We stumbled across Steven Hassle by accident via Facebook... Somewhere along the lines we found a link to his Soundcloud page which we checked out, liked and asked him if he wouldn't mind answering a few questions to which he agreed...
G-C - Who are Hassle
H - It’s basically my solo project under the name of Hassle, over the years I’ve been lucky enough to have played with many great musicians who have helped me get the sound I was after at the time. The people on the albums/EP’s are different to the lads I have gigged live with, but the common theme is they’re all my songs, vocals and production giving some continuity. The only other constant in Hassle is my friend Tony English, from my first ever demo in ‘89 to present, he has always been involved with my music co-producing, engineering and playing a variety of instruments.
When and how did you form the band
I formed the band in 2002, by formed I mean that was the time my writing took a reggae direction, everything I was writing naturally lended itself to that form, so it seemed natural to go looking for reggae players. I had been in bands with more of a Mod leaning before that, but I couldn’t stop writing reggae songs so decided to crack on with pursuing that instead.
For those who haven’t heard of you how would you describe your music
Well in the past I’d say it sounded like 70’s reggae, organic and full of real analogue dub tape delays and good old school one-drop grooves, but that’s not how I sound now. I kind of felt hemmed in with the song writing restrictions that come with making purist reggae, which at the time was what I was aiming for. I don’t like repeating myself or doing things by numbers, so my music has always changed over the years, but there’s also always a link running through it. Today I’m making music which is more acoustic, stripped back, but still organic, which means I can play the old reggae songs I’ve written alongside the new songs I’m writing and it all gels together nicely.
Who would you credit for your influences
Reggae wise Lee Scratch Perry, Augustus Pablo, Bob Marley, Dennis Bovell, King Tubby, and Delroy Washington. Outside of that Paul Weller and Ocean Colour Scene, especially Steve Cradock have influenced me. Weller got me into reggae and dub with some of his more experimental B-sides, and then he got me into British folk music with the 22 dreams album, and before that wildwood. He often name checks influences and bands he’s into, and I usually end up checking those out and picking up on the things I like, such as Pentangle, Fairport Convention, Nick Drake. There’s also a band I have only delved deeper into in the last year that I hate myself for not getting into years ago, who have blown my mind, who shall remain nameless, but also my mate who I’ve already mentioned, Tony English, he has always influenced me in as much as I’ve learned so much from him regarding anything and everything to do with music, production, recording, artwork, making your own home studio, in fact he now builds studios for a living, he’s recently built and designed rooms for Damon Albarn and XL recordings, so he’s doing ok.
What is your first recollection of the roots sound
It was in the late 70s I started hearing it, obviously Bob Marley was frequently on the radio, so it was picking up on reggae back then, and at school discos and such like there were always older kids skanking to Desmond Decker etc, but generally it was the older skinhead and mod lads who were always into their reggae that introduced me to it.
You have supported Toots and the Maytals, Alton Ellis, Jah Shaka, Bob Andy plus many more greats how did that come about
Just word of mouth really, then you seem to build some momentum and promoters know you will bring a local crowd, so you get asked back because of that. We supported Toots and the Maytals for two years in a row at the 02 Academy.
The band have released a couple of ep's/lp's, anymore lined-up
In all honesty it’s like a new beginning again. I’ve written the next album (and some) which I’m currently recording, its never came together so easily or naturally which is a wonderful feeling as I had become frustrated with myself for a while, but I’ve come through that and I know where I’m going again.
There was quite a science in recording your lps, what was involved to get the sound you were after
Well as Tony engineered them and co-produced them I’ll let him answer that, but for my part I wanted it to sound authentically 70’s sounding like the reggae artists I mentioned before..
Tony English - Looking at Steve’s influences at the time the main things that struck me was to keep the recordings as organic as possible. First thing was to limit ourselves in recording and more importantly rehearsal time, if you overwork the arrangement you don’t capture the spirit of those early studio recordings. So I’d drag in a drummer, bassist and keyboard player who came in cold, heard the track for the first time, then we’d look to be recording the spine of the track within about an hour. That spine would be a live performance of 4 or 5 of us, generally set up in one room, capturing a performance, not being overly concerned with spill as with reggae of the period you can be really aggressive with filtering and EQ at the mix stage, and if anything sounds wrong, it kind of sounds right! We then done minimal overdubs, brass, backing vox, percussion or whatever. 80% of the tracks were recorded very hot on to two inch tape, pushing the needles as far into the red, giving us distortion, warmth and tape compression. When we did have to go digital, we still treat the mac as a tape machine, we didn’t go near plug-ins, editing or any kind of programming, it’s more about the attitude towards recording than the gear really. Mix wise, they were all mixed on an old Soundcraft 1624 desk, using no digital outboard, so WEM copicats, Roland Space Echos, and quarter inch tape machines were all used as delays, then random stuff like old oscillators and tremolo pedals where used to make various ‘bleeps and farts’ for dub effects. Using all analogue gear at the mix stage means no automation and less control, adding an extra layer of uncertainty to the process, an extra layer of creativity, which again steers you from perfection and you stop being a technician, you just get into it, you end up playing the desk like an instrument. All of this brings you close to the sound of those early recordings, as you’re on a little journey of discovery rather than just going through the motions, being as creative as you can be out of a limited palette.
Where can the ep's and lp's be purchased
The short answer is that they’re not, and that’s a disgrace but they will all be available again along with the new stuff soon. I’m really proud of how they sound but the old and the new will be available together.
What else is lined up for Hassle in the near future
I’m back gigging again next week, so its just the usual stuff you would expect, gigging and recording and then putting the recordings out, but with much more frequent output than there’s been in the last few years for various reasons. I’m really looking forward to it.
Cheers for taken part in the blog, looking forward to hearing the new material... G-C