A while ago PlanetNotion met with Kwes, and have a chat over multiple cups of tea. We talked about tons of things: his childhood, Power Rangers, joint mixtapes with Micachu, prog, The Congo, and conquering shyness.
I saw you play with Micachu at the South Bank Centre a month or so ago. How did you come to collaborate with her for the Kwesachu mixtapes?
I’d known Micachu for at least a couple of years before we started to work together musically, so it just seemed like a natural thing to do. Our project manifested itself in the format of a mixtape because we both love lots of different music and wanted to get bands and artists that we admire to get involved in some way. The music we were both making at the time we met was quite similar. I was really into recording found sounds, as she was – so we had a lot of things in common.
I read how you got into music when you were pretty young – around the age of four – and you were only seventeen when you started producing. How did you practise music when you were younger and what did you learn in your childhood?
I just locked myself away, really. I didn’t go out; for years I was just listening to music. We didn’t have internet at the time so I’d always be sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for Top Of The Pops to come on. I’d listen to the radio and do whatever else I could do to learn about new music. In my early teens I could go to the shops and by music but below the age of ten I just listened to it and watched Power Rangers.
Which was your favourite Power Ranger?
The blue one, Billy the triceratops, because he was really unassuming. But when he got into his ranger suit he could just beat everyone up.
My favourite was the pink one, but that’s just because she was pink.
She was cool, but she was with Jason the red ranger and I didn’t like him – I found him a bit smarmy.
… Back to what we were talking about before! I know you played keyboard/piano growing up, but did you experiment with any other instruments?
I got the keyboard first and I learnt how to play my favourite songs by playing on to whatever I was listening to on the radio – just what any kid would do if they were interested in music. Then I got a guitar for my seventh birthday – it had buttons on that created different sounds, and real strings as well. I wish I didn’t break it because I’d have used that guitar on songs I’m working on now. If I find something like that on eBay, I’m definitely buying it!
I was really into messing with tapes – recording sounds and then speeding them up, trying to overdub and all that stuff.
When did you start getting into electronic stuff?
I guess it was when I got a computer. I got hold of some software off of a friend and started working on music that way. It was a lot more convenient using the computer, something that you could use to get all of your ideas together easily.
How has your taste in music changed over the years?
Up until maybe the age of fourteen or fifteen, all I really listened to was chart music – although there were a few artists and records I picked up from my mum and dad’s collection. From the age of fifteen up until maybe twenty or twenty-one I was into stuff that isn’t chart-orientated, music that’s really out there. I still love that now; from the age of twenty-one up until now I’ve really started to appreciate it all because whether I like a type of music or not it will still in some way subconsciously seep into my creative process.
I heard you really like prog, too.
Yeah, I just love how silly it sounds. The musicianship’s obviously amazing, but I wasn’t drawn to prog because of that; it just sounded fun and that the bands were having a good time. The sounds are so weird, and a lot of what they sung about was meaningless as well.
I read the report you wrote for Dummy about going to the Congo with Damien Albarn last year. Was there anything you picked up on – anything you saw, heard, learnt – that affected you?
It just reminded me of how lucky am to do what I do, and in such comfort. They may be doing so little out there but they’re still optimistic about things. I’ve got tons of sounds I recorded out there on my hard drive – I should have put some of them on my EP, really!
You started out producing. Was there a specific moment that triggered your want to switch from that to being a solo artist in your own right?
The main reason of why I stuck to producing was because I was too shy to do my own stuff. Now I think I’m just about getting over that hurdle and I’m starting to be able to express myself through my own music. I mean, I’ve always made my own music – I just didn’t share it with the public.
You’ve also done quite a bit of remixing. Is there any particular quality or factor that makes you want to remix a song?
Four years ago, I would have wanted to remix a song because I liked it, whereas now that’s not the case. I guess now I want to improve on what’s there and bring my own sound into the song. It depends from song to song.
On the subject of your Meantime EP, how did you record it? Analogue or digital?
A bit of both. I did a lot of tape stuff, running recordings through tape onto the computer and I recorded some things straight into the computer. I did lots of field recording as well. Mostly it consists of external sounds mangled up through a computer or on tape.
You once said something about finding it hard to put ideas into music?
I said I think that’s the longest part of my creative process. The actual making of the music takes no where near as long as me thinking about what I’m going to make.
What do you prefer writing about?
Love and the human condition, but I sometimes get bored of that. I like writing about silly things.
Do you have a specific place, context or time where you find you write music best?
I was going to say the night time, but no. Often I’ve found that I’m half asleep, but that could be at any time of the day.
You’ve posted a few lyrics on Tumblr from people like Scott Walker. Is he your favourite lyricist?
He’s certainly one of them. My primary inspirations are Todd Rundgren, Stevie Wonder, Brian Wilson and Carole King. I love the lyrics on Twin Shadow’s first album, Forget.
I noticed a random cadence at the very end of the last song on your EP… I don’t know how to pronounce the title…
On ‘lgoyh’? That stands for ‘let go of your heart’. People think the first letter is in upper case, but it’s not, and they end up pronouncing it like ‘igoyah’ or something.
Cryptic. I was wondering where the idea for the cadence came from because it appears so randomly.
I don’t know, I just did it! Just happened.
You studied philosophy for a bit; are there any philosophers or philosophies that you take and apply to your music?
There is a guy called Arthur Shopenhauer who I really like, but apart from that there wasn’t much I took away from philosophy. When writing music I think more about experience, naturally.
For this EP, did you do the artwork?
Do you like to take control in that side of things? Like, did you get involved creatively when you were making the video for ‘Bashful’?
With ‘Bashful’, I left Ian Pons Jewell to his own devices and I was really happy with how it came out. In terms of creative control, I’m open to ideas from other people – it just so happens that I did my own artwork this time.
PRS funded you when you went to SXSW this year, right? That got me thinking about arts funding in England and how it’s quite meagre opposed to places like Scotland and Canada. What do you think about that?
I know there’s tonnes of money being given out to fund visual arts, but not so much for music.
[Manager]: There are schemes, but there aren’t many considering how many UK acts there are. The Francophone countries generally throw a lot more money at music at the arts.
Are there any new artists that you’re into apart from the people you’ve collaborated with?
Thee Satisfaction – Mica loves them. Grimes is great, and Shabazz Palaces has been around for ages but I like them. I like a lot of music that’s not new – Actress, Andy Stott, Kendrick Lamar.
You’ve received a lot of recognition in the past year but you’re not an attention-loving person. How do you deal with that situation?
I actually love that my music is getting into the mainstream and that I didn’t have to compromise anything. I’m really happy.