“I'm just a very positive person!”
I have rarely - if ever - spoke to someone who so succinctly sums themselves up as Craig David. The man is a joy to interview, radiating good vibes and a passion for music that goes far beyond chart positions, sale figures and numbers. It's about the art, it's about the passion, and it's about making the audience - and himself - feel good.
“I don't take things too seriously, because - especially within music - I've seen the journey, I've seen the rollercoaster ride,” he explains at one point in our conversation. “And I know that the only thing that I've ever really loved is making music, and being able to connect with an audience that's in front of me. All of the things that people aspire to - the material things, money, and what as a kid you dreamed of having - for me, it never fulfils you. So I just realised that when I jump onstage and perform in front of a crowd, that for me is like: this is incredible.”
It's certainly been an incredible 12 months for Craig David. When 2015 dawn a comeback was about the last thing any onlooker would predict, but a series of live shows seemed to completely re-ignite his career. Hopping onstage at Notting Hill Carnival sparked a flurry of appearances, culminating in a notable weekend when Craig David seemed to wage a one-man entertainment blitz on London - appearing at fabric, and then at Alexandra Palace alongside Major Lazer. The time, it seems, is right.
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But let's rewind. After 'Signed Sealed Delivered' - an album primarily composed of covers - the singer seemed to inch away from the limelight, enjoying life in his new-found home of Miami. The life of luxury, though, doesn't necessarily equate to a productive creative life, as Craig David soon realised. “I was always writing and recording,” he insists. “I've got a studio out in Miami. But I just felt... in terms of environment it wasn't the most conducive space to be as productive as I felt I could be.”
“It's a beautiful holiday destination,” he adds. “So in the daytime you want to go out and be in the sun, and then at night time, the night life is trying to drag you out and be part of that, too. So, I had to make a decision - which was probably about a year ago - which was to come back to London, and to focus in on the music. And that, for me, was the start of everything formulating with making the new music because I feel like I work so well when I'm back in the UK. So it's been a good move for me.”
But why the UK in particular, I ask - what is it that draws you back?
“The UK is a melting pot of so many different genres and styles of music,” he argues. “I love that, because on one side of it I love my R&B and hip-hop, but I also like reggae and dancehall; but then there's garage, EDM music, that I've always loved, and then there's drum 'n' bass and jungle.”
“There's so many genres in the UK, it's OK that you can meander between all of them and put it all in one song. Whereas I felt in Miami that you were either listening to trap music, from the hip-hop side of stuff, or you were listening to straight up four to the floor EDM music. And there wasn't really much in between. It was good to be fully immersed back in the UK scene, because - for me - it's still one of the best scenes to be in. If you want to make music, then do it here.”
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If you want to make music, then do it here.
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Craig David is certainly making music. Insisting that he's probably as productive, as creative, right now than at any other point in his life, the singer closed his account in 2015 with new single 'When The Bassline Drops'. A stunning return, it captured the appeal, the energy of UK garage while still steering it somewhere new, all with a co-sign (and guest verse) from much-loved grime don Big Narstie. In short: it's an absolute no-holds-barred banger, one that will ignite any dancefloor in the country at any point in the rave.
“For me, to link up with Big Narstie was amazing, because it was so organic,” he says, clearly relishing the memory. “I'd been following him for a while anyway, and I always feel that when two artists come together and it's so natural like that, and then the first song we literally did after meeting each other on Mistajam's show on Kurupt FM's special they did. That was the first time we actually met, and rather just us talking and doing the 'hi, how are you?' and then gone, I'm just in such a creative mode I was like: let's get in the studio.”
“I'm in the same mindset now, where I feel like a 16 year old kid again, who wants to just get on the mic and show the world what I can do,” he adds. “As soon as I got into the studio and started putting it together, I heard the drop and it fed back then to what the lyric was going to be. You could never go out there and say 'when the bassline drops' and then the drop doesn't give you what you want. You know what I mean? It dropped so neatly, and then Big Narstie was just all over it. When he came in, he was just like: I know exactly what this needs. And within seconds he'd already written his verse, and then literally that day we turned around the song. And then the rest is history.”
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I feel like a 16 year old kid again, who wants to just get on the mic and show the world what I can do...
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Invited to appear at the BRIT Awards recently, Craig David offered ITV a measured response to grime's exclusion from this year's ceremony. The bigger picture, he seemed to say, is that the music itself is getting through, that these artists are not being ignored by the wider - they're being embraced. “It's just wicked seeing how grime music - from Skepta to Stormzy, Chipmunk, Ghetts - all these guys who are pushing the scene forward - are showing that now it's something that's even more important than where chart positions are, because ultimately I'm seeing Instagram things where it's like a mosh pit. Which I haven't seen for years! It's something in the UK that we build these scenes that are just unstoppable, it doesn't matter what's going on anywhere else, but it's this feeling: like, man, this scene is ridiculous.”
Clearly fired up, Craig David is in no mood to stop. A list of dream producers is unfurled within seconds, followed by some of who he considers to be the finest R&B artists around - it's clearly that he's entirely in his element. Not for the first time in our conversation, the issue isn't one of quality, but of timing.
“I mean, I didn't know about the cycle of music - people talked about music coming back round,” he says. “I think because I felt I was back in my lane of what I was doing with my music, I was making the songs, simple melodies, storylines that I felt people could relate to from youth culture. And then I started to feel this momentum of grime music getting to a point where it started to become a bit more melodic, and you're starting to find that's where the garage element kicks back into force again. So you're starting to see that the cusp was turning. And I think you've got to be ready, at the end of the day.”
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I think you've got to be ready, at the end of the day...
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“It's like, an opportunity comes and, for me, there's a lot of people who are going to jump on it quickly now, maybe re-hashing things from back in the day. Whereas if you're already ready with the songs, when the stars do align you're ready to come with new music, rather than trying to do remixes of your old songs, over and over and over again.”
Again and again Craig asserts that he wants something new, something organic. Continually on the look out for new sounds, the singer recently tuned in to Radio 1's Live Lounge for a Jack Garratt performance - and was blown away by the newcomer's radical re-arrangement of 'Seven Days'. “I think Jack Garratt is a star because he's someone who can produce, sing, write songs, but also at the same time he can also play this whole thing live,” he insists. “When I heard him on Radio 1 and he did a mash up of 'Seven Days' and 'Signorita', I was like: wow, that's sick. But I didn't know that he was playing everything at the same time as singing. I was just like, that's unique.”
Beats By Dr. Dre then approached Craig David, and asked if he wanted to return the favour. “I thought: let me flip this. I've kind of taken it on a jungle, drum 'n' bass kind of flow. Still maintaining these melodies throughout. I think he likes it, we did a thing where we face-timed each other and I played him the song and he seemed pretty happy about it.”
The hook up with Beats By Dr. Dre has also been entirely natural. “Listen - they're super innovative, anyway, we've seen the whole story of Dre and the way in which the company came about,” he says. “But when it's always been at the forefront of being about music, and being about sound and the quality of the sound. Some have been hit and miss, but what I've seen with the team - especially those working here in the UK - is that they're innovative in the way that they're thinking about working with artists. They look at things in a different way. The whole lead up to it was so on point - that's why I love working with them.”
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A self-made phenomenon, breaking chart records while barely out of school - it's safe to say that Craig David has already twigged a few comparisons between his own rise and that of Jack Garratt. “To be honest, it's organic,” he says. “And I think anything that's real, and that's organic, just seems to connect with people, and that's all I've ever really wanted with all my music. And any time that I've tried to force things or push things so it hasn't felt organic, it has never really worked out the way I've wanted it to be. Whereas this time round, seeing Jack Garratt and the way he's coming up... it's just real. You can't deny when something is organic and real. I'm excited for him, because he's only just on the cusp of what he's capable of. He's just going to launch into the next place.”
But right now Craig David is entirely focussed on his own career, his own music, and his own stage show. Craig David's TS5 is a new project, one that aims to bridge the gap between the DJ and the performer, between the songwriter and the producer. “It's a full circle of everything that I got into music for,” he explains, “which was just to be on the pulse and being able to play music that is relative to what's actually going on in street culture right now. And that's what I started off with when I started off DJing back in the day. Now, even more so. When I fast forward all the way to now it's amazing because I'm actually able to amalgamate my live performance - including the DJ stuff - under the umbrella of TS5. It's exciting for me, because I can do everything now.”
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It's a full circle of everything that I got into music for...
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The centre of the project, though, is about songs: those classic singles, those impeccable, on-point remixes, and - most of all, perhaps - his new material. When it comes to the latter, Craig David is unequivocal in his approach. “I feel you're always three minutes away from changing your life and everybody else's,” he says. “And I feel that you've just got to be diligent enough to stay in the studio until that three minutes comes. And as a songwriter I've always felt it's been in me, but you've just got to keep going. You can easily become jaded about stuff, but if you love music, and if you forget about everything else that comes, the statistics, chart positions, and how many records sold. Forget all of that stuff. And you just get back to what you love... those three minutes will come, for any songwriter or other.”
One last thing: in a recent interview with the BBC, Katy B revealed that Craig David invited her out to his studio in Miami. When she got to his house, the singer surprised her with bundles of Ferrero Rocher - something he apparently makes a habit of. “It's true!” he laughs. “One of my favourite movies is Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, so, to be honest, from being a kid that's gone all the way through. As soon as you come round to the house, there's always chocolate on display.”
“I just love seeing people's faces when they kind of just go back into being a kid again,” he beams. “It's like when they walk in Woolworths, see the pick 'n' mix, and lose their minds! I just love making people not take life seriously, go back to being a kid and just enjoy it.”
It seems an appropriate note to end on - shaking off the shackles of the everyday, simply enjoying life on a moment to moment basis, without the worries of the mundane. I guess that's the power of the positive mind.
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Catch up with Craig David's TS5 online HERE.