London-born producer and hip hopper talks to Time Out
Kim Taylor Bennett
Having already worked with Pixie Lott, Professor Green and Tinie Tempah, 21-year-old London-born producer and hip hopper Labrinth (Timothy McKenzie to his postman) looks nailed-on for big things in 2011. Download latest track ‘Let the Sun Shine’ now, and look out for his debut solo album in the coming months.
Did you find it difficult to go from being a behind-the-scenes artist to standing centre stage? I thought it was going to be easier. As a producer, you’re this guy who sits at a desk, and then you go to a video shoot and they’re like, ‘Be Lab,’ and Lab is a guy who presses keyboards! Being in the studio all day is very free. It’s not that you have to be contrived to be an artist, but you’ve got to be the person people want to see. It’s the entertainment business and you have to feed that. It’s something I didn’t get, but I’ve learnt my lesson.
We hear the Nintendo aesthetic has also been an influence on your songwriting… I’m on Mario all the time! I’m old school. I’m not moving up to Playstation 3! My idea with production and music is that it should have some connection to your life. When I listen to albums by The Fugees or Lauryn Hill I can see the pictures of their lives, the sounds reflect what’s happening to them.
Is there a song on the album that’s particularly personal? I have a song called ‘Coward’s Way Out’, which I wrote as a letter to my family from my dad. It says I have to leave but I can’t say goodbye because it’s easier to leave a coward than it is to leave a man. It’s emotional. He left the whole family a while ago, and instead of me being bitter, I was like, let me look at it through his eyes and almost pity him. My mum loves that song. She was like, ‘That’s exactly it.’
Have you ever been in awe of anyone you’ve worked with? I’ve never been in awe. I know that sounds a bit pompous, but I’m just nonchalant about everything. I have a hit single and I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s great,’ and I go back to the studio. Or I’m getting signed by Simon Cowell and I’m like, ‘Yeah cool… so, I’m performing tomorrow.’ I need to take it in a bit. I think I’ll appreciate it later, right now I’m just running forward.
What did Simon offer you that was so attractive? He was just very cool. Even though his company doesn’t have ‘the cool’ in the industry, they’re actually very cool in the way they approach things. They’re not scared to do it a different way, whereas other labels have their formulas. Also, I love the irony of me, an urban producer, signing to this label that doesn’t seem to fit my needs at all. But I’m smart, I always back myself up on the chess table. I had something behind me and that was: Labrinth can produce his own music.
What’s all this about working with Peter Andre? That’s something I want to clear up. They took a song called ‘Cry in Public’ that I produced when I was 15 with a girl called Verbz from LA. The song eventually ended up being recorded by Peter Andre, and people were like, ‘Oh, Labs made this.’ I call them baby-picture beats. I don’t like it when people bring out my baby pictures. Leave them in the computer!
What do you want to achieve in 2011? I want my album to affect people and I want it to change the way they think about making music. I think some people need to be freed – they’re thinking too much in the box. We need that artistry back so people are drawing their own pictures instead of drawing somebody else’s.