IN DEPTH: Caspar Grant
Ok disclaimer from the get go! Caspar Grant is a friend.
" But what about impartiality and non biased opinion?" I hear you cry…
…To which I reply, “this is not BBC Question Time!”
Caspar was one of the first friends I met in London. With a city of about 8 million people, you would think this process would be easy, but believe me it's not.
"Thanks for the personal life history Owen, but can we stick the f*ck to Hip-Hop please?"
Bare with me, although both of us are involved in the scene as a whole, our paths have rarely crossed creatively. So when the demo for Bones landed in the Wordplay inbox and I saw it was Caspar's tune - I thought after 10 years this would be the perfect opportunity to link.
So I feel like we should start by you explaining the goat mask. You scared the sh*t out of me with that when you arrived today. What’s that all about?
I came up with the basic concept for the video several years ago when I conceived the song itself. I was having one of those evenings where you delve into some of the internet’s more obscure corners and came across a video of a European folk band, all dressed normally, but wearing these over sized goat heads. I later found out it was some sort of yearly tradition, sadly I still can’t find what the name of it is or where exactly it takes place. But that juxtaposed image of these everyday guys, dancing and playing this accordion driven music, whilst wearing these very sinister looking masks really grabbed me. It was so cartoonishly funny and yet really quite unnerving. The song is about the ever present spectre of your own mortality, and learning not to be inhibited by it. I feel that a healthy way to deal with such things can be through finding the comical side of it all, even if that results in you developing quite a dark sense of humour. For me the goat headed character is meant to be not such a bad a guy, even if he is a bit creepy. My guy Elliot Gonzo then came up with the concept for how we would place this character in a narrative that worked as a music video.
Ok, now that’s stashed safely out my sight, how about you let our readers know about your Hip - Hop journey?
I started out about 15 years ago back in Birmingham. For ten years I was in a left field rap group called H.L.I (Heavy Light Illum) with my rhyming partner Wasif the Scion (fka Elai Immortal). We were trying to create Hip-Hop that was pretty lyrically dense and musically experimental, but which still banged hard enough to move a crowd. We did many, many shows over the years, sharing stages with some of our heroes and put out one record called Omniglyph, before eventually deciding to pursue solo ventures. Alongside that though I was also involved in a couple of other collectives. Getting on for ten years ago now, I was in The People’s Army alongside Logic, Mic Righteous, Awate and many other heads. Between 2013- 2016 I was a part of a weekly jam session operating out of squats across London called Shop Floor Sessions, which gradually developed into a gigging band, playing a lot of shows in all sorts of venues ranging from squatted carpet shops to trendy bars in Dalston. Those were fun times and I got to work with a lot of really cool folks like Brother Portrait, James Massiah, And.Is.Phi, Farai Bukowski and all sorts, but when you’re in a crew that’s 20+ deep it’s only a matter of time before people want to work on their own stuff.
So you're a teacher by trade. Has that effected or influenced your music?
Well, as much this is an obvious thing to say, I think all good art is an expression of your individual experience of life and teaching and working with kids is a huge part of that, so yes certainly! I would even say that it’s a two way street. Hip-Hop has had a huge impact on the way I see the world. It’s led me to books and people and conversations I might not have otherwise come across. I’m not saying that when I’m in the classroom, I’m running over what I learned from listening to Liquid Swords, but I can’t get away from the influence this music and culture has had on me.
As a teacher you are on the front lines of society at times. I’ve worked with literally every age group in pretty much every setting imaginable, from a reception class in a primary school, to teenagers in a pupil referral unit. You see so many different people and how their lives are affected by the goings on in the world. You see how these last nine years of austerity have meant that schools struggle to afford basic things like paper and are forced to lay off support staff who work with the kids who need the most help. At the same time you see how caps on housing benefit have meant some these kids and their families are forced to live in one room in a dirty Bed & Breakfast somewhere. On top of that you get to interact with all these young people and have all these moments which can be so inspiring, as well as ones which make you want to bang your head against the wall. I’m wary of putting a lot of it into the music as I think that would be somewhat voyeuristic. A better way for me to help in the situation is to do my job well and with compassion. That being said some of the things I see are indeed eye opening and can merit making their way into my writing.
Let's talk about the new single and other projects in the pipeline.
I came up with the bare bones of the single (excuse the pun) something like four years ago? I originally recorded the verses to a different beat and I just knew that it was going to be a single with a video. I had such a clear idea of what it would eventually sound like and what sort of visuals would accompany it and how it would be this multi faceted piece of art that allowed me to deliver this very specific aesthetic I had in my head. I sat on it for a long time waiting for the right producer to make a new beat around what I had. I once read this interview with Tom Waits where he talks about finding this newspaper clipping about a small town in Australia where the last bar had shut down and holding on to it for years until the right moment came to turn it into the song “Town With No Cheer”. I love that song and reading that really taught me something about letting an idea happen at the right time.
Eventually I met my guy Matt Gordon aka Pie Eye Collective and I knew he was the dude. His sound is so beautifully rich and employs this amazing sense of harmony and texture. I had an idea for a basic frame work and we set about making it happen. Thing was, the beat I’d recorded to was built around these unquantised loops, so the tune didn’t just snap to a grid. Building the new beat took a minute, but he did it. And then in the last studio session we had, where Matt made the chorus section, I had my arm in plaster past the elbow and it was swelling up in a cast that was way too tight! I’d had something like nine hours sleep in that whole week and it was really painful, but I was there humming this idea for a chorus melody into the recorder on my phone while he worked. Then that night, after laying awake for eight hours in agony. I had to take myself to A&E to take the cast off - only to find my whole forearm was one massive bruise. When I finally got home I took a bath, got into bed and…BOOM - the lyrics for the chorus presented themselves to me, just at the right time. I’m really happy to finally get to share it.
Now the single is out I’m just adding the finishing touches to my debut solo LP Capricornucopia. Spending so much time collaborating with others was a fantastic learning experience and taught me to adapt to all types of styles and approaches, but there comes a point where you want to call the shots on how the song comes together as a whole. I come from a background in song writing and production, as well as MCing and the album is my first chance to really give people a taste of the full spectrum of my musical vision with me producing just under half of it. There’s a pretty wide range of musical styles throughout it, but it’s tied together with this approach to writing I’ve developed in the past however many years that tries to combine quite serious and sincere concepts with a surreal, comical, psychedelic method of presentation. Hopefully the two balance each other out.
And after that I’m part way through finishing about four other projects which are all really different. But that’s a conversation for another time!
Ok a tough one, what is your favourite Hip-Hop album of all time?
Ouch, that is a tough one. It’s really hard to single it down to one record because hip hop is such a big house with a such a vast array of what brilliance is, but I’d probably have to say “36 Chambers”. If aliens landed and I had to show them what hip hop is I think that I’d show them that. It’s one of those album that is just engrained on my brain and you can rap along to every word and yet it still sounds so fresh and exciting. The beats are just incredible and take you to this place that no other record can, not even any thing else by Wu Tang. And that’s the thing, when I first listened to it it really did create this whole world in my imagination. This crew of nine guys, each of whom was so different and idiosyncratic, feel so much larger than life with their own slang and mythology and it just completely engulfs the listener. There are moments that are eerie as fuck, that are gorgeously fly and that are just so hard and heavy you could screw face for days. Within one LP you get so many different styles that come together to create something greater than the sum of its parts, so yeah, I guess I’d have to pick that.
Words & Pictures by Owen Porter
Bones music video and Spotify below: