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[courtesy] Us3 (Geoff Wilkinson) Interview
Author: Adam Bernard

Some accidents are unhappy ones, like the broken collarbone Us3 founder Geoff Wilkinson suffered at the end of the group's recent three week European tour. Some accidents, however, are happy ones, like the fact that the latest Us3 album, Lie, Cheat & Steal, meshes perfectly with the trying times, and protests, people are experiencing all over the world. Wilkinson started work on the album before the London riots and Occupy Wall Street movement, but with Lie, Cheat & Steal he, along with emcees Oveous Maximus and Akala, have created a jazzy, funky, soundtrack to those political movements happening in both England and the US.

Musically, Wilkinson notes "I put some different influences on this album. I always try to throw something a little different in there." Some of the variety of Lie, Cheat & Steal includes "a very Fela Kuti-ish track called 'You Are So Corrupt," and there's a bit of a Flamenco, a bit of a Spanish, influence with the clapping on 'Uptown.'"

This week RapReviews caught up with Wilkinson to discuss the music of Lie, Cheat & Steal, as well as its potential connections with political movements in London and US, and his goal of bringing Us3 back to American stages.

Adam Bernard: Lie, Cheat & Steal is the new album. One aspect of this album is idol worship. How did you become interested in this topic and why does it speak to you?

Geoff Wilkinson: It was more inspired by the whole News International thing over here where one major Sunday newspaper had to close down because of allegations of phone hacking and that has exposed all sorts of corruption. It's been quite strange where the police have been involved in it. The police didn't want to investigate because they were afraid of themselves being targeted. The media has had a bit of a hold on the political situation in this country for a long time and the media were kind of running this country and it's quite weird, (they were) deciding elections, and it was all done through sort of underhanded methods, really.

AB: That sounds familiar.

GW: {*laughs*} You've had a similar thing there? It's weird. I think it's tied in with what happened with the (London) riots. It seems like there are no role models anymore. Anyone who you were traditionally brought up to look up to, pretty much everyone, the whole lot of them - police, politicians, business leaders, sportsmen, pop stars - they've all been exposed. Over the last year there's been some kind of scandal involving absolutely all of them.

AB: So are there any heroes left other than good parents?

GW: It's a good question. I don't know. I don't think so. There's a danger of me sounding like some kid of 19th century Victorian saying the moral fiber of this country is going down the drain, but it really is happening.

AB: On a similar note, has the Occupy Wall Street movement made its way to you?

GW: Yeah it has. They've been camped out outside St. Paul's Cathedral in the city.

AB: Do you feel the topic matter of Lie, Cheat & Steal could apply to what's going on with the movement?

GW: Absolutely. Definitely. One of the tracks on the album, "Pressure Burst Pipes," we had to cancel the recording session at the recording studio twice because it was literally when the riots were happening. Akala's mother lives in the middle of Camden and (the riots) were kicking off there and he wanted to go around there and make sure that she was OK. He specifically wrote that (song) about what was happening and the title says it all, really, "Pressure Burst Pipes."

AB: You're having that madness go on where you are. We're having our madness going on here. Why now? Why do you think the world is ready to explode at this point?

GW: I read something recently that was a really good analogy that said society is basically pyramid shaped and economically the people who are better off would be at the top of the pyramid, which is obviously less people, and the bottom of the pyramid is where the bulk of us are. The higher that pyramid gets, which is what's been happening in society, the less chance the people at the bottom have of getting to the top and the more likely they are to start shaking the foundations a bit. Countries, paradoxically, where the pyramid is lower, where the peak of the pyramid is lower, don't really have the same kind of social problems. Look at what happened in Japan, for example, after the tsunami. There was no looting, none of that happened, and that's because their society is a lot more equal. So what affects one affects all there. Over here what affects one doesn't affect all because some people can buy their way out of it.

AB: And I don't think many of those people are willing to give up a lot of their money.

GW: Exactly, but unless something does change and there is some kind of equalization of society there's only going to be more social unrest, I think.

AB: I have to say, from the standpoint of the super rich, if I had worked my butt off to be at the top of the pyramid, I wouldn't want to give it up either.

GW: Yeah, it kind of depends on how organized the people at the bottom of the pyramid get because traditionally people at the bottom of the pyramid, when they riot, tend to smash up their own area where they live, which I always though was a bit odd. If they started smashing up areas where rich people live, that might be a little different then. Maybe those people might have a different attitude.

AB: Jump over the gates of the gated communities.

GW: {*laughs*} Yeah.

AB: Musically, on your previous album, Stop. Think. Run., there were some really dark moments, whereas on Lie, Cheat & Steal the piano and horns are a lot jazzier to the point where people can dance to a lot of the tracks. What were you looking to accomplish by putting this more toe tapping music with such serious subject matter?

GW: Really? OK. No one's said that to me before. Was the last one darker than this? I don't know. There were some dark tracks, but I think there are some dark tracks in this, really. Maybe it just reflects what I was listening to at the time. It's hard to explain it, but I just make the tracks how I feel (at that point in time).

AB: So what were you listening to?

GW: A lot of the stuff I used to DJ out with, which is a lot of 70s jazz, really, a lot of funky stuff, so maybe that did come across.

AB: It's interesting you mentioned the 70s because I was going it ask if it would it be fair to categorize this album as a throwback to when soul music and jazz music addressed political issues.

GW: Yeah, I think there's an obvious lineage there, and I had the title for the album before I finished a lot of the music and before I'd even contacted the emcees. I specifically looked for emcees that could write more sociopolitical lyrics, which inevitably ended up being a bit older guys than Brook and Sene, who were on Stop.Think.Run.

AB: I know you found Brook and Sene via social networking. Was that the case again with Oveous Maximus and Akala?

GW: No, I had been aware of both of them for quite a while, actually. Oveous Maximus is actually a good friend of Akil Dasan, who was an emcee on the Schizophonic and Say What!? albums, and Akil had mentioned him to me before and I had gotten some of Oveous' stuff before. He used to be more known as a spoken word artist, but I think he's branching out more into producing, and all sorts of stuff now, on his own. He's certainly done quite a lot. There are a lot of videos on YouTube of him doing sociopolitical spoken word stuff that I really liked. And Akala, I've seen Akala a number of times. He's had three albums out in his own right over here and there's been a bit of an upsurge in British hip-hop in the past couple of years. It's odd actually, we've always been a bit in the shadow of our cousins in the States. On my albums I tend to use British musicians and American rappers and I always thought that British jazz musicians were pretty much on a similar level to a lot of American jazz musicians, quite advanced in their skills and technique, but on a rap level, the rappers really were kind of second cousins. In the last few years that's changed somehow and there's a lot more British hip-hop on the British charts over here now. A lot more success. It's as if people are feeling a bit bolder now and I wanted to represent that in a way and Akala is one of my favorite UK emcees so I contacted him and he was really up for it.

AB: Having that British influence, and knowing you have artists from the area on the charts, that's gotta help Us3 in terms of continued notoriety in your own home.

GW: I think it's increased the awareness of us here a bit more. It's weird living in England because even "Cantaloop" wasn't a hit here {*laughs*}. England's been my worst territory in terms of sales ever since Us3 started. It's quite nice to be anonymous and walk around and not get hustled by anyone, but it would be nice to be a bit more well known in your own country, as well.

AB: When these two emcees, Oveous Maximus and Akala, who are from two totally different parts of the world, Oveous being from NYC and Akala being from London, were giving you their verses for the album did you expect their views to be so similar?

GW: In a way, yes. That was an interesting thing because you're right, their life experiences are very different but yet they share a common political philosophy, which was interesting. I think they wrote about similar things from different perspectives.

AB: Does it show almost a universality of, if not youth culture, at least hip-hop culture?

GW: Yeah, I think so. I think there is a universality of the culture.

AB: I went onto and could only find the album on mp3. Are you pressing a CD?

GW: I don't have physical distribution in the States, so it probably should be available as an import, which probably makes it prohibitively expensive. There is a CD release, the best place for people to get it from is

AB: Finally, you're eight albums deep at this point; what else do you hope to accomplish? What do you hope Lie, Cheat & Steal brings about for you?

GW: It's weird now, looking back on it, eight albums, because when the first album came out journalists would say "what's your ambition," and I always used to say my ambition was to fulfill my contract, because I had an eight album deal at the time. Although I didn't get to fulfill the contract with Capitol/Blue Note, I've finally done my eight albums, so I don't know what comes next, but with this we just finished a three week tour of Europe which went really well. I'd still like to bring the band to America. I know we talked about that a couple of years ago. The sole reason that hasn't happened is one of economics. Bringing over an eight piece band is quite expensive. Still the door's kind of creaked open a little bit since the last time we spoke so I have to see if I can get my toe in and wedge it open a bit more. I would love to get the band back to the States. After I spoke to you last time we went on to do further gigs all over the world. We actually went to China for the first time and we played in Russia and Japan, as well.

AB: The US shouldn't be that tough. There are so many jazz festivals and things like that.

GW: Yeah, I thought if we could get gigs in China and Russia, but we can't get gigs in America, there's something wrong there {*laughs*}. I think festivals is probably the way forward and I've already started talking to people about the possibility of coming over next summer, so fingers crossed. I like doing festivals, as well, because it's not 100% your crowd, so it's a bit more challenging, but usually I'm confident that the band can win over any crowd, so I like to do festivals because it's always a chance to get across to more people, to different people.

AB: Just grab a few extra thousand fans right there.

GW: Exactly.

Check out Us3 and Geoff Wilkinson on the web at and follow Adam on Twitter @AdamsWorldBlog.

Originally posted: November 22nd, 2011

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