Uncharted is our weekly showcase of independent artists we think you should hear. This week we speak to Warp Records soul artist kwes. about his prolific collaboration streak, getting sampled by Kanye, and putting sentiment before technology.
Labelling artists like kwes. as “confessional” is inaccurate. While the 26-year-old Londoner reveals painful truths about himself on each of his EPs for Warp Records – he’s “bashful,” he’ll stick with his unrequited love for you, he’s a head of cabbage in love with a jar of honey – any other sentiments would be an unnatural fit for his amorphous soul music. Who knows how deeply his music is affected by chromesthesia, a genetic condition that transforms the sounds kwes. hears into colours. But if that’s his sixth sense, music must be his seventh.
There’s a long list of collaborators that have been eager to bring some of that comfort and self-knowledge to a new project. kwes entered our Skype interview like it was a leftover hallucination, after he’d just pulled a near all-nighter finishing his executive production work on the new record for Dells; it’s his second time working with the Big Dada rapper. Over the past four years, Damon Albarn, Michachu, Kanye West, Bobby Womack, and Hot Chip have all called up kwes. for a remix, a sample, or a proposal for a duel album. He’s hesitant to attribute success this to anything more than “things falling into place,” but his pace says otherwise.
kwes. is now ready to release his first full length ilp. Via Warp on October 15th, following a year-long creative block brought on by touring (“When you’re on the road all the time you can’t focus. You’re hoping your equipment makes it over safe and those things.”) We spoke about how working with other musician helps him find himself, the joys of his own private studio, and not being focused on technology.
I want to take it back to your first major collaboration or the first one you did where you thought, “I could actually do this.”
There are so many. But I guess that one major highlight was going to Congo and working with Damon Albarn, Richard Russell, Actress, Jneiro Jarel, Seed, all of those people and doing the DRC record.
Do you find you learn something about your own sound and your own voice through these collaborations?
Every time. I always learn something new from whomever I work with, however big or small.
Can you think of an example where your music was affected significantly by someone you worked with?
Micachu. Our studios are close together and we talk quite a bit. Her mastery of restraint is something that’s really influenced my music. I feel like I just know when to do and not do stuff. I’m more aware of that now than I was. If you’re producing someone’s record, you need to know when to stop and when to let loose.
Are you open to new forms and new styles affecting your own music?
Definitely. I’m always looking to move music forward. I’m up for anything, really, new processes. I’m always up for discovering. But it’s not something I consciously try to do. I try to keep it as natural as possible. I don’t really think about style when making music anyway. I guess it depends if I’m working with someone and they have a sound in mind, so we have the mindset of keeping it fresh and not too referential.
What was it like getting sampled by Kanye West for Pusha T's “Who I Am”?
Well, it all came together through my friend who told DJ Mano, Kanye’s DJ. He’s also a brilliant producer. Every now and then we talk over AIM and he’d heard my track, “LGOYH” so I sent it off to him. It’s all a blur… he put the beat together and Kanye at one point was going to use it for his record and then Pusha T ended up wanting it and it ended up on his record. And I think Kanye was going to do a verse but he ended up co-producing it and that became the track.
How did it feel to have two of, arguably, the greatest rappers in the world, fighting over a beat that was inspired by your song?
It was so surreal. And to further add to that whole madness I’d just done a gig on Jimmy Fallon and then I got this news the same night. It was ridiculous.
How has having your own studio changed your music?
It’s made it freer. I guess it’s made the process a lot easier, to put it bluntly. When I got my studio, I got more equipment and sold some equipment. So now it’s a lot more free-flowing.
And how were you making your music before you had your own studio?
Just out of my bedroom, really. Or if I’m working with someone, the label or whoever is taping the session will put me in a studio with that person, or I’ll record that person at my house or their house and take that home and work from my laptop. But I don’t work from my laptop anymore, which is great.
Would you describe yourself as a perfectionist?
That’s a hard one. When I’m producing someone’s record I can be because you want to be sure the record is right for them, so I’m constantly asking and making sure. I want to make sure they’re completely happy with it. But with my stuff I’m on and off.
Because you have that luxury.
Yeah. It really depends on the mood I’m in.
Do you consider yourself a tech-y kind of guy?
No. You have that interim period right before you become a teenager when you want to become really brilliant on your instrument and then you realize all of that doesn’t matter. As long as you can communicate sentiments.