When I logged on to Skype to meet Cooly G (aka Merrisa Campbell) in cyberspace, she had her hands full. “im breast feeding,” she wrote in the chat box, and so I offered to give her a minute to tend to her new baby girl, Tate-Elizabeth. However, Cooly G is no stranger to multitasking, so a few seconds later she initiated a faceless Skype call to retain some privacy while she dealt with family and business at the same time.
The last few weeks have been hectic for Cooly G: She just moved into a new home in London and released her debut full-length, Playin’ Me, on Kode9‘s prominent Hyperdub label, and with a tour on the horizon there hasn’t been much time to spare for the producer/vocalist/DJ. She was scheduled to perform at the Bloc Festival the next day, but due to the disastrous events that took place that evening, the festival was cancelled, and she wasn’t able to showcase her new live setup. Audiences will have to wait a little longer before the beatmaker unveils her revamped show, which has been dramatized and adjusted to fit the more personal and un-DJ-like nature of her LP.
Although Cooly G’s earlier releases with Hyperdub found her exploring bass-heavy drum patterns, flashing synths and sensual samples of her own voice, Playin’ Me steers away from sounds one might hear in a DJ set and toward a singer-songwriter territory. We caught up with the artist to discuss how the sonic shift changed her live set as well as her creative process and public persona.
It sounds like you’ve got your hands full right now.
Yeah, It’s quite normal. It’s just how it is, innit.
Will you have time to tour a bit?
I’m going to have this whole month off and then just go for it.
You sing on the album a lot more, so is the show less like a DJ set?
It’s not like a DJ set at all. I use Ableton with launch pads and Kaos pads and a couple controllers, and I just rebuild the track live. When I’ve got to a nice part, I take the mic and go to the front of the stage and start singing. It is quite dramatic because people can’t believe that I’m actually singing, so it is quite wild for them.
Do you think it’s a bit of a shock for DJ fans to have someone come up and sing and interact with them more?
Not really, no. They’ve been very welcoming to what I’ve been doing. It’s like a whole new person. It’s basically the other other side of me that they haven’t seen. All they’ve seen is this girl who DJs and jumps up and down and makes these banger tunes, and now they actually see me as, as Merrisa, I really would say.
What’s the difference between Cooly G and Merrisa?
Cooly G’s dramatic. Merrisa’s really just this woman that’s a mum. That’s how I look at it, cuz I don’t like people to call me Cooly at my house or anything. But when it comes to the stage, I still feel like Cooly G—that other side. There’s a rough side to me, and there’s a smooth side to me—it’s like the boy and girl in me or something.
Do you think people think you’re a bad bitch because you make harder tunes?
[Laughs] Yeah, I know, it’s terrible, because sometimes I’ll get messages and emails like, “I’m scared of you, but I like you.” I’m like, “Oh my days, I’m actually quite nice and normal,” but they just think I’m crazy because of my tunes. I’m not going to say I’ve been the happiest all the time—I’ve got little things going on, know what I mean? So when I make those hard tunes, I might have been pissed off or angry, or I might’ve watched an old-school film with Tupac and gotten a bit hyped and think I’m a gangster. It’s really just vibes from how I live my life.
Do you think other Hyperdub artists, or even other experimental artists, get a similar reaction?
Ooh, I dunno. I don’t have an answer to that.
A bit of what I’m getting at does have to do with you being a woman. I’m wondering if people think you’re hard or a bad bitch because they’re not used to seeing a woman making beats.
Yeah, I think most people do think that. You do have problems being a female—I’ve met people at shows and stuff who think it’s all about them, but when they see this bad bitch, they’re like, “Oh my days, this one’s for real.”
A lot of the DJ shows I go to out here in New York are overwhelmingly male-dominated. Is it like that out in London?
Yeah. I like to see girls at shows; I’m like, “Oh my God, it’s girls—ah!” I can’t believe they’re there because you see so many men at shows, but yeah. It’s always like that. I just pictured a club in Brixton, and it’s like packed up with girls. Guys come for the girls, and then they realize, “Oh my days, these beats are sick,” and so it becomes a regular night, and then it goes on and on and on. So it kind of built up from girls going out to just have fun for the weekend, and then it ended up being like that.
Do you think this album is more overtly feminine than stuff you have done in the past?
Yeah, it is. It definitely is. It’s about a relationship, and it breaks down, and it all goes wrong. The first song actually starts from before my son was born, before I got pregnant. Basically it’s like a journey all the way through. It’s deeper than these little tunes that have a title on it or people listening and going, “Oh my days, that tune’s sick” or “Oh, I like that bit. Her drum patterns are really sick.” It’s actually deeper. It’s situations all the way from 2005 till now. Lyrically, the storyline of “He Said, I Said” is from back then. I still think about that shit because I’m here looking after my kids on my own, innit, and it’s deeper than what people think. It’s a bit wild, but I’m happy, my son’s happy, and my new baby’s happy.
Is it true that you’re writing a book?
Can you tell me a little about that?
It’s quite deep, it’ll make me cry if I start talking about it, but I can kind of say a little bit. It’s like…when I started wanting to do music and stuff like that, and the stuff I had to go through and the people that would lie, the people that would try to use me and stuff like that…it’s for young women as well, not just about music, but just trying to do something with their lives and knowing that they should listen to their parents, innit, because I didn’t listen to my parents at one point, and—Nas, go away! Goodbye, please, please go away.
Nas: I want to see.
Cooly: It’s a picture of a dog! Say hello. It’s a woman. Say “Hi, Elissa.”
Nas: [In a funny robot voice] Hi, Elissa.
Cooly: All right, go sit down now. Let me finish this. Yeah, it’s just about situations or moments where I didn’t like my friends and I would write about them. Just stuff, like weird shit, man. It is quite deep. There’s things that’s happened to me in there that I don’t really want to discuss, but it will be in the book, innit. I might just leave it for my son to release.