Bridging the gap with Tourettes
Jessica George talks to Tourettes about his latest album and how he bridges the gap between two art forms while breaking expectations of poetry and hip hop.
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I sat down with Tourettes, the Grey Lynn-raised magic man of words and truths, to talk about his latest album, Who Said You Can’t Dance to Misery?, a work that was four years in the making, and the first album he feels totally confident and proud to be promoting. His last two albums, although having their place in his journey, haven’t really been up to snuff in his eyes.
About his first album, The Misadventures of Johnny Favourite, he says, “(there were) so many fuck ups in it…doors slamming in the background, mispronunciation of words… you know there are some really good songs but I just wasn’t happy with putting something out there, knowing that people will judge it, when you know that you’re ten times that artist.”
Give Me Five Dollars and I’ll Show You My Dick! followed Johnny Favourite but Tourettes describes it more as a mix tape than an album. He says, “Unfortunately it got released as an album, so people thought it was my follow up album, which bummed me out even more because I was thinking, ‘ah people are gonna think I put out these two shit albums!’.”
I wouldn’t be quite as hard on him as he has the liberty to be about these past two albums but I would agree that this latest one will stand out of the bunch as a well-polished, beautiful, tragic and raw aural explosion. And rightly so, as Tourettes explains he feels like he got to do the album his way: “I thought fuck it, I’m not going to compromise anything, but I didn’t have any money, so everything was done for favours, that’s why it took so long”. It may have taken awhile but it was well worth the wait for this album, which he describes as a better representation of who he is.
He must know all the right people to call on for favours, bringing in Cut Collective member and all-around stunning street artist and graphic designer Trust Me to do the album art design. Tourettes had a specific yet strange combination of ideas for the artwork, asking Trust Me to somehow merge Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska album cover and the collection of Kevin Spacey’s character’s scrawled on notebooks in the film Se7en. Strange, yes, but very interesting, and you wouldn’t expect anything less from Tourettes. No doubt he identifies with having piles of words surrounding him (although he prefers a computer to notebooks).
Tourettes’s world is painted with words and he has inspired others with his written work. Last year, in an exhibition at The Basement in Auckland city, he supplied poetry for 12 artists who then provided artwork to match. On the exhibition, Tourettes says, “I’m not interested in confusing people or impressing academics, you know? I wanna express myself. I wanna get it out to people, so I guess that’s a way I thought I’d get it out to a wider audience without having compromised the form.” He’s heavily swirling around within the literary scene in NZ, publishing poetry, performing his spoken word and finishing a Bachelor’s degree in English.
He’s bridging the gap between two art forms while breaking peoples’ expectations of poetry and hip hop. He commented that people come up to him, saying they’re not into hip hop but they really like his work. Between poetry and hip hop, Tourettes says that spoken word usually brings him more respect, which annoys him since he knows that a lot of other people are in the same vein of hip hop as he is. “People just don’t seem to be aware of it or even looking for it,” he says of similar artists in the NZ hip hop scene, mentioning Jay Roacher as a favourite. “My lyrics are just as much if not more so complex than my spoken word, there’s just as much going on, all the literary references and shit.” I can’t help but smile when he uses the phrase “literary references” and the word “shit” in the same sentence. That’s what you call bridging the gap.
There’s been some teething pains along the way; Tourettes’s style can baffle some listeners. It’s hip hop, spoken word and a feisty mongrel in between the two. About his live shows he says, “There usually are a bunch of people who are into it and then a bunch of people who are confused – hopefully it’s gonna get to the stage where there’s not so many confused people.” He often plays shows with punk rock and indie bands, which might lead a few audience members to be a bit baffled, but my guess would be a lot more will be turned onto music they might not have sought out themselves. “I think my music is strong enough; my performing is strong enough,” he says and I’d wholeheartedly agree that with this album, he’ll win over audiences quickly.
With his first two singles off of Who Said You Can’t Dance to Misery?, “Almost Out of Water” and “Letting Go” in heavy rotation on bFM, you’ll want to get in now because he is bound to blow up. Tourettes is creating a mesmerising, volatile world and you will be embarrassed if you miss out on it. He is already working on his next album, produced by Hero, who worked on a few tracks with him on Misery.
Always evolving, Tourettes won’t let audiences paint him into a corner. He describes the first single off of his next album as “80s eurotrash”. I can’t even imagine what Tourettes mixed with 80s eurotrash will sound like but that’s the fun of it. He also mentioned wanting to write, “a really nice love song, you know, like one of those love songs that make you go, aww”. I suggested a song about kittens and unicorns, so, keep your fingers crossed and maybe we’ll see it on the next album. Until then, lap up as much of Tourettes as you can because I have a feeling we’re just on the cusp of his triumphant victory, winning over audiences in New Zealand and abroad.