Throughout history there have been some label/artist pairings that may not have seemed natural or even possible, but have turned out to be great; L.A. Reid and Pink, Usher and Justin Beiber… and Baby and Slim (Cash Money) and Teena Marie – Sike! Ok I was only playing on that last one.
However, Jay-Z, along with new musical ward, Hugo is on the cusp of joining that shortlist, for real. Hugo describes his sound as a gumbo of pre 77’ swamp rock, early country blues, and folk with the music and rhythm sounds of the 21st century. With a bluesy/Bayou element infused deeply in Hugo’s repertoire, it’s clear this isn’t just “rock music” but instead is something new, something different. He will unleash this eclectic-hybrid of sounds on his debut Roc Nation release Old Tyme Religion, which is scheduled for an end-of-year drop date. Two cuts, already out, “99 Problems” and “Bread and Butter,” are the project’s lead singles, and both are available on iTunes.
Inspired by artists from Bob Dylan, Grand Funk Railroad, Nirvana, and Dr. Dre to The Beatles and The White Stripes, it aint’ hard to tell what shaped his musical eccentricity. This trait is probably the reason why he didn’t hesitate to sing his melody of a “99 Problems” remake to Ty-Ty, and adding, “I thought a banjo would be a great accompaniment, Jay green lighted the idea – done deal.”
Hugo recently completed the video for “99 Problems,” as well. Read on for more from our sit down with the up-and-coming star.
OKP: Give me a little background on the treatment for the video.
Hugo: It’s a pretty scary vision. I went through many treatments before choosing this one. I wanted an outsider’s perspective on the song, which I could then adapt. The video is supposed to fill in the blanks in the song, which is about moral jeopardy. It has turned out like a dream sequence, hyper-real, but clearly not. Iguanas were my only stipulation.
OKP: How did you first get on with Roc Nation?
Hugo: I ended up on Roc Nation primarily because of one of my songs being used and adapted for Beyonce’s record I Am Sasha Fierce. I was dropped from a major UK label and my writing partner/mentor Amanda Ghost was working on Beyonce’s record and played her my music.
OKP: As a Roc Nation signee, have you ever personally felt a need to compromise your style?
Hugo: No, Roc Nation and myself wanted the same record. This one. There is major excitement because after all of this time, people outside of my circle are getting to hear and respond to the music. And, finally being able to play with a live band feels great.
OKP: Is there any anxiety because of how you may be promoted?
Hugo: I have yet to become anxious – once you’ve been dropped before, anxiety doesn’t really feature. Every day still in the game is progress.
OKP: How does the label plan to promote you?
Hugo: Mind control, subliminal messaging, and armies of militants?
OKP: O.K., You’ve got jokes. You’re talking some ole 1984/Big Brother meets Attack of the Clones shit. Ha!
Hugo: They’ve given me access to their stable of talented writers and producers such as Shae Taylor and James Fauntleroy, who have been inspirational and very refreshing for a rock-n-roll guy such as myself. The title track “Old Tyme Religion,” was our first collaboration.
OKP: Who are some of your favorite artists/entertainers?
Hugo: Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Didley, Jim Morrison, Francis Bacon, Ayn Rand, Bret Easton Ellis, Dolly Parton, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Marc Bolan, John Lennon, Bobby Womack, The Cohen Brothers, Donny Hathaway, Clint Eastwood, and Christopher Walken, to name a few. Oh, and that guy who does the Space Invaders tiles on buildings.
OKP: I’ve heard you speak of your sojourns. Tell me first about your musical sojourn and then about your spiritual sojourn.
Hugo: Musically it has been a long strange trip, from my first Goth band at school, to forming my Thai band in 2000, Siplor, then leaving the band to go work in the UK with Amanda and Ian Dench; getting signed, recording an album, getting dropped; some time spent in the wilderness. Then being signed again, this time to Jay Z’s label (never in the craziest glue-sniffing trip could I have imagined that would happen). Then, finally recording 12 out of almost 50 songs that I had under my belt, by that time, with Dave McCracken in NYC.
If there is a lesson, it is probably that patience and persistence pay off. Sacrificing the odd goat at the crossroads under a full moon also helps.
Spiritually, I am glad that this process, though lengthy, has had few casualties.
OKP: Were you the navigator of either or both?
Hugo: I am a passenger, but my driver knows where I want to go and how to get there.
OKP: OKP Quotable status!
OKP: What is your mission in music?
Hugo: Live at the Budokan, after that I may retire and work with animals.
OKP: What kind of response to this release, from the fans, would be most fulfilling?
Hugo: [People] turning up to shows, stamping their feet and singing along. Also, if someone were to have some deeply meaningful or transcendental experience while listening to the record – that would please me to no end.
OKP: Who is on top of your future collaborator’s wish list?
Hugo: Jack White, Dr. Dre, and Johnny Flynn.
OKP: What city, worldwide, has the best food, women, and atmosphere?
Hugo: Oooh, that’s a tough one. NYC is the obvious choice, but in my experience, Bangkok, hands down, and I mean that as a native, not a tourist.
- Mel Blunt
Catch Hugo rocking live on Monday, 8.30.10, in NYC at Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 2 (196 Allen St.).
Listen to Hugo’s version of “99 Problems” below: