It’s sometime after noon, and Swindle connects into our Zoom call, seated in front of the piano at his home studio, and immediately I’m drawn to the deep blue velvet couch to the right of him. “That’s where you sit and write your bars,” he tells me, catching my gaze towards the couch, as he moves the mic in front of him out of the camera’s frame.
Within seconds of our meeting, it’s become clear to me that the Londoner’s energy is a beaming reflection of the awe-inspiring music that he creates; a fine mix of captivating sound, upbeat funk, lingering grime hooks, and the frequent spontaneous references to the music that inspires him.
'The New World', the latest album from seasoned artist Swindle, recorded in one week last summer under lockdown, is both a testament to his versatility as a musician, and a rich culmination of intimate thoughts, gentle reflections on social experiences, and enlightening moments shared with his closest friends during the album’s creation.
“The success is always in making it, and you letting it out into the world, and it going on its journey,” he blithely shares, reflecting on the response he’s received since releasing two singles from the album. “What I’m most happy about is how people are taking it… the narrative, the messaging, and understanding that in a lot of ways this is like a statement.”
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I want to start with the title 'The New World' — It’s striking to me, in the context of it being recorded last summer as the lockdown was lifted, and this also being your first body of work since 2019. Talk me through the process of making the album? And what meaning might there be behind its name?
Swindle: So, it’s 2020. No one’s seen each other for ages, no one’s creating, and we’re all dealing with so much, in terms of the impact of the pandemic and having to deal with many dark memories, and having lots of very uncomfortable conversations around race and racism. I’d only really left my house to protest, and I guess in that short time, this record served as much of a healing process. I sent a text to some of my favourite artists, collaborators, musicians, and said let’s get away… reconnect while having a musical retreat, and we’ll figure out how we’ll enter a new world. And when I got home and listened to the music we had created, and the most interactional and conversational pieces that we made during that week, it was 'The New World'.
You’ve mentioned having to deal with trauma and having uncomfortable conversations about race during the time the protests were going on. How much of that do you think informed the sounds of this album?
Swindle: Looking at the experience of being a black Brit, it just brought up so much. You know, at this time, people are falling out with some of their best friends… their white friends, because certain of them aren’t ready or willing to have that conversation or try to hear it. And listening back to some of the songs, like 'No Black, No Irish'; this was a real conversation with Joel Culpepper voicing his pain, and Mav listening to him with an open heart and hearing him. So answering your question, it’s informed a lot, if not all of it.
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You’ve got a stellar cast on this album, some of whom you’ve previously worked with in the past, and I’ve always seen album/mixtape features as the crucial finishing pieces to a puzzle. How did you decide who you chose to be featured? How were you able to find the balance of each person’s involvement?
Swindle: We were all there together, and people that I reached out to were people I already had relationships with, so it was all organic. It wasn’t an attempt at anything. If we had come out of this with no music, it would’ve been just as valuable, because the conversations around that dinner table were some of the most important conversations I think I’ve ever had. It was personal, so when we got to the studio, there were no cameras and no film crew. I wanted everyone to be comfortable, and there were no rules. It was simply, jump on what you jump on, don’t jump on what you don’t jump on. There’s a laptop with 100 beats… do what you want, write together, eat when you want, sleep when you want, and that’s how these songs came up. It was completely free because I needed everyone to express themselves honestly, and you’ve got to be relaxed to do that. Once that week was done and I left, I told myself we’re not adding anything else. That’s it.
Given the nature of the approach to this album’s creation, would you consider this an experimental body of work?
Swindle: I feel like this album happened to us. It’s not an experimental album, it’s an impromptu album. No More Normal took three years of meticulous planning and attention to every minuscule detail, trying to find the balance. There was some fine-tuning done after that one week, but the whole body of work was done then, and it was authentic to what it is.
In the process of this album’s creation, impromptu to what it was, with new sounds and collaborating with fellow musical acts, are there things from your past that you’re rediscovering in the body of your work?
Swindle: Outside of music, in that week and time, I had to have a close look at some of the hardest parts of my childhood, dealing with racism specifically, something I haven’t really spoken about, and the new me being more open to speaking about it and things I haven’t really touched on in the past. Messaging is so important to me, always trying to put out this message of Unity, Peace, Love & Music, and all of that. And I had to ask myself if this was some kind of defence mechanism—always pushing all this positive to the forefront of my music—against dealing with some of the darkest things that I’ve been through. Whereas now, we’re making those tough songs, because just smiling and peace signs isn’t enough anymore. I will certainly continue to be honest and write how we feel, and I think that’s all I can say continuing on this path.
Getting to listen to the album, prior to its release today, I was taken aback—shocked as much as I was amazed. You’ve been able to create a good balance of the energetic funk, varying skilled lyricism, countless layers of fetching choruses and rhythms, all while crafting a surreal nostalgic experience. What influenced that decision on this album’s sound?
Swindle: I don’t think it was a decision, I think it just happened. When I was in the room, and the decisions of the sort I was making were more on the production, those were the sonic decisions in how we present this. We were the painting and I just needed a way to frame it, and that was my role, making sure the frame is right, and the idea is clear, and that we executed it to what I hope is high quality and standard. Everything else was organic. There wasn’t much planning at all.
The song that really stood out to me was 'Blow Ya Trumpet' ft. Knucks, Ghetts, Akala & Kojey Radical — I appreciated the fact that while there was the nurturing rap essence playing out, you were still able to communicate your love for the upbeat funk and jazz at key moments in the track…
Swindle: I’d say I was really proud of that because I’ve taken something I’ve been trying to do for years, and then taken it to the farthest that I’ve ever been able to. It involved so many different processes. This might be odd to type out, but do you recognize this melody [humming and twirling his finger to a chaotic but elegant rhythm]? This sound comes up in so many things, and I thought to myself, what if we nodded to that melody, but played it in a half-whole scale, which is like the ultimate movie. That’s how the intro came together, with grandeur and the mix of euphemisms. And I play the beat, and everyone is claiming their spots on it, and we got straight into writing. From the youngest to the vet, Akala to Ghetts, and I just wanted that generational greatness passing the baton on as the song rolled.
Reflecting on 'The New World', and its clear existence as being a testament to both musical and creative genius, I’m curious to know if we’re ever going to get a visual counterpart to it or simply a music video?
Swindle: [laughs as he abruptly falls back into his chair] Blud! We just shot the maddest short film ever. It’s all under wraps and hardly anyone knows that we’ve done it, but it’s probably the best thing I’ve done ever. It’s gonna be coming out Tuesday, but when I tell you it’s crazy, I think it’s the best thing ever. Not ever, but you know what I mean. I would’ve wanted you to come to the studio and be able to watch it, and take it in. And I think working with moving images and pictures has definitely shown me that I could draw a passion for film.
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Is there an impact you’d like to have on the industry? And how do you see that playing out in the coming years?
Swindle: On a human level, I want to know how many people I can really impact positively because I feel like I can use my resources, my facilities, and my energy to help people, and it’s already starting even in a small way. Making those little contributions is something I find massively rewarding, and I want to continue with that. Giving young producers laptops to make beats, or dropping off keyboards at places, and helping people connect with one another, and that’s a challenge I set for myself. In terms of the industry, I want to be an example of the fact that we make music for the sake of making music. I don’t get in the studio and look for hits or trending sounds. I want to see honest music, or even just contribute so people don’t feel like they have to fit into what’s popular because that’s the music I grew up on.
On that topic, what sounds or genres from your childhood influenced your music today?
Swindle: 60s, 70s, and early 80s reggae stuff in the house, along with jazz, funk, and soul. My dad just taught us to love and appreciate Caribbean music… Black music, and all that came with it. And then growing up in London, being exposed to all the other groundbreaking genres we’ve seen being created as we grew up; Jungle, Garage, Grime, and then Hip Hop. Growing up, I loved a lot of stuff from the states, as kids choosing camps and whose side you’re on [laughs]. Oh, Biggie’s the best. No! Pac is the best. But my true love, I was finding in G-funk, which sort of led me to some of the sounds that I loved. And what I do now is really just me naturally applying all those sounds to my music.
Acknowledging firstly that each artist approaches their craft in different ways, as you’ve become more in touch with the music and subsequently more established, do you feel as though it gets easier or harder to be creative?
Swindle: With this album, I don’t think I’ve ever turned around this amount of music in this short of time. No More Normal took a few years. Joel Culpepper’s album was about two years. Kojey’s album was the best part of a year. The music pulled out of us. The lockdown, the protest, the pandemic; those were all sort of the catapult stretched back, and you could feel the tension cut once we got into the studio.
You’ve also mentioned having kids, and I’m curious, has that affected what you put in your music and how you choose to present it?
Swindle: It made me want to make more meaningful contributions with my music. It also made me think more about where I’m putting my time, and what legacy I want to have. The first thing that happened after my daughter was No More Normal. Yeah, it’s definitely changed things… I’ve started like a whole new career [laughs]. Much more focused. I’ve stepped away from DJing, and things along that line.
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As our conversation reaches its end, coincidentally having his doorbell go off, which we both visibly found amusing, Swindle’s voice softened as he once again reflects on the healing power his work has been able to embody, and his love for honest music in its entirety. Encountering an artist who finds solace in his craft as much as he has, creates a rare and surreal feeling that radiates a shared passion for what life is able to offer.
“I want people to be able to say to themselves that, yeah I can do more for my peers, I can do more for myself, I wanna be able to work with people that respect me, and people that have a mutual love for art, music, or whatever their passion is, and still be able to create our own spaces to flourish.”
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'The New World' is out now.
Words: Olisa Tasie-Amadi Jr.
Photography: Rosie Mathieson
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