Last week, I caught up with Remi over the phone (that’s right ladiez, I got his numba) to talk about his latest album, Raw x Infinity, and his upcoming tour, which kicks off in Newcastle tonight!
Remi is a three-piece outfit, featuring himself, and producers Sensible J and Dutch—the talents behind his nu-wave hip-hop sound. Though Remi only started rapping when he was 19 years old, the success of his single “Sangria” as well as winning the Triple J Unearthed Artist of the Year award in 2013, has rocketed him to the forefront of the Australian rap scene.
Did you know that Remi used to tap dance? Or that he doesn’t drink beer on stage because it makes him burp? Check out the interview, and get to know a little bit more about his independent label, House of Beige, his upcoming international pursuits, and the time he got high at Prince Bandroom with Danny Brown.
ARIANNA: Let’s start at the beginning. Do you remember what your first interactions with music were?
ARIANNA: What is your ethnic background?
REMI: Well, my pops is from Nigeria, and my mum is from Tassie, so I would like to say that I’m split straight down the middle.
ARIANNA: Is your family pretty supportive of your music?
REMI: Yeah, very. My mum is probably more so than Dad, but Dad’s come around now. It’s more cos’ in Nigeria, there aren’t a lot of options, so school is your way to a better life. Over here, it seems like a lot of ethnic parents are quite strict on their kids but you tend to understand why if you look into their background. That’s what my dad did—he was able to get over here from his academic accomplishments, so when I told him that I was dropping out of uni to be a rapper, he was not about that! And I admit, I get it. People think that we’re killing it, but we’re not making heaps of money at all. At the same time, I couldn’t really be happier. I think it’s more about achieving and doing something that you enjoy.
ARIANNA: What did you study at uni?
REMI: I actually did nursing for half a semester. I was really enjoying it, but then one of my homies at uni bet me that I couldn’t rap. I’d written a rap ages before then for my friends that wanted to make a rap as a joke, but when they heard mine they said, “Nah man, it’s too legit,” so I didn’t pursue it. But then my friend from uni dared me to do it, so I went home, wrote a shitty rap, and he thought it was really good, so I continued to do it.
ARIANNA: When you dropped out, was that when you realised that you could turn your rapping and your music into a career?
REMI: No, not at all. I’d always known that I wanted to do something that wasn’t related to school, and when I found rapping, I just went at it. I met Sensible J through his girlfriend. She’s one of my really good friends, and we worked together at General Pants at the time. Back in 2010, she played me BLACK + WHITE NOISE, the album that him and N’fa Jones have been working on for the past four years and only just released. I lost my mind. When we started working together, that was when I really started to work towards it as a career, because he saw potential in me, and it’s great when you’ve got someone accomplished supporting you.
REMI: Rap is one of the very few genres where you can put lyrics over a song that’s already been made. Frank Ocean did it with nostalgia,ULTRA. so I guess it can be done with R&B as well, but if you’re singing over a Rolling Stones song, for example, then you’re just a cover band. With Childish and Five Beats i Love, you get to show people your range. That’s what F.Y.G ACT: 1was about. That stands for “Fuck Your Genre”. It panned out better than we expected because “Sangria” was off that mixtape. It obviously went way further than we expected, but if you listen to F.Y.G ACT: 1, you can see we’ve got a whole bunch of different genres and musical influences.
ARIANNA: So when journalists ask you what your genre is, is that the most annoying question to answer?
REMI: Well we’re hip-hop, but hip-hop is a really broad spectrum. I watched this Red Bull interview with D’Angelo, and he said “Genres are just labels that we put on things to help people identify with them”, which is totally understandable. You know, Tame Impala is rock, but so is AC/DC, and they could not be more different. I tell people we’re hip-hop, but you can go in there and interpret it how you feel.
ARIANNA: F.Y.G was Act: 1 of your mixtape series. Are you planning to release Act: 2 or is that off the table now with the album and your upcoming tour?
REMI: I guess it’s always a possibility. Doing mixtapes are cool, and rapping over your favourite shit is always fun, but there’s nothing better than writing your own song, especially with Sensible J and Dutch. We might do another one, but it might be something where the samples are super obvious.
ARIANNA: So you have your own “DIY” label called House of Beige. When did you form that?
REMI: It’s actually just been popping up. We used to be in this group called Run For Your Life, and I think it was around that time.We were just hanging out and J called his house “House of Beige”. He was like “Oh man, it’s so sick, cos’ you know, the walls in your house are beige!” [laughs] And that kind of happened from there. When we put out the record, we thought, “Fuck man, we don’t want to have ties with any other labels or let anybody get pre-misconceptions about our music.” The album is different to what’s out there, and we want people to go in it with a cool head, and not make any assumptions about it. We have a few other artists who are definitely going to drop their stuff through House of Beige by the end of the year. It’s really awesome when you have your own outlet, and complete freedom to release whatever you want, with no one telling you what to do.
ARIANNA: Is it challenging having to manage House of Beige?
REMI: Everybody says that the independent route is a lot more work, but I think it’s a different kind of work. Different strokes for different folks. If we were in a label situation, with people telling us what to do and what not to do, what music to release and when we could release it, that would be harder for us. But we do all the artwork, and plan alongside our managers. It’s not really work. We’re doing what we love and we’re pretty happy doing it. We’ve had reps in the studio from major labels come and say “You should do this,” and we’re like “Nah! We’re not gonna do that!” [laughs]. It’s just not for us.
ARIANNA: Why do you stylise your name with a full stop, a lowercase ‘r’ and ‘i’ and an uppercase ‘E’ and ‘M’?
REMI: It’s gotten out of control my darling. When I first started out, I thought it looked cool, and then I just stopped giving a fuck. But the full stop is on the Facebook page. Once I got to a certain amount of likes, I couldn’t get rid of that. I’m gonna clear this up right now—I’m just happy with Remi. R-e-m-i. Capital R. It’s funny because I said to my old booking agent, “Man, I can’t have that shit up there,” and they said “Nah, it’s a branding thing now.” I said, “How the fuck is it a branding thing now? It’s still the same name man!” I distinctly remember J telling me, “Man, you don’t want to do that.” That’s one thing people don’t know about J. He’s basically psychic. He should be called Psychible J. He has helped me a lot with my rapping. He’s always suggesting things, but I’m just like “Nah, fuck you!” because I’m Nigerian and stubborn. He’s 28, a bit older than me, but he’s just a very wise man. He’s been in my position—starting music and wanting to do it by yourself—and he just tries to help me speed up the process by being my big brother. But I’m a big dickhead [laughs].
ARIANNA: Let’s talk about your lyrics. Your previous tracks had a focus on parties, girls and drugs, and now you’re tackling issues like racism, anti-capitalism, the negative effects of drugs and other societal problems. Does lyrical inspiration strike according to whatever is happening in your life at the time, or whatever you’re thinking about?
REMI: I made a conscious decision for this record to do something that had a bit more substance. Not to write off the shit that we’ve done in the past, but I want to grow as an artist, and I want to keep doing this for a while. I was lighting all that shit in the beginning, mostly because I just started writing rap and I didn’t really feel like I had much to say then, but now I’ve realised I’ve got a bunch to say. Back then, I just really loved the bounce, the swing, and the flow of rap, so I wasn’t really thinking much about what I was saying. I want to send a message. There are a lot of things that need to be said, that maybe people are too scared to say. I want to be that dude who says them.
ARIANNA: Do you know how to play any musical instruments?
REMI: I did classical piano when I was 4, and I played cello at school, so I’m kind of bummed that I never kept it up. But when your parents are telling you to do something, and you’re studying for hours and hours… [laughs] Hopefully when we get the opportunity to quit our jobs, I’ll be able to start something back up.
ARIANNA: Are you still working at General Pants?
REMI: I am indeed. I’m not bagging the job, but it’s getting to a weird point, because I’ve got a lot of shit to do, but the music thing isn’t paying for itself so I need to eat! [laughs] Everybody says there’s a weird transition period. But we’re pretty lucky with our fans, and we just hope that they’re going to keep supporting us, so we should be fine.
ARIANNA: Does anyone ever come into General Pants and get all fanboy/fangirl on you?
REMI: Yeah, a bit! I’m a very regular person. I’m not one of those dudes that can comfortably walk around and be like “Yeah! I’m an artist!” so when I meet people who like my music, I really just want to have a conversation with them and chill out. I’ll never forget the first time a dude noticed me, because I was still in the mindset that people didn’t know me. I just rolled around like it was everyday life. This one time, a dude came in, and he was just staring at me, all the way around the store. He was a schoolkid but he was as tall as me, so I was like “Does this kid want to fight me? Damn, I’m at work! I just want to chill! I’m just fucking working!” The kid goes “HEY! HEY!” and I was like “Yeah?”. He says “Uh, um…is your name Remi?”, so I was like “Yeah, yeah, yeah”, and he responds “Oh man, I’m a huge fan of your music!” I didn’t even realise that he would know my name through my music, like how the fuck did this 17-year-old know who I am? I like to pride myself on the fact that I don’t roll down with the underage kids, but there you go [laughs].
ARIANNA: Do you think winning the Triple J Unearthed Artist of the Year award last year was the big turning point in your career?
REMI: It’s definitely helped but it’s always really hard to say. Exposure-wise, we’ve been really lucky, and so many people have supported us on our way, but we’ve never written music for a radio station. It’s just for ourselves and our fans. From the publicity angle, it was a turning point, but our work ethic, where we record and how we do it hasn’t changed. I’m glad that we’d written half of the album when we won the award. We hadn’t really done a song like “Sangria” before. We’ve done sampling, and lighthearted, feel-good stuff, but it’s important for people to know that that’s not the only thing we do.
ARIANNA: Is “Sangria” your favourite track because it blew up so much?
REMI: I think it’s always the ones that you don’t expect to blow up, that tend to blow up. All the ones where I’m like “THIS IS THE JAM,” other people are just like “Nah, man it’s cool.” I’m like “Really? Damn, that was my favourite song.” The beat, the hook and the rap for “LIVIN” were actually done before we did “Sangria”. When the boys make the beats, they will start by giving me the bones of the beat, like the drum break, the bassline, and a couple of keys. Then I’ll get on the writing, and we’ll have the basic structure and chorus. Much later, J and Dutch go back to it, and really turn that track into a song. We get to listen to it with new ears. I don’t really have a favourite song. They’re usually the singles that get ruined for me, because I listen to them a lot more. I’ll check their views on YouTube, so I’ll just keep hearing the start of the song, and it ends up pissing me off.
ARIANNA: In May we interviewed this Australian rapper called Ry, and he said that you are the best live performer in Australian rap and that you can put girls in a trance.
REMI: Damn! Thank you [laughs]. I need to know more about him now [laughs]! I didn’t think I was putting anybody in a trance, I just want to get our music across. I think that’s cool. If they’re going in a trance, that’s fine with me! I’ve got a girlfriend though [laughs]!
ARIANNA: Ry also mentioned that you have a breakdancing background. Can you tell us a little more about that?
REMI: When I was 10 I used to be involved in Freestyle Fever, which is still going today. I used to emcee for breakdancing competitions, so I was always around it. My mum actually sent me to hip-hop and tap dancing classes at the time, which I really enjoyed, but I didn’t really learn much of what I do on stage now from that. I just watch music videos of Michael Jackson, so I’m inspired by him, D’Angelo and Prince. My moves—not what’s coming out of my mouth. If that was the case, I would be rolling around in purple robes and be rich as fuck [laughs]! We supported this guy called Joey Badass, who is another inspiration, in terms of how I interact with the crowd. I’m not a huge drinker on stage. I try to just drink Scotch because it goes down and doesn’t affect you. But beer makes me bloated, and I just end up burping in between raps.
ARIANNA: So you’ve got your album tour coming up. How have you been preparing for that?
REMI: We’ve been doing a bunch of rehearsals, just getting the new album tracks in our mind so we can perform them as powerfully as we can. I’m pretty excited, because we’re going to cities we’ve never been to before, like Newcastle where we start, Canberra, Hobart, Byron, and Sunshine Coast. It’s going to be really eye-opening.
ARIANNA: Have you ever performed anywhere internationally? Or do you have any plans to?
REMI: No we haven’t! We’re going to Germany in November, which is awesome. We’ve been getting a little bit of publicity in Germany—we got posted on MTV Germany two days ago, which is pretty cool. I can’t think of anything better than going to a place where I don’t even understand the language, and really cross that barrier with our music. I think we’ll go to the UK for a bit, and we might do some stuff in Amsterdam as well. We’re also going to sign with a booking agent in America called The Windish Agency, so we’ll be over there early 2015 as well. After the album tour, I think we’re doing three or four more national tours, which haven’t really been announced yet. I think we’re doing some gigs at the snow too.
ARIANNA: Where do you see yourself in five years time?
REMI: I hope I can get enough money to buy a house. Something extravagant. Just doing the same shit—some more singing, I might start making beats for myself. I wouldn’t release them though. Hopefully House of Beige is a lot stronger, cos’ I know that’s always been one of J’s dreams. There’s so much stuff that we don’t hear on the radio, and there’s a lot of alternative Australian music out there. I’ve got a lot of friends in the music scene that are more talented than I’ll ever be. We’ve got an eclectic group of people on tour, like Silent Jay. He’s fucking crazy, he’s incredible. He’s actually played at the Sydney Opera House, but not a lot of people know about him.
ARIANNA: What’s your favourite Melbourne hangout?
Hometown: Melbourne, Australia (According to a few sources, Remi was born in Nigeria, where his father is from, but it turns out that those claims are completely false, and he was actually born in Canberra, before moving to Melbourne a year later).
Latest album: Raw x Infinity, released 6 June, 2014.
Sounds like: The Roots, Kid Cudi, André 3000.
Say what? “Can I talk about the highest I’ve ever been?” YES YOU CAN REMI.
Danny Brown was performing at Prince Bandroom, and I had some pot at the time. Me and my friend really wanted to meet him. I’m a bit weird about meeting other rappers if they’re bigger than me, because I know how you feel when you get off stage—you just want to chill, do your thing, maybe meet a nice lady, and I didn’t want to get in the way of that. So we went backstage, and there were these ten random dudes just sitting there, and Danny was sitting on the couch by himself. It was a really fucking awkward vibe. I just turned to my homie and said “Let’s just smoke this weed, and get out of here!”. We light it up and then Danny says “Dude! Is that hash? Can I have a hit?” So him and those ten motherfuckers crowd around us. We sit in this circle, and it turns out all those fuckheads also have their own weed. If you’ve ever been to Prince Bandroom, you’ll know it’s like a box, so the smoke was just sitting there. So the doobies were going round, I was asking Danny about Coachella, he leaves for 15 minutes, comes back with three girls and says “We’re all going back to the hotel.” That was the end of that! At this point, I haven’t realised I’ve gotten so high that I can barely stand. I went up to MED, his support act, and said “Hey man, are you going to be hanging around here for a while?” and he said “Yeah man, we’re gonna see some strippers, you should come man!” and before he finished his sentence, I gave him the joint that was in my hand, grabbed my homie, and said “We’re getting the fuck out of here!” My body could have done without that much hash, I honestly thought I would be the first dude ever to die from weed. [laughs] So that’s my Say What?.
Ciao ciao, Arianna.