Maria Hanlon caught up with Alex Osiris, one of the vocalists from alternative Hip-Hop group, Monster Florence, earlier in the year, just before the band set off to support Professor Green on his UK tour. Find out more about band life in this interview…
M: Let’s start at the beginning, before Monster Florence, you & producer Tom Donovan had a few studio sessions together, so what happened from there & how did you recruit the other four members?
A: I’d been coming to do studio sessions at Tom’s place for a solo project. So after the last couple of sessions we did, I told Wallace and Dream (the other two that rap in the band) ‘there’s this guy and I’ve been going to his studio and he has a sick studio, you should come with me!’ and so they did. Then when we got to the end of the sessions, Tom was like, ‘I’ve got a feeling that whatever you are gonna go off and do is gonna be good, so you can record here and we’ll go on this journey together.’ As much as I grew up with Hip Hop and Grime, I also grew up listening to a lot of other music and bands and stuff, I’ve always thought it’d be sick to have a band around me. Tom, from having his studio, obviously knew a lot of musicians locally that could fill that gap, so he got them all to come down. We essentially did a big studio session, we had probably about 30 odd people in there. We just bounced ideas around and did a big session until it got to the end and the last men standing were Jonny and Cam. So then it was just those two and obviously the other two boys were with me. We just kind of ended up being a band and that was it really. Me and Wallace had released an EP before the band, under the name of ‘Monster Florence’ as a rap duo. So when we made the band, I was like ‘why don’t we donate the name, let’s make this Monster Florence’ and then Monster Florence was born from there.
M: I know that Tom says it took a lot of convincing you before you finally stopped by his studio. Where were you at with your own music career back then & why were you skeptical at first?
A: Prior to this, I was doing my own thing and making tunes, and I was working quite closely with Jamal Edwards and SB.TV. We’d come up through sort of 1Xtra, DJ Cameo sets and doing stuff like that. Naturally when you rap, every geezer in his bedroom reckons he’s got a studio, so when Tom messaged me several times saying, I’ve got a studio come through, I just thought nothing of it. I used to record at my pal’s but his studio got packed up and I needed a new place to record. So I messaged Tom and I said I’ll come down and when I turned up I realised it was a proper studio, so from that point on I took it a lot more seriously. Now, we’re what, seven/eight years down the line, and he can’t get rid of me!
M: It’s good you took that risk then! So there are six members in the band, I imagine each of you bring something totally different to the band. But why do you think you work so well together?
A: I think the good thing with us is the three rappers; we’ve all grown up together from a similar world, similar backgrounds, listening to similar music, similar sort of culture to each other. Then the other three band members have all come from their sort of world. The thing that makes us work is the willingness to adapt and be open.
When we started the band, we said from the off, let’s just come in here, let’s bang things and make noise and if it sounds good, it sounds good, if it doesn’t then we twist and we move on. I’ve known Dream since I was four, Wallace has been my best friend since I was 13, I can be more honest with them than anybody in the world, and it’s the same with me. A lot of the time you go to a studio session with people you don’t really know, you can’t always be like ‘I don’t like this, let’s do something else’.
Sometimes the band hate us, they can spend two and a half hours, guitars out doing their thing, they’re smashing it out, they think they’ve made a winner and then we’re at the back and we are like, ‘twist, nah dead, we’re not into it anymore’ and they just have to down tools and start again. But I think that ability to be honest with each other and not being precious means that everybody’s input finds a way, and there are some tunes that are more led by one person, more led by another but there’s no ego there.
M: Touching on that a bit more, nowadays it seems less common to be part of a bigger group than it used to be back in the 1990s. Why do you think that is & what are the challenges that come with being a large group?
A: I think the main challenge that people have with that, especially in the music industry, is the ego side of it. I think when you’ve got six geezers that all want to be rock stars in the band and all wanna lead the band, that can cause problems. I think that the general way that we digest music has shifted a little bit and that’s opened the door for people to not need the big band and the big budgets and the big everything. People just want to connect with someone one-on-one, which is why you can post a video of you just singing at your iPhone, go viral, and then the next week you’ve got major labels trying to sign you. So I think that’s the main sort of hump to overcome but I don’t think it’s an issue that we have, I really don’t. I actually think that the number of us is by far the bonus. Other than that, in our own little ways, we are pretty lazy with certain things. Like we are really good at the music stuff but all the social media side of things, we’re not so good at it. I don’t mind doing it. I’m a bit of a show off, so I don’t mind being on Instagram stories showing my face, but generally that’s the only thing we ever bicker about, which has nothing to even do with the music.
M: There is so much to do nowadays as an artist, with the admin and social media, so it’s good you can split up the work between the six of you. Let’s chat more about your sound, as it’s quite hard to pinpoint. It’s a fusion of Hip-Hop, punk, indie, Psychedelic Rock and anything in between. Has your sound evolved & changed over time?
A: Yeah it’s changed massively. If you listen to the first EP called ‘The Groove’ go and play the first track on that EP called ‘Rennis Road’, there’s so much going on. It’s like a wall of sound that smashes you in the face. Don’t get me wrong, I can listen to it now and like I still love it but you can hear everybody in that room. Whereas over time, we’ve learned to refine things a little bit more and rather than focusing on trying to do all of the stuff we think we should do, we’ve tried to serve the song. Normally when we start something, we’ll make something and you’ll have a whole load of stuff and then it’s like, right what can we get rid of until it makes more sense. I feel like as the projects have gone on it’s got more like that. ‘Foul’ was like the first one that felt more like a project, it was like a mixtape. Then ‘Cowboys and Idiots’ felt like it had some sort of continuity to it. Then we’ve just dropped the album Master System and it feels like a real body of work and we’ve really stripped back on all aspects. There’s verses that are meant to be on there that have been deleted, there’s songs that were meant to be on there that were removed, there’s a lot that was taken out. So I think our growth over the years has been very much about taking away, as opposed to adding on and just learning what’s best for the song. So sometimes you gotta bite the bullet and do what’s best for the song, and that took a few years to get there.
M: Talk to me about your latest album, ‘Master System’, is there an underlying message or running theme throughout?
A: It started the same way we make any project, we make a bunch of songs and then all of a sudden they’ll be a little group of them that have something fluid between them and it starts to make sense. We bounced a few ideas around and we started off with this digital world idea and we started looking at how things are right now and virtual reality. The album is almost this idea of looking at the world and trying to speak on a true reflection of it. On the front cover (of the album) you’ve got Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden but with droids. We are at that turning point again, are we gonna take the forbidden fruit? Are we gonna go too far down AI? Is AI gonna become sentient and then we’re all gonna get blown up and killed by the computers? We spend all of our time looking at our lives through our phones, rather than looking up at the world, and we’re slowly but surely becoming more and more plugged in and dependent on technology and less reliant on each other and actual human interaction. It was kind of looking at that and just thinking this is disgusting. The world’s in a bit of a minging place at the minute, it has its benefits and we love it, but there’s a lot that’s really negative. So we wanted to just delve into that and just shine a light on it.
“We spend all of our time looking at our lives through our phones, rather than looking up at the world, and we’re slowly but surely becoming more and more plugged in and dependent on technology and less reliant on each other and actual human interaction. It was kind of looking at that and just thinking this is disgusting…”
M: If you had to pick – do you have a favourite track from the album & why?
A: At the moment, I think the two that I listen to the most are ‘Bad Graphics’ and ‘Do The Birds Still Sing In Hell?’ and that’s not because I did the chorus on both of those (laughs). ‘Bad Graphics’ has always been one that I just think is sick. Sonically, I just love how that song sounds. You put that song on and turn it up and you go off on a little journey for a little while. ‘Bad Graphics’ is definitely up there for me. Then, ‘Do The Birds Still Sing In Hell?’ I listen to that a lot because I think it’s the perfect sign off to the album. Everything on the album is an absolute sonic rollercoaster, and you get to the end and then you just get this tail off. I think selfishly, it’s just one of my favorite things I’ve written. I remember recording it and we stood back and I was like, nevermind that that’s me, but that is sick! Then we got Lou to come in and do his poetry bit over it and it all just came together. You get to the end of that and you’ve got all these strings and there’s a real cinematic beauty to it all and it’s a proper crescendo. Those are my two most listened to at the moment, but that will change next week!
M: You’re supporting Professor Green on tour & I know you go way back with him. How did that relationship first form & why do you think Monster Florence are the perfect support for him?
A: That came through Dream McLean, I swear years ago when we were young, Green reached out to him. When we were 21, Dre (Dream McLean) was signed by Chase & Status and we were doing Dubstep and I’m pretty sure around that time is when Green ended up reaching out to Dre and then they sort of became friends independently to the group. Then obviously just naturally over years, we all sort of end up in the same places. We’d done a gig with Green years ago at a Guinness Festival and just the natural progression of just knowing each other through Dre, everyone became friends. The bonus is this will be the first time that we’ve reached some of the places in the UK where we’ve got fans that have been hounding us to go for ages. So there’s gonna be our pocket of fans that have turned up and our fans have it off with us because we are like a tornado on one stage. It doesn’t matter whether there’s 5 of you or 10,000 of you. I’m just excited to see how they perceive that. We’ve got tunes like ‘Borstal’ that are really radio friendly, really clean cut but we’ve also got tunes like ‘Scum’ where we’re gonna come out and scream ‘scum’ in your face and, and jump around like a punk band. So we are either gonna scare some of them or we’re gonna win some new fans. It’s made easier with the fact that obviously there’s a friendship there between us and Green. It’s really just a bunch of mates going around on a bus, having a good time and playing songs.
M: That sounds like the dream to be honest! Last question – what are your future plans for Monster Florence?
A: On our computer hard drive right now, there’s anywhere between about 2-300 songs on there that could be finished or are already finished. There is a lot of music sitting there. We had a chat last week and we said right when we get back from tour, we’ll be all fired up so let’s just hit people with tunes. So the plan is, we’re gonna just hit people with probably like a tune every month. We’ve done this before, ages ago when we were still independent, we released a string of four songs and we’d done it with sort of a two-week gap between each one. And at the time we were like, maybe this is a bit overkill, but actually in today’s world, you’ve got two-three seconds before someone scrolls past you on social media. It’s short-lived. We’ve got a core group of fans that are die hard, that will listen to our music for days. But then you have to accept that there’s also a huge demographic of listeners that it’s not palatable enough for them to do that, they don’t care. For the rest of this year, we wanna be as present and as visible as possible. So the plan is to come back and just start giving people these tunes.
M: I’m very glad to hear that! Thanks so much Alex, it’s been lovely to chat.
Catch Monster Florence on their ‘The Last Thing You Need’ tour. Due to popular demand they have added a second London at Hootananny Brixton on Tuesday 5th December, tickets are available here.
Follow Monster Florence here @monsterflorence
Words: Maria Hanlon @mariahanlon
Listen to The Voices Breakfast Show with Maria Hanlon on the 1st Friday of the month 9-11am on voicesradio.co.uk