Interviews

“Honest Music Makes Everybody Dance” – An Interview with Swindle

Main image: Adama Jalloh

No More Normal is nothing short of a celebration with its plethora of guest stars, uplifting hooks and driving lyrical messages. Swindle’s third album is both a bookend to the first phases of his career and a launch pad for a brand new musical world. From the Riot Jazz-fuelled horns of Coming Home to the mournful/thankful introspection of album-closer Grateful, the LP casts itself as a journey which you’re fully invited to climb aboard.

“When I play the album back to myself now it means something different to when I made it. It kind of tells the journey from the beginning, the dream, all the way to gratitude,” reflects the 32 year old south Londoner, government name Cameron Palmer. “It’s the story of building your own platform, and using music to move you into a new space, and kind of do what you want, and I hope people realise that you can use your art as a vehicle to head wherever you want. That’s possible now. That’s what I want the inspiration to be.” Hence the title of the album. “Yeah. It’s like setting up our own world.”

It’s about just finding the things we all have in common, finding that connection, regardless of your postcode.

Three years in the making, the Brownswood-released opus sees the young producer act as maestro to a whole host of UK talent: vocals from Rider Shafique (setting the scene with spoken word on album opener What We Do), Kojey Radical, Ghetts, D Double E and P Money; instruments by Yussef Dayes, Riot Jazz, Nubya Garcia and singer/songwriters Etta Bond, Andrew Ashong, Kiko Bun plus some extra special moments from Eva Lazarus. Each one acts as an avatar for Swindle, bearing his soul over the course of 11 tracks.

After such a long period of making the album, how does it feel to finally unleash it? “Good,” he offers a big smile. “Like letting off a slingshot after pulling it back for ages.” In a world of so many things going wrong, it could very easily have been darker in tone, rather than the joyous occasion it comes across as. “It felt dark to me when I was making it. It felt like my calmest (work), sad… so much of my earlier music has been super energetic, almost with a bit of humour to it. Fun to the point of laughter almost, but this was so much more serious. When I listen back, it feels uplifting to me. Part of that is just natural, it’s not all by design in a weird way. The process was definitely way more intense (than previous recordings). The approach was just more focused.”

With a huge live show launching the album recently (“We literally had to build a stage 20ft by 20ft to actually get people on there”), Swindle’s about to embark on a tour with his band. Given that the album was recorded with live instruments, was it gig audiences rather than a dance floor he had in mind this time around? “It was less about that and more about not making it for a certain environment, whereas the music before I was making to support my DJ career, or do whatever I wanted it to do in a club. That’s the environment I was in. This was about stepping away from that, closing the door somewhere and just making music for the sake of music. More than anything I just had a feeling in mind. I just wanted the album to sit with people, really sit with people in any situation that they’re in. I just wanted to get the message over – you can listen to it in a car, in a club, that was unimportant to me.”

There were dozens of tracks recorded for the album, many of which didn’t make the final cut simply because they ended up not fitting the vision. Being such a prolific creative, it must be hard to know when you’ve actually finished. “It just fell into place, and it’s really weird because I tried to add to it and things just weren’t working out. I always said I would just stop when it felt right and it said everything I needed it to say. I really wouldn’t change anything on it at this point.”

Swimming in jazz, hip hop and grime influences, No More Normal by its very existence refuses to slot easily into genre categories. “I’ve always just made the music I feel and I naturally just pick up different genres and put them in my music. (I pick out) the most important part of the music that is honestly me.

These relationships over the years, the best of those come with me. I don’t feel as alone as it probably looks.

“Honest music makes anybody dance, I think. That’s my main priority… maybe before, I felt like I might have been limited by not having a scene to harness, and surf on. But now, like you say, music, for as long as it’s good, people can just catch it, and find their own music online. When I was a kid you was a grunger, and you dress like this, and you listen to these three bands, or you was a drum and bass head and you wore your hat this way, and wore this kind of trainers, or you listen to garage and… whereas now, people can take the music at face value.”

Working with a variety of artists is liberating both for the listener and artist, cementing links or introducing people to brand new musical paths. “This is just people, man. I didn’t want it to be a jazz record, or a grime record, or an RnB record. I just look at who communicates with me. I don’t know if audiences are as segregated as that, that’s the point. That someone can listen to Ghetts, and listen to Etta Bond in the same day. They’re not that separate. I think, anyway.”

There’s a line in the documentary above (No More Normal, made by Red Bull) in which Kojey Radical states that music should celebrate where we’re going as opposed to dwelling on where we’re from. Despite mentions for the likes of London and California, the album doesn’t feel particularly rooted to the capital or anywhere else. Does this ring true for Swindle, too? “Definitely. It’s about just finding the things we all have in common, finding that connection, regardless of your postcode. There’s certain things that satisfy all humans, and that’s more what I’m interested in, more than being the king of London,” he laughs.

Collaboration is key to Swindle’s sound, and one of the LP’s biggest contributors is Neil Waters, who composes for strings and horns. “I’ve been working with Neil since 2013, he was trumpet player in my first ever live show. We’ve just been slowly edging towards this, and it was all about having the facility to record such big arrangements, finding ways to incorporate the traditions of music into what happens nowadays, so that’s a relationship that’s been building for so long. My relationship with him is as important as my relationship with Elijah Butterz (Swindle released on the Butterz label and remains close friends with its co-founder), or D Double, y’know.”

It’s been just over ten years since Swindle left Ashley Walters‘ production company AD82 to chart his own path as a free agent, before working with a variety of labels. Were there lessons learned along the way? “I’ve got so many little things. If I was someone who got tattoos, I’d have them tattooed on me… so many things that I’ve picked up over the years.

“I just always felt I was on that path. I was always super isolated from everyone anyway, so I was on my own thing, selling my own CDs in school, always building this up and not really thinking too much about why that was or what exactly I was doing. I’m still working that out, to be honest. I am on my path and I’ve been a bit of a Lone Ranger in music on the whole, but… none of this is possible without the right team. There’s people that I have crossed paths with over the years, that I’ve been building those relationships with, that actually makes this possible too. Even though this record isn’t on Butterz, Elijah is still there with me. This is on Brownswood, but this isn’t my first interaction with Brownswood at all, I’ve released with them before and… these relationships over the years, the best of those come with me. I don’t feel as alone as it probably looks,” he bursts out laughing.

Two years ago his daughter was born – known for being a bit of a globe trotter when it comes to discovering influences, his world has been tilted. “It definitely brought on a new focus. I kind of decided that I don’t want to travel as much while she’s young. I would rather contribute my efforts to the studio and creating new music, at this point. For now. I love DJing, I haven’t stopped, but I relentlessly DJ’d for so many years  it’s really nice to be at home with my family. Writing records, producing artists, doing things this way allows me to do that … whatever profession I was in, the minute you find out there’s a baby on the way, you go into overdrive, you’re really got responsibilities and someone to work for. A whole new focus.”  

No More Normal is out now on Brownswood. 

Upcoming tour dates – buy tickets here

Fri 22 Mar: Manchester, Mint Lounge

Sat 23 Mar: London, Omeara

Tue 26 Mar: Berlin, Gretchen

Fri 29 Mar: Amsterdam, Paradiso

Sat 30 Mar: Antwerp, Het Bos

Thu 18 Apr: La Maroquinerie, Paris

 

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