Five Questions With… AWARDS' Thesis Sahib
The rapper/vocalist from London, Ontario, is also an acclaimed graffiti artist. In this interview he discusses his creative partner Funken, the tracks on debut album Warm Computers, and his artistic evolution.
By Jason Schneider
AWARDS is a Canadian-European experimental hip-hop duo comprised of London, Ontario rapper/vocalist Thesis Sahib and French producer/multi-instrumentalist Funken. On their debut full-length album Warm Computers (available now through Animal Street Records), the pair blend post-rap, art rap, art pop, new wave and intellectual disco into a dizzying kaleidoscope of sound.
The project grew out of the pair’s involvement with several hip-hop collectives including Backburner in Canada, and the wide-ranging network of musicians Funken has developed in France known as Cocktail Pueblo, which Thesis largely credits for the album’s sonic tapestry. Under his birth name, James Kirkpatrick, Thesis is also an acclaimed visual artist whose disciplines include everything from painting to sculpture. Several years ago, he decided to take an extended trip outside of Canada, which ultimately led him to cross paths with Funken.
Many of the song ideas for Warm Computers hatched during the fog and exhaustion of Thesis’s travels, but he also draws heavily from his experience as a graffiti artist on the album’s first focus track “Ink Or Paint.”
He took some time to explain more of his creative process during a break on AWARDS’ current Canadian tour, which stops in Saint John, New Brunswick on Oct. 12 and Halifax on Oct. 13 before a run of Ontario dates to close off the month. For more info go to animalstreetrecords.com.
What makes Warm Computers stand apart from your previous work?
More often than before I am slowing down the vocal delivery to make the story of the song much more apparent and the writing is less abstract. Using vocal pacing and clarity to help describe the feeling in the song as opposed to rapping with such an emphasis on technical styling through the whole song, although I still do chop pretty hard in sections.
In most songs there is a duality to the writing—there are often two concepts introduced that meet up within the evolution of the song and in some cases different angles you can look at the stories in the songs. They are happy catchy sounding songs but with more profound concepts that the listener can get more out of through repeated listens.
I have been heading in this direction for a while with a few of my previous projects but working with the sounds and flexibility Funken presents there is the opportunity to create something much more firmly in this "other" category. I am having fun being in this space currently.
What songs on the album are you particularly proud of and why?
“Welcome To Goggle” because of its concept being that illegally downloaded songs from the AWARDS album will put malware on your computer.
“Dinosaur Bones” because of its concept that gasoline is the disturbed remains of dinosaurs and dead things—disturbed graves of beings from the past now resurrected to haunt us making us sick and causing global warming as revenge.
“Ink Or Paint” because of its concept of a graffiti writer's obsession to draw on a surface that is particularly difficult to gain access to. He has been stalking from a distance - sort of a creepy love song similar to the Police's song “Every Breath You Take.” Sounds nice on the surface but did you actually dance to that song at your wedding?
Writing aside, I have to say I am over the top happy with the sonic production and song structure that Funken creates that I am fortunate enough to lay my vocals over. I am also excited about the work and care that Animal Street Records have taken in making the packaging and overall look of the vinyl and lyric/art book fit what we envisioned.
How would you describe your artistic evolution so far?
I’m getting to the point where I’m figuring out how to take complex concepts and make the final piece simpler in its presentation. My days currently are much more full and busier than ever, working on my visual art and my songs from the second I get up in the morning. Switching back and forth, combining sounds and sculpture, which in turn inspires paintings and writing.
Surprisingly, I am revisiting a lot of ideas I had when I was younger. I am seeing how these things come back in circles, and it’s making me feel like I’m finally getting to where I have always wanted to be.
What's been the most significant change in your life over the past year?
The number of songs, paintings or physical art objects I’m making are fewer, but I am taking time with these things to make sure they’re done correctly. I genuinely feel like I am making my best work yet.
For the past five years, I have been working on a solo exhibition that is a survey in the sense of my creative pursuits—music and art—spanning back from work in the late ‘90s up to now. It opens at the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery [in Sarnia, Ontario] on November 2 and could potentially tour Canada for the next four years.
Putting it together is changing how I am looking at my practice, both in a positive way but also a sometimes frightening way, which causes me some anxiety at times. I feel that I have learned a lot about myself through this—my capabilities, what I enjoy within the process of making audio/visual work and where I want to go with my creative practices in the future.
I am also excited to have been asked by comic book artist Jesse Jacobs and Queen Bee Games to make the soundtrack and action sounds for their incredible game SPINCH. It is a new direction in terms of making sounds and music for something outside of my own art. I am really enjoying seeing it in action. It has changed how I am seeing my sound creations and how to put sonic art in front of people.
If you could fix anything about the music industry, what would it be?
It's tragically horrible how hard it is to get paid as a musician. What is going on?