By Cosima Worth
Draags are new to the Leeds music scene this year, but they’ve arrived with an absolute banger of a debut album. Resuscitate State is formed of fourteen powerful tracks, woven together into what is essentially one long 36-minute piece, with each track flowing seamlessly into the next.
Described by the band as alternative rap, the record falls into a category of its own. Whilst there are suggestions of various influences, with a rap style reminiscent of Sleaford Mods and a revolutionary energy similar to that of IDLES, to name a couple, Resuscitate State certainly has its own distinct concept and sound. Rooted in a lockdown-fuelled anger, it projects a unique personality, underlined in the band’s three-part film (linked at the end of this article), which accompanies the album and provides quirky visuals that tie the concepts together.
I got the opportunity to sit down (over Zoom) with the members of the band, Luca, Stan and Alex, to talk about Draags, their first album release and what is in store for the future.
Can you tell me a bit about how you started out?
Luca: I suppose it began because Stan moved into the same house as me, and just by chance he was playing some beats upstairs and I was writing lyrics in my room and literally, that’s how it kind of came together, pretty organically, which was nice.
Where did the concept for Draags come from?
Luca: It’s mainly taken from a film in the 70s, called Fantastic Planet. It’s using a type of character from that. When we watched the film a lot of the messages rang true to us, not just in terms of the imagery but the political messaging and everything. And I think we’re kind of using it as a character base. Kind of like people like MF Doom and King Krule, they use aliases for their art, and this is our version of that.
Stan: I think it feels like you can make stronger statements if it’s not your own name behind it. There’s only so much experience I as an individual person can draw from whereas if you have it under a guise it means you can say things that maybe you wouldn’t say normally or you can take the perspective of someone you’re not, so it gives you a license you wouldn’t normally have.
I’ve noticed your music’s quite political, are there any specific political issues that have inspired you?
Luca: I think the idea for the album came through lockdown. We were writing a lot of chilled out hip-hop beforehand and then lockdown came, and it wasn’t really vibing with how we felt at all. We felt quite angry and quite alienated. Our music’s not necessarily picking a certain political position but it’s kind of about feeling quite detached and feeling angry at what’s going on and the media sugar-coating things, and no one’s really saying what’s happening.
Alex: Yeah, it doesn’t feel like to me that [our music] is looking for answers, it’s not looking to kind of make sense of anything, it’s just speaking for individuals who just feel completely disorganised in their thought process about the whole thing and can’t comprehend really what’s going on. I think it’s maybe more looking from things from like a humanitarian point of view as opposed to taking a political angle and pointing fingers at individuals.
Stan: It is political, we’re talking about political themes but it’s not about having a political solution to certain problems. We’re saying, ‘this is what we as people want, this is what we feel isn’t being voiced’, and giving a voice to those things.
Luca: It’s about trying to be more connected to our surroundings as well, I think. The album, especially based around lockdown, was trying to focus on the fact that we are so detached from the death that’s happening, and all of this grief. No one’s really stopping to witness the fact that thousands of people have died, we just carry on, and there’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ and they’re trying to get the economy going again, and it’s like hang on why aren’t we stopping and thinking, ‘what’s going on around us?’. It’s about getting more connected to death and the grotesque side of things.
There’s definitely a range of styles in your album, there’s the hip-hop kind of side, the punk side, but then you’ve got some, like Face, that are a lot slower, with more traditional vocals, can you tell me a bit about how the album came to have this range?
Luca: Yeah, it’s a different side to [the album] definitely. I think I wanted something vocal in it as well, and not to just be shouting the whole time, but to kind of express anger in different ways and I think through being angry, you can also be compassionate, and kind of express your vulnerabilities, so I think that was the aim with Face. Then the punk stuff only really came when we started writing. We knew we wanted to write an album around lockdown, but we’d always written more hip-hop style stuff and slower rap but then we got angry and started writing punk.
What are your musical influences?
Luca: English influences, probably like Kae Tempest, King Krule, Sleaford Mods, IDLES. Then American hip-hop, loads of influences like JPEGMafia and J Dilla. And a lot of the punky stuff that’s coming through, like slowthai, Viagra Boys and black midi.
Stan: In terms of vocal stuff definitely a lot of UK Grime. So, a lot of, Dizzee Rascal, Kano, D Double E, old heads basically. In terms of band stuff, I feel like Luca listed quite a good list there, but I’d also add some old-school stuff, like Dead Kennedys and Black Flag and more like 80s/70s stuff. In terms of production, because that’s kind of my main role, Luca already named some names like J Dilla, but also Madlib, Earl Sweatshirt, just a lot of US hip-hop producers. Also, a lot of weird, slightly more avant-garde stuff like clipping., Moor Mother, Armand Hammer, billy woods, just like slightly obscure American artists.
Alex: Also, for me it’s people around me, musicians I’ve grown up with and musicians I know. Like Stan in particular for me is a very heavy influence. Aside from that, a lot of the salsa music I used to listen to when I was a teenager, I’m kind of going back to that especially with the rhythm side of things and the tempo they were going for. It gives me the same feeling as the really old kind of obscure 70s salsa when they’re playing in the streets and they’re really angry about what’s going on in their home country, and those rhythms are bringing that same thing out.
Stan: Yeah when you’re writing what’s essentially protest music you do draw indirectly from those classic eras of protest, like as Alex says, Central American, Puerto Rican musicians in the 60s and 70s, or even very indirectly but the kind of hippie movement of the 60s, or grunge music, or even rave music. We’ve just kind of drawn from those big moments of counter-culture.
Do you ever get creative blocks, and how do you overcome them?
Luca: I think before lockdown, we were very lost and weren’t really sure where to go with our music. We came up with the Draags name but we weren’t really sure what it meant, and then when lockdown happened, it kind of gave me this creative urge to keep creating, music but also our film as well, because I was kind of trying to find a purpose to what I was doing.
What have you got planned now?
Luca: Album 2!
Stan: We’ve got a couple things in the pipeline, so we’re doing a Resuscitate remix album, we’ve taken some a capellas off the first album and we’ve also got some bonus tracks that weren’t released on the first album, and we’re doing a whole remix project of that, so assuming everything goes well that should be out at the end of the year. Then early next year we’re going to do, like, a straight punk album. There’s this group called English Teacher who are also a really cool Leeds group who we live with and so a few of the members from that have been doing the instruments with us and stuff. We’ve got a gig lined up at Belgrave for 7th February, and we’ve been rehearsing for that with live instruments, so there’ll be a different feeling I think to the next album.
Alex: We have another project as well, that we work under that we’ve literally just got the page set up for and everything. It’s called Praying Mantus, it’s like another alias, but that’s more of an escapist kind of one, I think, it’s not looking so much at day-to-day problems but escaping from that and being more kind of, in the mind.
Stan: Yeah, it’s more abstract, it’s a very different tip, just using a lot of the musicians we know. We should have some music for that coming before the end of the year too.
Links to film: Act 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsJsICuj590 Act 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvMwRUzyups