Hi Jack and Harry! Thanks so much for talking to me today! This issue of Mindful Melody is a ‘Slow Down and Simplify’ special which fits perfectly with your recent EP ‘Piano Sessions’. Where did the idea come from to release these beautiful, re-worked piano acoustic versions of some of your old songs?
Harry: I don’t know really – I’ve got a piano in the house now and I was just sat there and just having a go at it, thinking it would be cool to do ‘Oceans’ on piano.
Jack: Yeah, I’ve often heard him play versions of the songs and they’re always gorgeous. I always thought that one day we would maybe surprise people at a show and do a piano version of the tracks. With us not being able to see each other as much with the whole lockdown, Harry is able to record stuff at home and we’ve been working from home just like everybody else. Usually we write together in a room and we haven’t been able to do that so it was a good thing to go back to the old stuff and bring it back in a new way. They came out really well, they are really relaxed and it gives a whole new feel to the songs.
I have to say I was extremely excited when I saw the EP; ‘Atlantis’, ‘Wildfire’ and ‘Oceans’ are my three favourite Seafret songs – and it was also exciting to see something new on there with ‘Parachute’. What was it about these particular songs that warranted their inclusion in this project?
H: I think they’re the songs that get the most reaction at the minute from the fans. That’s because they are really quite meaningful songs so to slow them down and strip them back to just the piano was quite interesting. We released them four, five and six years ago some of them, so it’s a while since we delved into those songs again, so it was really nice to rework it.
J: Yeah, it was great to get back into that mindset. When we actually wrote them some of them came together really fast, it’s like we write them, record them, produce them and then it’s done. They kind of take on their own life after that and people interact with them. You don’t know what songs are going to connect with people but those are the songs that have really pushed on Seafret as a band so it felt right to choose them. We then wanted to add something new to it as well which is why ‘Parachute’ is on there. It’s almost a demo on that EP really because we will do a proper version of that track, but it just felt perfect in that simple format for that EP.
H: Three classics and a new one!
I love the production on this EP – the raw and honest feel of just letting the recording come through in its natural form creates something really emotive and special. This, however, is coupled with a great quality of mixing and instrumentation which maintains the feel of these songs – building up and fading away in all the same places as the originals. Was there a particular sound that you wanted to achieve with all of the songs from the outset, or was it more a case of ‘Let’s see what these sound like with the piano?’
H: Yeah, exactly the latter - ‘Let’s see how it comes out!’ It was so nice to add some production, it would have been nice just piano and vocal but it was nice to have a bit more dynamic with the other instruments. We did the first one and we thought, ‘That’s so cool’ and then we were trying to keep on that vibe with the rest.
J: We had no intention of changing the songs dramatically, we just wanted to give them a different flavour and see how it would all work together. We do that with songs when we are writing; we will write something and I might be writing lyrics to it while it’s being produced up in the studio, but then we just strip it back to guitar and vocal and sing it in the room. It’s always pretty intense doing it; it’s a make or break time for a song, but if it feels strong in that simplistic form you know you’re onto a bit of a winner, you know the song is emotionally strong and it isn’t just a case of people listening to the drums.
Although not the original intention of the song, I feel that ‘Oceans’ (in its original or ‘Piano Sessions’ form) would particularly resonate with people over the last year. The title line ‘It feels like there’s oceans between me and you’ underlines perfectly the situation in which many people find themselves, kept apart from loved ones. Can you shed some light on the original inspiration behind the song and how you think the pandemic may have given it a new inflection?
J: When we wrote the song it was when we’d moved from our hometown in the North-East of England to London. It was all new to us and we felt like we were leaving all of our loved ones behind - that was the original. ‘Atlantis’ too was just born from failing relationships from just never being there. A lot of the songs can be interpreted in different ways, we don’t like to nail it to one thing, I think that is the appeal of those songs. Like ‘Oceans’, it’s so simple and it came together so fast, didn't it?
H: Yeah, in a few hours in an afternoon. We were at this point where we had moved from home down to London and I was only 18 at the time and Jack wasn’t much older and it was all new. They did come from that place and I can see why it is resonating now because we haven’t been able to see anyone for ages, it’s kind of the same emotion.
J: A lot of people are going through a similar thing now even when they’re just down the road from each other, feeling like there’s oceans between them when they can’t see each other. Hopefully we are through the most of it now, I’m ready for things to open back up.
‘Wildfire’ featured a couple of years ago in the Hollywood blockbuster ‘The Longest Ride’ starring Scott Eastwood. Can you tell me how this came about, and what was your reaction to the song being used?
H: It was so random, it just came about.
J: We just got an email didn’t we?
H: We hadn’t even released the song yet either so we had to rush and release it. It was out of the blue, I guess the guy doing music on the film just thought it was perfect for it. I’ve watched it and I have to say it's pretty perfect for that scene. J: I didn’t watch it for years! I was kind of embarrassed by things and I just couldn’t watch it! I finally did watch it on a plane.
H: Yeah, we both did! We both watched it on a plane.
J: It was really cool, it was right at the end, it’s like the whole last scene of the film. I had friends and family messaging me and I remember my grandparents went to watch it at the cinema and were messaging me telling me that they’d been crying!
H: It was amazing to get, what a thing to have! We are still buzzing from it now!
One thing I love about your music is how emotive and honest it is – can you shed some light on your songwriting process and how much of an inspiration your emotions and experiences become when putting music together?
H: It starts most of the time from a bit of music, whether I’ve got a bit of piano or guitar, and we’ll build from there and get melodies. I think that starts the emotion off because the whole feel of the song will come from this piece of music. It’s all kind of subconscious. You explained it well once Jack – it’s almost a delay, isn’t it?
J: Yeah, it is a bit like that. Something sad could happen now, that doesn’t necessarily mean we just write sad songs. You have to process the situation and it could be a year later, you’re really happy and someone will ask to listen to your latest song and it’s so sad! They’ll be asking, ‘Are you alright?’ - well I wasn’t at one point! We always send each other ideas, but it tends to be Harry on guitar mostly, although a lot more piano now because he’s gotten a lot better at it. Then I’ll just pick up on it, it will make me feel things, I’ll start hearing melodies from notes that have been played.
H: And then he’ll send that back to me, and then I can feel what Jack’s feeling. This is more about the last year where it’s all been over Zoom. But yeah, then I’ll feel a bit more and add something and send it back to Jack and it just goes through that process. Jack finishes the lyric off almost with the track done.
J: Usually I just send Harry melodies on piano – I can’t really play it but I can hear in my head what the notes are, I’ll record that and send it over. If it gets approved then I’ll write the lyrics to it, and usually by that point I’ve been hearing lyrics and I just build from that and the song takes its shape. I know a lot of people have a concept at the start of the song, for example a song called ‘Tornado’, then you just fill the verse with everything to do with wind! A lot of the time we don’t do that, we might not know what the song is called until the end. That’s exciting as well, it’s a slower way to do it but the song just builds in itself and gets more exciting.
It’s been highly publicised that the origin of Seafret was the two of you hearing each other at an open mic night in 2011. Can you tell me a little more about what drew you to each other, and whether ten years ago you imagined you would be where you are now?
J: No! No to the last bit!
H: I’m sure Jack will tell you, but it was the first time he’d ever played in front of anybody and I think he’d only been singing a few weeks! He just sat there on this chair and it was so honest, and the voice that you hear now…
J: …It was a lot more raspy…
H: It was like Paolo Nutini had swallowed something!
J: Yeah that was a scary night! It was candle lit with no microphone. It was my first time going and Harry did a couple of songs playing banjo and double bass. He was probably 15 or 16 and was absolutely rapid on the banjo! You could hear people in the room saying, ‘That’s Harry Draper’, you knew it was good and he was known to be good, and he was a child! I didn’t really think anything of that, it’s not like I saw that and thought, ‘I’m going to ask him to play with me’, I didn’t know him! Harry’s dad said that we should play together, our parents knew each other.
H: Yeah, small town - everyone knows of everyone.
J: Yeah, it just went from there, his dad said I should go to their house and play. I went and had to play to everyone to get “accepted”, which was probably the scariest gig I’ve done in my life! My voice was way different, I could hit notes but I had weird tone going on. If I listen back to early recordings it doesn’t sound like me! I’m grateful to Harry and his family for telling me that I’m a good singer, because if I’d heard myself I might have said, 'Maybe you don’t want to do this anymore!' I’m grateful that they saw the potential in me.
Being a musician obviously requires a lot of travel and working with a lot of people. How have you both found navigating this unique situation we find ourselves in, and what are you most looking forward to doing when it’s over?
H: It’s actually been alright – obviously the situation is bad, but personally it’s been okay. We’re so busy and we have been for quite a few years, going from Russia to Brazil and all over in-between! It’s been quite nice to have this time to reset, I think it’s important to do that because you get lost in everything and in yourself. As soon as we had that reset we started writing more, we are writing more now than we have ever written since we first started out. We are missing gigs now, definitely.
J: We used to come off tour and then we’d have bits in between like writing and recording, a few days of this and a few days of that. With the current situation it’s been weird, at the start we didn’t feel like writing much, we weren’t contacting each other all the time. It just got to a point where Harry would send me an idea, and I’d send Harry one, then he’d send another and I’d send another. It got to the point where I was thinking, 'I’m behind now I’ve got six ideas to write!' I could’ve been sent those ideas and not written anything to them. Even though the world has stopped a lot goes on and still happens in life, so you have all these different experiences. I think it took a while for our heads to get round it. It’s about having that light at the end of the tunnel, even if it’s a date set by the government, everyone has that in their minds that they want to get to that. When our gigs were getting rearranged we started thinking, 'Well, come six months time we may be touring again', so now we’ve got this window that’s getting smaller and smaller! Suddenly the songs start coming, it’s really good, it’s kick-started it up again.
H: Now the gigs are being pushed back again, most of them are next year now, whether they’ll happen I’m not sure.
J: I realise now that not playing, I do feel it in myself. We go and do a tour, and when we come back we are relaxed. It’s like shifting a load of emotive junk in your head, it’s an outlet for it. When we don’t have that you feel like you’re stuck inside and that you should be creating and that you’re losing time. To start thinking about going back out and doing it is amazing. Sometimes it gets me nervous…
H:…Oh, we’ll be nervous! It’s been so long, we were so used to it! I’ll need a few beers beforehand!
You’ve obviously come a long way from where you started – was there a certain moment where you realised what you’ve achieved or how far you’ve come?
H: There’s loads! We go to Russia, which is mad, and there’s loads of people there, and then we go to Brazil.
J: I remember before we went to Russia my family saying, ‘You can’t go, it’s too dangerous’, just because of what they see in the news. You get there and it’s the nicest place! We get people turning up at airports who’ve waited for us in all these different countries. We go places that to me are in the middle of nowhere, I had no idea where it was and we are playing there! There’s places we go and there’s people queueing outside, those moments are mental! That’s why we are always grateful. We’ve had to take risks and put ourselves out there, perform in small places and intense situations that would scare a lot of people. We went to America and just went round and played at all of the big film companies with just a guitar and no microphone! We’d just turn up at 11am and play in the office. We were in America for the first time and I was 19, it was scary! Everyone would be in shorts and I’d be in my black skinny jeans and leather boots!
H: We weren’t even old enough to get a pint!
Finally, one thing we ask all of our interviewees is to name their top three songs that relate to mental health. What would be your top three?
José González - 'Heartbeats'
The Cinematic Orchestra - 'To Build a Home'
Nirvana – 'Lounge Act'
Arcade Fire – 'Wake Up'
Tré Burt – 'What Good'
Fleetwood Mac – 'Albatross'
Interview: Morgan Wade - "It's important to remember where you've come from, and to be proud that you're not there anymore"
This interview originally appeared in Mindful Melody Issue 6 - read it online or buy print editions here.
US Country singer-songwriter Morgan Wade chats to Maxim about walking the line between self-improvement and self-acceptance.
Hi Morgan! Thank you for taking the time out to chat today. You released ‘The Night’ back in 2019, and this has a brilliant mental health message. In particular, the line “There’s a rule down in the South that you can’t talk about your mental health” feels very significant. Two years on from its release, do you think mental health is any easier to talk about in Southern US culture?
I think we’re getting there, especially since COVID. People were stuck at home, struggling financially and mentally, so it became more evident that we have to talk more and embrace things like therapy. There are also artists like Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, and Julia Michaels who are all very outspoken about mental health, and they’re getting radio play. The more people that speak up about it, the more people will feel comfortable talking about these things.
It almost feels like a contradiction, because songwriting is by its very nature a personal process where artists are seen as baring their soul and putting themselves in a vulnerable position. So isn’t it strange that, despite this apparent openness about emotions in Country music, which is known for its songwriting, mental health isn’t something that’s widely talked about?
I think it’s interesting. If you turn on Country radio over here it’s just men, and having been around ‘Southern men’ growing up, they don’t talk about emotions. They don’t talk about processing feelings. They’re told, ‘You’re a man, you don’t cry’. Men are told not to be weak, and that women talk about their feelings, but men don’t - which is so stupid, because everyone should talk about their feelings. So I think it does make sense that I’m hearing a lot of that on Country radio, because it’s mainly men on there. It needs to change.
This makes the album even more inspiring, because it’s unashamedly vulnerable. In Britain, we’re also known as being reluctant to open up about our feelings, with our stereotypical ‘stiff upper lip’. What advice would you give to people that might feel uncomfortable expressing themselves?
I got to a point where I realised I was so sick of feeling like the people I listened to didn’t have any problems. You get on Instagram, and everyone acts like everything is always great, when in reality it’s not. I started just being honest, and I realised there’s a lot more people out there that want this honesty and vulnerability. As you slowly start to become yourself more and more, it becomes easier. It feels a lot better to just be honest about things rather than pretending, because if you pretend for so long, you’re going to explode. It’s easier to just let that go, and just be yourself. We only get one life, so we might as well try to live that as authentically as possible.
'Last Cigarette' has a really interesting double meaning - there’s the struggle to let go of a lover, as well as the difficulty of emerging from addiction. Now that you’ve been sober for four years, how does it feel listening back to this song?
I wrote that song around two years ago. I’m a big fan of Russell Brand and his book, Recovery - people think that recovery only pertains to drugs and alcohol, but you can be recovering from a lot of different things, such as people, relationships, social media - anything. For me, it’s a song to look back and reflect. We as a society are so addicted to so many things - I don’t even know how many times a day I pick up my phone and think, ‘Well, why are you doing that? If you picked up a book as many times as you pick up your phone, you might be feeling a little bit better’. ‘Last Cigarette’ is actually my favourite song off the record, I had a lot of fun recoding that one. The sound is different to anything I’ve done before.
"We only get one life, so we might as well try to live that as authentically as possible."
It can sometimes be the case that when people go through something difficult, like addiction, once they’re on the other side, they want to forget that part of their life, and perhaps pretend it never happened. What inspired you to be so open about your own struggles through your music?
I’ve always been pretty honest, even as a kid writing songs for myself, because it was a way for me to release what I was struggling with. That’s the only way I know how to write. Sometimes I’m like, ‘Did I maybe say too much?’ - but generally those turn out to be my best songs! I feel like a lot of times if I’m scared to release something because I’m scared of being judged, then it’s probably the best thing for me to just put it out there.
There’s a line in ‘The Other Side’ where you say to your partner, “You’ve seen the parts of me that the world says I should hide”. Parts of this album are about transformation and self-development, while others are about embracing flaws and staying true to yourself. Has it been difficult to find this balance of when to say, ‘Okay, I need to change this’, and when to say, ‘No, you know what, this is who I am’?
Even as we grow and change, I don’t want to look back on the times before I was sober and be super ashamed and mad at myself for who I was, because I had to go through that. A lot of the time, we try to sweep things under the rug, but I think it’s okay for me to remember the things that I went though because they made me who I am. It’s important to remember where you’ve come from, and to embrace that that’s where you were in your life, and to be proud that you’re not there anymore.
‘Don’t Cry’ is another hugely emotional song, where the lyrics find you reassuring yourself in midst of a difficult situation. The overall tone feels optimistic, and you reach a point of acceptance – epitomised in the line ‘It’s okay not to be alright’. How important to you was it to include this recurring theme of self-acceptance on the album?
I start that song saying ‘I’m my own worst critic’. If you want to make any changes regarding mental health or addiction, it starts with you. Unless you really want it, you can’t make those changes and get healthy. People can reach out and offer you help, but until you really want that, it’s just not going to happen. We’re the hardest on ourselves, and we always believe that we don’t deserve good things. If I believed everything my mind told me, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you, I wouldn’t be involved in music. You’re going to be stuck with yourself as long as you’re here, so take care of yourself, and that’s something I’m continually learning. We just don’t treat ourselves. It’s been pushed into my brain that if you take time for self-care, then you’re being selfish. But it’s alright to tell people ‘No’, and it’s okay to do things for yourself, and we need to continue to normalise that and not just do what other people want us to do. ‘Don’t Cry’ isn’t just about sobriety, it’s also about killing that part of me that was like, ‘You have to do this’ or ‘You can’t do this’. I was writing it at a time too where I was trying to figure out who the hell I was. We’re all on that journey. It sounds so cliché to be like, ‘Love yourself’- I was always one of those people to be like ‘Okay, well that sounds like some ‘granola stuff’, I don’t want to hear that’! But now I’m that person that’s like, ‘No I totally get it!’
On ‘Mend’, you are looking to someone else for support. As you talk about all the ways that person has helped you to grow, how important do you think it is to look outwards in times of need, as well as inwards?
If I’m feeling depressed and just generally having a hard time, when I start feeling myself separate from other people, and not wanting to reach out because I feel like I’m a burden - those are the moments when I need to reach out to people the most. I think we all need some help. In trying to be independent, I’d sometimes think, ‘Well I shouldn’t have to ask anybody else for help’. But sometimes we really need that, because we can’t see clearly what’s gong on in our own head, so it can be helpful to get someone else’s perspective. I don’t think we should always listen to everything everybody else says, but I think there are moments where reaching out to other people is super important.
Finally, what are your favourite three songs with a theme of mental health?
Morgan Wade's brand new album, Reckless, is available now on all platforms!
Photos by David McClister.
This interview originally appeared in Mindful Melody Issue 6 - you can read it online for free or buy print editions here!
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Life can be hectic. Time moves fast and we are always busy! In line with this issue's encouragement to 'Slow Down and Simplify', here's our Top Ten of anthems to help you do just that!
10. Follow Me - Uncle Kracker
It’s been debated whether this song was written about heroin or about having an affair – but don’t get the wrong impression. Without looking too much into the lyrics ‘Follow Me’ is such a great tune, a simple but catchy guitar line and the smooth vocals make it all seem so relaxed. The lyrics do help this; the chorus of "Follow me, everything is alright", whilst more vulgar in actual meaning and context, do give an impression that actually things will be okay - as does the whole song. It’s one of those that you listen to and just instantly feel more relaxed, giving you the urge to let go of your worries because life isn’t so complicated after all. DD
9. One Way St. - Jhené Aiko ft. Ab-Soul
I wrote in the last issue about how Jhené’s music has such a calming effect on the listener, and this song epitomises that serenity. The hook - “Going the wrong way down a one-way street” - could apply to any kind of rebellion, but to me the song plays as a rejection of the pressures we put on ourselves (“Melancholy, mediocre mess, maybe I should just give it a rest now, I just gotta get this off my chest, lately I have been so f***ing stressed out”). I also love how the song switches between muffled vocals and lucid rapping, as if drifting in and out of sleep. MM
8. Video Games - Lana Del Ray
For anyone who read my ‘Malibu Theory’ this song fits that category. Whilst I had always been aware of ‘Video Games’ I was completely indifferent about it until hearing it again recently. The understated instrumental perfectly sits beneath Lana’s unique vocals and gives the song a really beautiful feel about it. I had always labeled Lana’s songs before as sounding somewhat miserable or boring but I’ve recently gained a new appreciation for her slow, simplistic and emotive style. Sounding like a classic from some 20th century era Hollywood work, ‘Video Games’ is one of those songs that I could close my eyes and listen to on repeat. DD
7. Peace of Mind - Avicii
“Dear society, you are moving way too fast, way too fast for me” - the opening lines of this song feel so pertinent, and captures that sense of being forced to move through life at a speed that someone else dictates. The general message of this track is given even more poignance and urgency from the fact that it was the stress of constantly travelling and touring that contributed to Avicii’s mental health struggles and untimely death. ‘Peace of Mind’ ends on a plea that feels both innocent and hauntingly modern at the same time - "Can I get a little peace of mind?" MM
6. Falling – Duke Dumont Remix – Haim
This is something I recently discovered hidden as a late bonus track on Haim’s brilliant ‘Days Are Gone’ album. I wasn’t really sure what I would make of it as ‘Falling’ in its traditional form is a fantastic song anyway, but Duke Dumont manages to change the whole inflection. A simple but satisfying synth chord sequence and a basic drum beat are the main elements which are supported by snippets of Haim’s original vocals and the whole thing just sounds so chilled. There’s nothing really magical or complex about what Duke Dumont does with the song mechanically, but in terms of the feel it has completely transformed into a simple, mellowed classic that would be a joy in my headphones on a sunny beach somewhere. DD
5. The Life - Kenny Chesney
‘The Life’ tells the story of a hard-working businessman who encounters a sun-tanned, barefooted islander named José while on holiday, and is subsequently inspired to reevaluate the way he lives his life. Similarly to Zac Brown Band's ‘Chicken Fried’, José shows him that it’s the little things that matter most, like playing your guitar and having good times with good friends. ‘The Life’ always feels like a window into a completely different way of life to the one we usually think we should chase after, and my favourite moment is when José shows the main character that there’s more than one way to ‘make a living’ - “I said I make a good living back home where I’m from, he smiled and said, ‘Amigo, me too’”. MM
4. Peak - Drake
To be honest, this was a toss up between ‘Peak’ and ‘Summer Games’, but while both are great songs, ‘Peak’ really encapsulates the simplicity better. You could probably characterise the whole song with two elements: the most stripped-back bass and snare 1, 2 drum beat you’ve ever heard and a chorus which includes some sort of sound effect playing a rising 2, then 3 note arpeggio. That is literally it. Drake’s vocal then navigates around these and fills out the rest of the song. Although it doesn’t give me that same smile on my face that other songs in the playlist do, the simplicity of the whole thing and its lethargic tempo just make it feel like the world slowed down for a second - and to be honest I need that sometimes. DD
3. Chicken Fried - Zac Brown Band
Another one of my all-time favourites (and not just because I love fried chicken…), this song in many ways acts as a recipe for some homegrown happiness. Zac’s essentials include seeing ‘the love in my woman’s eyes’, ‘the touch of a precious child’, and ‘turning the radio up’. It underlines to me that the most valuable things in life aren’t objects, rather it’s those priceless moments spent with the people we love. But it also reminds me that those moments are even better with a little bit of chicken fried… MM
2. Footsteps in the Dark, Pts. 1&2 – The Isley Brothers
Any fans of Ice Cube or 90’s Gangster rap in general will instantly recognise the instrumental of this song for its use in ‘It Was A Good Day’ – and it’s clear to see why it was chosen for this. The whole song just feels laidback, and even though I haven’t really got any memories to associate with it, it sends me to a sunny day driving round with the windows down without a care in the world. That was ultimately the message that Ice Cube’s song was going for – the perfect day where everything feels just right. ‘Footsteps in the Dark’ (and ‘It Was A Good Day’) are slow, smooth and simple in the best way possible and instantly put a smile on my face. DD
1. . Simple - Florida Georgia Line
Okay, I’ll admit this one is a bit on the nose in terms of this issue’s theme. But it’s one of my favourite songs of all time, and I listen to it whenever I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. It’s full of inspirational bon-mots about tuning out all the noise and decluttering your mind. In today’s digitalised world, we’re bombarded from all angles by controversial headlines, opinions and gossip, with news channels and social media pages jostling noisily for our attention. This song is a tribute to the mental health benefits of unplugging and keeping it ‘simple like a six-string - the way this world was meant to be’. MM
Quadeca finally released his album ‘From Me To You’ recently, and anyone who has been keeping tabs will know that it has been a long year since we were promised the project was ‘coming soon’ at the end of the ‘Alone Together’ music video. Anyone who has heard of Quadeca will probably know him from his cliché and cheesy YouTube beef with KSI, who called him out as being a less than impressive lyricist. This is how I too was introduced to the young rapper, and having heard his diss track I never really saw myself being a fan. Sure, it was a good laugh and a perfectly fine song for the purposes of a YouTube beef, but it never really had me doubting that KSI’s harsh sentiments were untrue. It was with the release of his first album ‘Voice Memos’ that I finally realised the talent that the young man had. Whilst his album as a whole wasn’t anything particularly ground-breaking, it did fully showcase the skill and potential that Quadeca has to offer and certainly got me excited for projects in the future. Since then, some very strong single releases have had me eagerly anticipating the release of this new album, and I have to say it really didn’t disappoint. The atmospheric, dark and anthemic sounds on display in ‘From Me to You’ are truly magnificent, and it presents a far cry from ‘Voice Memos’. It seems that the artist has now gained the confidence, after releasing a fairly commercial sounding album, to go and do things his own way and I personally am all for it.
Before I listened to this album I have to say there was an extra weight on its shoulders for me. A while ago now I wrote an article on whether it is fair to tarnish all YouTube artists with the same brush. Having not come up through the A&R channels of mainstream label artists and with many not being musicians prior, it is so easy to just assume that with every YouTube release comes a rich kid trying to make more money. Releases like ‘Obsessed’ by TikTok star Addison Rae do little to help this. With Quadeca, though, it is different, he has always been about his music and he is genuinely talented. He himself rapped "people judge my music by the platform used to distribute it" in his ‘Not a Disstrack’ video, along with some other scathing lines about the snobbery used to judge Soundcloud rappers who then go on to top the charts. With this album, therefore, I was keen to see whether he could shake this whole YouTube rapper judgement and gain some respect because his music speaks for itself.
‘Sisyphus’ opens the album as the first full song following the short ‘Couloir (Intro)’. This was released as a single shortly before the album and only intensified my excitement for the project. The song encapsulates almost everything that excites me about Quadeca as an artist. Throughout there is imagery of mountains and the wilderness with sentiments that the young man wants to leave his hectic lifestyle behind and get away from it all, living peacefully in a log cabin in he middle of nowhere. There’s also a really great line about following the path up the mountain, which leads on to Quadeca saying that he has been so close to the peak but is now worried about avoiding the drop. This line packs a meaningful punch about how the artist has had some success in the past, but really feels that pressure to try and capitalise on it and not fall short. What is also great about this line is that it is shortly after talking about a metaphorical drop we hear the beat drop for the chorus; if I didn’t know Quadeca, I’d suggest maybe it was a happy accident, but it isn’t the first and won’t be the last time that we see just how clever Quadeca is when putting together a song. In fact, the opening of this song is another moment of sonic genius. The song begins with a beautifully atmospheric and dramatic build complete with vocals and a really broad sounding instrumental; a dash of reverb gives it the feel of a distant yet powerful sound. When Quadeca’s rap comes in suddenly the reverb disappears and the instrumental drops right down, there is a new closeness to the sound. I’m not sure words can quite do it justice but the contrast of the vast and distant build with the vocal really gives the impression of the wilderness; as if you are surrounded by huge mountains and vast landscapes before zoning in on Quadeca, stood alone in the middle of it all. It’s so intelligent but it also sounds amazing.
‘Alone Together’ is another high point. As mentioned in the intro, this song preceded the album as a whole by nearly a year and has been a favourite of mine long before the album came out. I was excited to hear that on the album, however the song comes with a new opening; a full minute's worth of a beautiful string introduction complete with all the drama and emotion that the rest of the song requires. As with ‘Sisyphus’, this song encapsulates a lot of what the album - and Quadeca - is about. The instrumental is pretty simple, consisting mainly of a deep synth playing the same sequence over and over, but somehow sounds like the most vast and intense backing behind the vocals. This is echoed when the drums come in, again playing a slow and simplified beat but somehow completely dominating the track. The new album version actually has slightly different drums than the original single release; there are no major changes, but some of the hard-hitting snares have been replaced with an almost alien-like laser beam sound. I have to say I was a little disappointed by this as so much of the gravitas of the song was carried in those simple yet sensational drums. Quadeca’s vocals manage to keep the intensity of the song, however, switching seamlessly between an almost shouted section to completely quiet and close in the chorus. The whole song is just packed with such emotion and power that it really is something that you have to listen to.
‘Summit, Pt.1’ and ‘Summit, Pt. 2 (Outro)’ signal the end of the album, and aside from the singles that I was already familiar with, are probably my favourites on the whole album. Continuing the mountain theme, ‘Summit, Pt.1’ almost feels like Quadeca looking back at the end of the album, considering where he has come from and where he is now. The sentiment of the song is that he has come a long way but is still far from done, with the summit being the metaphor for success. Quadeca raps that some people would say he is halfway there, but he thinks he is still halfway from it, emphasising that instead of resting on his laurels he is determined not to fall off the edge, similarly to ‘Sisyphus’. The song in the second verse addresses someone else, presumably a partner, and is a beautiful message about how the rapper knows the sacrifices the other person has made to help him get where he is, and that he is ready to repay the favour for them. After the second chorus the song breaks down into a hauntingly beautiful passage in which we just hear a piano and some strained, distant vocals harmonising. It is unclear what the lyrics are, but this section really isn’t about the lyrical content and more about the amazing sound that the vocals produce. It contrasts perfectly with all of the intensity and power that has come before it in the album. As with the start of the album where the first few songs beautifully blend into each other, ‘Summit, Pt.1’ ends with the piano quietening and slowing before ‘Summit, Pt.2’ re-introduces some vocals to the same backing. Again, as with the end of part one, you cannot easily distinguish what the lyrics are, but as the outro to the album this is so perfect. After all the emotion, intensity and anthemic power that has come before it, this stripped back, calm and quiet ending is just so beautiful.
So, what did I think overall?
The album really surpassed my expectations. ‘Voice Memos’ really was quite commercial and I expected ‘From Me to You’ to be quite similar for the most part, despite the singles from it that I had already heard. Throughout listening and reviewing the album, the whole time I was trying to think of someone who had a similar sound, or a similar style to compare it to, but I’m not sure that there is anyone. This album really feels like Quadeca expressing himself and I love that. Beyond the great lyrics and rapping on this album, I think my favourite thing is the sound. I’ve never heard anything like it. It is unbelievably simple in its mechanics but the whole thing just sounds so vast. This is completely deliberate too, it feels like every sound and every moment has a purpose on the album. The whole thing carries a real intensity and drama throughout that uses the most basic of instrumentation to create this huge, huge sound. It gives that sensation that you are in the wilderness, that you are surrounded by mountains; it conveys that in a way that I’ve never heard before. It’s so unique. After listening all the way through, I really had this strange feeling that I’d just been a part of something special, as if I’d experienced something, and that for me is the sign of a truly amazing album. What is even weirder about this is that the album is so much more than a collection of songs; I did like the songs individually and there were a couple I really liked, but in the context of the album they all work. Some of the songs on there are good but not great, you’d maybe be indifferent about them if you listened to them on their own, but in the context of the project they were all moving parts to create this one amazing collective at the end. This was helped by the way a lot of the songs seamlessly transitioned into the next, creating the feeling that this is one continuous piece of art rather than a bundle of a few completely separate pieces. I’d say that the one thing the album missed was some of the really impressive rapping that Quadeca can do; the lyricism was great on this album, but there weren’t any particularly fast or wordy bits and he is so talented that it would be great for him to have showcased this. I also, however, completely understand why he didn’t, as this is what he showcased on ‘Voice Memos’ and this project wasn’t really suited for that kind of rapping. Overall though, Quadeca’s YouTube diss tracks showed him as a good ‘YouTube rapper’, ‘Voice Memos’ showed him as a talented lyricist, whereas ‘From Me To You’ shows that he is a great artist, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
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I’m a stress head, it’s no secret. I’m indecisive, a perfectionist, anxious, lacking in self confidence and put a ton of pressure on myself. I’m sure that sounds relatable to a few people and in the past it’s really been a burden on my mental health. Since studying Philosophy and Ethics at school meditation has always been something that I’ve found curious but never thought to try. I used to categorise it as some spiritual act in which people feel that they are connecting to something that, in my classic pessimism, I thought they could never connect with. To be honest, I thought the whole thing was a bit of a farce and was only utilised by strictly religious or spiritual people. My mind changed when Maxim sent me some meditation music and whilst listening I felt instantly more relaxed. It was hard to describe but it felt like I was suddenly aware of every function in my body; hearing every breath and feeling every heartbeat. So, with a co-founder and best friend who practises meditation, and with the artists I have interviewed holding in such high regard the benefits that meditation has on their mental health, I decided it’s high time I give it a go. After all, if it really is as good as people say it is, then it should do wonders for me, right? Well, written below (in a more readable format) are the brief notes I took after each meditation session over a month. I will then give my view at the end as to whether it really helped me and whether you should give it a go yourself.
o I got some advice from Maxim to focus on my breathing, and I’m using the meditation playlist he made me as a background. I have to say, sitting down and not thinking about anything sounds really easy, but it definitely isn’t. I found it really difficult to turn my mind off and was constantly distracted. I eventually managed to gain some peace by focusing my eyes whilst they were closed, and staring into the darkness of the insides of my eyelids. It sounds strange, and it felt strange, but it was what finally managed to help me clear my mind. The music definitely helped as it blocked out surrounding sounds and was so peaceful in my ears that it helped me cool down. I tried to focus on my breathing as Maxim suggested and the music helped this too as I would time it with the music to keep it regulated. After I finished my first session it took me a while to become alert again, sort of like waking up after a long nap. It was as if my mind and body had all slowed and it took time to get them going again. I could definitely see why this may be beneficial as taking time for myself and shutting things out was a refreshing change. I don’t feel like I’m getting the benefits yet though as at this stage it was really quite hard work to stay on track.
It was a lot easier to switch off this time around. I think it helped that I was already somewhat sleepy heading into the session so I found it much easier to sit down and switch off without things buzzing around in my brain. I made the mistake, however, of trying to meditate when I was pressed for time and this didn’t help as I would have to periodically break my focus to check the time. I did, however, eventually set up a meditation song that was exactly the amount of time I had, and after this I was able to relax fully, knowing I just had to listen for the end of the song.
By this point my motivation to find time to meditate was somewhat wavering. At this early stage I still wasn’t seeing much benefit, and although it sounds easy to sit down and relax, it actually takes a lot of concentration. I’ve always been a busybody and I just find it difficult to sit down for too long not doing anything, and even more difficult to schedule in the time to do so. This time I meditated in the morning and it was my first really ‘unsuccessful’ session. I think I’m just too awake in the mornings and I really found it difficult to empty my mind and switch off so soon after waking up in the first place. Despite trying various techniques, I just couldn’t get into the zone and was constantly distracted and fidgety. I think meditating in the mornings has been ruled out from this moment. I did find this session really demoralising as I felt like I’d seen some improvements in the last session and this kind of sent me back to square one.
To be honest, it had been a while since the last session. After my failed attempt I struggled to get motivation to try again and was worried that I’d just keep having failed attempts. I did finally find myself some time and forced myself to get back on the horse – and it went much better. Like in session 2, I was already feeling sleepy and relaxed so that helped me and I found it fairly easy to clear my mind. I did have a few momentary lapses but I managed to keep them as just that. I am finding that it is quite difficult for me to meditate for too long as the sheer concentration I have to put into keeping my mind blank is actually quite tiring, and I can feel when I’m coming to a natural end in a session when I start getting distracted more frequently. I’m hoping I’ll get to a point where it’s fairly easy for me to just slip into that mode of focus and relaxation so that I can enjoy longer sessions, but for now it seems I’ll have to keep persisting to get there.
Like with session 4, I found it relatively easy to switch off. The playlist really helped and the music definitely kept me concentrated and relaxed. I had some slight distractions but stayed on track and didn’t let them break my focus. This was the first time I’d meditated in a week or so as I’d been more busy; and I did feel better for taking some time for myself afterwards.
So that was my month of meditation – did it help?
Well, the first thing you may notice is that in a whole month I only managed five short sessions. When I first meditated I had planned to make it a regular part of my weeks and envisioned that once every two or three days I’d settle down for a session. The reality is that we all have busy lives and as silly as it sounds it isn’t all that easy to schedule in a few minutes of not doing anything. Especially on those days that you have a lot on, I just found that it fell down the pecking order behind other tasks, and when I was busy I could never sit down and relax in that way as I’d just be thinking about all the things I needed to be doing instead. Ironically, it’s this kind of stress that is why I maybe need to meditate but it did make it hard to find the time. The other thing is that it’s actually really quite hard and this makes it even more difficult to schedule, because when I do finally have some free time I don't really feel like it. Before the first time, I thought that it would be pretty easy – I mean, it’s sitting and doing nothing, right? What I quickly learned is that keeping up this concentration and focus and trying to keep your mind away from any distractions requires a lot of energy. I don’t think I had a single session without at least one or two distractions and it even managed to ruin my third attempt completely. It kind of built up this thing in my head where instead of meditation being a helpful tool for relaxation as it should be, I’d kind of end up dreading doing it like it was more of a chore.
So I’m aware that so far I’ve been pretty negative about my whole experience – but I can reassure you that it wasn’t all like that! I actually found after most of my sessions that I did feel better. I’d be calmer and more relaxed and just feel a bit better about myself. I also really enjoyed taking a little bit of time for myself in this way because I don’t do it often enough, as I’m sure is the case with many people. I think for me I just need to stick at it because I could feel progress, and I’m convinced that if I can keep it up, there will come a point where I find it much easier to switch my mind off and have these moments of peace, and that I’d be able to have longer sessions and make it a more regular part of my week. I think the main thing about meditation for me is that it’s personal, it’s about you. For a busybody like me I found sitting and emptying my mind really difficult, but I did feel the benefits, and with some persistence and regularity I’m sure it would become even more beneficial. The stigmas I had over the practice and whether it really had any sort of effect whatsoever have definitely gone, and I can see why people make it such a big part of their lives. I think for me personally I get the same kinds of benefits when I exercise; it gives me time alone to be with myself and gets me away from distractions. I also find it’s much easier to schedule as part of your day, and even when life gets busy, whilst I’m running I can’t be doing anything else and therefore my 'to-do list' isn't eating away at me. When I interviewed Serena Ryder in Issue 3 of Mindful Melody she summed up meditation perfectly for me – “I’ve meditated almost every day for like two years then it started feeling like a job, like work … now a lot of my self care is going for a walk and playing with my dog. I also kind of moved my meditation to dancing; I put on my favourite music and I look like a complete idiot in my house but I just put my headphones on and jump around and move; but that has turned into what I feel I need.” Whilst I do encourage you to try the traditional form of meditation for yourself and see how it benefits you, I think the real takeaway for me is to find your own form of meditation – something that you enjoy that allows you to take some time for yourself in a busy life; whether it’s dancing in the kitchen, exercising or even something creative like writing or painting.
This article originally appeared in Mindful Melody Issue 5, which you can read here.
We often criticise rap for its braggadocio and arrogance, and whilst in the grips of a pandemic that has destroyed many people’s livelihoods, hearing rappers constantly flex about their wealth has never felt more out-of-touch.
I mean, do we really care how many carats there are in Future’s new gold chain? Or how many women slid into Young Thug’s DMs last week?
The counter-argument, of course, is that Hip Hop has actually become more important during lockdown, with all the excess and hedonism offering a much-needed form of escapism.
Regardless of where you stand on this debate, I’m here to argue that rap can potentially help us boost our self-esteem.
I’m a big believer in the power of mantra, which has an important role in a lot of Hindu and Buddhist practices. This essentially involves repeating a phrase again and again over time, so that you start subconsciously incorporating it and manifesting it into your mentality.
In the West, we’ve transformed this idea of ‘mantra’ into ‘affirmations’, which are positive statements we repeat to ourselves, with the goal of cultivating a healthier mindset. You’ve probably seen some of these on social media, and they can include motivational mottos such as “I love myself for who I am” and “I am in charge of my own happiness”.
These kinds of affirmations are great, if you’re already into this sort of thing. But personally, whether you want to put it down to toxic masculine stereotypes or just a general inherent awkwardness, the thought of repeatedly saying “I love myself for who I am” out loud makes me feel a tad self-conscious.
Of course, in an ideal world, we wouldn’t feel any embarrassment about these kinds of things. I mean, why should we? But realistically, not everyone would be comfortable making quite vulnerable statements like this. Returning to the point about traditional social expectations that men should be macho and unemotional, you can imagine how a guy affirming “I am my own superhero” in front of his mates in the locker room might fear a bit of a ribbing.
"They can be more attractive to those of us that would otherwise feel embarrassed at the thought of using affirmations."
But can rap music - which is often blamed as being the very source of a lot of toxic masculinity - actually help people be more comfortable using mantras and affirmations? Well, as I said, I would be a little reluctant to try out one of the above affirmations. But I have no qualms about rapping “Reach for the stars, so if you fall you land on a cloud” to myself in the shower.
So what if we used rap lyrics as affirmations?
Rap songs are overflowing with self-confident quips and witty boasts, and there are a few reasons why these make great mantras. Firstly, they already have a level of ‘coolness’ attached to them from the sheer fact that they’re rap lyrics, which can make them more attractive to those of us that would otherwise feel embarrassed at the thought of using affirmations.
Secondly, rappers’ one-liners are often pretty light-hearted and amusing. So we can use them jokingly at first. If putting on a DJ Khaled voice and shouting ‘WE THE BEST’ at yourself in the mirror doesn’t give you a confidence boost, it will at the very least make you laugh (and at the very very least, it’ll make the family members that can hear you laugh…!).
At first, it encourages you to just take yourself a little less seriously and have a laugh. But even though you’re saying it to yourself jokingly, personally, I’ve found that over time it does get you into the habit of using more positive self-talk. Now, if I make a mistake or mentally put myself down for something, I have an arsenal of rap pick-me-ups that stop me from being too hard on myself.
I’ll still say them in a jokey way, but because I’ve treated them as affirmations and mantras, they’ve become mental habits. Where some negative self-talk would usually pop-up in my head, these rap-affirmations take their place.
Okay, I grant you that repeating Future’s deeply complex and well thought-out lyric, “F*** up some commas”, might not be very helpful. But with the right lyric, it can act in much the same way as any traditional affirmation.
You could go for something like Big Sean’s “I live the life I deserve - blessed” if you’re working on building gratitude; or JAY-Z’s “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man” if you’re looking for something more motivational. Drake has an especially healthy repertoire of punny brags, such as “The only begging that I do is begging your pardon” and “I touched down in ’86, knew I was the man by the age of 6”, for example.
Just be wary of opting for Kanye’s “I Am A God” as your daily rap-affirmation. Sure, mantras are powerful in helping us become who we want to become, but I’m not sure they’re that powerful…
Keep up with our exciting giveaways, exclusive interview snippets and artist takeovers by following Mindful Melody Magazine on our social media platforms below!
This article originally appeared in Mindful Melody Issue 5, which you can read here.
Firstly, I have to give props to my Co-Founder for his Issue 4 article where he outlined his new ‘Malibu Theory’. This essentially says that sometimes we can hear a piece of music and it not leave much of an impression, but then we hear it again a few months later and we absolutely fall in love with it.
I listened to most of Jhene Aiko’s Chilombo last year, and don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it. But it didn’t really deal me that sonic sucker punch that I usually need to get hooked on an album. However, roughly a year on, I’ve got Chilombo on repeat.
I think this is because Aiko’s third studio album is aggressively chilled, in the sense that each track is pointedly peaceful and trance-like. So to properly receive this project, you have to be ready to immerse yourself in the calming, still waters of Chilombo, knowing that there won’t really be a moment on the 29-song album where Jhené takes you above the surface.
It’s interesting, because the core message of Mindful Melody is that music can be healing, and I wholeheartedly believe that. But Chilombo underlines to me that this is a two-way process. Listening to this project undoubtedly has a hugely relaxing effect, and you can’t help but let your mind slow down to match the pace of the meandering beats and ethereal vocals. However, because it’s so intensely tranquil, you have to be in a receptive mindset in order to allow yourself to get lost in the album.
For example, when I first heard this album, it was during that period of lockdown where every artist under the sun seemed to be releasing music. So I was in the frame of mind where I’d be trying out new songs, but if it didn’t hit me in that first thirty seconds or so, then it was dispatched to join my mounting ‘skip’ heap (see what I did there?).
Now, a year on, where New Music Friday seems to have become a little less hotly anticipated (and the excitement of any new release is tempered by the disappointment that Drake still hasn’t dropped Certified Lover Boy), my musical mindset seems to have changed. And this meant I was more willing to take the deep dive into Jhené’s soulful project.
And I’m so glad that I returned to Chilombo. Although it’s billed as a break-up album, the prevailing mood throughout is one of serenity, with Jhené bringing the listener along for each step of her spiritual journey. The composition is often pared down to Aiko’s haunting, other-worldly vocals laid bare over a sparse piano sample, and this minimalism emphasises that the goal of this project is simple - to bring an overwhelming sense of calm.
What makes this album even more intriguing from a mental health perspective is the fact that, on every track on Chilombo, Jhené incorporates sound healing techniques through the use of singing bowls, which are said to target specific chakras and help us gain a greater spiritual balance. Whether or not you believe in this kind of thing, and I don’t want to sound overdramatic, but listening to Chilombo does genuinely feel like a healing experience.
Each track conveys a beautiful sense of quietude and equanimity. Okay, I accept that this might not sound special, because a lot of neo-soul and contemporary R&B albums have a laid-back and peaceful ambience. But what sets Chilombo apart is that it has an edge. R&B starlet Pink $weats just dropped a hugely mellow, saccharine album, and the whole project is glued together by this rose-tinted, bubblegum feel. But taken as a whole, it’s a little one-dimensional, and I would struggle to pick out any individual tracks that really caught my attention.
Yes, Chilombo is all about finding peace, but it takes you through the turmoil and the self-examination that precedes this, rather than just packaging up that one emotion and spreading it thinly across the tracks. Take ‘Triggered’ for example, which is musically serene, but finds Jhené firing venomous warning shots to an ex-lover (“You are my enemy/You are no friend of mine, motherf***er”). ‘Triggered’ is seamlessly followed by ‘None of your concern’, which continues dissecting the wrong-turns of a past relationship (“Is it gonna work? Am I being heard anymore?”). It’s unique in that it plays out like a therapy session, with the surprising plot twist that the ex - Big Sean - turns up with a verse at the end of the song to offer his two cents (“You know there’s not a day in these modern times you haven’t crossed my mind/We both crossed the line”).
It epitomises an album that celebrates vulnerability and openness. Every track feels refreshingly - and often evocatively - unfiltered, and that applies to the optimistic tracks on Chilombo just as much as it does to the more melancholic ones. Personally, I find that peace can sometimes be mistaken for apathy, and we think that in trying to achieve a sense of calm, we’re supposed to become passive and languid.
But on this album, Aiko reminds listeners that being peaceful does not mean you should stop having fun and feeling excitement. There’s a real sense of energy and joyful passion that shines through on tracks such as ‘Speak’ and ‘LOVE’, and this is taken even further in the form of the unvarnished, carnal desire of ‘On the way’ and ‘Come on’.
This uncensored directness with which Aiko sings sometimes threatens to break the hazy, meditative mood of Chilombo, but before long she brings the focus back to the gentle lull of her singing bowls.
The other quality that sets this project apart from similar offerings from the new crop of R&B artists, in my view, is the thematic arc it maintains. When creating so-called ‘vibey’ music, artists often get stuck in this same lane throughout the whole project.
Aiko, on the other hand, takes on a clearly defined journey, from the accusatory and angry opening tracks (‘Triggered’, ‘None of your concern’); to the optimism of ‘Speak’; followed by some flexing and self-celebration (‘B.S.’, ‘Happiness Over Everything’); before ending up on a satisfying note of reconciliation (‘Magic Hour’).
The key moment comes during ‘Mourning Doves’, which for me is the centrepiece of the album. Aiko hears doves singing, and she interprets them to be ‘mourning’ and ‘crying over’ the lost love between her and Sean. But then the song evolves into a moving realisation that “The doves weren’t crying/They only were trying/To tell us to try it again”. Not that it necessarily matters for the album experience, but in real life, Sean and Jhené have actually gotten back together, adding some heartwarming authenticity to Chilombo’s happy ending.
Chilombo is packed full of beautiful moments, and I can’t think of another project in the charts right now that feels quite as soothing and fulfilling on so many different levels. It’s an album that is actively geared towards healing and helping the listener to be still. I want to emphasise one point above all - to appreciate Chilombo, you don’t have to be an R&B fan, and you don’t have to be spiritual. Because at its heart is a simple goal of finding peace - and given the tumultuous times we’re living in, I don’t think any of us would say no to a little calm and stillness.
The deluxe version of Chilombo is out now on all platforms!
Keep up with our exciting giveaways, exclusive interview snippets and artist takeovers by following Mindful Melody Magazine on our social media platforms below!
This article originally appeared in Mindful Melody Issue 5, which you can read here.
"I've come to a point where I have to start writing my own story"
Hi Andreas! Thank you for taking the time to chat today. I love the new single, ‘Holding On’, and what strikes me most is how you progress from holding on to letting go, finishing with an emphatic, liberating crescendo. What inspired you to build the song in this way?
I think you’re on point. In the outro, I’ve come to a point where I’m like, ‘This is where I have to really start writing my own story'. It’s so easy to just say 'I have to change this' or 'I have to do this' in order to become a better or happier person. But it’s so much easier said than done. This song has been in my phone for about two or three years as a voice memo, and it wasn’t until more recently when I was with my friend Hannah in Stockholm that we tried to finish it. I remember I was saying I want to write about something I genuinely feel at this moment, and I felt like I was holding onto all these little things, without really needing to. I’m always overanalysing, I always think too much, and I’m too proud - things like that. I think the verse and the chorus is describing how I’m making the same mistakes over and over again, and not going places at all. Sometimes it’s good to just try and let go of these things - but again, it’s so hard!
The lyric “one of these days I will burn every page and tell a story that is only mine” is very powerful. You’ve previously collaborated with some big names in EDM, such as Avicii and Tiësto. In a way, this immediately put you into the box of being an 'EDM singer'. Did you find this restrictive?
I’ve always felt like this EDM side of me is something that I fell into by accident. I realised that my voice fits on these tracks, and I had the chance to work with these really cool artists. But then I reached a point where I felt like this isn’t really me. I still do it occasionally, but I’ve realised I have to do it in a way that still shows people my personality and who I am musically. I’ve never wanted to identify myself as an EDM singer - I’m just a guy with a guitar playing my songs.
You have an EP being released this spring. What’s the release date, and can fans expect a continuation of the motivational nature of ‘Holding On’?
I’ve never believed in putting too much energy on really trying to create ‘a sound', you know? I put more weight on, ‘Do I enjoy listening to this?’, and if I do, then that’s great. Because of the pandemic, I had plans of recording everything in a professional studio, but come April I was stuck in this room with my songs. So I decided to produce it myself, and it was a tough decision for me, because I’ve never had the courage to do that before. This EP will grow into an album throughout the year. I’ve really had the best time of trying to produce something that I feel is me, and I think I’ve really succeeded on this - I’m really happy with it. I think ‘Holding On’ is probably the most energetic and driving song off the EP.
Although the pandemic has been a hindrance for musicians in obvious ways, a lot of artists also speak of how it’s forced them to try new things and get into a creative space they wouldn’t previously have entered.
I almost feel guilty saying it, but this pandemic has made me a lot better musically, but also as a human being. It’s been such a nightmare in so many ways, like not being able to see loved ones and people getting sick and passing away - all horrible, horrible things. But I have to try and see the positive things that have been going on in my life through this time as well. And one of those is music - I never would have had this finished EP and album if it wasn’t for the pandemic.
You mentioned that the EPs released this year will eventually form part of an album. What’s the planned rollout for this?
I’m a guy who loves albums. If you love an album, like I love Grace by Jeff Buckley, and Blue by Joni Mitchell, it’s almost like the full album is a song. Before the next song even starts, you know the key and tempo it will have. It’s a journey, and to me it’s the best way to release music. But unfortunately for me, I was born in the wrong time! I hate that people don’t have the patience to sit through an album anymore. Before recording this, I said that if I’m doing this, I want to release an album. It doesn’t have to be an album straight away, as long as it ends up being a beautiful album with beautiful artwork and the songs are there in the right order.
For now, we have an EP coming out in May, and that’ll be four songs. Then there’s going to be two more singles after that, and then there’ll be an album coming out with eleven songs. It’s going to be a year with a lot of music coming from me, and I’m super excited about it!
Another recent single was your cover of Kanye’s ‘Power’. I’m a big Kanye fan, so I’m often protective of the original versions...but I have to say I really love your rendition! It sounds so distinctive, while still capturing the rebellious mood of the original. What inspired you to cover this song in particular?
‘Power’ is one of my favourite songs of all time, so it wasn’t until I released it and saw some of the reactions that I thought about how everything about Kanye is a lot. Everything from his fans to his music - everything. To me, it’s one of those amazing songs that meant so much to me when I was back in high school - it was the theme of my life back then. I couldn’t stop listening to it, and that whole album is just a masterpiece. I was hoping I did it justice and that people would like it, but I didn’t expect people to be like, ‘Oh, you don’t mess with Kanye’s music!’ I just laugh about it though.
You often release acoustic versions of your singles, which puts the songs in a whole new light. The acoustic version of ‘Holding On’, for example, sounds a lot more vulnerable and quietly resilient, rather than being as outwardly euphoric as the original. What drives you to release acoustic versions alongside the originals?
I think everyone listens to music in a different way. If I show you one of my songs, maybe you’ll focus on the guitar, because your a guitar player, or you’ll focus on the lyrics, because you like poetry. I think releasing different versions lets you see the song in a new way, whereas with the original version, I wanted to catch the energy and frustration. It’s like saying something that’s important to you, but you say it from a different perspective, and you try and get more people to understand what you mean.
Which version of 'Holding On’ do you prefer?
It’s so hard to say! They both speak to me in different ways - but I am a sucker for acoustic versions. To me it’s just more raw and genuine and emotional. It’s more naked, and you can always put more clothes on a song with more drums and more guitars to make it sound bigger. Whereas with an acoustic version, if it’s a great song, you’re going to hear it, whereas if it’s not a great song, it’s exposed when it’s played acoustically. That’s where the magic is to me.
In 2019, you released ’Out of Your Body’ as part of the Love Fast, Heal Slow EP, and this has such a great mental health message, with lyrics such as, “Break if you gotta break, hurt if you need to hurt, cry if you wanna cry, just get it out of your body”. For you personally, does songwriting act as a cathartic outlet for you?
I mean, music to me means so much. If I’m absolutely honest, I don’t think I’ve ever listened to music and felt like I’m healed, or if I’m sad, feeling anxiety or feeling low, I’ve never listened to music and all of sudden felt better. A lot of people can relate to a song and relate to the lyrics and it just gives them something that lifts them up, and I’ve never really experienced that. But I think writing music and performing music is a way for me to escape from thoughts and real life just for a little while, and that really helps me. You know how when you say things out loud, they all of a sudden become real, and you think about them differently? So I can be thinking about something for ages, and then I write a song about it, and all of a sudden, I get it. Just say what you want to say, don’t keep it inside, because it’ll eat you up. I think music to me is a way of healing, but not listening to music, more writing music. It’s like a diary or journal for me.
You worked with Avicii on one of his very first singles, ‘Fade Into Darkness’, which is another galvanising anthem. The lyrics seem even more pertinent since his passing, and you actually performed ‘Fade Into Darkness' at the Avicii tribute concert. What was that experience like?
It was such a big thing for me to be a part of that concert, because I know that it meant so much to so many people out there, and it also meant so much to me. I know what it’s like to live with anxiety and to be in dark places in life, and it felt so good to be on that stage and sing straight from my heart to everyone out there that’s ever felt the same. I think ‘Fade Into Darkness’ couldn’t be more relatable at this time - ‘I won’t let you fade into darkness, whatever happens’ - I’ll do my best to pick you up. It was incredible, it was like a dream, and it’s something I’ll take with me for the rest of my life. The whole atmosphere was bittersweet - everyone was running around crying backstage, but everyone was also smiling, and there was such a weird but beautiful tension in the air. With the artists there was no feeling of ‘I’m more successful than you’ or ‘I’ve made more money than you’ - there was nothing like that. Everyone was just there for the same sole purpose, and that was to spread this amazing, beautiful message. I’m really happy to have been a part of that.
What are your favourite three songs with a theme of mental health?
1. Willy Mason - Carry On
2. The Perishers - Pills
3. The Beatles - Help!
Stream Andreas' new EP, 'All Our Worries Are Poems - Pt. 1', which is out now and features recent singles 'Hey Lulu' and 'Holding On'!
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This article was originally featured in Mindful Melody Issue 5, which you can read here.
The 23rd of March marked a year - a whole year - since a less tousled Boris announced that the UK was entering its first lockdown. A year on, the situation certainly feels a lot brighter, with restrictions gradually being lifted.
But even so, we’ve spent a lot of this past year indoors, and we’ve been unable to go to concerts, gigs, or clubs. I’ve never been a big fan of clubbing, but even so, it was still a good outlet to move around and let off steam.
There’s always been something freeing about dancing or grooving or bopping or whatever the latest term for it might be. If you’ve spent the majority of the week sat at a desk, then going out and dancing shifts you into a completely different headspace, where you’re allowed to just let loose and release any tension.
For the past year, we haven’t really been able to do this. Combine this with a natural sprinkling of worry and general anxiety that comes from being in a global pandemic, and it creates the ideal breeding ground for stress and balled-up nervous energy that doesn’t have anywhere to go.
Numerous studies show that dancing has a positive impact on mental health, and this is put down to a variety of reasons. For one, even though it might not be hugely vigorous, dancing is still a form of exercise, which leads to a welcome release of serotonin - the ‘feel-good’ hormone.
Secondly, it’s a way of just expressing how we’re feeling. We know how cathartic listening to music can be, and dancing is believed to have a similar effect.
The explanation I find most interesting, though, is linked to the very reason why we have the capacity to feel anxious in the first place. Anxiety is a fight-or-flight response, because the mind believes it’s in a frightening situation, and tells the body to quicken the heart rate and get some adrenaline pumping, so that we’re ready to either fight the danger, or run away from it as fast as possible.
However, we often have this fight-or-flight response activated in us when the situation isn’t in reality dangerous, but our anxiety builds unstoppably regardless. So think about the kind of message it sends to the mind if we just start dancing and moving around in a silly way.
If a lion is about to eat you or if you’re about to head into a deadly battle, realistically, the last thing you’re going to do is start dancing (I mean, unless it’s a deadly dance battle, of course).
So when your mind’s activated the fight-or-flight response, but you start dancing, this tells your mind that actually, there isn’t any danger. It helps release the tension from the moment, because you’re acting in such a liberatingly silly and childlike way, that it lets the mind know that there couldn’t possibly be any real danger.
Of course, anxiety is a tenacious beast, and I’m not by any means suggesting that dancing is some kind of magic cure-all, or that it will work in all situations.
But personally, just by moving around and knowingly looking foolish, I can’t help but take myself a little less seriously. That in itself goes a long way towards making me see that, whatever it was I was worrying about, perhaps it wasn’t necessarily as serious or as big a deal as I thought it was.
You don’t have to be a ‘good’ dancer to try this out. My dancing usually consists of sporadic and unexplainable hand movements; a light, half-hearted bouncing on the spot, as if I’m trying to jump, but keep deciding against it at the last minute; and a gentle sway. But not a ‘cool-guy-at-the-back-of-the-disco’ kind of sway, more of a ‘drunk-person-outside-a-pub- trying-to-stay-upright’ kind of sway. Yeah, you know the one.
Also, I’m not suggesting that the next time you feel nervous about a work presentation, you start pirouetting and leaping across the boardroom like you’re in The Office meets Swan Lake.
It’s less about the quality of dancing, or even what you do when you dance, and more about the fact that you’re moving freely and carelessly.
If you’re reading this and you’re in your house, as an experiment, put your favourite tunes on, get up, and do the silliest, jokiest dance move you can think of. A personal favourite is anything from Drake’s hilarious 'Hotline Bling’ video. Don’t worry about looking silly, because part of the fun is how ridiculous it feels dancing on your own in your room.
And notice how afterwards, the moment just feels a little less serious, and a little more relaxed. At the very least, you’re doing your friends a favour by getting in some much-needed practice ahead of your first post-lockdown club night…!
So the next time you’re holding onto nervous energy, take a leaf out of Taylor’s book and ‘shake it off’ by adding some rhythm to those lockdown blues.
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With the unfortunate year we have all had the entertainment we can get from our screens has become more prominent for us all - but what does that mean for musical theatre? There has always been a strong relationship between the theatre curtain and the silver screen, but if this year without the option of live musicals has proved anything, it's that there may be a new way forward.
I’ve always loved musicals – sure, I’m not one of those fanatics who can recite the lyrics to every song or list all the characters from the latest West End hit, but I’ve always enjoyed it when I’ve had the chance to experience it. The issue for me is that it isn’t really that accessible; living quite far away from London, it’s rare that I have the time or the money to make the trip down to soak up the atmosphere of the bustling theatres of the city. Of course, this isn’t even an option now with the damning hands of COVID grinding a tragic halt to the industry and seeing many lose not only their jobs but also their passion. However, the show must go on, and it has.
I think the recent recording of ‘Hamilton’ that has made its way onto the Disney streaming service is a great example here. For years I’ve been hearing rave reviews about the fabulous new play but was never really able to get myself to watch; and had it not become available to stream I possibly never would have. However, with the availability of the musical now I was able to enjoy it from the comfort of my own home. I think for theatre this is a great chance to reach out to a wider audience who may never before have experienced the highs and lows of live drama and give them a taste of the magical world of the stage. There is of course the argument that maybe once people have seen it on streaming platforms, they may feel no need to buy expensive tickets to see them live, but for me the point of theatre is not so much the story, it is the atmosphere. After all, that is the magic of being live; you could go and watch the same play 15 times and it would be subtly different every single time. This is why I don’t think streaming is actually a threat to theatre at all; whilst watching ‘Hamilton’ gave me the whole story, the live crowd noises gave me just a taste of the atmosphere that left me desperate to experience it myself. Furthermore; having heard the rave reviews of 'Hamilton' then seen myself just how good it is, I am now desperate to watch some of the other shows that have been popular in the past few years and I think others will be too. By giving people an easily accessible taste of what musical theatre has to offer, the industry can not only generate another source of income, but also capture fans with the magic that hopefully sees sell-out shows upon re-opening.
Whilst not a new avenue by any stretch, I think theatre stands to gain so much from the storylines that become popular on our screens. Think how many series, films and documentaries even have become so prevalent to our society in lockdown. People who find themselves at home have been relying on these for entertainment and thus the engagement in some of the storylines has been phenomenal. I really think theatre can take advantage of this. Whilst live shows have been off the cards, writers and producers alike have been able to watch on as tigers and chess players take the world by storm; so what better way to bring punters back than to tell them their favourite stories in the magical musical format? Of course I’m not saying there should be a Joe Exotic musical; and I’m certainly not guaranteeing that basing a musical off of a successful show or film will bring success. There are so many moving parts that need to come together from the lighting, the music writing, the staging and the acting. However, if these parts do work well, as we have seen in the past with the likes of 'Legally Blonde', this could be a gold mine for musical theatre. Fans of the film or series will be ecstatic to see one of their favourites in a stage form; others will be curious to see how the film has been interpreted on stage, whilst some musical fans may be excited to see how a popular script has been put into song. Whatever the reason though, basing a musical off of a popular film is sure to bring in fans who may not have found themselves in the auditorium otherwise. Of course, this relationship works two ways and we have also seen musicals adapted for the screen, or even written with the screen in mind, and this is a bonus too. Whilst it may seem that Hollywood can swoop in and snatch popular theatre stories and project them to the masses for profit, you could also argue this is again likely to drive fans back to theatres to see the story in its true and original form.
Another noteworthy point is the great music that gets exposed to us all when musicals are pushed to the masses. It seems a recent thing but thinking back over the years there are a few examples of when music from musical films or theatre has dominated the charts. The most recent that spring to mind are the soundtracks from 'The Greatest Showman', 'Moana' and 'Hamilton'; three great musicals with great music. I have a feeling that music from the theatre or silver screen will become even more dominant in the charts in the future; the songs offer something very different from the rest of the Top 40. First of all, the writing is inspirational; not only are the songs filled with great motifs, melody and instrumentation, but the lyrics are so unique; they tell us part of a story. I think this is one of the main reasons people engage with the music so much; whilst a catchy chart track can be great, a musical theatre song can transport you into a story, take you back to the theatre and engage you with the characters. In today’s age, escapism is such a key mechanism for a lot of us, and what better way to escape than to immerse yourself in five minutes of a story full of our favourite characters? This is surely likely to drive people to theatres in the same way people go to a concert - to hear their favourite songs performed live, and not only that but to see it in its purest form as part of the production.
So should musical theatre pursue its courtship with the screen further? Absolutely. As I said before I’d love to be able to make my way to the theatre more but reality stipulates otherwise; especially in the last year. This means that had it not been for the streaming of 'Hamilton' I simply never would have been able to see it, and with all the hype surrounding it I’d have really felt like I was missing out. I really believe that with a year of lost action to make up for and with everyone unable to attend theatres at the minute, the whole industry can really gain by pushing its relationship with technology and giving the masses more of a taste of what is on offer.
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