CULTED SOUNDS Q&A WITH FRANKIE STEW: TOUR LIFE & ARSENAL WOES
Brighton has long been one of the most underappreciated epicentres of underground and alternative hip-hop in the UK. What began as a budding cypher and mixtape scene fueled by boundary-pushing lyricism and experimental production from artists like Dr Syntax, Req, Elemental and The Menagerie, quickly became a pioneering powerhouse of homegrown hip-hop. High Focus Records and their cavernously deep roster of artists like founder Fliptrix, Leaf Dog, Rag n‘ Bone Man, Ocean Wisdom, Illaman, Onoe Capone and many more continued to build upon the foundations laid by the previous generation to firmly establish Brighton as a costal command post for contemporary hip-hop culture.
Today, a new era of Brighton based brilliance is baffling any purveyors of the archaic attitude that high-grade hip-hop can only begin in London, Birmingham or Manchester. Frankie Stew & Harvey Gunn have been at the forefront of UK alt-rap since their debut 2014 album ‘The Morning’ became an adolescent anthem. Tracks like ‘Sometimes’, ‘Put it on Me’ and ‘Silver’ shaped and soundtracked the teenage years of every M94 spraying, boombox carrying, Rizzler rolling hip-hop aficionado that rejected the corporate glazed definition of UK hip-hop being offered in the early 2010s. If you loved hip-hop but felt too far removed either geographically or lyrically from the Garage or Grime scenes holding hegemony in the big cities, then FS&HG offered an honest, humble and thought-provoking fusion of UK rap that didn’t sacrifice a lick of ice-cold production or ruthless authenticity.
After a decade of classic collaborations, genre-defining albums like The Flowers In Your Room, The Lakes and Breathing Exercises, and countless headline shows, Frankie Stew & Harvey Gunn have just wrapped on their UK tour following the release of their latest album Handle with Care. The sell-out success of this tour is emblematic of their key-stone position in the thriving UK alt-rap scene that they so careful helped to construct. As their friends and contemporaries like Loyle Carner, Ocean Wisdom, Murkage Dave and Kofi Stone continue on their path to international acclaim, Frankie Stew & Harvey Gunn refuse to sit on the sidelines as the scene they have contributed so much to become a globally beloved genre.
We caught up with Frankie Stew toward the end of the boys’ UK tour to hear his stories from the road touring after an excruciating two years of lockdown. We wanted to find out a little more about the audience reaction to hearing Handle With Care in a live context, how this project fits into the wider FS&HG discography, and which track from their extensive back catalogue means the most to Frankie after a decade of crafting classic tunes.
First off man, 2020 was obviously an incredibly challenging time for independent creatives such as yourself and for larger society as a whole. What was the lockdown experience like for you and did you have any trouble staying inspired to create with everything going on?
Lockdown was such a rollercoaster of different emotions for me. We actually made the majority of Handle with care in lockdown so thankfully we were still able to create throughout all of that happening.
You and Harvey Gunn just wrapped on your UK tour alongside Finn Foxell! How did the tour go? Any surprise tracks from Handle With Care stand out as particularly fun to do live?
The tour was amazing, the feeling of playing all those songs after not being able to for nearly 2 years is completely unmatched. One of the best times of my life. ‘Tears On My Window’ was probably a favourite of mine, just feels like it hit home with a lot of people.
How did you guys decide to have Finn Foxell as your opener? Any chance we may be getting a Finn Foxell x FSHG track soon?
We’ve been fans of his for a while now, so I shouted for him to come on tour with us and the rest is history. We had loads of great times together and made some unforgettable memories. Yeah, hopefully that’s something we can do in the future for sure.
Handle With Care is a standout project of the year so far. Did you have a concept worked out before you started recording or do you try not to think about it and just see what happens?
I guess we just wanted to make something that reflected the times, I wanted to be able to look back on this project in years to come and be reminded of it. How I was feeling, the topics I was writing about, good or bad, as long as we represented it honestly. It’s gonna be mad interesting to listen back to in the future for sure.
‘Save My Soul’ is a true highlight from the project because of the really understated instrumental and thorough provoking lyrics. Did the track grow out of that sample at the start of the track?
Yeah, Harvey is a bit of a genius when it comes to finding little gems like that. Yeah, that tune is pretty much what it says on the tin, it’s all about having a kid and the self-doubt that comes along with all of that.
I would love to chat about some of the featured artists on the project. Ocean Wisdom delivered a crazy verse on ‘Numbers on the Brain’, How did that partnership come about?
Ocean is from Brighton as well so we’ve been in contact for quite some time now. It just needed it to be the right moment for us to work together. Good guy to work with, super on the job and absolutely killed his verse.
It was a really cool addition to the project to have Elenie Drake on ‘Tears on my Window’. When did you guys first come across Eleni’s work?
We got contacted by Eleni’s team one-day ages ago about arranging a session. We started to dig through her music and ended up finding loads of amazing bits to sample for that track.
I can’t have the opportunity to interview Frankie Stew and not ask about ‘Sometimes’. What came first the crazy instrumental or the impeccable verse you lay down?
The music always comes before the lyrics, every time that’s the way we do it. I need something to write to, it’s the sounds that inspire me to write in the first place.
When you look back on The Morning nearly 7 years after its release do you have a ‘proudest track’ from the album today?
Yeah, I love that project, we were so young when we made it too it’s mad to think about now. My favourite track is probably ‘Since when’ or ‘Silver’ just gives me proper nostalgia listening to it.
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I know you are a massive Arsenal fan, so I gotta get your take on what you think Arsenal needs to do to turn this ship around? Is it all player development or do we need a total managerial overhaul?
Good question, I think it is ultimately a managerial overhaul starting from the top. The team player for player is more than capable of achieving more than what we currently are. But it’s hard man, we spent a lot of P as well. So I think it’s gonna be like this for quite some time.
Out of all the bangers you and Harvey have crafted over the years if you could only show one to someone who has never heard your music before that best summarises your sound, what track would it be and why?
‘Humble Pie’ of Breathing Exercises, just a mix of transparent songwriting and original UK beats. Hard to explain but that riddim there, for me is the one I would always pick.
Lastly man, I gotta ask for your guide to Brighton. If you wanted to show someone the real heart of your hometown, where would you take them to get some peng food and to see some dope live music?
If you’re into your seafood I would probably say Riddle and Finns for your lobster and all that sort of stuff. Music-wise I would say Concorde is a legendary venue, been around for many years. If you’re ever in Brighton you’ve got to check those two places out.