“That’s important because you don’t want people to be like, ‘oh you’re really cool’ and then you come out and you’re fucking lame… So just be 100. We’re a bit lame and a bit weird, but that’s it. It just makes it easier being honest.”
Tebi Rex are one of the most unique duos in Irish music at the moment. It’s very well documented that homegrown hip hop is currently going through the most popular period in its existence. Given that, Tebi Rex themselves are navigating through a purple patch of their own.
With all of that being said, the duo of Matt and Dafe aren’t just two people that have identified a popular trend and hopped on it, they have been one of the acts scratching on the surface of the mainstream’s attention for the past couple of years with their blend of hip hop and acoustics.
The sonic dichotomies may be apparent from the get go with the lively duo, but their vision is unitary.
Cóilí Collins interviews the pair ahead of their show in Workman’s on Saturday March 10, with an accompanying photoshoot by Greg Purcell.
The first thing that came to mind when approaching this interview is that your style is really unique within an already unique genre. It’s a subgenre of a subgenre of a subgenre. Do you think that makes your music stand out or do you think it’s more of a challenge to push your sound?
Matt: Yes and no. It’s great to be different, it’s great to be unique and then people pick up on it quicker but then some people reject it because it’s so different.
Dafe: It’s cool because it’s weird. There are places where we get strong love like radio saying ‘I fuck with y’all’, but then we have listeners that are like ‘no y’all are garbage’. I just kind of go with it.
Matt: Starting it off in the early days, some radios weren’t picking it up because they were like ‘oh we like this, but we don’t like that’ or ‘that sounds too like this or too like that’.
Dafe: We’ve had a few instances where they’re like, ‘I liked the verses but I didn’t like the chorus’ or then ‘I liked the chorus but I didn’t like the verses’.
How do you get passed that?
Dafe: One girl on twitter was like ‘Tebi Rex would be great but I hate one of the guys’ and I was friends with her. If someone says they don’t like your music it’s not a personal attack it’s just like ‘I don’t fuck with it’ and that’s cool. You don’t have to fuck with it, it’s not for everybody.
Matt: I think when someone says something like ‘oh Matt I don’t like your singing’ or ‘I don’t like your chorus but I love Dafe’s verses’, It’s opinions, isn’t it? That’s fine. I get that. I completely break everything up and soften everything out with my hooks.
Dafe: I think people do like you. I think people are surprised a lot of the time. Like ‘yo, I did not expect to like you, I did not think this was going to be good’. Especially when you only hear the music online and not live. It’s like you whack out the guitar and stuff and people are like ‘oh this is actually kind of dope’.
Matt: I remember once we were doing a show in the Grand Social and people were watching the sound check. I got up on stage and whatever and people were like ‘hmm’. Then I pulled out a guitar and a ukulele and they were like ‘oh Jesus’, but then during the set they were really with it, they really enjoyed it.
Matt, at the Word Up Collective X District Magazine event in Wigwam your spoken word piece was really about how you’re different. How people say that you’re “posh and white”. How do you deal with that?
Matt: I suppose for me I grew up in a GAA town…
Matt: Ratoath in Meath. Even in school when I was making music people were like ‘ugh Matt’s making music, he’s artsy. He’s not playing football’. That was one thing and then when I started making hip hop music people were like ‘oh Jesus this ginger kid making hip hop music’, but there’s a few of us out there now. Me and Mango representing the scene! It’s fine and it is very different and people are going to have their opinions based off visuals and stuff, just because I look different in a different scene, but then some people think it’s cool.
I love seeing after a show, when there’s a professional photographer there, myself and Dafe up there – the juxtaposition… It’s just really aesthetically appealing.
How much has Word Up Collective done for the pair of you?
Dafe: It’s really good because you make these industry connections where if something drops on Word Up now, at the very least Irish labels and Irish radio will listen. They might not like it, but they’ll listen. It was all a labour of love; let’s just promote the scene, let’s just push the scene. They pushed us so much and when it comes to writing music we do that ourselves. When it comes to getting shows or getting the word out there they’ve really helped us and a lot of other artists in the collective.
Matt: They did it because they loved it and they believed in the artists. They took people in under a lot of different genres and a lot of different umbrellas that may not have been a great fit, but now they have become a great fit and have spread out the collective and it’s so cool.
How did the whole Tebi Rex project come together? Was it by coincidence? Or did you always aim to do it this way?
Dafe: I don’t want to say it all came together and manifested because that’s not how the band formed. I was on Facebook one time and I was like ‘listen, who makes music? I want to make music like Childish Gambino and N.E.R.D and Chance the Rapper and I want to form a band’. A bunch of people were like ‘Ok, I want to make a band’. I met up with everyone and I listened to everyone play and I picked the best person, which was Matt.
In terms of the collective – as soon as myself and Matt started making music I was like, ‘this can really go somewhere’. I think it took Matt a longer time to believe he could go somewhere. As soon as I met the collective it was very much calculated. What do we do next, how do we do this? A lot of it is luck, but a lot of it is hoping people like you, because you never know. Especially Mango. Mango’s been dope for years. Only certain people now are saying, ‘I like an Irish accent rapping now’. All of a sudden, and he’s always been dope, but people started to rate him now and that’s the problem. You can be amazing but it all depends on what people listen to and what people fuck with.
Matt: He was so key in the real original Irish MC scene back with Rebel Phoenix and The Animators and that kind of thing. Even then that’s not something I would have appreciated back then and now I’m listening back to it going ‘this stuff is dope!’. Mango is great and has put on for the Irish accent and the Irish rap scene. I saw a quote from him recently; ‘speak proper not speak properly’. I loved it.
Dafe, you mentioned that you auditioned people. Was it hard to build up a rapport considering you met this way?
Matt: The rapport was weird wasn’t it? It was just friendly. We were just making music and having fun. As Dafe said I wasn’t as confident in it and I wasn’t confident in myself. I was an acoustic artist. I hid behind a guitar on stage every single time and I wasn’t used to having a backing track behind me. In earlier shows you could see that so clearly. I was afraid to do anything on stage. But yeah then the rapport built. It’s so funny.
We started off barely knowing each other and now we spend a lot of time together. It’s really obvious that the two of you are friends and it comes across in your music.
Dafe: He became the student union president the summer that we formed the band and I live in Maynooth and I go to college there so we just hung out. I was constantly in his office when he was supposed to be working and I was just showing him music. I tried to get him to listen to as much stuff as possible and he showed me a lot of new stuff. If you’re with someone for like two years plus, you’re going to be mates with that person regardless of who they are.
Matt: It’s great that we’re very regularly on the same page. Especially now that it’s getting serious and there are different things involved. It’s not just music anymore. It’s finances, it’s this, it’s that. Branding and social media are so important now. How are you adjusting to that?
Matt: That’s what we’re passionate about. We always were. Dafe is doing a master’s in creative media and I myself run the social aspect for the Instagram and the Twitter account, but because it’s fun and because I love it. Tebi Rex has become a bit of a business now and I think the first order of merchandise arrived today. I have to go home and check that now. Exciting.
Dafe: If you’re doing the brand thing – I feel like your brand should probably be honest because it takes less effort to keep up appearances then. We just chat shit on social media but we always hear people say things like, ‘you guys are the exact same online as you are in person’. That’s important because you don’t want people to be like, ‘oh you’re really cool’ and then you come out and you’re fucking lame. You know, that’s a bit of a disappointment? So just be 100. We’re a bit lame and a bit weird, but that’s it. It just makes it easier being honest.
Tebi Rex play The Workman’s Club on March 10.