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Grippa Laybourne talks smoking a joint, heartbreak & working with Paolo Nutini on new album

Reggae | Monday 11th September 2017 | Patience

Grippa Laybourne the self-confessed leader of the reggae group The Hempolics, isn't afraid to say it as it is. Sick of albums that sound like "one song" Grippa is going against the norm and creating a Hempolics album that he promises will be a "bit of fresh air."

As the band gets ready to release their forthcoming LP Kiss, Cuddle & Torture: Volume 1, vocals Queen Nubiya, drummer extraordinaire Craig Boorman, bassist Lorenzo, dub guitarist Leon King and soulful Harry & his brother Dan Collier are the perfect combination to see Grippa's dream of reaching America with their unique reggae sound realised. 

However, before that happens Grippa lets us know why making this album felt like kisses & cuddles most of the time but torture the rest, as we touch on Brexit, weed and what working with Paolo Nutini and Maxi Jazz was really like. 

How did the Hempolics come about?

The Hempolics was a hobby, I never had the time to do anything with it or finish anything. I just sort of made little ideas and then I put engineering into it and then I went right I am going to get on with this stuff and start doing it.

Yeah, I am the gang leader really, it's basically a gang, I have had a few different drummers, guitarists, this band that I have got now this is the band I feel.

I don't want to be in a band where you go to gigs and then you do your gigs and you are all separate, I want us all to be able to go party together, we've all become really good friends. And Nubyia the singer, lived in my house for ages, so did Dan the other singer, so I have sort of opened my door to everyone, I helped everyone out and yeah just bought it all together really.

Where did the name The Hempolics come from?

I have always been obsessed with the late 50's, early 60's gangs in New York, you know like The Wanderers, all the real gangs that used to be out there, I love all that. Love that era, quite rough but wild, so I wanted a name sort of for a gang and I wanted the name to fit in that sort of vibe. 

So who would be who in this family?

I think I am the big brother, yeah and Nubiya might be the dad, maybe Harry is the cousin, I don't know actually, it's a hard one. Everyone looks up to me a bit but there is no hierarchy or anything. I want everyone involved to be involved, I don't want it to be a greedy money thing.

Listening to the Hempolics, you do touch on several genres other than reggae.

I was around when trip hop came out, I love trip hop and all of the 90's stuff and yeah I have been around quite a lot of different genres and it influenced me. I want to do reggae for people who aren't really into reggae as well, I get bored of that reggae once it's like that same sound, that dread natty, Babylon sort of lyric with the crusty sort of people. I don't want that, we want it to be fresh and try and bring a bit of something else to it.

How do you keep it fresh?

I just tried to find a sound, years in the studio, trial and error to try to find the sound for this band and this project that I am doing now. Hopefully, we have found our own little sound, of what other people are going to love around the world and connect with.

How would you describe your sound?

Can't remember, a good quote that was given to us that was like, 'reggae soul for the..' ah it's a really good quote,  I can't remember. I have had a big joint here you see, it's medicinal, it's really nice. So what would I call our sound...I don't know, just trying to be out of the box dub meets reggae.

As a smoker why do you think the UK should legalise cannabis?

We could pay the NHS off and no one fights when they smoke weed, it's like Holland now, if you go Holland a lot of Dutch kids do not smoke weed cause it's there, we do it more cause it's a taboo.

Everyone smokes it and there's no proof that anyone has really died from it really, and there's been too much propaganda against it. We need to wake up now, it's like how many states in America are doing it now. To me the whole system needs changing, from the House of Commons, all the courts, I have been a juror it's a fucking joke, people say guilty just because they want to go home early, I just think it is all really out of date now.

So what's your take on the current political system in the UK?

It needs to be like shuffled up a bit, let's have people who really check the background of who can be in the House of Commons, or maybe it's not called that anymore, let's call it something else, let's get rid of these fucking posh bastards taking over and let's structure it different.

We are all annoyed with this country and how no one listens to a word we say and that's why we are all split with Brexit you know, every one of The Hempolics voted to stay, every single one of us loves the Labour leader, he the last of something left field, at least he's saying something I can agree with and I can get on with, his put like a little bit of a vibe back into it and if we don't have him it is all going to shit.

And stop believing the media, the media needs to start helping us know what's really is going on, instead, it just gets like it is the wild west. We didn't actually know what was going on with Brexit, everyone was one sided and we never had a clear picture so how the hell are you meant to get anything right to vote on it when stuff gets distorted so much, there needs to be something put in place and not the BBC whose supposed to run by us but it isn't you know, it's just mad man.

Let's talk about the new album Kiss, Cuddle & Torture Vol 1 coming out in October, what can we expect?

Hopefully a bit of breath fresh air, I have tried to make an album where it's like for modern day, like you know we are so bored nowadays, we click each song, oh next, next, next. I am sick of albums where it's just like one big song the whole album and there's one peak, the single, and then it all drops back to 'what song was what again', so I have tried to do something where it's not like that, sometimes it mixes genres a bit but it's still a Hempolics sound.

That's important to me, I have tried to keep a Hempolics sound but twist it up a bit, and that's what hopefully everyone is going to be excited about, it's not just reggae, the Jah Rasta reggae heads are going to be a bit pissed off probably but I don't give a shit, I am pissed off more by their Jah Rasta reggae shit as well.

We have got a really good song called 'Early in the Morning' it is the first song on the album and it's the one with Harry and it is the only one with Harry and he's the most soulful sort of guy, and Dan who sings 'High & Gritty' and 'Me Love to sing' he's, his older brother & that track is a worldwide song. It should be out with the next lot, and that will hopefully bridge the next album as well.

I have also got a track with Maxi from Faithless, it's called 'In My Brain', it's like massive two verses of him talking about weed, and I have made it sort of dancey.

Then the next track is 'Black Flower' and it is just this wicked hip hop like track, the radio plugger thought it was Roots Manuva but it isn't it's got this reggae sort of chorus and it's about a gun, the black flower is the gun, you know when you open up a gun up and you put the bullets in that ring thing, I forgot what it's called, that's the black flower, it's just wicked man, it's really atmospheric and it's heavy.

We have a reggae, flowery, lovey pop song from Nubiya that's called 'Boss Clock Me Style'. Which is about her coming to London and for every job that she was doing all the bosses fancied her and she was finding it really uncomfortable cause she's so gorgeous, they were always trying it on with her and giving her the eye and a lot of girls get that at work as well.

We have also done a mixtape, I have got the Scratch Perverts. I went in the studio with them, did a mixtape of the whole album and then we basically mixed it into 20 minutes and it is a seamless mix of the album and I just did some edits, added some extra stuff, so it's wicked man, the whole album scratched together! I am trying to be a bit underground for this album keep it a bit under rails and then the second album will be a bit more commercial but still cool as fuck!

One of the standout tracks so far has been 'High & Gritty', how did that song come about?

That song is a true story, Dandelion sings it but I wrote most of the lyrics because it was a true story about me. Basically, I split up from a seven-year relationship it was 6 months after this relationship, I had gone into a  restaurant in Camden. I was with my friend and these two girls were on a table next to me and my friend was going 'hey mate, they are after you.'

Anyway I didn't want to know anything cause I was still getting over this split and then I left the restaurant went home, and one of the girls actually came up to my friend and gave him her number and I basically had a blind date with her in London.

She's Mexican, and basically, I had one night with her in London and then after the date, when I dropped her off she said 'I am going to Mexico tomorrow morning, bye' and I was like 'what! what the fuck,' then what was that date about, I thought. She was absolutely gorgeous, I mean she was so sexy beautiful, and Mexican and sorta high posh Mexican as well.

Anyway this is February, and months later I am a bit bored in London and I am really good friends with Paolo Nutini and I was like what's Paolo doing, where is he in the world, and I could see he was going to be in Los Angeles for the Coachella festival so I just booked a flight on Monday, and I went on Wednesday, I went to the Coachella festival Friday, Saturday, Sunday, my flight was Wednesday to Wednesday. And basically, I went to Coachella festival and I came back to Los Angeles then I went 'oh let me get hold of this Mexican girl who I had that date with, cause I am sure Mexico isn't far from Los Angeles.'

Then I basically got hold of that, changed my flight and I just flew to fucking Mexico City, 4 and half hour flight, swapped my flight back to England for later, flew to Mexico and met this girl I only had a one date with and I stayed with her for  8 days, 7 nights  and this song is all about that.

So what happened with that relationship?

I was with her for two years but then she wanted to marry me and I am not into all that passport stuff, they all want your fucking passport, and something inside of me goes don't do it Mr! So I didn't.

So how did the friendship between you and Paolo start up?

Basically, the studio I was sound engineering at, we had Matty who was the original Faithless drummer but then he became just one of our crew and we had a few little studios attached to our big studio in Islington where we were based. Basically, Matt had a publishing deal with Warner's and that's who Paolo got signed to before he even signed with Atlantic, so I met Paolo when he was just a little 18-year-old lad.

He was using the studio next to me were one of my best friends was working, then me and Paolo just hit it off, we wrote 'Road Side' long ago you know, the song that's on this album I recorded it when Paolo was an 18-year-old lad and I kept it hidden.

What's the story behind the song 'Road Side'?

There is another story to this, because Paolo is being a little bastard about it because he doesn't like his original vocal right, I wrote the lyrics 'let's do it down at the roadside' and cause his changed his vocal style since then and I don't think he's changed it better in my head. What we got back then is so good, it is just amazing, we caught a piece of time and that's what recording is about and he's thinking too much now.

I am finding it hard cause he's basically saying I don't want that song out with that vocal on and we have tried to re-sing it again and it's rubbish, it's actually rubbish.

And then the last time he came in, in the end of last year, he basically went ' Oh I want to change the verse lyrics and there's too many lines in the chorus' and it's just getting ridiculous. We have been redoing the song, again and again, another way this album is called Kiss, Cuddle & Torture because life is kiss, cuddle and torture. And making this album, some of these songs have been kisses, very easy to do, some have been okay, hard to do and some of them have been absolute torture to make.

The Maxi one and the Paolo one have been very difficult tracks to finish and do, they are the torture tracks on the album for me, I don't even want to listen to them two tracks anymore personally, I heard them too many times, we put so much work into this album and these songs you know.

So what would do to make the world a better place?

I think every member in this band really thinks that there should be one passport and no borders in the world. It should be like Star Trek, everyone was just everyone, there was no judgment. I love meeting people and we are all the same, there's good and bad, white, black, yellow, Syrian, African, Iranian.

What would you fill a swimming pool with if it could be anything?

With loads of children who don't have the opportunity to go to a swimming pool. 

So what's next for the Hempolics?

My aim is getting to America, I really believe my band could do really well in the United States of America with this whole college thing I have got going on, that brand, I want to get our music tunes to all of the college students who are just smoking their first joint.

They could just float way into the intricate sound of the Hempolics, cause there's lots of layers in my music and you don't realise it and you start hearing it the more you hear it, I want to tune into that. Getting to America and smashing the hell out of California and all that West Coast especially, and wake America up with reggae hopefully, and our sort of sound the white people will love as well.

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