struggles and things like that. BG: No, 100%. And I think it's disingenuous, like you said, and it's obvious. Right? It's so strange to me when I see people in hip-hop, for example, using whatever the popular slang is from some place in the other part of the world, you know what I mean? We're all affected by things in different ways and all, you know, slang from New York or whatever, that was popularized when I was listening to music in the 90s or whatever, you know what I mean? But now it just seems like, boom, TikTok. We get the influence from there and then the kids say it and then they're trying to create this image that they feel will bring them attention and success. I guess sometimes it works, but at the same time, to me, it can be strange. WR: Yeah, it is strange. Well, the TikTok thing maybe brings up something else too. I mean, you're releasing this you have this album and it is very this kind of dense, very thoughtful, thought provoking. Obviously a lot of time spent on the music, on the lyrics, on the production. Everything seems very worked on in a very good way. Like, it seems like it's something that was intentionally put together. And now you're releasing this in an era where a lot of people's music consumption is through something like TikTok where they hear 15 seconds of a song and they don't even know who the artist is. So what is it like releasing an album like this in an era where you don't even know if someone's going to give more than a 30-second listen or listen to more than one song or even sit down and kind of absorb the thing the way it's meant to be experienced? BG: It's tough, straight up. And I mean and you know, like, we have like we are in the industry now, I suppose. So, like we are meeting with, you know, we have been for the for the last few years, like meeting people and attending workshops, conferences, all these things, and having take meetings and trying to use that framework to climb the ladder, so on and so forth. And it's interesting because to a certain degree, what we do is kind of against the grain in a lot of ways. And I don't know if perhaps we would be farther along or more popular or something if we would be applying all of the rule, all the rules and strategies and techniques that people tell us that we need to be applying. But yeah, for example, right now, from what I understand at least, it is about short songs, for example, because people aren't listening to four or five minute songs in the same way that they used to. So it has to be real concise and easy digestible for TikTok. For example, I see people, industry people, so people that in the Canadian industry that are really, to a certain degree, calling shots or have some influence and I've heard them say, like, oh, if you're not on TikTok, I'm not even going to give you any the time of day. You know what I mean? And to me, for a group like us, where we're coming from as a group of musicians who are dedicated our lives to our musicianship and the traditions of the music that we're involved in, that just is totally insane because that's not anything to do with what it's about. And not just about music in any form of art, whether it's painting, dancing, like poetry, singing, whatever culture, right? It's not about or at least the way I understand it's not about selling numbers, streams, visibility, all of those things, right? In theory, it really is about the value of the art first. And that is still how we operate. And yeah, it definitely sometimes has been to our detriment because we are not posting three times a day on TikTok writing songs that are specifically written with the intention of being synced or trying to become a trend on TikTok or like doing dance. You see people, here's my song, here's the TikTok dance. Can it take off, that sort of thing. That's not our approach, you know what I mean? We get a lot of really great feedback and love from people that send us messages, say things to us in person at shows, after shows, whatever, about how much they enjoy our music and the message or the musicianship or whatever it is. But our reach is still, frankly, very small. And I think that can be attributed to some degree to the fact that we are a little bit outside of the popular mainstream industry approach to music. So even looking at this record and going into it, honestly, one of the things that I wanted to kind of capture with it was to take these heavy ideas, heavy concepts, and make them more enjoyable or fun or not so because so many times in rap especially, or in hip hop, people are always like they essentially they associate politics. And I wouldn't even necessarily say we're a political group, necessarily, but they associate that sort of stuff essentially as, like, being whack or not fun or I don't want to listen to that. It's too wordy or it's like preachy or whatever. I wanted to still come with the radical element, but almost have it be like pop music to a certain degree, you know what I mean Disguise it almost. Now I think somewhere along the way, that idea totally fell by the wayside, and we just kind of went more to stay on course with what we do. But that was kind of something that we did have in mind. So maybe we were trying to shake away this purist approach and get something that was more tangible for the mainstream. But, yeah, it definitely can be a little bit trying when it comes to where we are versus where everyone else is. WR: At this point, I mean, if someone is hearing about you for the first time on the show or they haven't heard you in a while and they want to check out the record, what's the best way to find it? I mean, I know there's so many different ways of listening to music these days. Where would you sort of send someone if they wanted to check out the record and hear it? BG: I would send them... I mean, honestly, wherever you like to listen to music. We know Spotify is a terrible platform for artists, you know what mean? But like, guess where I listen to most of my music on Spotify. Okay, so wherever you listen to music, whether you know, if you like it, you can purchase the record directly. You know what mean? Apple Music, tidal like it we're on all platforms, so if you're curious and you just want to check it out, see, get a taste, that's where I would go. Or go to YouTube, look at, watch some of our videos. People like to listen to music with their eyes, right? So we've made some videos that we're really happy with and you can get both experiences at once on YouTube. You know what? Yeah. And if you're so inclined, then please do buy the record. Buy physical copy, buy digital copy. But yeah, buy the physical, buy the LP. The artwork is beautiful and it looks beautiful as an LP cover and we're really happy with it. WR: Awesome. Yeah. I'm looking forward to getting mine in the mail. I ordered one today and yeah, it's going to be cool.

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