An Interview with The Undercover Hippy
Billy Rowan, a.k.a. The Undercover Hippy, is definitely not your average singer songwriter. His music brings together soulful vocals, infectious reggae rhythms, and the lyrical delivery of a skilled mc. After seven years spent DJ’ing and MC’ing on the Drum n Bass circuit, Billy swapped the decks for a guitar and started out as a solo act in 2007. He now plays with a full band, mixing guitars, keys, drums, bass, horns and backing vocals to create a high energy, interactive and highly entertaining live show.
Mounting a new campaign with his first studio release since 2014’s ‘Monkey Suit’ plus a slew of live dates across the UK, the subversive singer-songwriter makes his long overdue return this Summer. Largely inspired-by and rallying-against much that has come to grip politics and society over the last 12 months, Truth & Fiction is the forthcoming new record from the artist AKA Billy Rowan…
What can we expect from this new album?
For a while I was a bit worried that the last album Monkey Suit might have been the best I had to offer. Especially when three weeks before going into the studio we still only had five songs written for a 10 track album! But actually, the songs that have been written and developed during and after the recording process are probably my favourite tracks on the album. It’s also meant that those songs are still really topical, as I’ve literally been writing lyrics and recording vocals right up to the final week of mixing. So yeah, I’m really happy with how it’s turned out, so you can expect big things!
“Find ways of reaching people who think differently”
What’s your favourite track right now?
My favourite track keeps changing, but I think maybe the title track ‘Truth & Fiction’ holds the top spot at the moment. I’ve really enjoyed going a bit more hip-hop with my vocal delivery than on my previous releases. That’s freed up a whole new area of creativity to explore for me. So that track almost has just a whiff of early Eminem about it, who was certainly a big influence on me in my early twenties, in the sense of the multi-syllable rhyming and humour of it.
Do you think the world needs more protest songs?
Absolutely. I think music is just the most amazing medium for spreading ideas. It has the ability to cross social and political boundaries in a way that books and news articles seem unable to do. I’ve lost track of the number of fans who’ve told me they discovered me through hearing one of my catchy non-political songs like ‘Boyfriend’, and then became switched on to all the political ideas on the rest of the album. And these days with the echo chamber of Facebook I think it’s more important than ever to find ways of reaching people who think differently than you do and starting a dialogue.
In what ways is this different to your last album?
Well, it’s a lot less acoustic for a start. I’ve started playing electric guitar, and we no longer have violin in the band, so it has a much more classic reggae feel for the reggae tracks. It even has a brief moment where it verges on indie-rock! So yes, a much bigger sound than before. In terms of topics I guess it might be even more overtly political than Monkey Suit. Also, I mixed and produced the last album entirely on my own. This time I’ve been working with some amazing people. Dean Forrest (singer from Backbeat Soundsystem) was our recording engineer at Cube Studios, but was also much more than that. He helped guide us with decisions about arrangements, and even performed backing vocals and guitars for some of the tracks. Then I’ve been mixing the album with Dean Barratt down in London, who is another absolute legend. This has been a really interesting experience, as initially it seemed like our approaches and preferred sound were quite different. But these differences, and the resulting compromises, have made for a sound that is absolutely bursting with energy whilst at the same time retaining the dynamics and musicality of my previous releases.
Are you doing a release tour?
Yes indeed, we’ll be on tour in May promoting the release, and playing at cities across England. Then we’re touring in Europe in August, and then covering Scotland and Wales in October. And of course we’ll be playing various festivals and venues throughout the summer.
Any plans for the next album?
Give me a break! The only plans I’ll be making after this will be for a holiday!
The Undercover Hippy’s new album, ‘Truth & Fiction’ is out now