Andy Carthy, better known as Mr Scruff, is one of those artists you hear once and always keep at an arm’s reach. His tracks are catchy, jazzy, glitchy, melodic, and almost always accompanied by some solid dancing potato action.
Carthy got into music at an early age listening to the radio and began DJing at home when he was 13 years old. Two decades forward with seven albums in record stores and loving support of Ninja Tune, Carthy is still going strong. Earlier this year he released Friendly Bacteria, an album that spans his wide range of musical interests and employs not only Carthy’s many production gifts, but a varied array of voices.
A new album is always a good reason for a tour, so Mr Scruff is on road til December, stopping in cities across North America and Europe from LA to Manchester. Curious about how he’s been, we caught up with Carthy before his four-hour set in Toronto (coming up on August 20th).
Kateryna Topol: It’s been 20 years since you started, congratulations on that, what were some of the most memorable moments?
Andy Carthy: Too many to mention. Meeting lovely people, playing all over the world. Signing to Ninja Tune was a big moment for me. Eating in Ethiopian Diamond restaurant in Chicago while Phil Cohran played live in the corner… Playing WOMAD on Mount Taranaki in New Zealand…
KT: Do you think you’ve evolved a lot since your first record?
AC: I just think that my musical taste has continued to broaden, and that comes from having hungry ears. Hearing other people share their musical tastes with me has helped a lot. I still try and hold onto the same enthusiasm that I had as a teenager though. It keeps things exciting!
KT: How did you choose your collaborators for Friendly Bacteria?
AC: Most of them were good friends already, and I had them in mind for a while, and we had talked for years about collaborating. The only one I didn’t know prior to recording was Robert Owens. His voice popped into my head as soon as I wrote the music for “He Don’t,” so I got in contact and he replied almost immediately, saying that he loved the track.
KT: This last album brings together a few different styles, some tracks feel more modern, for the lack of a better word (i.e., “Friendly Bacteria”), while others (“We Are Coming”) take me back to the 90’s warehouse parties. In your own words, what’s the story behind Friendly Bacteria?
AC: I suppose that there is an overall heavy production feeling, but the styles are varied, as with my other albums. Putting an album together is quite like a DJ set, it has to have variety and dynamics, but also make sense as a coherent musical statement. I like to write a few tunes, then collect them together to give myself an idea of what I am trying to say. Then I finish the story!
KT: The album is very vivid and strange (in a good way), did you have a feeling in mind when working on it?
AC: I tapped into the variety of sounds that my collaborators brought to the album, and brought it all together in a way that made sense to me. Denis Jones added a real dark, foggy, grainy, soulful edge to the sound, which works really well with my bouncy, punchy, free and easy style.
KT: Were you expecting a specific reaction?
AC: That is the fun part. I thought that my sound had changed quite a lot on this album, but people were still coming up to me at gigs, when I was testing out demo tracks, and saying ‘this is you, isn’t it!’
KT: How long did this one take and where did you mainly record it?
AC: It took about two years, in between tour dates. Most was done at home, or in SSR studios in Manchester. I recorded Robert Owens in London.
KT: Looking back, how did the illustrations and characters come to be a part of the Mr Scruff identity?
AC: I have always drawn in that style, so it seemed like an easy and obvious option to illustrate my own music with my two-dimensional potato friends. They give a friendly, fun face to what I do.
KT: I hear you have a pretty solid record collection, what are you listening to this week?
AC: All sorts! Just bought some old jazz and funk vinyl from Groove Merchant in San Francisco, so I am having fun trawling through that.
KT: You’re on tour now, what can people expect from the live show?
AC: A balding geek playing a 4 hour, across the board DJ set, with some two-dimensional potato action.
KT: As someone who’s had an impressive career in music is there anything you’d like to share with the up and coming musicians?
AC: Be yourself, follow your instincts, and keep your ears open all the time. There is always something to learn!