When I Wake Up is out via FAMM
I caught up with the soulful singer ahead of his headline show at Union Stage in D.C. to discuss his latest album, debut U.S. headline tour, working with Jorja Smith, Chronixx, and more. Read on below.
We’re connecting at Union Stage as your headline tour is kicking off. How’s it going so far?
We started in Boston a few nights ago and it was beautiful and powerful, and it was a nice kind of intro, it was a family vibe just getting settled into the set.
You’re off to Chicago, SF, and LA next. Have you played these cities before?
I’ve been to most, apart from Boston, while on other peoples’ tours. Most recently, I was on the Jorja Smith tour and we played many of these cities. So really looking forward to being out there for my own headline shows.
Right before the tour started, you shared an acoustic version of ‘Lonely Side of Life,’ a song you first recorded as a teen.
‘Guns In The Distance’ is a powerful song on your new album When I Wake Up that touches on similar topics, can you tell us a little about the track?
There were a couple of different occurrences that influenced the song, and it was more on the contrast of how we deal with pain when its local to us and how we deal with pain when it’s removed from us. And that’s the lyric “80 dead in a foreign place / 22 in the bombed foyer” they were the contrast of 22 people dying in a Manchester bombing and 80 people in the same week dying on a boat into Europe.
When I Wake Up is your third album. How is this different from past releases?
It’s the first time in a number of years that pretty much every single production started off in my living room, as rough ideas, and as rough sketches, and I was experimenting more than I’ve ever done before. I was always free with my records, and I’ve always had the final say on the message and what I wanted it to sound like but this was the purest version of me I’ve given out in years. It was me finding a new root of expressing myself, being inspired by new sounds and just like a real step and an evolution for me, sonically.
Many times it sounds like you’re just letting go and finding songs within that exploration.
Definitely, I think for me what’s always been key to my music, is that element of letting go, and the element of being very pure to what your heart feels like even if it feels uncomfortable. Whether it’s what’s going on internally, or what you see in the world around you that you feel you need to be spoken about. I think letting go is kind of what the essence of the whole album was, rather than one specific song. The whole album was really me letting go.
“Into Nirvana” is another sonically diverse track on the album. What were some of your influences this time around?
The thing with this record is that during the early stages of me making the record, I’d hit a stage where songs like “Drifting” and “Into Nirvana” were birthed out of me hearing songs I had heard for years and people had told me to listen to for years. I was also listening to Talking Heads, some more Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, a lot more psychedelic stuff. I watch visuals quite a lot, so each album and each song normally has a visual that I write to. I was watching a lot of Kahlil Joseph, he’s worked with Kendrick Lamar and has done loads of other great pieces, but his imagery on mute is something I watch and have on in the background. So I’d say that was just as inspiring as any of the music I was listening to.
The album features Jorja Smith on “Slow Down.” What’s it been like working together over the years on so many releases?
It’s been great. I first met Jorja when she was about 16 and she hadn’t released any music yet. She had just come down to London and we had done our first session together. We both just clicked because we’re inspired by very similar things. When we met, she had two songs that she had written in her bedroom that sampled the exact same sample that I’ve taken out of tunes and used on music I had never released.
Musically and lyrically, we’ve always been influenced by the same artists, riffs, chord progressions, and makeup of songs. So I think when we started writing together, we saw a lot of each other in one another, so it’s always been easy. She’s like my little sister, so it’s been beautiful to see her growth since “Blue Lights” and her first record. We’ve been on the road together, I took her on my tour before she blew up and I’ve gone on tour with her as well most recently. It’s the first career I’ve ever watched from early doors and seeing the progression to now has been amazing, knowing she’s only going to get bigger.
“Her Grace” holds contributions from reggae artist Chronixx, who you’ve also collaborated with previously. How’d you first connect?
I just like making music with people I can grow with so that we’re making music in 10-15 years time and it still feels passionate and as powerful as it does now. I had space on “Her Grace,” I sent it to him and he loved it.
He’s a few years younger than me, and we met the first time he ever played at Scala in London. I had been told he was a fan of my work and I was introduced to his music when he released “Beat & A Mic,” I think he was 22 at the time. When we linked up, we just got along to be honest, and just had a lot of similar influences so we started making music. I was traveling to Jamaica on and off for a couple of years. When he’d come to London, we’d make tunes and that’s how he first appeared on my second album, Innerstanding, on the song ‘Why.’ We also did some stuff with Rudimental.
You’ve worked with diverse musicians from Joey Bada$$ to Gorgon City. What’s something you’re listening to while on tour that some might not expect?
I’d say Ari Lennox but feel like people might expect me to listen to someone like Ari. I did however just see a movie called The Last Black Man in San Francisco and it’s by a film company called A-24. The soundtrack is just beautiful. Definitely check it out.
The tour wraps in LA on Jan 23rd. What can fans expect from you in 2020?
I want to come back to the states for a longer period of time. I feel like there’s something I need to do out here and want to be on the ground out here more. I love coming back and forth but with the American audience, I want to be more present here. There’s a connection for me over here and I don’t think coming here once or twice a year to do tours is enough. I want to work with more artists out here, write out here and I have loads of new music to make. There’s a whole project that I’m working on now that I’m connecting with people in the States to help finish. Yeah, so I just want to be more present. Tickets available here.
Is there anything you can tell us about the new project you’re working on?
It’s in its infancy at the moment but it’s going be a progression of all the new sounds you heard on When I Wake Up. It’s a new feel and sound with a lot of the elements that I made up, me as I am now, and it’ll have a lot more collaborations.
Maverick Sabre’s debut headline tour across the U.S. ends on January 23rd in Los Angeles. See all future tour dates and purchase tickets here.