REGGAE | The Hempolics

IRIE™ Magazine | REGGAE - The Hempolics

The Hempolics

Kiss, Cuddle & Torture

The Hempolics are out to put those organic rootsy vibes back into music; with their fat radio-friendly hooks, bumping Soundsystem bass and a wanderlusty, ineffably real sound all of their own…

Over years of recording top international talent The Hempolics enigmatic leader, Grippa Laybourne, has been carefully honing his own masterpiece and selecting a gang armed and dangerous enough to execute it. The Hempolics caused an instant stir with their single Serious which hit number one in the UK reggae charts and was playlisted on Massive Attack’s BBC takeover.

Gotta Thing

IRIE™ | The Hempolics - Kiss, Cuddle & Torture Volume 2

Release Date: July 3, 2020
Label: Zee Zee Records
Copyright: ℗© 2020: Zee Zee Records
Total Length: 48:58
Total Tracks: 12
Format: Album
Genre: Reggae

Debut album ‘Kiss, Cuddle & Torture Vol. 1’ erupted on the radio with three singles playlisted by BBC6 Music and support from Steve Lamacq, Toddla T, Rodigan & Don Letts to name a few. Liz Kershaw selected the album on her ‘all killer, no filler’ best albums of the past 30 years and invited the band to play her BBC anniversary show after hearing them smash a live session for Lauren Laverne on BBC6. It’s not just on the radio that the band have been breaking with album track ‘Samurai’ synced to the worldwide trailer for Coen Brothers and George Clooney film ‘Hail, Caesar!’

On July 3, 2020, The Hempolics released ‘Kiss, Cuddle & Torture Vol. 2’ through their own record label Zee Zee Records via Kartel Music Group. Their sophomore album continues their trademark of sounding like the playlist of the attention-deficit generation. Recording underground style throughout the bedrooms and home studios of the band, The Hempolics have created an infectious mash-up of Reggae, Electro, Hip-Hop, Soul, Rock, and Pop. Although the weather out might be dull London-side it’s strictly sunshine vibes, resplendent with huge hooks and festival-friendly choruses. These are tunes that people will be bopping to across festivals, clubs and car journeys for years to come.

The Hempolics pedigree recordings are combined with tight as a tick live performances – honed at their own underground club night in London. They are the brainchild of veteran sound engineer and record producer Grippa Laybourne. Core vocalists, the empyreal Nubiya and devilishly dashing Dandelion, combine together impeccably, with Dan’s brother Harry sometimes stepping in with his own smooth tones. The rest of the band comprises of deft bassist Lorenzo, Leon King who ranks up there with the finest Reggae/Dub guitarists around and the exceptional Craig Boorman on drums.

‘Kiss, Cuddle & Torture: Volume 2’ is a masterful culmination of The Hempolics musical development, drawing together the strength of their unique influences in what is one of the most captivating releases of the year.

The Interview

IRIE. Take us back to the beginning of The Hempolics? How did you get together as a band?

Grippa. We released a demo of a song called “Serious” on Reggae Roast here in the UK in 2010 and it did well, so I thought lets get a band together. We didn’t do too many shows for the first few years. ‘Cos it took ages to find the right members, the ones who suit us and each other. Harry and his brother Dandelion were the first vocalists on stage, but it was important to balance it out with a woman. So I asked the Universe for the right girl singer who would fit and then it happened and I saw her in a crowd of thousands at Glastonbury Festival – she stood out. It takes ages for the songs to find and adapt to the stage from a record. You need a good tour with lots of shows to get the new songs down I reckon.

Nubiya. It was very sporadic. Just like anyone starting a family of their own we were individually recruited through our hardship and need for companionship. With our own stories, we set out to play sick music together.

IRIE. Where did the name The Hempolics come from? We’re assuming cannabis/hemp was the inspiration.

Grippa. Hemp is powerful and it’s helped to win wars back in the day – rope for the war boats, bows, and arrows, etc. Hemp is really strong, powerful, and diverse; exactly how I feel about the band’s sound.

The collie weed is definitely a source of inspiration. Each song is like a different seed, a different strain of the plant. Smoking the herb helps me with writing the songs, slows me down to the right vibe, but you’ve got to be careful not to get too stoned! I just wanted an original name really that represents the sound. I’m really into old New York gangs and films and had a vision of a logo that united us as a band and Hempolics just fitted perfectly into that vision.

Nubiya. The shiny package around the band was really inspired by two great cult film classics, ‘Babylon’, a real phenomenal capture of the London sound system scene in the early 1980s and ‘The Wanderers’ about a group of New York gangs in the ’50s/’60s.

IRIE. Who were some of the musical influences that helped inspire your original sound?

Grippa. Grippa is the brainchild. If you take a look through his journey into music you can see how parts of his timeline have gained motif’s in his work now.
There are some significant generational differences but we share a lot of similar interest in our more archaic styles. We are all well-educated ska, reggae, rocksteady and dub followers, it comes quite naturally to a Brit because it’s a part of our heritage too and our culture. The crossover of Caribbean and British artists in 20th-century music permanently evolved British culture. Grippa really brings a late 90’s, early naughty’s trip-hop flavor to it and from his portfolio, you can see why. We never strived to be just another reggae parade – just a natural evolution of what we like and know.

IRIE. How would you describe the ‘i’fficial Hempolic sound?

Nubiya. We are, again, not just a reggae collective, our vocalists are not and so our compositions stray into so many other genres without making a pantomime from our admirable resources. 

Grippa. We’re a mashup outfit – we’re not playing the same song across each of the albums. It doesn’t matter what kind of style of song we do, it’s in our own style of sound I hope – its sunshine festival music which is why we need to get out to California and get Irie. When over here we’re lucky to have 2 months a year of sunshine. 

IRIE. Where do you get your inspiration for your songs? Is it important that each song has an important meaning behind it?

Nubiya. It’s the story of the individual personified with their literature and melody. We live through the bullshit first so that we can write about the bullshit.  We, as lyricists, must take a step back from our situation to become it’s psychologist, write a theory and find some way of ensuring the audience that the music holds some stability in helping them through their own troubles whilst keeping true to our sound and ourselves. 

Grippa. For us, we always start with the beat n’ bass and that’s the beginning of the inspiration. Drums and bass are the foundation, that sort of sets up where it all starts for us.  The lyrics and the melody are done after there is a riddim, tempo to guide the vibe, and a key from the bass. I sort of handpick the singers that I think will match the beat I’ve started. Lyrics are a very important part, we love a cool chorus and a strong verse, normally the simpler the better. We don’t really sing too much Rasta, ‘Cos we ain’t Rasta. Danny Bowskill on “Forever” in this album and “Warrior Sound” on the first album is a Rasta. So he sings about it, you get me?

IRIE. Have you managed to stay creative as a band through the pandemic/lockdown? Any struggles or blessings in disguise?

Nubiya. I think this time was needed in some ways just to remind myself what’s really important. It’s easy to get wrapped up in everything especially in the city where nothing sleeps. For once in my life, I’ve had a full night’s sleep but still a wandering mind. I’ve learned how to be a better friend and I’ve discovered my true desires.

Business-wise it’s hard to say, we’re so grateful to everyone buying the album right now, cuddles and kisses to the lot of you. Luckily we had finished all the hard work for the 2nd album pre lockdown but the future of performance is still so uncertain. Our individual situations differ so we’re also trying our best to honor each other’s space especially those who are around people with health difficulties. We have to be careful about being too close right now. I’ve been round to the studio recently which felt really surreal but beautiful almost like the beginning all over again. Grippa and I have set some new tracks aside to start cooking Volume 3. Other than that everything is kind of fucked for all us grassroots dreamers. So buy the album yeah (winks)!

IRIE. ‘Kiss, Cuddle & Torture Vol. 2’ is your sophomore album which is self-released through your label, Zee Zee Records. What’s the inspiration behind this record?

Grippa. This our second volume of work. We’ve grown as a band with more of the band writing together and bringing in our friends like Dubmatix into the writing session to see what we come up with. It’s a maturer record than the first volume I think. We’ve got a good live room setup which took years to get right and it’s developed our sound more. There wasn’t any inspiration for the album as a whole – just trying to write great songs and seeing which ones connect together well to make a great body of work. I suppose the inspiration is just carrying on and finishing albums on our own. Getting as much good musical material out there in the next years to come and just trying to get better and better at what we do. You’re learning all the time.

IRIE. ‘In 2019, you setup Zee Zee Records and released a limited edition 12” vinyl release featuring a cover and dub version of Desmond Dekker’s ‘Fu Man Chu’ along with a cover an instrumental of Nina Simone’s Wild is the Wind’. Was having your own label part of the bigger plan for the Hempolics?

Grippa. It was just an organic thing. The first album was with a label that didn’t agree with the vision we had for the band – started off great but didn’t end up that way. You know, you live and you learn. The overall experience wasn’t great but some really positive things came out of it, like Zee Zee Records. We make all the music ourselves and now we can release it ourselves too, so it’s just been part of our journey to set up our own label and we’re very proud to have hit #31 in the UK official independent charts!

By the way, Nina Simone didn’t write ‘Wild Is The Wind’ – It was done by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington for the film of the same name! Little clever music fact for ya Irie.

IRIE. What is the meaning behind the title of the album, ‘Kiss, Cuddle & Torture’?

Grippa. Well, there are different layers to the meaning of the album name. To me, life is full of kisses, cuddles, and hopefully not too much torture.

And it applies to songwriting – some songs are instantly perfect with a bang like a kiss. Some songs you have to cuddle to get them right and some are bloody torture to get finished.

It’s also a game I used to play in the playground at school where you’d run around and the boys would grab a girl (also vice-versa) and say ‘kiss, cuddle or torture’ and the name always stuck in my head. Then when I started making music I realized it’s like life and also making an album, being in a band. Just being in the music industry.  I always, since thinking of the band’s name, thought I wanna do volume 1, 2, 3, and 4. Red, Gold, Green, and Black, all called Kiss, Cuddle & Torture. The volume thing probably came from my love of all the Electro Volumes they did when breakdancing first came out in the ’80s. Wanted to be a mixture of bodies of work. Put into these Volumes and having different styles of music, but with one sound. The Hempolics sound.

IRIE. What do you hope first-time listeners take with them from listening to the Hempolics?

Nubiya. I don’t really have an idealism for how people approach our music. Just that they listen and enjoy the stories. Our stories. If you like it and if something has truly resonated with you, baby, that’s a beautiful thing, I can’t be mad at that.

Grippa. Hopefully to get dancing to our good music. I want you bopping away from the first listen, listening to the cool arse lyrics, and getting a buzz from it is we want I reckon. Playing in your car or at home or out in a festival with a fat one. Everyone seems to have a different favorite song and then it changes. So maybe try to understand the mash-up we are trying to do over the four volumes, here in London, and it’s gonna be one piece of art hopefully after all the volumes are finished.

IRIE. What’s next for the Hempolics?

Nubiya. We want to get out there to the US. Half my family are American so it would be sick to do a lil east coast west coast. Other than that the 3rd album is starting to brew, some pretty sentimental values behind it already.

Grippa. We’ve got some covers coming before the next album- a Sade dub version, a Frightnrs cover, a Shuggie Otis cover and another Toots & The Maytals Hemp version that is nearly finished, just waiting to do a lead vocal on two of them, mix them and ready to release. They’ll be after the remixes from Volume 2 which are coming next. Remixes by the likes of Dubmatix, Potential Badboy, Manasseh, FLeCK, and JStar. I’ve already started getting the third album (Vol 3), the green album, coming and then the fourth album will be dub versions, further down the line. Got loads of music to put out and just can’t wait to start rehearsals and getting the new set in order.

IRIE. Is there anything you would like to share with our audience?

Nubiya. Yeah, actually I have a huge favor to ask… on my last visit to California, in LA I visited “Family” and discovered something incredible by accident. So, good people of LA! I need someone to convince Danny Trejo that it would be a great idea to sponsor The Hempolics. Not with money, just donuts for like one tour.

Grippa. It’d be a dream to get to the West Coast – because of the surfing, the skating, and the whole outdoor sunshine life. To me, our sound is made for that. Smoke the best bud before getting on stage would be so sweet. Like in our song ‘Vaporise My Dream’ on this album, the lyric goes “Want a California vacation, Where Arnie made it medication, It is a better version.” Just since the band started, I’ve always wanted to play shows in America. That’s gonna be interesting getting visas for the States and the band being called The Hempolics. It’s hard enough without them going “What the fuck is this band called”? Nah, they ain’t getting a visa today. Let’s see what the situation is with this COVID business. Seems like this year is out for the live shows and as you know it’s most of us musician’s income.

IRIE. Nubiya… we will follow up on your request on our next road trip down to LA. And Grippa, you’re so right… your sound is made for the California life! When you’re ready to perform here, request a O-1 Visa (Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement) and have them contact IRIE! Maaaad Love & Respect!

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