Hello, Ellis, how are you?
I’m good, man! Busy but all good.
Congratulations on the release of “Lipstick.” How does it feel?
Thank you, It’s been a pretty crazy week or so. It’s nice to have so many people resonating with it. It’s surreal for me as well that it’s a track with Ezra Bell.
It’s a collaboration with Ezra Bell, how did that come about?
I simply sent a Twitter message. We spoke for a bit, he checked out my music, and we started working on something. It’s been a super warm experience throughout and he’s a great collaborator. He wanted to listen to every mix draft and just gave great feedback. It was nice to work with someone who only cares about making good music.
What’s the story behind the song?
I think ‘Lipstick” is about recognising the decline of a relationship, sitting with it when you’re in it, and dwelling on it after it’s over. It’s not exactly a party anthem, I know, but I think what’s sticking with people is the kind of sensitivity it’s delivered with.
I drew a lot from my own actual life experiences but I think there’s sadly something quite universal about this brand of heartbreak. Intimacy is a big factor in how I approach music. At its core, the music I want to make is always somewhat intimate. As I approach my second album and experiment with new sounds and styles, I wanted to make something that kind of felt like a footnote in my heartbreak chapter. A lot of the music I’ve released up to this point is quite focused on relationships and I think ‘Lipstick’ feels like a kind of finale to that era for me. For now anyway.
You’re from Swindon. How did it all begin for you?
Oooh, I don’t know! I remember just loving music growing up, I was obsessed with getting headphones in my ears at any given moment. Honestly, I remember listening to ‘99 Problems’ by Jay Z and wanting to learn all the lyrics. I remember Rizzle Kicks blowing my mind. Those are the first inciting moments of my love for hip-hop.
In terms of actually making music, I just decided to mess about on Garageband when I was about 16. Back then I was trying to be Alt-J and failing miserably. Then my music taste got better, I started to take it more seriously and eventually, we got to the point where I’m in a studio for the first time realising that this is all I want to do with my life or nothing at all.
Swindon doesn’t exactly have a music scene like other towns or cities. I think we’re jam-packed full of cover bands and not nearly enough original music. I think if it’s played into my music at all, it’s mostly in the thematics of the first album – focusing on embracing where you come from and all that. For me, I think it was kind of accepting that every place is the same and you just have to make use of what’s around you. There are always creative people, they can just be hard to find sometimes. I’m rambling.
What did you listen to growing up?
A lot of Dolly Parton, a lot of Mike Oldfield, a lot of Rizzle Kicks, a lot of Bobby Darrin, and swing music in general. I loved the charts when I was quite young. I remember I would watch music channel top 40s on TV and I’d just sit and not move and watch 40 music videos back to back. When I was a teenager I was deep into indie rock and folk. Fell in love with Blur, Alt-J, and Kendrick Lamar.
Things went from there really and I just got sucked into music as a medium, my playlists will be anything from ‘Claire De Lune’ to ‘Many Men’ by 50 Cent. I like to think I’ve built up a rounded love for music. And of course, I listened to Ezra Bell obsessively as a teenager. I do think 15-year-old me would be pretty chuffed with ‘Lipstick’.
You’ve been consistently featured on BBC Introducing, how’s that felt?
It’s always nice to be recognised for your work. I appreciate anybody who will make time for my music and It’s lovely to be on a platform like that.
You’ve also been showcased at BFI Southbank what was that like?
That was interesting. It was for a short film thing I made. I decided to perform an altered verse from my new album as the centrepiece for a short that’s about heritage and identity. It was really lovely actually, the audience loved it and I got some “WHOO”s at the end. Stuff like that is just lovely to be a part of. I hope I can flex some of my filmmaker’s muscles in the future, but the music comes first for now.
You’ve played the legendary Ronnie Scott’s among other venues, what’s been a fun moment for you so far?
Well, I jumped in at a jam session but yeah that was a highlight. It was one of the first times I’d freestyled in front of a crowd and I had a live jazz band playing for me so it was kinda nerve-wracking but it became such a fun and supportive night.
I’d love to play with more live bands, to be honest. Performing at Rufest last year was amazing. I had 45 mins to perform and I found it exciting to try and figure out the set list to make a thematic 45-minute show. I’m excited to be there again this year.
I think the biggest highlight so far has been when I performed at a school in Swindon. I knew one of the teachers and he told me they do a music festival every summer for the kids and asked me to come along because they always want a rapper! The kids were loving the show, I chose only fun songs to perform and I spent about an hour afterwards meeting them all and taking photos and things. Just a really lovely day, it means a lot when you can see what you’re making is bringing joy to your community.
COVID impacted the creative industry in a big way, what kept you motivated?
I was working for most of Covid but I think it helped me. While the rest of the world fell out of focus for a bit, I was able to focus on either working or making music. I just let myself get obsessed for a while over what I was making and it resulted in my first studio album. I think my motivation in general goes back to what I said about the first time I got into a studio. Making music is all I want to be doing all the time, if I couldn’t I wouldn’t want to do anything else.
The last three years have been a time to reflect. What did you learn about yourself?
I think I’ve learnt how to relax. I’ve learnt about the type of person I want to be. I’ve learnt pretty brutally about trusting people. I like to think we’re always learning and trying to be better. But yes I would say I’m a different dude from who I was in 2020.
Did you pick up any new skills?
In the last three years? Yeah sure. I think the main one is performing. I don’t think people realise that performing live and making music privately are two very different things. I’ve done more live performances than I can count in the last 2 years. I’ve been in pubs where no one acknowledges me and I’ve been on stages where people want to talk about my music with me for hours. I think cutting my teeth on a lot of low-stakes bad performances has meant that now, I treat live performance as a separate craft that requires its own prep and maintenance. God, I sound like an actor or something.
What are you listening to at the moment?
Revisiting Jay Z’s ‘4:44’ at the moment. Enjoying that a lot this time around. I’ve been listening to a lot of full albums recently. Some of those will be like ‘What’s Going On’ by Marvin Gaye and other days, I’ll be sitting with a Daughters album or something. I think, unconsciously, I’m prepping myself for going into album mode again and I’m listening to people I admire just to study the craft of making an album. But also lots of 100gecs and hyperpop stuff when I want a break.
What’s next for you?
A new album is coming. The whole thing is written. It’s massive for me, personally massIve but also the longest, grandest thing I’ve ever made. It’s pretty heavy but I think people will take something positive from it and once it is out I think I’m just going to make some fun music for a bit.
Experiment with genres, try my hand at making some soul tracks or dip into rock vocals. Not sure yet! But this will be my second studio album about pretty personal events so I think me and my listeners deserve a bit of light after this one is done.