Interview: Mushroom Tea Party

Chris Stillie from Aberdeen and Kumayl Zaidi from Glasgow. Together they are Mushroom Tea Party, an alternative hip-hop duo that began on Soundcloud, now with a full album and EP. Right now they’re producing some of the most diverse trip-hop in Scotland, with Chris’ funk-tinged instrumentals accompanied by Kumayl’s raw, bold rapping style. I sat down with them recently and discussed their beginnings, how they create their music, and their hopes for the future.

RIOT: So what are your musical inspirations?

I started with rock music originally. I learned to play through rock music, so a lot of my style shows that. Then basically, I was shown hip-hop, and as I learnt new things about hip-hop I changed how I write. It’s mainly whatever Kumayl shows me.

Kumayl: I would say my influences are a lot of Cypress Hill in terms of my delivery. Also I take a lot of inspiration from Flatbush Zombies, El-P, a lot of trip-hop like Tricky, Massive Attack and Portishead.

R: Kumayl, your voice has a pretty unique sound. How did that come about?

K: When I was around fifteen, I tried rapping in my regular voice and it did not sound good at all. The same thing happened with Cypress Hill; he was told his voice was rubbish and he needed to change it, so I was like “ooh, I’ll just do the same thing as him”. I would start showing my friends in Glasgow new stuff I’d written, just rapping over instrumentals I’d found on YouTube. I’d sit with my flatmate Jack and we’d go through it, just being like “that sounds shit”, “change this,” “try this”. Yeah, just sat with him and found my voice. I was pitching it high, trying to be like Danny Brown and Cypress Hill, then I started listening to way more trip-hop, which kind of understated my flow and delivery. So I’m able to use more than one voice now, which helps a lot with our music. We have variety.

C: Yeah, it allows there to be a separation between the verses, and a distinct enough change in the rap that it carries the song.

K: Yeah, doesn’t get too samey-samey.

R: Where does the backing music come from?

C: I write it all. It’s mainly me making noises on the guitar and them putting them together. We don’t wanna sample, mainly because of the copyright stuff, but it’s easier to release tracks if we aren’t sampling. So I’d write my own stuff, then fuck with it how you would fuck with a sample. I’ll write a rock song, put tons of flanger and crazy noises on it to make it sound like trip-hop, then find distinct drums for the style. So then it’s sort of like sampling your own music. I’d say that’s the best way of going about it.

R: In future, could you see yourselves using anyone else for backing music?

K: We 100% want to collaborate. I’d love to collaborate with other rappers and get other MCs on tracks. It adds so much, having a different voice and completely different persona on top of the track. I love hip-hop groups, the variety keeps you engaged. I’d love to do that.

C: I think it’d be good to find extra singers as well. A female singer would sound fantastic on trip-hop.

R: Do you get together for the writing process? How does that work?

K: When we are together, it’s great. We basically just bounce ideas off each other. I don’t know how to play any instruments, so sometimes I’ll come up with something in my head and sing it to Chris, and he’ll try play it on guitar. When we’re together, that’s how it works.

C: The album we put out spawned from Kumayl staying at mine at Christmas for five days straight, working constantly. We were knocking things out a lot faster, and in a completely new style and sound. But when we’re apart we can use Dropbox, because I’m in Aberdeen and Kumayl’s in Glasgow.

K: When Chris sends me something, I’m either like, “oh I’ve got nothing that fits to this, I’ll write something new,” or I’m like, “I’ve got something that’ll fit great to this.” Chris will say things like, “You have this verse, what do you want for the hook?” And I’ll tell him I want like a harder beat, or to slow the drums down, or make it bassier.

C: You’ve never said “take it lighter.”

K: Nope.

C: It’s always “For the next bit: really heavy drums!”

K: Always! Always.

R: Chris, what sound production do you do outside of Mushroom Tea Party?

C: I work on soundtracks, when I’m not working on Mushroom Tea Party. Just now I’m working on something for a BBC documentary. Also, in the past I’ve worked with a female singer in Aberdeen. I had written a bunch of songs but I didn’t feel confident singing them, I needed a female singer. I got her in and wrote, like, dance beats for it.

R: What’s the plan for live shows?

K: We’ve got to start the band together, cause we need to play with a full live band. We can’t really do the songs with just the two of us.

C: I think we have everyone for it, we just need to get them in one place. It shouldn’t take long to get together, as long as we have the numbers, we can learn the parts pretty quick and get playing.

R: Where do you guys see this going?

K: Well I wanna keep building it, throughout uni. Get my degree, and then try and do this full time. I feel like by the time I finish uni I’ll have had enough practice at it. We should rent a van out, a portable rave!

C: I’d say right now it’s the simplest it could be. I think it’s really good, and I’m really happy with all we’ve done, but it’s only just mine and Kumayl’s ability. Give four years of working on it and it could be a massive collective of people all contributing.

K: It’s quite unique at the moment, so if we can get lots and lots of other influencers and what they want to bring to the table, it’s gonna be even more unique.

R: Thinking of looking into the future, what’s the point you’re most looking forward to reaching, if possible?

K: Just touring all round the country, whether it’s going round just the UK, or if we manage to get overseas that would be amazing, absolutely amazing.

C: Escape Scotland!

K: Just doing tours would be an absolute dream.

C: I’m looking forward to people actually knowing the words. To being able to stop singing at a show and the crowd can continue it, we’d know they actually like our music.

R: If you were to choose someone to support on tour, or for a gig, who would you choose?

C: Run The Jewels. Just cause I wanna meet them! But I don’t think our music would work with their crowd.

K: I would love to support The Mouse Outfit. That would translate well if we end up playing with a full live band.

R: Out of the songs you’ve released so far, what would be the one you’d recommend for people to listen to first?

K: ‘Krusty Kreme’ is our most popular.

C: Yeah, but that’s kind of a special track. Everything else is trip-hop, but this was our attempt at, I guess, jazz-hop. I think it turned out really well. But if you want an accurate representation of our music, ‘Addict Blues’.

K: In the direction our music is going at the moment, ‘Holy Trinity’, the first track from our new EP, I’d say has got a lot of trip-hop elements but it’s still really funky.

C: There’s a lot more rock in that song than usual. It’s more complex, shows more of our range.

Mushroom Tea Party’s new EP ‘Holy Trinity’ is available now on Spotify, Apple Music and Soundcloud.
Words by Lewis Ross

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Lewis Ross

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