Pauli Lovejoy is more than the average musician. A polymath who sees rhythms and vibrations everywhere as they move through the world, Pauli’s insatiable appetite for creative expression and new perspectives manifests throughout every aspect of his work.
Releasing his own music under the moniker Pauli The PSM, he’s preparing to go on a US tour this autumn, as well as working with some of the biggest names in music including Jamie XX, FKA Twigs, Harry Styles, and Bobby Womack as a musical director, producer, DJ, percussionist and drummer.
This season Pauli was featured in the B by Ben Sherman summer campaign in Los Angeles and announced his partnership with the Ben Sherman Global Artist Foundry, an initiative that will offer support to a diverse pool of young talent, from unsigned and breakthrough to well-established musicians. Pauli’s own relationship with Ben Sherman began over a decade ago in New York, a young artist himself, this collaboration stands out as a definitive moment in the brand’s sixty-year history and speaks to its integral ties to the music industry.
Ben Sherman released a short video campaign to accompany the summer collection, with an original composition by Pauli The PSM. Inspired by a recent trip to Brazil, ‘Paulinho Abacaxi’ was written exclusively for the B by Ben Sherman launch.
We caught up with Pauli Lovejoy between shows in Germany, he has been travelling non-stop as musical director and percussionist for Harry Styles’ LOVE ON TOUR. We spoke about his early experiences with music and how he balances the different aspects of his creative vision as a multidisciplinary artist. Here we delve into his work with the Ben Sherman Global Artist Foundry, something he is incredibly passionate about, how that correlates with his own initiative, the ‘Badman Space Program’ with NASA, and the importance of access and representation.
Check out the interview…
Sabrina Soormally: How do you find large venues compared to smaller intimate shows?
Pauli Lovejoy: Playing large venues, I find that sometimes it’s a bit easier because it’s just a sea of people. And I mean, they both possess their own challenges, playing a large venue definitely feels like you’re playing to a mass and it’s more difficult to connect one-to-one with people, versus playing to an intimate space where it’s like you can see into the whites of peoples eyes, you can smell people’s breath if you get too close. There’s something much more real about playing to a small crowd than playing for Wembley – it sounds crazy to say, but by the end, you start feeling really at home in that space. And I say at home because it feels like you could be literally in your living room, in front of a simulation almost, but it’s the most rewarding mass of people ever, it’s the most rewarding simulation. I say simulation because it doesn’t feel real, that there’s that amount of people in a space all on that one vibe. That makes no sense to me. So, yeah, they both possess their own challenges, but playing in front of like 90,000 people doesn’t feel real, and I’m not sure it will ever feel real, versus what feels very real. And very scary, being supposedly very intimate with a very small amount of people.
How did you find yourself in the role of musical director? And can you tell me a bit about your process with different artists and how you adapt your vision, and integrate your vision with theirs?
The role of music director for me is so much about facilitating a vision and aligning purpose. So for me, if we both sing from the same environment it’s always going to be aligned and atoned, and I think that’s the magic of every artist I work with. We always have a similar belief system or some sort of common ground, and I think that’s how we create something that feels authentic and genuine. And it’s the same with every artist, that we have to be able to speak the same language. And for me, as a facilitator, it’s really important to be able to bring out the best in that person and that artist. I think it’s important that I can add value to the project, I’d hate to be the person who gets involved in and just takes from the project. So with every artist I’ve worked with, it’s always been about adding value and just bringing out the best in them. And it becomes this beautiful symbiotic relationship where they’re bringing out the best in me because they believe in their vision more, and I’m pushing them further and they’re going forever. I just love being the wind beneath their wings so they can fly, that’s my vibe.
Do you find that you still have time and space to be creative for yourself, independent of the other artists when you’re on tour?
Absolutely. So even like the first tour last year, I was able to make an ambient album, I started the album just before I went on tour and finished it while I was on tour. And for me, it’s the best escape, doing something that’s so different to what we’re doing every night. And me making my own music is like therapy. So I make a valiant point of stepping out and always trying to create where possible.
What are your early experiences with music and what make you want to start creating your own?
I think my earliest memories of music are of listening to music at home as a kid, and my parents listening to music, and I remember the reaction that certain songs had on my parents. So I remember my mum going through a rough time and always listing to the ‘Waiting to Exhale’ soundtrack. And there are some real, deep songs in there, and I just remember her listening to that over and over. And I never really got what she was going through, but I understood the power of music at that moment. And I think I’ve always been very open to energy, I grew up with my mum and my sister, and pretty much always at my grandma’s house as well, so I just grew up around women and I was always conscious of having to be more… there was no time for masc-energy, so I had to be very courteous and just respectful. But also, it opened me up energy-wise, I was always much more vocal and was always encouraged to be more vocal about what I was feeling. Which is what I think a lot of young boys don’t get encouraged to do. For me, those experiences of music in the house became very much the makings of who I was, and there was only a matter of time before I could take that and turn it into something creative, which was music.
Were your family and your mum very supportive of you going into music?
Not really, I don’t think they ever understood it. And I still don’t think they really understand it, I mean, there are moments where they make more sense of it. The first time that I think my mum really got it was when I was asked to play drums with Bobby Womack, and it was the first time she was like ‘Oh wait, I know that guy’, she took the record off the shelf and was like ‘this guy!’ So when it’s people she actually knows it makes more sense to her, but still, I don’t even know if it makes sense to me. The whole music thing just feels like a fairytale, I’m still making sense of it if I’m honest.
Who have been your biggest musical influences throughout your life?
Most of my musical influences aren’t musicians, so, there are painters, Basquiat is a massive influence. Writers, James Baldwin is a massive one, I’m influenced by Maya Angelou’s words, poetry is really important to me, Langston Hughes from the Harlem Renaissance. In terms of music specifically, Sun Ra was and is still really important to me, Bob Marley and MC Hammer – I don’t know if you’re allowed to say, Bob Marley, MC Hammer, and Sun Ra in the same sentence.
You are now. Do you think that seeing inspiration in all these different mediums is what helps you to balance the different aspects of your creative vision as a multidisciplinary artist? Your visuals, your sounds, instruments, lyrics, and everything? And would you say this gives you more creative control over your work than most typical musicians?
Great questions. I think they all – all the different disciplines – do have a massive influence over my work, I see all creative art forms as all coming from the same world of creativity. So whether it’s the culinary arts, a painter, an architect, or a nail artist – whatever it is, I think we all have a similar common thread, that we’re bringing together and creating something that has never existed before. And I think we all have that in us, and I think any artist that neglects the connectivity, the connecting tissue, is just neglecting life, we are all born to be creative, we are all able to create in some way or another, whether it’s writing something down, or even just having a thought, being a thought leader and having an idea, I think to neglect any of those and make each or any individual is a disservice to the creative arts as a whole.
So your music. I would describe your earlier work as more electronic, progressive R&B, and then ‘OFFAIR’ was more ambient, as you said, and a lot more experimental, and then ‘Saucy’, your latest release, is really fun for the summer. What can you tell us about your evolution and journey with your own music?
I think there’s a duality to my music. I hate the idea of boxes, I love the idea of things being, life being non-binary. I don’t think things should be this or that, I celebrate the grey, not the black and the white, it’s everything in between. And for the serious ambient music I make, there’s also a side of me that’s very fun and stupid and doesn’t take himself at all seriously. So I think life is to be explored and there’s no genre that shouldn’t be tapped into, it’s all just expression. So I try and make all types of music. Unconsciously I just want to be creating, if it comes out as ‘Saucy’, then dope. If it comes out as some classical, weird, ambient piece that doesn’t fit into any box then equally, dope. That’s the magic of true creativity.
Where does your need to experiment with sound come from? It sounds like it’s very natural to you, just a second nature that you want to explore everything possible.
Even hearing your voice, I’m like there are so many tones in there, and that’s so musical. So I think we all have it, it’s just whether you hear it and want to use it. There is magic in all of these vibrations, and that’s the thing, everything is vibrations. Literally, everything that has life vibrates at a frequency and it’s just tapping into those frequencies and figuring out what you want to do with them because they’re happening whether we like it or not.
Even the way you’re speaking about your art and the world sounds very spiritual and connected. Was that a big part of ‘OFFAIR’?
Yeah, I think for me, ‘OFFAIR’ definitely had an element of spirituality to it. But again, it’s this duality of astronomy and astrology. Two very different worlds. One is very much about the art of space and the other one is about the science of space. The astronomers and astrologers do not see eye to eye, they think what the other is saying is bogus, that what they’re saying is total trash. So I tried to marry those worlds, and yeah, there’s an element of spirituality in there, but also an element of really hard science. But there’s also a history lesson in there, for me, that was discovering that there were thirteen zodiac signs before there were twelve. The Babylonians came in and decided there should be twelve because thirteen was an unlucky number, so there’s a thirteenth zodiac sign called Ophiuchus. The whole thing was just learning, learning about what star signs could sound like, what the zodiac could sound like, what the ether, or stars or space sounds like. And then on top of that, talking to astronauts and getting their very real perspective of what space was to them when they went into space, and they talk about the ‘inky black darkness of space’, I was like, ‘we need to record that and put it on a record!’, and we did. I think that’s the magic of bringing these worlds together, things that shouldn’t be together on paper, I love that it’s quite disruptive, but I think that’s what creates some of the best art.
Can you tell us a bit about your work with NASA, it had a lot to do with education.
I started a youth program called the ‘Badman Space Program’, and the idea was to engage disenfranchised youth with S.T.E.M. (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics). And to also add the A for arts to make it S.T.E.A.M. This program became a way of getting disenfranchised kids really engaged with what was possible for the future of space, whether it was engineering or getting a job at a science fair, just showing that there’s potential for you in space. I was really into Afro-Futurism, which just talks about Black people in the future, and I just wanted to show kids that looked like me that there was potential for them to live and thrive, in the future. So it was really just this natural way of getting kids to be really interested and excited in space because if I knew as a kid that I could be an astronaut I’d have studied harder or taken science seriously, but nobody told me I could be an astronaut, nobody told me that I could work for NASA or SpaceX. So it was this really beautiful moment of going into schools and having astronaut friends, which still feels weird to say, but my friends who are astronauts would come in and we’d do talks and give out pamphlets about space fairs. I’ve done quite a few events with NASA and some of their partners now as well.
If the opportunity came up for you to go into space, is that something you’d like to do?
Me in space? I mean yeah, possibly. It’s possible, but I’m down to go space, it’s expensive, and you need to get somebody to sponsor you. I don’t know if I’m a good candidate.
Don’t you have to train like crazy?
I’ve got a friend who’s going to space next year, an astronaut teacher, he’s a good guy. I’d love to go to space, I’m not in a rush, but sure I’d love to go one day.
Alongside your music, all of your work with Ben Sherman and NASA is about giving back to kids and young people who don’t have the same opportunities. I think there’s a lot to be said about representation and accessibility in creative fields and top-tier, exciting jobs for minority kids and working-class people. To show these kids that you don’t have to be a doctor, or a lawyer or an electrician or something like that. There are all these different avenues. I know you said earlier your parents don’t really get the music thing, but you’re opening doors for kids in the same position.
I totally agree, I think it’s so important that we can open people’s eyes to what’s possible.
Was there a good music program or anything when you were in school that opened the doors for you there?
There was and I got kicked out of it. I went to a school called Enfield Grammar, and I was so passionate about music that I’d skip other classes to go into the music room and just practice. The Head of Music at the time saw that as disruptive behaviour and kicked me out of music. But I think that’s another reason why I think it’s so important for me to go into schools, to see these kids that are “disruptive” and be like ah, maybe we can help channel this energy elsewhere. I speak the same language as these kids, we’re from the same place, and it’s not some Oxbridge person who nobody understands. It’s so alien to some kids.
How did your relationship with Ben Sherman come about?
I met Ann (Vice President of PR and Brand Marketing) and I was living in New York at the time, I was living in New York for about five years. I was running this club night called ‘Back To Life’, it was like a London club in New York. The idea was that we had a UK club experience: we played garage and grime and two-step. And Ann was from the UK and living in New York and coming to our party all the time, and then we became friends. Around the same time, I was working with Gorillaz and Damon Albarn specifically, there was this album-tour thing we did called ‘Everyday Robots’, and we wore suits on stage every night. I didn’t know where to get a suit from, I lived in New York so I couldn’t fly back and get to Savile Row. Ann was like, ‘You should just come into Ben Sherman in Soho and get fitted, we have a tailor and they’ll make you a bunch of suits’, so I went down there and I was looking sharp, I was the sharpest out of everyone. She made me an orange suit, purples, I had all the colours [laughs], people were like ‘Is that Ozwald Boateng?’ So I felt like was sponsored unofficially at that moment. That was nearly ten years ago, and that’s how the relationship started, and now ten years later I’m now working with the Foundry (Ben Sherman Global Artist Foundry) and somewhat of an ambassador… It just feels like a full-circle moment. But it’s nice to work with a brand that doesn’t have expectations other than for you to be yourself, and that’s the magic of a genuine partnership, it’s not transactional, it’s authentic and real and they’re like: we’ll support you, and amplify your voice. And that’s what I love about The Foundry and what Ben Sherman is doing.
That answers my next question about how you align with the brand. I think this all relates back to your position as a Music Director and the symbiotic relationship you have with the artists you work with, both trying to lift each other and collaborate to get the most out of each other. Changing topics slightly, I’d love to ask how you describe your own personal style.
That’s a tough one!
Everyone gets really bowled over by this question, it’s quite daunting.
I’m wearing a farmer’s hat today, and then some really expensive trousers… I don’t even know. Swaggy? Mad swaggy [laughs].
I’ll say swaggy and relaxed.
Ghetto chic [laughs]. Today, farmer chic.
Can you tell us a bit about the Global Artists Foundry and what you hope to achieve with it?
I hope to reach more people in a very authentic way. And just for artists to know that there are platforms out there that will amplify your voice without influencing or changing your message. I’d love for the Foundry to continue connecting with young people, young artists, and young bands, and show them that there are real ways of connecting with brands like Ben Sherman.
Can you tell me a bit about ‘Paulinho Abacaxi’, the music you composed for the campaign?
Abacaxi [he corrects my pronunciation], means pineapple. Such a cool word right? So I was in Rio de Janeiro and again, the beautiful thing about Ben Sherman and working closely with the creative director, is that he was like ‘You should make the music for the campaign’, I was like ‘hell yeah.’ I was in Brazil, looking over at the beach in Rio de Janeiro, and I could see this guy selling pineapples and then everywhere I go in Brazil they’d call me Paulinho, I think it means little Pauli, it’s a famous name for a footballer over there. So I just put the two names together, Paulinho Abacaxi and the rest is history.
What were you doing in Rio with Ben Sherman?
I was playing a show out there, so it wasn’t with Ben Sherman.
I know you did the Ben Sherman campaign in LA.
We did it in LA, and then I was still on tour the whole time.
I wanted to ask a bit about your podcast, Flybrations.
I’ve been doing a radio show called Flybrations Radio with a platform called Amp, which is an American radio platform, and I have like thirty episodes now, I think I’m on episode thirty-three. It’s weekly and it’s amazing because you can connect directly with the audience, they can chat live during the show, you can save playlists, and you can submit songs, it’s a very new and interactive way of creating a very live radio show. It’s been amazing, long may it continue.
You’ve released some merch for Flybrations, did you design and create everything, and how did you find that process? Is that something you’d like to get more into, maybe with your work with Ben Sherman?
Yeah, I love clothes, I love art, I love design. As I said, I think they’re all one and the same. I love cooking, I love ice cream, and I think it’s the best thing in the world that’s ever been invented. I just love to share my ideas, whether it’s through fashion or music or whatever. So creating that Flybrations line felt very natural, I just had a bunch of references, and I worked with different designers to bring the ideas together. But I like to get really involved with the process so I get all the blanks, and I like to try and feel all the different weights of the t-shirts and I’ve got so many clothes as well. So then I try and go through everything and make sure it’s the right product, you want it to feel good and be representative of the brand. I’m really enjoying the process of being a designer, although I’d never call myself a designer.
What made you start Flybrations, was it from you wanting to connect more with your fans, or wanting to talk more to different artists?
That was literally it. I just wanted to connect more with people. I don’t really think of them as my fans, I kind of see them as family, any time they send me gifts and shit, and the wildest things, people take time to draw pictures of me or listen to my voice on a radio show for an hour, that’s fam. My actual blood family don’t even do that – listen to me for an hour [laughs]. We’re now family. And it’s just a nice way to give back a real dialogue with this community, and it feels like I’ve got a real family, and travelling community wherever I go, and that’s beautiful, it’s the best feeling in the world.
You’ve got so many things going on at the moment, what are you most excited about this year?
I’m really excited about going on tour.
Catch Pauli on tour this autumn in Oakland, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Brooklyn, NY; Washington, DC; Atlanta, GA; and Chicago, IL. Buy tickets now at paulithepsm.com