RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW WEST MIDLANDS BAND – SMOKINGSFORCOOLPEOPLE
Hiya folks thanks for joining us in the virtual RGM lounge today, grab a brew and take a seat.
Great name by the way 🙂 What made you decide to become a soloist?
Currently, I’m not really a soloist. S4CP is more a production house and gearing up to become an indie record label focused on Soul/ R&B, and Pop genre. When I was a soloist, however, again I wasn’t really a soloist because the gigs I organise and got invited to perform at, I always collaborated with other singers (BV’s) and a live band so there was always some sort of collusion happening amongst my teammates.
Introduce us to your musical history.
I started singing at the age of around 7 or 8 in Jamaica where I was raised until the age of 10. I then moved over to South Carolina for a couple of years until I was 12 years old. While in America, the uncle I lived with is a music producer, so he had me in the studio singing and cutting records he wrote.
This was short-lived and by the time we started making some traction within the industry, I was sent for by my mother to live here in the U.K. My mother is a real strict, no-nonsense orthodox Baptist (Later the Church of God of Prophecy), so there was no listening to secular music (In the house), I obviously sneaked music like it was crack lol. All my singing was for the Lord when I lived in the parental home. I moved out at 16, this is when I really started to explore the world of music trying to find my voice.
I found me a raspy, powerful, characteristic voice with a high a** falsetto which I then started to develop. After some time of rebellion, my early 20s is when I started to get serious about my craft and enrolled onto a HND Vocal practitioner course with Access to Music Birmingham. The three years here taught me vocal control and organisation skills, it was on this course I first experienced organising shows and gigs around Birmingham which was a great opportunity to learn all the venues and the booking agents. After ‘Access’, I started organising monthly showcases in a bar call ‘Apaches’ which belonged to Apachee Indian who is a Birmingham native. ‘Soul Food’ lasted about 2 years where we moved between different venues to build those relationships. I was then involved in a local “Camp” if you will. Where ‘Da Major’ was making our beats and we would go out tour the tracks rinse and repeat. We were gearing up to make some fire releases and we did manage to put out a few tracks from ‘Salivaville’. After many years with ‘Salivaville’, it was time for a change. I signed my first development deal with ‘Downtown Artists’ a boutique label based in London’s West End. This is where I met an awesome producer Cornel Sorian who worked with me and developed my tracks. Next was my exploration of the function and tribute bands. I mean this experience is gruelling, I was involved in ‘The Young Drifters’ who was based in Liverpool, this involved a lot of rehearsals and tons of shows, which in hindsight, gave the opportunity to stretch my vocals and gain endurance. I was then a part of ‘The Benidorm Stylistics’ which was a great experience and probably my favourite because of the music. The Stylistics was an awesome band, their range up in those falsetto notes is simply astounding and really suited my voice.
At this point however, I looked up and I was 37 years old, I’d been doing this for a number of years and was getting quite tired both physically and mentally. I became really uninspired because there was no time, if there was time, I’d be so tired I couldn’t even muster the energy to write a track.
Something needed to give, I’d neglected my creativity. To reclaim myself, I pivoted into music production. Starting with studying my BA(Hons) in music production at Academy of Contemporary Music where I graduated with a first. These three years re-ignited my creativity. Once again, I was writing not only commercial pop tracks, but also, we had the opportunity to develop our writing to commercial briefs skill where we composed music to film and moving picture. I had planned to move to Canada with my new skill and continue my studies with a Masters however, The Corona virus put all those plans on hold. Just before however, I mean literally we were the last flight out of Marrakech before the world closed down. I entered a song-writing competition arranged by Birmingham Music Awards, the prize was a week in Morocco writing to commercial briefs from Sony Music Group, UMG, WMG and a few massive indie labels, this was in conjunction with Tileyard London. This was an awesome trip and out of the 4 songs I wrote, 2 got cut to ‘Love Island USA’ and an indie label for one of their artists. This gave me the confidence I needed to keep on with my song-writing and production. I enrolled onto the Masters with Tileyard Education the same summer. I have not long completed my Masters and currently I am setting up my indie label with plans to release singles of the upcoming project ‘Damian’, starting with “Excuse Me” ft Zara Sykes who I have known from the Birmingham music scene for about 2 decades.
In the amount of years we have known each other, we have never collaborated and this project gave us the perfect opportunity. I am personally loving our works together; we have developed about 4 tracks together and Sykes also features heavily throughout the Mixtape on other artists’ songs.
What’s one question you’re sick of being asked when interviewed?
What do you do to end a writing block?
This question pisses me off because, everyone is different, what works for me might not work for you and vice versa, I’m always battling with my inner voice whether to tell the truth or give a cliché answer like take regular breaks, change of scenery etc. The truth is, for me when I’m blocked or uninspired, I put down my creative tools and I play The Sims 4. In this realm I’m not thinking about lyrics or compositions, my mind is blank and I focus on this little world I’ve created and the sims in it.
After a couple hrs of playing, all of a sudden, an idea would come to me, or I would have rationalized an issue. So I would write it/record it into my phone immediately because my memory is pants. Sometimes, the idea doesn’t even come to me when playing The Sims, it would come in a dream on the same night, at which point I hurry up and find my phone to record the melody and then work on that composition when I wake back up in the morning.
It all depends really, but the point is, everyone has a different way of operating.
Do you sign up to any conspiracy theories?
Errm where to start?? All of them lol. Yeah I do resonate and subscribe to a few ideas about our human story. e.g., The Anunnagi described by Malachai Zodic York in his Book ‘The Holy Tablets’. This is an epic tale about some beings from Risq who needed to fix the atmosphere of their planet. They hypothesised, and the thing that would help them was gold, which was bountiful here on earth so they traversed space and time to come here to dig for the gold and take back to their planet to vaporize it and use as a shield to protect their planet from the solar flares of their 3 suns. While they were here though, things got real interesting with DNA splicing and grafting and essentially creating us, a hybrid version of the primates already here on earth at that time and their own DNA. This story can be found all over earth recycled and regurgitated throughout millennia, each epoch changing the characters names and identities, but the same stories none the less. i.e. the Gods of Olympus, the Indian Deities and the Vimana’s they travelled in, Jesus of Nazareth and the story of the children of Israel etc, etc. Zachariah Sitchin also wrote about these beings in his book ‘The 12th Planet’ but he called them Anunnaki. Sitchin also went on to write a number of books on this topic.
I also subscribe to the idea that there must be life all throughout the galaxies who have been visiting this earth for much longer than we’ve been here.
What useless party trick do you have?
I’m really boring, I don’t really have any party tricks that I can think of. But if at a party and there is a substantial bar, I can make you a mean A** cocktail. (Remnants from my days as an assistant manager at a male strip-club where we served the most BOMB mixed beverages. And of course DICK!)
What was the most fun you have had on stage?
The most fun I’ve had performing on stage was when I roamed with a group of singers from Brum, for an easy life, we would just do each others BVs, there were three of us myself, Adanté and Jenna Varndell. The three of us were connected on a deeper level where we could actually communicate telepathically on stage and there were so many fun moments. Especially when we were in rehearsal, we would have competitions like who can hold the note the longest at the end of a phrase (I would ALWAYS win), or jumping on the motorway as a convoy headed to the Worchester Music Festival where we’d all been booked to perform.
The most fun was when we were out of town and we would bump into someone from brum, we would just carry on with ourselves all of us putting on the thickest brummy accents possible and teasing the crowds.
What was the worst experience on stage?
My worst experience was also my most embarrassing. There I was singing on a weekly basis with the Benidorm Stylistics, the booking agent we used was just starting out and she really wanted to secure this certain venue in Wales someplace. She negotiated with the venue who really wanted the three of us to put on our usual Benidorm Stylists Show, suited booted and all. I however rocked up in my Jeans and T-shirt ready to my Solo setlist as Christof and not part of the group, the agent had told me that’s what this venue wanted. As I began my set, I started to notice the crowd wasn’t feeling it at all, the venue owner came over and asked, where are the other guys? Have you got anything upbeat? This isn’t what we booked with the agent. I was asked to pack down my sh*t and get TF out.
I have never been so mortified and this was the final nail in the coffin with regards to my singing and performing on the stage.
Tell us something about you that you think people would be surprised about?
The thing that people are always surprised about is when I reveal my age. Most people look at me and place me in the rage of 25-30. When I tell them I’m bout to turn 41 they are always surprised. The young looks were a pain in my left nipple when I was a teenager and even going into my 20’s, I had to come up with ingenious ways of precuring fake IDs and getting into clubs until I actually turned 18, and even when I turned 18 and had my passport the bouncers would be like Naa!! One time I nearly got turned away from a gig because they thought I was some young teen tryna get in early lol, even last year whilst studying in London, I was asked for ID because I was buying rolling tobacco in Sainsburys.
If you had to describe your music to an alien how would you describe it?
I mean the Alien would have no concept of human music so first I’d have to figure out how they perceive music, then if it turns out the Alien has ears and can hear our frequencies, then I would just stick the music on some headphones, put it on blast and see their reactions.
What makes you stand out as an artist?
My distinguishing characteristic as a producer is the fact that I can sing and arrange songs. I recently had a client who came in with a song idea but he didn’t know what to do for the backing vocals, this was not a problem because I’m quite good at arranging harmonies and melodies. When he discovered that I have a voice he was quite gassed and asked me to just do the BVs on the track which I am currently in the process of recording.
I’m also quite the chameleon in regards to the types of beats I produce, having quite the eclectic taste in music helps because I can attract a variety of client to collab with or to record for.
Right now, what’s pissing you off the most? (Can’t say the virus )
Ohhh maaayyn you’re talking to an old soul, we could be here for days with my laundry list lol. Right now, however, I’m having quite a perplexing situation with promoting the single on Tiktok.
I’m using Distrokid as my distributor who are awesome, they have provided some really cool memes from Old Skool Movies set to the track “Excuse Me”. When I first downloaded the 30 – 45 seconds memes and posted to ticktok, initially there was no issue, they boosted the post and I started getting some really good traction on the post. The next day I repeated this with another meme and there was no issue, the promotions went on for the full 24hrs and garnered over 2K views and commentary right.
Come the next day, and ever since, they have not been approved. It’s the most frustrating thing because now I have to create 2 posts per day instead of 1 across all my socials, which may seem trivial to you but when you’re a one man band trying to set up a label, book photoshoots, drive back and forth to London from Brum to take meetings and you know MIX the tracks I’m about to release, that 45mins to an hr of creating social media content in the mornings are a pain in the left nipple, especially when you have written to ticktok to enquire why with no answer from them. Maddening! (I mean I’ve even tried to promote the previous post that was approved and the same thing.) absolute piss take!
What’s your favourite song to play live and why?
I haven’t performed live for about 4-5 years now. However, when I was performing my fave song to perform was an original song of mine called “Taking Over”. I wrote this track in the throngs of being in love with this boy with baby blue eyes. He really meant a lot to me and every-time I performed that track, it took me back to straight back to my early 20s spending those two years with Baby blue. https://soundcloud.com/sorian- cornel/christof-jennings-taking- over?utm_source=clipboard&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=social_sharing
I hear you have a new single, what can you tell us about it?
Yes, So in my singy days, when being booked for the different venues, festivals and showcases, there was always this Stunning Chick call Sykes, I mean her flow, the attitude everything was very put together and I really wanted to collaborate with her but the chance just didn’t come. Recently however, the stars aligned and we were able to complete a few tracks this one “Excuse Me” being the first we’re going to release. The track is an ode to the late 80s, we were both born in 80 so we wanted to make a track that we’d love to hear on the radio. When discussing the collab, we discovered our mutual love for Zapp & Roger and their track “Computer Love” from back in the late 80s and we wanted to emulate that. This was my first time working with a vox box which is synonymous with their track, so I wanted to experiment with taking a classic sound and putting a contemporary spin on it. When I started the beat and sent as a demo to Sykes, within 24 hrs we were recording, I summoned the musos that we are both familiar with and we worked on the instrumentation while Sykes wrote the rap and the hook.
Originally, I had no intention of singing on the track because I was adamant that I was done with singing and performance, but the universe apparently has different plans. Its serendipitous really, because now I get to work with Zara Sykes not only on this track but others we have lined up for release later this year.
Talk me through the thought process of the single?
It’s a strange thing the popular music of today. Some of tracks we hear on the radio I like to describe as hubba bubba music, where after 5 seconds, the flavour is gone and all you want to do is spit it out. When we were in the process of writing and composing, we discussed and tried to think of a contemporary track in the charts today that will have longevity where in 20yrs it gives the same catharsis as we feel about the songs we listened to in the 90s and honestly, there was nothing in the mainstream we think will stand the test of time.
I mean one could argue that we are looking at it from the perspective of the aged, and that the youth who are consuming this “music” will possibly feel the same way we do in their futures however, when listening to tracks like “Boo’d Up” by Ella Mai produced by Mustard,(Who are both in their 20s YOUNG), you hear a distinct 90s sound. For me I hear Jam and lewis when listening to the production of this track, there are artists such as Durand Bernarr, Yebba, Kirby and host of other really fantastic artists doing the thing and whose music has longevity, they’re just not in the mainstream, which is strange when you contrast a Yebba “Evergreen” to a Doja Cat “Kiss me More”.
Anyways we just wanted to make something that we consider to have substance.
What was the recording process like?
Easy, Sykes is a pro. We recorded in my home studio using my ua apollo twin Interface, I have the Neve 1087 pre amp which just gives any vocal warmth and clarity, It’s my go to pre amp. We tracked about 3 takes using my SE4400 mic all which were awesome. All I needed to do after was to mix the vocals with the beat ensuring things were nicely blended. Recording the instrumentation was a similar process where we tracked all the instruments in my home studio, The guitarist BJB (Ben Bartlett) came with his guitar and we just used a DI connection straight into my interface, I then found an amp sound I like with Native Instrument’s ‘Guitar Rig’ which has some really amazing sounding amps and effects. The keys was a mixture of myself and Chris, drums, 2nd keys and bass were all done by Chris Russell who I have worked with for about 10 years. Connecting Chris’ SPD drum machine to my sound card to track the Toms hi hats and crashes and his Rhodes keyboard for a lovely bass synth we utilized in the track. I then took advantage of the Masters I have just accomplished and mixed the track. We did think about getting another producer to master the track however, why pay someone when I have the skill, so Master it I did and Boom! A Track.
What was the biggest learning curve in writing the single?
For this single in particular, the biggest learning curve was finding out the vox box’s hose makes a mad clicking sound when trying to enunciate certain vowels. It very well may be just my hose making the mad clicking sound, but I had to re-record this part of the track so many times it was ridick. In the end, I had to rim the edges of the hole with olive oil (Get your mind out the gutter), to enable a sound without as much clicking being picked up by the microphone.
Would you change anything now that it’s finished?
Nope, not a thing. It’s exactly where we want it to be and what we want it to sound like. Some folks will get it, and some folk won’t, my focus is on the ones who do. It’s a throwback track paying homage and respect to the legends who came before us, who laid the foundations for us to build upon.
What are your plans for the year ahead?
This year is filled with releases, I have been a busy bee working and collaborating with a few artists around the world.
After a series of 3 single releases, I will release the full “Damian” Project which is an eight track Mixtape featuring various artists.
This will be followed by the release of my artist Sol Morgan.
Sol has an amazing voice and I am excited to show you his project which is more on the Pop/Dance side. The project does have the quintessential Ballad and reggae track but the majority is Dance and Pop.
Then after Sol’s Project drops, which should take us into the summer and autumn, I really want to get my teeth stuck into a passion project with my cousin Danielle Jennings Wright who has just published her first book of poetry called “The New Wave: Metaphors’ and realities”, I plan and have started composing music and soundscape to make a music bed for her poetry where she will then record herself reciting the poems of choice.
I am also signed to a Sync agent over in Canada called ‘Hook & Co” who have been keeping me quite busy with commercial briefs, so the plan is to just continue being creative and release as much as possible throughout the whole of 2022 and beyond.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?
Yes, lots of music. Please keep and ear and eye out for smokingsforcoolpeople record label and the releases we will be dropping this year.
Thank you RGM Magazine also for your time and this interview. I hope I wasn’t too loquacious. Have you’s a most awesome and productive week.