GETTING CREDIT

JAY LEWN

Chatting with London's multifaceted artist and producer on his latest single 'Topdown', learning to adapt whilst working on his upcoming 'Loverboy' EP throughout lockdown and his affinity for the weird and wonderful.

You just dropped your first single of the year, how has the reaction been?

Great, really fun! We’re just working on loads of other stuff, we’re deep in the campaign. We’ve got another song coming out on the 26th Feb and then we’ll be releasing a song a month for the next six months. Everything was supposed to come out last year, even the track with KISH!, that was supposed to come out last year in August but life happened! Now it’s January 2021, I just had my birthday on the 31st and I’m just ready to get stuff out into the world.

 

What was the process of creating 'Topdown' and what were the inspirations for the track both lyrically and sonically?

I went to the States for a month, between February to March last year. I had already written the hook and the melody and I finished writing it, lyrically, in New York.

 

Then, as there’s quite a nice little crew of musicians that contributed to it - a friend of mine, Elujay, he’s an artist from Oakland, he did the drums. A guy called Kiefer, he’s an amazing Pianist, he’s done stuff for SiR and Ari Lennox, he’s fucking amazing and he played Piano on it. Then another friend Barry, who’s the bassist for Phony Ppl, he did the bass for the record. So, the way it worked out was just kind of perfect for everybody to be involved.


Lyrically, I guess I always like to tell a story in my songwriting. I try not to put too much down on ‘feelings’ but instead try to paint the picture around the feeling. I try not to do it but it’s easy to be like ‘I feel like this, I feel like that’, that's great but I feel that it can be quite surface level at times. What I love to do, if I want to write about a feeling is think 'what was the scene when that feeling was happening?'. Then you guys can put yourself and your own feelings into that scene.


The song itself, I wanted to write something about … well, the first line is ‘Charlie hits clean’, I just wanted it to be about this coke addict. I was like nah, that’s quite random and basic [laughs], but I kept the energy of it and that’s really how it started. So, I thought there’s some kind of metaphor for life here, so we kept that as the opening line and then the main theme of the song became, despite all the bullshit that’s going on (which is perfect for the time we’re in) we could be crashing or we could be cruising but either way we’re going to roll with the punches, pretty much. That was the energy and then the production was really Summery, I was very much in LA when I was making it and I think you can hear that!
 

"It’s like I had this marble and I was chiselling away and turning it into the record that I wanted."

What can we expect from your upcoming 'Loverboy' EP and how did the process differ from your debut?

So, my debut I did a lot in Berlin with my friend, an artist called S. Fidelity. We did four of the seven songs together, it was late 2018-2019 and I would literally just get a flight to Berlin and go straight to the studio, stay there or at his and we’d be in the studio until like 4am and I would get a cab straight from the studio back to the airport and that was how I did it. Just us hashing it out, it was nice but very concentrated. 

Whereas with ‘Loverboy’, ‘Topdown’ I did in the States but I got back and with lockdown everyone was fighting over toilet roll [laughs], great! I was faced with this ultimatum that was, if you want to make a record you can’t rent studios. A little bit about me, I’m happy to be in studios, I mix my own stuff, I can do recording … I’ve had that engineering training, so when it comes to running a studio session, I love being there and just fucking around with things. I’m very at home in that environment but I was thinking that’s not an option, so it really opened my eyes to a new way of working. 


Pretty much, I just hit people up that I really fucked with like musicians, keys players and just started DMing people like ‘you’re sick, I’ve got these demos can you play your parts on it’. Literally send me anything you do, here’s some references and people started sending shit back. I started bringing all of their raw files into the sessions and then just using it kind of like samples. It’s like I had this marble and I was chiseling away and turning it into the record that I wanted.

Even now, I’m still doing that - I love working that way. I wouldn’t have done it, so I have to thank Covid in a way because it opened my eyes to that way of working. I feel like as the digital generation, it’s stopped the gatekeeper culture of creativity. If you have the want to create, you can do it and that’s kind of the energy that this project came out of. We ended up having some really amazing features on the project.

"Really, I’m nothing without the music scene in London ..."

Did you find having to work this way really pushed you creatively?

Yeah, I really feel like I had to face my creative demons, things that I didn’t think I could do. I think it’s easy sometimes to be like ‘I know someone who can do it better than me’ and get someone in, there’s that imposter syndrome that’s there. So unfortunately, it was like I’m going to have to do a lot of bad stuff before I get the stuff I want. It taught me to let go with creativity and to be ok with mediocre. Everyone is happy to play the good stuff but people don’t say that 90% of our shit is never going to come out, it’s either rubbish or just an exercise almost and then you get that one thing.

 

In lockdown 1.0, I wrote a song everyday for three weeks and once it was done, I didn’t go back to it. Lyrics, melody, basic beat. It was almost like doing HIIT training, just do it and don’t care. Actually, ‘6 Figure Flow’, the upcoming single and at least two or three ended up being on the project. The people who have the ability to create from home in a basic way have found this a really freeing time because there’s no pressure to be out, you have as much time as you want to make music and we realised how many ‘distractions’ there was. 


How important is it for you to create music with no regard for genre boundaries?


It’s kind of hard to pin down, I sort of just do it. I’m a server of the song, so if a song gets me then I’ll finish it no matter how it started. Like, with ‘6 Figure Flow’, I kind of wanted to do a West Coast thing and I knew KISH! would be great. I’ve loved KISH! for so long, everything he does for the scene, as well as for himself, so I had to get him on something. 


Even with the next single, I nearly cut it from the project. I was just like ‘I can’t make this work’, but I did and I’ve tried to become more open with it. My attitude to creativity is that I try not to tell people what to do too much, I just know that I’ve got the final say. I try not to micromanage, if I know that if I’ve asked someone to be on a record, I’ve already made the creative decision but choosing that person - kind of like an architect in a way. So, then I know whatever they’re going to play, I might not love all of it but I love what they do anyway. 

So, I guess that’s kind of why there’s elements of different things in it because everybody else has their sonic palette that they like to work from and then I condense it down into a world that works with me. I like to get lots of people involved and then we’ll distill it down to my vision of the track. Mostly, I just know that people are much more talented than I am at the things they do! For instance, I can’t play keys like some of the people I’ve worked with, so why would I limit my sound to my ability, my ego isn’t that big that I have to play everything on everything. 

I suppose it’s that thing of creativity over ability? It’s more about executing a vision, than having to do it yourself?
 

Oh, definitely. The vision will always start from my head and I’ll always know who I want to involve just from spending a lot of time in and around studios. I’m from that world, so I already know a lot of session players and artists and I do a lot of songwriting for people or producing and you start to know a lot of different people - we’re so lucky in London to have such a thriving music scene, it’s quite amazing. So young as well, people are really passionate about it. Really, I’m nothing without the music scene in London, the UK for sure but particularly London.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Having worked with a lot of different artists from Che Lingo to HarleighBlu, how important do you find collaboration is for creative growth?

 

Oh my God, I have to do it otherwise I’ll go mad! Honestly, after I finished this upcoming project I had to take a break from all of my music. That was actually the time I was doing Che’s album, I’ve known Che for a couple of years now and we’ve made a lot of music that’s in the vault, I used to literally just session in his flat. We met at RedBull and just got on and it’s a testament to his creativity as well that the same people that he’s been sessioning with all along are the people he wanted to do his album with. We did that over two weeks and it was so much fun, I was lucky to do the song with Samm Henshaw as well so that was really nice to write, record, produce and mix … I really did go to town on that one [laughs].


Harleigh is also a friend of mine, I’ve produced some stuff for her. Even way back when, I produced Jaz’s COLORS session, that was like two years ago - that’s how she’s on the project and then I’ve been working a lot with JGrrey on her new stuff. There’s loads of new artists, some underground stuff, even some stuff from 237 with KISH!. Basically, if I like your music and I like your vibe - I feel no way about DM’ing you and telling you how much I like you. I love that I can come at it from any angle too, if I want a feature, if I want to write a song for them or if I want to produce for them. If I love the vibe and the energy you have, I will find a way to get in the studio with you.


I also love to push musicians into other sounds, that in turn gives me license to push myself. So, I’ll try something with an artist that I might not try on my own stuff and then be like ‘fuck, that sounds sick’ and then I’m going to do that for me. It’s like two different arms, one is my artist side, but then my producer side will play into the strength of my musical body and the more you exercise both, the more you can push further into each … and it’s so much fun - I wouldn’t do anything else.


Does being an instrumentalist also help you in a studio setting?

Massively, I’m a keys player so it means that I can get my ideas down straight away. It just helps the workflow because for me, the faster I can get ideas out the less I’m thinking and the more natural they’re going to be. I’ll try and write a song or get the melody written within the first 15 minutes. So I’ll just record, improvising random shit, just melody for 15 minutes straight and the melody for the entire song is in that because I’m not thinking. Then, you can go through it and find a hook or verse and start to piece it together. Instrumentally, it means I can just get chords down, I don’t play guitar but if I had to I guess I could give it a go but it just means I can get my vision down.


As well as your ‘Topdown’ lyric video, you recently released ‘6 Figure Flow’, what did you want to accomplish aesthetically and how was creating it?

I’m quite out there with visuals and I think I’m going to get more out there but I have great references. JPEGMAFIA is a huge reference, Bowie, Prince - I’m quite happy to bend the rules of what would be ‘traditional’, especially in a world of alt-pop-R&B, there’s a lot of crudeness and I love it but I’m a punk at heart, really. Maybe not in my music but in the way I am and dress, so I’m happy to push the envelope when it comes to it, if I need to wear a dress, I’ll wear a dress - visually, I want to be entertained and have fun doing it. 


I can’t take full credit for the visuals as there’s a directing crew called JAW, JA Waters is the director and editor for ‘6 Figure Flow’ and he’s done all of the artwork for the main EP, the ‘Topdown’ lyric video and the next singles artwork - he’s across everything and because of that we’ve really gained trust. I want people to look at my visuals and think they’re cool but not be sure as to why they think that. I want them to see something and feel like they haven’t seen that before. I understand that there’s a clash between how my music sounds and how my visuals look and I think that’s nice. If I want to stand shoulder to shoulder with these references then, I have to push it. From Nadia Lee Cohen, Missy, OutKast it’s just larger than life - these are the visuals that people still talk about.

 

"I don’t even think I’m doing that many things that are weird but also my gauge for normality is very warped at this point … I have to remind myself of that! I just want to have fun."


 

As someone who has a lot of involvement in their visuals, what’s been your favourite to shoot, so far?

Well, I literally just filmed a video which we had to do in lockdown. So, we filmed in our houses with green-screens and I’ve been *independent life* transporting it around to every person that’s involved which is a bit long! It was great, the styling was perfect and we just went to town. 


Someone who I work with extensively, who did the balaclava for the artwork is Lucinda Graham. She’s also like a punk artist, she’s from Northern Ireland and lives in Belfast and we met as most people do, over the internet and fell madly in love with each other. We push each other and I’m happy to be her muse, we really are happy to lean into the crazy things. She made me a three-piece suit out of curtains and a matching balaclava and cowboy hat and I’m like ‘yeah, why not - why wouldn’t we do that?’. 


It’s taken me awhile to get here but the past year, I’ve been like well why don’t I want to put on a show? Fuck what people say, they might not get it and I understand that but if there’s people that find it weird, there’ll be people who find it amazing.

I think 2020 has had that effect on people where maybe they’re not so scared anymore …

Yeah, honestly I don’t even think I’m doing that many things that are weird but also my gauge for normality is very warped at this point … I have to remind myself of that! I just want to have fun. 

As someone who loves the London scene so much, who are some local artists you would recommend?

I have to say KISH! He’s definitely one of my favourite rappers coming out right now. There’s an artist called Harve, I’ve produced a couple of songs for them and I’ve mixed their last single called ‘Anything’ that they released with Fatima, they are really great. They’re a combo between Romy from The XX and Norah Jones, there’s this Jazzy element but it’s wonky, I love it for them. An artist called Glor1a, that I’ve worked with a lot. She was in Gaika’s collective, she makes alt-R&B, very dark afro-futurism. There’s an artist who also make great visuals as well called Demigosh, whose part of a crew called Shadeeemus with Scott Xylo and Adam Martin. Louis Culture, man, he’s probably my favourite artist of the last year, ‘Smile Soundsystem’ is the record that I’ve had on repeat. Also, Kasien - he’s sick and just dropped a project.

Which artists first inspired you to get into music and who is inspiring you today?

I grew up listening to Stevie, which basically shaped my songwriting skill set, ‘Innervisions’ is fucking incredible. I can’t not say Frank Ocean, either. ‘Nostalgia Ultra’ came out when I was like 17 and that was fucking great, that was the first time I remember listening to someone and being like ‘you’re doing some weird shit but it’s not weird’, it’s not abrasive but it’s different, even changing genres in his songs and it still sounds like him? Visually, Bowie has always been there too - he’s an icon. 


Lately, Mk.gee - I fucking love him. A friend put me onto him only last year when his new album came out. I remember listening to it like ‘who the hell is this guy?!’, I was so inspired. JPEG, I’ve said it before but he’s big for me. His whole attitude, the punk, gender-bending just whatever he wants to do, he does it and I love the energy - it’s much needed. Louis Culture - I’ll say it again. Jean Dawson, Teezo Touchdown from Houston, this punk, cowboy guy. Jeshi - I love everything he does. Even Elevation/Mediation and the NiNE8 Collective, I’m looking at these guys in West and they’re doing some hot shit.


If you guys had to recommend five artists to your listeners, who would they be?

 

Shygirl, Jean Dawson, JPEGMAFIA, Portishead and Melo-Zed.


What’s coming up for the rest of 2021?

 

Another song is out on Friday … and then a song a month until June and then I’ve got enough music in the vault for a song every month for the year so just hopefully you get to see me everywhere. My aim is to be everywhere from print, billboards, small blogs, big blogs, on stage …  just tell me where you want me and I’ll show up!

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