Marlon Roudette is no stranger to the pop game. In fact, not only does he come from a musical background, but he’s also been in a group, released solo material and had number one hits all over the world.
So you might be asking why you’ve not heard of him? Well, us Brits have been cruel to Marlon, but that hasn’t stopped him from trying to crack his home country. Signing a deal with SyCo (the home of Simon Cowell’s music empire), Marlon is prepping for the release of ‘When The Beat Drops Out’, a fresh approach to the saturated pop house genre; a song that almost drops but reins it in, leaving subtitles, emotions and plenty of yearning.
We caught up with Marlon to talk about signing to SyCo, songwriting woes and his determination to crack the UK.
Hi Marlon Roudette. How are you?
I’m well, thanks.
Let’s get started. You’re the second non-competition winner to be signed to Syco. How did that happen?
It’s cool actually. We’d finished the record and ‘When The Beat Drops Out’ was an amazing smash for us in Europe. Syco heard about it through that, really. I think, for me, it was great knowing that Labrinth was already there and able to execute his creative vision. I realised that I’d be signing to a different side to Syco, but of course still with their infrastructure, which is amazing. I was quite flattered that they wanted it so badly.
I think if it had been me, I would have been a bit nervous.
I’m like that with every label. But you have to go with your gut. From the first meeting with them they’d really listened to the record and peeled back the layers and lived with it, which is more than can say for a lot of the labels that we spoke to. They just talked the most sense. It was a scary but exciting step for me.
Was ‘When The Beat Drops Out’ the first thing that you’d written for the album?
Not at all. I’d written that at the end of a really difficult creative period, banging my head against a brick wall with the writing. I was in LA not quite certain of my direction and feeling a bit intimidated by that whole LA songwriter scene, which can be quite brutal. After a couple of months of that I sat down with Jamie Hartman, who’s a friend of mine as well as a co-writer, and he said, “let’s just have a jam.” And it seems that all the hard work that lead up to that worked itself out in a few hours. It was written so quickly and it was such an effortless writing process. The production was more of a nightmare.
Talking of the production, what I really like about it is that it could have easily gone into generic house music territory, but it didn’t.
I’m glad. That’s the dilemma that I had with it. I did thirty versions of that track – produced and mixed. It was a laborious process and it was because everyone around me was saying “We can make this an Avicii.” I knew that wouldn’t be right, not just for the song but for me as an artist. I felt there was more depth to the whole project. So I really laboured at hinting at that, but not going there blatantly while keeping the emotion of the song. It’s one of those tunes where you can take one of the elements out and it doesn’t work anymore. I learnt even more about the production process from doing that track.
That must have been tricky not to give up.
Oh you go completely insane. And you lose your objectivity after a while, which is why it’s so important to have a great team around you. I’ve been working with my manager for years, and we know instinctively when we’ve got something right. But you need to go there – as soon as it hit radio I knew it couldn’t be anything else because I’d tried it. But that comes with a level of confidence.
Was the album a slightly easier process?
It wasn’t easy. It was easier than previous albums in the past, just because I’d had a hit on my first solo album. I therefore had the resources to execute the vision that I wanted to and get my first choice team. Not just for a few tracks but for the whole process. That was a real blessing, because I’m definitely good at highlighting the things that I need help with. Tim Bran and Roy Kerr, who produced the London Grammar album, stepped in did an amazing job for me across the whole album. So in that point of view it was easy, but every album has driven me to the point of madness [laughs].
Having already released it in Europe, do you worry that people might just head out and download it before the album is released?
Not too much. I mean, I had no choice. It’s no secret that I’ve had to go outside of the UK and work very hard to build a career for myself when things were slow and flat here for me. I’ve had a fantastic career because of that and I don’t regret it for a minute. But I didn’t have the option to do it worldwide. It’s been a case of going out and putting in the graft that’s allowed me to be on the label I’m on now. Whether or not it’s an issue, there was no other way.
Does it feel that the pressure is off coming here because you’ve been successful elsewhere?
The pressure for me is purely an artistic one and a personal one. A lot of these records are British records and this is my home. I’d love, just for creative reasons, for as many people to be exposed to it. As I say, I wouldn’t change anything, but it would be amazing for it to take off here now.
It must be daunting, especially about balancing your expectations.
I’m not going to sugar-coat it, I’ve had some heart-breaking experiences bringing hit records back to the UK after doing really well outside. I’m not going to lie but it hurts for whatever reason they don’t take off. I guess I’m just a lot more comfortable with the creativity this time round, and maybe a little more quietly confident. The UK team that I have now are fantastic, too, so I think all the tools are there.
In the UK, the past year has male singer songwriters doing very well. How do you feel coming into that now?
I think the style of music is different, first of all. I also think that the type of vocalists that Sam [Smith] and Ed [Sheeran] are immediately sets it apart. What I do is quite different to that. It gives me some faith in the business that two hard working, great writers are dong so well. I’ve always had a strong belief in the power of the actual songwriting itself and they’re proving that point. Especially from a State side perspective. I’ve got my first record deal in the US after being in the business for so long. It’s quite good to know that those records are connecting.
Finally, what does Marlon Roudette like to do when he’s not being a singer?
If I can’t back to the Caribbean, then the next best thing for me is the mountains with a snowboard. Turn the phone off and get a little space on it all. I’ve actually had quite a few creative breakthroughs after spending time up there.
Can you actually turn your phone off? I couldn’t do that.
I’ve learnt you have to. You’re so available across so many different platforms, and exposed to what everyone is say. Creative people are sensitive, and we allow things to effect us to the point where we can create art about it, but that definitely comes with it’s own set of problems. So I think it’s important to get that down time. You get a withdrawal for a few hours but then…
It’s crazy how it affects you.
When The Beat Drops Out is out on March 1st on Syco Music and available for preorder here: http://smarturl.it/WTBDOiT
Words: Alim Kheraj.