A Chat with Check Masses (28.07.20)

Emerging from the shadows of the Scottish music scene, Philly (P), Vic Galloway (VG) and Saleem Andrew McGroarty (AM) are breeding a genre-dying form of psychedelic hip hop, rock and soul. They released their debut full-length album NIGHTLIFE earlier this year and haven’t let up for a second. We took time to speak with Check Masses about their album, musical inspirations and bio-pic titles.

OSR: How would you describe your sound?

VG: Our sound is a result of our collective life experiences and wide musical influences – it’s a melting pot. We’re saying ‘psychedelic soul’, but there are also elements of hip-hop, rock ‘n’ roll, punk, reggae and classic 60’s songwriting in there. We grew up with eclectic tastes and three large record collections, and the album pulls all of that together. The music is eclectic but honest and there feels like a real synergy between the three of us.

OSR: Who inspired your music?

VG: We’re inspired by a massive range of people – musicians, writers, poets, filmmakers, visual artists and philosophers. We have all travelled quite widely as well, so that has inspired our writing and our worldview. The more you see of the world, the more you realise we are one people!

Musically, we have been compared to Massive Attack, Gorillaz, TV on the Radio, Ennio Morricone, Bob Marley, Beatles and The Clash amongst others. I’m fine with all of them and many more besides.

OSR: What is the backstory to Nightlife?

VG: We have all known each other for many years, decades in fact, but never dreamt of making music together. It was a happy accident to begin with. Andy invited me to see Alexei Sayle doing stand-up comedy a couple of years ago and over a slice of pizza afterwards, we decided to try and collaborate on some tunes for fun. They turned out well and we asked Philly if he would like to join in. He agreed and the first track we worked on together was ‘DRIPN ANGEL’ which eventually became the album opener and our debut single!

From that point onwards we wrote around 20 tracks and knew we had something special going on. We narrowed those tracks down to 10 and had an album which we called NIGHTLIFE. Stephen at Triassic Tusk Records liked what he heard and decided to release the vinyl. The album looks and sounds great and we’re really proud of it. We launched everything in January and have been getting the word out since then. The reaction so far has been amazing!

OSR: I know most people are in lockdown at the moment, but do you have any tour traditions?

VG: We haven’t played live that much yet. We did a few shows at the end of 2019 and into 2020, plus a sold-out single launch in January. If Covid-19 hadn’t hit we were going to be playing various festivals and doing lots of shows around the UK and into Europe this year. We were all looking forward to it.

The LIVE band is cooking, by the way! Traditions so far include us trying not to get too nervous before going on stage, forgetting the words when we’re there, and watching our drummer Craig and bassist Jack being supreme musicians and making us sound good. We call them the ‘Young Team’ and they kick ass! Eventually, we will get back to playing live; come and check us out.

OSR: What was the writing and recording process like?

VG: Aside from the strings on ‘UNRAVELLED’ and ‘THE WILL OF GOD’, recorded by Rory Sutherland and Pete Harvey respectively, all the album was written and recorded in our home studios. In my case, the spare room! Each song had a slightly different genesis, but most of them started with a beat/loop from Andy, then was expanded by me with layered instrumentation and finished by Philly with his vocals.

The writing of the vocal melodies and lyrics came from Philly and me and was incredibly natural and spontaneous. We’d have a backing track and just riff on ideas and tunes until we had something we liked, then develop it. Sometimes it would be a melodic hook, sometimes a phrase. From there it would grow thematically and structurally until we had the song. It was a relaxed and organic process.

OSR: What inspired you to become a musician?

P: I think in part, everyone wants to be a singer when they’re a kid standing in front of the mirror with a hairbrush. My own personal epiphany would be either hearing The Beatles for the first time, seeing a Hendrix double-bill live at Woodstock and Monterey, and lastly, Jeff Buckley playing two live shows. Mind blown on all occasions.

OSR: What do you do in your spare time?

P: My spare time consists of handing out ticker-tape for the artistic bourgeoisie of Edinburgh, wild swimming, lots of book reading, much listening of music and watching as many documentaries and movies as is feasibly allowed in between dealing with kids and puppies! I guess it gets pretty hectic out there. I like to keep it expansive, David Lean meets Sergio Leone.

OSR: If you were to publish a documentary of your life, what would you call the film?

P: The documentary title of my life would be…I’ll leave for you to choose as I’ll be long gone! Either ‘Smiler’, ‘Different Neck Of The Woods’ or ‘The Shadow In The Chinese Restaurant’.

OSR: What is your creative process?

AM: The creative process often follows no rules. Sometimes the music comes first, sometimes the melody. Inspiration can come from anywhere and at any time. Often I will put together instrumentals and send them to a pool of ideas that Philly and Vic flick through looking for something they connect with.  They start to play with melody and vocal ideas until words or melodies come and start to form, then they start to sew that all together until the song starts to come together.

Sometimes Philly will come to my house or work and listen to instrumentals and will be inspired by lyrics or melodies on the spot and we record them right there, then they’re developed with Vic. Then the vocals and instrumentation is recorded and sent back to me. I add additional production, mix it down and send it off to be mastered.

OSR: What are the different benefits and challenges to being an independent artist?

AM: The most obvious benefit to being an independent artist is that you are free to record and put out anything that you want. We have full control over our artistic output and we don’t have to follow any notions or ideas that a bigger label might have in terms of trying to steer our sound in a particular way.

Some of the challenges we face as independent artists are that our vision of where we would like to take the music in terms of our profile, exposure, doing things like videos is limited by our own finances. Bigger labels work in much bigger networks and with their bigger budgets, teams and outreach they can present a much more focused image and presentation of the band and reach a much bigger audience.

OSR: What plans do you have for the future?

AM: We plan to just keep on going as long as we can; writing and recording good songs and sharing them with the world. Hopefully, as time goes on and the Covid situation lifts there will be more opportunities for us to play gigs and reach out to a bigger and wider audience.

OSR: Do you have a message for fans and potential fans?

P: Music-wise, listen to everything! Look after humanity ’cause we’re all humans baby.

Thanks to Check Masses for chatting with us! You can find more about Check Masses on their Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Spotify.

Get your free email updates
We respect your privacy.