What qualities do you think make a great musician?
I think first and foremost—authenticity. If someone’s able to take whatever intellect and technical skill and performing finesse and work that into a reflection of their life experience—that’s true musicianship to me. I see honesty as the most crucial part of creative work.
What is the ultimate pop song in your opinion?
I follow pop religiously, & the most recent release that’s blown me away is the new Kid Laroi song, Stay, featuring Justin Bieber. It’s genuinely a perfect pop song to me—every hook is flawless; the length is immaculate, every lyric, every eccentricity, every inflection is perfectly placed. It gave me chills when I first listened.
As far as one ULTIMATE pop song—I’d have to say Call Me Maybe 🙂 I’m a slut for Carly Rae Jepsen
Is there a genre you want to explore that you haven’t already?
I’ve found myself really fascinated by country music. I love the lyricism, I love the storytelling—that’s one of my personal favorite parts about songwriting—I love the culture of staunch, trained musicianship, I love the aesthetic—I honestly love everything about it. I especially love a challenge, and it’s something I haven’t dabbled in yet, so that makes it extra exciting.
Who are your current favorite artists?
I listen to a WHOLE lot of everything, but this summer it’s been yung lean, ecco2k, bladee, slaughter beach dog, juice wrld, pinegrove, nick drake, A$AP, Dominic Fike, and Skullcrusher
What was the first concert you ever went to?
I saw Fun. at Saltaire (in Salt Lake City, UT) when I was about 14–Tegan and Sara opened (I think they’d just released Heartthrob) and it was INSANE
Any memorable gigs?
My favorite was probably a music video gig I got playing viola at a local venue with The Killers. They were one of my favorite bands in high school, and we got to play Dustland Fairytale, which is one of my favorite songs, and the re-record featured Bruce Springsteen, who’s maybe my all-time favorite artist. I’m gonna remember that one forever 🙂
Royal is a rising rap star in London’s underground scene, a preacher’s son inspired by the power of gospel music, the bravado of hip-hop and the defiant nature of punk Royal’s music is truly something unique, refreshing and distinctive. Having made a name for himself accompanying East London musician Hak Baker on stage as his boisterous drummer, Royal is now poised for his own rise to stardom.
With a wide range of musical influences, and as he tells us, the tenacious drive to “not stop creatin”, could 2021 prove to be the year Royal breakout?
We sat down with Royal to discuss the importance of creative control, voicing emotions, and why you should never beg it.
As an emerging artist trying to breakthrough within the internet age and the consistent demand for social media engagement, do you feel that there’s too much pressure to keep on creating in this day and age? How does that affect you creatively, does it keep you motivated or just exhausted?
I’m just I’m not stopping this year, because I’ve made the mistake before of making a song and then stopping and then going away for a while, so this year, I’m trying not to stop. I think that can be exhausting but I’m in a headspace right now, where I’ve got enough music to keep me going for about two years, I there’s already enough there. I don’t find it exhausting to keep making music because at the end of the day, that’s why I do what I do, I do it for fun. But what’s normally exhausting, is consistently promoting your music and sometimes social media is the only space to do that. Creating the music, yeah I can do that, and creating a backlog of songs that can keep me in people’s minds for a good few years, yeah, man, I enjoy the process.
I actually have become a bit obsessive about it, obsessive to the point where I want everything to be perfect. I just do everything myself, I’m even planning on running and my next music video. I gotta find the suitable venue, crew etc. and it takes up time. So I guess, it is exhausting to a point, but I love it, man, we do it for a reason.
So now you’re getting hands on with the music video, how important has creative control become to you in terms of visuals as well as your sound?
I think I think if you’re not in control of what you’re putting into the world, and how you’re being received then there’s no point in it. Yeah, in my mind, this is so important, I couldn’t imagine having, not having the control over my music or vision it is very important. So yeah, I believe that every aspect of it from the ground up, has to be me.
And you’re still a fully independent artist at the moment, right?
Yeah, still fully independent doing everything myself. Finding everything myself.
So would that be a deal breaker for you, if label was trying to take more control out of your hands?
Yeah, definitely, because at the end of the day, what I’m doing now is the building blocks and I think, in two to three years, I would like to be in a position where I’m fully self sufficient. You know, if God willing I’m earning money, that’d be great, that’s why don’t do it for that. I am self sufficient now, so why would I want to get to a point where I’m not. In fact, I want to get to a point where I can say, why would I need a label? Especially, if they’re not going to give me control? That’s the point I’m trying to get down the line.
I think it’s easier now more than ever, to be an independent artist, making your own money and managing your own career, which is great. Though, if you were going to join up with anyone, is there anyone in particular that you admire that you think you want to be a part of?
Good question. I haven’t even thought that far ahead yet regarding any labels that I’d like to be a part of because I think when you do think about that too much that’s when it takes away the fun. If you’re constantly thinking, oh, yeah, I’d love to be part of that, or sign to them, you know, you’re not as focussed on your authentic output. I mean, I try to never go into this to beg anyone’s approval or attention, you know. I see a lot of independent labels throwing out good stuff, London has a good number of small independent labels, and imprints of major labels who I would be happy to be a part of because they’ve got something good going and good relationships with their artists.
I totally agree with you as well, to be creating something for the sake of a goal isn’t as fruitful as actually creating for yourself.
Another thing I always like to ask, and try and get an understanding of is how people get settled on their name. How did you settle on Royal?
When I was coming up years ago, that was just my name on the streets and locally. Actually, it was Royal-T, I know that there’s another producer called Royal-T now, but back in the day when I was coming up rapping and just on road with my friends and stuff like that was just my name. I can’t remember who it was that gave me that name, I think it was one of the older guys. We were trying to think of names and it’s just the way I am that he said royalty suited me and then they eventually kind of shortened it to Royal. So yeah, I think it was just the older guys that gave me the name, it just came about from just knocking about, i’m not i’m not gonna try to make up some amazing story about how I got called the name because there’s nor really any of that.
So what age were you when you were starting making music and rapping and getting this name?
So I started rapping probably when I was 14, writing lyrics, the first ever lyrics I spat over a beat was over a beat called DJ Mondie – Straight Riddim, that’s an old one and then 21 seconds by So Solid Crew. They were the two, the first two I tried to spit over and then from there I just started recording in my bedroom. I couldn’t afford like Cubase or anything expensive so I just had Mixcraft to record on, if anyone even knows it was like a cheap free demo, actually eventually I was able to buy and Mixcraft for about 70 pounds but it was so whack, haha.
So, is there a specific track, album or artist that totally changed your understanding of music?
When I was younger the Giggs albums influenced in a big way. There are others, but that’s the first that comes to mind. He was a big influence, I remember when I was about 14 or 15 it was all just Giggs. I used to rap like Giggs as well, at least tried to. So if we’re gonna talk rap-wise and flow, Giggs definitely inspired me. I’d listen to a lot of UK artists, Black the Ripper had a lot of tracks that inspired me when I was younger, there’s so many others that are just not coming to me right now. On the lyric side of things, that definitely came from Giggs and the Road rap era, there’s a rapper called Young Spray. But I used to listen to r&b as well, I liked Usher, the ‘Confessions’ album. When I first got a car, I had that album in my car for months. And when I was growing up, gospel music as well, Kirk Franklin and Fred Hammond, was probably what helped me musically when I was younger. So I think that those people definitely influenced me. Then, you know, later on in life, when I started getting older, I linked up with a guy called Ali, who’s kind of helped me and mentored me over the years, making music and I was in a band with him and the band was like, kind of rock and roll mixed with grime, and blues. So and that was a band called Kings of The City. So there’s a lot, man, there’s a lot, I’ve got a lot going on my mind musically all the time.
I was going to say, is there like a figure in your life that shaped your music taste as well?
So yeah, my dad played the keyboard and piano. So definitely seeing him influenced me to pick up an instrument and start playing the drums. So I’m a drummer, originally, so there’s that and then yeah, like I said, when I met Ali, he introduced me to more rock and roll, people like The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, that kind of music. Then, this is more recently now, I’d say my friend Has Baker, he’s had a big influence on me as well. Because his style is just, guitar picking mixed with more gritty East London cockney vocals and melodies, he calls it G Folk. He’s a real creative, so yeah, when I first started with Hak’s music, and I started working for him and playing drums for him that kind of blew my mind as well. So, there’s no one person, I’d say it’s a combination of all of those things that I’ve kind of mentioned, that influenced and made me who I am today and I’m still growing as a musician and musically I’m still learning things.
Don’t say that’s the best way to be anyways, as an artist, like you’ve always got to keep moving forwards. So yeah, that was also something I wanted to ask, as you’ve grown older, how has the way you write and the way you approach writing and unwrapping changed?
Yeah, when I was younger I would have easily written about anything or just rapped about doing crazy stuff. Now I’ve gotten older, you kind of think about what you want to put out into the world, and now I try to write more about things that have happened to me or things that things that are important to me and things that other people can relate to. Because I think a lot of the music I was writing when I was younger was a bit senseless. I’ve always been a conscious artist, but there were more times when I was younger where I would have written something that was a bit senseless. Comparing that to now, where I think about everything before I put it out; double checking, triple checking everything I’ve done, to make sure that it makes sense. Because at the end of the day, you have to be real, you can’t just say anything, you have to just be yourself. If I want to speak about a heartbreak, I’ll speak about that, if I want to speak about someone who’s done me wrong or speak about my family issues, then I’ll do that too. I now know, what I should be talking about I know what I shouldn’t be talking about.
Is there an overall message that you want to communicate with your music, whether that’s through your lyrics, or just your presence and approach to the industry?
I think my next song will highlight this, the message I want to put out is that it’s okay to talk. I think it’s important because as men, we don’t talk about things and our feelings, even within my family I don’t want to speak about things. So the only way to get this stuff out is through the music because I don’t like to talk if something’s wrong with me, I’ll go for a whole few months, I can bottle things up. So it’s quite contradictory for me to be saying that it’s okay to talk but through my music, I’m trying to tell other people that also might have trouble talking that’s okay to let your feelings out. Everything I say in my music has really happened and it’s really, whatever is going on in my head you will hear, I transfer it all onto the music.
Do you think there’s still like a bit of snobbery, or bias against rap music? Do you find that people are less supportive of you trying to follow a rap career rather than a more ‘traditional’ music path, as say a drummer?
I think it’s changing now. I think it’s definitely different now than it used to be back back years ago. When I was younger people used to laugh, if we rapped or spat, over grime, they wouldn’t get it they’d just look at us and laugh. I remember in school, I went to a school out in the country, not even in the city or anything and there wasn’t a lot of people into ‘black music’ and I was one of the only black people in the school, so when we used to rap people used to laugh and just never used to get in or never even want to understand it. So now it’s definitely changed. I mean, you can see the drill thing. It’s young black kids finding that it’s literally possible for them to completely change their lives from making music and that’s a beautiful thing.
So yeah, there definitely was a snobbery and a kind of bias against the rappers and stuff because of all the violence and stuff that would happen around it, but I feel that people now know that this violence and stuff happens with or without the music. It’s happening anyway. I mean, some bad music might influence some people to do some bad things, but in my opinion, music doesn’t motivate you to do things you wouldn’t otherwise be capable of doing. So I think that the bias against the rappers was there for a long time, and it still is there, but there’s now a lot more positives that come from the rappers and the people coming out of that scene than before.
Another tough question but over the course of the last year, it really placed a spotlight on some of the problems still present within the music business. I’m just wondering if you have any reflections on how you would change things if you could?
I think trying to answer that is difficult. I think at the end of the day, when you talk about industry, we’re talking about money, right? A lot of the guys at the top in the UK, who have probably benefited greatly from these young black kids making music are white people. When you look at it like that, it’s easy to think how can we change that, and the reality is, you can’t, the only way to change that is ownership. But, I can still understand the major label pull when you’re an upcoming rapper and you start making some big songs, and you’ve never really had that much money, when you get this major label coming up to you and offering a 100 grand, or 200 grand, straight away it’s always gonna be a pull for these young artists.
There’s a few out there doing it independently, that haven’t signed themselves out and instead stayed independent, and I guarantee if there was more and there was more of an education about ownership about how these deals work then then the a lot of these kids would be better off. They would then know, if that’s what they want to get into in that certain stage, and maybe some of them they won’t need a label. So that’s it, I think Education is the key. There needs to be more of an education about ownership, and about how to how to keep your own rights.
I mean, I watched an interview the other day about Russ, the drill rapper from South London. He was talking about how he signed a contract for 30 grand and then they tied him in to a 24 album deal, and he was a big artist at the time, for the numbers that he was doing, that’s just that’s ridiculous. If he had someone to sit him down and and show another way, saying let’s do this for the next few years and you’ll be good anyway… But there’s a couple of independent labels doing right by the people at the moment, one I can think of off the top of my head is FAMM, with Jorja Smith and ENNY, they’re independent and they know what they’re doing.
So, following on from the importance of education, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
The best advice I’ve ever been given, and I hate to keep saying his name because he’s gonna get bigheaded over this, but it was from my boy Ali. He taught me a lot of valuable stuff, a lot of valuable things. Even though he’s a nutter, taught me a lot of valuable things and I can’t even think of anything specifically, cuz I’ve probably know Ali for a good 10 years now, actually probably longer, since I was young. He taught me some valuable stuff about the industry and he always just taught me, and I think it’s one of the most valuable kind of things I learned from him is, don’t beg it. People might not understand what I mean by that, but it’s like, always know your worth, you should never have to beg for someone’s time or attention.
That comes with the music thing too. Even if you’re out and you see other artists, there’s nothing wrong with showing appreciation and love, but I’ve been around industry people for a long time now and something you need to remember is that there just human as well. Often, if you want that collab with them, if you want that that feature with them, don’t act out of character and keep your composure at all times, because at end of the day less people will know and no one likes a beg. No one likes a beg man, there’s nothing wrong showing appreciation but if you feel like you’re begging, you probably are. Just do your thing, be a nice person at all times but just don’t beg it, if you feel the love isn’t being reciprocated somewhere then f**k it.
This isn’t related just to the music industry though, do your own thing at all times and just be be militant and vigilant because the world’s full of people that will take your kindness for weakness and flip it and make you look insignificant.
So speaking a moment ago about inspiring and upcoming talent, is there anyone that you’ve been listening to a lot over lockdown that you’d recommend?
I really like Tiana Major9 she’s an R&B singer, more Neo-Soul kind of vibes, she’s really dope. I like Giveon, I listen to a lot of R&B you know. I listen to this rapper Potter Payper because of how real his stuff is and how raw is and then also I’ve been listening to SAULT, I’m a big fan of them.
I can’t pronounce the name but Khruangbin they have music that’s got me through, so do Puma Blue and Arlo Parks. I like that stuff too, all the closer to indie stuff, and then I like the rap and the road stuff as well.
I get you, people’s tastes seem to be much more diverse because of streaming culture. Do you feel like you can’t just be a rapper anymore and have to be more diverse as an artist as a result?
I think I’ve always wanted to sing and I’ve kind of, over the years, developed my voice. My rap brain is still there, but I like coming more melodic now. I like putting down the melodies now that I can sing, so why not put the melodies in there? Yeah, man, I think it makes it more interesting when you’re playing with some nice melodies or something out of your comfort zone, it definitely makes it more interesting. I love guitar sounds, I love lo-fi keys. I think it just makes you extra creative, I’m feeling extra creative at the moment.
Is there anyone that you’d want to collaborate with in the future that like you haven’t yet? Who’s the dream collab?
Dream collab? Boy, that’s a good question. Robert Glasper, probably. Yeah, I’m gonna put it out into the universe now, if I could do a track with Robert Glasper and Brandy, or even another person would be Anthony Hamilton. If I could get on the track one day with Robert Glasper AND Anthony Hamilton, that might just be it man, I might just finish there. That’d be my goal. That would be mad.
What’s your favorite track at the moment?
That Tiana Major9 song it’s called ‘Exclusively’. It’s really chilled man, and there’s a lot going on in my life right now, so like that kind of soulful music helps me to chill out and relax at the moment. I think she’s from a gospel background and she’s from the UK as well, man. I don’t know the girl but I’m proud of her, I think she’s already won a BET award too, I think it was her track with Stormzy or something.
So when live shows happen again, who do you want to see perform first?
There’s too many, man. I know there’s a festival called Yam Carnival, there’s a few decent artist there. NAO, I’ve seen before but she’s a great performer. I’m a big fan of Afrobeatas well, when I saw that lineup the other day I thought that there were a few people that I’d like to go see, just for the energy man, I need some good vibes and some energy whenever this lockdown stuff is done.
I also want to perform myself, whenever it opens up again. I’m mainly looking forward to doing things myself or performing with Hak again, and Hak should have a big gig coming up this year…
Do you have any advice for someone that is hoping to follow in your footsteps and pursue a career in music? And what do you think is the most important thing to do?
Know what you’re getting into it for, know what you’re doing it for and why your stepping into it. If you’re thinking I just want to pay the bills off and want to be able to make money that’s the wrong reason and I’ll tell you why it’s the wrong reason; because you can go and get any job and do that.
I feel there’s so many people making music nowadays just because they can. Anyone can get a laptop, anyone can get a mic and think okay, I can put something out. I still ask myself that sometimes: Why am I making music? I’m making music because I don’t go a day without feeling the need to be creative, it’s not because it’s a choice. It’s literally not a choice for me. Any other real musician will say the same thing, it’s literally not a choice. It’s not a chore to go to the studio, it’s literally as though my brain is mostly creative, and it has to put this feeling or thought into a melody or into a lyric, and that’s why I do music.
So I’d say to any up and coming artist, know what you’re doing and know why you’re doing it, and be consistent from the get go. Do your reading, know your rights and read up on contracts, try and read up on everything.
Do you have a Guilty Pleasure track?
I don’t know if this is a guilty pleasure track but John Legend and Ludacris, ‘Tonight (Best You ever Had)’. It’s not too bad that one, but it’s the first that came to my mind. It’s a good song to play for the galdem, I’ll have to play when I’m with the wifey or something now, haha.
What is the best ‘Pop Song’ ever written?
First thing that comes to my head is 2pac ‘Changes’… You know what, I think that might be it. There’s a lot of other songs out there, but 2pac ‘Changes’, it’s a very important song, and it may even hold more weight now than before.
Modern Aquatic are a Cincinnati Indie rock band, touting influences such as The Strokes, Vampire Weekend, and Beach Fossils. Their heavily melodic and multilayered styling of slacker pop is the perfect backdrop to the sound of summer.
Starting way back in 2015, the band finally are returning from a long pandemic and study induced hiatus with new material on the horizon across 2021, in time for post-lockdown revelry.
We spoke to Geovanny Esquivel, the man behind the music to get a greater insight into the basics of starting and building a band, the best of modern indie rock and even the mystery of UFO’s.
Hey, Geovanny, how’s Cincinnati? Are you from there originally, or just there to study?
Hey, it’s good and yeah, I did grow up here. I’m originally from Los Angeles, though, but I moved here when I was very young, five or six maybe, a bit too young to compare! But I’m still here, and now studying 3D design at University.
Oh wow, so does that mean you design all the album covers yourself?
Most of them, I think the Laurel Leaves EP was was an art piece by Cody Gunningham who’s a local artist, that’s my favourite one. But I’ve done everything else.
So, I always find it interesting to understand the origins of a band’s name, how did you settle upon Modern Aquatic?
So that was the hardest part for a while. I think, it was originally the name of one of our demos, one of the songs that we never released when we were starting out, we would just play it live. But yeah, the song was called ‘Modern Aquatic’ and we ended up choosing it because it was a good twist upon ‘The Life Aquatic’, you know, by Wes Anderson. I wanted to try to capture that sort of aesthetic and playfulness in the music somehow and it seemed like a good way to do it, and also our sound is very beachy, or surf rock inspired, which was something that we’re trying to go for as well.
I was wondering if it had something to do with the Wes Anderson film as your visual aesthetic, is very colourful, like most of Wes Anderson’s films. How and when did you decide upon that?
It definitely comes from that pop rock or tropical influence. I was really drawn to like, floral designs and artwork that, had lots of very vibrant colours, which was something that I wanted to communicate in the music too. So we got lucky partnering up with Cody Gunningham for that EP, because he does a lot of things like that, he has a lot of murals around the town that very colourful and very floral. I always thought that this would be perfect and that we should reach out to him and thankfully he was happy to partner up.
So now that I know you’re studying art and design, I guess I want to know if you have a favourite artist or someone whose style has influenced you and just your eye for design?
Oh yeah, Matisse, I would say was probably my biggest influence. I’m always trying to recreate artwork in his style, whenever I can.
How did you meet the rest of the group?
So our bass player, Max and I were in a different band together in high school. He has a brother and a cousin, that were in a different band at the time, and I didn’t know them. But after the band that Max and I were in broke up or we just kept doing our thing and then he put out the idea of having this brother and cousin join the band, and so we tried it and it really worked. We haven’t really been able to stop ever since.
Is there one figure in your life, who’s kind of shaped your music taste more than anyone else?
I’m the oldest in my family, so I think I’ve been the one shaping tastes really, I’ve definitely influenced my sister’s tastes a little bit, at least from what I can tell. As for my parents, the type of music they listen to wasn’t really anything that I was into. I do like it a lot, especially nowadays, but growing up I always thought like “Oh, no, I don’t love this”. For me it would be more about finding musicians on my own, like going to the library and picking up an album that looks cool and then figuring out my own tastes from there. A lot of it was thinking, I really like the look of that album cover, let’s see where this goes, I guess that’s really how I learned about indie rock.
So you grew up in the birth of the internet age, did you discover much of your music online as well? If so, who do you remember getting excited about discovering?
Yeah, I remember going on myspace a lot and just like scouring through all the bands, going down the rabbit hole and ending up somewhere that I never really expected. I think one of the bands that I was really excited about back then was Dance Gavin Dance. I’m not sure if you would have you ever heard of them, but I was really into that kind of music back then, the emo type thing. But yeah, discovering their webpage and how they decided to represent themselves visually was pretty cool to me. That’s definitely one of the big bands that I found online and got me really excited.
Was there an album that changed your understanding of music, or something that you specifically remember made you rethink what music was as a whole?
Oh, yeah, when I found out about The Strokes, I think their album ‘First Impressions of Earth’ had just came out and I thought, I’ll check these guys out and loved it so went back to the very beginning of their discography with ‘Is This It?’ And that changed everything for me. I thought I’d never heard anything like that and it made me want to write music in that style with like, catchy guitar riffs. Everything that they were doing, I was obsessed with it. Istill can’t stop listening to them.
What do you think of the latest stuff from ‘The New Abnormal’?
Oh, I think that’s their best album since ‘Room on Fire’. It’s really in the top three for me.
As you’ve grown older, how has your understanding and approach to music change?
Yeah, I mean as I mentioned before, I now like some fo the stuff my parents used to play when I didn’t before. I can see what they liked about that music, and it’s like regional Mexican music or Hispanic and Spanish language music. I started to see like, where other artists I like also took inspiration from, so when it comes to like Mac Demarco, I can sort of see where he got some of his sounds from and the connections between his stuff and some of the synth music that my parents would listen to. I don’t know really, just listening to music from different cultures I think can broaden your understanding of music and I can appreciate everything a little more. My tastes and my music has changed so much, it’s a bit more all over the place now instead of just pure rock music like it was back back in the day.
Do you try and bring any of your heritage into the stuff that Modern Aquatic does?
I try, I don’t know if it necessarily shows, but I tried to bring like some sort of tropical dance vibes into the music. But you know, it’s sort of what indie rock is already doing, like Vampire Weekend, there’s not a whole lot of bands like that, or were doing the same thing that they did with a great dancey tropical edge. But it’s definitely something I may try to do more of, in whatever ways I can.
Do you have any advice for someone who’s hoping to start a band?
I would say, don’t listen to people if they tell you that it sounds bad, or that you can’t do it. It’s definitely something that I regret, you know, listening to people who told me stuff like that. As long as you want to do it – do it. You’ll succeed as long as you love it, just try your hardest and if it’s meant to be it’ll, it’ll definitely happen.
Is there an artist that you’ve been listening to recently you’d recommend?
Yeah. There’s a band called Good Morning from Australia. They’re my favourite band right now, I just love everything about them. I just haven’t heard anything like that in a while, if not ever. Their first EP, the first time I heard that, it blew my mind – it’s perfect all the way through and I just wish I could write something like that. I’m definitely trying but you know, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do what they did, it’s so effortless.
Have you have you bought any new equipment or anything over lockdown?
Yeah, I just bought a Mustang Bass, which has been nice because I didn’t have a bass at all beforehand. So I figured, why not? That has sort of led to this little demo that I came up with a few weeks ago and it’s a little more shoegazey, a little heavier that what I’m used to. It’s kind of like a bit more like Alex G.
Is that what we can expect to hear next for Modern Aquatic when things when the world kind of returns to normal?
Yeah, I’ve been just trying to do whatever, trying to record whatever comes to me. So it’s been all over the place, that shoegaze idea that I came up with, then there’s a song that I’m trying to write the lyrics for that is more like simple and very chill, there’s like 20 guitars on it.
I’m obsessed with that Twin Peaks aesthetic, so I’m trying to write more music that wouldn’t feel out of place on that show. But when the band was practicing a few weeks ago, we came up with this Punk Rock song. So, it’s hard to tell where this is leading sonically at the moment. I think if we can we’ll put out an EP or an album with just songs of whatever style we want and you know, if people like then that’s awesome.
Do you feel that artists are expected to be more diverse in their sound nowadays?
I actually feel like it’s the opposite and people are often put into boxes nowadays. I wish it wasn’t, and I personally haven’t really paid too much attention to that because we definitely do want to do different things. If that is the way things are moving then that’s awesome, because more freedom to just explore different things you know can only be beneficial.
So you mentioned Twin Peaks. Is there any other film or TV scores or just TV shows in general that have influenced you?
Yeah, the soundtrack to Submarine, which Alex Turner wrote. I think that definitely inspired me to write music, I always find myself listening to that. As I may mentioned before, Wes Anderson’s films inspired me aesthetically inspired me. But honestly, everything about Twin Peaks is really cool to me and has been a big inspiration. I am obsessed with the paranormal and stuff like that so I often try and convey that in my music as well, if it’s possible and appropriate.
As someone who is also interested in the paranormal, I’d like to know, do you have a favourite paranormal mystery, or anything?
I’m obsessed with anything that has to do with aliens. So like, the recent declassified videos by the Navy, that claim to have proof of extraterrestrial life, you know that’s pretty interesting to me. Having seen weird things myself too, that just makes all of that stuff more interesting to me.
Woah, what kind of weird stuff have you seen in Cincinnati?
I feel funny talking about this, so please no judgement, but anyway… My girlfriend and I were just chilling on the trampoline one night looking out for shooting stars and this weird light sort of seemed to be coming from a clear sky. It was such a clear night that you would be able to see where it came from if it was like an airplane, but it just it came and just popped out of nowhere. It then just seemed to get brighter and brighter, like it was getting closer. Then, it started moving to the left, in towards us and sort of flashed a light on us, like it looked at us. Then just took off. So yeah, we both saw that.
Woah, that’s crazy!
I guess there’s many things it could be but yeah, definitely an interesting experience.
So, bringing us back down to earth, what do you hope to accomplish over 2021?
Definitely to write a full album. Get enough new songs together to where we can start playing shows again, because we don’t really have that many right now and we haven’t been able practice in over a year now, actually. Our first practice back was like a month ago. I think.
That’s a bummer. How was is it reuniting with the band after so long?
It was weird at first. Because there was a period where we weren’t sure if we were going to get back together or not. But then we Kyle, our guitarist, he’s built this studio, and we all met up there and the first day, we just knocked out this punk rock idea that I had, just jammed on it. It sounded pretty legit already from the first go, and it just really gave us all the confidence to get back into it.
Do you find ideas flow much easier when you’re all together in a room than when you’re writing on your own?
I would actually say no. I realized this the hard way, but the best way is always to come into the rehearsal with an idea and then build it from there. Because when we just show up, it’s really hard to get started and most of the time nothing happens. I learned this a few weeks ago, but I need to come in and listen to demo and then we can just jam on it until it turns into the fully formed track here. But in terms of creating a concept, it is easier to think about it by myself I think.
When do you find yourself in the right headspace to write?
I would say definitely, at night, for some reason, it’s just easier to sit down and focus on your music. Or maybe it’s just more fun at night, I guess!
What is your favourite track that you’ve written? Like, what track that you’ve written means the most to you and why?
Probably the last one, it’s definitely more mature than the last songs. That’s the song that I did all by myself; wrote and recorded most of the parts by myself. I sort of wrote it for my girlfriend too so, you know, it means a lot to me.
Have you got a dream collaboration in mind to like someone you’d really like to work with?
I mean, The Strokes would be like the ultimate honour.
If you could only have one and had to choose between Julian or Albert for the collab, who would you pick?
Julian, I think. They’re both really talented so it’s really difficult but Julian’s voice is so iconic. Outside of The Strokes I’d maybe pick Mac DeMarco, because he seems like a really fun person I think it would be a really great experience.
Have you got a guilty pleasure track, one that you’re ashamed to say that you love?
Yeah, let me see… I don’t know if this would be like necessarily be one to be ashamed of, but this song called Azul by Natalia Lafourcade, it’s like a really beautiful song.
That is a that’s a good option. In your opinion, what’s the best hit song ever written?
That’s too big a question for me to answer, but the best pop song right now to me, I think is The Difference by Toro Y Moi and Flume. It’s very poppy for my tastes I wouldn’t normally like something like that but I can’t feel guilty about that one because he just pulls it off so well.
Thanks for chatting with us man, is there anything else that you’d like to mention to our readers?
We should have new music coming out soon, hopefully. Nothing concrete just yet, but hopefully soon, look out for it…
Los Angeles based alt-pop duo Mob Rich (Maxwell Joseph and Connor Pledger) exude a playful and carefree attitude for a couple that claim to be “the epitome of that awkward laugh when you first meet someone”.
However, this description perfectly encapsulates the duo’s darkly comedic self-awareness and more vulnerable undertones. At the core of Mob Rich lies a unique balance between anxiety and humour, confidence and confession, and an unparalleled talent for crafting modern pop anthems for the outcast.
Pop Golf caught up with the guys to discuss everything from benefits of writing as a duo and the pressure of making it big on TikTok to Jack Johnson.
How would you guys describe yourselves in your own words?
Maxwell: I think one way we like to think about ourselves is like 50% tongue in cheek, and 50% serious introspection, add on some hard hitting 808s, and you get us.
Connor I mean, I want to say we’re an indie pop-rock type of band. You can throw those kind of words out there all day, but I truly feel like our music is a product of our upbringing, in the sense of like, we both grew up listening to rock that our dads listened to and then we figured out that music can go way deeper than that, which is its own journey in itself. I hate the word, but we’re an eclectic combination of of worlds, branching outside of somewhat divided genre terms and starting to listen to hip hop, expanding into harder rock even, and all different genres, we even started to look at country, and all sorts of folk influences too. All of a sudden you have Mob Rich.
But I mean, if you’re listening to us on the radio, we’re a pop band with heavy rock influences. Although, when I say pop I mean the type of pop you here nowadays, where it’s 808s and it’s rock guitars, the vocalists are not just pop stars anymore but, like all over the place in terms of genre. I think we are a part of a generation that’s breaking away from the need to be inside of a genre or the need to fit a specific image.
Yeah, I think that’s really great. I wonder if you can expand on that a little bit more, because due to internet culture, and an internet lead industry and audience and the necessity to be trending, and constantly be putting out music. Do you feel like you’ve got to be more versatile than ever before as an artist in the current pop sphere?
I’ll ask you this… Do you think, do you think Ozzy Osborne would have been on Tik Tok?
I mean, let’s not forget he had his reality show in the 90s!
Connor: Haha, that was long after he had become a star. But think about that with Nirvana, you think that Cobain would be on TikTok? Hell No!
It’s just a whole different world, it’s changed and we can’t really compare the two. We can try and compare all day and wonder if one way is better than the other, or wonder if those artists would have survived or been forgotten if they were where we are now in the world. I do think you definitely have to be much, much more versatile, much more willing to kind of do things that make you feel uncomfortable nowadays, and I’m sure in a lot of ways you had to do that in the past as well, in ways that we will probably never understand. Although, I certainly feel like we are living in a time that’s exciting.
Maxwell: I do agree with that, but in a lot of ways, I think it’s restrictive in some nature. I think a lot of times, especially with the way that social media works, in an algorithmic sense, you can kind of get put into a niche, because you find something that might work and then you feel like you kind of have to keep doing that thing to stay relevant.
Connor: Especially on Tik Tok.
Maxwell: I see it time and time again, you see people who have already broken through and then come onto a social media platform, and you have more freedom in the sense, as people already know who you are, and you can kind of do whatever the hell you want to do. People are gonna either like it or not, it doesn’t really like, restrict you in that sense. But if you’re an artist, in the process of breaking through on TikTok, and you do something specific, because everything is so stylized and so specific, a lot of times it can be restrictive, I think that it makes you even less versatile, because when you try to do something else, no one cares about it or worse – they dislike it. So you think, oh, my God, I have to go back to what I was doing. This is something that obviously people have been dealing with long before social media, in terms of genre, and the type of music they make, or the way they’re saying the things.
Connor: Oh yeah, if you think about Bob Dylan, he came out with his first folky record. And then decided, bam, I’m gonna hit you with a rock record. It was him just giving a middle finger to that exact thing of, people forcing you to stay in a box or what you’re saying of like, forcing yourself to move back.
Maxwell: I actually think that Dylan is an outlier in that sense, because I think with his talent, and his ability he was able to get away with trolling people in that sense and constantly changing.
So are there any, stand out influences on Mob Rich? I know that Connor, you were saying that it’s more of an amalgamation of all the stuff that you listened to growing up. But Maxwell, is there a album or track that stands out and maybe changed your perspective of music?
Maxwell Yeah, there’s a few for me, from a production standpoint, and from a from a songwriting standpoint, I think Bon Iver’s 22, A Million was really eye opening to me. Not only the way it was made, but obviously just the sonic landscape. When it came out it was so ahead of its time, especially with the fact that he started off with For Emma, Forever Ago as this idillic, folky, acoustic, simple production but it was almost an anti-folk album in a lot of ways yet still so organic. So then when 22, A Million came out and he made this extremely dirty electronic, hip hop inspired, but yet also still somehow folky record and it opened my eyes to the possibilities of how dirty a record could be, but still stay catchy and memorable. I think, as time has gone on, especially in production, we see a lot more of that from like this dirty electronic lo-fi meets really well produced records. But yeah, that was one that definitely opened my eyes to the possibilities of what a record could be.
But, honestly I would say that on a daily basis for me, what inspires me is finding new artists that I’ve never heard of before, who are doing things that that are cool, new and seemingly pushing the boundaries. I think that’s what continually makes me go like, oh, man, that’s what we need, to try something like that. That inspires me to think outside the box in that sense, because I think one of the beautiful things nowadays is, that back in the day, when you were first starting to write songs, they usually were just yours and yours alone, because you didn’t have a forum in which to put those out into the world. I think nowadays, artists that are just starting out produce and write music have the ability to put those songs out and possibly get them heard by a wide audience. I think that it’s cool now because we get to get a better peek into artists that are really groundbreaking at the start of their careers, when they’re just starting to make like really cool shit. So yeah, I think that’s probably the most inspiring thing for me on a consistent basis.
Are there any artists off the top of your head that you can recommend at the moment or anyone you’ve discovered recently?
Maxwell Yeah, I mean, there was a there’s a couple that that I found this year that were really cool, ones actually from the UK, called NOISY. They they’ve been putting out some really amazing stuff. And then recently, I just found this band – I think they’re from Phoenix, Arizona – they have this one particular song that I just think is so good, it’s somewhat like Brockhampton, it’s just one of those song that makes you think fuck, that is such a good song, I wish I wrote the song. The production is so good, I wish I produced this and I could play this song on stage. I think that feeling is the most inspiring feeling to me. It’s almost out of like, positive jealousy. You know, just like, oh my god, I need to go and make cool shit like this. That’s such a good feeling, it brings me such joy. So yeah, I think those two this year have been really inspiring.
Connor So for me, Third Eye Blind’s self titled album was critical for me lyrically, and just the creative melodic flows on all the songs. Maxwell and I would actually ride around in my Prius all the time and I had one CD in that car which was that album, so every time we’d get in there we’d turn on Third Eye Blind and listen to it over and over and over again. So definitely without a doubt that record was a huge influence. From there, Chris Cornell’s vocals, have been a big influence to me personally, and probably aesthetically too!
As for some more recent stuff, there’s an artist named Rostam, he was in Vampire Weekend and produced the Clairo album and I love his music so much, every time he puts something out I’m so stoked – it would be a dream to work with him. Listen to the ‘Half-Light’ album. I’m known to hype stuff up way too much, but I love it personally. Then Blake Mills’ stuff too, it’s more folky stuff, he’s an incredible guitarist from Malibu, he has two records that I would recommend one called Break Mirrors, there’s a song on there called Hiroshima. That’s just like, mind blowing. So, Blake Mills, Rostam’s production and then yeah my lifelong dream of wanting to be like Chris Cornell or Robert Plant. That’s probably my biggest influences, old and new.
So how did you guys meet each other? You said that used to drive around listen to albums together, so I guess you’ve known each other for a long time?
Maxwell: We met about six years ago, at an open mic night in LA. There’s a stretch on Ventura in the city that has a lot of open mics. So we used to hit up a lot of those. But there’s a specific one at this kind of like diner restaurant called Crave Cafe, and they would just tuck like a mic stand in a speaker in the corner. I knew the guy who ran it and so did Connor, and one of his friends just happened to be there one night we heard each other play and said hey to each other very briefly. And then Connor hit the guy that ran the open mic up to just hang out and grab a coffee and I was friends with that guy, so I tagged along and from there we just very quickly became really good friends. It was it was during a time in our lives that we had both just moved to LA and we were both looking for friends to hang and chill out with and get creative. But our friendship wasn’t necessarily based on “we should write”, you know, it was just kind of like hanging out. Then Connor posed the idea that hey, maybe we should just write a record?
Connor Yeah, you know write a record put it out there, see what happens. I happened to know a couple of people that, if it was good, could help us out.
Maxwell So that very quickly turned into us writing some pop songs. Then one specific night, we changed everything when we decided very purposefully to try to write something a little bit weirder and a little out of the box. We wrote this song that came out on the first EP called ‘Just Mine’ and it was only like a day, right? We actually both sang on the song and it ended up being the platform on which we kind of built everything else. From then on, we thought oh, we’ll both sing on it, left and right, which was just a happy accident because neither of us wanted to be a backup singer! I mean, I personally don’t believe that things happen for a for a reason, but we’ve been joking more recently about how we could have sounded terrible together, you know, like we could have been have just been not the right voices, ones that didn’t compliment each other in any way, shape, or form. It just so happened that we complement each other in a really nice way.
Connor We’re just really happy that we live in the universe that it works.
Maxwell There’s an infinite amount of universes out there…
Connor Exactly, throw a dart at all the universes and you’ll probably hit the one that we sound awful in, so we’re glad we’re the version of us where it works!
So if you were already playing music before you met, what kind of age did you guys both start writing music?
Connor: Summer before Middle School, whatever that ages was? Eighth grade, so 13 or 14?
Maxwell: Yeah, around like 11 or 12, I just started playing guitar then but I didn’t start writing music until probably closer to like my freshman year, but I was playing guitar since like fifth or sixth grade.
Connor So I guess we both probably started right around the same time in our lifetime. I picked it up and just like immediately wanted to write, because I wanted to be in a band, that was my first goal. I was like, how can I get girls? Oh be in a band! Obviously? Haha.
I was that very same kid, haha. What’s like the most formative experience that you guys have had through music?
Maxwell: I think a couple things, for me, it brought me into the space in which I found a lot like like minded people. In my younger years, I think that I had a little bit of difficulty, like a lot of kids did, meeting people that I really got along with and I felt really understood me and had the same type of thoughts that I did. So once I started playing music, and playing in bands, that was kind of a turning point for me, just to really find people that I felt, understood me and I understood them.
I think, on top of that, just our traveling together, seeing parts of the world and playing for people and seeing like the power of music and having people know the songs, meeting people who have gotten something out of the music you’ve created, who live 4000 miles away, you know, was a really eye opening and rewarding kind of epiphany, realising that this is actually doing something for people you don’t see, you don’t feel that on the internet when you’re sitting at home alone.
Connor: Yeah, you’re not thinking about the fact that there might be somebody out there listening to it, or a song that’s like, it’s too expensive for them emotionally and, and possibly physically, like in their mind.
I guess for me, the most formative part of my music career would have been pretty much the moment I left college. I left college to pursue music full time, I was like, I’m not doing college more, I want to click on this. Eventually, I gave it 100% and granted, I was very lucky because somebody found me on YouTube. I wasn’t going anywhere, I wasn’t really touring around, I was touring around the country, but like, nothing that was really going to make a large difference. But I was always banking on the fact that like, as long as I’m putting myself out there, something could happen. Something finally did, and I go to LA and meet this guy and after meeting him, that’s when my life changed. Like, literally I met him. And everything changed. I remember sitting down and having a beer the first day I met him, after I went to record at a studio and we were just sat there together and I just said; Dude, this is gonna change my life, you just changed my life. He’s like, yeah, this is just the beginning. In my mind, you know, the future would look way different and I’ll never forget that night because that was a major turning point for me. Because of meeting him, I met Maxwell and we started the band, in my mind, at least you can go down the line and there may be a million points that you think caused you to get to where you are. But for me, that’s the moment where I’m like, wow, that changed everything for me.
So you said that you left college to pursue music full time. Which made me think of a question for both of you, what would you say that that is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken in your career so far?
Connor: I would actually say no, that wasn’t my biggest risk. The reason I say that is because of the privilege circumstances that I came from, I feel like, not that my parents even did well, but they did well enough to where, I wasn’t stressing, I thought worst case scenario was I move back in with the folks, you know, and that type of opportunity, it’s huge for some people who don’t even have that. So probably, the biggest risk for me was just any and all relationships I’ve had, because every relationship I get into I put so much time and energy and mental time and energy into. I know I’m in a healthy one now, but definitely making decisions based around what I thought was love, that was probably, the biggest obstacle for me.
Maxwell: Weirdly enough, nothing has felt like a big risk. I guess it’s just because since I was relatively young, I kind of knew that this is what I wanted to do and that I was willing to make the necessary sacrifices in order to keep doing it. That’s kind of always been where my head is at when it comes to, you know, deciding where I want to live and who I spend my time around, and what I give my time to. So everything has kind of felt like the next step, in a very long line of steps that I took. There, obviously, has been a couple of times, like deciding to move out to LA, I moved out to LA on a whim, by myself when I was 19 just to get out of Indiana, I just did it. But it didn’t feel like the risk, it just felt like an adventure. It felt like I’m gonna go do this thing, and kind of like Connor, worst case scenario if it doesn’t work out I’d come back. I never intended on moving back and I obviously haven’t as things have been going pretty well. So it weirdly enough, just kind of due to how I’ve viewed my life so far, I’ve moved in the direction that my gut tells me is like the next best move. Of course, there are times and I think in each of our lives, where we’re worried about whether something’s going to go well or bad, right. But I think there’s an overarching idea that whether it goes bad or good, I’m gonna still continue moving in that direction that I want to go – nothing is really a mistake.
Connor: I’m gonna put this out there. I think both of our biggest risks in our career were deciding to go from solo to working with somebody else. Which has also been one of the best decisions, I personally have ever made. I tell Maxwell all the time, dude, I couldn’t have done it by myself.
Maxwell: You’re probably right though. I mean, just the amount of time that we spent on the project and at least I can only speak for myself, but during that moment of when we first started out as a duo it didn’t feel like a risk, it just felt like the natural thing to do! It was like, here’s this guy write good music – It’s better than anything I’ve written previously before so it make sense to team up. That’s such a weird thing, to think about where you think about your life in that way and you obviously have taken risks, they just maybe haven’t felt like risks at the time.
Sebastian Whyte 0:01 So is there one figure in either or each of your lives, that really shaped your music tastes more than anyone else?
MaxWell 0:22 I think like, at least for me, my parents obviously shaped my music tastes by what they had on in the house. My dad was in bands for a long time so I grew up listening to a lot of like a lot of rock, and a lot of heavier rock, and my mum listened to a lot of Norah Jones, and singer songwriters. All of that definitely shaped me. But interestingly enough, there is someone who not necessarily shaped my music tastes but I think helped me in the music industry. The music industry is a very hard one to navigate without guidance, and there was a guy who was a longtime family friend who played in bands with my dad, his name’s Tyler who ended up being a really well known composer. He’s got such a good head on his shoulders and, and has such good advice, at least it was for me in terms of navigating the industry. He just said things at a certain time in my life that has stuck with me. I remember, one of the best things he ever said to me was, if you can be happy for your friends who succeed before you, it will do wonders for your career. I remember that and not thinking much of it at the time, because, you know I wasn’t doing anything and didn’t really know anybody that was doing anything. But as I’ve gone through my career, and you do meet people and people become your friends and some people have careers that go a certain way and some people have careers that go another, and my ability since hearing that to really try and truly be happy for the people that get to the place that I want for myself before I get there has been huge for my mental health and not feeling jaded and not feeling jealous or envious or losing friends. I know that’s not strictly and answer to your original question, but it’s what popped into my head when you said like, who formed you musically and I think like that, hearing those things at an earlier time in my life were huge for me. Apart from that, you know, obviously Connor has shaped my music tastes, everybody I meet shapes my music taste!
Connor is there anyone like that in your life?
Connor: Definitely, my dad in some ways, not so much in communicating it to me, but I was a big snooper. Like, I’d go down and dig through his storage in the basement and find these albums. I remember finding the Frank Zappa ‘Apostrophe’ record, and thinking this guy looks questionable, which made me intrigued and listen to that record, which I found to be really weird and interesting. Then listening to Emerson, Lake and Palmer, I remember seeing the image of the three guys on the front. I was essentially reading the book by the cover, which I mean in a lot of ways that’s what crate digging is, trying to find something that looked interesting, or find a name that you’ve maybe heard of before, so that was a big influence of mine finding my Dad’s old records.
But probably beyond my father, was my brother. My brother had just gone to college and he introduced me to Jack Johnson, when he was just blowing up, before Banana Pancakes, I’m talking early Jack Johnson. But anyway, I remember him telling me to check this guy out and that all the kids at college are listening to him, while he was still this like kind of underground thing. Which is hilarious to think now, when I think of Jack Johnson now I think of Bed, Bath and Beyond, that type of aesthetic. Don’t get me wrong I love Jack Johnson, he’s probably one of my favourites ever. At the time it was very out of the box, in style and yeah, definitely changed my view of what I could do, seeing this guy singing with just a guitar. It brought about an epiphany, where I realised: Oh my god, I’m a guy, and I have a guitar, I can do that! Which pretty much led to me starting to record, all thanks to my brother.
Actually, now I’m thinking about it, I have a cousin as well, who played drums and introduced me to programming and stuff. He had like Cubase or something at the time or something. It was some beat maker software, but he introduced me to production and he got me like a cracked version of FruityLoops back in the day, so I guess my cousin was a big influence too. That was what triggered my solo journey. He played drums and stuff and I wanted to be in a band with him but I was in middle school and he was in high school. He pretty much told me, no, you’re not gonna be in a band with me, which made me figure it out for myself.
But beyond teenage years, definitely dating different people, that was a big influence too. I would try to make them mix tapes, and they would make me mix tapes too. So you learn new music that way too.
When do you feel the urge to like write, especially in a lockdown when you haven’t got that much life experiences to draw upon because you’ve been stuck inside? What’s usually the stuff or subjects that really triggers you to write a song?
Connor: I wish it was like that, but to be honest, it’s probably more like a spur of the moment, I’m a very A.D.H.D kind of person, like I probably should be prescribed something, straight up. I usually don’t know when the hell it’s gonna happen. So for me at least, when it does, I go straight to the notes app on my phone or Voice Memos.
You’re not the first person to say that in these interviews!
Connor: Oh my God, there would not be something like half of our songs, without it. I guarantee you, most of our tracks would not sound the way they sound and would sound completely different. I think about that all the time, about how I forget ideas immediately.
Like, that’s another thing that makes me so glad I’m in a duo because we’ll be writing and I’ll say something, or Maxwell will say something and I could forget it immediately, but the other person will have heard it and remembered it and say that was brilliant, we have to write that in and I’m so thankful for that, it really makes improvising and brainstorming so much easier.
Maxwell: Yeah, I don’t know, I recently have been more focused on the sonic aspects of the writing process. Occasionally, a really clear idea or concept will come, sometimes it’s just a word to base a concept off but I think more than anything, I’ve been really inspired by sonic palettes when it comes to writing. It’s especially when hearing songs from other artists that make me think oh, man, I wonder how they did that, and then trying to recreate it or explore similar sounds. That leads to mumbling which leads to melodies. And then sometimes lyrics come first, but honestly there’s no rhyme or reason to any of the creative process. It’s usually just throwing things at the wall until something sticks and inspires you to do something, or makes you bounce in your seat. Like, that’s honestly all it is, if something makes you feel like you’re heading somewhere cool-ish,
It’s an ever frustrating process because especially being in a band that’s already been releasing stuff, you’re always trying to top the results that you’ve got and trying to get more of a return on investment than on your other songs, which is a weird place to be. Sometimes you find yourself writing for results, thinking more about what the song will do than what the song means. So you’re always trying to balance those two things. One thing I’ve thought recently is that we’re very word heavy, I feel like a lot of the songs we write are so jam packed full of information.
Connor We have a lot to say!
Maxwell: So as a result, I’ve been trying to write really simple stuff, like super stupid, simple stuff, for choruses but still communicating what I want to say, that’s the new challenge.
Connor: I’ve been trying to go more simplistic on production recently. Like, in my mind if I’m getting under 18 tracks, it’s cool. I’m trying to imagine it more old school, but it’s a hard for sure.
So speaking about writing sonically, rather than lyrically? How do you approach melody and like writing hooks? I know that’s a weak point for a lot of aspiring musicians, do you have any tips?
MaxWell When I’m writing by myself, I usually start with hooks. So it’s almost harder for me to craft the second verse. Choruses and maybe your first verse seems to be the easiest for me. In terms of how to approach it, yeah, I don’t know. I think I’m constantly just trying to find something that makes me feel like “damn that’s cool”. I just want it to feel cool and I wanna make sure it hits and obviously make sure it says something, but that’s more lyrics. So I don’t really know, I’m not a professional, I don’t know where I am, I don’t know how I got here! Haha.
Connor The way I like to approach it, there’s several things that I think about, one thing is the ‘aha’ moment, in the chorus, in my mind it needs to have some sort of word or moment in there that makes you go: “Okay, there it is”. Like, oh there’s the joke, there’s the meaning, there’s the whole point of this, that’s what this is all about. Whether it’s the rhythm, maybe it’s in the beat, but there’s got to be an ‘aha’. Secondly, mainly talking about Choruses here, it needs contrast. It needs to contrast with whatever the verses were, especially the pre-chrous but I usually always try to make a chorus soar, like I want to go to the five. I always want the five as first note, that’s usually what I notice every time I listen to a pop song, the five is the note that it usually comes in on. Like if it’s not quite hitting how I want it to, I’ll look at the notes and see if that’s a three or some other less conventional note, then try and understand why it’s not working and where it could go from there. But sometimes not doing that also makes it work, it all depends on the contrast, if it feels the same as the verse it needs to be different in my mind. Thos are the types of things that I’m thinking, but even saying all that, it’s never all those things, but those are our tools to use if we’re at a place where we feel like this isn’t working.
For me, first and foremost, it’s definitely the meaning and the content. The concept has to be clear and concise and everything has to be wrapped up in the chorus, the chorus has to be perfect in itself. When you sing that part, can you imagine people singing at a crowd? That’s another thing I think about a lot while writing; if I was playing this live to a crowd, would they be singing along? Would they have an easy time singing it? The last thing and maybe the most important; can you whistle it?
Speaking of playing to crowds, you’ve said that you guys consider yourselves more of a live band, so what are your favourite songs to perform live and why?
MaxWell At the moment, of songs that we have played live so far, I would say for me that it’s either our song Yoko Ono, or our song, Loser, which has got a great moment at the end that gets the crowd pretty hyped, you usually get some good crowd interaction going down, so they’re a lot of fun.
Connor Yeah for me it’s Loser or Happy Pill, we only got to play that one, like once or twice before COVID went down. Loser is also fun, I think, for me personally it’s because I get to put my guitar down for a moment and run around stage a bit.
Maxwell I’m very excited for a lot of the songs that are going to be coming off of our album we just released, I think that some of the songs off the record are going to be a lot of fun to play live. Everything and Nothing I think is going to be a really fun song, so I’m very excited to see how the crowd interact with those.
Do you guys have a guilty pleasure track? One you’re slightly ashamed to say that you absolutely love?
Maxwell: I think for me, ‘I don’t know why’ by Norah Jones. It’s one of the songs where it just immediately makes me feel extremely intelligent and extremely at ease. Like, it just hits a with or something somewhere inside of me when I hear that song, and it makes me feel like less anxious. If I’m feeling really anxious, and I play that song I usually feel a lot less anxious, you know, it’s Norah Jones.
Connor: I mean, I’m embarrassed by a lot of things. But I don’t know what I’d choose. I guess maybe I’ve never really thought about anything in that way. Maybe it’d be like Wonderwall, like I love to laugh about it but that’s not even embarrassing, it’s only because everyone learns it and wants to play it on guitar – but it’s a great song.
So, lastly, what, in your opinion, is the best pop song ever written?
Connor That’s a hard question. I’m a big believer in like, everything in its place and everything in its own time.
Maxwell: I was gonna say in the weirdest sense up there, in my mind it’s Old Town Road.
Connor: I was gonna say Mr. Brightside
They are two of the biggest songs EVER, I think Mr. Brightside might STILL be in the UK charts after like 15years?
MaxWell I think for me with Old Town Road, it’s just the cultural impact and the amount of like, disturbance that it caused with Country music charts etc.
Connor Yeah. Which is so punk rock. It’s like it’s the furthest thing from punk rock, but it’s the most punk rock song that’s come out in the last 20 years, haha.
Can’t argue with those choices really, the stats are on your side! So you mentioned you’ve got a new record out, tell us a little bit about what it’s all about!
Maxwell It’s called Why No Why? Out everywhere now, the name is a kind of a tongue in cheek reference to us dropping the Y on our old name, Moby Rich, but it’s also a play on the kind of an existential ‘why’ question that we’ve all constantly asking ourselves during the pandemic. Super excited to have put it out, so go check it out!
London born producer, Joe Thornalley, more widely recognised under the name Vegyn, has quickly made a name for himself as one of the most forward thinking and in-demand collaborators within contemporary music. Earning this reputation through a history of collaborations with artists such as Kali Uchis, JPEGMAFIA, Travis Scott and most notably, Frank Ocean – working across both of Ocean’s seminal Endless and Blonde projects.
Throughout his solo career, Vegyn has drawn inspiration from a wide variety of electronic music genres, becoming renowned for seamlessly blending together elements of house, glitch, and even avante-garde rap, offering a unique, emotive and more approachable side to IDM as a result. However, to simplify Vegyn’s output down to a simple signifying genre seems reductive and futile. What has truly become his signature approach is one of unpredictability, achieved through consistent restructuring, rhythmic shifts, unexpected juxtapositions and a truly unique emotional complexity.
Where his debut LP, 2019’s Only Diamonds Cut Diamonds saw Vegyn dive into a more cohesive and complex IDM-inspired soundscape. His latest offering builds on this further, whilst consistently striving to push itself into uncharted territory. His latest EP offers a clearer throughline than it’s glitchy predecessor or the sprawling rawness of the 71-track Text While Driving If You Want to Meet God and simultaneously pushes the boundaries of modernity and innovation whilst remaining true to the captivating, woozy and emotive sound that he has become known for.
Like A Good Old Friend is arguably Vegyn’s most refined work yet. This project showcases a true artistic maturation, with more glamorous production and elegant instrumentation than ever before. As always, Vegyn finds himself remodelling his compositional technique and challenging both himself and the preconceptions of electronic music in the process thereby forcing a variety of different forms and conclusions. Thornalley credits much of the EP’s pensive and more analog sensibilities to a newfound focus upon improvisation at the piano, an instrument that he began practising across quarantine. This strategy leads to some of his catchiest melodies yet amongst winding songs that melt into different soundscapes and emotions.
As previously mentioned there is not a simple duality to Thornalley’s emotional range, instead there is a beautiful melancholia present across all of Vegyn’s work, that seeks to reflect the complexity of human emotion through an electronic lens, equal parts uplifting and pensive. This latest EP is perhaps the best example of this bittersweet approach. The music channels its volatile and off-kilter style into a more comprehensible and balanced presentation of feeling. This is perhaps most apparent through the cinematic title track and the personal highlight ‘Mushroom Abolitionist’. Thornalley’s production choices are always unexpected and sharp, at one moment channelling blissed-out Balearic house and ambience, before introducing his signature glitch stylings and some wistful strings.
Much of this EP’s refined emotional range can be credited to the recent transience in Thornalley’s personal life. The London native recently relocated to Los Angeles, having battled with depression and seeking to exorcise it through musician exploration. Thornalley himself has claimed that he hopes his music is capable of being a conduit for an emotional response, one of healing and the therapeutic elements to the project could not be more pronounced. This theme of development is showcased within the EP’s own cover, which pays homage to the Tarot card of ‘The Tower’, a card that Thornalley notes was a recurring and foreboding presence before the pandemic. The Tower itself represents a sudden, disruptive revelation, destructive change, higher learning, and liberation; all of which are perfectly encapsulated throughout the form and content of the short tracklist.
If there is one takeaway from Like A Good Old Friend, it is an affirmation that Vegyn is a legendary producer in the making, on the path to becoming the James Blake of the new generation; a genre-bending artist with a profound talent for collaboration and development. Vegyn’s idiosyncratic approach to electronic music is an exciting glimpse into the future of electronic music production, effortlessly traversing complex emotions, electronic, dance, ambient and rap influences whilst retaining a distinctly playful, personal and carefree attitude that is all too absent from much modern electronica.
Feraz, is a rising Jordanian-American R&B singer based in L.A. Channeling the sultry urban sounds of influences such as Kehlani and JoJo with a slight pop focus, Feraz aims to establish herself as a new face of honesty within the Pop underground by expressing herself in her own deeply personal way.
Feraz sat down with Pop Golf to discuss her upcoming EP, overcoming, understanding and communicating heartbreak, as well as an unexpected defence of one of music’s most maligned bands, Nickelback.
I know it’s quite hard to distill yourself down to one sentence but how would you describe your music?
I would say it’s today’s r&b with 90s vibes, with a little pop and hip hop fusion.
At what age did you begin creating music or pursuing it as a career?
So I always wanted to be a singer, but I grew up in a Middle Eastern family, who frowned upon any artsy career path. It’s either you’re a lawyer, or you’re a doctor, or you’re in a church, you know, like that’s just how Middle Eastern people and parents in general can be. So I got steered away from it because I was told not to go that route; It’s an unstable career. But I was always singing. I was even in an arabic church choir for a little bit. It wasn’t until I was about 22 years old, when an old friend from high school asked me to be on one of his songs. I left the studio as if lightning had struck my soul.
He got in touch and said: “I know you can sing, I’ve heard you sing. Write a verse, and I’m gonna take you to the studio.” I hadn’t written in a really long time. I would usually just write for myself as a hobby, so I wasn’t really used to this kind of thing. When I recorded my verse, he was really encouraging, telling me; “you have such a great voice” and “why don’t you try pursuing this?”, “it’s really possible for you to do this and I can see you being successful’. Which, triggered a fire and a light inside of me and I was just like, okay! So I practiced every day, writing fully structured songs, looking at people like Nelly Furtado and how she structured her songs back in the 90s and the early two thousands. Then finally, in 2015, I dropped my first single, called ‘Ashes’, which you can still find on SoundCloud, but that’s when I knew that I was going to keep doing this.
That’s really interesting, that you had a background in Arabic choral music, how much of an influence has your middle eastern heritage played in your music? Do you try to bring much of your culture forward into your output?
I’m not gonna lie, because I’m a little American-ized I don’t think I’ve explored that sound yet. I’ve been looking for producers to incorporate some of my culture into my music because I’m so proud of my culture, I think it’s beautiful and I absolutely love our music. But it’s been very difficult to find people that can authentically mesh Kelhani-style R&B with the Middle Eastern touches and do it justice. I’m also trying to add Arabic in some of my songs too, but I just want the right production before I try to address that and put it out into the world.
What is the first song that you can remember hearing and resonating with you when growing up?
I was a Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera kind of little girl. I wanted to be Britney Spears so bad. My father made me mix tapes back in the day, Those are definitely some of the clearest things I remember. I always loved pop r&b, I really remember listening to loads of Ashanti too.
If it wasn’t for music, what would you be doing as a career?
I would probably pursue videography and photography. I still do that as a hobby on the side. I feel like I would still try and be an entrepreneur. I’ve always wanted to do too many things at once, I can never really decide on one thing, but I love video and I used to love video editing. I don’t do so much anymore, but that was the route I was gonna go.
That leads on to a question I was hoping to ask later, which was do you have a passion outside of music that you still use to express yourself? Whether that’s art, or a sport, but something that helps you get your emotions out outside of the music?
Yeah, I paint a little bit. I’m an artist all around. Photography, Music, Painting. I also love making recap videos of trips that I have gone on. Preserving memories like that, actually I’m very passionate about that. Every time I’m on vacation, I’ll take my little GoPro, and I’ll film all the cool things across the time and pull it together. It’s a really good memory.
Is there one particular vacation that stands out in your mind, as the most beautiful, or special place that you’ve visited?
Okay, I would have to say in Portugal, they have this little city, called Sintra. It’s on the coast and they have legitimate huge castles that looks like Disney on crack. I’d definitely recommend Lisbon and Sintra. We rented a motorcycle and then just rode along the coast.
Is there a specific song that reminds you of your time in Portugal?
Ah, yes, ‘Summertime Magic’ by Childish Gambino.
What qualities do you think make a great musician?
Number one is passion; pure passion and willingness to be transparent. I think that’s really important because people are all going through something. I feel like as musicians, you have to be a healer and it’s important to aim to heal with your music. I think beyond training and your ear, learning music theory and stuff like that, I feel like being authentic is really important.
Who are some of the current living artists that you feel fit that description, for you?
There’s a lot. Sam Smith is definitely one of them and Adele too; I feel like she’s healing herself by writing these songs, but they’re also helping so many people at the same time. Sam Smith’s breakup songs have helped heal me for sure. I think they’re just today’s legends. But there’s so many others I can’t even think of right now.
What is the main aim or message that you hope to communicate in your music in being transparent?
At least with this upcoming EP, called ‘Who Hurt You?’ I want people to be able to resonate with it, and feel like they can overcome their heartbreak. In terms of when they’re feeling low or getting cheated on. It happens a lot unfortunately, and I am just trying to be transparent in each stage of my experience in each song. So it’s like, I’m angry, I’m mad, and then I’m getting over it. I want people to hear that and experience the process of the breakup and stages of grief. I have a song called ‘From Here’, I think it’s one of my favourite songs off the EP. I want that song to give people confidence and reassurance that things do get better. Even after, getting cheated on or lied to. I was listening to a lot of breakup music across 2020. So just in case anyone needs any new breakup jams, I made some more!
Do you have a favourite song to perform or one that really resonates with you that you love sharing?
I haven’t performed ‘From Here’ yet because of COVID, but I am really excited to share that with an audience. It’s the last track on the upcoming EP and it’s basically me talking to my ex, stating that I can take it from here, don’t interrupt my growth and my healing. Every time I hear the bridge verse come in, I always get goosebumps, reminding me I really got through that process, even though at the time I thought I was gonna die.
I know that sounds really dramatic, but I really could not imagine a life without him. So me singing that song and listening back to the song that I wrote, it gives me a reminder of how much I got through and I hope people can listen to that and feel empowered.
Do you have anything you’d consider a weakness, or something that you’ve been trying to work on improve on, be that musically or personally?
I have a lot of weaknesses.
One would be that I’ve now developed really bad social anxiety. Which is so strange for people who don’t know me, because I come off very bubbly and open. But really, internally, I’m just freaking out all the time. Even before COVID I suffered from anxiety, but COVID has definitely made it more pronounced. Another weakness of mine would be performance anxiety, I know Adele also has stage fright, so I know there’s hope for me! Also, sometimes, motivation can be a weakness of mine. It’s really hard to stay motivated, especially during times like these when you’re at home all the time, you can get stuck, and just get stuck in the same cycle. It can be really hard to gain energy or momentum.
So, when you find yourself in these unmotivated periods, how do you overcome writer’s block? Do you have any advice to other creators who have also been struggling with writing in a pandemic?
Yeah, the way I get over writer’s block is, to take deep breaths. What really helps me is trying to understand how I’m internally feeling right in the moment. For instance, if I’m a little nervous, then I go from there: Why am I nervous?
It’s kind of like peeling an onion, until I get to the bottom of how I’m internally feeling in the moment, or what I’m going through. I think; okay, I feel like this – why do I feel like this? Then I peel away another layer, and keep peeling until I get to the middle of what triggers me or my day. I start there.
Usually, sad stuff comes to mind but even gratitude comes to the surface sometimes. Sometimes it makes you think, what am I thankful for? And then you can write about that. Even if the song is not about that it can get you started with a lyric.
That’s really great advice. Speaking of advice, do you remember the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given was?
When I was about 14. I was at the Disney Store, and I really wanted this mug. I was paying cash because a card wasn’t a thing when you’re 14. I was in line with my cousin and I needed maybe, $3. I had to say to the lady at the counter that I didn’t have enough. This lady behind me heard me and she said “It’s okay, I have $3” and she said her philosophy was: If you give, you shall receive. So if you give good energy, you receive good energy. If you give love, you’ll receive love. What’s so funny is that on Saturday, I was at a friends video shoot in the park and there was an ice cream truck who only took cash. I really wanted something and I didn’t have any cash on me and then one of my friend’s friend, who I’d never met before, was like “I got you girl, don’t worry”, and she said along the lines of: If I give good energy, I receive even better. Those things mean a lot to me. So yeah that’s become a significant piece of advice I’ve tried to live by.
So, I guess you could kind of say that that’s one experience has kind of shaped your view and shaped you as a person. But are there any other standout experiences that without it, you wouldn’t be the artist or person that you are today.
Yeah, there’s a lot. I wouldn’t be the artist that I was today, if I wasn’t raised by my grandparents, they gave me the best that they could. Even though music wasn’t a priority to them, I feel like it made me really know that I wanted it, because I had to fight and convince them that I could do this. It made me want it more and made me try harder to really chase a dream that everybody
Have you picked up any new skills or bought any new equipment that you can talk to us about?
Yes, I just set up my little home studio. I’m trying to learn to produce my own music. COVID really made me get it together and this free time has encouraged me to try to produce my own stuff. Hopefully, I can incorporate the Middle Eastern stuff in my production myself, who knows? It would be good to have more control over my sound and vision.
Talking about the new EP that you’ve been working on over the past year. A lot of people say that, naturally, with so much more time at your disposal that you can dedicate to music, quite a lot of changes can happen within artists sounds. Have you noticed a big change in the way that your next EP is going to sound compared to the previous?
Yes. I would have to say, honesty and transparency is on another level. My first EP wasn’t as deep, But I feel like this EP, you really get to hear a side of me that you didn’t hear in the other EP. It’s much more emotional, genuine, angry, and hurt.
Has that been inspired by anything that you’ve been listening to over lockdown? Oh yeah, Jhene Aiko, Kehlani, Colette Lush. I have a whole breakup playlists It has like 135 songs.
Please include some of those in your playlist! We’ve kind of discussed how it’s been a bit of a creatively stunting year. But when do you usually feel most inspired to write, what is usually the most inspiring time for you?
Okay, I usually write when I don’t understand what my emotions are, or know how to deal with things. That’s the best time for me to write because then it’ll help me figure it out. A lot of these songs are like the song ‘Bitch Boy’, I was crying when I wrote that song. It’s definitely a diss track, but when I was writing it, I was actually trying to make myself feel better. It was very therapeutic. I found myself going from crying to laughing while writing the song and I wrote that whole track in like 40 minutes, which is crazy and a really short time for me.
The pandemic has definitely put a focus on how the internet has kind of connected people. But it’s also changed the music business in a big way. How do you feel that the internet and digital age has impacted you, or has impacted music in general and do you think it’s for the better to worse?
There’s obviously both negatives and positives to social media and the internet, some positives, are the multitudes of platforms and opportunities available now that people 15 years ago did not have. We now have opportunities to get seen or grow and establish ourselves on our own, we can now be independent artists, we do not need a label as much, we do not need to sign away our soul. In other words, now we have all these doors and opportunities we can use as tactical opportunities to improve our output and reach. Through Instagram, I’ve met and talked to industry people that I would never be able to meet in person. I just direct message them, say hello, introduce myself, and just start a humanly conversation even though it’s through the internet. Those are opportunities I couldn’t get back in the day, so there’s a lot of positives.
The negatives is, that you cannot be just an artist anymore. You cannot be an artist and not be on social media. You have to have to have all this criteria; you have to have a website, you have Tik Tok, you need to have an Instagram. You’re not just a musician, you’re also now a content creator and you have to be consistent, always on your phone, posting, scheduling, talking. So it’s not just about music anymore which is sad, but I mean, again, it’s the price to pay for more opportunities for you to push your music.
Are there any changes that you’d like to see in the industry?
It is still iffy to be a female in the industry. A lot of people will take advantage and I really want to cancel all the gatekeepers. I would really want all the gatekeepers in the music industry to be gone.
Being a female artist of Middle Eastern heritage in America, do you feel that there’s not enough representation of artists like yourself in Western music?
I feel like it’s getting a lot better now. There’s a few American Arabs that are doing well in the music industry, and it’s definitely been growing. I think we definitely need more, that would be awesome but I feel like we’re doing a good job so far trying to navigate through the music industry. There’s a really dope Lebanese American artist, her name is Elynna, and she is pure Arabic in her songs. She has a pretty good following and she’s only like 17/18, I met her the other day at a rehearsal space in northridge. Also Lolo Zouai, she is French with Middle Eastern heritage. She has a song called Desert Rose, where she incorporates a little bit of Arabic in there. I really love them both.
What is your go to karaoke song or your favourite song to sing along to?
I have a couple. For some reason, I always sing it anytime someone asks me to sing. That Bobby Caldwell song ‘What You Won’t Do For Love’. That’s my go-to song and I don’t know why I just love it. Another one would be early Chris Brown, ‘Yo’.
So following on from that, what in your opinion is the best pop song ever written?
Oh my gosh, the best pop song ever written?! It has to be the Spice Girls’ ‘Wannabe’. Like everyone knows it. I feel like that’s when the real rise of pop music was happening. I remember them doing a show, and they had no shirt on and I was like four, they had like long hair just covering their chest. And I was just like, wow, I want long hair like that as a little girl and they definitely left their mark, I wanted to be a Spice Girl.
Also, boy bands were more of a thing back then and I used to love Backstreet Boys, I grew up on them, I also loved *NSYNC but I was always more Backstreet Boys through and through.
Is there any style of music that you can’t stand?
Ah, yeah. There’s one, and it’s like that pig squeal, demonic, satan rock. It’s like, whoa, dude, are we summoning demons right now?! I can’t handle that in the dark. No, thanks.
Do you have a guilty pleasure song? One that you’re ashamed to say that you love?
It has to be a Nickelback song. I actually love Nickelback, and people always like to fight me over that fact, I don’t know why no one likes them! Why is everyone always hating on them anyway They started out strong. You can’t deny that, I mean I still listen to them. So yeah, I’d say ‘Far Away’ by Nickelback
What advice would you give to someone who is wanting to follow in your footsteps and pursue their passion?
Okay, I have a lot of advice. A key piece of advice is to also learn the business side of music, so that you can really know what you’re doing; musically and on the business side. The hardest part is getting started, if you don’t know what to do, I would recommend just singing over YouTube beats and releasing them just to get started, discover yourself and practice writing in that way. Also, meet as many people as you can and do collaborations, that’s how I learned.
So do you have any advice for how to start to write as well?
Yeah, the way I started figuring that out is by going to my favourite songs. I would print out their lyrics and would basically highlight each section: Verse one, pre hook, second verse, chorus you know. That certainly helped me in terms of structure, but in terms of writing, I would just recommend being transparent and being as real as possible, because people really resonate with that compared to the surface level stuff.
Which living artist, would you want to collaborate with the most?
Post Malone. I’ve been a fan since before he blew up. Firstly, he’s a funny guy and secondly, he’s honestly a musical genius. I think he’s really talented and it would be a fun collaboration, I’m super down. If you know him, send him my way.
But there’s a lot of collaborations that I would like to do. Kehlani would also be one of them, because she’s just so dope and I want to collaborate with females more, supporting females, females supporting females is more prevalent than ever and I feel like we can keep that momentum of females supporting females going. It’s not a competition anymore, especially because I’m doing r&b as well. You know, I don’t want it to be a competition, I want it to be more empowering and supportive. So, I think it would be great to collab with her and also get Timberland to produce.
Thanks so much for taking the time, is there anything else that you’d like to add anything you’d like to add to those reading this?
I would just like to tell whoever reads this and is not feeling content in themselves or their situation, that where you are right now is not where you’re going to be next year; mentally, physically, emotionally – so try to stay positive. Know you’ll get through this, I’m in a completely different place to where I was last year. I never thought I’d be here. Just stay hopeful and know things can change.