Birmingham's colourful, alternative-soul artist speaks with us about his debut album, 'Press L to Continue', being inspired by retro video games and his soulection White Label.
What was the inspiration for your latest project, ‘Oasis’?
The first beat I made from that project was, ‘Green Light’, which me and Kay made in my studio about two years ago. This was when Kay started recording for the first time and I was just really trying to push his boundaries. He had always been a great writer but I really wanted to throw him some strange beats - so, I just threw him a bunch of ideas.
During that time I moved house and I feel like we’ve always had a name for the creative spaces, so the last one was called, ‘The Factory’,when we moved to this studio which was really colourful, it was quite nostalgic of old-school video games and had loads of posters from the early 2000’s, so we named it ‘The Oasis’ and we finished the final two songs of the project in that room.
I went to LA, last year and Lou Phelps was there. So, I was going through a bunch of beats I had made and he was like, ‘I need that one’, but I was using it for a project, but he said i’ll be on the project, so I was like … ‘Ok, cool’. He jumped on that and then there was like three different styles, showcasing three different eras of us, as all three of those tracks were made in three different years.
What was your main inspiration for your debut album, ‘Press L to Continue’?
That project was basically my transition from being a SoundCloud beatmaker to being an artist. I also sang on that project for the first time on like four or five of the songs and co-wrote all of the songs, it was more so me showing that I could be a songwriter, singer, I can also produce and I can work with lots of different kinds of artists in different styles. I always wanted it to be really nostalgic of my favourite era of music which was between 2000-2005, so I wanted to pay tribute to that but keep it quite current.
Was there a track on the album that you think best sonically represented what you were going for on the project? What was it?
‘Catch Me Ft Jay Prince’, for sure.
How did the collaborations on the project come about and what is your creative process like when working with other artists?
So, everybody on my album I’ve been friends with for quite a while. I really like making music with people that I have established relationships with because it becomes less awkward and it’s also way more natural.
I met Dounia through my ex-manager - so that was super natural and we met at Wireless in 2018. Shakka was the same thing, he was already following me but we started to become friends over the past two or three years.
We (TOBi) had spoken online for a few years but we had never met until 2018, but we’re both signed to the same label. I was like what are you doing here, and he’s like, ‘I’m signed to this label’, so I’m like, ‘ah ok, me too!’. We got in the studio for two days and we were talking about life and music, whilst I was playing through a bunch of beats. When I played the beat for ‘Tired of the Games’, it was a really early version of it but he was like ‘keep that on’ and he just went in the booth and rapped off the top for like 20 minutes straight.
Me and Emmavie have been friends since 2015 and worked on multiple projects, so that was really natural.
DEAN was my first friend in Korea, when I went there for the first time. He’s always showed me around and helped me out and made sure I was ok out there, so I do the same when he comes to London. We were in LA at the same time and stuff so he’s like family to me at this point.
What were you hoping to portray with your artwork and who helped to create it?
I’ve called the album, ‘Press L to Continue’, the whole idea behind that was that on old Windows computers, when you get an error you would get a blue screen which would say, ‘Press Any Key To Continue’, so I made it ‘L’, as the idea is, if you can’t get past your losses and the ‘L’s’ you take in life, you can’t move forward from it. Orange is my favourite colour, that’s why it’s the background and I’m surrounded by games consoles as it’s supposed to be nostalgic.
Your visuals are always full of colour and humor, how important is that to you?
I feel like I always want them to be personality driven, a lot of my videos and even just videos I do for socials, I just want them to be very representative of me and how I would be if you met me in person. In the ‘Run Tings’ video, there’s the part where I drop the pineapple on the decks ... I remember one time I was getting really hyped during a DJ set and my headphones fell off and hit the decks and all of the music stopped and I’m there like, ‘oh nooo’, I had to quickly try and get the party going again but everyone just laughed it off, like they know that that’s just the person that I am.
So, me and her have been friends since about 2017, through Smino as I’ve known him since 2016. He hit me up at the end of 2016 saying I got this friend who wants to work with you, and I liked her music so I said, let’s work. Since then, I think i’ve produced on every Jean Deaux album, I produced ‘Wikipedia’ and ‘Energy’ and now ‘Anytime’, I’ve also got a couple more on the next EP - she’s really, really cool.
I actually sent that beat to Kehlani but I’m not sure she was aware of it, as I sent it to her manager. Then, Jean Deaux says i’m going to finally use this beat and a week later she tells me Kehlani’s done a verse. I’m like … what? But Kehlani said she had never heard the beat before but we laughed it off!
Duckwrth had just messaged me saying he was working on a project and I had ended up in LA for three weeks so we got in the studio together for like three days straight, from like 4pm to 4am. I was going through some more beats and my laptop froze on ‘King King’ but I wasn’t meant to show him it but he was like, ‘woah woah, that one’s cool’. It was this really unfinished beat I had made on Instagram Live, I think it had taken like ten minutes to make but he was like, ‘I want that one’, so I spent some time adding parts to it and that’s it … but I don’t think he knows how quick it was made.
Zilo’s literally like my sister, me and her just get each other so well, I think our personalities are similar, especially in terms of our love for The Neptunes, Pharrell, Chad Hugo, N.E.R.D. Our favourite album is ‘Justified’ by Justin Timberlake, we both like retro-video games and stuff, so meeting each other and working with each other was completely natural. I was playing a bunch of beats for her and she said that one was like some kind of Early 2000’s Ashanti, happy beat, so she just took that one and wrote, ‘Into The Sun’.
You’ve been collaborating with Kayfaraway for a long time, how did the ‘Hours After Midnight’ EP come about and what was the main inspirations for you?
Me and Kayfaraway have been friends since secondary school. He would always be singing on the street and stuff and I was like, ‘Come on, we got to work together’ and he was always like, ‘Eventually, we’ll get there’. I was like you don’t need to record with me, just record because you’re really good and he’s just like, ‘I don’t want to, I’m just chilling but one day I want to be like Drake’, and I’m like, ‘Bro, that makes no sense’.
The first song he ever recorded was, ‘Summertime Ting’ with Me, Mayzin and Emmavie and after that he was like I think I like this music thing, so we ended up making loads and loads of songs over the next year or so and it got to the point where he was like I want to do my first EP, so I was like cool what’s the vibe you want to go for, you have any names/ideas but he said he likes the idea of the thoughts that you feel past 12am, when you’ve stayed up and maybe had a bit to drink. I just started making a bunch of beats, we took about three or four months to make that one but he was really happy with the end project.
Do you feel that being a producer, especially of artists you know, you have space to creatively push them and in that push yourself?
100%, everytime that Kay came to the studio, I would be like I’m in Kayfaraway mode now because it’s not the same beats that you would hear from me, so people who have heard his music they don’t believe that I’ve produced them as it sounds so dark, heartbroken and gritty, whereas my stuff sounds happy.
I had to learn about the kind of sound that he wanted and his influences to make a sound that’s better for him. I’ve started doing that with every artist, it’s at the point now where I’ve got so many different styles because I’ve just learnt to read people and just to keep to my style as much as possible, so it definitely helps to collaborate.
I met Joe Kay in Paris in 2015, it was one of my first gigs actually. Just randomly, I had no contact with Soulection. By chance, they ended up at the show I was DJing. I looked up and Andre Power and Joe Kay were there like, ‘Yo, these mixes are good’ and I’m like, ‘whaaa’. I started talking to them and I’m just internally fanboying and trying to play it cool like, ‘yeah, Joe Kay … cool, cool, cool’. Then the day after, they were playing a show in Paris, so they invited me and my friends to come to their show and it was crazy.
Joe Kay wanted to keep in contact and said he’s going to hit me up soon but keep making music. Then, I released a track on SoundCloud at the end of 2016 called, ‘I Just Want You To Know’, sampling Snoop Dogg’s, ‘Beautiful’, then Joe Kay follows me on Twitter and he’s just going crazy in my DM’s like, ‘I’ve just listened to your SoundCloud and everything’s crazy’. That’s when he offered me a Soulection White Label, from that point I was basically screaming. I spent about a month making the project and then it came out in March 2016 and from that point forward, everything changed.
That’s when I started to tour the world, I was making a lot of money off of DJing outside of Europe, even to America and Asia. I started working with a bunch of artists and then I got good management and then everything was just amazing from that point, that was like my first official project - so that one will always be special to me.
How is touring for you as a multi-instrumentalist and what kind of energy can people expect from a ROMderful show?
I started touring as a DJ, a lot of my sets are really mellow, chill vibes, like happy R&B that just kind of get more energetic towards the end, I would just end on a bunch of super-hard edits. Then I would just end it on the early 2000’s R&B. So, then I started playing shows with guitar, bass, drum pads and my laptop and a lot of people were like, ‘oh, you played guitar on your songs the whole time’ … I’m like, so you guys thought I just get some random person to come and play guitar on literally every single song?
How does your love of video games influence your sound?
A lot of the soundtracks in video games, especially the older ones, they’re really interesting with their chords, musicality and especially their melodies. I tell people sometimes to go back and listen to a bunch of old school games soundtracks, like Final Fantasy and stuff and they’re like, this is so crazy, how was this just used for a game? I feel like that was probably one of my first influences for music, there were definitely those games where I would just leave it on so I could listen to the music … my mum would come in like, what are you doing?
Being from Birmingham, are there any artists from your hometown you think people should be paying more attention to?
Definitely Kayfaraway for sure, I feel like the 2020’s are going to be one of his best decades. He started recording pretty recently and he’s only got one project out but he’s got so much range already and I think he’ll just keep getting better and better.
Jaydonclover, she’s also a close friend of mine. She’s coming up and is amazing.
The TRP.HSE guys, they’re kind of like the Soulection of Birmingham at the moment, they’re making massive moves. They’ve been doing shows in Paris, London, Nottingham, Manchester … I think they went to LA recently, too. They’re such positive energy, they’re definitely going to take over the club scene … well already kind of are.
One of my favourite artists from Birmingham is Jaykae, actually. I think he’s really interesting and I like how he raps about his life experiences but he’s really energetic in the way that he does it.
Recommend 5 artists that you think your listeners should be listening to?
What can we expect from the new project?
I’m going to be actively songwriting for every track on this one, I feel like it’s going to be less focused on beats but more focused on having an overall good project. I’m going to be using a bunch of different sounds. A lot of the sounds from ‘Press L to Continue’, I actually made between 2016-2018, so these are all new songs, so this will be the first project where I’m making everything at the same time. There’s going to be a bunch of different artists, I’m taking different inspiration ... I guess the best thing to expect … is to not expect.
What’s in store for 2020?
I’m going to be working on a tour, for after summer, working on my second album, producing for a lot of people, I can’t talk about a lot of them but some of them are life-changingly-cool. I’m also going to be working on way more visual content, as well and working on my YouTube presence and social media and Kayfaraway is working on his second EP, so I’ll be working on that.