Last week we spoke with Jamal (Seraphim) from NY electro-soul crew No Surrender. At the time, Jamal was holidaying in the Virgin Islands but didn’t mind taking a few minutes out of his day to chat about the benefits of having high profile buddies as well as the evolution of their recent LP release, Medicine Babies.
Jamal, we’ve had Medcine Babies playing on high rotation for the last few weeks and apart from the Tunde Adebimpe (TVOTR) contribution, we can definitely hear some other similarities in your style to that of TV on the Radio. Would you say they’ve been a major influence? I’ve known Tunde for about 10 years, he is a really close friend of mine. We really love those guys. A lot of these afro-punk or alternative hip-hop bands grew up in tandem, playing at the same NY clubs or going to check out the same bands. I was doing a lot of work with Mike Ladd during that time as well as Jaleel Bunton – the guitarist for Mike Ladd and the drummer for TV On The Radio. So I’ve actually been playing with members of TVOTR for years as back around that time there were only few venues in Brooklyn.
Apart from Tunde, you’ve taken on some other big names to help out on the record – FreQ Nasty, Apollo Heights as well as big-wig producers Radioclit and Costanza Francavilla. How did these working relations come about? Costanza produced a lot of the record. I met him through FreQ Nasty. Radioclit, I met at a dinner party at Santigold‘s house a few years ago. Radioclit had asked me to come down to this studio and lay down some vocals on a track – it happened to be Costanza’s studio. I really loved the studio, it had a really nice vibe and from there I decided I wanted to use the studio for our own recording. We basically just met Costanza by working in his studio and it went on from there. We did a few tracks with FreQ Nasty but the music didn’t make the record. I think you guys are the first people we’ve told that to [haha].
So how does it feel to get Medicine Babies out to the public? It’s great man. It’s been a long time between albums. We haven’t really been in the studio together for a long time. It was difficult with Steeples being in LA for his TV show (My Name Is Earl – Crabman) but it feels great to have it out and it’s been really well received so far. We had a chance to do a few shows in Europe just a few weeks back that went well. I’m really excited about it and hope that the next few months will be good for us.
Back in 2003 No Surrender released debut LP White Power, Black Magic. Why has it been such a long time between the two releases? We recorded that a long time ago. Back then the New York scene was a whole lot different. There was a lot of alternative hip-hop already and the acid-punk scene was just being born at the time. There was a lot of indie music out and I think we put that record out at the end of an era. Alternative hip-hop was on its way out, tempos were getting a lot faster and the dance influence started injecting itself into alternative music. We have kept that record out of print for a reason. We’ve been thinking about remixing the entire record and putting it back out but we wanted to see how Medicine Babies did first. We did get a little bit of acclaim out of that record which is pretty much what kept us afloat. So, part of the reason for why it took us so long between albums was that things changed drastically in the New York music scene. We actually did make another album which we completely scrapped. We didn’t feel that the timing was right and we thought that we were kind of rushing the record. We didn’t really have the time and we do like to make a record organically rather than sending files back and forth, so we would do it when Steeples was in town and we’d record as much as we could and then he’d leave. It was just a really rushed project and we weren’t feeling it was our best work by any means. I think we might let that one simmer a bit and down the track, get back in and remix that one as well.
Did you uses any material from that album at all? No we didn’t actually. We started completely fresh. Another real turning point for us in developing our sound was when a really close friend of mine Johan, who is a radio producer, took us out in London a few years back. We went around to the clubs where he was spinning at the time and it was so interesting to hear what kind of music people were into, what was really making them move, and what they were responding to. It was the polar opposite to the kind of music we were making back home. So we decided, maybe we aren’t walking down the right path after all – it kind of energized us. It gave us a sense of where we needed to be and where we needed to start going musically.
Recently you played the main stage at the Sonar Music festival alongside some other epic acts. How was that? It was a great show and honestly it was the first time we played to that many people – we definitely want to do more of that. It’s also a testiment to the work we do. Sonar is a very difficult festival to break in to but we were accepted before our record even came out. They would have only heard a few tracks before the album’s release. So it was such an honour to be there and play the main stage, on the main day of the festival. It was amazing – such a great experience.
Is there a massive tour being planned for the remainder of 2011? Well Steeple’s has been shooting back-to-back movies and he has just finished his obligation with that. We are trying to put together a touring plan right now actually. We are hoping to get back out on the road in October/November. Nothing solid as yet but we are trying to figure out whether to do the US first, Europe or somewhere else maybe.
Does that mean you may be heading to Australia? Yeah, hopefully man. We’ve actually got a lot of friends down there so we would love to play some shows.
What’s next for No Surrender? Man, we’ve been around for a little while now and we are feeling so energized with all the attention of late. There are just so many things we want to do and we want to be able to get out there and do the best we can do. We have already started recording new songs, we’ve got some new videos in the can that we haven’t released yet as well as a bunch of other ideas. We’re here to stay.
Wrap your earlobes around the alt-afro, electro-punk sounds of Medicine Babies:
Medicine Babies is available now via ZerOKilled Music.