Anyone who's ever picked up a guitar, or scribbled an adolescent verse in a diary after a bad break up, knows it. Song writing is hard. That's why we save such a haloed place in our society for those who get it right. A talent for song writing can elevate eccentric weirdos (Bjork), barking egomaniacs (Kanye West) and squinting hermits (Thom Yorke) from the sorts of people we'd try hard to avoid at parties, up into the highest echelons of our cultural order. So when you meet artists like Monster Florence and Foreign Beggars, who find writing songs so incredibly effortless they've just collaborated to write an album in just 48 hours, you'd be forgiven for wanting to stab yourself in the leg out of sheer, unbridled envy.
Back in April, the hip-hop newcomers and their old-school rap associates gathered together a host of other musicians, to see how many songs they could lay down over a (sleep-deprived) weekend session. Planning to scrape a double A-side, they accidentally made an 11-song LP—raw, brilliant with all proceeds going to Colchester charity Musicians Supporting The Homelessness. Today, Complex are premiering four tracks, ahead of the release next month. We caught up with Metropolis of Foreign Beggars and Wallace Rice from Monster Florence, to talk panic, perfectionism, and capturing a moment.
So how did this idea first get off the ground?
Wallace: Well, I first met them [Foreign Beggars] when [fellow Monster Florence MC] Dream McLean guested on their album. I went up to them at a gig and I was like "I'm a fan" and they were like "We're fans of you!" That really threw me back. I was quite surprised that someone I'd been listening to since I was a young kid knew who I was, y'know?
Metropolis: And from working with Dream, we'd always spoken about doing a project together. And then we had this gig in Colchester, and afterwards, we organised to get in the studio and... seeing the operation, working with a live band, and the level of creativity there, the energy—it was really inspiring to us. We worked on one track, and then someone mentioned in passing 'hey, wouldn't it be cool if we just came down her with a whole bunch of artists and did a 48 hour recording thing'.
It was quite an incredible risk to take—and then you decide to add extra pressure by streaming everything live to your fans!
Wallace: It was more about challenging ourselves, really. Obviously we've got three writers, that's me, Osiris and Dream McLean and we've got three band members, all from different genres. So our creative process is basically we'll sit down and go through something over and over. And sometimes we'll make three songs; sometimes we'll make none. A lot of that process isn't visible when you're listening to a three minute track. By opening it up and having people with you ever step of the way, you get to see people's thought processes, you get to see the confidence grow, you get to see someone mess up... the trial and error. I just thought that was a really interesting thing to do.
OK. So you decided to do this thing, across a studio that had three different live rooms, with 40 musicians all working together. It can't all have been plain sailing...
Wallace: It was really not! [Laughs] It's a lot of waiting around and figuring stuff out. The first day of the weekend was a difficult one. We had a bunch of musicians come in, lay down some stuff, make some samples that our producers could work with…
Metropolis: You couldn't walk two steps without bumping into an instrument or another artist. It was just manic!
Wallace: I remember finishing the first day about two o'clock in the morning. And I was back at 8am. And thinking—we'd made just one song, and two more beats. And we'd broadcast that to the world. That was kind of scary, so we started the Sunday with a little bit of panic.
Metropolis: By five on the second day there was still only one complete, mixed track!
But I'm guessing you pulled things together the next day?
Wallace: Honestly, we made one song on Saturday, and ten on Sunday [laughs].
Metropolis: Yeah. At one point, I was upstairs—me, Dream McClean, New Machine, and some others—working on some tune. And we went into one room for about four or five hours... You get totally sucked into that space. It's only when we came out that we realised there were four or five other tunes that had been made in the time that we'd been away. It's special, man.
And that's the reason why the streaming element wasn't an issue because there was so much going on. Creatively speaking, it usually feels like you're going into the studio to work on one tune, I might feel a little pressure about it. But like this, there was freedom. You'd walk into one room, there's some people jamming, you go upstairs and New Machine's working on a beat, you go into another room and there's two dudes in the corner working out an idea. It was so intense, but in a real cool way. And if you didn't like something, you didn't have to be on it. There was a lot of bouncing, feeding off each other's energy. When you've got an entire studio crammed with talented musicians who are all on it, it's kind of impossible not to get drawn into the vibe. Every single person was super happy to be there.
Towards the end though, we had [producer] Tom in the control room frantically mixing down tunes, and the sound engineer in the middle room—it was kinda like a sweatshop of recording studios. [Laughs] I won't lie, it was really gruelling, but it was really amazing.
It sounds like a healthy exercise if you're a bit of a perfectionist?
Wallace: I struggled a bit, if I'm honest. I'm an over-thinker. I like to be able to make things better. But didn't have the time; I couldn't even second guess myself and rewrite bars. And it helped me in a positive way—it showed me how much I'm capable of. There's a song called Black Fairytales, that I feel like is epitomises everything that happened over the weekend. If you listen to the song, it's very unfinished... the mixing a bit all over the place, the vocal sounds like someone's right in front of you spitting the verse, the singing sounds like you're standing in the room with Chisara Agor, it's like it's her first idea. And at first I was hesitant about that because I like things to sound perfect before they go out. But then everyone turned 'round to me and said "Look, this is what we're doing. There isn't time to polish it—there isn't time to feel uncertain about your verse. Let it be what it's going to be."
Metropolis: And I think even if you were to go back and polish things, that whole studio lends itself to this amazing, warm, live feeling. And that's what you're hearing on the record. You couldn't erase that.
48 will be available to purchase next month.