Interview: The Shires
Originally published at Phaser Magazine
*Disclaimer* This interview was conducted before the Covid-19 crisis.
The Shires, comprising Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes, are the UK’s biggest selling Country act of all time, combining heart-warming harmonies with soulful storytelling. I sat down to chat with them about their brand new album, their tour, and bringing the Nashville sunshine back to the UK’s grey skies.
Ben and Crissie, thank you for taking the time out to talk today! You recently dropped the single 'Independence Day', which is an empowering break-up anthem, and the previous single 'Lightning Strikes' is also about an ex, but it’s full of energy and excitement at the possibility of rekindling a lost spark. It would’ve been easy to make both of these sad songs. What made you want to turn them on their head, and make them sound more celebratory?
Ben: That’s a really good question! It wasn’t a conscious thing, it’s kind of from seeing someone who’s going though a break-up and saying, ‘I know you’ll come through the other side, and I can already see you’re happier than you were before’. I think we’re quite happy people generally, and at live shows you can only get away with a handful of really sad songs. My opinion about music, as well as the media, is that I want to be uplifted. It’s also harder to write a song that picks you up.
In what ways did you want it to carry on the bright, buoyant nature of Accidentally On Purpose, and in what ways did you want your new album, Good Years, to be different?
Crissie: For the first three albums, we were so relentlessly in a constant ‘go-go-go!’ kind of mode. We were always here, there and everywhere, and it was hard to grab a moment and appreciate everything we’d done. We actually left our record label that we’d been with for the first three albums, and sat in limbo for a little moment without a label, before signing with CMG. We had a bit of time away from the craziness, and we got to spend time with family and friends, and get some normality in our lives. The songs are generally quite reflective, showing how we’ve been feeling appreciative of where we are in our working lives and home lives.
Accidentally On Purpose contained a lot of crossovers into new genres and sounds. Is this experimentation something we can expect more of on Good Years?
C: It wasn’t a conscious effort at the time. We were partying quite a lot in Nashville, and that was reflected in the songs we were writing for Accidentally On Purpose. We were influenced by the music scene there, and we were still trying to break America, so we thought going on the poppier side would cross us over. And it helped with the live performances, because the songs have so much energy and fun.
B: I think we go back to our roots on Good Years. The irony with this is that in not trying to target the US as much, we now have more support there than ever! It’s funny how that wasn’t even really part of the plan, the aim was just to record the songs the way we wanted them.
There’s generally been a lot of genre-blurring involving Country over the past few years. How do you tread the line between pleasing the die-hard Country fans, and also infusing this with Pop and Dance impulses? Do you ever feel restricted in a sense by the ‘Country’ label?
B: Trying to please everyone is the hardest thing. You just don’t need to, there are always going to be people that say ‘It’s not Country enough’, or ’It’s not Pop enough’, and so on.
C: As long as you can release something you’re proud of and 100% happy with, that’s the main thing. It’s always going to be open to opinions - I remember having a chat with a fan when we’d just released Accidentally On Purpose, and he mentioned about us going Pop, and he wasn’t pleased. But sometimes you have to broaden the genre to give other people a taste as to what Country is all about.
B: Crissie’s right that at that time, we loved that record, but Good Years is definitely us now.
You’re about to embark on another huge UK tour. Do you prefer the writing and recording process of the album, or is it more fun finally getting to showcase the new material live?
B: I think the live show is kind of the pay-off, the celebration at the end of the whole journey. When you’re sat in a room in Nashville or in the UK, you just have an idea for a song, and then you go into a room with your notes and it becomes something tangible. I personally love that, and if I could do just one thing for the rest of my life, I would do that. You get that moment of ‘Wow, I love that song'. At the same time, you’re trying to make something that’s perfect, so it is quite intense. You’ll do a thousand vocal takes, and you go a bit neurotic - it’s exciting and nerve-wracking. So when we finally get to our tour in April-May-June, we’ve gone through the process, and you can tell which songs really connect with people. For me, that’s the most enjoyable part, but it’s not the part I’d do for the rest of my life. Having said that, it is great to connect with people in a moment, live, and that’s why live music is so popular still.
I was lucky enough to see you both perform in Oxford for your Accidentally On Purpose tour. Are you excited to be back this year?
C: Yeah, we’re very excited! We’re putting it all together at the moment, sorting out the staging, etc. It’s hard to pick the setlist - we’re trying to make it work as best as we can, because we don’t really want to drop any songs!
B: Yeah, last time in Oxford we went to a quirky, underground bar, and we had a good party there after the show. The New Theatre is brilliant as well - I love how old-school it is.
You’ve introduced a whole new generation in the UK to Country music. Do you think the genre will continue to grow in the UK over the next decade?
B: Culturally, I’d like to think we’re post-cool. It used to be that you have your record collection and people would come and judge it - ‘Oh…you listen to the spice girls?!’ Now it’s more personal, because it’s just on your computer or phone. Country music really reminds me of the Noughties, the sounds and the things they’re singing about. Like if I wanted to talk about getting high with my friends, that would be too risqué and they’d be like ‘You can’t say that!’. Compared to the Hip-Hop world, it’s very innocent. Also with streaming, even more of an audience can come on-board. I think it will get bigger and bigger.
C: Absolutely! I think it’s still in its early days, but more and more people are enjoying the genre. More people are proud to say they love Country music. It’s funny we’re still trying to promote it, because we’ve been surrounded by it for seven solid years, and it’s crazy to think people don’t know about it yet.
For you both personally, what’s your favourite song on the new record?
B: Mine is between ‘On the Day I Die’ and ‘Crazy Days’. As a writer, I was always chasing ‘I Just Wanna Love You’ [from debut album, Brave], I remember writing that song really quickly by myself. It was just so honest and pretty much just a conversation. As much as I love writing in Nashville, sometimes there’s a lot of pressure to do something clever. That’s the Nashville way, and they’re geniuses at it, finding an idea or lyric and turning it on its head. Some of the biggest songs, though, are just straight up. ‘Crazy Days’ was me at home in my shed, with a piano, and I wanted to sing to my wife about how it’s hard because we’re away a lot, but it’ll be worth it. It’s a very honest and real song.
C: I remember hearing that for the first time, and it was everything Ben had always sung about. That's him at his finest, and I was a big fan of that from the get-go. He would just talk about that situation, and he means every word. I can draw from that, that it is crazy, but it’s a great reference song to bring you back down to reality. Also, I love the sentiment behind ‘On the Day I Die’, where you’ve lived the best life you can, and it’s all about appreciating every day. It was a real pleasure to sing.
Artists will often be going through something, and they pen lyrics that can really help the listeners who are going through that same struggle. ‘Naked’ is a perfect example of this, as it’s all about seeing someone for who they really are and accepting their flaws, and trusting them to accept yours. If you could pick just one, which song of yours would you want listeners to pay especially close attention to, that you feel can help people the most?
B: ‘Brave' is that song for me. I think I wrote it seven years ago, and it was a dark time for me to be honest. Similarly to ‘Naked’, I wrote it for myself, just to say you don’t have to be so brave all the time, and it’s okay to to tell people you’re not feeling 100%. That’s an important message. I have two young sisters, and they have their battles stemming from social media. I think it’s easy to put on this front of ‘I’m doing great’, ‘I’m on holiday’, etc. whereas a lot of people are struggling behind that. So I think it’s important that they have someone they can let their guard down to.
You recently performed with 5,000-8,000 children as part of the Young Voices choir project. You’re undoubtedly role models and inspirations for numerous young singers, songwriters, and bands out there. What would be your main piece of advice for anyone trying to break into the music industry?
B: It’s so hard not to fall back on clichés. From personal experience, I tried for so long to write a song to sound like someone.
C: Yeah, I tried to fit moulds, to be someone I didn’t believe 100% to be me.
B: Exactly, but when I found Country, I just made music that I loved. It’s the same with anything you do, as long as you actually love it, then no-one can take that away from you really.
Switching that question around a little, who in Country music is inspiring you right now?
B: Lady Antebellum have been an incredible inspiration for me. Also Nina Nesbitt, and I know she’s not Country, but she co-wrote ‘Naked’. When we first met her, she was without a record deal, and it’s great now seeing her do what she loves, and just be who she is. Suddenly in the last two years she's found great success, just because she’s being herself. We went out with her in Nashville, and I think her songs are so her.
I read somewhere that you both met on Facebook through a mutual friend. Songwriting can be an incredibly personal process, and can involve putting yourself in quite a vulnerable space. How long after you two met were you able to feel comfortable enough to really open up lyrically in this way to one another?
B: We’ve always been honest, and there’s no ego with us. If I throw out a bad idea, Crissie’s open enough to tell me that it’s bad, and vice versa. But it’s a myth that in every songwriting session people sit down and pour their hearts out.
C: When we met it was all work based, we’d sit together and write songs that we thought we should write. We didn’t really pour our hearts out as such, the more sessions we had, the more we realised it’s quite an open space in a writing room, and some things get blurted out, and everyone’s quite open and understanding. In the studio, usually you sit down and chat with the writer, and catch up a little. For the song ‘Accidentally On Purpose’, I was just talking about leaving Nashville the next day, and I was genuinely just telling the guy that I wanted to stay a bit longer, and I was just chatting and telling him what was going on at that point. I did not expect to be writing that song on that day! It’s just kind of amazing that it happened like that.
You’re the UK’s biggest selling Country act of all time. Do you feel more pressure each time you release a new album to live up to this reputation, or does it give you an added boost?
B: I definitely feel more pressure every time. I turned my shed into a writing room, and I asked the decorators to put my gold discs as far away as possible from me! It’s funny, I’d say to our manager, ‘Once we’ve sold this many records, I’ll feel comfortable and relaxed’, and he just said, ‘You’ll never feel relaxed!’ The goalposts change. We both want to be the very best we can be, and the other stuff that comes with it, that’s not as important. You can’t forget it’s the music that drives everything.
C: When we write the songs and record, I’m a pretty go-with-the-flow person, I never focus on the business stuff. I’m just enjoying the process. When the album’s ready, and it comes to realising there’s so many people involved, and so many things to do, that’s the only time when I feel pressure about it. We’ve done our bit recording the songs we love, and everything we put into it is everything we could do at that time. It’s the business stuff that always adds the pressure - you don’t think about that when writing and recording. There’s also always pressure in putting the tour together, but when you’re on stage you don’t have to think about anything else, it’s just about getting up there and just being in that moment.
The Shires’ new album, Good Years, is out now on all platforms.
I got the chance to ask Erik and Elina, the EDM duo who form UNDRESSD, about the success of their recent single, 'Forever Young', as well as how they met, and what is next in store for the pair. 'Forever Young' is a buoyant, summer anthem, with Elina's hypnotic vocals flowing magically over the twinkling synth bed created by Erik.
Be sure to check it out after reading the interview below...!
You both must be buzzing right now, coming off the back of ‘Forever Young’ surpassing 5 million streams. Did you always feel it was a special song, or did this come as a bit of a shock?
When we finished the track we felt that it was something extra, but we never expected this amount of support. Just a couple of weeks after the release the phone started ringing from record labels all over the world… that was surreal.
Alphaville first recorded ‘Forever Young’ in 1984. What made you decide to cover it?
We both really love the original. It holds such beautiful melodies and lyrics. We were on a road trip when the radio played the original, and the idea popped up and we spent the night in the studio jamming and trying some ideas.
How did you guys meet, and when did you decide to start making music together?
Well… we met on Tinder, haha. Erik is more of a pop-producer and Elina more of an indie-singer-songwriter. But we were actually dating for about half a year before we realized we both should do something together. After going to the cinema and watching a movie about a famous Swedish artist, we decided to do a cover from that soundtrack. That was the start of our project.
What’s the meaning behind the name ‘UNDRESSD’?
Wish we had a good answer to this one, but we don’t! We just really needed a name for our first release, and this name just popped up.
Does the success of ‘Forever Young’ add pressure to your next release, as people will be waiting on it more expectantly than ever, or does ‘Forever Young’s success just add fuel to your fire?
It’s always hard to do a follow up to a successful song. We really want the next song to be as good as this one, if not better. But overall we just feel super excited to create more songs after this response. At the moment we’re just trying to enjoy the success of this release.
What can we expect next from UNDRESSD? Is there an album in the works?
We really like this cover game, and you can expect more songs soon. At this moment we don’t plan an album, but who knows what the future holds...!
I really love your other two singles, which are entirely in Swedish. Will there be more songs in Swedish in future, or will most from now on be in English?
Oh, thank you! We will definitely release more Swedish covers. It feels so inspiring to hear comments like ”don’t know what your singing but I’m loving it”.
Which software do you use to produce your tracks, and how long did it take to create ‘Forever Young’?
We work in Logic X. We really like how fast the workflow is there. This was a song that we turned from an idea to a solid demo in just a day, but we polished the track for a couple of weeks. We co-produced the final touch with a friend of ours, Adel Dahdal.
EDM is for many people the sound of the future, with the way it combines an electric sound with soothing melodies. What draws you to EDM as a genre in particular?
We love how EDM nowadays lets you blend organic and electronic elements. I don’t know if you can hear it in the final production, but it’s basically made of electric guitars, an acoustic guitar, a piano and even a live bass. Adding some electronic elements to that gives you that pumpy feeling.
I have a section on my blog called ‘Self-Help Songs’, where I analyse a particular song’s lyrics and see what lessons we can gain from it. What lyric would you pick out from ‘Forever Young’, or one of your other singles, that you really feel can help the listener the most?
We really love the opening of Forever Young:
Let’s dance in style
Interview by Maxim Mower
Stream UNDRESSD's hit single, 'Forever Young', on all platforms
It was awesome to get the opportunity to chat to teen stars of tomorrow, 'Refuge', about their recent 'Haven to a Heavy Soul' EP. It's clear from their answers how much they care about music as an art-form, and how passionate they are about restoring authentic music to the charts. Read what they had to say below...!
Could you give me a brief backstory as to how the band came about?
The band started in 2016 when Patrick, Gabe and Silas got together for a random, first-time-ever jam session and realised (to everyone’s surprise) that we weren’t actually terrible; the humble beginnings of any band. So we started to learn some songs, played them for friends, and eventually came to dominate the hardcore international middle school social scene!
Over time, we developed a very clear preference for the Blues, riff-driven rock, improvisation, and lots of jamming. That led to expanding membership in order to bring in all the necessary elements to complete the band, eventually adding bass (Ben), vocals (Teresa) and piano/organ (Ike). All members are multi-instrumentalists, we all write music and lyrics, and we all fell in love with the Blues, jam bands and classic rock together.
Who are the members, and what role does each person have?
(Left to Right in photo)
How did you come to choose the name ‘Refuge’?
The band is named “REFUGE” because it represents what we are all about: somewhere to escape from the superficial, inauthentic music of our times. We are not a throwback band, however; we believe blues and rock n’ roll are timeless and just need a kick from young people to bring some life into it. Our band is determined to promote righteous and soulful music to a new generation.
That said, we weren’t thinking that deeply when we named the band. We were mainly just being critical of our friends’ musical preferences and thought REFUGE sounded cool. As we evolved as a band, so did the significance of our name.
There is a clear theme of journeys and travelling woven through 'Haven', with this being highlighted on tracks such as ‘Gone Astray’ and ‘Run Through’. To what extent would you say your collective identity as ex-pats influences the music you make?
Probably quite a bit. Maybe less so in terms of musical preference; that mainly comes from our parents, especially Patrick and Teresa’s father. But being expats certainly influences our thinking and how we see the world, and that surely gets into our lyrics. We know we are privileged to live overseas in amazing places like Kenya; and we know we have been given a great opportunity to see and learn about the world’s injustices firsthand. Our parents all work in humanitarian aid and development, and they have taught us a lot about what compelled them to do what they do. We will try to honor that in our music.
Continuing on from this, you have a song called 'Tathagata's Stream'. This is a crazy coincidence, because I'm currently studying Buddhism! 'Tathagata' translates as either 'one who has thus gone' or 'one who has thus come', and the Buddha also frequently refers to himself as 'the Tathagata'. How does all this play into the meaning behind the song ‘Tathagata’s Stream’?
You got it! Well the song was written before we had a title for it. After listening to the studio cut, someone mentioned that it sounded very stream-of-consciousness. The irony is that Patrick wrote that entire song out well before recording, and had even performed it at a few gigs. He was going for something drifty though, with emotional ups and downs. Since we already had some knowledge of Buddhism, we imagined this song to be like the internal thinking of someone meditating. Meditation is not all silent and serene; it can make you experience all kinds of emotions, and we thought this song kind of reflected that. So we called it “Tathagata’s Stream” (i.e. Buddha’s thought process). There’s no religious connotation though. “Tathagata” was used to represent the idea that thoughts come and go… even enlightened thoughts!
Despite having no lyrics, ‘The Wordless Ballad of Utharelius Tyne’ is one of my favourite songs right now! It just pulls me along through all kinds of emotions when I listen to it. What’s the story behind it, and who is Utharelius Tyne?
That’s awesome, thanks! The song developed gradually. Its biggest inspirations were probably Jimmy Page’s acoustic stuff (with Zeppelin) as well as John Butler’s solo work. After we made the song, we noted that it had a very trippy Celtic sound to it, which conjured up a bunch of medieval imagery for us. Somehow this got us imagining a wandering storyteller/poet that travels from pub to pub telling stories and making people’s lives just a little more interesting. That guy needed a name… so we took the name Patrick and Teresa’s younger brother came up with for one of his own short stories, Utharelius Tyne. Sounds real… but it totally isn’t.
It’s quite bold, for your first EP, to have numerous tracks that clock in over 7 minutes and that don’t have lyrics, but it’s also a move that I feel pays off. In creating this album, how did you balance the drive to generate popularity and radio plays, with the more artistic desire to make music you genuinely love and are really proud of
Great question. We went with the second option entirely. Since we are young, there is no rush for us to get lots of radio plays or have the popularity of a mainstream band. We want to succeed, but we have plenty of time. For now, our priority is originality and doing what we love. We know that will gradually get the kind of fans we want as well, i.e. people who love jamming. That said, we also have some short, 3-minute songs. Those are actually harder to write because you have to convey everything you want to convey so succinctly. We should also point out that REFUGE doesn’t want to be a “standard” band that hides behind (or plays second fiddle to) the lead singer. Instrumentation is a big part of our identity, and it is so lacking in popular music today. Everything is so computerized now that there is literally no “feel”, at least not beyond the vocalist. And how could there be? Feel comes from imperfect timing, from stretching out a sound that invokes a sentiment. Algorithms can’t do that.
I absolutely love the album cover, it’s such an imposing but uplifting image, and I think that epitomises the mood of the EP as a whole. What does the image represent to you?
We call it “The Heavy”. That’s another aspect of the band that has evolved over time. At this point, it represents that potential fan that we are looking for, and that hopefully is looking for us. The gas mask implies that he’s stuck in the “real” world, where so much music is phony and soulless (i.e. toxic). But it’s optimistic. The reflection of “REFUGE” on his goggles means that he found us. The psychedelic colors around him imply that finding us has created some kind of positive spirit or vibe. And the giant ‘fro… well that just looks cool. It also acknowledges our African origins.
Which artists inspire you the most?
Oh man, where do we start?!
We guess it’s pretty obvious that we are mainly into ‘60/70s blues, psychedelic and southern rock. That said, we have a ton of other interests as well, such as roots reggae, funk, jazz, R&B, bluegrass and Outlaw country.
Our influences are broad but some of the artists we listen to the most (and appreciate) include the Allman Brothers, Ten Years After, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath, Santana, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Grateful Dead, Doobie Brothers, The Eagles, Eric Clapton and Blues greats such as Albert King, Elmore James and Buddy Guy.
Finally, I have a section on my blog called ‘Self-Help Songs’, where I analyse a particular song’s lyrics and see what lessons we can gain from it. Which of your lyrics would you say you would want listeners to pay close attention to, that you feel can help people the most?
That’s pretty cool that you give song lyrics proper attention. We won’t pretend to claim philosopher status, but we definitely agree with you that lyricists are poets (or at least they should be) who can have profound impacts on their listeners. We hope to do that someday. For now, we are happy with what we have been able to write and we think it sends a decent message of what REFUGE is all about.
Two songs that probably do this best are “A Brighter Day” and “Saw It Coming”. Generally we like to write in metaphor, and even better if the lyrics have some kind of double meaning. In a literal sense, our song lyrics tend to sound like someone speaking to the person they are (or were) in a relationship with. But they go beyond that. “A Brighter Day” has a feminist message and thumbs its nose at an overly judgmental society. “Saw It Coming” is about climate change, spoken in the first person by Mother Earth herself.
Interview by Maxim Mower
Stream Refuge's Haven to a Heavy Soul EP on all platforms
Interview: Us Rapper, C Woodz
I recently sat down with up-and-coming US rapper, C Woodz, for his first ever UK interview!
Among other things, we spoke about his influences, how he got into music, and the meaning behind last year’s EP, ‘Born in October’. It was awesome to get the opportunity to chat with such a humble, but clearly driven, artist, and it was refreshing to hear him talk about the positive effect he hopes to have on his fans, and his ambitions for the future.
Check out the interview below!
How does it feel coming off the back of the release of your new single, ‘Drip or Drown’?
I love creating music, it feels good. Every single I release is a big moment. The video’s coming soon too!
Is there a new album on the horizon?
The album right now is not together. There’s a collection of singles that I’m focussing on - I’m going to release 6 of them over the next six months. The album, that’ll be sometime next year.
You recently shot the video for ‘Please Don’t’ in London. In the song you say you flew there without a case - is that true?!
I actually did! I go to London like twice a year, I love it there. Also ‘Please Don’t’, that song was one of my favourites off the EP ‘Born in October’.
In ‘Please Don’t’, you sing 'Please don't send them my way'. What are you referring to here?
Basically, it’s my experience when I first went to London, my first experience, I was so happy just being out there. The city showed so much love, I was inspired by the people, and how they gravitated to my music. It was all very overwhelming, so yeah, it was inspired by my first experience going to London. “Please don’t send them my way” is basically talking about negativity, don’t send me any negativity. You can relate that to anything.
You mentioned recently that “It’s time for me to reroute my message”, and your recent pack of singles, ‘Different Smoke’, was full of lots of positivity, love, and was about you dedicating yourself to your girl. How would you describe this new message, and what side of C Woodz are we going to be getting from now on?
As far as that, the whole concept is about changing up the direction of my lyrics. I’m in a different space now. Going forward, when I am dropping new projects, I really want people to hear a different perspective to my old music. I basically want to impact people differently, and not just talk about the same things, but still give them the same impact in that transition. As far as visuals, lyrics, when I’m writing them, everything is rerouted to get a different perspective.
Which artists inspire you the most?
That’s kinda tough! I’m inspired by a lot of artists. First off, the rapping side of me was inspired by Lil Wayne. I’ve been listening to him since the age of 8. Then there was the transition where Chris Brown came along. Also other artists like Tory Lanez, Meek Mill, all of those artists, they inspire me, along with others.
You talk about being inspired by these artists. How does it feel to be in a position where you are inspiring your fans, and you are a role model to them? Do you feel any pressure in this responsibility?
I treat that as a proud moment, I’m just starting to see people gravitate to my music, loving my lyrics, reciting them in videos. It’s great. There’s no pressure at all, it actually drives me to produce more music that they want to listen to. I love that feeling.
What was the mentality behind your first EP ‘Born in October’, which you released last year? What space were you in when you wrote that?
When I was creating it, this was one of the first projects I really sat down and thought through. I wanted to do it the right way. ‘Born in October’ has acronyms, symbolism, there’s a lot of meaning in there. First off, I was born in October, that was the first symbolisation. Secondly, I felt reborn again, going through the process of creating that music. Basically I just wanted to give everybody that was born in October, or whatever month they were born in, to connect with this EP. Because when I was creating it, with each song I was going through different emotions and trials, and I was putting those things in my music. I was feeling recreated, rejuvenated, and reborn, and it added a whole different perspective to who I was. I felt brand new.
What’s the thinking behind the album cover, which shows a figure meditating in the grasp of a dragon’s claw?
The whole meditation part, that’s an actual silhouette of me sitting down, just meditating and relaxing. That whole image just symbolises me feeling born again. The dragon that you see, that’s to symbolise luck. Also, when you think of a typical lucky number, what number do you think of? 7. That’s the reason there’s seven songs, the dragon is lucky, it’s all a symbol of completion. Feeling completed as I was writing this music.
I really want people to hear a different perspective to my old music. I want to impact people differently
What direction do you see the future of Hip Hop going in? Does 'mumble rap’ have a future?
When I think about Hip Hop and R&B, I think that it’s all about life right now. You know, when you see an old tree, and it’s been there for hundreds of years, it may look old but it continues to grow. That’s how I look at music, it’s going to continue to grow and evolve. No matter where we are at, great music lasts forever. Mumble rap ain’t gonna stick around, because people want to hear something that’s going to keep them sustained when they’re going through certain things. The music is going help them get through that. As an artist, I obviously have to adapt to the music that’s being created and that’s popular, but also put my own style on it. I’m not a mumble rapper, but I have to adapt to it.
How did you first get into music?
My favourite rapper is and always has been Lil Wayne. Like I said, it started right there when I was 8, and I went to a Lil Wayne concert. My brother rapped too so that was a big influence. Music was really all around me, so as I got to 16/17, I wanted to start creating. My first time writing, I basically took Tha Carter I or II, and I switched all the words around. If he said ‘red', I said ‘blue’, and so on. That was my first time writing, and that helped me to learn how to write. At 17 I wrote my first song, and when I look at the lyrics now it’s funny to me, but I can see where I was trying to go with it. As life went on, I learnt how to do it. During that era, when I was 17, that’s basically when Chris Brown came along, and everyone was gravitating towards him. There was the whole thing about him dancing and singing, I just liked his style. That paved the way for me, that’s how it all started.
Where do you see yourself at the end of the year?
Winning ‘Best New Artist’ at the BET Hip Hop Awards. I want to be doing music full time, if I can do that, that’s when I’ll feel like I’ve really made it.
Are you independent, or signed to a label?
I’m independent, not signed. All my videos and me travelling to shoot them, all that is at my own expense.
What would be your ideal collaborations?
I want to work with Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, Tory Lanez. But at the moment I’m working with no features. Lil' Keke is an artist that’s becoming really big over here in America, and I have a song with him [called Real and Fake]. He’s a big feature for me to have secured. But other than that, I would only do a feature if it was a big name artist. I’m really just focused on getting my own music out there right now.
I have a section on my blog called ‘Self-Help Songs’, where I analyse a particular song’s lyrics and see what lessons we can gain from it, because I feel like artists are in some ways today’s philosophers. They’ll be going through something, and they pen lyrics that can really help the listeners who are going through a similar struggle, but perhaps shed new light on it or shift the perspective in a really helpful way. Off the top of your head, which of your lyrics would you say you would want listeners to pay close attention to, that you feel can help people the most?
It’s a lyric on my ‘Born in October’ EP. It’s the first verse on my song, ‘Born’. It goes,
Look at my scars, they can tell you that the battle was real,
It’s real, and basically it’s saying that they never know what you been through until they walk in your shoes.
Read the latest self-Help Songs post here
Interview by Maxim Mower
Stream C Woodz’ summer anthem, ‘Drip or Drown’, out on all platforms, and watch his video for ‘Please Don’t’ here.
You Might like...'Interview with THemxxnlight'
Shorter version of this interview published at phaser.com
Exciting new R&B duo THEMXXNLIGHT, comprising of identical twins Akash and Krish Chandani, made waves in the music industry when Wiz Khalifa featured them on three tracks off his 2018 album, Rolling Papers 2. On 20th April, a few hours after the release of a new Wiz Khalifa album, which contains two more THEMXXNLIGHT features, I sat down to chat with the 22-year olds about what’s been an unforgettable year for them...
Well, this is really the perfect time to talk to you guys, because you’ve pretty much come full circle! This time last year, Wiz Khalifa had you all over Rolling Papers 2, and then just today his latest project, Fly Times, Vol. 1: The Good Fly Young, drops and you have a big presence on it once again. How are you guys feeling after such an amazing year?
“We’re feeling good, it’s pretty crazy. The feedback last time was similar, but they were mainly newer people that never knew about us. This time it was more like, ‘You did it once again!’”
How was the process different this time around, working with Wiz a year on?
“Well, the first time was through Sledgen [Taylor Gang’s in-house producer]. We had about eight songs, he probably just took three of them for the album. This time we actually went to Club Nightingale in LA, and then Wiz comes up to us and says, ‘Yo I need you to come to my house to record.’ We go to his house, and then we’re there for like twelve hours, we record like five songs, some with Chevy Woods. It was crazy because that was the first time in the studio with him. He was writing his verses in front of us. We just wrote something for the hooks pretty fast, just recorded it, both songs were on repeat the whole time. It was really different, a lot of the Taylor Gang were there, it felt like more of a family.”
Could you clarify, because there’s been a lot of speculation online, are you signed to the Taylor Gang label, or are you still independent?
“No, we’re not signed to Taylor Gang, but we are signed to Will Dzombak, who’s the CEO and founder of Taylor Gang Entertainment. He’s also Wiz’ manager”
There’s a new EP, XX, on the way, as well as the full length album, MOOD. Any word on when we can expect those to drop?
“XX is going to be first, we want to drop that in the next couple of months. Then MOOD will hopefully come out later in the year.”
I wanted to ask you about the origin of your name, THEMXXNLIGHT, and the reasoning behind switching the O’s out for X’s.
“So in Hindi our last name means ‘the moonlight’. And then we just felt spelling it with the X’s made it more mysterious, as well as being symbolic of us being twins.”
A year before you secured the Rolling Papers 2 features, you were recording in your dorm room on the 2004 version of GarageBand. I wish it could make me sound like that! Have you upgraded your kit since then?
“(laughing) No! It’s still hella old, a really, really old version of GarageBand. I think it’s the 2007 version.”
You rejected offers to play basketball at MIT and California State, and instead ended up graduating from RPI in New York with an engineering degree. A lot of readers will be at that point in their lives where they are having to choose between what they’re being told they’re supposed to do, i.e. get a degree, get a Masters, get a secure job, etc., and their hobbies. What made you take that leap of faith and opt for music over engineering and sport?
“That’s a good question! Somehow it worked out perfectly with the timing. At first, we imagined we’d play basketball for four years while doing our degrees. But within the first two or three months, we just didn’t feel a connection with the coach. It was a new coach, as the coach that recruited us had left. So we decided to drop from the team. Initially, we just made songs for fun, but by the tenth song, Wiz discovered us! That was two and a half years into making music. We graduated, then Rolling Papers 2 dropped in July. So it didn’t really involve any leap of faith before then, it was after that album released that our parents were like, ‘Ok, you can take some time away and focus on music’. It was a family decision, it wasn’t a rebellious, 'We’re running away from home’ kind of thing. Our parents said, ‘We’ll support you, and you guys can pursue this, and see how it goes’.
You’ve spoken in the past about how your sound has been heavily influenced by one of your favourite artists, The Weeknd. What drew you to his style of R&B?
“In high school, we were kind of shower singers. We always took instrumental lessons, but we were never trained vocally, and we still haven’t been, even though we do want to be. We were kind of singing around campus, and then we first heard ‘The Zone’ by The Weeknd one morning before getting dropped off at school. We just thought, ‘Yo, he sounds super unique, he sounds like an angel.’ He’s Ethiopian too, and his music actually has close tie-ins with Indian music, so immediately we felt very accustomed to his sound. We did a few The Weeknd covers and put them out on Soundcloud. They got shared by a couple of OVO and The Weeknd fan pages. It was crazy, it felt like our idols were slowly turning into our reality.”
Speaking of Drake’s OVO label, you recently shared a photo with Roy Woods on your Instagram. What features can we expect from the upcoming EP and album?
So we have one song with Chevy Woods, that’s going to be on his album in the summer, we can’t say what it’s called just yet. Then for our own projects, yeah, we have Roy Woods and Ye Ali. We've also worked with Megan Thee Stallion, she hit us up after the Wiz songs. She sent us a song which had two verses, but the hooks were blank. We recorded something, and she replied saying, ‘Yo, my mum loves it, my whole team loves it’. To be on her album would be a major honour, she’s an amazing female artist doing great things right now. Also TM88 is producing his album sometime this year, we have a song on there that’s co-produced by Sledgren. Also, Roy Woods has a full EP in the works. We have a collab project with him too that we’re excited about.”
Wow, so a lot to look forward to! I wanted to talk to you about your Indian heritage, and how big a part that plays in your music.
“It definitely plays a big part. Jay Sean inspired us a lot, it feels like the entire world still doesn’t know he’s British Indian. Obviously, NAV with XO, signed to The Weeknd, we would love to be a part of that. It’s clear that The Weeknd supports artists no matter what their culture is. Him putting on NAV was pretty crazy, and a great step for our community. Again, NAV paved the path for South Asian artists to really make it in genres other than Bollywood music.”
How does it feel to be role models for minority groups pursuing careers in music, particularly Indian Americans, because apart from NAV, there aren’t many in the game at the moment?
“There is a lot of pressure to please the community, because we can’t do a lot of the same things. Obviously there are a lot of drug influences in NAV’s music and videos, his background is more from Rexdale from Toronto. So it’s hard to find the balance for us. Based on feedback from the community, I think we can be good role models. Local high schoolers come up to us like, ‘Yo, you guys are legends, you’re the biggest inspiration for the Indian community’. We wish we’d have had an Indian rapper come to us and say, “Yo, you should pursue music’, then we would have been way more inspired from a younger age. What’s great as well is that people from all over India are also noticing us.”
You mentioned how NAV has the freedom to make a lot of drug references in his music, and modern R&B as a genre definitely contains numerous themes of drug use, with The Weeknd, for example, also following this trend. Do you feel, as artists that are just coming into R&B and are perhaps still seen as outsiders, that there is a pressure on you to conform to these stereotypes of R&B music?
“Yeah, good question. Not really, it’s kind of the theme of R&B to be on a druggy vibe, to put you in a high mood. We don’t feel pressure to do any of that stuff. Obviously singing about it makes sense because that’s the style of music, R&B is typically very sensual. If you want to do drugs, if doing drugs helps you in listening to that kind of music, then we’re not going to judge anyone for what they want to do. But there’s no pressure for us to partake in that. Our music is not heavily drug themed, there are very, very few references to drug abuse. We focus more on passion, and love story type stuff. There are some references, because like I said, it comes with the territory, but generally that’s not what we aim to sing about.”
Finally, for my blog I have this concept called Self-Help Songs, where I pick certain lyrics that people can learn something from, and I thought it could be cool to ask you about some lyrics from one of your newest Wiz features, ‘All For You’. Your chorus reads, “If you need someone to treat you right/If you need someone to talk to, call me/I’ll do anything you like/I wanna do it all for, all for, all for you”. What was the inspiration behind these lines?
“Yeah, so it’s kind of the beat that carried it. We heard it and it had that really reminiscing, slow jam R&B vibe. But we could also imagine Wiz going crazy hard on it. We thought we could make something that pleases both R&B and Rap fans. In terms of what inspired the lyrics, we came up with this story. We were kind of imaging a scenario where one of us was with a girl, maybe taking her around a shopping mall, treating her right kind of thing. Basically it means using your success in the music industry, to give back to your girl, and being unselfish, like ‘Everything I do, I’ll do for you’. Both songs are kind of about greatness, and giving back, and reminiscing.”
Interview by Maxim Mower
Hear THEMXXNLIGHT on Wiz Khalifa’s latest album, Fly Times, Vol.1: The Good Fly Young, and stream their brand new single, ‘Good Things’.
Hello! I'm currently studying Philosophy & Theology at Oxford University, UK. Having always loved writing and music in equal measure, and having always hated decision-making, I figured hey, why do I need to choose between the two?