After a handful of years building up their stellar live rep through word of mouth and opening slots for the likes of the Roots and Wu-Tang Clan, Germantown’s own Writtenhouse—easily one of the best hip-hop outfits Philly currently has to offer—finally unleashes its debut LP, While You Were Sleeping, on Feb. 15 (2.15, get it?) and celebrates the release with a show at Kung Fu Necktie this Saturday night. We caught up with members Charlie K., Kush Shalimar, and Chris Conway to talk about the trials and triumphs of getting the album out to the people.
Is there one specific moment during the making of this album that you’ll remember forever?
Charlie K: “Yup—the moment when we were 90 percent done and the studio we recorded out of was robbed! All of our hard work was taken from us and we literally had to start from scratch. It was one of the most challenging experiences we had to go through as a group but I’m kind of glad it happened. It showed us how well we work under pressure. We all were like, ‘Well, we are musicians right? So let’s make new music.’ And we did it, and a couple months later here we are with a brand new sound.”
Do you write music with the audience in mind, or do you just try to get out what’s inside you and make yourselves happy?
Chris Conway: “We think it’s important to make music we respect and would listen to even if we didn’t make it. In doing that, we think like-minded individuals will also enjoy our music.”
Tell me about the ways that the city of Philadelphia influences your music. Could you have made this same album in another place?
Charlie K: “Philly influences my lyrics to dare to be different. Philly is also the training grounds for a lot of artists, too. We have the hardest critics and some of the most talented people—that’s not by coincidence. Even if you are the illest MC, there’s no doubt you still will have to go 150 percent for a Philly crowd. That’s just how it is. But it creates a fine-tuned artist that can stand up to any crowd and give ’em what they want. It really makes room for the best of the best. You combine that with the raw talent and vibe that dwells here in the City of Brotherly Love and you get history.”
Kush: “I believe that yes, we could have tried to make it in another city, but the overall blanket of hunger and soul that Philadelphia naturally provides I’m sure consumes 90 percent of our music.”
Do you feel that the album most accurately represents who you are as a group, or is the live show more important to defining the Writtenhouse experience?
Chris Conway: “The album gives the listener a pretty clear picture of who we are as artists, but nothing can capture the energy of a live performance because we feed off of the energy in the room and are able to take certain records to another level.”
Charlie K: “The album definitely represents who we are as a group, as well as the live show. I don’t think one can outweigh the other in order to get the full Writtenhouse experience.”
Do you have any particular musical role models—not necessarily in terms of musical influence, but just the way they’ve gone about their careers and the decisions they’ve made along the way?
Kush: “I’m just gonna go ahead and say it—the Roots. I really learn from watching the strategic moves those dudes make to remain relevant and dope. Yeah, man, the Roots!”
What’s been the biggest struggle or obstacle to overcome to get to this point in your career?
Charlie K: “I think our biggest obstacle has been ourselves. As artists we carry so much weight on our shoulders to be the next ‘big thing’ that sometimes one can lose focus on what this is all really about. And that’s the joy of making music and the freedom that comes along with it. As long as we continue to stay humble and do what we love to do, we will never go wrong.”
Sat., Feb. 12, 7pm, $10. With Kuf Knotz + 84. Kung Fu Necktie, 1250 N. Front St. kungfunecktie.com
PW's Music Issue 2014