Joey XL Opens Up About His Musical Hiatus And 'Situations' EP
At just 25 years old, Joey XL has accumulated songwriting and feature credits on some of the most exciting projects in recent years. He is a talent that has weaved between different genres and across the borders, covering anywhere from the UK, Sweden, the US, and South Korea. He has been independently creating and releasing music since 2016, with his inspirations stemming from influential names like Lauryn Hill, James Fauntleroy, Stevie Wonder, and Floetry.
His teaser EP ‘Situations’ will be released o March 15th, a prelude to his first EP dropping this Spring, produced by Kai-a who also worked with Joey on his break out track 'Ready'. 2020 is looking to be the year of XL, so keep a close eye on this exciting gem as he blooms into one of the UK’s biggest talents on the RnB scene. We sat down with the East London based artist to get an exclusive insight into his upbringing, concepts behind some of his most recognised music and what we can expect from Joey XL this year and beyond
Interviewer Blessing Borode
Photography/Direction Oana Ancuta Briciu
Photography Assistant Alexandra lonescu
Hair/Make Up Babyface
BTS Photography Kamila Momora
Produced by New Wave Studios
Special Thanks to Pezze Vintage Shop
Joey XL, what brought you to that artist name and what others did you go by until now?
When I came up with the name I was dreading being asked this question, lol, but honestly, I got tired of people pronouncing my government name wrong so I chose Joey and just went with it. The XL comes from my childhood. My mum always used to put me in clothes that were too big for me, that I would have to grow into. I applied that same thing to my name, I wanted to have a name that I would have to grow into for it to make sense. I’m actually not a big guy which is why it’s funny but it’s important to me that everything I do represents greatness. ‘Excel’ ‘XL’ it’s a lifestyle.
What are your origins and how do you think they have molded you as an individual?
Both of my parents are religious so up until the age of 13 I spent most of my life in the church. My dad used to be a choir director, ma was in the choir, I used to play the drums so I guess music was in my blood from the jump. Mum hated me listening to secular music because of the curse words so I was stuck listening to gospel music for the most part of my childhood. Gospel music has a way of evoking deep emotion as well as being very melody/chord focused. My music is very similar in that sense.
Who are some people around you that showed you music was your calling?
It’s not something that people around me really showed. It’s something I knew deep down and had to prove to myself, but even that was a battle in itself.
Listeners may know you as more of an R&B artist than a rapper, is that something you want to sustain?
I would like to think of myself as an artist instead of just an R&B artist, even though I understand that my music falls under that category. Give me a blank canvas and I’ll paint volumes. My art crosses different genres such as pop, obviously hip-hop, gospel, Jazz and so on. However I feel to express myself, it really depends on my mood - not everything I make is R&B, but I get it. I’m most definitely not a rapper but if I feel that’s the best way to express myself at that time, so be it.
Coming from East London, what were some of your struggles growing up?
I would say that although I come from the struggle my mum did her best to make sure I was away from it as much as possible. I went to a school that was out of the area but it was a good one. At first, I felt like an alien whenever I came back to the ends because everyone in my area went to a local school, but up until this day I can’t thank her enough for that, my life wouldn’t have been the same if it wasn’t for that I’m certain.
Turtleneck Emporio Armani
Durag Artist's Own
"Gospel music has a way of evoking deep emotion as well as being very melody/chord focused. My music is very similar in that sense."
Shirt Dolce & Gabbana
Chain Stylist's Archive
Shoes Airforce 1
Who are some of the producers that help you cultivate your sound?
FWDSLXSH, Gravez, Kai-a, RyanAndre, Loner, Lucyclubhouse. These producers, in particular, all carry a personal story through their music, even though each has a different production style. I just happen to hear their stories through music and interpret it in my own way, take it to another place.
Today's shoot is based on the cube by Brenhard Leitner created to study sound, would you call yourself a student of music?
Most definitely, I’m a student of the art itself. If I’m not making music or listening to music I’m probably on genius studying lyrics or whatever. I’m not proud, it gets annoying. The fact I can’t listen to music in its purest form anymore is probably one of the things I hate the most about being a musician, but it is what it is.
What music do you listen to in times of deep thought?
Whenever I overthink or I’m too in my own head or even bored musically I always find myself going back to Tame Impala, specifically ‘The less I know the better’. Kevin’s music puts me in a neutral position the musicality, the melody almost makes me feel free from any blocks I have within, it's weird. Whenever I’ve been in a bad place mentally I only listen to Nipsey, Crenshaw is what made me find the confidence to leave my career of being an accountant behind 4 years ago and continues to help me get my head in the right place even today.
You’ve mentioned previously that you have finally found your sound, what was that process like for you?
I know why I do what I do now, before I was just doing it subconsciously but now I’m very aware of the impact my music has on people. The sonics change but the feeling remains. I had to have on-going conversations with myself to really understand what it was I was trying to achieve by making these songs. I’m a person that hates doing things for the sake of it; if this is what I’m supposed to do the next question is ‘Why’, what is the purpose? How do I want to make people feel when they listen to me? How can I capture what I’m feeling and my current situation in the best way for listeners to not only understand me but also understand themselves more.
How has the direction of your music changed from songs such as Ready (releases in 2016) till now?
I took a long hiatus for around 3 years to just better myself, in life and in music. Also to understand who I was as a person and artist. During the time of me releasing songs like ‘Ready’ and ‘Forever is a lie’ my sword wasn’t as sharp as it is now. I also started to work with new producers within that time which changed the way I approached the music.
" I’m a person that hates doing things for the sake of it; if this is what I’m supposed to do the next question is ‘Why’, what is the purpose? How do I want to make people feel when they listen to me? How can I capture what I’m feeling and my current situation in the best way"
You’ve previously mentioned that your single Broken Ones is more of a reintroduction to you, what does that song mean to you?
Broken ones was a turning point for me. Before that song, I hadn’t released any music in years and was desperate to show how much work I’d put in and how much my sound had developed from the songs prior to that. This song means absolutely everything to me. Also, the first song released working with my bro FWDSLXSH, who’s a large part of the reason I even make music today. This song perfectly captures my feelings towards relationships in a nutshell. I come from a broken place and I believe everyone does in his or her own way. Sometimes people like to use their hurt as an excuse for the way they act/behave but we live in a broken world we all have baggage, we’re all hurting from something.
On that song you apologies for things, you’ve done…what did you do?
Sometimes you find yourself in situations that you have no control over and the pressure of being in those places leads you to make decisions good or bad. Whether that’s doing the person you’re with wrong or having to leave that person because being with them is not only hurting them but also yourself.
It’s also a song about both parties taking the blame in any relationship issues, how much damage you think that can cause if not handled correctly?
I mean a lot. Relationships in general, not just the romantic ones are the reason you are where you are right this very second. Your network is your net worth, so when you then apply that to your romantic relationships it gets even deeper. You can end up in a relationship with the wrong person and that could end up scarring you for the rest of your life. I just feel like people aren’t as honest as they should be in relationships from the get-go, lack of communication. When your heart takes the lead logic evaporates. You suddenly start making excuses for bad decisions all for the sake of love. Over time that shit can kill you inside if you’re not open it’s very easy to feel trapped. Relationships should have some sort of balance, I’ve always been someone who ends up with partners who make me their whole world when they just happen to be a part of mine.
You have a very mysterious and lowkey aesthetic, where does this come from?
It just represents my personality, not intentional. I’m more or less a closed book who happens to have a lot to say sometimes. I spend most of my time by myself inside so being low-key is just me keeping to myself staying comfortable. (Bad? I know)
As an artist from the UK making music in a similar vein to artists from the US, is where you build your base something that’s important to you?
I definitely have a keen interest as to where my listeners are from, just out of curiosity, but as long as my music resonates with anyone that does actually sit down and try to take me in no matter where they’re from, I’m Gucci.
How do you aim to change soulful music coming from the UK?
I think not only in the UK but also for soulful music / R&B in general, there’s shyness to releasing music. Whether that’s because people don’t have enough release ready music or because there’s a long process to making it, I don’t know. So for me personally I would like to show that you can release quality in good amounts. I’m contradicting myself really because I’m currently not an example of that but watch this space.
You’ve worked with some producers that have created big songs for artists such as 6lack, Drake and more. What do you feel like they see in you?
There’s a certain music language that I believe all natural musicians have. You can’t learn it. So regardless of where you are in terms of size, it doesn’t matter. They definitely see or understand my wave or those connections wouldn’t have taken place in the first place but that’s just one part of it.
Songs like Really Love really show your vocal and musical abilities, what was recording that song like for you?
Recording Really Love was weird for me. The original beat for that I created couple years back and I’d recorded a whole other song on it. More time, when that’s the case I struggle for ideas because the original song would be stuck in my head. I think one day I was just going through old beats and “Don’t act like it wasn’t really love’ just came into my head, from that one line I managed to write the rest of the song
What is usually the aspect of the song for you that takes the longest to tweak or complete?
It used to be the second verse, I don’t know if it’s just me but once I know what I’m trying to say I usually cram it into the 1st verse, pre, and the chorus. By the time I get to the second verse I feel like I’ve said everything I need to. I had to learn how to make it as effective if not even more effective as the beginning.
"There’s a certain music language that I believe all natural musicians have. You can’t learn it. So regardless of where you are in terms of size, it doesn’t matter. They definitely see or understand my wave"
Shirt G.y.lab vertigo Tie-dye
Your music seems to come from a very introspective and open space, do you find yourself only having these conversations in your music?
My music is a notepad of thoughts, feelings, memories, and situations that I’ve encountered throughout my life. I’m not really good at opening up, being vulnerable with someone, allowing them in deeply scares me so I tend to be closed. Music creates a balance where I can express myself to myself without having to do so to another person. Protecting myself in a way.
You’re releasing a 2-track project, what is this the beginning of for you this year?
Yessir, this year for me is about giving my gift to the world in abundance. Bringing people into my world. I have so many stories I want to tell and living in my own head deprives everyone as well as me and also stunts my growth.
Focused is a song weighing out the options of fining love versus your career, what part of your audience do you think it’ll resonate with most?
Focus is a song that I think will resonate with anyone who’s on a mission and cares about achieving whatever it is that they want to achieve. It blends having your eye on the prize, trying to stay focused whilst realising that this can’t always go hand in hand with a relationship. Sometimes your life mission conflicts with your relationships. At the end of the day if you were to sit down and have a face-to-face conversation with yourself you know what it is that you want and if your partner can’t fully understand what it takes to get there then there’ll be problems for sure. Love is about compromise and as humans we’re not always in a position to; it’s about finding a balance or letting go.
You also set a cinematic mood in this song, with the rain and voice message. Why was it important is it for you to create a new world with this song?
Kai-a has a great way of capturing the mood of the city and also leaving enough room for me to paint my picture. Trying to juggle career alongside relationships, the voicemail gives another perspective to the song, which I feel was important for this song.
On this song you also say you’re chosen, what do you know you're chosen for.
When you know you know. There’s no explaining it.
What distracts you the most in your daily life?
What distracted me was caring too much about everyone else and not focusing on myself wholeheartedly. The social media era made the world smaller and easier to travel without travelling, growing up in a generation driven by that has been a struggle.
Deep has an amazing sample, where does that derive from?
I was searching for a sample for that part of the song that represented the song but nothing was hitting right so I just slowed the song down and created it myself, my favourite part of the song.
It asks the question, is it that deep for love? Do you believe it is?
Love always wins. If its real love comes from a real place then you’re both willing to make changes for each other within reason to create harmony. Finding out if it’s worth takes time and its all a gamble at the end of the day, so I guess that’s a question that has no definitive answer. Love means to also understand each other but as humans, we’re selfish so we lack the understanding if it doesn’t suit our needs or align with what we already know.
Have you ever compromised yourself? If so why?
I compromise myself every day. Allowing other people's energy that I shouldn’t in. Doing things for the sake of others and not because I actually want to do those things, it’s weird. I’d like to believe we all go through it. It’s a learning process. Everything happens for a reason and even the times you do compromise yourself it teaches you something at least even if it’s not good for you, catch 22.
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"Love always wins. If its real love that comes from a real place then you’re both willing to make changes for each other within reason to create harmony".
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Why was it important for you to put out these two songs together?
These two songs together tell a full-length story cut into two parts. ‘Focus’ being my current headspace in terms of life and trying to win the race against myself and then into ‘Deep’ which is more of an inquest into what it actually is that I actually want, and then asking the question of whether that thing is deserving enough to be classed as love.
What’s next for you?
My debut EP Mariana is nearly finished so once that’s out everything including this conversation will make a lot more sense. Look out for that.