We caught up with Itch at Slam Dunk North to talk about lyricism, working with your idols and his first transatlantic jaunt.
“I’m psyched as f***” – Itch
S] So, are you psyched to be at Slam Dunk?
I] “Hell yeah, I’m psyched to be here. Slam Dunk is really important to these kids. Most of them, they go to school and they’ve got some green haircut, y’know. They get picked on. But then they get one weekend a year where they be like, ‘Yeah, we’re here [together] and we’re partying. This is us’. So Slam Dunk is awesome, it’s for all the weirdos. That’s why everyone’s hype tonight. I’m psyched as f***.”
S] Are there any bands you’re looking forward to today?
I] “Yeah, yeah, Looking forward to seeing King Prawn, but there’s a lot of bands I’ve heard of, but haven’t heard yet. So I’m looking forward to seeing Pierce the Veil, I’m gonna check them out. I’m doing a DJ set later tonight, so I’m just gonna wander around the place and see who I can see.”
S] Leeds has always been good to you, first with The King Blues and now with your solo work, what are your thoughts about playing Leeds and up north in general?
I] “I love it man, like you say, Leeds has always been good to us. Leeds is a town that’s really understood my lyrics, really got them. There are some towns, who I’m not naming, that don’t really understand the underdog mentality of where I’m coming from. I’m always rapping up or singing up to you, I’m always fighting against something and I think there’s a lot of people in Yorkshire who can relate to that. So I love playing here. People go nuts as well, They like to party.”
S] You’re on the Warped Tour this year as well, is it daunting?
I] “Yeah, I’ve never toured America before, I’ve heard the horror stories: how hard it is, how tough it gets. But I’ve been around a little while, so I’m prepared. I’m going in confident and I’ll come out a shadow of a man I’m sure! I’m really looking forward to going to a new country where literally no-one knows who I am. You get gigs where people know who you are from the start and they’re really into it, and you get gigs where people don’t know you, and they’re unsure, but by then end they’re into it. Those are the gigs that are really satisfying.”
S] That’ll be your biggest exposure so far won’t it? How many dates are you doing?
I] “Yeah! Fifty days…”
S] What was it like working with Tim Armstrong (of Rancid Fame), How did it come about?
I] “It was dope as hell! In The King Blues, we played with Rancid at Nottingham Rock City, so we hung out, became friends, y’know. So when I was recording my solo stuff in LA, I was like, ‘Dude, let’s write some tunes!’ So he came over, and the dude has done alright, but he still gets the bus to the studio and there’s holes in his shoes, y’know he’s the real deal. So we just sat down, me, Feldy [Producer, John Feldmann], Tim an acoustic guitar a notepad and we were just jamming. He’s an amazing guy, an amazing, deep, soulful person. He’s a rarity.”
S] With your solo work, you’ve kept a punk aesthetic whilst moving towards a more hip hop sound. Was the decision to release your EPs for free on your website a conscious nod to the hip-hop mixtape culture?
I] “Definitely! With King Blues, we were considered a punk band, but I always thought we were more Beastie Boys than Minor Threat. So what I’m doing now is crossing over into the hip hop thing, but I’m doing it from a punk rock place. I’m taking the rawness, the energy, the anger; the stuff that I think makes it special and I’m putting it into hip-hop.”
S] So if you’re moving from punk, into hip hop, what’s influencing you right now?
I] “Right now, I’m just influenced by great lyricists, and I keep going back to lyricists. Kate Tempest and Scroobius Pip are great influences. These guys, we’re homies because we really love words, really love literature; really love geeking out on wordplay. We can sit around in a bar and just talk about words. I personally, am like ‘I wanna write better, because of you guys’.”
S] How does the upcoming material expand on the sound of the mixtapes?
I] “The album’s done now. We recorded over ninety full songs, so that’s why we picked the mixtapes out; we had all these spare tunes that we still love, so we put them out. The album, though, is a lot more cohesive, it’s a real album. Nowadays, people just jam singles and they want to jam an album of like, eight singles. I understand why, I mean, that’s the way the music industry works, if you’re in a band. But for us, me and Feldy, we really wanted to write an album, just ‘cuz we’re old dudes who still love albums. This is a real album, we’ve got some great guests on there, there’s Adam Lazzara from Taking Back Sunday, Matisyahu, the great reggae singer. Where a lot of rappers would pick an R&B girl to do the hook, I’ve gone for a lot of dudes from bands, so that’s where I’m trying to change it up.”
S] What would you say was this record’s unique selling point? Not so much that you’ve got a rock approach but that you’re trying to change the formula?
I] “Yeah, but as well, these are my roots and if I can approach the people I wanna work with, I’m gonna approach the people that I love and that I grew up listening to. So if Feldy says he can ask anyone I want to the hook for a song, I’m like ‘really?!’ and I thought everyone would turn us down, but we got to work with some amazing people. It was a real humbling, honouring experience.”
S] So if you could work with anybody at all past or present, who would…
I] “Joe Strummer, you know. It still hurts to this day. He’s the one guy.”