Interview by Jamison Harvey Photos by Eilon Paz
ometime in the 1990s, I walked into Jack’s Records in Red Bank, NJ and bought Blow Your Headphones by The Herbaliser without even hearing it. I had been turned on previously to them from some other music lover that passed it on to me. I dug it. Their brand of funk, soul, and jazz filled with samples and superbly crafted hip-hop beats had me nodding my head before, so I was sure they wouldn’t let me down this time. They didn’t.
Later on, across the Atlantic, as I drove to various DJ gigs in the Tri-State area, not only did I listen to the CD over and over on the way, but I proudly spun vinyl tracks from the record – “Mr. Chombee Has The Flaw” and “The Blend” – at my gigs. No one I knew was spinning these guys so, to me, these tracks were put into my signature sound. As with most of hip-hop and sample-based music I listen to and spin out, it’s the original sample that attracts me. The Herbaliser’s use of classic drum breaks and samples from artists like Eddie Bo and Dennis Coffey, to name a few, drew me into their sound instantly. I often wondered, “What kind of record collectors were they? What was in their crates?” The only way I knew was to buy their records, dissect the sound by listening over and over, hear what they sampled, and try to figure it out. There was no Internet, no WhoSampled, hardly any record message boards or lists. I specifically remember traveling more than an hour up to Fat Beats to purchase a 12-inch copy of “Road of Many Signs” that featured The Dream Warriors. Holy shit! The Dream Warriors? They had a hit on alternative radio with “My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style” that I loved, and here I was seeing them on The Herbaliser’s records. I was floored. It was a big deal for me. Record nerd heaven. These UK musicians, who had Canadian rappers on their single, being introduced to me here in the US, was another special moment to me. I wanted to share this music, so I did. They made that kind of impression on me. Their sound was timeless and it was because of their record collections they were able to make it happen.
When asked to interview one half of The Herbaliser and fellow vinyl record lover Ollie Teeba, I jumped at the chance. Although we run in the same DJ and vinyl record circles, we didn’t know each other personally. I surmised that we would have the same sort of taste based on the records he had released, the same records I loved to listen to, despite the fact our homes are over 3000 miles apart. And I was right. We were looking for and digging up some of the same type of records across the pond, unbeknownst to each other. Starting out with early inspiration, like a lot of us did, from our parent’s record boxes. Ollie’s vast musical knowledge, honed by years of digging and working behind record counters, is quite extensive. It runs the gamut from hip hop, funk, and soul to rare movie soundtracks, and beyond. The soundtracks however, are some of his favorite records to collect. We spoke about, among other things, Star Wars, Wild Style, David Axelrod, 90s hip-hop, and of course the making of those early Herbaliser records.
During the interview, the same feeling came back to me that I got as I listened to the music he created with The Herbaliser and wondered what was in his record collection. Brought together by the love of the vinyl record, the open drum break, and the sound of a good sample, I finally did get those questions answered close to 20 years later.
Who are you Ollie?
My name is Oliver Trattles, also known as DJ Ollie Teeba, from groups The Herbaliser and Soundsci. I was born in Hammersmith, west London, and raised in Twickenham, southwest London. I have lived in Camberwell, southeast London for the last 17 years.
What was your first album? How did you get it? At what age?
That’s a difficult one because I can’t recall a time of not having any records. I remember always having kids’ records and movie soundtracks before I developed a taste in popular music.
A very early memory I have is my dad would not let me anywhere near his rather nice and no doubt expensive Philips belt drive, so my mom bought me a tatty old 50s all-in-one radio and record player with its own built-in speaker and spindle that you could stack 45s on and they would play one after the other. She bought it from a jumble sale (like a yard sale that they used to put on in local church halls). I had a nursery rhyme record by a dude named Wally Whyton and he was dueting with two puppet pigs (I think their names were Pinky and Perky) that had squeaky voices (like the chipmunks). The player had all the settings from 16 rpm up to 78 and I discovered that if I played it at 16 rpm, the pigs were revealed to be the voice of the singer sped up. I think this was the very first time I became fascinated with the mechanics of record players as more than just a device for simply playing the records, but that you could manipulate the sound too. The first 45 I remember buying with my pocket money was the theme from the TV series Monkey and the first pop record that I bought myself was “Kings of the Wild Frontier” by Adam and the Ants in 1980. I’m quite proud of that since I was only 10 years old and I still regard that as a good record.
This is the first 45 I remember going to the store to buy with my own pocket money. It would have been 99p or even 79p, which was the standard price for a 45 back then. It’s the theme from the Japanese TV show Monkey about the Chinese legend, Monkey King. It’s got a cosmic synth intro into the funky theme. “Monkey is funky” is actually a lyric from the song.
A magic disc that as well as looking great makes a noise and it’s often contained within a book full of information and pictures of what you are hearing. What’s not to love about that?
My parents were really into music. My dad used to play the guitar but not to any fantastic standard, just for fun. He loved rock and blues and my mom was a soul music fan. I think probably the first artist I was probably aware of was Elvis. Like most British men who were teenagers in the 1950s, my dad’s first exposure to black music was Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, etc., and he was massively inspired by them. As a kid growing up in the 70s and 80s, I remember he seemed to be tracing back from there and listening to older and more obscure black blues/early jazz artists.
Also, I used to get dragged along (willing or not) to many music and dance events. When I was 9 years old, I was taken to Riverside Studios where the legendary jazz hoofers Chuck Green, Bunny Briggs, and Honi Coles were performing a show. In 1980, I was brought along to a blues festival to see the great Muddy Waters perform.
One of the first records I remember owning. When I grew up, I started to put away childish things and my mom sold off all of my toys and most of my children’s records. I can’t tell you how many of my original collection I had to re-purchase.
Was there a particular person who inspired you to collect records, a role model in the art of record collecting?
Well, I can’t really say for sure. I guess the first person who I would have known that had records was my dad. I don’t really remember not having records myself so the inspiration must have come to me so young that it escapes memory. One very early recollection that I do have is that my mom also used to buy me records. I was really into Sci-Fi, superheroes, and James Bond when I was a very young and if I was sick and home from school then when my mom would go out for groceries she would stop by at Woolworth’s and pick me up one of their selection of cheap Sci-Fi theme LPs. I soon started to take advantage of this and would feign illness to get the double hit of a day off school and a free record. Crafty little bugger!
Spoken word records are a great interest of mine. Especially old radio dramas. Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds is an absolute classic. When Welles broadcast this in 1938 he performed it as if it was a genuine news broadcast. If what I read is true, when he did so, many people thought it was happening for real! A selection of my Flash Gordon radio collection, including The Official Adventures of Flash Gordon as famously used by the great Grandmaster Flash.Themes For Super Heroes by Geoff Love and his Orchestra. In the 70s, there were tons of hits and film theme records by various orchestras that featured absolutely no original recordings. Which was dope because occasionally Mr. Love’s versions were better than the originals. Especially the version of Batman on this, which has a killer break! Shhh! Don’t tell…..oops!
Another one from Geoff Love. I love the fact that it has a picture of a bunch of people who look like characters from the movies but just different enough to avoid copyright issues.
Some year’s back I picked up the very same Story of Star Wars LP that I had as a kid. Only this one is all in Japanese. When I opened it up it had this inside. A cardboard ‘make your own’ R2-D2.
What’s your philosophy behind collecting records and how has that evolved since you started collecting up until the present day?
I think the key thing with a vinyl record is that it is an object in the way that an mp3 or music coming from the radio is not. As well as being a lover of music, as I’m sure most (perhaps not entirely all) record collectors are, I adore the object itself. A magic disc that as well as looking great makes a noise and it’s often contained within a book full of information and pictures of what you are hearing. What’s not to love about that?
So you have a child that already loves records, is fascinated with the mechanics of players and how recording works, and then in the early 80s just as he is starting to grow (not so much in my case) into manhood, he discovers hip hop. That is where it gets crazy because this kid is now seeing dudes not just playing the records, but messing about with them and doing all sorts of interesting stuff. I saw this and immediately said to myself, “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” Once that started, I started to learn what the specific records being used were and got into collecting breaks and stuff. So then records took on extra function for me, as tools.
I scoured the four corners of the globe (okay, not literally) for this record for 9 or 10 years. I even visited a used record store in Portland named Bedazzled. I sheepishly asked them if they had a copy of the record and they actually laughed. On my next tour of the US, however, I found it in a store in Chicago. It was my greatest digging moment.
So, is vinyl mostly a tool of the trade these days or also acts for recreational listening? What’s the last record you listened to?
When I am at home I listen to vinyl frequently. I went through a few years of not listening to vinyl as much as I had no turntable in my living room, only in the workspace. Now that I do, when I am at home, I probably listen to vinyl nearly every day. I am listening to a long player right now as I type, “Stainless Soul” by The New Apocalypse.
On The Herbaliser’s first record, Remedies, you and Jake Wherry sampled some break beats from artists such as The Soul Searchers, Lightnin’ Rod, Eddie Bo, Dennis Coffey, Larry Young, and others. You also sampled some popular and underground hip-hop in A Tribe Called Quest, Big L, Lord Finesse, and Method Man. Can you speak on making that record, how it came about? What was unique about these particular records that made you want to sample them from your collection?
I very much look at Remedies as Jake and I trying to find our sound. It was also, for me at least, a collection of bits and pieces, demos, ideas, etc., rather than a properly conceived album. Much of it was beats and ideas that had been knocking around for years, some of which were sketches that Jake and I had come up with independently before we started working together. At that time, meeting and combining our efforts and skills was just what was needed for us to get this stuff out there on vinyl and out of our creative mind. I think a lot of people do that with their first record. Just get the ideas out so you can clear the board and move on creatively.
It all comes back to the movie Wild Style for me. That movie was the thing that cemented for me what I wanted to do with my life. Everything that you actually need to know about hip hop is contained in this movie. Everything else is extraneous. This soundtrack and the 3 other records on the floor (Streetsounds Electro 1 and 3 and Looking for the Perfect Beat) are the very first hip hop records I owned (I don’t know what happened to Electro 2.)
Right from the start you established your heavy funk, soul, and jazz influence with some of the aforementioned sides. Can you show us some of your personal vinyl favorites you think are records that really shaped The Herbaliser’s sound? You have also used some soundtrack composers like Roy Budd, Lalo Schifrin, and Ennio Morricone. Do you have some favorite soundtrack records you can share with us?
Oh yes…now you’re talkin’. Movie soundtracks are something that go back to the beginning of my collection. I love films and their scores. I have since I was a child. Probably because watching films on TV with my family was a significant shared experience for me. I think that also as a kid playing, my younger brother and I would try and relive the movie, playing it out whilst the soundtrack played on the turntable. I was really into James Bond when I was a kid and used to play along to John Barry’s music. Then in 1981 I saw Enter the Dragon and Dirty Harry on the same weekend.
I’m watching the opening sequence of Dirty Harry with the sniper on the rooftop and the music is so menacing. Then he shoots, the drums kick in, the titles run, and I am completely entranced. As soon as the ‘music by’ comes up in the credits I pause the tape. Lalo Schifrin. “Oh, that name sounds familiar,” I think. Then I realized it’s the same dude who made the superbad music in the other movie too.
Lalo Schifrin. The man. This one is not one of his film scores but I remember my first awareness of Mr. Schifrin. I was already big into soundtrack music but Lalo’s mixture of orchestral dramatic score with Latin and funk rhythms with heavy drums did something to my brain.
I think I loved his work because it had all the moody qualities of the more orchestral scores that I liked but another element: funkiness. So I became an instant fan and avid collector of his music. Many years later, when I started messing around with samples, I immediately started to draw on this kind of music. Both because I had a lot of those records in my collection and because the sounds and textures were so evocative. Ennio was someone who I was familiar with but, as a kid, only really knew his Spaghetti Western scores and became more aware of his other work later. The more I heard, and am still discovering today, the more I became convinced that he is the greatest of all the soundtrack composers. Roy Budd is someone I wasn’t aware of until much later when I saw The Stone Killer. A rubbish movie with a ridiculously dope score.
I, like many who dig, love to pick up stuff that you don’t often see on 45. In fact, you don’t often see The Stone Killer on any format. I think even the 90s official CD is probably getting scarce now.
My absolute favorite soundtrack in my collection is the soundtrack to Bedazzled by Dudley Moore. Aside from being one of my favorite comedy movies of all time, the music is so sublime. I saw the film in 1987 and decided it was my mission to get the LP. I scoured the four corners of the globe (okay, not literally) for this record for 9 or 10 years. I even visited a used record store in Portland named Bedazzled. I sheepishly asked them if they had a copy of the record and they actually laughed. On my next tour of the US, however, I found it in a store in Chicago. It was my greatest digging moment. Not just because I’d found my Holy Grail but because I literally willed it into the crate. I don’t know how many vinyl enthusiasts have done this but I was flicking through some records in a box and stopped for a second and consciously thought, “It is here…it will be in this one.” I continued delving through the records. I must have flicked by less than 10 more LPs and there it was! I was trembling, I couldn’t believe it.
To top it off, when I arrived home from the tour, I had a phone message from Intoxica. Intoxica was a record store in London that specialized in obscure Exotica and soundtracks. Having given up on ever finding a copy of Bedazzled, I had asked them to let me know if they ever located a copy. I was prepared to pay money since at the time I was earning pretty well from recording royalties and DJing. The message went something like, “Hi Ollie, we have a copy of the Bedazzled soundtrack in the store. If you would like to buy it we can put it aside for you and the price is £175.” I nearly fell off my chair laughing. I just copped it for $25 (about £15).
Bits from my James Bond collection. Geoff Love’s Big Bond Movie Themes LP is a re-purchase. This is an earlier issue of the LP than the one I originally owned. The one I had featured a view of the back of Bond’s head as I think this one must have been considered to be too close to a copyrighted image of Roger Moore.I’m not sure which incarnation of 007 this is supposed to look like. George Lazenby or some kind of generic Bond…you decide!
Describe the process of going through your records and picking out samples to make a track.
Often I have a pile of records that are sitting around waiting to get sampled, with the breaks/sounds having been identified earlier. However, a substantial portion of my collection is sampler fodder. A lot of stuff I have acquired on digging expeditions doesn’t go straight into the sampler but into stock for later use. Many of these records, I have forgotten what is on them. So at times I will grab something, often entirely at random, and go through the vinyl as if I were digging for breaks in a record store. Plus it’s always worth revisiting records as what I may have been looking for in terms of sample material in 1995 may be different in 2013.
Did we sample these?
Oh…I couldn’t say for sure. That would be telling…Are you trying to get us into trouble?
Release of an Oath by The Electric Prunes and, most important, David Axelrod on arrangement. Several samples have been taken by a number of hip hop artists from this record. Isn’t that artwork stunning?
Do you have any regrets about not buying any particular records?
I have no regrets as when I see a record I want, I won’t sleep on it, I’ll grab it. If I consider it to be too expensive then that probably is me telling myself that I don’t want it enough anyway. Anyhow, if I miss something then I make it my mission to find it elsewhere. It’ll turn up…..someplace.
What is your set up when listening to records at home? What kind of equipment are you using? Do you have a designated listening room, or do you listen just in your studio (workspace)?
I have Technics 1210 with Schure 447 stylus. I tend to listen better in my living room. That’s my relaxation time and when I’m chilling on the couch, that is when I’m going to listen properly. Of course, within the record room, where I work on beats that I’m making and working out DJ sets, there are a pair of turntables but I process music in a completely different way when I am working on it. Now that I have a 1210 in my living room, I chill and listen to much more music without the temptation to flick through the LP or mess with it in any way.
If you could only take three records from your collection to listen to for the rest of your life, what would they be and why?
These are 3 LPs that in all the years I have owned them, I never tire of listening to them.
Bedazzled OST – Dudley Moore – It’s the most beautiful music score I ever heard and took a long time to acquire so feels very precious.
Midnight Marauders – A Tribe Called Quest – Probably my favorite hip hop LP of all time. They were at their creative pinnacle as a group during a time when hip hop was in its golden era.
One of my mid 80s car boot sale digs. Ali and His Gang Vs. Mr. Tooth Decay. It has an awesome funk track with Ali and the kids chattering all over it. I remember wishing I also had an instrumental of the original track. Years later discovered it was a British library track by band members of The Mohawks.
Do you specialize in any artists/genres when collecting? Are there any records people would be surprised you collected and have a lot of knowledge about?
Well, hip hop predominantly but when digging for either samples or just beautiful listening music, I am always drawn to the soundtrack section of the store before the soul/funk/jazz for some reason. I think the fact that the main function of a movie score is to assist the telling of a story is what draws me to that music, as I find it more interesting and less formulaic than songs.
I think there will always be music in my collection that people don’t expect. Many people think I am only into hip hop and funk and are surprised by a very good general knowledge of popular music (historically speaking) from working in record stores that didn’t specialize.
Do you feel that vinyl records are here to stay? Why is vinyl so important to you?
I think the fact that vinyl is still here and its popularity on the rise shows that it is most certainly here to stay, but it will never be as significant to as many people as it was. It’s difficult to rationalize why vinyl is so important to me. It has always been there in my life. It is a part of me. For me to answer that would be like explaining why it’s important for me to have fingers and toes.
What do you want to happen to your collection when you check out?
I would simply like it to go to a good home. So, I think I would break it up amongst my friends who collect rather than just leaving it behind for someone to sell off. I don’t have children and it’s too early to say whether my nephew will take an interest in this stuff. I would just want the records to end up with somebody who wants them.
Who would you like to see profiled next on Dust & Grooves?
I heard rumor of an attempt to get Tarantino involved. That would really be something. Or, for that matter, any other great filmmakers who collect records would be fascinating. Certainly for me it would be fantastic to do a bunch of the great hip hop producers who dig for records, Primo, Diamond D, Large Professor, V.I.C., Beatnuts, Pete Rock, Alchemist, Q-Tip, Lord Finesse to name but a few.
“Nobody who ever died spoke the final words, ‘I wish I had bought less records.'”
Ollie Teeba and many more vinyl collectors are featured in the book Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting
Please consider purchasing the book and continue your support of the Dust & Grooves project. (Book ships locally in the UK and many other European countries)