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UGLY DUCKLING: The interview – 2010

Underground legends Ugly Duckling have been delivering consistently excellent, funky, sample-based hip-hop since the early nineties and have a discography totalling no fewer than four studio LPs.
The three-man outfit comprising of two MCs (Andy Cooper and Dizzy Dustin) and one DJ (Young Einstein) are favourites with club DJs for bangers such as ‘Just A Little Samba’ and ‘Turn It Up’ and also justly famous for their upbeat live performances, which have garnered them a hugely loyal fanbase. Having toured the world extensively over the last couple of years promoting their last LP ‘Audacity’, UD only recently returned to their native Long Beach, California. They were probably expecting a rest or something but monkeyboxing was hammering on their doors (or at least their inbox) having heard the rumour (largely started by UD themselves, on their own website) that there was a new LP in the works. Run to ground, UD were actually good enough to give us the 411 on the trials of touring, the new album, and Dizzy’s record label Kamikazi Airlines as well as – er – Andy C’s encounter with the hounds of hell in England, and why Einstein had to be carried onto the plane in Ireland:

Monkeyboxing (MB): You guys have made several comments on the UD website about a new album – can you tell us a bit about it?
Andy C (AC): We’re hard at work on it right now, we’ve got all of the music but we still need to record the vocals and scratches and mix it. I’m not sure how long that will take (maybe a month or two) but, hopefully, we’ll have it out next year. I must humbly say that I think this will be our strongest effort yet. We’ve really gone back to what we do really well; high-impact, sample-loaded, funky songs that should rock live and on record. There is a world travel/running-from-the-law/final shoot-out theme that will make it interesting, imaginative and fun. Stay tuned!
Dizzy Dustin (DD): Andy and Einstein are spending most of the time on pre-production. I tend to stay home, write and work on the lyrical side of projects. As far as a title is concerned – not sure at this point – think we should have a listen once it’s done and bubble up some ideas.
MB: Your touring schedule seems to have been pretty relentless over the last few years – what kind of toll has that taken on the band – how have you coped? What have been issues e.g. worst tour bus habits etc.?
AC: Tour bus!!!??? We wish! We’re on the economy level my friend. It’s a bit of a stress sometimes but it’s been the way we’ve made our living for over a decade so, sometimes, being in eastern Europe on a different bed for the thirtieth night in a row feels more normal than anything else in our lives. Other times, you’re just tired and achy. All that said, being on the road allows you, if you take advantage of the opportunity, to become a better entertainer and more musical person every time you step on the stage. It’s a blessing to perform in front of people and have the chance to give them our music and we find, if we’re willing to really pay attention to the audience, we develop intimacy with our audience that helps us to make good songs for them.
DD: Touring has been a bit hectic. It’s hard being away from the family. I have a two and a half year old so yeah, it can be quite gruelling at times. At the same time we’re blessed to still be working. Ugly Duckling has been touring for so long at this point, we pretty much know how to avoid the issues. We know what gets under each other’s skin and know when to give somebody their space. I guess we’d have to have a tour bus first before we can mention habits, lol.
MB: Do you feel you’ve had to tour more to make up for the drop in sales of music caused by reduced demand for cd/ vinyl and continuing rise of file sharing?
AC: Everybody has taken some financial hits but we never made loads of money from album sales so road-dogging is nothing new for UD. Plus, we’re happy to be out there with the people anyway because that’s the reason we started making music in the first place. For us, the greatest privilege in the world is to construct a song, record it, release it and then go out on the road and watch a crowd respond to it when the hear it performed.
DD: You hit it on the nail! The road is where the money’s at right now. I believe that’s a good thing. Groups need to step up their live show and entertain again. We’ve never had huge sales as a group – so it works out for us!
MB: What’s the most memorable/ enjoyable/ bizarre thing that’s happened on the road?
AC: There’s no absolute number one moment for me because there have been so many crazy things but last year, I went running (I’m a bit of a jogger) in Bath, England (which is an amazing, beautiful town) and ran up to a 200-year old graveyard that overlooks the city as the sun was going down. I was all alone and I must admit I got a bit spooked by the mossy tombstones and crumbling church. So when the willies had set in I decided to jump the wall and run back to town. I was listening to BBC classical radio and all of a sudden a very eerie piece came on, so I started sprinting double-time through the countryside. Just then, two gigantic and angry-looking sheepdogs came up behind me on both sides and I swore they were going to take me to Dracula. Luckily they backed off and I made it to the club just in time for sound-check and when the guys asked me about my jog, I said, “it was okay”. That’s not an atypical day on the road for me and I dug the adventure.
DD: Do you know what black ice is? Andy almost killed us coming back from New Mexico. I saw my life flash in front of my eyes. That and the time we had to carry Einstein on to the plane in Ireland. He has since been sober.
Young Einstein (YE): For me it’s always the turntable issues. We’ve done shows in Arizona where the records are warping from the heat …[and]…upstate New York in the snow…the records develop frost. Outdoors gets weird when it’s windy – I’ve had records blow off the turntables!
MB: Many of the lyrics on the last LP seemed to be about not giving up and staying positive – was that a response to a gruelling tour schedule?
AC: More so, it was about growing up and dealing with adversity both in our career and personal life. For a long time, we didn’t reveal too many of our troubles in our music, opting to keep things, in general, light and upbeat. On “Audacity”, we decided to express a different side of our personality as a band but keep the core, classic hip-hop sound and production style we’ve always had. I’m not sure if it was an artistic success but we felt it was important to experiment and grow as a band and we learned a lot from the experience – especially about song-writing and melody. It may also have been a little therapeutic on a personal level.
DD: Not sure if it was a response to anything in particular? I think that we’re just getting older and looking at things in a different light. Personally I was going through a lot at the time and it was good to get it all out.
MB: Lack of industry respect (at least in terms of viewing UD’s music as marketable) was a theme in ‘The Breakdown’ off Bang For The Buck. Have your fanbase, consistent quality output and longevity as a band finally convinced the man to take you seriously or is the man himself less relevant now as a result of the digital era?
AC: I think we’ve given up on the industry at this point. We don’t understand anything but are making what we think are good songs and doing what we feel are good shows. We believe that if we do those things, we’ll be able to make a living because that’s the way things have gone up to this point. If some bigwig came along and wanted to put something behind UD, I guess we would give it some thought but it would have to be a situation where we’re not required to compromise one iota of artistic control.
DD: For some strange reason our fans have for the most part stuck with us. We never aim or aimed to convince the man to help us out. We know we’re not marketable. We know we have a niche and are happy and blessed to be where we’re at. If for some crazy reason ‘the man’ decides that he wants to take a chance and roll the dice, it would take some consideration.
MB: Where IS that guitar sample on ‘The Breakdown’ (‘Bang For The Buck’ Album track) from? Quannum used it on ‘Blue Flames’ too and I’ve dug and googled but to no avail…
AC: I’m not sure which sample you’re asking about; the big riff in the chorus or the loop over which Dizzy and I rap. In either case, I’m not telling!
DD: That’s a question for Einstein.
(Editor’s note – Einstein declined to comment.)
MB: Einstein – do you have any production tips?
YE: Be patient, keep your mind open to different genres of music, don’t let what other people are doing dictate how you do music. Surround yourself with people that believe in you.
MB: What do you think about the state of hip-hop? Is the genre due a back-to-basics reboot of the type rock got with the rise of grunge in the early nineties? Credible party hip-hop seems thin on the ground – with a few exceptions (yourselves included) – the underground largely seems to be an ever-diminishing series of returns along the theme of wordy navel-gazing over leaden beats while the mainstream has junked the funk and raps vapid inanities over what amounts to house music…discuss…
AC: Honestly, I don’t think about it. We are still running off of the fuel that is the early nineties and the golden age of sample-based, production-focused hip-hop music. In some ways, we never left that mindset. We started our group in ’93 and, at the time, our sound was nothing unusual. The only unusual thing about us today is that we never changed our tastes; we like loops! So when it comes putting our music in the context of today’s styles, we don’t even bother. We’ve watched so many fads come and go that, for us, it’s all a bit silly. In the end, good music survives like a funky cockroach.
DD: I have no clue! Every time I speak on it, it jumps in a different direction. I’m still having a hard time with dubstep making its way onto the underground scene. I think it’s best to do what you do and not worry about what others are doing.
MB: Dizzy – how’s your label Kamikazi Airlines coming along?
DD: The label’s ready for take off – we finally have all the key components. First LP release is ESP’s “Live From the Jumpspot” due November 16th.
MB: Any other side projects you’d like to tell us about?
DD: Does family count as a side project?
MB: Are you guys still with Fat Beats? How has that been working out?
DD: Fat Beats has alway been good to us. The truth is, we never know who’s going to distribute the next album. Once we finish recording we start shopping the for distro and label deals.
MB: I have a confession to make. A few years ago I chatted to Einstein after a gig saying I preferred “Bang For The Buck” to “Taste The Secret’ and he said, “Yeah – a lot of people didn’t really get it.” I wasn’t djing regularly at that time but I have been a lot since and I know for a fact that I play more cuts off that record than any UD release. I think I’m trying to say I get it now. Sorry about the delay. Anything you guys want to confess?
AC: Every album we’ve done reminds me of a certain time in our lives and careers so, for us, they’re all interesting in different ways. It is very hard to make good music. Even when you have a good song or concept, it often gets lost or watered down in the process of bringing it to life. It could get ruined in the performance, the mix, the hurried or rushed atmosphere of finishing a project or just the ego-clashes of everyone involved. I say that to make the point that, when I listen to any one of our albums, I only hear the mistakes and it hurts my ears.
DD: So what album do you prefer? Lol.
YE: I don’t really “get” Bob Dylan. Maybe someday. . .
MB: It’s kind of a tradition on monkeyboxing interviews to give the interviewee(s) the last word. Anything you’d like to share?
AC: Please have an open mind and a positive attitude when you listen to music. There’s magic out there that is sometimes missed when we go into things too cynically. Don’t be afraid to listen to anything out there from any time or genre – you might find something that makes your day a little nicer and, seeing the change in your demeanor, people might enjoy your company more than usual.
DD: Thanks to all those who continue to show their support for YUDEE! See you on the forum!
MB: Word to that. Thanks for taking the time to chat guys.
AC: Thanks for the chance to talk!

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