Interview: edbl on his collaborative new mixtape, the power of spotify, and groovy stank faces
After dropping his new collaborative project Boys & Girls, edbl chatted to us about working with other artists, developing his body of work, and what the future holds...
For your last release, edbl beats, vol.1, you returned to some existing beats you'd made, so how did you formulate and develop your musical vision for the new mixtape Boys & Girls?
I first put out four singles with feature artists in summer 2019 and I was really happy with them. I worked with some great artists who I’d met on the road through touring, travelling, and doing sessions.
After that, I had a load of beats kicking around just in a folder, from touring on the road with Ady Suleiman. I thought I might as well do something with them, also, I know great instrumentalists through Ady’s project. Jamie Parker plays keys on a lot of my stuff, and Mark Perry, if you hear trumpet on any of my stuff that’s always him - great players. So basically, we put together this beat tape from old voice notes and old ideas, then put that out earlier in the year.
The mixtape (Boys & Girls) was me coming back to wanting to work with artists, that’s pretty much my favourite thing to do in terms of making music - it’s working with singers and making songs. So that was a return to the same approach as the first few singles, just getting artists to come round to my home studio in Brixton. I’d play them a few ideas on guitar and they’d tell me which one they like, then we’d build the track around that. So that’s how the mixtape came to exist, I wanted it to be more a body of work than just a few singles.
The challenge with the mixtape came when lockdown hit in March and I only had maybe half of the amount of songs that I wanted, so I had to again go through old ideas. I had a track with Tilly, ‘Symmetry’, that’s on there now, that was just a demo from last year. ‘Nostalgia’ feat. Taura, that had a different verse and didn’t have a bridge. There was loads of stuff I had to finish through lockdown, it was quite a challenge, but yeah I got through it and now the mixtape is out.
There's an array of rising artists featured, how did these projects come about and what are your thoughts on the collaborative process?
The projects and the artists all come from different angles and backgrounds which is cool. A few examples, like Isaac Waddington, I met him because he plays keys for Mathilda Homer who supported Ady on tour a couple of years ago. Tilly I met when I was in a writing production duo a couple of years ago, Jay Alexander does BB’s for Ady, Kofi Stone again supported Ady. There’s a lot of links with Ady to be honest, because he’s in the same scene and world that I want to be in. So to sort of be a part of that through being his guitarist and collaborator was a real honour but also a great networking opportunity.
The features for this year, it’s very random on the mixtape, like Taura - a bassist from my old band put me in touch with her, he now works for my publisher. Carmody I just emailed, Alfie Neal is a friend who I met because he’s a fan of Ady, a couple of the features reached out to me which is quite cool. Essentially it comes out through all different angles and avenues, just anything to do with music, live stuff, sessions, management emailing me. It’s been a real mix.
My thoughts on the collaborative process? I love it, to put it simply. Music for me, I loved playing guitar when I was younger but what I really enjoyed from a super young age was just playing guitar with people. I used to write songs with my uncle, I had a friend Jack as well, we used to just make up silly songs, just knowing a few chords. I loved that from an early age and I’ve just carried that on - joined a band in high school, as soon as I got to university there were loads of singers that needed guitarists, that was amazing for me.
It’s all about collaboration for me, that’s why I loved this project so much, because, as much as I can make beats and produce on my own, the project wouldn’t exist without collaboration. So I’m really grateful for all of the great talent I’ve got to work with. This is just the start for me as well, so hopefully there are many more great artists and collaborators to come.
Having grown up in Chester and now living in Brixton, what differences have you experienced between those music scenes?
The difference between Chester and Brixton is pretty vast, especially music scene wise. Chester, when I grew up and was in a band, we used to go to Wrexham in North Wales because we were on the border with that and they had a really great venue called Central Station. They’d get some up and coming bands like Reverend and the Makers, Iglu & Hartly, Good Shoes, a few mid-level bands would play there and sometimes we’d get to support them.
Chester didn’t really have anything like that, there’s Alexander’s which was like a jazz bar. Then there's Telfords which is a really great venue, they do an open mic night and sometimes have bands but no one massive, so there wasn’t really a scene there. I studied in Liverpool as well and that was so close to Chester but so different - so many venues. They obviously love music there, stemming from The Beatles and what have you.
Then London, there’s music in the streets, it’s everywhere, you just can’t escape it. Brixton especially, you come out of the tube station and you can always hear some music or someone’s busking or it’s just kicking off, there’s just a vibe as soon as you get off the underground, so I love that - it’s lovely to be part of that. I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m a Brixtonian but I’ve loved living here for the last few years and I’m very happy to be part of this scene.
You have been blowing up on Spotify as an independent artist (with over 1.5m listens on the track ‘The Way Things Were’ alone) - how does notoriety and support from the likes of Spotify feel, after going through newer methods of distribution?
For me Spotify’s been absolutely huge, back in the day the traditional route was you send your demos to the labels, you get signed, they pump some money into it, then you go from there - I definitely think that’s an outdated model. I’ve been able to record and release my first few tracks mostly myself to be honest, from little to no cost. Obviously, with the way things are now, there are distributors all over, some are great, some are alright, but either way it’s very easy to get your music on Spotify and Apple Music - anyone can do it.
So I was able to get stuff on there really easily, the support from Spotify has been absolutely unreal. Even from the first singles when I had no backing, no following, I got on one playlist called Slow Movement which is an editorial one and I was just like, wow, this is amazing. It was really nice as well because it gave me the belief that if you create something that you think is really good, or you know in your heart it’s really good, then other people will listen and they’ll feel the same way. That’s kind of how I feel about my stuff, I always loved ‘The Way Things Were’, I always thought it was the best song I ever did with Isaac and I think that is reflected in the streams, playlists, and stuff like that.
It’s been absolutely huge for me, Spotify is effectively shaping my career at the moment because of the amount of playlists they’ve put me on and the amount of love they’ve shown me. New Music Friday, for someone like me whose only been going for a year independent, is absolutely monumental - just to get those streams, and new followers, new fans, and ultimately convert that into buying records, coming to gigs, or supporting the project. So yeah, it’s been huge for me Spotify, absolutely huge.
You've worked remotely with other artists on some of the mixtape, so how do you see the future of music taking shape during and post-Covid, such as with technological adaptation or live events?
The future of music...it’s a weird one isn’t it? I think music in particular has been hit really hard, it’s not had much support, you see venues like The Deaf Institute in Manchester closing down. I‘ve heard of a couple of great small venues, that you play from when you’re starting out touring, that have loads of character and are really unique, which have been closing down, which is really sad. The longer it goes on the more they’re gonna close down, so hopefully we get some funding and can keep things alive. Unfortunately, at the moment, it’s not a priority for the government which is really sad to see. I did sign a petition this morning to get some funding so hopefully that goes somewhere.
(You can sign the #LetUsDance petition here to support nightlife, events and festivals. You can also sign the furlough extension petition here to support live music and theatres.)
People will start to do gigs again in bubbles and stuff which is better than nothing. People are adapting, live stream gigs a lot of people are doing that - I think it’s alright, it kind of serves a purpose, if you love an artist you could maybe pay to see them do a live stream, it’s great for the artist to get some revenue and to perform again. But, I think ultimately, it comes back to what I was saying about collaboration and music being a people business for me.
I think live music, especially, that’s where my heart is and it’s just not the same performing down a camera with someone watching it from their laptop on the other side of the world, or even around the corner. Gigs are all about being on the front row, or being at the back, being in the mix, or just being wherever in the room and watching that band perform and knowing that you’re experiencing something live and unique with them. Some of my favourite memories are from live concerts, so the sooner we get back to that the better.
What artists have you been inspired by and who are your dream collaborators - dead or alive?
My inspiration started out with early Disclosure, before their first album even; early Snakehips when they were doing hip hoppy stuff, and then people like J Dilla, D’Angelo, Mac Ayres, Pablo Brown over in America.
Obviously Tom Misch is a big one as well, everyone in that scene like Jordan Rakei and those sort of people. Mahalia, Jorja Smith...there’s a great scene for it in the UK at the moment. All of those people are great artists and doing, I feel, stuff with similar sort of vibes to me.
Dream collaborators…obviously you can go crazy, people like Stevie Wonder and stuff like that but to be honest, realistically, I would love to work with some of the big UK R&B or hip hop artists. Like Sinead Harnett, Loyle Carner, Jorja Smith, Mahalia, Lauren Faith, Amber Mark, Olivia Dean, Joy Crookes, Sam Wills, Maverick Sabre, Pip Millet, Sasha Keable, James Vickery, Elli Ingram...all of these people are doing amazing music, they're all UK R&B artists and they’re all absolute quality.
I like to feel like I’m hopefully working towards a place where I can start working with that kind of calibre of artist. For me dream collaborators are those guys because I feel like it’s achievable if I keep doing what I’m doing and get better at it.
Do you have any other projects in the works you are excited about?
Yeah I’ve got some other projects going on. The main thing is I’m working on my next instrumental beat tape which is really fun, and I’m working with some instrumentalists on that.
Outside of that, I’ve been releasing my stuff through my own label edbl recordings and I got sent a demo from this Irish singer-songwriter called DeCarteret and a hip hoppy producer duo called Bricknasty. They sent me this track featuring Hayden J. Barlow and I loved it and asked if they would let me put it out. This month they’re gonna be going out on edbl recordings, so it will be the first release on the label that isn’t me. So I’m really excited about that.
('Sunday 21' by DeCarteret and Bricknasty feat. Hayden J. Barlow is now available to stream).
I’m always writing and always working with new artists, there’s a lot of projects that I’m happy to be involved in - Jed Holland is a great talent, he’s definitely up and coming. Ella McMurray, started working with her, love her stuff, super R&B - she’s just starting out, so it’s exciting to be at the start of people’s projects and be a part of their development.
Finally, what does the word ‘groove’ mean to you?
I think groove for me, without wishing to sound too cliche, is a feeling you get. My stuff is very beat oriented so if I hear something that’s got a really nice beat to it and some nice chords and nice sounds, straight away you feel it inside and you just start nodding or tapping or whatever. That’s for me what the groove is about.
The synchronicity between, for me personally, sample drums, live bass, live guitar, live keys and just that mix, and getting a real nice beat. Again, for me, it’s gonna be hip hop so we’re talking like 90 odd bpm, somewhere in that pocket...not that things don’t groove outside of that tempo, but for me as an artist that’s where my groove is. It’s just the freedom you get and you just pull that stank face, like someone’s done a really bad fart, and then you just start nodding and go “ahh, that’s amazing”.
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Stream and listen to Boys & Girls via Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, and various other streaming platforms.