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The Comedy of Errors

Interview: The Petebox

5 June 08 interview: Tasha Chowdhury
photos: Jon Rouston

"My relationship with beatboxing is a strange one; sometimes I love it, and sometimes it bores the hell out of me"

Award-winning beatbox overlord of the parish, THePETEBOX is one of the city’s most ridiculously gifted musical talents. One night, he’s mashing down the Rescue Rooms. Another night, he’s doing guest appearances with people like Nizlopi and blowing them offstage. Then he’s being dragged around Europe. But before that, he’s sitting down and having a natter with us…

How do you even begin to learn how to do what you do?
To learn beatboxing you’ve got to be patient and accept the fact you’re not going to sound how you want from day one. Nowadays, it’s a bit easier; there are so many internet resources dedicated to beatboxing, you can see loads of tutorials, you can watch ten year-olds doing some pretty hectic stuff… it’s more accessible. When I was learning all I had was Rahzel and Kela, recorded really well on huge systems, and it’s quite hard to keep going when you’re spluttering out some weak snares and Rahzel is doing things you can’t begin to understand for reference! It all comes with practice, though.

How much time do you spend practising your beatboxing?
Sometimes when I’m on it properly I can spend a couple of hours a day working on new material and practising what I have. Other times, I won’t beatbox for ages. If I’ve got a load of shows on, I don’t tend to practise as the shows are good practice themselves.

When you’re as good as you are, is it difficult to expand your range?
New sounds can be difficult to learn, and can take days or weeks to finally work out. It’s important to believe that you will get there in the end, and just keep on trying. Most sounds are ones you kind of stumble across, then you work on keeping them consistent and working them into routines. My relationship with beatboxing is a strange one; sometimes I love it, and sometimes it bores the hell out of me. Although doing shows is a different matter. I always absolutely love them.

Are your days taken up with beatboxing, or do you have a day job too?
I don’t have a day job. Over the past two months I’ve toured France, the Czech Republic, Norway and the UK, so that keeps me pretty busy. I also do workshops from time to time, and do lots of corporate events like trade shows. There’s always something to do, be it recording or pursuing the projects I’m involved in at the moment.

Where is the best place you've played abroad?
I did a tour of Africa last year from Johannesburg to Malawi which finished at the Lake of Stars festival. That place really does affect you; the people, the music, the setting; it’s one of the best places I’ve ever visited and my slot was right after the headline artist on the Saturday, who was Lucias Banda from Malawi. The place was rammed with locals, Malawians, South Africans, Europeans, Americans, such a mix of people and the show rocked! I’ve also been playing a lot in Prague and they really know how to party there.

And in the UK?
Difficult one! Eastern Haze festival last year was wicked, and Fabric’s always pretty rocking but I have to say the Chibuku nights are my favourite. I reckon that the Masque in Liverpool when I was supporting Kela at a Chibuku night, a couple of years back, is one of my most memorable.

So who is the best person you’ve worked with to date?
I’m currently working with recording and production genius John Sampson, from the band Swimming, who is really helping me present my recorded material in the best way. He knows how to approach all the things I don’t, so working with him is proving to be a good learning experience as well as making sure all turns out well. Other than John, I’d say it’s gotta be Foreign Beggars. I’ve been on a couple of tours with them as their beatboxer, and being part of their incredible on-stage energy is awesome. The parties are always pretty cool, as well.

Are you planning to enter any other beatboxing competitions?
I’m in the UK Championship Finals after winning the Midland heats at the Rescue Rooms in February. I never have fun at them because it’s more focused on the gimmicky side of things and you’re there to win. 

What future projects do you have lined up?
I’m recording my album at the moment. It’s going to be an extension of what I do live with some more song-based stuff. I’m working with a few producers, one being Notts DnB maniac Ben Fawce. Aside from the recorded stuff, I’m always working to develop my live show, and I’m getting ready for more shows in Prague and the festival season which is looking really good for me. Glastonbury, V Festival, Bestival, Creamfields UK and Europe, Isle of Wight and a few smaller ones…they’re all going to be amazing. I’m involved in a few different projects making ringtones and samples for stuff, and have just been shooting a short film I’m starring in with a company called Film 38, which will be ready later in the year. I also play drums in Swimming and we’ve got our debut album The Fireflow Trade coming out over summer. 

Who are your greatest musical influences?
My biggest influence in music is definitely Kurt Cobain. He is the guy who made me want to pick up a guitar and start writing, along with The Pixies and Foo Fighters. Obviously Rahzel and Kela got me started with beatboxing but I think it’s the people around me that inspire me most, my brothers and friends that make music.  Like Andy from WeShowUpOnRadar and Ben Fawce. I love electronica stuff like Air, Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin and lots of metal like Tool, Korn, Deftones, Marilyn Manson and System of a Down. I’m a sucker for folk and really like people like Laura Veirs and Maria Taylor. My ‘early listening career’ was started by a love of Queen, The Beatles, Beach Boys, Pop Will Eat Itself and, erm, Jason Donovan. 

What do you like to do to chill out?
Going to the gym is good for getting away from thinking about business. I’m usually not too happy about going and am only really glad when I’ve been, it can be a good time to listen to music, clear your head and let ideas swill around. Aside from that, I think I just prime myself for an erratic brain and lifestyle by always thinking about music. 

Any recommendations for local talent at the moment?
Yeah, check out 1st Blood, Dan Rattomatic, Ben Fawce, WeShowUpOnRadar, Pilgrim Fathers and Swimming. Trent FM also has a new music podcast on their website, which is Nottingham’s first new music show!

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