Our writer Joshua Turk sat down with Speech, who has had an illustrious career in alternative hip hop, starting in the 90’s with the eclectic group Arrested Development. Ahead of Arrested Development‘s upcoming visit down under, Josh chatted to Speech about the world he resides in, and the history of the legendary group he helped found.
JOSH: I’d like to start off by asking about Arrested Development, having had one amazing life as band. It’s been almost 30 years since the band began movement – could you ever have imagined yourself as an 18 year old standing where you are today?
SPEECH: Not really, nah *laughs*. You know, it’s definitely outside of the realms of even my dreams. It’s pretty cool, you know? We hoped that the music would do good, and we thought that it should do good – like we thought it was worthy of doing good, but we had no idea that it would do as well as it did. So yeah, it’s definitely a big time blessing, and we’re very grateful.
JOSH: The band truly has had an amazing life, and the album itself, 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days In The Life Of… has done nothing but skyrocket in popularity since release in ’92. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to have been on that precipice, just about to turn 20 in a band with your best friends, and actually having all of your dreams not only met, but exceeded within that first step. That must have been an astounding moment.
SPEECH: It was. It was surreal, is what I would describe it as. Because like you said, you’re young, you’re new to this industry. And okay, sure, you’ve been a musician and have been trying to ‘make it’ for many years, but you’re still new to all the business side of things – the corporate heads that you start to deal with when you’re on a major label, all the contracts, and how things actually work in this industry. You’re learning, and meeting more people than you’ve ever met in your whole life, you’re travelling to countries that you’ve never travelled to – so yeah, it’s very surreal.
JOSH: I can only imagine. Especially considering just how massive the album itself was. I know it’s had quite a turbulent life since its release, but what does that album mean to you today?
SPEECH: It still resonates to me. The subject matter to me was never based on some little catchy, or hip or trendy thing at the time – it wasn’t based on like a dance craze or something. it was based on life stuff, so it still resonates to me. And when we perform these songs, people really respond as if it’s fresh; as if its brand new. And that means a lot to me. As a musician and as a founding member of the group, that’s a very cool place to be and I’m very grateful.
JOSH: I think its a real rarity in the industry, that you can say that you’ve been able to keep a lyrical intention and your artistic integrity all the way through your career, that’s still – i mean, it’s obviously a massive shame that a lot of the issues that you’ve been talking on since you came out haven’t been able to be rectified some 25 years on, we still have that same conversation every day on the news, and in the street. But to still see your message resonating with crowds to this day is an amazing thing to see, and I think you guys should be very proud of that fact.
SPEECH: We are. We really are, we’re super proud about that fact. And to be honest, this tour is a celebration of that fact, and of that music, and, you know, what that music meant to people. And I believe it’s gonna be a very special time, where people in the crowd are gonna be able to relive a very special moment and an era in their lives, and we’re gonna celebrate that era and that moment together. We’ll include new songs and stuff like that of course, but it should be a really, really special moment. And that’s what we’re wanting to accomplish.
JOSH: We really can’t wait to have you guys back down here to celebrate together. I know that Australia has always been a big supporter of Arrested Development; you’ve always had a strong following here from the beginning. And actually – another thing I’ve noticed in my travels is that the band is absolutely massive in Japan! What do you think it is about your music that resonates so strongly with the Japanese crowd?
SPEECH: Oh man, honestly, I owe the Japanese my life in music! Because after the band broke up (originally, in the mid 90’s), I was totally depressed. My solo album didn’t do anything in the United States, I thought my career was over. And then I looked at the worldwide charts, and that same solo album that did nothin’ in the states was number 1 in Japan. So I talked to my manager and I told him ‘lets go to japan and do some shows’ and so we did. And I tell you, the reception I got was almost like a very small version of the Beatles. It was so exciting, people were so excited about the exact same music that in America they didn’t get it. I knew it was still great music, but they didn’t get it. So it was really refreshing, it was – more than refreshing, that’s an understatement, it was almost lifesaving, in a musical sense. Ever since then, we started releasing special, limited releases in Japan and started touring there way more, so I think we’ve had a chance to really build a great relationship with a lot of Japanese fans, and I’m really grateful for those people. I mean, they’ve just been an amazing group of fans, and also friends.
JOSH: I think it’s a beautiful connection that you guys have with Japan. I think it’s really amazing to consider that like you said, a lot of the themes that you were approaching in the mid 90’s were very home-grown, it was a lot of really home-focussed content specific to American life. To see it resonate outside of America must have been an absolute mindfuck.
SPEECH: *laughs*, yup. It was.
JOSH: You know, Japan gets this. America for whatever reason doesn’t seem to wanna get this, but Japan gets this. That must have been really amazing.
SPEECH: It was, it definitely was. And you know, thank God – thank god for Australia, thank god for Japan, New Zealand, Europe, Africa. Because honestly, there’s times in America where it’s all about consumerism and `whats new, whats new, whats new’. Even when a group like us who’s been out since the late 80’s put out something new, a lot of times the market in America is more fickle. They want something new, like from a new group, or from a new artist. And I don’t mind that – of course, we were new artists in the late 80’s, I love when new artists make great music. What I don’t like, however, is when there’s this sort of ageism happening, this thing against supporting new work from artists that are more your veterans of the game. And it’s like, you know, that to me is unfair. At least give us a chance to put records out and let the public decide if they like it or not, don’t just automatically shut it out just because we started in the late 80’s or early 90’s. To me, that’s not fair.
JOSH: For sure. I find it very strange, that attitude. We get that a bit in Australia as well, where once a band hits what people perceive to be their peak, it becomes very difficult to catch the public’s attention again. I know the album’s seen a life of it’s own since, but for what it’s worth, that self-titled solo album that you released in ’96 is one of my all time favourite albums still to this day.
SPEECH: Thank you man, I truly appreciate it.
JOSH: I have one final question: I know the world’s in a really wild place right now, there’s a lot of darkness out there, a lot of hate. I know I can’t ask him myself because I don’t have a direct line, so I’m gonna ask you – if I was sat in front of Baba Oje (the band’s spiritual leader) right now, what advice do you think that he could offer me regarding keeping my head up during all of these dark times?
SPEECH: Wow, that’s a great question. Baba’s the ultimate optimist. So he’d tell you don’t pay attention to the dark parts, just focus on the light. That’s what Baba would likely tell you.
JOSH: Truth. I will be taking that with me going forward, and I wanna thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to speak with me today. We’ll see you when you get out here in November!
SPEECH: Thanks much brother.
Arrested Development are performing a couple of select Australian shows, check out the dates below.
Metro Theatre, Sydney
Tickets: Metropolis Touring
Forum Theatre, Melbourne
Tickets: Metropolis Touring