In Toronto, a friend tells me, Skratch Bastid is big. He usually plays to sold-out crowds, who know the Halifax native and ex-Montrealer has brought his genre-crossing act across the world. Even the awards people are listening; his work with Buck 65 has landed him a Juno nom.
The Skratch trifecta — Bastid, DJ Made from Scratch and Scratch, formerly of The Roots — played to a sparse crowd last Thursday at the Hive, and you might not have known these guys were hot shit before they took the stage. Before he crossed to the turntables, Skratch Bastid sat down with the Concordian to talk about what keeps him going, why Toronto ain’t so bad, and what he misses most about Montreal.
You’re originally from Halifax, and you’ve lived in Montreal, but are now settled in Toronto. How did you get your career started in a smaller city?
I don’t know — just hard work, and enjoying what I do. And always wanting to take it to the next level.
(Scratch chimes in: “Don’t say that. The “take it to the next level’ phrase needs to go.”)
Let me rephrase: I’m passionate about my career about music, and I always wanted to keep challenging myself, so when I felt like I had done enough in Halifax, and I wasn’t really challenged, I moved to Montreal. And when I didn’t really feel too challenged in Montreal, then I moved to Toronto.
Toronto’s really just a hub for international travel, which is a challenge. So it helps me get anywhere in the world. Also, Toronto has a really good music scene. Good roots. The people from in Toronto grew up in musical families. There’s a lot of musical history there, and I really enjoy it.
But you’re still a fan of MTL?
It’s nice to be back here.
Habs fan or Leafs fan?
I’m a Habs fan.
Are there things/places to eat in Montreal that you have to do when you come back here?
I wish I could go to restaurants: Schwartz’s Deli, Aux Vivres, Romado’s chicken on Rachel Street, La Banquise for a poutine, but I don’t think I’m going to get to any of those.
La Banquise is sooo good.
It gets you more hungover than drinking, though. A galvaude [chicken and peas poutine] at Banquise at four in the morning, you won’t be doing anything until one o’clock the next day.
What else do you miss?
Montreal’s a very lifestyle-oriented city. I miss the Mountain on Sundays in the summer. I liked walking it and biking it. I like the metro here better than in Toronto. I miss that ? it’s a little easier to get around. I miss the French culture, because I like that aspect of it. I grew up in French immersion, and I always found it fun to practice.
You’re known for being comfortable in a variety of genres. Have you always been really open to different styles of music?
No, when I was a kid I only wanted to listen to rap. And as I listened to other DJs and other mix shows, and I’d find out that my favourite beat had a sample from a soul song or a rock song or a jazz song. And I’d be like, well, let me go listen to that catalogue there. And from there, from basically three samples, I got interested in other genres of music. Even today, I still find music that I hated on when I was a kid, and I’m like, this is great. But when you’re young, you’re just full of anger. I guess I was like a mad, red-headed stepchild, just kinda had a temper, and I was mad and I got that out through angry rap music. And then as I grew up, I noticed I started to diversify.
Do you think that the 15-year-old angry version of yourself would be horrified to see you now?
Sometimes, I’ll have kids at shows, and they’ll shake their head at something I’ll play. And I’m like, nah, man, you’ll understand some day. And if you don’t, you’re worse off for it.
You do 200 shows a year, and you’ve travelled all around the world. What’s your secret to keeping up?
Uhhhh … try to eat healthy. Or just enjoy what you do. I enjoy my job, so it’s easy to do what I do. I think I have the greatest job in the world. [Canadian rapper] Shad said, “It’s ridiculous. Basically we have a job where people like clap every three minutes for what we do at our jobs.”
Can you imagine being at an office, bringing a file to Joe, and Joe’ll be like, “Ah! Thanks dude!” We have this crazy job where people give us approval for everything we do. It’s that energy that’s amazing.
Are you doing this because you’re someone who needs approval every three minutes?
No, I strictly got into DJing because I wanted to get as much hip hop in as possible. I would just love hip hop music, and I’d wanted to read beats about rap, and I DJed. I tried to breakdance, and I tried to write graffiti. And so I got into DJing, and then turned into scratching. And I won a competition, and people started asking me to go play clubs.
You earned a Juno nomination for Producer of the Year for work on Buck 65’s Situation album. But Joni Mitchell walked away with the prize. Any hard feelings towards Joni?
No, not really. Sometimes I wonder what she did, but I mean you can’t discredit that woman’s contributions to music at all. It was an honour just to be nominated.
What do you call Buck 65? Buck, or Rich Terfry, his real name?
I call him Rich. Rich had a radio show in Halifax. He was a DJ, MC and a beatmaker. I kind of aspired to follow in this guy’s footsteps. It was hard to get music before the Internet, especially in Nova Scotia. And his radio show played all the new stuff and the record from New York and Toronto. I was hooked on his show as a kid, and then when I started getting into the hip-hop scene, we became friends, and eight years later, we wanted to work together.
Your Twitter page background is a retro image of the CBC logo. Are you someone who wears their Canadian-ness on their sleeve?
Yeah, for sure. Not really for any reason. I like Canada. I think it’s a part of who I am. I’m not a nationalist, or something like that, but I think we live in a good country.
Which rap artists are you following closely right now?
Yelawolf, Killer Mike, Shad and the group G-Side.
What will 2011 bring?
Last year, I didn’t make a lot of music. I was too busy touring. So, this year I’m planning to be in studio more.
The interview has been condensed.