‘No More Normal’: Swindle Talks Blurring Musical Boundaries

"The album was always about showing what we could all do together..."

Swindle doesn’t believe in restrictions.

Having begun his career as a producer over a decade ago, working with the likes of Chipmunk and Roll Deep, he has since forged a reputation as much for making jazz as grime beats and dubstep: as comfortable at Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards as he is a Boiler Room set.

Latest album ‘No More Normal’ demonstrates his knack for traversing grime, jazz, reggae and soul, but it’s also a statement. It marks the next step in the London-raised producer’s expanded vision for his music: one that not only refuses to fit neatly into genre, but also one that actively encourages cross-pollination between musical styles and the artists associated with them.

The album fuses different disciplines together in new and electrifying ways, connecting a group of peers sharing creative common ground despite from seemingly different worlds (at least to the untrained ear) – something he feels so strongly about he made the process into a film.

The project incorporates an all-star cast of MCs in Kojey Radical, Ghetts, D Double E and P Money, to instrumentalists Yussef Dayes, Nubya Garcia, Riot Jazz, and singers such as Etta Bond, Eva Lazarus, Daley and Kiko Bun.

Clash caught up with this pioneering producer in the studio to find out more about this latest release, and what else he’s got planned for the coming year…

– – –

– – – 

You’ve described opening track ‘What We Do’ as the “narrative of the record overall” and setting “the agenda” – what would you say this narrative is?

The idea for the album was always about showing what we could all do together – the 'we' being everyone involved in music that might be in different corners of the industry or different styles or whatever, but we're all always crossing paths anyway. 

The first idea was that it was going to be a storybook, with each page written by somebody else, like a sort of diary. And the other idea was to create a sort of class photo, and get everybody in.

These were images that were with me while we were recording it.  What we ended up making is a mixture of both. 

‘No More Normal’: Swindle Talks Blurring Musical Boundaries

How did you first get this idea?

It started with D Double and Daley, we were in LA shooting the video for ‘Lemon Trees’ and it dawned on me that this is the only situation I would ever find D Double and Daley working on the same track, even though they both like what the other does and they have so much in common, despite doing different music.

I went home and was already bouncing ideas off Rider Shafique about what I wanted to say in the intro. He wrote those words [for ‘What We Do’] himself – I chewed his ear off for a few hours about that, and for the outro, talking about music generally, the idea of the class photo, the book, imagining that we're all this big family.

Like, Nubya's your cousin on the jazz side, for example, Ghetts is your cousin on the grime side…you know what I mean? 

– – – 

– – – 

One big musical family! If that was the concept for the album, where did the name come from?

It just came to me to be honest. With the other two records it was the same – [‘Long Live The Jazz’ (2013) and ‘Peace, Love & Music’ (2015)] I had the titles before I had anything else. I just pick up little things that I say to myself and after a while it comes out, and we start working towards it. 

After the last album I just wanted to let go of any ideas that might limit what we do – forget all the boxes and just rip up the rulebook. How can we do something new? How can we create a new idea? And 'No More Normal' is that idea. 

‘No More Normal’: Swindle Talks Blurring Musical Boundaries

Do you think now is a particularly good time to be ripping up that rulebook? Are there any other sounds you’re hoping to bring together?

I think people have always been up for it but now we have so much more freedom about how we present the music that it's just reaching more people. I don't know if it's like, 'Ok, now everybody's ready for jazz', or if it's just now that everyone gets to hear it. 

I've always worked with rappers that have come through grime, it's been like that for a long time I suppose, but now there's a whole new generation of rappers and MCs that haven't come through that – they're coming from a whole different angle. And I'm starting to feel that there might be something I could contribute to that. 

Like Mist – I want to work with Mist, from Birmingham. He's doing something new. Everyone's got names for these sub genres but whatever it is…he's doing it. There's something summery and groovy about it, something that’s related to G-Funk I think. And I think that might be the next thing. I'm hoping I'm gonna do it. 

– – – 


– – – 

The album is all about bridging borders and localities, but can we hear your South London upbringing on it?

I grew up near Croydon – we moved there from Brixton looking for the countryside – and you can 100% hear that on the record. 

Croydon was much more of a satellite place then, a space for creativity – take the dubstep guys, for example – radio, djing skating, graffing, weed…everyone had Bower skates on and One Nation tape packs in their ears. That's been my biggest influence, next to the jazz and the funk. I've been listening that for so long that it doesn't matter what I do – it's there. 

I don't think 'I’m gonna make a funk tune, this is gonna be really jazzy’ – it just comes out that way. Jazz and funk is instilled in me, it's the rhythm of my heartbeat. 

It was just always at my house My dad plays guitar and is a bit of a jazz snob really… he's got an ear for harmony and that kind of thing, and he's really into his theory, We grew up on everything from all the jazz greats to classic funk and soul. Anything that has that thread in it. 

‘No More Normal’: Swindle Talks Blurring Musical Boundaries

What do you make of current UK jazz? Are there any standout figures in the scene for you?

Nubya's my favourite – I' feel like I've been lucky enough to see a really big part of her journey. It reminds me of seeing MCs blow up back in the day. The first time I saw Chipmunk he was in his school uniform…and then he was a pop star. I remember thinking, ‘I've actually seen someone go from that through their whole career’. 

I didn’t see Nubya's beginning beginning, but she was playing on my show in 2013 – someone recommended her when my sax player couldn't make it. I definitely felt the difference, having a woman saxophonist – it felt really good to have female presence on stage with us. 

– – –

– – – 

And now Nubya’s one of the guests on your new record. How did you go about choosing them?

A lot of that was organic, most of it really. People I've got relationships with, like Nubya and D Double and Ghetts, people I've worked with for years. Then people I met around that time like Kojey, Eva Lazarus and Kiko Bun. 

It was easy to start with my friends and people around me, but the further I got into the record the more conscious I became of trying to have that balanced picture. Going back to that school photo again – thinking, 'who's missing?"  It became harder – like, ‘we add one more grime MC and this is now a grime record’. 

I've probably thought about this album every three seconds for the last three years.

What are you thinking about now the album's finished?

We're a week and a half into a two week session here at Red Bull [studios in Covent Garden]. We did the first week in a big live room, recording loads of instruments, and the second week is in here [a smaller studio with a keyboard and mixing desk], all just for new music.

‘No More Normal’: Swindle Talks Blurring Musical Boundaries

Because of the live show, then finishing the album, it feels like I haven't been in studio for aaaages. So, I just wanted the first few weeks of January to be like this.  

I'm excited about everything. And I'm excited about what I can contribute. Which is probably quite selfish but that’s where my heads at right now – my album’s done and coming out, so now I’m hearing people and thinking 'Imagine if they had a single that was like this or that’. Now I get the opportunity to contribute to other people's projects, with the same energy I would my own – because my own thing’s done now. And I'll start my next one whenever it feels right. 

I'm excited about playing live again – being able to translate music to people in a room, all these once in a lifetime moments, every night, for a week! Now I really want to concentrate on re-launching that [live shows] and just push it – keep pushing.    

We've got a UK and EU tour coming up – all places I've played before and now I'm going back with the new album and a new show, Every city feels like a bit of a homecoming.

‘No More Normal’: Swindle Talks Blurring Musical Boundaries

– – – 

Photography: Vicky Grout

‘No More Normal’ is out now on Brownswood Recordings

Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.

Buy Clash Magazine




Join the Clash mailing list for up to the minute music, fashion and film news.