Cinematic hip hop and funk outfit fully embraces its old-school sound.
This is the message. It’s been proclaimed in press releases prior to the release of the band’s new album, Same As It Never Was, and noted in interviews whenever the question of a “new direction” comes up. Throughout his interview with Fast Forward, Lamb stays on this message, emphasizing the band aspect of The Herbaliser. This is his chance to correct history. He was there from the beginning, helping Ollie Teeba and Jake Wherry put together the demo for Ninja Tunes that launched their careers. He’s worked with the two for over eight years, playing the trumpet and the flugelhorn on every album and tour since 1999’s Very Mercenary. He’s helped shape the cinematic soul sound that defines The Herbaliser by writing and arranging songs. It’s time for some credit, even if it means leaving behind the label that launched the band’s career.
“That was the main thrust of [the label move],” admits Lamb. “We were at Ninja Tunes for 12 years. Now, it’s a new beginning. It’s a whole different thing now.”
The label move means more than just leaving behind Ninja Tune’s DJ-centric culture. It marks a united front for the band, a chance to reinvigorate themselves as pop music embraces a gentrified facsimile of Motown. The addition of Jessica Darling as The Herbaliser’s featured vocalist could be seen as the band’s attempt to put up their own picket fences in the suburbs of Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson. Darling, a 22-year-old London-born singer whose raw vocals recall classic funk singers like Marva Whitney, joins a growing list of young white women who sound as if they’ve cannibalized the vocal chords of dead black soul singers twice their age. Lamb, though, dismisses the notion that The Herbaliser is aiming for mainstream acceptance.
“That might happen, but it’s not something we’re going for,” he says. “We’ve always worked just under the radar of pop music, which has given us longevity. We have a strong fan base, but when you step into the pop world, you’re in danger of becoming a one-hit wonder.
“And we always were thinking about writing songs for a vocalist. Jess is a feature on this album and probably the next album. She’s very good, immensely talented and unknown. She just fills a void in The Herbaliser. We wrote songs specifically for her with The Herbaliser vibe, and it’s really working. As long as it keeps working for us we’ll keep it up, but you know The Herbaliser. We’ll still feature other people.”
Even if the band finds mainstream acceptance, The Herbaliser are wary of being labelled a pop band, or of any label for that matter. In the past, the band has shirked the electronica and trip hop labels that they feel have dogged them even to this day. Rather, they want recognition for laying down some of the groundwork for the current soul revival in pop music. After all, they were spinning and sampling soul grooves back when Amy Winehouse was just discovering crack cocaine in a high school toilet. Soul has always been a part of The Herbaliser.
“We’ve been doing live instrumentation for a long time — since 1998,” says Lamb. “We were one of the first ones on the Ninja Tunes label to put a live band together. It’s still about the funk and hip hop. It still has that cinematic sound. It’s still The Herbaliser.”
by Christine Leonard
Originally November 20, 2008 published in FastForward Magazine.