On a grey, dreary August morning I made the long 5 minute walk from my flat to Strongroom Studios. I grabbed a coffee round the corner and headed to Studio One. I was on my way to meet Lido, a Norwegian producer and songwriter who has had a great deal of influence on my own music over the years. The electronic beat-smith was in London to complete work on his upcoming project ‘I O U’, the first part of which came out last week. The conversation below is part of a half hour chat we had that morning, and sheds some light on the creative machinations that led to ‘I O U’.
Could you give us a little bit of background on ‘Corner Love’, the first single from ‘I O U’.
I think a lot of the music I’ve been writing lately has not been inspired by romantic relationships. For the first time, I’m trying to stay away from romantic relationships; so a lot of the music I’m writing right now is about friends of mine. It’s about family too, I’ve been writing about my sister a lot for example. I’ve been writing about human beings in a different situation than “oh, I like you and it’s hard to like you” – that’s what everybody writes about, all the time. I’m trying to write about how to say other things than that. So, that’s what 3 Million was, that’s what Corner Love was, that’s what most of the music on the first part of the project is. ‘Liar’, definitely not, but that’s pretty much it.
Yeah, Corner Love is about my feeling alone I guess, specifically about travelling and being in big cities, feeling alone in very crowded places. It’s a very strange feeling, it doesn’t make sense but that’s the main inspiration behind the song. ‘Corner Love’ is a strange story, I started it in Norway with Unge Ferrari then I took it to L.A. and made some progress on it there. Then, my friend Colin came and did a speech in the studio for something else; I found a little part of that speech that I liked and I put it in ‘Corner Love’. Daniel Kaluuya came and added on to that speech after the fact, so there’s a little piece of the U.K. in there which is nice. The first part of the project feels very European, it’s inspired by my friends and family here so I was happy that I got to have a little thing from Daniel on there too.
How big is the project?
All together, who knows, but ‘I O U’ is more of a philosophy than a project. It has lots of definitions but the main one is inspiration over utility, it’s the music that doesn’t make sense marketing or playlisting-wise. In general, it’s music that exists because I wanted to make rather than ‘oh shit, this is going to make me famous’ or ‘oh shit, this is going to put me on the radio’. There’s no real intention behind it, it is music as pure as I can make it. I do a lot of production work for other people which is a situation where I can’t do that. It’s about the other person’s vision, personality and story; so my artist project is my place of freedom.
Yeah, experimentation, that’s what it is. I’m just trying to keep it pure, and that’s what is fun about creating in London for me too. I think more freely, in L.A. there’s definitely more intention behind the music very often. Here, it’s like ‘why not’. Yesterday, there’s a song of mine that only has one kick hit in the entire song and in that moment I thought ‘hmm, I wish that kick hit scared something’. So I added a flock of birds taking off from that kick hit. That was never there before, but it was there in the moment and then it’s gone and never happens again. Stuff like that I can do here, with the I O U mentality. I would never be able to do that in production for someone else.
The production on ‘Corner Love’ feels quite cinematic, it probably comes from the experimentation you were talking about; not being stuck to an arrangement. Was that intentional on your part or did that just happen?
Absolutely, I’ve definitely been toying with the idea of scoring for a long time. Finally, I’m getting close to that process so it’s something that I want to do very soon. I’ve definitely been thinking more linearly – movies are linear, they’re chronicle. They have a start and an ending, the same thing with classical music. There’s not a ‘verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus’, there’s a start and a motif and an idea, which you explore, then it ends. I think that’s why it feels more cinematic, because it’s more a journey than a song. I’m super inspired by movies, in general, when it comes to music.
Did it start with the piano part that you hear at the end, the outro. Was that the genesis of the song?
That was the very first thought, that was one of the last recordings of the song. No, I’m lying to you, we did all of the shouting stuff after that. It happened in the middle of the process somewhere but yeah, that was the trigger of most of it. We made a beat, a long long time ago and then I made that. I was like ‘wait a minute’ and they came together, so that sparked the song.
Do you usually start the production first?
Very often, I’m inspired by the sounds. I’ll make a beat and put a weird scream in it, think ‘that kind of sounds like a ghost’ and it becomes a song called ‘Ghost’. Stuff like that happens very often.
Obviously, your production is quite electronic forward but it still feels organic – in a similar way to Frank Ocean. Is that something you’ve always kept in mind?
It’s something that I’ve always imagined. When I first came into electronic music I didn’t know anything about it, and I came into it very late. I was 16, 17 when I discovered electronic music. So, at that point I had so much of my musical background built up in R&B, gospel, soul music and jazz. I thought to myself there’s so much insane energy in electronic music, why aren’t we trying to make people feel something with it, be emotional with it. That was the interesting thing for me at first. I’ve always tried to bridge that weird gap between the insane energy that lives in electronic music and all of the complication emotion that exits in R&B and gospel music. I don’t know, that’s an interesting question. It’s always been interesting for me to try to combine them.
Does this one feel like a departure from previous project, does it feel different making it?
It does feel different making it because I feel more… I feel more free in it than I have before. I feel like I have made a few things in my life that have been milestones for me. After I reached those milestones I think my shoulders relaxed a lot more than before, if that makes sense. It’s like I’ve, not necessarily achieved what I want to achieve, but I’ve proven something to myself. So I think up to this point, a lot of the music I’ve made has been a fight; trying to make the craziest thing I can make. Now, I’m just making the song how it’s supposed to be.
There’s something more relaxed about this process but it’s hard to explain. I feel like the ‘Everything’ album was the last thing I made that was an effort, a real experience. This feels more natural in a sense. It’s more, explorative in a different way. I feel like I’m exploring the music that I listen to on a daily basis. More so than exploring my abilities, if that makes sense. Up until now I’ve thought, ‘what’s the wildest shit I can come up with?’. Now, I think, ‘what if I make a song the way Craig David does and how can I do it a little bit differently’. ‘How can I write a song that Joni Mitchell might have written’. It’s a different way of exploring.
Do you think some of that is in the beginning, as a writer, there’s a lot of doubting your own abilities. Do you feel like that’s falling away a little bit?
Definitely, I think I’ve been in the room with people who have been so important to my musical upbringing at this point. I’ve gotten the validation from them, which helps a lot, but also I’ve reached those milestones myself. Feeling like, ‘I actually made something that’s pretty good’. Thinking, I can chill now, I’ve done it once and I can do it again sometime. It’s more relaxed, yeah.
When you’re in this zone where you’re trying to finish a project, do you find yourself listening to less music?
More, much more. I try to keep my ideas very pure at first. So, when I’m moving around and creating the first rough versions, I want to not know where they come from. I want them to be unaffected, back to the I O U mentality – what’s the most pure thing, how can I make this idea exactly what the idea is. Then I’ll mess with it. When I’ve got to the point where I don’t know how to take it any further I’ll listen to a lot of music that’s the opposite of that song; to see if there’s anything in that. Last night, we listened to Backstreet Boys, we listened to Mario Winans, a lot of bossa nova music, some old Black Eyed Peas. I’m working on music that sounds different. Last night, I made something that sounds like James Blake so none of those reference make any sense to that. But it will still trigger that stuff. I listen to way more music when I’m finishing things because it’s more important to me that they feel good next to each other.
So, this project definitely feels like one whole?
More than it ever has. Yeah, I think everything was super sporadic; ‘I’m gonna do this, and I’m gonna do this, and I’m gonna do this’. This feels like one vibe, I don’t know, I guess I’m just growing up finally. I guess I’m not being as A.D.D. as I used to.