The south London rapper on his new album and launch last night at House of Vans.
House of Vans London
House of Vans London
It’s hard to believe it’s been over two years since Loyle Carner (or Ben Coyle-Larner, to those who know him) released his debut, now Mercury-nominated album Yesterday’s Gone, and while we’ve been impatiently screaming for the next one for a little while now, last night the London-born rapper came through.
Not Waving, But Drowning opens with a letter to his Mum: “Dear Jean, I hope this doesn’t come as a surprise; But I’ve fallen for a woman from the skies. And she be truer than the lies (Mercuries) truer than the prize.” As ever, the record’s anchored by Jean’s influence – you know this by now! – and why she still makes all the glitzy bits seem peripheral. With features from friends Tom Misch, Jordan Rakei, Rebel Kleff, Kiko Bun, Sampha and Jorja Smith, it soundtracks the intricacies of his life over the past few years – not the extravagance that inevitably unfolds with wild success, but all the real, relatable stuff the 24-year old has felt along the way.
It’s about moving out of his family home, out of South, nostalgia but “never out of touch”. Daydreaming on trains. Making enough money to share with his mates, then losing one of them over it anyway. How falling in love felt effortless and destabilising all at the same time. And throughout, he maps out conflicts of identity – from mixed-race heritage to masculinity, mental health and his ADHD.
To launch the album, Carner put together an exhibition at House of Vans in collaboration with The Other Art Fair, where pieces of art inspired by each track were auctioned in aid of CALM, a charity and movement against male suicide. Later he was also joined by Jorja Smith to perform it for the very first time. Ahead of the event, we caught up to talk Not Waving, But Drowning, working with his mates and why he wants us all to talk more about mental health.
House of Vans London
Are you excited for everyone to finally hear the album tonight?
Yeah yeah yeah, I’m nervous for that. It’s kind of weird because people will be hearing the music for the first time on stage. That’ll be kind of stressful, but I’m excited about it.
So the last time I saw you perform was in 2016 in Amersterdam, before you’d dropped the first album…
Oh wow, that’s mad. At Paradisio? Yeah, that was good fun actually. That’s like three years ago, isn’t it? It’s quite crazy. It feels like it’s flown by.
What new stuff has influenced your writing over the past few years?
The stuff that I’m writing about has kind of matured I suppose, as I’ve matured – I hope. Loads of different things: I fell in love, I moved out of my Mum’s house, I became like a boss to a lot of people, which is quite a weird thing. The more responsibility you get the more you grow up and the more it’s kind of infiltrated my music. I guess it’s just about family, community, and what it’s like to be 24 with a lot of responsibility.
Do you write in those moments where you’re like “how do I deal with this?”
For sure. The only reason I was making a lot of it was to help me get through certain things – to patch things up with my missus, or to make my Mum understand that I care about her. Also, I might make a song, send it to a certain person and be like this is for you, hopefully it serves its purpose by making you be my friend again, or give me the money you owe me…
Bitch better have my money?
Does that feed into the album title?
Yeah, the album title itself is about this poem that my Grandad wrote, inspired by a poem “Not Waving but Drowning” by Stevie Smith. It’s about a guy who cries wolf – all his friends are looking at him from the sea and they’re like oh he’s just waving, showing off because he can swim out so far. But really he’s drowning. If in the last six months leading up to that he’d mentioned that he wasn’t having a good time, and he wasn’t always the Jack the lad acting like everything’s great, then he wouldn’t have died. And I resonated with it because sometimes I think it’s really easy to put on a brave face. People don’t know that you’re suffering and they won’t help you, but if people know you’re suffering? They will help you. It’s kind of like the other side of success that you don’t see.
House of Vans London
Why was that important for you to put out into the world?
I didn’t want to write about the nice parts of it, because the nice parts of it you see – all you have to do is go on my Instagram. That’s not my life; that’s the life that keeps me paid, you know? I was trying to figure out how I could be actually happy, not happy online. I don’t really like Instagram – I’ve got one of my closest friends that I get to do my Instagram for me.
That’s real trust…
Yeah. But also, I just don’t give a fuck about it! It’s such a bullshit thing. My girlfriend’s a teacher, and sometimes she’d be marking, take a break and go on Instagram. I was like yo, this sucks, why are we sat here on Instagram? So now we don’t have any phones in the bedroom or living room or whatever.
What do you do in your spare time instead?
Cook. Write. Play football. Go swimming… I really like being underwater. It’s like the only place where everything’s quiet.
Talking of cooking. What have we got on the menu tonight?
I think it’s just burgers and stuff. I was going to try and do it myself, but I just didn’t have time because getting the gallery done was the main thing.
That’s a crowd pleaser though. Those mini ones?
Yeah yeah, especially if they’re a bit drunk. The sliders? Nah, I wish they were, I’d be down for those. They’re just big meaty packages.
So was the exhibition album launch your idea?
Yeah, the art exhibition is actually how this whole thing started. I wanted to have a gallery launch around the album so I reached out to friends of mine who create art in various forms, played them the album and said do you want to pick a song and make a piece of work in reference to it? We’ve got some huge people, like The Connor Brothers and Damien Hirst, and some small people like my Mum. And I think showing pieces of physical art is a good way of showing actually how much work goes into an album because when you have something you can hold, you can see that it takes time.
Is that why you’re publishing the album’s lyrics in a poetry book too?
Yeah, that was [writer and poet] Benjamin Zephaniah‘s idea. He wrote the biography of the new album and he was like you should publish it as poetry as well because one day a kid might need it in a separate form. It’s cool to have that, man. It’s been my dream for a long time and I never thought I’d be able to write a poetry book.
So do you think there’s an inherent relationship between the music and visuals?
Massively so. All of it: art, music videos, books, merch. They all kind of culminate into one.
Are you dropping another video soon?
Yeah yeah, I’ve got a video with Tom Misch. Hopefully ASAP. We went to Portugal and it was just me, him, my missus and Barney [Artist]. Went on a little holiday and shot a cool video like the week before last. It was shot by a guy called Felix AAA – legend.
Is it important for you to always collab authentically? With mates?
I just try to work with friends and I think that’s the only way to do it. Music should be fun, it shouldn’t feel like going to work – the whole idea of this was so I didn’t have to get a job! I don’t see the point in trying to work with people for gain. If I meet them, they’re super cool and we hang out for like six months, I’d probably make a tune with them because we’re friends. But I’m not going to seek them out and be like I know you’re really really popular… Like I met Sampha through playing festivals and we ended up being cool enough to make music – I’d wanted to work with him a long time ago, but I didn’t know him so it was pointless. Then as soon as we could chat and hang out we were able to do music together.
And the auction tonight is in aid of CALM, who you’ve worked with loads before. Why did you connect with that particular charity?
Because I struggle with my mental health at times, and I’m an advocate for caring about men’s mental health anyway. Kids are dying every day; guys are killing themselves and this is a charity that’s preventing suicides. For me to be part of that makes perfect sense: this album is all about that and the title itself is about not putting on a brave face.
Do you hope people will resonate for those reasons?
I don’t want to put any pressure on it – I’m not saying I’m making this to save guys lives because I’m not; I made it to save my own life. And it has saved my life because I’m paid and I’m happy and I have everything I could possibly need and more. So for me, I got what I needed from it, but then also let’s see if other people get something. People might hate it, you know?
Yeah, but I do doubt that… Why were you frustrated with having to drop singles first?
I think I’m done with it now; I don’t rate it anymore. I had to do it for this time around because I’d been away for ages and that’s how it works. As much as I do whatever I want most of the time, sometimes you have to play the game to change the game and I feel like I’ve played the game enough now. From this point on I’ll probably just get on with it.
Is that because you want people to take it in as a whole project?
Just because I don’t know what songs people are going to like the most. I know which ones I like, but also I know that my taste is super left and different. The only thing I listen to at the moment is a lot of Guyanese music; that’s where I’m from and I’m trying to figure out my roots. And a lot of Brazilian Jazz and Portuguese. That shit is filtering into my music, but not everyone wants to hear ten minutes of Guyanese jazz! I’d rather just give the whole thing. Everyone’s happy, and I’m happy because I don’t have to stress and I can still be in the sea swimming instead…
Exactly. So if you could go back to that Amsterdam show in 2016, what would you tell yourself?
What would I tell myself? Maybe don’t have too many beers that night because I got super drunk. Moderation is key. But I was on track and I knew I was alright, kind of quietly confident – not that I’d be huge, but just that I’d be sustained. So yeah, just don’t drink too much.