Interview: Onoe Caponoe

The stalwart London MC chats about his lauded new LP Spells From The Cyclops and recent influences

Posted on May 11th, 2016 in Features and Interviews, Onoe Caponoe, High Focus / By Sam Bennett
Interview: Onoe Caponoe High Focus Records have got the hip-hop scene on our British shores locked down, and one of the MC's pushing boundaries the furthest on their roster is Onoe Caponoe. He's just released his latest LP Spells From The Cyclops and Bearded caught up with him to talk about the new release.

'I'm cool, I'm really tired' says Onoe as we begin our conversation. 'I've just got back to my house, we've been buying some stuff for a video we're shooting on Sunday for a track from the new release; it's two tunes merged together. The first one is an instrumental track called 'Mr. Wilson and the Enchanted Baby' (laughs), and the second tune is called 'Delix In The Machine'.

I ask how Onoe first got into hip-hop. 'I liked the look of like body popping and shit when I was maybe like thirteen, and I wanted to get into it so I just bought a load of CD's, I think it was that at first.' Was it the first genre he felt passionately about? 'Nah. I was in shitty little punk bands in year seven at school, so it was that at first. Someone gave me a load of NOFX cassette tapes when I was mad young, and I was into Korn and shit like that. I wanted to get into more of the rap shit so I went and bought a Beastie Boys CD, but when I got home it was all their first stuff, like hardcore punk shit, called 'Some Old Bullshit'. That was dope but at the time I wanted to hear some rap shit'.

Onoe Caponoe's debut High Focus release dropped in 2014, and I wonder how he felt about the success of Voices From Planet Cattele. 'It's actually been doing really well' he replies. 'It's kind of a weird project, even for me it was more of a side project. It was done in a way that was different from how I usually make music in that it was done with someone else, in this case Chemo. It was a bit slow at first because it's quite weird and shit, and it was through High Focus so people who didn't know me were like 'What the fuck is this'? It actually did pretty well to be honest, I've been very surprised. That's allowed to me to go on and be doing the stuff that I'm doing now too'.

I ask if he felt he'd turned a corner with that project. 'Yeah I guess so; every project I do, the whole point is for it to be different. There are acts that put out music and it's all the same, so I don't know, but personally I don't understand that. This tape that's coming out now is different from a lot of the other stuff; how I put it together is like an hour long mix of shit and then there's these weird beats that tie it together, and it's got different rap shit, fast shit, slow shit, and then in-between there's a lot of weird stuff I've made, so this is the first project where I've been mixing all these different ways of music that I've been making but haven't been putting out with the rap stuff that I have been. It's always got to be different'.

'I've known Fliptrix for a long time' says Onoe on joining High Focus. 'I first met him when I was like fourteen and we were doing graffiti and stuff like that. We've just been mates, we haven't spoken to each other all the fucking time and shit, but we've known each other for ages'. Caponoe appeared on Fliptrix's debut Force Fed Imagery LP, which was released back in 2007, then under the alias O1Noe Boy, and I wonder if he found it strange that he's almost come full circle; from appearing on Flip's debut record to releasing music almost a decade on through High Focus. 'I haven't actually thought about it like that. It's definitely cool how shit works out'.

Onoe's new project Spells From The Cyclops takes a very experimental route, and sounds more like an experience than simply an album, I wonder if this was how he imagined it. 'Definitely' Caponoe agrees. 'I made the whole thing over about a year, and I was pretty much in a room doing that for most of the year, and I super got into it. I was making all this different music, experimenting and making a whole pile of stuff. I went through it halfway through the year and started to put together the tape. I put together maybe three versions of this project which nobody else has heard. They're all mixed, with different songs, and the whole thing ends up in a different place. I really had a lot of fun with it, and almost lost myself in it at certain points. So that's kind of cool, nobody else is going to hear these other versions of how it might have ended up sounding (laughs), that's kind of sick. It was how it fucking sounds (laughs), very crazy and messy'.

I wonder if he tries to distance himself from staying in the same lane as many artists do; he often strays from the traditional hip-hop sound with both his writing and production. 'When I first started rapping I used to really like, and still do, Mobb Deep and all the stuff that came out of Queensbridge. After x amount of years I kind of worked out a formula of how they rap and stuff, and I started rapping like that, and tried to put my own twist on it. When I got confident in doing that, I found another genre of rap that I really like, and I was like 'I want to be able to do that as well', but with my own twist on it, and that's kind of what I've been doing; going round everything that I like, and learning how to do it but in my own way. Then I've taken all these bits and mixed them together. Now I feel like I've got my own sound'.

There's often a psychedelic undercurrent to his music, and I ask where that comes from. 'It's hard to say because it's like a thing now in general, everyone's all trippy and shit' he says. 'It's kind of unfortunate for myself because a lot of the time that's just how I am (laughs). Most of the time yeah, I spend time trying to not be like that, I'm fucking serious; with music and shit I've got so much shit that just comes out insane, so with this project I tried to concentrate on making it for people a bit more. Shit just comes out really trippy, but there's different ways of making music and places my headspace is in when I'm making music. I'm working on a tape right now, which will be the next album, and it's going to be the shit because the headspace that I'm in for that is taking all the shit that I've been doing, all the really far-out shit, and making it far more understandable for everybody, but still trippy as fuck. So this one that's coming out now, not even intentionally, but looking back on it now it's kind of like the build up to that, because I've been coming from a really insane place with it, and some of the shit I've put out people have been like 'What the fuck is this?', but they don't get it you know what I mean? It's just very experimental. I've got so many different styles, and I really like doing that shit, but I need to put out this other shit as well to kind of draw in people, and give people something that makes sense (laughs). Me personally, I don't need that, all the stuff I'm into is pretty weird, but people need that, so I want to make music for people as well as for myself, which is what I have been doing for the last couple of years'.

Spells From The Cyclops features appearances from Bisk and Stinkin Slumrok, representing Blah Records, and I ask how that link-up happened. 'I'm not really that bothered with rappers and shit, like making music with other rappers. I meet a lot of rappers at shows, and everyone's cool but I'm just not fussed. I'm just so into doing my shit you know? But I met them at a show...' Onoe's phone dies. We pick our chat back up a few days later, and I remind him of his last answer. 'I don't mean for it to come across as like 'Fuck everybody apart from Slum and Bisk' (laughs). That's not the case. I meet rappers all the time. It's not like I get a negative vibe off everybody, but I've never been one of the rappers to try and do collabs and stuff, because I'm really excited about what I want to do. It just kind of happened with them though. Pretty much everybody that I make music with, or have made music with, it's all from a chill vibe. It's never 'I dig your music, let's make a track', because making music is so personal to me. We have to be friends really. If I meet someone and they're like 'Oh, I rap and shit, you should come studio' and I'll be like 'Yeah, alright', and obviously I'm never going to go, but I've met other people and we've just been chilling on some jokes shit, and they don't even make music but I'll end up making music with them just from a sick vibe. I work more like that, I think it was like that with them. We just connected on a friend level, and I thought 'These guys are jokes and proper safe', and obviously they're sick at rapping as well so it just made sense to make some music'.

You can often tell when music's been made like that I say. 'Yeah, I can't see that there's any other way to do it' agrees Onoe. 'People are so weird in general, and especially with this rap shit and music shit, people are super weird. I get this a lot, I meet people through doing this music shit, and if they like me they're really nice to me, and I'm like 'Sick, this person is safe as fuck'. Then I'll be chilling with them another time, and I'll see them interact with other people and I'm like 'Oh shit, they're not really a cool person'. They're just being cool to me because they like my shit and they're going to be safe with me, but in general to other people they're a dickhead. I really don't like that shit, so I try and keep myself to myself in the music world, because people have even bigger egos than in real life. Not that I've done it, but there'd be nothing worse than making music with someone and then it turning out that they're a dickhead'.

'I mixed it all and recorded it all myself' says Onoe about the more hands-on approach of Spells From The Cyclops. 'I record all my stuff and have done for a long time, even before the Chemo project. Obviously the Chemo project was done with him, and he's got a sick studio and he's an amazing engineer, so I was excited to see what shit sounded like mixed down like that. I've always recorded my own shit, but over the last couple of years I've got really confident with it, but also I feel like I'm on my way to finding my sound in terms of mixing. I'd record at other people's places on my first projects, and I'd have to explain how I wanted shit but I knew how I wanted it in my head. It's just cut out loads of time me doing it myself. One thing I always say to people in my group is that with this whole recording yourself, and mixing shit; if you're a rapper, and you're serious about it, a painter wouldn't say 'Oh I want to paint a picture, let me holler at my boy and borrow his paintbrushes and canvases', that's what you do, you should have your own shit. I need to be able to do it whenever I want. I think it's a continuation of thinking like that'.

I ask if the ease of having recording facilities to hand boosts his creativity. 'Definitely, but sometimes I'll sit down and be feeling creative, but then it just won't be the right time. I feel that it's really what I do, and I just spend all my time doing that (laughs)'.

Onoe expands on how he likes to mix his music, as the unique perspective is clearly audible when listening to his music. 'I want it to sound really raw. I'm just getting into understanding how to do that properly, so on Spells From The Cyclops some stuff sounds like that and some stuff sounds cleaner. I don't like the clean sound at all anymore. That's the norm, and I don't want my shit sounding like Adele. I'm not doing that so I don't want to sound like that, but at the same time I don't want it to sound shit'.

Caponoe's work is often energetic and hyped, but can then go to a much mellower, chilled approach. This is sometimes even apparent within the same song. I ask him if this reflects his personality. 'Yeah totally. I go from one extreme to the other, so that's definitely represented. I can hear my personality when I listen to my music. That's solely what it's been for a couple of years now. It's all been for me, I've been writing songs to get feelings off my chest basically, and some people dig it and some are like 'What the fuck is this?' But it's all just been for me basically (laughs)'.

With Voices From Planet Cattele and Spells From The Cyclops, his work has been more experimental than his first two releases Central Control and Willows Midnight Gallery. These weren't exactly traditional hip-hop releases, but there was more of a concentration on that style. I wonder if Onoe can ever imagine doing something similar. 'This year already I've put out two tapes; on my label Cosmic Seagull I put out a beat-tape called The Low Tape, but it's like a lo-fi, tripped out, really experimental project under the name Lord Catpiss, which is the name I use when I'm making live, and weird instrumentals. It's really weird, and putting that out kind of feels like a gap in me. It's like 'Oh sick, I've put out some really weird shit that I want to put out', and then sometimes it makes me feel like working on some more hip-hop based stuff, because I've got that out of my system. I literally go from one end to the other; I'll be sitting in my studio like 'Oh my god, I can't stand rap music, fuck that', and I'll make a fucking rock song, and then the next day I'll be like 'What the fuck is this, I need to make some more hip-hop shit!' (laughs)'.

Keeping your options open I guess I say. 'Yeah, God knows what the fuck's going to happen (laughs). Now, today right now, I do actually feel like it would be cool to make some shit like that again. I think I've been feeling that for a while. Obviously I'm talking about this next project that I'm going to Berlin to do, and it will be trippy as fuck but then it will go into, like I keep saying, some shit that's possibly like that. I dunno, I'm really confident in it though even though I've only written like three songs'.

'I've been thinking about this recently' says Onoe when I ask what he likes about live shows and touring. 'Since I've been getting regular shows I've kind of been taking them for granted. Every day I'll be making music and I know I've got a show at the end of the week. I won't prepare for it, I'll be making music right up until that day, and even then I'll put off putting a set together until the last minute because I'm working on a song. I'll play the show, come home, and carry on making music. I hadn't really been thinking about it, but I have been recently. Like I said I'll be really up and down, and sometimes I'll have a show and be like 'I want to dress up tonight', and then sometimes I'll think 'Fuck that, I don't want to dress up'. I did a couple shows just in normal clothes, which I liked doing, and I got a load of messages from people like 'What the fuck! We saw you live and you weren't dressed up, why did you wear normal clothes in Liverpool?' or some shit (laughs). I found that really funny, so I've been trying to think more about what I do at shows. The shows are really important, because they allow me to', he pauses, 'show (laughs), what I've been working on, so I've been trying to think about that. The last five shows or something have been really good because of that; I'm still putting the setlist together the same fucking day but it's still popping (laughs)'.

I ask who he's been listening to lately. 'I've never really been into folk music but I found this song from a guy called Davey Graham, I think it's called 'Cocaine', and I just thought it was jokes because it's about cocaine. I found it again last week and I was listening to it like 'This is actually a really good song'. The rest of the guy's stuff, he's got this album called 'Folk, Blues & Beyond', you need to be in the mood for it; late night shit and you have to be pretty stoned, but if it's late night, and you're stoned, and you're by yourself, this shit is proper amazing, it's really really good. He's dead now, he's an old dude from America. I've been listening to a lot of old late nineties Memphis rap shit, I'm really into that. A dude recently called Mack D.L.E. It's so cool because it's like a bottomless pit of amazing artists that only people back in the day really know about. Also, when I was in Switzerland with a couple of people doing shows, one of my mates was playing a lot of stuff by Lebanon Hanover. They're some weird goth band, some chick and some dude, I think they're from Germany. It's kind of post-punk shit. I was banging a lot of that, I've not really been in the mood lately though. It's all over the place man, I listen to everything'.

What's next for Onoe Caponoe? 'Mate, I've got a lot of music at the moment. Like I said I've already put out two projects that people would only really know about if they follow Cosmic Seagull, which is a new label so I think a lot of people don't know about it. There's this weird instrumental thing, and there's this other tape that I did with a guy from my group called L-Zee Roselli, and it's a weird side project that we wrote and recorded over like a week, and we put it out under the name The Skunkheadz, and it's called Mystic Bong Fun Weed Party Boiz (laughs). It's half hardcore stoner trap, and the other half weird, slow shit. It's cool though, I really like that tape. I've got another tape which hasn't come out yet, I'm trying to work out what to do with it, it's from another character that I've got called Zootghost, where my voice is pitched down. I've taken beats from people in Cosmic Seagull, kind of boom bap beats but slowed them down. Then this other big project that I'm working on, I'd really like it to come out at the end of the year, but we'll have to see.

Spells From The Cyclops is out now through High Focus Records