‘If you’re not fully into what you’ve written, it’s going to feel harder to give it some!’
Describe your music style in no more than 5 words: A Neo-soul and Jazz cocktail.
What influences your music? I am influenced by all sorts of artists within the realms of Jazz, R&B, Soul and Hip Hop. I listen to new music every day, but I have my staple artists such as Jill Scott; Robert Glasper, Angie Stone and Amy Winehouse, whom have played an important role in shaping a lot of my sound. Since my jazz studies, I am attracted to the colours from jazz harmonies and melodies. Improvisation also plays a big role in how a track comes together.
Other than yourself, who else is involved in creating your tracks? I am pretty much the only person involved as far as the writing and production goes. This was the case on ‘AHLKE’. I record as much as I can myself – guitar and vocals; beat sampling/sequencing, some percussion and bass too, and then I get help from session musicians. I had 4 other musicians play for me on ‘AHLKE’ and they captured my vision perfectly: Taz Modi and Simon Beddoe of Submotion Orchestra on keys/synths and flugelhorn, Sam Williams on bass and Alex Fisher on saxophones. All great musicians.
Once I get past the production process, I get a vague mix together and then pass it onto the mix engineer. In this case, I worked with Dom Howard (Ruckspin, Author, Submotion Orchestra), whose approach to a mix is something I really admire. For me, I feel that at this stage it is important to pass my tracks onto someone else. Otherwise, I think in many cases that artists can find themselves going over and over the mix, to a point when you can take your eye off the ball. I find that by letting someone else take control, and by detaching myself slightly from the tracks at this point, they can flourish and turn into the final product. Another ear is always a good thing.
How does your song writing process work? I always tend to start with a chord progression, usually on guitar, and I will improvise around this until I find melodies that I like. Sometimes I may have a few lyrical lines already waiting to be used and I will try and put the chords, melody and lyrics together. Then I will put a beat together and go from there. Sometimes all three come together at once. It’s bizarre how some tracks feel like they come naturally, others take a little longer, and some just don’t work the first time around. I used to hold onto old work (and my old Logic projects) but now I find that the process of deleting old work can actually help influence new writing and ideas.
‘You can learn a huge amount from performing live, even if the gig doesn’t go to plan!
The focus single (22 Movements) from your debut album has already received acclaim and multiple plays. How did you decide on this being a single release? The choice was tough! I released ‘Midnight Train’ as the first single at the end of February as I felt it was a good balance between neo-soul and jazz, but ’22 Movements’ was slightly harder to decide on. The track is more centred on R&B than any other track on the album, and I feel that this was the first song that I became completely honest with in my writing.
It is about my sexuality and my coming out experience. I had to decide on a single for a music video, and I felt that it was important for people to hear ’22 Movements’ and to be able to tell the story within a video. The video, which you can watch on YouTube, was released in April and features a beautiful, improvised solo dance from contemporary and ballet dancer, Salome Pressac.
How important do you think is for musicians to be true to themselves? Very important, it gives the music more energy and allows you to be more expressive when performing live. If you’re not fully into what you’ve written it is always going to feel harder to give it some!
A lot of the tracks on ‘Ahlke’ have an atmosphere that makes them sound – in the best possible way – like effortless live performances. Was this part of the plan? It wasn’t, but thank you! It must come from my jazz roots, but I also think my sound and production is still developing in this respect. I remember listening to an interview with Matthew Herbert who said how important it is to treat live music and recorded music very differently, and to take advantage of their differences. I completely agree with this and I try to bring different elements to my music when I perform it live.
Do you prefer performing live or recording in a studio? Definitely live, I always feel that I can express myself more live, my vocals and guitar playing come across better and improvising in front of an audience can take you in all sorts of interesting directions. I normally feel more restricted when recording in a studio and can find it harder to let myself relax.
What live shows do you have coming up in the next few months? Just around the corner is my first London headline show at Servant Jazz Quarters in Dalston, May 23rd. You can get tickets via Eventbrite here. I will be joined by my 4-piece band as well as special guests and DJs, so it’s going to be a really fun night. It is a part of my UK Tour and is one of my biggest gigs to date, celebrating the release and tour of ‘AHLKE’.
Then coming up, I am playing at Waywood Festival in Cambridgeshire on June 15th (a new festival which has a great line-up), as well as a headline gig at The Cellar Theatre in Sheffield on June 20th. This will be my first ever Sheffield gig and will mark the end of my UK Tour! The Cellar Theatre is a fairly new spot in the city and it’s lovely and intimate. Later on in the summer after my tour comes to an end, I will be playing at Pizza Express Live in Holborn, July 30th, for a night celebrating female songwriters: ‘Girls with Guitars’.
‘Be confident in your ideas and how you use them.’
What can people expect from one of your live performances? My solo performances are very intimate, alongside my guitar and vocals, I use samples and loops and build textures with vocal harmonies. With my band (guitar/vocals, keys, bass, drums/pad) the sound is a lot bigger and there is more room for improvisation. Playing solo and playing with a band are completely different experiences, but I love the energy on stage when I am playing with others. Hearing them put their own fingerprint on my tracks live is something really special.
What do you listen to when you’re not writing, recording or performing? As I mentioned earlier, I listen to new music every day and have my ‘staple’ artists that I refer to when I am writing. But, depending on my mood, it can range from Joni Mitchell and John Martyn, to ELIZA and Etta Bond, and from Bill Evans to John Coltrane. I am mostly attracted to melody and rich harmonies, which is why I love the neo-soul icons such as Erykah Badu and Robert Glasper. Anything with an interesting progression gets my ears ticking!
Congratulation on being included on Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent 2019 list. How do you hope this will impact your career? Thank you – I am very lucky that Glasto Emerging Talent coincided with my album release and the UK Tour. I have noticed that it has already put more energy behind the project and I have no doubt it will help again when I begin a new project after ‘AHLKE’.
What is your first musical based memory? I think it must be learning the recorder in primary school. I kind of got addicted to it and would sit and practice relentlessly. That, and falling asleep on a regular basis with my CD Walkman on at a really young age whilst playing my Dad’s Uncut Magazine compilation CDs and David Gilmour albums.
How different would your life be if music didn’t feature? Very different! But I have no doubt I would still be doing something creative.
And finally… What are the 3 pieces of advice to others trying make it in the music industry?
- Keep gigging – it’s very easy to get wrapped up in social media and forget how important playing live is – you can always learn a huge amount even if the gig doesn’t go to plan!
- Secondly, keep writing, keep writing and keep writing. The more you write, the more your ideas will naturally flow and the quicker you will build the palette of sounds and colours that define your music.
- And lastly, be confident in your ideas and how you use them. There is no correct or right way of doing something – I wish I had been told this sooner.