You spend four years meticulously pulling together fifteen tracks for your debut visual album, collaborating with some of the UK’s hottest emerging film-makers in the process, only to have Beyoncé come along and steal your thunder. Pretty heart breaking for some, but not for Hackney based hip-hop artist Corin Douieb, aka The Last Skeptik.
Showcasing exactly what it is about instrumental hip-hop that makes it perfectly built for video, each song explores a different landscape through film. Whether it’s a haggard looking angel surrounded by disembodied fish guts or a colour drenched dogs-eye view of the park, Thanks for Trying shares similarities as much with Madlib and J Dilla as it does with Mark Mothersburgh or Jon Brion. Having recently scored the BAFTA nominated Island Queen, we caught up with Corin to find out more about chilli eating contests, Alpacas in the Cotswolds and his favourite movie soundtracks.
A visual album is quite an undertaking – is there an overall narrative that connects each track?
I always wanted to make an instrumental album without rappers – something which would let me tell a story in a very different way. Each track goes somewhere pretty weird and a big part of that comes from working with so many different artists and videographers. My biggest dream is to score a film so this felt like an obvious place to start. I wanted it to be cinematic and highly fucking emotional so that when you heard it you could see what I’m seeing. I had all these ideas for videos, but they were quite fragmented – working with proper directors to clarify exactly what it was that I was thinking.
Was the process quite collaborative working with so many different artists?
I was involved with all of the videos but in different ways. Occasionally it was quite hands off. Sonny Malhotra (the director for “Park Champ”, “Lullaby” and “That Old”) for example would just fire all these ideas at me and 99% of the time I’d think you’re a genius, you’ve got it, let’s do that. It varied really. I did all sorts whether it was acting in some of them or gutting bucket loads of fish in the freezing cold for “Be There”.
Where did you find everyone?
Through mates mostly – I just connected with people that liked the music and were really passionate about what I do. Sonny had done videos for me before, I’ve known him for some time. Cara Barry (her first short film Spine, is out soon, definitely worth keeping an eye out for it), Jeff Metal, Rufus Exton, they’re all really talented people that I was lucky enough to be connected to. I can be quite an egotistical person but even though they were directing they still let me have my say.
Did you start with the music first?
Yeah, the album was completely mixed and mastered before I took it to anyone. I spent about four years getting it finished – it actually took quite a lot of confidence for me to start letting people listen to it. I kept think fuck, I’m actually releasing this shit, you know? I’d known all along that I wanted to do something visual with it, but eventually I decided to produce a video for every track. I had no idea how to go about it, and there were definitely times when I didn’t think I could manage it, but my label supported me and that gave me time to reach out to people and get started. We began with “Park Champ” and from there it took off. There were times when it came close to falling through, but I’m glad we pulled it all together in the end.
How do the Peak District and Cotswolds come into it?
It was a friend of mine Rufus who shot the footage in the Cotswolds – the chilli eating contents and stuff. There’s another video where he gets his mum involved and some Alpacas too – he just wanted to film as much weird and wonderful stuff as possible and see how it would all fit together. He’s an amazing guy to work with, he used to shoot Pro Green TV for Channel 4. I basically wanted to capture landscapes which reflect the cinematic sounds that I was trying to represent with my instrumentals. Urban is kind of a dirty word for me – especially when it’s used with hip-hop – so I wanted to explore something different. I wanted to make music which leant itself to multiple different scenarios. You want to produce something which challenges people’s preconceptions. I spent too long trying to make stuff that I thought people would like and this was me producing something that I didn’t give a fuck about how people would respond to it.
There’s such a huge mix of instruments with each track, did you have any technical training for any of it?
I like to think of myself as a kind of mad professor – I’ve been producing since I was 12 or 13 but I’ve not had any technical training. Through the years you pick up things, learn different techniques. I record everything in my house – punk bands, horn sections, cellists, all stuffed into my living room. I use some samples but most of it is live. I hum all these parts and the musicians I work with spell it out as written music which they perform.
How does that affect your live shows, do you work with live bands and video for that too?
This is still something I’m very much working out at the moment. I’m doing Village Underground on 15 March with a little band that I’ve put together so I guess we’ll see how that goes and take it from there.
Do you think it loses something without the visuals?
Not at all – before all the videos were released a lot of the songs didn’t have clips to go with them. Since then people have come up to me and said, now that they’ve seen the videos, it really matched the image they had in their heads. The music has a really visual element to it because it’s such hyperemotional stuff – it’s kind of like an emo hip-hop record. What’s really weird is that most of the directors didn’t speak to each other when they were working on their tracks and yet there are still lots of similarities – animals, baths, suicides, murders – people just seem to respond to it in the same way.
A selection of stills from the video series.
Where does that shared creepiness come from?
I guess suspense or mystery? I’m a big fan of thrillers and horror – I love how music in films can make you aggressive or gets you sad. If you took away the music from The Shining you’d lose so much!
You read books where you get given all these different windows into the same story from different character’s points of view. Is there something similar going on with Thanks for Trying?
I think weirdly the title is what ties everything together. As a musician you tend to find that you send someone your work and they say, this is brilliant, but it’s not quite right, thanks for trying. That’s the vibe that unites each track, that feeling of frustration that someone else doesn’t get your art.
Next time around is there a part of you that wants to get everyone into a room and do the whole thing collaboratively, together from scratch?
Definitely, I would love to. I’m kind of in the process of doing that right now – I’m playing music to directors as I’m working on it and they’re giving me their ideas. It all funnels into one. It does take some of the control away which is a bit scary for me, but I’m enjoying it so far.
Got a favourite movie soundtrack?
Road to Perdition has an amazing sound track, not so keen on the film, but the score is brilliant. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is also a favourite, and Life Aquatic too.
Thanks For Trying is out now on BBE Records. The whole series is available to watch at TLS’s website here.