Having honed his musical talent for over a decade, Goldsmiths Uni alum, Harry Jay-Steele, is fully set to take on the world. With an eclectic mix of influences, Harry is creating invigoratingly unique music which falls into a range of genres, with elements ranging from African Rhythm to contemporary pop.
Releasing his debut EP, “Reach You”, today, the three tracks are all perfectly individual and crazily enjoyable. We caught up with Harry earlier this year after the release of title track, “Reach You”, to find out all about him.
Do you remember the first time you realised you wanted to play music?
Probably around the age of about six or seven. I started doing impressions of singers like Tina Turner and would make up little songs of my own – the lyrics would be un-intelligible gobbledygook but my parents took note and eventually bought me a guitar to aid the process. Funnily enough I still often write melodies with made-up words and then come up with the lyrics later or sometimes they just stay that way, like the backing vocals on “Lost Nor Found”. I also still do impressions of Tina Turner from time to time.
Who are your musical inspirations?
One of my biggest musical inspirations, not just for his sound but for the way he approached music, is Miles Davis. He was a visionary, a great band leader and the music he made encompassing the period from “Kind Of Blue” to “Bitches Brew” is some of the most beautiful and mentally provocative I’ve ever heard. There is an emotional depth to his playing and recordings that is almost unrivalled for me.
You’ve played in bands before. What do you prefer about being a solo artist?
When I’ve played in bands before, for the most part it has been to try and interpret my own songs. The only band I played in where I wasn’t playing my own compositions was a Ugandan band called A.C.D Arts where I learnt a lot about rhythm! I love collaborating with people and think that in the future I will want to make many projects in that fashion, but for now writing all the parts and creating my own rules and patterns is what i’m interested in because I feel like through that process I am creating something very unique and original which I think is quite rare in this day and age, so I want to hold on to that for a while.
“I started doing impressions of singers like Tina Turner and would make up little songs of my own – the lyrics would be un-intelligible gobbledygook but my parents took note and eventually bought me a guitar to aid the process.”
What was the inspiration behind your new single, “Reach You”?
Lyrically the song “Reach You” was sung from the perspective of people who risk their lives to get to Europe – “Down to the oceans and up to you / I never thought I’d sell it all at sea to reach you” – reach you meaning “you”, as you sit at home and drink your cup of tea while watching the news but also meaning someone who the voice in the song is trying to reunite with. I wrote it to make a deeper connection with the lives of the people I was watching on the news myself, because I was moved and I wrote to provoke people to feel the same feelings. That’s why the words “reach you” and “see you” are repeated slowly but increasingly throughout the song. Thats why there is a dark tone to the tune.
There are elements of a lot of genres in the track, from electronic to afro-beat. What was your creative process?
I wrote the track and produced it at the same time so it was largely a computer based process. All I knew initially was that when I combined the rhythm guitar part (which was definitely inspired by an african jazz musician called Lionel Loueke) with a four to floor beat, I had something addictive and brooding which compelled me to write the rest of the song. I guess for me it’s like a Fela Kuti protest song mixed with a minimal house tune…I know in actuality it does not sound like that but the combination of rhythmic and melodic repetition with subtle but continuous variation to relay a message and tell a story and convey a feeling is a technique at the heart of both of those types of music and elements inspired by both of these styles can be heard simultaneously within the track, from the repeating high pitched chants of the backing vocals to the gradual building of the beats.
Your debut EP is out this week. What can you tell us about it?
It was born out of blood, sweat and tears, well maybe not the blood but definitely the sweat. Music does come naturally to me but to arrange these songs in the way they are in this record and to actually realise the sound took a lot of time, deliberation and focus. The songs all have a theme of self reckoning and longing, which is probably a reflection of my own state of being both current and old. It sounds like an artistic cliche and it probably is but I went through a pretty dark time mentally in my early twenties and I really had to push my way out of it. Songwriting and performing were a big part of that and personally I can hear that push on the record. Fortunately, I also hear an element of release too.
You’ve only just set up a Twitter account (Welcome!). How important is social media to you as a rising artist?
Social media, it’s a love hate/relationship as I’m sure it is with a lot people who need to be in the public eye for their career. I’ve always liked photography so Instagram came a bit more naturally to me than the other platforms and is the one which I am most active on. Narcissism is in an epidemic, worldwide currently, and when you use any of these platforms you are inadvertently feeding your ego often in a way which I’m sure Sigmund Freud would deem as definitely unhealthy and concerning. On the other hand it is a great tool for directly communicating with fans, strangers, people from all over the globe in a way which is mind blowingly accessible, fluid and international. This is most positively a liberating and empowering tool as a rising artist and gives you great independence to market yourself in the way you want to.
What exciting things can we expect from you this year?
You can expect to see me perform live, hopefully a lot. I have my first gigs coming up this spring and I’m incredibly excited as [performing] live is probably where I feel most at home and enjoy most. You can also expect another record which I am also very excited about – pretty shortly if all goes to plan.
Catch Harry playing his debut show on 1st May at the Finsbury Pub.