Jackal Trades Interview – “I genuinely can’t think of anyone else who sounds like us”
By Anton Constantinou
At Highlight Nation, we’re always on the lookout for up and coming talent. Fresh on our radar is a new rap group who’ve been making waves in Glasgow and London
Jackal Trades are unlike anything you’ve ever heard before – and not just because they’re Scottish. Following the recent release of their debut album, Need the Character(s), we caught up with band vocalist, Mark McG, who, as it turned out, had plenty to say.
So, Mark, tell us – who are the Jackal Trades?
At the moment we’re a three piece band. I’m on vocals, Martin’s on guitar/backing vocals and Dr. Jaslan handles the other aspects. She has a variety of synths, drum machines and gadgets that make things sound weird and interesting.
Your band name’s unusual. What’s the meaning behind it?
It was a name that I came up with. Essentially it’s a play on “Jack-of-all-trades”, meaning a person of many talents, which we’ve shortened to convey something new. Jackal made me think of a sinister tradesman, and the word Jack itself can refer to anything from illegal hunting to wanking.
In that sense, I felt the name kinda summed up both an album I was working on at the time and society itself.
I don’t think there’s much self-referencing to the name on our debut album, but there was always plenty of scope to work with it. Also, the way the words go together is intriguing. It’s original.
What makes you unique?
I genuinely can’t think of anyone else who sounds like us. There are only a handful of bands I’m aware of who have ever taken a rapping style with this kind of accent and turned into a full band show. Sure, there have been a few good ones, but we sound very different, sonically.
Being a former punk singer has perhaps clouded my judgement. Maybe there are underground doppelgangers in Sweden rocking exactly our kind of sound. Who knows!?
You seem to have a pretty clear band identity. How long have you been running?
As a live band we are really new. We just started doing shows towards the end of last year, but my band mates have all done plenty of other stuff in the past. Naturally, it was a predetermined decision to bring them in because they are damn good players with creative souls who are excellent to work with.
Need the Character(s) dropped in November, which coincided with our first real show. We followed up with a few more gigs in quick succession. Right now, we’re looking forward to a tour and festival season and seeing how it connects with new ears.
We’re still very much a work in progress, but I feel we’re improving with every show, and that’s a beautiful thing.
What got you started?
I have always been inspired by hip hop music, and a good beat is what made me want to scribble down words. I started writing at a young age, but had no idea why or what to do with it. For a while I thought I had invented Scottish hip hop, until I heard Loki’s Friendly World, that is, which simply blew my mind.
After that I put my rap career on hold, but still kept writing constantly. Before I knew it, I’d started a band with a guy who disliked hip hop so much that I had to resort to sneaking rap into songs every once in a while without him catching on.
After a few years of being terrible, we ended up being fairly decent, but I always knew I’d return to rap music at some stage.
Gordy Duncan Jr was inspirational in helping me nail my first few songs before I came up with the name Jackal Trades. Tracks like Miley Syria and Marilyn Monroe Logic made it onto our debut album, but others had to be deleted in the process.
Those sessions with Gordy were definitely the turning point which gave me the confidence to try and make a concept album.
What’s your role in the band?
I am a vocalist. I don’t rate myself as a great rapper or a good singer. But I hope I do enough to convey my poetry into melodies that will make sense to some people.
We’re not even going to attempt to pigeonhole you. How would you best describe your style of music?
In a nutshell, probably industrial post-punk hip hop with Scottish subtitles and a little bit of electro thrown in. There’s also a healthy dose of Melodic Rage in there as well.
Who are your main influences?
My main influences are all the genuine talents working away through the underground circuit, who seem to be oblivious to the mechanical machine that is the mainstream music industry. People who work their arse off for the love of music despite the odds being against them are just as important. I wish them every success in getting the recognition they deserve.
I grew up listening to britpop, hip hop and The Beta Band. I also developed an ear for the old classics, which my parents used to live to all the time.
I think the music you’re exposed at a young age has a big influence. Back in the day I could list all the legends, but now my inspiration comes from people who still haven’t had the accolades they deserve.
My first introduction to Scottish rap music came through people like Loki, MOG, Gasp and Respek BA. Later I came across including Mistah Bohze, II Tone Committee and Steg G, who had been putting the work in for a really long time. These guys still have outstanding work rate and that is really inspiring.
In the last five years or so, I’ve been really inspired by an MC called Solareye, who fronts a band called Stanley Odd. They opened so many doors for people in the scene by going out there and winning over completely non-hip hop crowds.
In short, I look up to acts that take a chance and try something different.
What are the key messages underpinning your music?
The hypocrisy of human nature is key theme. There’s also heavy dose of satire in there, along with plenty of internal and external reflection.
Describe the hip hop scene in Glasgow?
As I mentioned earlier, the skill level is top notch. From beat makers to MCs to grafitti artists, battlers and breakdancers, there’s talent all around us. People just need to come together a little more.
There’s a definite need for greater organisation, and, with that, more coverage will follow. Little things like sharing more videos online will help big time. If you like a track, share it. We also need more attendance at gigs, whether you’re playing or not.
Alana Hepburn of A Ball Promotions deserves a special mention. She has an abundance of energy and puts on some great shows. Steg G is the main man at a local radio station called Sunny Govan who is always representing. And then there’s Jonathan Rimmer who runs a website called Scotland Stand Up and has been commissioned by both the BBC and few newspapers to do a feature of Scottish hip hop.
Boom! Bap! Soup! Roll! is a badass music tent which makes appearance each year at the superb Audio Soup Festival in Scotland. It’s definitely work checking out. There you’ll find the finest Scottish hip hop, with some funk and soul thrown in for good measure. A similar event runs in Edinburgh called Sketchy Beats, which I’ve heard great things about.
Alot of artists these days are breaking through online. How active are you on social media?
Not so much with Jackal Trades just yet, but we hope to remedy that moving forward, because, for all its flaws, it’s a crucial platform for connecting people.
What’s been your most significant release to date?
We’ve only had one so far – Need the Character(s) – which is out now on our Bandcamp page.
I’m super excited for the remix album, dropping next month, as I’ve been able to get some of my favourite producers on board for it. At this stage, we’re contemplating the name, Besides Your Face, as a nod to the original LP, and the fact that it’s basically a B-side release.
We have also started work on another studio album which we hope to release this year. It’s going to have a more personal, human element to it.
Where have you received your best reception?
The best one so far for me was at the Classic Grand in Glasgow for our album launch. I could feel the pressure on the day of the launch as one of the producers, Soundthief, arrived just before the doors opened with freshly burned discs. Next minute, Barry Neeson, who handles our album artwork, rocks up with homemade CD covers.
The atmosphere was crazy and the crowd were really supportive. I also really enjoyed sharing the stage with The Moods, who are a great hip hop fusion band from Manchester. They absolutely smashed it at The Art School.
What obstacles have you had to overcome in progressing further as band?
We’re still new and have been lucky so far. I think people have shown a lot more faith and respect then we’d first anticipated. I’m sure the accent thing will be an issue for many, but the internet is tearing some of those walls down. Should I use another accent? I think hip hop is about being true to yourself and discussing the world how you see it. So I think real heads will get it if they give it a chance and get past that initial shock.
I, for one, like French hip hop, even though I have no idea of what’s being said. The same goes for half the U.S slang I come across in rap.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to feel music. Even if you can’t understand what we’re talking about, keep listening and you’ll eventually like it.
What projects are you currently working on?
In an ideal world, we’ll have a new Jackal Trades record out this year, along with an album from our other group, Girobabies. I’m also working on a new trip hop record with someone but I can’t say too much about it just yet. Oh, there’s also a jungle release in the pipeline.
What reception has ‘Need the Character(s) received thus far?
It’s been all been pretty positive. I was pleasantly surprised to see all the reviewers actually listened and gave some constructive feedback. All the reviews have been good, to be honest, but there’s still a school of journalists who practically somersault out the way of a hip hop.
The support punters have shown in connecting with our music has been really touching. I look forward to the challenge of taking our show on road down south, starting with Newcastle on April 14th.
What I would say is to England is, I understand your apprehension about the accent. I felt the same way initially about Dizzee Rascal and Mike Skinner. I wasn’t sure if I liked the whole cockney thing. But that soon changed after a few listens.
Roots Manuva opened my ears to UK hip hop and it’s a genre which has enriched my life. I now no longer care where you’re from, so long as you have some good beats and rhymes.
In what way are Jackal Trades and The Girobabies connected?
They’re two very different animals. While there’s social commentary in both groups, it’s been somewhat curtailed in Girobabies’ songs.
Girobabies’ material keeps you guessing and leaves a lot to the imagination. With Jackal Trades, it’s more direct and in your face. Girobabies is built upon loud guitars and live drums and Jackal Trades is more electronic based. With the Jackal Trades, I’m able to be a lot more wordy.
So, spill the beans – what plans lie ahead for the Jackal Trades?
We’re embarking on a wee tour before we get ready for festival season, which includes Knockengorroch, The Kelburn Garden Party and Audio Soup. Then we’ll hopefully finish recording the follow-up album. That aside, we’re just going with the flow for now and having fun blasting out new tunes to unsuspecting audiences.
For those keen to check out the Jackal Trades over the coming months, you can catch them at the following gigs:
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