By David Rees
With a year packed with European shows and collaborations, London’s fast-rising hip hop stars Lazy Habits are well on the way to becoming household names in their genre. Here, singer James, a.k.a. Lazy, talks about finding his sound, the projects he’s got coming up in the near future and the dangers of winter sports.
Inclement weather is creeping into the High Cross Centre in North London. There’s a biting wind threatening to separate hats from heads as vans compete for space around this crop of warehouses. However, the industrial façade hides a secret, hinted at by the muffled sound of drums. This is where many up-and-coming musicians call home – warehouses have been converted into living space and studios.
This is a major location for creativity and flair, something that is clear even having not been here long. A case in point is James Collins; the singer behind Lazy Habits – who also goes by that name – has recently moved here. “It’s a really cool, productive place – there’s an infectious vibe,” he says. From the next room comes the sound of beatboxing. “That’s Reeps, he does that. People just walk around beatboxing.” He refers to award-winning beatboxer Reeps One. Make no mistake: this place is an absolute hive of talent.
The house is a musician’s paradise. A raised platform – complete with P.A. system, drum kit, cello, acoustic guitars and harp – overlooks the living area downstairs. In the kitchen, Lazy pushes aside a pan of attempted honeycomb to find some mugs. A knife rises from it like Excalibur from the stone, and is just as hard to remove. “It went wrong” he laughs, and that is all he says about it.
Lazy Habits is a misnomer. There’s no contractual band agreement: Lazy has mostly managed them himself. The plan was always to get a following first and think about records later: “I was working with Andy Platts; he was signed to a really big management agency. I had a meeting with them and there was some talk about signing us up right there. It didn’t really do it for me; it was never what I wanted to do.” As clichéd as it sounds, this is a collective who do it for the music.
It looked unlikely that Lazy would ever get into music at one stage. Born in North East London, he was taken to Spain at the age of four. “At school, they wouldn’t let me just be a vocalist. They wanted me to play drums,” he recalls. “I walked in and saw a drum kit, and they just gave me a block. I was like “What the hell is this?” I was kicked off GSCE music for refusing to pay for drum lessons.”
Even so, he’s a multi-instrumentalist of sorts. The music is brass-based; his grandfather was a trombone player in the Hatfield Common Band, playing music like Raiders of the Lost Ark. “I was a singer and a drummer, and a really shit cornet player,” he laughs, “and I played loads of other instruments that I’m not very good at. When I used to listen to hip hop back in the day, they were using jazz samples. I always wanted that kind of element.” The image, too, is very big-band: Habits suit up to perform. “It’s harking back to big bands. The music was expressive, but it was a very smart look, and maybe that’s something to do with just having a Sunday suit back in those days.”
The end of last year was huge for Habits; it saw their self-titled debut album hit the top ten on the iTunes hip hop charts. “I had no idea, no preconceived notion that it would get anywhere near any sort of chart,” he says with a smile. “It was a really nice surprise to be there.” Support for the album has been huge, with everyone from Ghostpoet to Joss Stone voicing their praise.
This year’s diary is incredibly crowded. The end of March will see them hitting the alpine Brits Festival in Tignes; it’s exciting stuff, but Lazy does have one or two reservations. “There are people in my crew who want to get up on the slopes – I’m a little apprehensive about that. One little injury and that’s the end of the show.”
There will be no such worries for the man himself. “I can’t ski. I’ve never done it before,” he admits. “Whenever we go to the Alps, a load of people at four in the morning all say that they’re gonna take you out first thing and teach you how to snowboard, but no-one wants to do that six hours later, everyone’s hungover!”
The band is also involved with Planet Events in Spain, which is a very exciting prospect for them. “We’ve been trying to do the whole Europe thing this year,” Lazy says animatedly. “Getting someone as big as Planet is just insane.” They will also be playing closer to home, hitting Concorde 2 in Brighton with old friends Yes Sir Boss.
Chief among Lazy’s collaborative plans is the High Cross Society, a project that has moved forward incredibly quickly. “It’s Reeps One, More Like Trees, Fjokra, Joe Driscoll and myself. We’ve got a string section too, and the horns from Habits. We’ve written a mini album, and around September time there’ll be a few shows, an album release and maybe a festival.” There will also be several shows with Baby Sol, who sung on ‘Memory Banks’. “If anyone’s been to a lot of Habits shows you’ll have seen her with us,” says Lazy. “She’s gonna be joining the band for the UK dates around the tail end of summer. They’ll be special Baby Sol shows.”
As far as collaborations he wants to do are concerned, everyone around him fits into that category. “Normally I say Tom Waits, but with the High Cross Society, I really am working with all the people I want to work with.” From across the building, we hear “Awww!” Reeps has halted his beatboxing to engage in a bit of mockery. “You can shut up!” jokes Lazy, grinning.
It’s like a family here; everyone gels together through their personalities and work. This atmosphere breeds creativity; with places like this, hip hop is in safe hands.
“When I used to listen to hip hop back in the day, it was always musically instrumental. They were using jazz samples and stuff like that. I always wanted that kind of element.”
“I don’t know about pioneers, but I think we’re unique.”