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Mt Eden - Interview with Jesse Cooper

14 Mar 2011 // An interview by sidvicious

I’ve been to London three times in the last three years. In 2008, when people found out I was from New Zealand, their first reaction was “Oh, Lord of the Rings!” In 2009, it was “Oh, Flight of the Concords!” Last year, it was, surprisingly, “Oh, Mt Eden Dubstep!”

Mt Eden Dubstep is made up of Jesse Cooper and Harley Rayner, two unassuming kids hailing from the Auckland suburb they’ve named themselves after. Since their breakout track Sierra Leone went viral in 2009, Mt Eden Dubstep have gone from strength to strength, making the most of the success they fell into; a success that isn’t often experienced by New Zealand artists. I caught up with one half of the dubstep duo, Jesse Cooper, to see how life has been going since Sierra Leone’s unexpected success took him from wannabe DJ to a fixture on the international dubstep scene.

Jesse Cooper (right) with the other half of Mt Eden Dubstep, Harley Rayner. Photo by Joe Hockley.

 Can you briefly run me through how Mt Eden Dubstep was born?

I started making beats when I was like 11 or 12 and that’s when I met Harley, back in intermediate. We started off making mix tapes, like mixing song to song, and that’s how I kinda learnt. We started with hip hop and then when I hit 16-17, we heard this new genre, dubstep. Our influences were like, Skream, Benga, all the New Zealand acts like State of Mind, Concord Dawn, the whole lot. So when I was 16, I teamed up with Harley cause I didn’t even know how to DJ (laughs). I needed Harley to help me out with my sets and shit. Made Sierra Leone, that was one of my first songs I put out and that was just, you know, learning off remixes. Cause all my songs were remixes, that’s how I learnt how to make music was by doing remixes. My good friend’s little brother, he made me my YouTube account. I got back home one day from work and he was like “do you want me to start up a YouTube site so we can put your music on?” and I was like oh yeah sweet as. And he goes “what do you wanna name it?” and I was like I don’t know, he was like “we’ll name it Mt Eden ‘cause you live in Mt Eden and we’ll put DnB ‘cause you make drum and bass in Mt Eden”. So that’s how it pretty much started out, going back.

And what were you doing before Mt Eden Dubstep?

Um, before Mt Eden, and while I was doing Mt Eden [at the beginning] I was doing building. That was for four years, just at Unitec. And then I kinda put it on hold. So yeah, that’s what I was doing, and then after I finished work I’d come home, make a few tunes and put them up on YouTube.

Have you always wanted to get into music?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. My older brother used to play guitar, because we used to share a room together, me and my older brother, until he was about 26 (laughs). We used to be in bunk beds. But he used to play the guitar and I’d be up in the top bunk just listening to his beats and stuff. And it just kinda took off from there.

So, Sierra Leone obviously had millions of hits on YouTube. Did you expect anything like that when you first made the song?

Nah I didn’t expect it at all eh. It was all unexpected eh. I never asked for this, this just came.

So you’re pretty lucky.

I’m really lucky, yeah.

How has your life changed since Sierra Leone took off?

It’s been pretty cool. It’s a sweet life. Not having to work, being my own boss. I wake up, make music, walk the dog, come back home, have dinner… it’s just the same old thing. But I don’t have like a nine to five job or anything, it’s a pretty sweet life. I’m really enjoying it. Travelling the world.

Yeah, so you have done some international tours. What has that been like?

Canada was awesome. I love Canada. I met up with Skrillex, Tommy Lee, Zeds Dead, KILLER:BIT, all mean dubstep producers. They all gave me a hand with the producing sorta side, which is pretty cool. I think out of the whole tour, my favourite was Montreal. That was awesome. That’s when I started crowd surfing (laughs), that was awesome. And that was like fourteen hundred people. I was like, drop my last track, boom, three, two, one, jumped into the crowd, out.

Do you prefer to play large stadium gigs or smaller intimate gigs?

Both. If you only do big rigs, like a stadium gig, then you only get used to stadium gigs. But then when you hop from that scene to the small, intimate gigs, you’re not used to it. You’re like, fuck. You’re used to all the hype, you know? When you play at intimate gigs too often, then you go to big gigs, you get really nervous and it’s really intense. So I like to do both, I like to be comfortable in both scenes. It’s good to keep that balance.

How would you describe your music to people who have never heard it before?

Um, it’s quite eerie, warm, melodic. Mostly female-based vocals, although we’ve got MC Woody on one of the tracks, What’s Below. Now that I’ve got Harley on the case, he’s got more of the hip hop coming into Mt Eden, so it’s pretty cool. So we’re chopping and changing, we don’t just play with dubstep, we play with other stuff like hip hop and drum and bass.

Who are your influences when it comes to your music?

Skrillex, Zeds Dead, Bulletproof, Optimus Gryme. All the New Zealand acts pretty much. And who else? Oh, all the reggae rigs. You know, like Black Seeds, Kora and stuff. I mean, I love New Zealand music. Like, going to Canada, I always played Home Brew and stuff to all the Canadians.

What’s it like to be recognised for your music? Is it surreal?

Yeah, yeah. I still don’t believe it. I just, I don’t know, I don’t think about it too hard eh. I just try and blend in.

I know that the New Zealand music industry can be pretty tough at times. Do you think anything could be done to improve the industry here?

I think there’s a lot of talent out there that needs to be exposed. I went through it and it was hard, you know. Like having all these – not saying older dudes – but dudes who have been in the scene a lot longer, seeing all these new cats coming into the music scene. I think, I dunno, why can’t we just all get along? (laughs)

Do you think you’ll eventually move overseas to further your career?

Nah, I don’t have to move overseas. Coming back from America and Canada, I mean I love Canada, Canada’s awesome, but I appreciate New Zealand a lot more after being overseas.

What’s the best thing about being in Mt Eden Dubstep?

The best thing is making music every day. And meeting new people, making new friends, meeting artists and stuff. Like meeting N.E.R.D. was pretty cool. Oh did you say only one best thing? (laughs). Oh, and playing to a good crowd is awesome.

What are Mt Eden Dubstep’s plans for the rest of the year?

Rest of the year, we’re focusing on two albums. We’re doing a hip hop album, that’s gonna be with a guy over in the states, in Miami, that’s about all I can say just now. And then, just a straight Mt Eden album, with probably about eight tracks. We’re doing a small tour over in America in… I think it’s April? That should be cool. But for New Years, I definitely wanna do New Years in New Zealand. Just so I’m with my mates and shit, so yeah, I think that’s the plan.

And where do you see Mt Eden Dubstep in five years?

Yeah, still going. I’ve got my goals ready and set. I’m hoping by the end of it, I’ll have like a symphony orchestra, a choir, my piano rig going and stuff. Not just a DJ set. So I’m hoping that will come in, say, the next two or three years. But in five years? I’m still hoping to keep going with this. I’ll probably be making some alias names, you know, just to do my own thing. Mix it up, you know. But yeah, I’m trying to aim to do this for a long time.

What advice would you give to other people who are trying to break into the NZ music industry?

Um, shit. That’s a hard one. I’m not used to giving advice. I’m not Bob Marley (laughs).

And just to finish, I've got a few quick questions for you. What’s your favourite NZ venue to play at?

Shit, there’s quite a few eh. A cool one is Bedford in Christchurch. In Wellington, there’s Sandwiches and San Fran. And Auckland? [Ellerslie Racecourse] where we played with Caspa, that was dope.

What’s the best live gig you’ve been to?

Oh, this was a while ago, but I think it was Prodigy at Big Day Out. That was awesome, that was a time to remember. And The Streets, that was ages ago too.

Where’s your favourite place in New Zealand?

My favourite place would have to be Queenstown. Yeah we played there once at the Revolver. Queenstown’s awesome.

Who would you most like to support live?

In the whole world? Shit. Fuck. That’s a hard one. U2 or some shit? That’d be pretty dope.

What was your favourite event you've performed at?

Big Day Out. That was like thousands, nearly ten thousand, in the Boiler Room. That was awesome. 

Who do you admire in NZ music at the moment?

Ruby Frost. I like Ruby Frost, she’s my kinda style.

Where should your fans go if they wanna keep up with what you’re doing?

YouTube, look up MtEdenDnB08. We’re on iTunes. We’ve got our Facebook fan page too. 



Interview and words by Kate McCarten.

Photograph by Joe Hockley. http://www.joehockley.co.nz/.



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