Interview: Mike Skinner & Rob Harvey (The D.O.T.)

Originally published via SBTV.

Emerging from the success of both The Music and The Streets, Rob Harvey and Mike Skinner have been making music as The D.O.T. since 2011. With two albums and a number of stellar collaborations under their belts, the pair bring something entirely unique to the table.

SBTV‘s Ash Houghton sat down with the duo to discuss their new single, Mike’s upcoming club night and those epic video diaries…

Let’s talk about Less Than Tomorrow. How did that track come about?

M: It’s the same as everything, really. Nowadays, Rob does quite a bit of writing for other people. It just starts with a beat, then someone sends it to him to vocal, and it’s the same for us. With a lot of The D.O.T. stuff we write the music together, but that one it was just a beat that I did, and then Rob did the vocals and then Oscar did the bars. It’s that simple, really.

Were you all in the studio together?

M: No, not with that one. We used to do things in a big group, and I think we might do again, but at the moment Rob lives in Leeds. He did come down and record it in my studio, though. I sort of like the remote way of working, it is very much how people do things now.

Oscar is phenomenal. How did you come across him?

M: Well, it was just Mook. I heard a few DJs playing it and, I’m a DJ, so I’m always looking for stuff to play. I was in the process of trying to get that song and I went on [Oscar’s] Twitter and he had one of my quotes on there. I was like, ‘That is so fucking weird!’, and he literally had written it 2 days before. So I just direct messaged him and said, ‘Can I have the song?’, and we just got chatting. 

Will he be one of the first signings to your new label?

M: The reason I called the label ‘Mike Skinner’ is because I wasn’t intending on starting a label. I was intending on servicing The D.O.T. and my wife just said you should call the label ‘Mike Skinner’. No one really calls a label by their name, do they? But, really I was just filling out the forms with my name, y’know?

What happened with your label ‘The Beats’?

M: Well, we had a deal with Warner, and it’s just as simple as we spent more than we made. You can’t continue spending more than you earn for that long. And obviously it’s well documented what happened to [Professor] Green and Example. I like to think that they got something from it, though. I think being around something that was successful at the time is very educational to see it happening and [how it all] happens. But, ultimately, the directions that they went in wouldn’t have happened on The Beats. It all worked out really well for everyone.

Were you exhausted with the major label system after The Streets?

M: Exhausted is a bit melodramatic; that word. But, yeah, exhausted probably gets closest to it. It was ten years of writing these little stories and putting them to music, when I didn’t really see myself as a performer anyway. It was ten years of being a performer and story-teller and I hadn’t set out to be.

In terms of how you’re seen as an MC, your book, The Story of The Streets, really put things in to perspective for me. Once you follow your life from an earlier point, you understand that you were a producer first. Is that accurate?

M: Yeah, exactly, I was a producer and then an MC.

You also mention that, growing up, you never went to concerts. Only clubs to see DJs. Were those early experiences an influence on starting your new club night? 

M: I think more of an influence was The Streets, really. The Streets was a bit of a party, and I think bass nights often don’t feel like as they’re there for entertainment, as much as a party. If you go toMurkage, that’s all we’re gonna be doing really – Murkage in London. Murkage is the first time I went to a club and saw DJs doing something really similar to what I tried to do. Which is to just really mix it up and get people going. I don’t stick with the same thing, I jump about, and they do that. So it was a really good match.

How does doing a set as a DJ differ from performing with The Streets? The performance element of it…

M: When it works well it is just a party that goes well. The difference is I have to concentrate a lot more. I used to concentrate on entertaining, now I concentrate on DJing. So although, on a good night, you can achieve pretty much the same thing, people don’t get a lot back from me when I’m DJing. I think sometimes they expect they’re gonna get something back from me because in The Streets I was looking at everyone in the eyes and there was a lot of banter; but that’s just what happens when you grow up, isn’t it?

Moving on to The D.O.T., then. You’ve been together for quite some time now…

M: Yeah, we’ve done two albums now.

Going back to your book, you mention that – growing up – you had this false impression that US rappers didn’t want to do any interviews. You cite how this carried over in to how you wanted to be perceived as an artist. After everything with The Streets, was there a conscious decision to fly under the radar when you began The D.O.T.?

M: We did just wanna get on with it. I think you can only really tell what someone’s strategy is when it’s going well. Because, when it’s going well, it then gets noticed whether you chose to do lots of interviews or not. But, The D.O.T. , you wouldn’t call that a success.

M: Doesn’t it depend on which terms you value success by?

Well, by the terms of people passing judgement. But, it’s a journey, we’re trying to find what this thing is and I don’t believe in quitting. We’re trying to get on with it.

You’ve both had your own respective success in the past. Rob, being that there is such a musical difference between The Music and The D.O.T., how was that transition for you?

R: The first thing I’d touch on is that, when you’re in to making music and writing, you don’t really set out for it to be successful. For example; with our group, we did alright, but going on to The D.O.T., you just create. It’s not like a conscious thing.

I’m lucky I get to work with someone who’s got such an interesting view of music, so I get to learn a lot from Mike.  I think it was nice for him to get away from such an intense focus on the story-telling side of things and to concentrate a bit more on production. For me the main difference was, when you go from something which is, more-so for [Mike], successful, to having the freedom to do whatever, there’s no judgement.

Mike, from a producer standpoint, what first gained your attention about Rob?

M: He’s the best singer I’ve ever worked with. He always sounds like he means it, he really switches it on. I don’t even think he switches it on actually. He’s one of the loudest singers I’ve ever heard, which isn’t necessarily anything really. It just means a lot to me. We’ve done two albums now and we’re just getting started with the new stuff.

Rob, do you have much input on the production side of things?

R: Not really, sometimes I might have a play with a couple of things around an idea but once it gets in to [Mike’s] hands it just goes somewhere else. In terms of beats, that’s not my world.

The D.O.T. video diaries are epic. How did that concept even come about?

M: Well, I want to make films. So we were touring and I’d be looking to make it in to a short film. It was a learning thing, I think learning how to shoot dramatic sequences, most of it, we’ve got it in us; we know how to edit, we know how to tell stories, but the hardest thing is the lighting – that’s the one thing I’ve been practising a lot. We were literally doing one every month. I don’t think I could do that again.

What can we expect from The D.O.T. from hereon in?

M: A song every two months, that’s it really.

An album coming at the end of the year?

M: We haven’t talked about it. When we did the first album, we’d been putting songs up a lot, and the first album was like a greatest hits of all the stuff we put up. Me, personally, I’m not really an album guy, really. But I do think it’s worth stitching it up and saying, ‘That’s an album.’ But, we literally haven’t talked about it. But I imagine we’d get to the beginning of next year and be like, ‘Right, now we’ve got ten songs. Let’s put them all together.’ But it’s difficult to know how that would all work from the perspective of promoting it, because all of them would already be out there. But it’s no different to Calvin Harris, really.

It seems to be the way a lot of artists are going now. If you take an artist like JME, he’s only been releasing singles and seems to be doing well with that model

M: It’s pretty harsh, but I don’t pay much attention to the artists or the names of the songs. To me, a song is just like a name. I feel a bit bad because people will say, ‘Who are you in to now?’, and I couldn’t tell you. I could tell you a load of songs but I could probably never repeat the artist. I’’ll never say two songs by one artist, so to be an artist in that climate, you just have to try and make the best song you can make; every time. The idea that you’re gonna make ten songs in sequence that people are gonna love, that’s a pretty big shout.

Do those anxieties come from your experience with constantly trying to deliver with The Streets?

M: Weirdly, with The Streets, I could see that coming with A Grand Don’t Come For Free. I could see that coming then because of Napster and stuff like that. That sort of what inspired me to make one album as a story because it was not just commercial. I was getting in to films, as I am now, and it was a way of making you listen to all of them. So maybe we’ll do that. Just one song, 60 minutes long [laughs].

To keep up-to-date with everything from The D.O.T., they’re on Twitter – @The_D_O_T

Pre-order ‘People Watching’ on iTunes here