A dimly lit stage in smoke filled club at around 1am had, what felt like, an over-capacity crowd surrounded in front of it. A then-21 year old from South London would soon be on it, wrapping the crowd up tight in frenetic, yet incredibly earnest lyrics that cut through the noise of the bustling East 6th St precinct outside.
This was our first introduction to one Loyle Carner. SXSW is known as a melting pool of musical style and flair but still, to be able to cut through and stamp your mark is still regarded as a massive talent in itself. For Carner, he did just that.
Much has been made about Carner’s emergence on to the global scene throughout the last year. He’s been included in the wave of UK artists nailing the brief of bringing a fresh sound through to outside markets – alongside the likes of Jack Garratt, Catfish & The Bottlemen and Formation, Carner’s is a name that has been on the lips of industry as well as a growing number of fans and it’s no wonder why.
For Carner (real name Ben Coyle), the momentum whipping up around him is one he’s not really tuned into.
“It’s quite interesting to me,” he muses. “I don’t think I’m quite part of it [the new crop]. I feel like I’m a very little fish in a very big ocean. I always felt like an outsider, looking in. I think that just to be in that conversation, is a blessing. Just to know that, can only be a good thing. People are taking notice of the UK doing well; people who are ten times bigger than me are making it okay for me to be listened to and I think that I’m making it okay for even smaller fish to be listened to. I think it’s a good little ecosystem we’ve got going on.”
“It’s very difficult to notice when it’s just you.” he admits. “I’m in this thing where people are really noticing it, but I’m not really noticing it that much. It’s been wicked, it’s just been a blessing; I think it’s a very important part of what I do, to be able to go and play shows and meet people. Communicate with them directly. I’m not very good online or whatnot, I feel like I’m much better face to face, which I should be.”
Yesterday, the Groovin the Moo line up was announced, featuring Carner – the tour being his first in Australia. Only weeks ago, Carner’s debut album Yesterday’s Gone was released here – an emphatic record with a story to tell. Carner projects honesty and sensitivity on the record in introducing the listener to his life behind the scenes and off stage. Fusing East Coast hip hop vibes with an almost poetic approach to his own lyricism, Carner’s debut offering is more than just a snapshot of where he is creatively, it’s a presentation that shows the direction he’s still heading in.
“I think it’s cool,” he says. “I think there are still no rules. I’m excited because I have a body of work [now]. I think my music works best as a body of work. I feel like singles are very difficult; singles, I think, are for ‘hits’ or for things that are directed that don’t tell a story. For me, the singles I had to put out because I can’t just put out album after album because I don’t always have an album.”
“It’s like being sold a good book, one page at a time.” he adds. “Maybe not a good book, maybe just getting a book one page at a time. I don’t know if it’s good or not yet! I think it’s nice to give someone a whole book and go, ‘Read that,’ as opposed to going, ‘Here’s the 110th page, let me know what you think’. I think that’s more exciting, to give someone a full story.”
When he’s not writing or on the road, Carner has been throwing his efforts into the cooking school he and the creatives at GOMA launched for teens aged between 14-16 who suffer from ADHD. Having been diagnosed with ADHD himself, as well as dyslexia, as a child, Carner’s inspiration for the cooking school was to provide an environment for kids to meet and share their experiences all the while pouring this kinetic energy into an activity like cooking.
“It’s great.” Carner says. “It keeps things very fresh and exciting; when I get tired or down from writing tunes, I can just disappear or call up some of the young chefs and we can get some shit cracking. I think that’s what is important: not doing one thing until it’s done and then doing something else, I think that’s where some people fall short. I think it’s where I’ve fallen short before. Doing loads of things at the same time is how you keep things interesting and as soon as one thing gets a bit long, you leave it for a sec and go do something else, come back to it when it feels fresh again. That’s been the pleasure of the school so far.”
Comfort often leads to confidence and self-assurance and Carner has admitted that now as his name and profile has grown, so have his comfort levels when it’s come to being in the spotlight. He has a story and messages to express and now more people are listening, his voice is getting stronger. The acclaim that has followed Yesterday’s Gone is proof.
“I still get quite nervous,” he admits. “But not as much as I used to. I’m getting used to it and I think it’s allowing me to be relaxed, which allows me to be more comfortable and allows me to say what I really want to say instead of just blurting it out nervously. It’s been good and it’s felt like a real process. Me and Rebel Kleef, my DJ, have been playing shows for eons now, it feels. I think it’s been three years now, we’ve been playing shows. We’d play x amount a year; do two tours a year, all the festivals and whatnot. I think we’d gotten enough under our belts before this album, that we’d know what we’re doing going into it, or at least, feel comfortable with it.”
As a live performer, Carner has also stepped up. His sets are charged with an intense sincerity; the soul-searching element to the hip hop found on record works its way to the stage effortlessly and connects. There’s something to be said for being an avid gig-goer but still buzzing off those special shows where you’re stood in a crowd and still feel like you’re the sole person in the room, with the artist baring his or her soul behind the microphone. It’s this atmosphere Carner conjures and it’s one he considers crucial.
“I think you learn a lot from them.” he says. “Obviously, some shows you see are very sick and there’s no depth to them but if you can find some depth, I feel a lot of live shows recently have been great because you can learn more, because you’re actually there with people. I’ve learned more about friends of mine. I went to my friend Jordan Rakei’s show and I learned things about him – and I’ve been friends with him for ages – just from watching him on stage. He was telling people stuff he hadn’t even told me! It was amazing.”
“I never used to think about it much before I started playing, but I think it’s essential.”
Yesterday’s Gone is available now via Caroline Australia.
Loyle Carner can be seen in Australia this April as part of the Groovin the Moo tour. For more information, visit www.gtm.net.au.