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Interview: The Undercover Hippy

Image credit: Press Pack
Image credit: Press Pack
Image credit: Press Pack

Billy Rowan aka The Undercover Hippy will release a brand new album, Truth & Fiction, at the end of May, on the 20th, to be exact. To promote the upcoming album he’s touring the UK with his band and one of the gigs will be in Leeds on 14th May at Hi-Fi Club.

The Undercover Hippy has been around for more than 10 years making a name for himself in the music industry. He’s known for approaching political issues through his fun reggae/folk songs. There is an interesting story behind his stage name and it goes something like this: he got a job as a lecturer in 3D animation and because of that he had to change his whole appearance; he gave up his earrings, cut his hair short, dressed smart and ‘went undercover’. He also spent 7 years DJ-ing and MC-ing on the Drum & Bass circuit before he became the singer and songwriter that we know today.

Ahead of the album release and the upcoming gigs, he agreed to do an email interview with The Yorker. Find out what his answers were below.

1.To start from the beginning, you said back in autumn that the album’s title would be Rise & Fall. Since then you changed it to Truth & Fiction. Why?

So ‘Rise & Fall’ was the first track we recorded, way back last summer. It’s a song about how we’re deceived into thinking the status quo is immovable and was written during the time when it felt like the Cameron Osborne austerity agenda was our biggest problem. Then everything changed with Brexit and Trump, and I wrote ‘Truth & Fiction’… so that title felt more appropriate to what’s going on right now.

2.We know that your songs are politically edged. Should we expect songs about Brexit and Donald Trump on this album, since these are the hottest topics now?

I didn’t really write a song about Brexit, but I did write one about UKIP called ‘You Keep Telling Me’, which now sounds like it’s about Brexit! And yeah, Donald Trump does get a little cameo in one of the tracks.

3.Which song on the album is your favourite and which political topic does it approach?

The track ‘Truth & Fiction’ is probably my favourite. It was written during the US election and is all about the feeling of no longer knowing what to believe. The blurring of the lines between reality and fiction; being given two opposing narratives and being told both are true. I’ve been trying my best to make sense of it all and I still have no idea what’s going on!

4.Your first studio release – Monkey Suit – was in 2014 and now you’re releasing the second one. Do you think there will be a shorter period between Truth & Fiction and the next album?

I hope so. This album was actually the fastest thing I’ve ever made! We started production in November and it’s out in May. Monkey Suit took me about 3 years to produce! But I think I’m getting quicker, so let’s hope the next one will be ready for 2019…


5.Should we expect a big difference between Monkey Suit and Truth & Fiction?

Yeah, they’re quite different. No more fiddle or folky elements. This album is almost entirely made up of big tunes. I play electric guitar on most tracks, and it’s a more stripped back but produced sound. But in terms of lyrics and songwriting, it’s classic Undercover Hippy, so I’m sure the fans will be happy with it.

6.On to a few more personal questions. Before you started making music, you were into animation and wanted to work for Pixar. Do you still have an interest in this or did you leave that behind?

That’s almost like a previous life now! But I do still enjoy doing multi-media. I do most of the graphics and video work for Undercover Hippy, so I certainly keep my hand in. But 3D animation? I think the world has probably moved on from the skills I had way back then!

7.Animation, DJ-ing and MC-ing and now writing and singing songs about political issues. These are very different things. How do they all fit in the wider picture and was it difficult to switch from one to the other?

It’s all been very organic really, I’ve never made a big decision to switch from one thing to another, I’ve just taken opportunities as they’ve presented themselves to me. But I’ve always been very political, ever since I was a kid, so my music has always reflected that.

8.Talking about switching from one thing to another, if you could dabble in any other genre, what would it be and why?

I’d quite like to make a proper hip-hop album, just working with a producer… no musicians to herd around!

9.And now a hopefully funny question with a hopefully funny answer. What’s the strangest thing you’ve heard from a fan at a concert?

One asked me if I knew whether Undercover Hippy had played yet…

10.Finally, should we expect The Undercover Hippy to come to York in the near future?

Sure, if we can all crash at yours…