Interview by Jenkin Au
and Alan Ng
Words by Cornelius Suen
Photography by Jenkin Au
Location: Montreal[Show Text Only Version][Hide Text Only Version]
Ruckus Fo’Tet, the eclectic hip-hop band hailing from the Montreal music scene, is certainly setting themselves apart from their contemporaries by boasting a unique sound that is best experienced live. As if being a hip-hop band isn’t rare enough, Ruckus Fo’Tet, or Ruckus as they are soon to be called, burst onto the scene with their hip-hop offerings set against the backdrop of a rich and velvety fusion sound that is derived from a melting pot of jazz, blues, rock, and funk notes. Their live show is unique as well, and they put on an energetic spectacle that utilizes a live band and extensive acoustics to underlay their hip-hop sound in lieu of a DJ.
In this interview, justalilhype! visits with the quintet and delves deeper into their musical origins. We learn about the guys’ musical influences, the genesis and evolution of their sound and their musical style, and what the future holds for this talented group of visionary musicians. So, if you are ever in Montreal, be sure to check out the Jello Martini Lounge every Tuesday night because the guys will be performing. They will be bringing the ruckus, so don’t miss out!
Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
Efa: My name is Efa Etoroma, Jr. I am from Edmonton and I play the drums.
Dave: My name is Dave Ison and I play the guitar. I am from South Surrey, British Columbia. I’ve been living in Montreal for three years now and I met these guys here.
Jarryd: What’s up. My name is Jarryd Torff and I play the saxophone. I am from Fairfield, Connecticut, in the United States of America. I’ve been with the band since the beginning and I love where it’s going.
Evan: My name is Evan Stewart and I play the bass. I am from Edmonton.
Max: My name is Max Miller a.k.a. Milla Thyme. I am the MC of the group. I’ve been with the guys for almost a year now and I also love where the band is going.
How did you guys meet?
Efa: The band formed as a jazz group in 2009. Jarryd and I were the founding members. We met Evan shortly after, then Dave, and then we met Max this past September.
Dave: These guys experimented with various other members before I joined. After I joined, we brought Max on board. I knew Max from some friends and one day, we wrote a song, brought it in, tried it out, and he started working with us more and more. He got more and more songs on every show and eventually joined the band.
Jarryd: In terms of musical direction, the band started as a groove oriented jazz group. We played straight ahead jazz but also experimented with soul life tunes and John Scofield tunes. We gradually took the group’s musical direction more towards funk and fusion. From there, we saw a need to add a vocal element to the group. We experimented with singers and then Max eventually joined up.
What was the first song that you guys wrote as a group?
Dave: It’s called Speechless. It is on our first EP that we released at the start of last year, in October. It was a four track EP that is still up for free on our website. There are two instrumental songs on the EP and two songs with Max. With the first song we wrote, we were just chilling and jamming in my apartment until something clicked. We quickly wrote the song down, brought it to the band, and turned it into a full track. The other one, This Is, is the second one we did with Max and from then on I think he has five songs out of eight on the album.
Tell us more about the band name.
Efa: I started off as a joke. We had a gig at a bar one night and we needed a name. We liked to play really loud and there were four of us in the band. We said, “Well, we like to cause a ruckus,” so that’s were Ruckus comes from. Then, we came up with “Fo’tet” since there are four people in the band. That part of the name plays off the traditional term for a four man group, which is “quartet.” We substituted “quart” for “four” and then shortened that down. The name just stuck.
And why are you guys now shortening the name to “Ruckus?”
Efa: It got kind of long. People began to call us Ruckus anyways. Also, we added Milla Thyme to the band, so now there are five members. So, we decided to officially shorten our name.
This question is for Milla Thyme. The other guys were talking about how they had singers in the group before. Are you the first MC that they brought on?
Max: Yeah, I guess they tried different singers. I know that everyone here is hip-hop influenced and they all saw hip-hop as a direction that they liked. I met Dave, we clicked, and we both liked hip-hop. And, when he joined, he was like, “I’ll holla at my boy miller!” So that’s what they did. I remember our first show vividly; it was a really good show. After that, we kept on doing shows, became tighter, and kept it rolling from there.
How has growing up in your respective parts of Canada affected your style of music?
Dave: There aren’t a lot of rappers where I am from. But, the school I went to had a really good music program. I got into jazz early. Before that, I played mostly classic rock and the blues. However, there was a small but tightly knit hip-hop community in my school. There were some kids close to my age who liked old school hip-hop but they were mostly musicians who listened to J Dilla and loved the influence of jazz. I came from an environment of musicians. I knew that when I moved out east I wanted to collaborate with MCs and move my music in the direction of hip-hop, with influences of jazz, funk, fusion, and soul.
Jarryd: I grew up an hour outside of New York City so I was fortunate to be exposed to all the great music there. I made a conscious effort, since I grew up in the suburbs, to go to New York as often as I could because that’s where all the music was coming from. There is a different approach to music up here in Canada that I really appreciate. I find myself lucky to be able to merge the two musical sensibilities.
How do you differentiate yourselves from other bands, aside from being a hip-hop band, which is pretty unique in itself.
Efa: We have live instrumentation. Montreal is filled with DJs and bands that primarily use electric instruments in lieu of acoustics or horns. We, on the other hand, are trying to go for an electro-acoustic mix, kind of like modern jazz and in the similar vein of The Roots and The Robert Glasper Experiment.
With all the different instruments that you guys already use, is there room for new sounds that you want to implement in the future?
Evan: There is a lot of room for different collaborations coming up. We have this sponsorship from Move Audio that lets us rent stuff for fifty percent off. So, we are able to try out new electronics. I think Efa is going to try out new samples on a drum pad and Jarryd has been trying out electronics with the saxophone. This allows for a lot of different sounds and gives us lots of opportunities to grow. Also, there is room to invite people to play with us during our Tuesday night spot at the Jello Martini Lounge, if the opportunity should ever arise.
With your recent live performances in the last two years, how has playing live shows allowed your group to mature as a whole?
Dave: I think that our live show is our forte. There is a different element that we bring to our live show as opposed to our recordings. We feed off of the crowd’s energy and that brings us to new places, creatively speaking. We have played lots of places live, in different sized venues and in different sized crowds. We feel that people enjoy our music live. We feel that we can generate a lot of energy that live hip-hop can’t because we have the live band and they have DJs. We can make it louder and quieter quicker and we can have sudden changes in sections to keep the crowd interested. We let loose in our solos more when it’s a live show versus when we are recording in the studio because there is more energy and everyone just builds off one another.
How is the group’s chemistry?
Jarryd: A lot of us have been playing together for years. Efa and Evan grew up playing together and I played with Efa for a while. Before the band took off, we played a lot together and learned about each other as people and musicians and learned to effectively play as a group.
You guys are young in your career, with some of you still attending university. What is in your futures?
Jarryd: Efa and I are out of school now and we made a conscious effort to stay involved with the band. It’s hard enough to balance the band with school and even harder now that we are in the workplace, but we still manage. We can still learn to make sacrifices, even at this age. If the band is important enough it will stay.
What’s down the line for you guys as a band? What are the steps that you are taking now to make that a reality?
Efa: We are starting a weekly show at a pretty well known club in Montreal called the Jello Bar. We are using that to build our repertoire and hopefully we can look into touring, playing some festivals, doing a music video, and releasing some singles in the new year.
How do you guys use Social media to spread the word about the band?
Dave: Obviously we have Facebook. Basically, we create an event, we host it all the time, and people come out. All the members of the band has their good friends who are supporters of the movement as well. Most of our marketing is done through word of mouth too. We also have a website at http://ruckusfotet.bandcamp.com and there is a new one in the works as we speak.
Jarryd: One thing we have been really good at is keeping a forward momentum. We don’t let things lag for too long. We always have something going on, even if it’s just some YouTube videos. We never try to stay out of sight or out of mind.
Evan: We have a lot of marketing that’s not on the internet. We have posters up and write-ups in journals, stuff like that. Radio is another great way to spread the word about us. We had a good thing going with CJLO, the Concordia University radio station.
In every band, there is always a front man, like the MC, and the guy in the back who is more in charge of the sound and makes sure everything is running smoothly. Do you guys follow that paradigm on stage or do you balance out the parts in the band so that everyone has the spotlight?
Max: It was pretty balanced from the get go. We have instrumental tunes on the album where I just sit out, chill, and listen. I appreciate the talent and skill in their music. When it’s my time to shine, I get out there and do my thing. It’s really balanced.
What is HYPE?
Efa: HYPE is a part of the Public Enemy song, Don’t Believe the Hype. It’s a stigma around something. Say, for example, your favourite artist is coming into town to do a show, but you don’t know if the show is going to be good or bad. So, you feel excited, nervous, and apprehensive, all at the same time.
Dave: HYPE is the general excitement about a certain thing that is dope, interesting, or new. It’s something that you have never heard of before or something that hits you in a different way.
Jarryd: HYPE is a shared energy that comes from music or an image. People feel that energy and share it. HYPE is multidimensional and requires a lot of people.
Evan: HYPE is the Tuesday night ruckus at the Jello Martini Lounge! From ten to midnight, drinks are half off, so come out and get drunk!
Max: HYPE is many different things. It can be good or it can be bad. It’s whatever you make of it.