What we learned about Divas and Demons from Remi & Sensible J at BIGSOUND 2016

Last Thursday, Beach Burrito in Fortitude Valley hosted a special listening party for Remi and Sensible J‘s sophomore album Divas and Demons. With Brisbane sun shining down, BIGSOUND attendees crowded in to soak up the rays, listen to the Melbourne artists’ new material, all the while indulging in burritos and margaritas. All the pieces came together for one mint afternoon.

After the ‘official’ listening session was done and dusted, I sat down with Rem and J for a quick catch up to learn some more about album #2 and how this pre-release promo experience has treated them. Here are some tidbits I gleaned from them in between tacos and dad jokes.

Divas and Demons is not meant to be easily digested in one listen…

Having scored triple j’s Feature Album slot this week, both Remi and Sensible J are stoked that the station ‘took a chance’ on an album as diverse and categorically different as Divas and Demons.

“I think a lot of the songs aren’t immediate songs.” J says. “You definitely, if you have patience, should listen a few times. I know I’m more old school, I’m a more patient music listener, so I’m curious to see how it’s going to go down. I think it’s a good album, to be honest; I think Rem absolutely destroyed it. I’m confident that it’s going to be well received album, to be honest.”

“It’s the same as with everything that we do,” Remi adds. As long as J and I are happy with it, that’s as far as it can go. It’s so exciting that people who we have played it to are enjoying it, our close friends, but I also understand if people don’t fuck with it. It’s all about music; if people are like, ‘I don’t understand it’ or, ‘I don’t get it’, I understand that. We’re not trying to do shit that is easy to listen to, we’re just trying to do shit that is real to us. That’s it. Whether that’s sonically or topically, it just needs to be that.”

“It’ll be mad interesting to see how it goes as the feature album; I was thinking the same thing, even with the songs we’ve chosen to release, they’re not immediate songs. “For Good” was probably the most immediate for sure, as far as what we thought for the album but as for the rest, it’ll be interesting to see how people take stuff that is meant to be different. Whether it’s in the drums…I mean, J does a lot of programming but just as much live playing -it ’s really something else.”

The album isn’t ever ‘done’ until the clean edits are submitted…

Off the back of the album process for Raw x Infinity, Remi admits that he’s been subconsciously editing himself on vocals on recent material due to the amount of swearing they’ve had to work around.

“I’ve literally been writing songs with the substitute word in my head,” he laughs. “It’s gotten to that level. It’s too difficult. At the same time, we’re doing music for a living, shit…!”

“We’ve been asked to submit some clean edits,” J says. “That’s going to take a good few days because Rem has a potty mouth. It’s my bad because I should’ve, as he was recording vocals and swearing, been like, ‘Can you sub in a clean word for that to make my life easier?!’ It’s not a problem for me to do a clean version of a song [though], it’s not a hassle!”

Remi’s sass comes from his younger brother…and expect more of it.

One of the things you’ll notice as you listen through Divas and Demons a few times is the upped level of confidence Remi has in terms of his lyricism (like we thought that was possible) – he’s always presented himself as a confident rapper but as he takes ex-girlfriends to task and puts the spotlight on relationships on this album, we see him open up even further. Cutting as much as he is almost gleefully playful with wordplay, Rem’s got his younger brother Seyi.

“You know how proud my little brother would be?” he laughs. “My little brother is known as the sass-master, so that means he’s rubbing off on me! I’m glad, wait til the next album man, that’s going to be sassy as shit. There were a few songs on there that got wound the fuck down, too.”

“I’ve turned the sass plugin up to 11 on ProTools.” – Sensible J.

Raw x Infinity did more than just bring Remi to national attention…

Their debut album broke Remi on a national scale in highlighting a diverse range of musical influence, lyrical sharpness and an edge a lot of Australian hip hop artists weren’t displaying at the time. Reflecting on the success of that album and what it’s led to for Remi and J in terms of the new music they’re making now, the importance of Raw x Infinity still remains integral to how they operate as artists today.

“I hate people saying the word ‘alternative’,” Remi explains of Sensible J’s musicality, one he sings the highest praises of. “To me, his style…man, if we were able to do one album with that style and we could talk about what we wanted, then we could do whatever the fuck we wanted, you know? Raw x Infinity was probably the most eclectic release we’ve ever done, including mixtapes we’ve done where J has done mad samples of way different bands.”

“When you do an album like that, when you’re allowed to do an album like that and then you’re celebrated for an album like that? What you hear on this record, Raw x Infinity allowed us to do it. We wanted to do shit like this from the start but it was like, ‘Okay let’s see how we go and see how they vibe with this kind of stuff’. I’ve definitely gotta thank J, because vocals are vocals but it’s what you put them on. It’s literally what it comes down to. I could do the same songs over someone else’s beats, and it would be a pop record. Let’s be honest, that could be the case. But it’s not that.”

“I apologise, Rem,” J jokes. “If the album flops because the music is too ‘not-pop’, but to me, it sounds like a pop record. When people say ‘alternative’, I’m like, ‘Nah man this shit is the norm for me! This is pop music for me!’”

“That’s why I know I can play you anything.” Remi adds. “I did this real fucked up thing on Raw x Infinity, that flip on XTC Party, where it goes into that tripped out shit. I was listening to heaps of Redman, heaps of Parliament and I’m not ashamed to say I was incredibly high; I was home and I did all of this shit and it was like, for anybody else it would have been like, ‘This is a demo for myself and I’ll leave it’. I sent it to J and he was like, ‘That is how it’s going to be – that is exactly how it’s going to be’; I know a lot of other people wouldn’t get that, that’s one of my favourite moments on the record simply because of that. There was this freedom; I was totally high in my old house and I sent it to J and he’s like, ‘Yep that’s what we’re doing, let’s keep it going’. That freedom to pretty much do whatever the fuck we want.”

 

Header image: Michelle Grace Hunder.

Divas and Demons is released tomorrow, September 16th.