I first bumped into Philly Moves when I was doing my Capital Revue blog in the Ottawa Citizen (RIP). They’re an Ottawa-based hip hop duo, and I thought they were really freaking good. I admit I’m not usually drawn to a lot of hip hop, but these guys seriously caught my interest.
They’re playing a rare local gig tonight at Babylon (they gig a lot, just not always at home), so I highly recommend checking them out. Here’s an interview I conducted with them late last year, where we talked a lot about hip hop in general, and also their use of the “best sample ever.”
So, who is that incredibly sexy-sounding dude talking about you on the opening track of “Creators of the lost Art”?
Our friend and long time Ottawa-based music journalist Kevin McGowan who we have done interviews with in the past and who has greatly helped us spread the Philly Moves love to new and exciting horizons!
You have split a lot of your time between Ottawa and Toronto. What are the pros and cons of each town, in terms of Philly Moves and for hip-hop in general?
Ottawa will always be our home, both as humans and as Philly Moves. It is where we first played, made our first real fans, started buzzing and really started believing that maybe, just maybe, this whole music thing is for real. We still have a lot of great contacts in Ottawa in the arts community; photographers, graphic designers, musicians, visual artists, etc. and play often in the city still. In other words we are still very tightly connected to Ottawa and the scene in general, thus, we get that feeling of ‘coming home’ when we come back to hang out with our friends AND when we come back to work on music or play shows. As a smaller market, it allowed us to make a splash rather quickly, not that it was easy it was a lot of hard work but, we were able to rise the ranks in the Ottawa scene much quicker than we could have in larger more sinister markets. That buzz and following we built in Ottawa allowed to kind of ‘springboard’ into the Toronto scene, giving us a solid foundation for when we arrived in Toronto, which is one of those big evil markets I was talking about earlier. The downside to the small market Ottawa scene (and rising the ranks so quickly) is that once you reach the rafters (not quite the ceiling but close) there is not very much room left to keep growing and building. At the end of our time there we were playing once a month at most and had over exposed ourselves to the point that only our most committed fans were still showing up to see us. That’s where Toronto comes in! In Toronto we can play 3 or 4 shows a week (which we have done, many times) and never play in front of the same people, there are opportunities to play, connected people to meet, festivals and events daily to get involved in and the arts community is so vast I meet new people literally every day who are tattoo artists, venue owners, hair stylists, graffiti writers, managers, promoters, dancers; artists and industry people of all types who are all chasing a dream of some sort. Not only an advantage from a networking perspective but very inspiring, a stark contrast to the (and everyone in Ottawa is gonna hate this) equally vast sea of people in Ottawa who are living the classic ‘9-5 style of life’; a life I don’t begrudge but one that is clearly not in line with our priorities right now. Not to say that Ottawa doesn’t have a vibrant arts scene, because it does, it is just so much smaller and less visible, crushed under the weight of ‘normality’. All in all, we love both cities and if someone put a gun to my head and made us choose where I had to live it would be Ottawa but until we accomplish our goals it HAS to be an ‘on to the next one’ mentality as far as opportunity for growth and advancement is concerned; who knows how long it will be until we grow out of Toronto?
For you, in all seriousness, what is hip-hop about? What was it that appeals about hip-hop? Your bio says you embody the “true spirit” of hiphop. How so?
For us and for me specifically (Tragic, Philly Moves lyricist/social media nerd) by the way, hip-hop (and music and arts in general) is about expression of self first; the real things you experience and how they affect you, and connection with others second. It’s about having something to say about how you feel about the world, how you feel about yourself and how you feel about life. It’s meant to invoke emotions in the intended audience and help us all feel connected. The music we make is nothing if not 100% us, we make music we want to listen to, we write songs that are about us and how we feel and we genuinely attempt to create something that will improve your mood, either by making you laugh or dance or by helping you understand that you are not alone and there are people who feel the same way as you out there and doing so in a creative and entertaining way. We want you to know us as if we are your best friends and above all else we want to make you think; think about life and love and how to take neither too seriously.
It is a bit presumptuous to assume we know what the founding fathers of hip-hop intended as the true spirit when they first set out to create a culture but, I have an idea it has a lot to do with the fundamentals of all art; that is, literally breathing life into the invisible soul that connects us all.
How did you two connect in the first place, and how did you grow to become Philly Moves?
Jonny (Rockwell, Philly Moves resident genius/producer/Creative Director) and I met in high school and formed a fast friendship based on the basics of ADD ridden teenage years, mainly being attention seeking little shitheads with too much time on our hands. Jonny has been involved in music since he was about 13, playing guitar and singing in a number of bands, touring nationally and achieving high levels of success with a few of his projects. I always watched from the sidelines as his buddy cheering him on and we made rap music when he had time. in 2008, I put out a solo record with him making all the beats and performed a couple of times on my own, the album was well received by our friends (early fan base, haha) so we decided to scratch the Tragic solo project and form a duo. We put out our first album together in late 2009 and it kind of exploded on the college charts without us even running a campaign. That led to us booking a national tour in spring 2010 and with that momentum Jonny quit his band and we’ve been attacking the world with eardrum love lasers ever since.
And how did the name come about? What’s so hot about Philly?
Philly Moves was the name of an early song we made a live session video for and posted online. We liked how it sounded, plain and simple. There is no artsy connotation or deep meaning, it was literally a business decision. We thought it was memorable, had a nice ring and just confusing enough to make people think and thus talk. No connection to philadelphia, smoking weed or moving.
I’ve always seen a key element of hip-hop (the good stuff anyway) being that the artists are reporting on what life is really like for them (let’s forget all the bling bs for the time being). How does your real life impact what you are writing and performing?
You’re quite right, hip-hop is real life, moreso than other forms of music or expression in general. It is the soccer of the music world, the poorest of the poor able to practice and express relying literally on their words and the feeling they invoke in order to get reaction. Real life is literally all we write about and seeing us perform is akin to seeing us strip for you, we’re baring it all for you to see. As far as writing is concerned it can get a bit personal but I never censor myself and thus the content can be mildly offensive to some but it is real and rarely negative in any way. As for the music side of things, Jonny never hesitates to use instruments and samples from his extremely varied taste and skills in music regardless of what ‘hip-hop purists’ might have to say. He is expressing himself how he wants to, sampling a Weezer song, adding his own guitar and singing the hook himself, for instance. We, and I can speak for both of us, literally use our life experiences both as they are happening and the ones we have lived in the past as fuel for creating. If I’m feeling a bit down (rare), Ill write in that tone without even thinking or if Jonny is having a great day (common) his compositions will be bright and sunny. Often, I will write what I’m feeling as I’m feeling it, seeing my words express my thoughts, for the first time understanding what I feel through the power of my own creation. When we’re creating together we take time and ensure that my words and Jonnys music are on the same page and we never force it. Bottom line, our first posters had the tag line ‘real life hip-hop’ under Philly Moves for a reason 😉
The first record (How to Drink Yourself Famous) did pretty well…got you noticed around Ontario and led to a few awards. How hard was it to keep momentum going for album #2?
Well, HTDYF was actually our second full length release and 4th official release total (2 ep’s also,) and 7th release if one includes our 3 mix tapes. (Oops, sorry for my horrible research on that one -ed) It was the third album to do really well on the college charts as well but, as its release coincided with our our move to Toronto and the subsequent Canada wide buzz that kinda came with that, it is the first real release in the eyes of many. The next album after HTDYF, ‘Creators of the Lost Art’ was originally supposed to be a mixtape (we are making the move from sample based to all original production and wanted to use up the last of Jonnys catalogue of sample based beats and Creators was the vehicle we intended to do that with). As we started to make songs and get collaborations on board the project slowly turned into an album and while we are proud of it, it never really took off in our own heads as our next ‘album’, more of a stepping stone on route to our next full-length. As such, if I can be honest, we focused a lot more on touring and the booking and promoting side of things than on pushing Creators as our ‘next release’. As far as momentum is concerned, the relentless touring schedule, the success we’ve had on the booking and promoting side of things and the very active online and real time social profile we maintain has enabled us to not only keep momentum going but actually build on it despite not really having a release to champion. There are not many people who haven’t at least heard the name, ‘Philly Moves’ in the Canadian hip-hop scene.
When it came to Creators, what were you trying to say with the album? Is hip hop a lost art?
To be completely honest, the Indiana Jones wordplay was more important than the meaning to us. I know it’s definitely a thing to say that hip-hop is dead and in a lot of ways the traditional style of hip-hop is but that is life, things change and evolve. I think the main point people make when it comes to that has more to do with the gradual decay of the appreciation for the simple things in life in general, but, that is not hip-hop specific, everything is moving so fast these days noone takes time to appreciate reality. Now I’m rambling so regardless, there are a lot of people in Toronto alone who are making that good old school hip-hop with a positive message and real life topics; we are definitely not the only ones who believe in that and it’s not even about the sound so much as it is about making something GENUINE and there are a lot of people who believe in that. So bottom line, hip-hop isn’t dead and its not lost either but, simplicity and the beauty in the basics is definitely dying. That is what we were trying to say I guess, not that hip-hop is dead but just that, we are making music that gets back to the heart of things.
What’s next for you two? New album? Collaborations? Touring? What’s the deal?
We are working on a new full length. As I mentioned before it is our first project without any sample based production, all the music is original and LEGAL, lol. Although the songs may be a different style than our fans are used to, from a straight sonic perspective, they are still us, Philly Moves still shines through and there will be unmistakeable signs of our souls’ DNA on every track. Cant really divulge any collabos yet and don’t have a concrete timeline but I can tell you we have about 20 songs so far in various stages of preproduction, were aiming for about 30 before we start whittling it down and focusing on the winners. Aiming for a late summer release with the first single dropping in the spring. In the meantime, we’re dropping the video for the last (and ironically lead even though its actually the second to be released) single off creators, ‘Old As Fuck’ The video is shot by Toronto Director iLLVibe and has us in shockingly realistic old man makeup playing bingo, rapping, walking through the eaton’s centre, rapping and various other hilarious antics. Look for that to drop early in the new year. We have taken a step back from the booking and promoting side of things for now. That whole area is a giant beast on its own and can consume you if you are not careful. Thus, we’ll be touring less until this project is ready to be promoted in earnest. Thats not to say we won’t be playing shows we’ll just be playing less of them, and the quality of event will be improving. All in all, our time for the time being is being spent mostly working on new music, rehearsing and working to refill the coffers after a very busy 2013!
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