In 2018’s musical landscape, Xamvolo is in an interesting space.
And I mean that in the really good way, not the ‘I can’t think of anything nice to say, so I’ll use an ambiguous word’ kinda way.
The 23 year old Londoner is essentially bringing Neo-Soul to the masses. And if we define masses, as ‘lots of people’, the fact that I’m sat with him as backstage at Nottingham arena as he’s main support on Paloma Faith’s arena tour really does say something.
I’ll be direct with you reader – we chatted for a long time. We had an awesome conversation, from the intricate process of producing, through to X’s entire musical journey. Whilst I’m not going to share with you every detail, I do encourage you to read on if you want some truly fascinating insights from a musician that is very passionate about his art.
We start by going way back – his earliest musical memories.
My primary school. It had a focus on music – they didn’t teach it formally, but it was a part of the culture. So everybody did extra curricular choir and all that. I didn’t really care about music at the time, it was more just a part of school. I wasn’t the most socially forward person as a kid. I was all about the kid stuff, Eiffel 65, ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’, all that kinda stuff. I think that was my first favourite song. The first one I bought for myself was Paramore ‘Brand New Eyes’, I had my Pop Punk phase in my teens. A lot of influence from the school I went to. When it comes to favourite artists and people like that, I think So Solid Crew. I started off in Grime really.
I started producing with FL Studio 7 I think, I got off my friend who was like 19, I’m about 14, and he gave me the software. There was a lot of bluetoothing grime instrumentals around on your Sony Ericsson’s at that time, so that’s what we were kinda working with. I started producing before singing. I was the guy that made the beats for everyone else for a long time. Learning bits. FL 7, 8, then Reason. I’m now on Logic. I was about 17 when I first got that. I locked myself away for five days, using a Macbook a friend borrowed me, and made 12 songs. It was very weird cos it was a mish mash of my Grime influences and everything else. Sounded kinda mad. My friends were into it, so it made me wanna carry on.
The first time I thought right we need to step up, was when I heard Janelle Monae. She had Prince, and all those other influences, and having my own experience of someone trying to be really different… it was insane to me that someone could be so different and it sound so expensive and well put together too. Ever since then I knew I had to be as ‘me’ as possible with my music. It was actually after hearing Frank Ocean’s ‘Donny Breaux’ tape that I started thinking ‘how would it sound if I started making a body of work?’.
And believe me, he’s quite done quite a special job with that. \
As of 2018, X is just about to release an EP, and, it’s looking like his album may be on the cards this year too. What’s the concept?
“The EP has four songs on it, one song is on the album. Adore exists in a live version on the EP, but there is a produced version on the album. The other three are chronological parts in the side story of the album. So the album is – this character who goes from A to B – but the EP is the side character, of the same age. It’s the rise and fall of someone who is enticed by… the idea of feeling important. The whole concept of this ark (EP and album) is ‘desire’. And my whole thing is – the one thing I think separates people from animals is ambition. It’s a blessing and a curse as a human being to be able to aspire to be more, but also realise your life isn’t perfect.”
It’s an interesting concept, but one that I, and I’m sure many others will agree with. But where is X’s head at when it comes to his art, and that struggle? “There are two ways you can approach art and music. You can do it as an expression, or as a service. Art as a service has a lot of compromise, but is a lot more lucrative. Whereas art as expression is a lot more selfish and ‘I need to do this cos I feel this is good’. That’s kind of where my head is at right now.”
And the fact he’s just played to 50k + people can only help that. And if you’re even remotely interested in Jazz, Soul, or just interesting (in the best way possible) music, we really suggest you check Xamvolo out. Follow his story. Create your own version of the ‘desire’ story.
And have fun with it. X definitely is.
Words by Sam Nahirny