A Q&A with The Undercover Hippy
Billy Rowan’s politically-driven roots reggae and hip-hop vehicle… with added humour
What is the title of your latest release, and what does it mean to you?
Our newest single, ‘These Days’, will be released at the end of the tour in May, along with a music video we just finished filming. The track is about not getting out very much and is part nostalgic journey into my bygone days of raving, part commentary on getting older, and part call to arms to get off the sofa and have it large. I wrote the song before Covid, but after we were all put into lockdown the song took on a new meaning, as everyone was confined to their sofas.
What was the hardest part about putting this release together, and why?
For me the hardest part is always recording my vocals. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I tend to procrastinate when it comes to recording my own parts. The rest of the tracks were recorded in Spring 2020, and I’ve only just finished the vocals now!
What do you enjoy most about producing your own material?
I’ve produced all my releases, but I get the final mix done by Dean Barrat down in London, who really knows how to bring out the best in my tracks. It would be great to work with a producer on a record, but so far that’s never happened, probably because I’m able to do it myself.
What do you want the listener to take away from listening to your music?
My aim is to make people think, laugh and dance, ideally at the same time. ‘These Days’ is just a fun song, although tinged with a bit of sadness over growing older, but a lot of my songs are very political. I tend to write about things that get me riled up. I try to articulate what others might be thinking but put it into four minutes and make it easy to digest.
How does a track normally come together? Can you tell us something about the process?
I usually write the song at home, and then take it to the band. Then we develop and arrange it together. Over the last two years I wasn’t really able to play with my band, so I did a lot of producing demos myself. It was amazing when we finally got together in 2021 and started playing those demos as a band. Nothing compares to the sound of real musicians playing together.
Which bands / artists have influenced you the most since you started the band, and why?
I’m never sure how to answer this question. I think I probably take influences from all the bands I share stages with whose music I like. I’m really out of touch with what’s happening in the wider music industry / charts / radio etc. Some bands that I rate are Regime, The Skints, Mungos Hifi, Eva Lazarus, Natty, Smiley & The Underclass … but when I think of who has influenced me as a musician I tend to think back to my teenage years, listening to Tracy Chapman, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Black Uhuru, Peter Tosh, Paul Simon, even though I sound nothing like those artists.
Which countries would you like to tour? And are there any standout venues you’d like to play?
I would just love to pick up where we left off with touring Europe before Brexit and Covid made it virtually impossible. We have a Germany tour booked for May 2023, but with the extra costs and paperwork associated with Brexit it’s become almost impossible to make it financially viable for artists at my level.
If you could pick one track for our readers to listen to, to get a taste of your music, which one would you pick, and why?
Tough choice. My most popular track is ‘Boyfriend’, but I think right now I’d rather they went and listened to ‘Borders’. It’s a song about migration, refugees, and borders, and I think that’s something that needs discussion now as much as ever.
What ambitions do you have for the band and your career?
If I can play the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, I’ll retire happy.
Finally, as you leave the stage, what are your parting words?
Put down your phones and go watch some live music. And to quote Jerry Springer, “Take care of yourself, and each other”.
For more info visit: undercoverhippy.com