How two New Brunswick musicians overcame the challenges of long distance collaboration to create their strongest material to date.
It all changed for me on October 27. That was the day I noticed Sean One had, via Twitter, expressed interest in remixing a track from the forthcoming Stephen Hero/Brydon Crain EP, Eat The Rich. Up until then, I felt like Hero and Crain were outsiders. Not quite part of any scene. Just two guys making beats, rapping and shooting videos. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love outsiders, and that was part of the attraction for me. But existing on the outside isn’t always the easiest or the most fulfilling. For an artist, or anyone really, if you want to get right down to it, finding a community or being accepted by one is important. Confidence, inspiration, self-worth, identity. It all grows exponentially once you find your people.
As a fan of this pairing, Hero (Matthew Elliott) and Crain, I want to see good things happen to them. That’s the significance of October 27, for me at least. Seeing one of New Brunswick hip hop’s founding fathers extend an invitation to collaborate. Bam. You’ve made it. That’s how I read it. But you can only glean so much as a voyeur on the internet creeping around other people’s social media threads like some amatuer detective looking for clues. I realize that sounds ridiculous but, that’s basically my method for keeping up on what’s happening music wise here in New Brunswick. You can’t rely on artists to tell you much. They’re artists, after all. Marketing and communication is not necessarily their forte (although Hero is an exception). Nor should it be. And the artists who have a publicist to do this work, they are rarely the artists I want to write about. There it is. I said it. Let’s move on.
As is often the case when I find myself making assumptions based on other people’s social media activity, I only got half of this right. Yes, I somehow managed to catch a chance interaction between Stephen Hero and Sean One. But what I didn’t realize until after listening to this EP was that Hero and Crain had already found their community. Or their community already found them. However that worked.
After listening to the new music and speaking with Hero about it, it was obvious this pair of music makers had done some growing since their self-titled debut. The lyrics are deeper with Hero exploring more diverse approaches to his phrasing this time around. And the beats are huge, evolving beyond just simple looped phrases with occasional development. Each of these seven tracks hit with enormous impact and expand with confidence.
Part of the evolution evident on the new EP was the result of time. Time spent working together and time spent listening to others, drawing influence to feed new idea. But a big part of it had to do with learning how to function as a unit, primarily how to make space for concepts that aren’t just one person’s vision. In essence, establishing a true sense of meaningful collaboration.
“Brydon and I are close friends. We’ve known each other for a long time,” said Hero. “We’d be working and just doing everything over text and sometimes we’d butt heads because we didn’t know each other’s work flow. And we have some differences. Brydon is much more accustomed to working in a group where no one person is really in charge. That’s not how I usually work. It’s been a long time since I was in a democratic band.”
Prior to collaborating with Crain, Hero admits to building a creative environment where he didn’t have to follow diplomacy in his music making. While Crain, a member of the art-rock trio Motherhood, has always worked within a framework supported by a collective mindset.
“Brydon is a lot more used to having an argument in a group as part of the songwriting process,” said Hero. “And that’s great. But for my mind it’s always been, I don’t have to have an argument. I just want to have my way.
“Early on he said something along the lines of, ‘I don’t think you know how to work super-well with others.’ I was pissed when he said that, but later after I thought about it I could see his point.”
Hero attributes much of this project’s development to shifting how he worked with Crain. As a pair of collaborators, the Hero/Crain matchup began back in the early days of the pandemic. Hero in Saint John and Crain in Fredericton. In a way, distance – creative or otherwise – was always part of the equation. Exchanging beats and ideas through email leaves little room for meaningful discussion. And you can only say so much in a text, where context is often lost and emotions – more often than not – exist solely on a scale of zero or ten, with nothing in between.
“Once we started playing live and I was coming up to Fredericton to rehearse, then we were able to really mesh,” said Hero. “We’re really good friends. We both love hip hop and we both love making music. Once we were in the same room it made a big difference, so I started going up there regularly. Now we’re having more conversations instead of just thinking about things as ‘my part and your part.’ Shockingly, it’s created better music.”
Lyrically, Eat The Rich finds Hero continuing to chronicle the struggles of day to day life beyond the universal need for food, clothing and shelter, although that’s part of it. Based in a city dominated and largely employed by one of the wealthiest families in Canada not particularly known for their acts of charity, he writes what he knows. What he lives. From rising rents to expanding class divisions, and any number of other legitimate concerns that remain challenged by far too few find their place in Hero’s words. Like those grave markers our elders sometimes have sitting in the ground patiently holding their seat until the rent’s due, Hero sings truth to struggle in a way that seems to say: the end is inevitable, so can we just support each other to help make this trip a tad more fulfilling, not just for me and you, but for everyone?”
Crain has also evolved his craft. Sounding less like a curious, first time beatmaker and more like the exploratory, unconventional musician he is. His work on this EP, aided by stronger production and guest appearances from Mxchael Shabazz and Monark, presents a wide variety of instrumentation and voicings that act as the ideal mood enhancer for his counterpart’s message. There are moments of great counterpoint between beats and lyrics and a few contrasting pairings that strike with equal impact. Eat The Rich is a strong sophomore release and one that hints towards even stronger things to come.
Eat The Rich arrives on Bandcamp and streaming platforms November 20.