Labrinth: Ready for the launch
Having initially attained his breakthrough success in 2010 as producer of rapper Tinie Tempah’s chart-topping, BRIT Award-winning "Pass Out," North London-based singer/songwriter/producer/musician Labrinth this month undisputedly comes of age as an artist in his own right via the release of his hugely-anticipated debut album "Electronic Earth" - pioneered by its bass-driven, autotune-fuelled uptempo new single "Last Time."
Indeed, having been entirely written and produced by Labrinth himself at his studio in London’s Wood Green, "Electronic Earth" makes for a highly experimental, genre-defying debut set. Whose kaleidoscopic sonics range from the guitar-driven, rock-tinged "Treatment" and the jungle rhythms and synths of the joyous "Climb On Board;" to a faithfully-replayed, personalised take on the Charles Wright 1970 street-funk anthem "Express Yourself" and the rousingly haunting balladry of the Emeli Sande-featuring "Beneath Your Beautiful."
Born Timothy McKenzie in Hackney, East London in 1989, Labrinth - alongside his nine talented elder siblings - grew up at home surrounded almost exclusively by the sounds of American gospel music. Becoming entirely self-taught after studying music at his local church, meanwhile, it was at the age of 13 that a naturally-gifted young Timothy would first begin making beats in his brother’s home studio before eventually going on to master bass, drums and keyboards.
Meanwhile, after spending four years studying music theory alongside practising and honing his craft in his manager’s studio, it was at 19 years old that the multi-talented Labrinth achieved his first taste of notoriety - following his experimental, rock-edged production work on South London rapper Master Shortie’s critically-acclaimed, independently-released debut LP "ADHD."
However, it was upon hooking-up with another South London rhymesmith - the then-unknown, aforementioned Tinie Tempah - that Labrinth would in 2010 finally hit the big-time. As his trailblazing production on Tinie’s first two singles - the groundbreaking BRIT and Ivor Novello Award-winning "Pass Out" and its cheeky follow-up "Frisky" - hit Numbers One and Two respectively on the UK mainstream listings. Success which ultimately attracted the attention of globally-famed music and television mogul Simon Cowell, who later the same year signed him as an artist to his high-profile, Sony-affiliated Syco Music - making him the first act in six years to not join the label via a TV talent-show platform.
Since which time - in addition to producing pivotal debut singles from new Sony-signed UK R&B vocalists Loick Essien and Bluey Robinson, plus seasoned urban songstress Ms Dynamite’s chart comeback 'Neva Soft' - the ever-trailblazing Lab (as he’s known to his friends!) has become a prominent hitmaker in his own right via the Top Three success of both his first two solo singles, 2010’s enduringly melodic "Let The Sun Shine" and 2011’s Tinie Tempah-featuring, explosively electronic "Earthquake."
… All of which pretty much brings us up-to-date, as the charismatic 22-year-old musical juggernaut that is Labrinth meets up with ‘Blues & Soul’ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis at a photo-shoot in Bethnal Green’s quaintly-atmospheric Oxford House for an in-depth introductory chat.
PETE: Let’s start on obvious ground - the thinking behind titling your new, debut album "Electronic Earth."
LABRINTH: “Basically ‘Electronic Earth’ represents musically where I’m headed to as an artist. In that I wanna be able to make both acoustic and electronic music side-by-side, and not have to worry about whether they sound RIGHT next to each other. You know, on one side you have artists like Adele who’s very much on an acoustic vibe, and then on the other you have like maybe Justice, who are a kind of electro-house band. And to me, what I’m about as a musician is joining those two worlds TOGETHER… So yeah, in that way ‘Electronic Earth’ does truly represent me as both an artist AND a producer. Because I feel like this album is a definite step towards where I wanna BE! It’s like the first step towards me making some insane, crazy stuff in the FUTURE!”
PETE: In your own eyes, what do you feel you’re bringing to the table that’s different as an artist?
LABRINTH: “In terms of being an urban artist, I think it’s the fact that I do bring actual musical SONGS - at a time when most of the other stuff out there is very much club-driven and BEAT-driven. Also I think I bring different approaches to harmonies, as well as a whole new energy in terms of ECLECTICNESS - in the sense that none of the songs on this album are the SAME. You know, I definitely didn’t wanna be a one-dimensional artist that you can just put into one box. Because to me we’re all masters of certain energies, and we all create different COLOURS.”
PETE: And as a producer?
LABRINTH: “As far as being a producer goes, I think it’s that I produce in terms of LAYERS. You know, one thing I always really enjoyed about Qunicy Jones’ production technique was that there were so many layers to every SONG. Like one week you’d hear a new trumpet-line, then the next week you’d hear be hearing a new guitar-line… To where even TODAY when you play those records you STILL hear new things on them. And, while I’m not saying my songs are anywhere NEAR that level, at the same time a lot of people do say they hear new things on my records each time they play them, and that that gives them more CHARACTER. Just like when you get to know a PERSON layer-by-layer you start to understand them loads more.”
PETE: For such an eclectic musician, some may find it surprising that at home you grew up almost exclusively listening to gospel music…
LABRINTH: “Yeah, but what a lot of people don’t realise is that gospel in itself incorporates so many different STYLES. Like blues, jazz and a lot of those genres all started from gospel originally. So when you see and hear first-hand the way gospel actually is, it kind of inspires you subconsciously to go TOWARDS those different directions. You know, I don’t SEE categories, I don’t SEE styles - l see them all gelled TOGETHER. And it was gospel that definitely helped me to DO that… Plus seeing my brother and loads of other musicians worshipping God while playing instruments when I was younger I think also helped me understand ENERGY, and how to really AFFECT people musically. Because of course in a church what you’re seeing is musicians actually affecting people alongside worshipping - which to me is music at the very height of its POWER... So yeah, as a producer I feel I did learn a lot from the church in terms of how to affect people through my songs.”
PETE: Obviously your big breakthrough as a producer was with Tinie Tempah’s BRIT and Ivor Novello Award-winning 2010 Number One "Pass Out." What was the story behind you creating that groundbreaking track?
LABRINTH: “At the time me and my manger were trying to come up with something that still had the grime energy but was a little more experienced MUSICALLY. And while of course ‘Pass Out’ doesn’t sound INTELLECTUALLY musical, when you actually listen to the different layers in it you do start to understand that there’s reggae in there, there’s drum-&-bass, there’s kind of trance mixed over hip hop - all of which is not the NORM! You know, I was basically wanting to produce a kind of English urban music that wouldn’t be perceived as boring or second-hand AMERICAN music - which at the time was all that we WERE! And I felt like ‘Pass Out’ was a first step towards me being wholeheartedly English but at the same time still being able to be commercially viable... And then when I hooked up with Tinie, it turned out he was the ideal artist to for me to work WITH! You know, he spoke to me in the studio beforehand and was like ‘I wanna be DIFFERENT! I wanna be an artist that kind of develops beyond what urban is thought to BE, where we just stay in the clubs and we don’t become STARS in this country’... So yeah, from the start there was a really good chemistry between us, plus I also just think the stars were aligned. Because for me Tinie was definitely the right guy at the right TIME! He understood what I was doing, and he sat on it PERFECTLY.”
PETE: So how did you then become a recording artist yourself and make the unlikely step of signing with Simon Cowell’s Sony-affiliated Syco label?
LABRINTH: “Well, 'Pass Out' had come out, 'Frisky' had come out - and the phone was just going CRAZY! You know, everybody was going ‘What’s going on with Lab? We’ve heard his stuff - why’s he not an ARTIST?’... And so they all started offering me deals… And then at the last minute - just when I was about to sign with Universal - Simon COWELL called! You know, a couple of his artists - Leona Lewis, Alexandra (Burke) - were wanting me to produce them. So he heard my music and was like ‘You SEEM like an artist, you DRESS like an artist - why AREN’T you one?’... So I told him I was about to be signed - and from that he pretty much jumped in and signed me FIRST!... And I guess the reason I decided to go with Syco was because I knew they were a special machine that could make really big things happen while still allowing me to produce my own music without having any involvement in my CREATIVITY! I basically felt like they’d be able to give me the kinda leverage I wanted for me to get where I needed to GO.”
PETE: So finally, can you fill me in on your new imprint Odd Child,
The single ‘Last Time’ is released March12, followed by the album ‘Electronic Earth’ on March 19, both through Sycho music.
READ MORE FROM PETE LEWIS' FASCINATING INTERVIEW WITH LABRINTH IN OUR MARCH ISSUE (ORDER YOUR COPY BELOW). TOPICS UP FOR DISCUSSION INCLUDE; FEATURED ARTISTS ON "ELECTRONIC EARTH," WHAT HE THINKS ABOUT BEING SIGNED TO SIMON COWELL'S PSYCHO LABEL AND HIS BRAND NEW CREATION ODD CHILD.
Words PETE LEWIS