Simplicity And The Groove: Tom Misch And Yussef Dayes In Conversation
When I speak to Tom Misch and Yussef Dayes about life in lockdown, they’re both trying to keep busy.
For Tom, it’s his highly successful quarantine sessions on Youtube - as well as taking some time to play his guitar, which he’s been neglecting lately.
Yussef Dayes, meanwhile, has been doing his homework. “I’ve been studying and rewatching drummers that I grew up on,” he tells me, softly, his three-month-old daughter asleep in the other room.
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The two met in 2018 and the first thing that strikes me is their strong mutual respect for one another. “Yussef is one of the best drummers in the world,” Tom says, eagerly. For Yussef, what impressed him the most was Tom’s ability to translate a raw experience in the studio into a finished and polished result - their new album, ‘What Kinda Music’.
‘What Kinda Music’ is a cosmic soundscape stretching out beyond the listener endlessly, with Dayes’s rhythmic rolling beats underpinning Misch’s signature creamy vocals. It’s a smooth listen, reminiscent of a classic beat tape as the two musicians vibe off one another. But it also feels like it cuts a little deeper than that. There’s a rawness that Yussef acknowledges, a transitory, fleeting sound that captures a defining moment in the constantly evolving craft of the album’s two collaborators.
Yussef exhales slowly as he considers the significance of the record. “It just felt like something different to what we’ve both done before which is a nice feeling, you know? When you feel like you’ve achieved a new sound”.
Tom has a similar outlook, with the album marking a departure from earlier work such as his 2018 album, ‘Geography’. “I think it’s just part of the evolution. This has been a really influential record for me in terms of where I think musically now and what I’m going to make in the future because it’s so different”.
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The album comes at a critical juncture in both their careers. For Yussef Dayes, who made his breakthrough with Yussef Kamaal’s ‘Black Focus’ - a collaboration with producer and keyboardist Kamaal Williams - the last few years has seen the drummer return to his solo work, most recently with his single, ‘Duality’.
“There’s gonna be so many different kinds of expressions that are not limited to one thing,” he says of his current creative projects. One thing he’s learned from working with Tom and is keen to share is the importance of, is recognising that your instrument is your voice.
“I want other instrumentalists to realise that,” he says, earnestly. “When you’re playing the drums, you’re singing through the drums. I feel like that’s what I’m trying to bring to the table. For me, the drums are a way of talking and communicating.”
Tom also views the album as a moment of reflection. “I owe my career to the internet,” he says. He’s come a long way since his Soundcloud days, though, with this latest record marking an opportunity for him to bring out different sides of his musical personality. “I’ve always had it in me,” he pauses, “but haven’t been able to do it necessarily under Tom Misch.”
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It’s hard to listen to ‘What Kinda Music’ and not to recognise that it’s a moment of unadulterated self-expression for the two musicians, its spontaneity all the more striking considering neither of them had intended for it to be an album. “We were just catching a vibe in the studio,” Yussef explains.
For Tom, it had only ever meant to be a beat tape - and one that didn’t include his singing. “I’m not really a verbal person, to be honest, especially when it comes to music,” he admits. “I’m more into the sonics and the sound design, the melody and the chords.”
It was through the nurturing, low-pressure environment of their collaboration, however, that Tom was able to push his creative boundaries. “It felt like a big experiment,” he says, noting how organic it felt with Yussef. “Collaboration brings out different things in you as an artist and it brought out different sides of me”.
The collaboration provided a different challenge for Yussef. How to leave space for vocals when he's used to the fast-paced, electric beat of instrumental? “The art of making something feel good when it’s slow is a hard thing as a drummer. That was one of the hardest things I had to learn”, he admits. “I feel like this record maybe was a kind of chance to delve into that”, he says. “Simplicity and the groove.”
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This simplicity proved effective. “That’s why we called it ‘What Kinda Music’,” Yussef tells me. “It allows the listener to make it personal. Let the people call it what they want to call it.” Already, reviewers are honing in on the fact that both musicians are from South London, inevitably drawing comparisons to the lively jazz scene there.
Both Tom and Yussef are keen to avoid labelling the album, though. “The word ‘jazz’ gets thrown around so much these days,” Tom laughs. “It draws from the spirit of jazz in many ways but I wouldn’t call it jazz”. Yussef is keen to step away from the concept of genre entirely. On defining his sound, he says simply, “for me, it’s black classical music, that’s what it is.”
The term jazz, and its recent popularity in the mainstream, has prompted Yussef to reflect on these terms, especially on who they are given by and what it means, if anything, for those in the music community. “Whether it’s hip-hop, jazz, African music, I’m just trying to show the correlation between them through rhythms. Even with this record with Tom, you can see the different elements coming through on the tracks.”
‘What Kinda Music’ is the product of curiosity. It’s the kind of record you should recognise for its simplicity - a fleeting crossover between two musicians just trying to find their groove.
As both musicians point out, the main motivation was self-expression. This is one step in that evolving process.
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'What Kinda Music' is out now.
Words: Tess Davidson
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