Dundee-based musician Elliot Stradling talks the importance of vulnerability, honesty and evolving your artistic voice.
Sitting before me is a young man clearly infused with excitement for his craft. And Stradling’s fascination with ‘how vast the music catalogue is’, certainly comes through on his 2019 ROOKIE SEASON EP, which is a fusion of emo and hip-hop. I wanted to know what lead him to create it.
I’ve noticed that your EP boasts an interesting mix of genres.
Can you tell me about that?
‘I’ve always worked with bands and stuff. And whenever I’m in a band, I love it and I do whatever music that band’s doing. But then there’ll be so many times where I’m like ah man I wish I was doing this, or I wish I was doing that, and it’s so hard to bring those kinds of ideas to a band setting.
So I just thought one day: I’m just gonna make a bunch of music myself. I’d made some little singles and stuff on Soundcloud that were pretty low budget and low effort, but this is the first thing that […] I feel like is a good expression of myself. It’s just a celebration of enjoying music more than anything.’
I see a strong emo influence in the theme of self-deprecation. How important is that theme to your music?
‘Very! […] There’s a huge emo-trap wave at the moment, riding really hard with artists like Juice Wrld – rest in peace – and Trippie Redd and stuff like that. It’s a really cool idea. And these all seem to be rappers who enjoy emo who are including emo in their rap. From a very young age I’ve been very much an emo, and now I’m kind of shifting into hip-hop, so I’m kind of coming from the other side.’
It’s a really cool combination, in that we associate hip-hop with a sort of bravado, whereas emo is more about losing that confidence and acknowledging the sadness.
‘There is that! This generation’s version of hip hop is sort of like we’re now more of an open, more emotional generation, and these are the things that we wanna talk about! […] Especially when you listen to emo-rap, there is still a big sense of self-confidence and bravado that’s semi-synonymous with hip hop music in general […] but it’s like Hey, I’m here, I’m sad, get used to it!
It sounds weird to say, but being able to stand up and say Hey, I hate this about myself, I wish this would change… is almost self-confidence in a weird way, ’cause you’re aware of these things and you don’t mind saying them.’
Do you think your music reflects that growing sophistication in the hip-hop world?
‘I suppose so. I don’t personally look at it that way so much. I just… I really enjoy the themes of emo music. There’s loads of emo bands that I feel capture the Oh man, that’s how I feel! And I really wanted to take that and put it into a hip-hop setting.’
What emo bands did you like growing up?
‘Man, there’s the classics like ‘Blink 182’ and ‘My Chemical Romance’, ‘Sunny Day Real Estate’ and that kind of stuff. […] Then I kind of matured into bands like ‘La Dispute’ and ‘The Used’. All that kind of stuff was big when I was growing up. And then it progressed even more as I’ve grown up and gotten into ‘Modern Baseball’ and stuff like that.
I love how socially awkward [Modern Baseball] is as well. And I just think, as far as lyrics are concerned, they’re just so vivid and on point.’
I can see that ‘vivid and on point’ are also things that you strive to make your lyrics.
‘Oh big time, yeah. It’s really important to say stuff that you actually feel. Like, if you’ve got something to say, then say it.
A lot of the experiences I talk about in ROOKIE SEASON are a couple of years old at this point. They’re things that got me really bad at the time and I wrote them down. […] I imagine in 5 to 10 years, Rookie Season’s gonna be a real tough listen for me. But it’s a reflection of how I felt at that time, so I’ll never regret it.’
Going back to your influences, I really like the song ‘2am Twitter’. It not only showcases your stream-of-consciousness writing skills, but also I can hear a bit of Kanye in there. Am I imagining that?
‘Not at all. I’m a huge fan of Kanye, and his structure and production and some of the little… things he puts in to add flavour and personality to his music are a HUGE inspiration for me.
Also I listened to ‘Real Friends’ from ‘Life of Pablo’ – that was a big point of inspiration for ‘2am Twitter’. […] Like, the atmosphere on the song is very reflective of the sort of downtrodden lyrics, and its also very autobiographical […], like something from a diary or something.’
You say ‘if I could fight anyone,
I’d fight myself’. What do you have to fight yourself over?
‘I just… [laughs] I spend a lot of time self-reflecting I suppose. And I guess it comes from a place of being, like, Ah, if you hadn’t done that thing, then your life would be better!
I assume you’ve seen Fight Club? The bit where it’s like hey if you could fight anyone, who would you fight? And they say all this crazy stuff like Oh I’d fight my dad… For me, every single time […] the only person I’d actually want to get into a cage with and be like You need to learn a lesson; you need to stop doing this stupid shit! is myself. Because that’s the only person, I guess, who has total control over the things that happen in my life.’
‘the only person I’d actually want to get into a cage with […] is myself’
‘It was definitely based around the scene. But the lyric still kinda stands true, it’s still something that I believe. Less so now that I’ve kind of vocalised it […], which I guess is another therapeutic part of the lyric writing process. People hear your thoughts and stuff and they go Shit, do you really think that?!‘
Do you wanna talk a bit about what it’s like being a musician here in Dundee?
‘I go to events in Dundee, and I think [the Dundee music scene] is seen as quite small, but there are some close knit scenes. Compared to Perth as well, where everything revolved round one or two bars, or one or two promoters… but in Dundee there’s like 30 to 40 different small groups […] so it’s more grounded in a way. It feels more open and creative.
I know a lot of people, especially in the hip-hop scene, who seem to be very certain that the Dundee scene is coming up. Which is usually a big theme in hip hop, to be like Hey, my city – best city! [laughs] But at the same time, I do think there’s a lot of stuff going on here.
I’m starting now to see more bands coming from elsewhere to Dundee, which has been really good. There’s a big scene in Inverness – especially the Inverness hardcore scene, it’s coming up BIG TIME right now, and I’ve seen loads of bands like King Kobalt and Below The Neck coming down here to play places like Conroy’s Basement and Church.’
So are you happy to be playing music in Scotland right now?
‘Oh absolutely. There’s genuinely no other place I’d rather be doing it.
You hear all this stuff as well, like Hey, wanna make it as a rapper? You gotta move to LA, or You wanna make it as, like, a grime artist? You gotta move to London or whatever. And I’m like man, I can’t afford that! And also I don’t wanna be around a big community of people who are all tryna be top dog. I’d rather be in this community where we embrace each other.‘
Are there any particular Dundee artists that you admire?
‘Man, there’s quite a few. I’ve got a lot of time for people like McLaren. ‘Living a Lie’, I think that’s the new song he did. […] It’s very grime-inspired, like most rap is in Scotland ’cause it’s the biggest scene in Scotland. But yeah, it’s drill beats and drill-based hip-hop.
There’s also a guy called GiMik who’s been doing a lot of rap battles. One of the sickest freestylers I’ve seen in Scotland. You’ll hang out with him and he’ll just be sittin’ in the corner spittin’ bars the entire night! And you just sit and watch him. It’s awesome. And all the guys in the North East Collective. I’ve got big respect for them.’
So what’s next for Elliot Stradling?
‘I have a single coming out on Saturday [14th December]: The Plot To Kill The Postman. It’s a kind of an emotional, melodic rap ballad in a way. I’m pretty stoked on it; I’m happy with the way it’s come out.
It’s really different to rookie season as well. So stylistically it’ll be interesting to see how people think I fit this different style. As much as I love the aesthetic choices on Rookie Season, I don’t wanna be pigeon-holed as that sound.
Now [my sound is] just something that’s been inspired by other things and other artists. I’ve listened to, as I said, a bunch of Juice Wrld and Trippie Redd, and y’know, Joji (“Filthy Frank”‘s musical project) [laughs].’
Stradling confessed that he couldn’t say much more about his upcoming track, but by that point I was sold. It’s people like Stradling who make me truly excited about the Scottish music scene and where its heading.
Check out ‘ROOKIE SEASON EP’ on Spotify, and follow Elliot Stradling on Facebook for updates on where he’s playing next for what I’m told is a truly enthralling live experience.