The London-based trio chat about there debut EP 'MEDIUMN', the importance of their DIY ethos and how lockdown allowed their creativity to bloom.
For those who don’t know, who are GRAMN. And how did you guys first come together?
We came together off of the back of another project. James used to be in a band called Equals and I was kind of an honorary member of that band, I had done some BV’s and a couple of features. He started making stuff that was a little bit different to the stuff he was making with them and he said he had some weird hip-hop, R&B-trap stuff, and he asked if I wanted to give it a go. I was like, sure? We then came together with Johnny, who was also up for it, so it was kind of experimental and then we ended up here. Currently, we’re recording our new project.
You recently released your debut EP ‘MEDIUMN.’, what were the main themes that you wanted to explore within the project?
I think we all have quite political and critical opinions on current affairs. With our songs what usually happens is I’ll sing a little melody line or I’ll create a little piece and they’ll be some words but no actual lyrics and then we usually take that and base a song around that. We cover toxic masculinity, white privilege, white fragility, which obviously covers racism, mental health and domestic abuse.
What was the process of creating this project like and how do you guys work together as a trio when creating?
I think that we all have really different tastes in music but we all have a similar work ethic and a similar goal - which is just to have a good song. I think the way that it works, usually, is that we all get together and they guys will be making beats and putting instruments down and I’ll be chipping in my fifty pence, basically. Sometimes I’ll do a little vocal and they can build it around the beat and then we go into the actual lyric writing process, which is a real process. We sit down, we think of concepts and we edit and we edit and then we edit again - our Google Drive looks like a dissertation of songwriting.
"There’s enough difference to make it unique but enough that’s the same for us to agree."
Do you find that with all of you having different sounds, it can push you creatively when you collaborate?
Yeah, for instance - I grew up in Hackney, I grew up in the hood so I have a lot of grime, garage, hip-hop, R&B influences, predominantly music of Black origin.
Then, James is an art student and political facilitator and his actual job also impacts the music.
Then there is Johnny, who is actually classically trained and has worked on a lot of electronic-soul.
I think that everything that we like, all of the nuances and the things that make up our taste are the things that we like most about each other as musicians. Our tastes are different because we end up fuelling each other like ‘Oh, I wasn’t expecting that’, they can’t write like me because they don’t think like me and I don’t think like them. There’s enough difference to make it unique but enough that’s the same for us to agree. We get into it though, I’ve been in the studio sometimes and I’m like ‘I’m not sold on this!’ and then the melody lines will work anyway and I’m like ‘...’ - yeah, it gets deep, sometimes. You have to be honest as well because musicians and their egos. You have to be willing to tell the truth and also be willing to hear the truth and you might not like it.
I want to talk a bit about lockdown as I feel like creatives are loving it, how has it been for you?
Yeah, I love it. We did a few Zoom sessions to make the beats which we’re writing with now. I knew that ‘Minimum’ was coming up and I always get these great ideas and then when you get a stylist, they dress you amazingly, but I couldn’t capture what I was seeing in my head. So, I used lockdown to hone my sewing skills and my construction skills and I started making costumes. In the ‘Minimum’ video all of those costumes I made with the guy who does all of our artwork. If you look behind me you can see like a 75-inch rimmed hat, that’s not even for me, it’s for somebody else but through that process I’ve started getting commissions and stuff, which is crazy because I’ve been making costumes for like all of six months.
How does DIY have an important place in your work and what does that mean to you?
It means that we are entirely self-sufficient, which is priority. It means only three people have to speak, me, James, Johnny and our manager Linda and we all liaise with the guys who mix and master our tracks. It means that if you need to ask something, one of us three are going to have the answer, we’re not going to have to go and chase a million people, if I don’t like something I only have two or three people to speak to, so I think on that basis, it means that things move quickly. We will just say what’s your availability for the next three months and we can book sessions.
It also means that everything is uniquely and acutely concentrated as GRAMN. There’s no one outside of it that influences us, obviously there’s musical influence but there’s no producer saying that he wants this and another wanting something else. One thing that I get a lot is that people like that GRAMN. is just so GRAMN. You don’t listen to it and think it sounds like something else, sure there’s influences but the idea is that we’re wholly unique and that you get concentrated doses of us every time that you listen. Being self-sufficient means that we get to really polish ourselves and stay true to ourselves.
"I think that everything that I do, I try to make it art led."
You’ve just released your latest visual for ‘Minimum’, what were the main inspirations for the video?
It was so fun, the only mad part was riding that bike. There was nothing holding me onto it and it was like a delivery bike and a flat piece of wood that was tied on with inner tubes from bikes and that was it. We were going like 15-20 mph down the high street and going around corners. It was really cool though, the studio was really empty so I wasn’t feeling super ‘covidy’ - so, yeah that was good that I didn’t have to worry about that. Obviously, everyone was wearing masks apart from me - my make up artist is such a dream because she doesn't go anywhere because we’ve been shooting so much so that she can do my makeup because she doesn’t want to put me at risk, which is really cute.
The other guy, Leon, who is in the video, our creative director who does all of the artwork, he was a gem because he helped me make the costumes. It was good because the vision made sense but we made all of the costumes in five days, we were like properly stressed and when we got there they hadn’t quite come together. The headpiece, a doddle - no problem. Trousers, no problem. Connecting the trousers to the top? Big issue. I made the corset from scratch - I was cable tied into that corset because the ropes were too pulley, so we had to use cable ties to stop it cutting into the foil. Once I was in, I had my manager and Leon either side of me and they taped the gap between my trousers and my top to make it a jumpsuit and then they taped my feet into my boots. Once my feet were in my boots they had to tape the ankle of my trousers and the boot together and this was on the day - I was waiting to go on to set and I was being taped into my outfit [laughs].
Do you work with the same group of people when creating your visuals?
The makeup artist is the same, the creative director Leon is the same, he’s done all of our art work for GRAMN. And then we’ve got Linda. ‘Freak Out’ was shot by my friend Chris, he’s amazing and then ‘Minimum’ and ‘Kitchen’ was shot by Daisy Chain videos, which are two guys called James and Sam. They usually hire a photographer for BTS and a roady, so it’s basically the same team. Chris shot a video we have coming out in three weeks as well, so it’s usually between Chris and Sam. The same ten people pretty much all of the time.
What’s been your favourite video to shoot, so far?
‘Kitchen’ … nah, that’s hard because I feel like I’m snaking my other video. ‘Kitchen’ because it’s like all my friends and my mum, my cousins, my now ex boyfriend, my sister and that’s my kitchen in my house where I live. I didn’t even have to go anywhere … I got ready in my room and came downstairs to the set. We did shoot it before Covid as well, someone got really aggy with it as well like ‘Don’t you think this is really dangerous’, I’m like ‘ … this was January’.
"I don’t think that a lot of people are comfortable with being experimental. I don’t think it’s the industry, I think it’s more the social media thing."
Being such an all-round creative person, how do you find that that intersects into your music in different ways?
I think that everything that I do, I try to make it art led. If something doesn’t feel like art, then I won’t do it. I work in an industry and I know that I work in a business and there are requirements to running a business. I hate the admin side of it, thank god for Linda, my manager, because she does all of that for us now. I think it just means that everything is art led and a lot of my artistic brain is very political and I address a lot of these issues when I paint, draw, make costumes, think of music video concepts - everything is thought through. As a Black person and as a women, it’s super important for me to represent myself correctly and to feel like everything I do represents my ethos and what I believe in.
People always ask me, especially about ‘Mini Milk’, like how did you write that in the studio with white men. Ultimately, if you’re not racist you shouldn’t be offended by that song because it doesn’t apply to you. So, that’s how I think about it.
Being from Hackney, are there any local artists you would recommend?
There’s a guy called MadebyMagic, he’s a producer, I’ve worked with him before - he’s a producer and a rapper, he says he’s a producer first but if you hear his wordplay, he’s so serious and I love him.
There’s my home, home, homeboy Jerome Thomas who has been in every single one of my videos, so you can’t miss him. That’s my boy, I’ve known him since I was like five, it’s really cute and now we can’t do a video without him because it just won’t be right.
There’s an artist called Lylo Gold and I think she’s sick, she embodies so much goodness that you get in R&B, she’s so rambunctious with her writing.
My cousin Morgan, who is also in the video, what can I say about Morgan … she’s a photographer, songwriter, singer, all round sick artist, so watch her - I feel like she’s a creeper, she’s going to come through on the sidelines with like five exhibitions and a tour.
Sophie Faith, that’s my babe - she’s so good! I watch her videos and I just call her like ‘Fucking hell, this is so good’ and she’s like ‘stop gassing me!’.
There’s another guy, Bailey, he’s actually from South London but I have to big him up because of his voice, he did a cover of Daniel Caesar and I cry when I hear his voice.
How do you find the London music scene for encouraging artists to be experimental?
I don’t think that a lot of people are comfortable with being experimental. I don’t think it’s the industry, I think it’s more the social media thing. It’s about trends but as we know trends don’t last. Like, if Beyonce was trending, she wouldn’t be Beyonce, the point is that she is always trending because she’s always Beyonce. I know it’s really difficult because of the current climate but I think we need to separate the industry from influencers and fashion models because it’s not the same, we don’t do the same job. You have to remember that with music, it doesn’t just apply to releasing music, it applies to your music for your Netflix series or Sainsbury’s adverts … don’t get me started on that! You know, when you’re in Topshop, waiting on hold on the phone … somebody's music is playing, I think it needs to be separated. Unless you have a lot of money and all of the skills, it’s quite difficult to be entirely self-sufficient as you have to speak to a lot of people to achieve what you want to achieve. So, with that I feel like people get scared because they don’t want to do something that’s not trending.
I’m just going to make tunes that I think are good and hopefully what other people find good and reap my rewards and get my success that way. I feel like if every time something is trending if I’m zigging and zagging, I’m always going to be zagging, so you're going to hear me because I’m doing something that you haven’t heard before.
I don’t want to get lost, I think there’s a lot of noise. I think with the people I’ve mentioned, they have a certain take. For example, no one writes songs how Jerome writes songs, I’ve seen him in his writing process, when he’s got a beat and a pad and he’s singing it to me and asking how do you feel about this and that, it’s like he pushes the writing perspective. He could be making quite generic stuff, not boring, but generic - he could do that because he’s beautiful and tall and has a great body, all of things that make you not really have to be that talented to sell but he does what he believes in and that’s what I like. Same with Magic, with his production, I don’t hear stuff like what he makes.
Which artists first inspired you to get into music and who is inspiring you today?
My sister actually inspired me to get into music. I didn’t apply to any colleges and she said girl you know you can sing, you should go and study music in the same college that she studied in, the British Academy of New Music. When I knew that I really enjoyed music and writing songs, that’s when I fully delved into India.Arie. I just feel like she has a really unique way of writing songs and now as a more … refined musician than I was then, I can really hear the influence. Which sounds insane because when you hear GRAMN. You don’t think India.Arie but if you get into it and listen to my note choices, you can hear it. So, I would say India.Arie and randomly Celine Dion. I always say Beyonce because Beyonce is Beyonce and I would say that she champions for a lot of Black female artists.
So yeah, that’s how I got into it but my influences … are mainly men. I feel like I skate that line with songs with how boisterous I am, based really on the beat. I feel quite comfortable with having a quite strong … masculine energy [laughs] It just comes from being really close with my Dad as a kid and listening to male artists like Busta Rhymes as a kid, for me, he was like king of the world. Anytime I heard any of his songs, even just the beginning of the beat - you know what I was feeling. So, yeah Busta Rhymes, Kendrick Lamar, Missy Elliot is like the queen of the world to me as well, I saw her at Bestival when I was like sixteen and I lost my rag.
If you had to recommend five artists to your listeners, who would they be?
What’s coming up for the rest of 2020?
I’m not going to lie … I think we’re releasing in like three days ('MinimumN.' EP) We don’t do too much PR but we usually say something like a couple of days before. I think after this we have a visual coming out that’s linked to one of the songs on the EP (‘Under My Fro’ Video) and then I think that’s it, we’re going to do some writing and then smash the shit out of 2021. I don’t actually like performing live because it gives me a lot of stress and anxiety but once I’m on stage I really enjoy it. I’m kind of hoping that I can do some gigs but not like … break my back!