MC

#IMMusicMondays: Gardna Deciphers How To Make It As An MC

Gardna is an MC from Bristol, a city known for the Trip-Hop acts Massive Attack and Portishead, but now is building up an MC scene of its own. Following the release of ‘Time & Space,’ which includes the Radio 1 supported ‘R.A.V.E.A.S.A.P‘ with DRS, the man from Bristol has been starting to get some big exposure.

We sat down over Zoom during those blistering hot days of a few weeks ago, after a brief delay due to calls with a producer. Following introductions and Gardna bigging up my Birmingham heritage, we discussed how one makes it as an MC, despite the best attempts by technology to stop the interview.

MC

Your new project ‘Time & Space’ saw you rap over a variety of sounds and influences. Does this versatility allow you to experiment more and stand out in the packed world of MC’s?

I definitely feel (so), yeah. The way we went down into Devon Analogue Studio, which is predominantly a studio for electronic artists, having that pallet of sounds and mad synths and crazy analogue pieces of equipment in this specific studio. It definitely enabled us to create beats that are totally different and having that to write to was very helpful. For me, those beats and these sounds definitely stand out amongst the rest.

That’s good, as it shows your versatility and your willingness to not just do the same thing. It’s cool man.

Thank you. Those three days down there, I went down there with Brad Baloo of The Nextmen and a Bristol producer called Creed. That was actually the first time they’d ever met and we banged our heads together in the studio. It was 3 really solid days of working around the clock and doing pretty much 20-hour days, just chipping away. I’d written like I had never written before in those three days. It was a mad inspiring time. Obviously, you want to try and get as much out of those three days as possible, because it’s a very sort after studio and you’ve got to book it well in advance to get in. Those three days were really (important) to the project I guess, as we managed to turn it around in that time and the following six months after, was me working out who I wanted to get on the record and finding the collaborations, and picking my favourite artists from that. (I was) hitting them up on the (Insta)gram and being like “yo, let’s jump on a tune and make it happen.”

You said that (the) studio was more for electronic producers. Was it a different experience to a studio that you’d normally work in?

100%. I’ve never been in a studio like Devon Analogue Studios. It’s in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the countryside overlooking this mad view, I think it’s (near) Exmoor. It was a crazy countryside view and its like a spaceship in there, wall to wall with these crazy synthesisers, drum machines, and analogue gear. It’s the best monitoring I have ever heard in a studio. Tristan and (Elley) Grace who run the studio, they put a lot of love into that. I’m pretty sure it’s only 5 years old, but they’ve had some of the world’s biggest producers in there and I feel that’s quite inspiring, in the sense you see who’s come through the studio. You really want to put your stamp on it and make sure you come out with a good record essentially.

I don’t produce myself, so I wasn’t using a lot of the gear. Although, Brad and Creed would let me from time to time go around and press some of the buttons and stuff, so I could have my little go on it. But, me just writing the lyrics down there, the place was completely covered in loads of really wicked, old rave-inspired pieces of art, and these coffee table books and picture books. These mad kind of things, that I could just pick up and I could take phrases from. I would see a really sick sentence or sick word and I would hone in on that and try and create a verse or topic or theme of a tune around these kind of cool pieces of art and books down there. But, yeah crazy studio and I can’t recommend Devon Analogue Studio enough, to any aspiring artist out there who wants to find a place to create a project. It’s definitely worth the investment for sure.

That sounds like it had exactly what you wanted and what you needed. I think a good view, in general, is inspiring, whatever you do.

It’s a very beautiful place mate. Devon’s wicked, it’s somewhere I haven’t spent loads of time previously. But, we’ve been back a few times since and just to go hang out there. It’s a good spot. I recommend just getting away and out of your usual writing circumstance and write somewhere new. You feel inspired.

You mentioned collaborators on this album and you worked with MC royalty like DRS and Dynamite MC. When you’re in the studio with these guys, are you under pressure to be the best in the room, or is it a more motivational thing as you’re working with these icons of the scene?

For me, working with these guys is literally just mind-blowing because these are my musical heroes essentially. Especially with the two names you mentioned, DRS and Dynamite. I’ve been watching these guys play at raves since the very start for me, going on nearly 10 years ago. Just being on a record with them now feels surreal. We didn’t actually record together, as it was still lockdown. We created the record in April 2021 and it took the best part of six months (till) the end of that year to finish it off. I guess it would have been times where link-ups weren’t on the cards, people weren’t really travelling to go and do as much, as we were not allowed to I guess. It was an online process of linking up with the artists on the album.

It’s never about being the best in the room. It’s always about working together and collaborating and seeing what products can come out of that. Definitely with the DRS tracks, ‘R.A.V.E.A.S.A.P’ is the most well received on the record, it’s done the best on Spotify, it’s had a fair amount of Radio 1 love and 1Xtra and 6 Music. It happened when these two worlds collided, two generations of MC linking up and making something happen.

I thought I would ask, as I have heard stories before of MC’s being together and being like “his verse sounds good, I need to make mine better.”

When we made ‘On That’ on the record, the third verse, we go bar for bar. I’ve never actually written like that with an MC before. It’s never a competition. I was honoured to do that with another vocalist. You do have to bring you’re A game when you’re stepping up and making a tune with DRS. But, for me, it is not a competition thing. It’s more just, let’s make a banger, let’s make this the best track it can be. It was awesome to link up with an MC like that. I’ve never done that on a track before, this back and forth, bar for bar thing. It was awesome to do that.

I think that’s a good mindset. You’re not trying to outdo each other, you’re just like let’s make the best record possible. Going back and forth with him, you’re putting yourself out of your comfort zone again and you’re doing something a bit different.

It was definitely pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I never usually tend to work with rappers as such on the verses. It’s mainly I will write the verses myself on my own tunes and get a featured vocalist in for the chorus. But, it was awesome to link up with DRS and all of the MC’s on the project. There’s Dynamite, Fox, an amazing London Dancehall artist called Doktor on ‘City Slicker.’ So really great to work with that style of vocalist on this record which we didn’t so much on the last one.

You can find our thoughts on ‘R.A.V.E.A.S.A.P‘ and ‘On Thathere.

You’ve talked a bit already about the process of making a song. Do you focus on the bars or whether the content sounds good over a beat?

 (With) the process of starting a tune, I always need a beat to catch a vibe, the feeling of the track and what it’s saying to me, and what I want to say on top of it. For instance, in Devon, they (Creed & Brad Baloo) made 15 beats in three days and it was quite a quick turnaround. So I’d have maybe a couple of hours max to finesse my verses and ideas. It’s a good amount of time. Sometimes a verse can take 20 minutes, sometimes it can take two weeks. But, to have quite a concentrated amount of time and if it’s not there you move on to the next one. After that, we finesse the ideas and got them recorded. I guess the process is (to) get the beat, find the vibe and get the bars down and then get the choruses down.

We started to do a lot of chorus writing actually. On this record, 3 or 4 of the tracks, I wrote the choruses for as well, which are all female-led choruses, which is sung. I feel at this time in my career I definitely couldn’t sing them myself. (laughs) I’m glad that they sound good when someone else sings them. I don’t like to say which ones, because I prefer it unsaid. But, it’s nice to dip into that world of writing the hooks as well.

Hey, maybe you’ll be singing on the next album. It’s cool, it sounds like you’ve got your process and it works for you.

It changes all the time. With this record, we were in an open studio with two producers in the studio and I had to write in the studio with them in there. Previously, I would (have) said to be able to write a song, I need to be by myself and really get in that zone. It’s probably how a lot of artists feel, especially lyricists because we need to be by ourselves with no distractions so (we) can concentrate. It was a complete switch up of that this time, I was literally in a room with two mates and we just bashed our heads together and made it happen. It is definitely down to the inspiration of Devon Analogue Studio.

To come back to what you said, I think it is sometimes good to have a time limit because it allows you to focus. For example, when I was at Uni(versity) and I did essays, when you had that time limit you were like “ok, I need to sit down, I need to focus and do this.” I can imagine it’s similar in a way.

It is very similar. It’s like you’ve got your essay (to) hand in, in three days and you got to complete it. (laughs) God, I remember them days man.

Yeah, I do as well. But, they’re over now.

Pulling your hair out and hungover, like “oh my god, I got to write this in a week.”

We’ve been out of lockdown for a while now. Did you think now was the right time to release the project, so that you could bring it to a live setting?

We always wanted to tour the record. It didn’t make sense for me to release the record during lockdown. We were out of lockdown by the time it was done. I guess it takes a little bit of time to plan the release and get the vinyl ready and plan the tour. I organised the tour (and) we toured the ‘Time & Space’ record in April, by which point the album wasn’t even out. We only had a couple of singles out. (It’s) just the way things happen sometimes, things can get pushed back and delayed. At least there was a couple of singles people could vibe to.

I think we will do a smaller, more focused tour in the last quarter of the year and we’ll do a few nice Gardna shows. Get the guests along again and celebrate the album project one last time this year. Apart from that, we delved straight into the U.S.A tour with Mungo’s HI FI and after that straight onto the festivals. We’ve been playing the ‘Time & Space’ show all festival season on the stages. Which has been awesome this year. At Glastonbury the other week, we had a big ‘Time & Space’ show, DRS, Jem Cooke, and Catching Cairo joining us live for that. And a big one in a couple of weeks at Boomtown.

To be fair, you said with the April shows people wouldn’t have heard the stuff, but also part of what would have made those shows good is people would be like “I have not heard this song before, this sounds cool.” They were getting a taster of what was to come.

That was the way we tried to look at it. Them hearing all this new music for the first time, which is something that when I am going to a gig, I like to hear music for the first time. That’s the place where I get excited about hearing new music or new dubplates or any of this unreleased stuff. The stuff that gets me excited when I’m in the dance or wherever we are. It was nice to think of it (from) that perspective. We made some new fans on the way. We were hitting up some places that we hadn’t necessarily played before and (for) our first headline show in Birmingham, we did a place called Dead Wax in Digbeth. We’re just testing the waters, seeing what we can do, and keeping it moving.

MC

You mentioned about the bigger festivals like Glastonbury and Isle of Wight and you said Boomtown as well. Has performing at these festivals had an impact on the way you perform something compared to a more intimate venue like a rave?

They’re not different shows. Maybe give or take a couple of tunes, add in a bit more (music) catered to festivals or lineups. Sometimes we get booked to play very sound system or Reggae orientated dances and Dub dances. We’ll tailor that a bit more to that crowd. But, generally, the ‘Time & Space’ album show that I put together with my DJ Fat Stash, my sax player tailored sound is what we’ll go and tour everywhere. (It) is a combination of all of our songs new, and a few of the older ones which people have known for a bit longer. We combine that with a load of current and classic bits of electronic music. It’s a blend of that and people will know some of these songs that I am spitting over. It’s a nice mixture of my music, old or new, and big tunes.

If you could go back in time to one concert or one rave, who would you go to see and where?

That’s a good question. I can remember there was one particular rave, it was a real highlight. It was at Outlook, London(‘s) Launch Party in 2012. It was a massive night and it had a full Iration Steppas sound system, full Mungo’s HI FI sound system. I think that was the first time that we had properly gone out raving in London. It was underneath a railway and it had these brick wall, rounded ceilings. The sound system was so loud and I can just remember the bass and I have never had a sound system that loud in my life and I was totally blown away with it from that moment on. It was such a special night. Marla and Cokey played, Congo Natty played, I saw Mungo’s Hi Fi. It’s just one of those nights where it was a mad energy. I was definitely underage, I was 16 years old. It was a really inspirational night that made me want to pursue this. I just wanted that to be my life, I want to play gigs on big sound systems. It was definitely the coolest thing ever then and it still is now.

I remember the underage days. Part of the fun was getting in.

That’s it mate. You spend your whole day getting ready to get spruced up and make sure you look over 18. The feeling of getting in is phenomenal.

It sounds like now if there was a film (about your life), that would be the moment at the start like “this was when he realised what he wanted to do.” I need to go to a rave in London. I’ve not been yet. I need to get round to it, like Printworks or something like that.

Printworks is quality man. We played in Printworks quite recently, it’s a phenomenal venue. We always get booked to play in Brixton these days, but I have done some wicked shows in Fabric. This venue which is under new management in Brixton and Hootenanny is a(n) amazing place. It’s coming through thick and fast, it’s one of London’s best venues. Much to look forward to in London, you’ll definitely have to get yourself down there.

Bristol where you are from, is well known for its Rave scene. But, will we see it mentioned more in conversations around places where MC’s are ones to watch in the future?

I feel that the Bristol MC scene is strong. It’s still very underground compared to places like Manchester or London, where the MC force is strong. They have a bigger MC presence than Bristol. But, the scene here for MC’s is strong. There are a few great MC’s coming through here. People like Emz who do some great work with Watch The Ride, Sam Binga (Skinnz) to name a few. There’s a few other MC’s I know from the city, Jay0117 who is doing his thing in the Grime scene. Few other people within that field like Zilla and all the Verbal Gang. A lot of rave MC’s as well, you got Dread (MC) and Redders, Rider Shafique, and Buggsy. It would be nice to see everyone flying it a bit more further afield and really doing their thing. I was chatting to Carasel the other day, who’s another great MC from Bristol and we were just saying more unity within the MC scene would be great. That would help us push it further.

I think unity is definitely the way forward. If you guys all come together, people are going to see that. I don’t know that many Bristol MC’s myself, but I remember going to Lakota’s Summer of Love last year and there was this set and a few MC’s on there, spitting over Bassline, D’n’B. One guy over the beat to Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’ which was an interesting moment.

That was one of the guys I’m talking about, Jay0117 who spat over ‘Toxic.’ I can remember seeing some videos of that. He’s a good guy, he’s a Grime MC first and foremost. But, he’s doing his thing over a few different things these days. It’s good that everyone’s doing their thing and trying to fly the flag for the city. It’s an amazing place and it’s known for its electronic music and its bass weight. It would be nice to see the vocalists of the city get some shine as well.

My final question. Is there anyone up and coming you want to shout out right now and what advice would you give them?

There (are) two artists I work with quite closely and we’re always giving each other advice. I want to shout out these two artists because they’re so talented and they deserve so much more shine than I believe that they get. Creed, who I worked with on this album and I project manage his album, which is coming out later this year. It’s called ‘A Brief History.’ He’s an amazing producer, who produces all of my stuff. As an artist, he hasn’t released so much stuff over the last few years, but he is coming back with a bang this year and he’s written an amazing album, written the whole of the ‘Time & Space’ album with me. He’s an upcoming producer, who other producers need to take a moment and listen to and keep an eye on him, as he’s an amazing artist.

 My advice to him would be to just keep going and don’t stop basically. I know it’s an everyday struggle and as artists, we just got to keep it moving by all means, at any cost just keep it rolling. (As an) independent artist, you just got to get it yourself because if you don’t, no one else is going to get it for you.

Another artist I wanted to shout out is Catching Cairo, who I have done a fair few tunes with over the years, starting with ‘See The Vibe’ and onto ‘Back In the Dayz’ with Mungo’s HI FI, and 3 tracks on my album. She’s an amazing vocalist, one of the most talented vocalists I know. I don’t even have any advice for her, because she’s amazing in her own right. But, I feel she’s an unsung hero that deserves more love.

Good selection of artists for people to check out, and yeah just keep on grinding, keep on pushing. Pretty simple, but pretty good advice.

I’m always about if anyone wants to talk further. You can find me @gardnauk on all the socials. My inbox is open to artists that are coming through. If you’re listening(/reading) to this and you have any more questions, don’t hesitate to ask. The DM’s are open to that stuff.

It’s good of you that you’re open to speaking to people that want to get into the scene.

It’s all good. It’s tough out there and everyone needs a helping hand coming through at some point. I would be nowhere without that helping hand. If I can help in any way within means, then I am down for that. Big ups.

Time & Space‘ is out now to buy and stream on all platforms. Gardna is on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok.

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