Music editor Marco Marcelline sat down in an East London cafe with Leyma, an artist who is looking to make waves in the music industry this year, hot off being featured in NME’s Sound of 2019 list. They talked Brexit, social media pressures and the system.
Who and what inspires you and your craft?
It’s difficult because I take anything that comes from what is around me. Musically I’m listening to a lot of 80’s stuff, like for example I’m heavy into Cure at the moment. I’m getting into more synthy stuff on hip hop beats. Lil Peep inspired me a lot given his songs as well talk a lot about mental health, which made me think that it’s ok for me to be honest in the way I am. There’s no point lying in music.
Tell me about how you produce your music.
My brother plays guitar and he records stuff down and I make songs from what he’s recorded. He’s basically like the other half of Leyma. This dynamic works so well ‘cos he makes these mad guitar riffs and chord progressions and I just go ahead and make a song out of it. I do it all on Logic. I don’t own any synths at the moment so I’m producing all my music on my laptop at home.
What’s it like having the freedom to produce your stuff at home?
It’s not bad; I just wake up and do it. It’s good in the sense that I can just roll out of bed and start making stuff but then the bad side of it is that sometimes I just look at my bed and then, yeah, that’s it for the day haha.
How did you get signed?
So I was releasing music online via a distribution company that I was paying to put it up onto Spotify. Then one of my songs got put on “Fresh Finds” which is a playlist with loads of followers and it got loads of listeners straight away. And then I was playing this gig and the guy who is my manager now was there and asked me for a drink after the set and since then he’s just been putting me on loads of shit. So like after this interview I’m going to a rehearsal for my second headline gig which will be on Valentines’ Day.
Nice. What was it like when you played your first headline gig?
It was sick. What I love most about all this is performing. Obviously I was nervous but when I started just playing it all went away. The other weekend I heard was the first time that I heard the whole band just play together and it was so nice.
Ah, that must have been a magical moment. Let’s talk about the streams, because they’re crazy. You have people listening to your stuff in over 65 countries.
I remember when I found that out. It was actually stressful because my phone is so shit; so like everyone was posting their artist stream numbers and I couldn’t get it up on my phone so I had to use my mates’ to post my numbers instead haha. The response from people from that has just been sick.
Have you had actual fans DM you?
Yeah a few man, it’s weird. I like it when they come through, especially if I’m having a crap day. It’s cool though, I like having conversations with people if they’re gassing up the music.
I guess it kind of validates what you’re doing, it shows that the music you’re making isn’t half bad…
Yeah haha, exactly. It’s nice.
Social media pressure is felt the most by our generation. Has that informed your art in any way?
It’s difficult because going into any creative industry, you have to put pictures up and use social media a lot. But on top of that it’s almost a competition, especially with it being a huge part of everyone’s lives. People think that your life is your Instagram profile.
Do you think about the way you market and present yourself on social media?
I don’t really want a serious social media, but obviously people look at your profile and judge the quality of your music off what they see not what they necessarily hear now. It’s good in the sense that I can reach out to loads of people though.
Where do you aspire to be three years down the line from now?
I want to be gigging man. I want to be able to see places of the world that I wouldn’t be able to see without doing this. I don’t really think too far into the future, I won’t lie; it’s scary. I try not to think about the past and the future. I’m bad at it but I try not to.
Definitely. Our generation can get too wrapped up in what is ahead of them rather than focussing on the now. On the song “Disappointme” you touch on how people perceived you when you dropped out of your A Levels. Do you think that there is too much pressure on young people to go and do things which they are being shepherded into doing for the sake of the approval of others rather than actually pursuing their passions?
Yeah, it’s a massive thing. A lot of my friends have gone to uni without really knowing if that course is what they want to do. Obviously they’re enjoying it but I hated the thought of it. Even I’ve had to apply to uni though as a back up plan in case all of this goes down the drain.
Haha, I don’t think that’ll happen. Let’s talk your sound. It is very distinctive and you can’t root it into any specific genre. It’s definitely a sound which is organically coming out of London and you’re not hearing it anywhere else. I’m sure that given how different it is, if you hone in on it, you can definitely go places with it.
Ah thank you so much man! Yeah I’m just going to keep going with this. I’m inspired by so much stuff so that’s why the sound is like that.
Your voice reminds me of Loyle Carner. Imagine if he just reaches out to you and asks if you can you support him on a gig?
Haha, that would be so sick.
When did you actually start making music?
For Christmas, two years ago, I started saving up and I bought a second hand Mac, and then Logic. Then 2017 was such a strange year for me because that was when I dropped out of college but it meant I was able to fully focus on this.
The British education system forces kids to decide what they want to do with their future at such a young age. For example, I wish I never dropped Drama when I was 14 but I had this limiting capitalist based mentality that creative subjects weren’t worth the time and wouldn’t get me anywhere.
Yeah the system kills your dreams. It’s funny ‘cos I didn’t even take Music GCSE and then I got to Year 12 and asked my Head of Year if I could do Music as an A Level but they said I couldn’t because I hadn’t done Music GCSE. And at that point I was just like, nah, I can’t do this and stay here when I’m not enjoying myself. I don’t like how they teach arts in schools, like, at all.
I agree. You can’t be artificially taught how to make Art because it comes from within.
Yeah I’m actually glad that I didn’t do Music at school. When my Photography and Art teachers were like ‘yeah you need to create like five pieces for the end of this week’, then I would just make something for the sake of it and it would have no quality at all. That mentality killed those subjects for me.
You can imagine what it’s like for big artists who have to keep performing songs that they don’t relate to anymore. Do you feel that your mindset has changed over time?
I’ve definitely changed from when I first started making music. For example I’ve actually taken down some of the first stuff that I’d put up online. I’d completely changed my sound by the time I took them down, and I was listening back to them and I didn’t like them and I took them down because I thought I didn’t want people to hear an inaccurate representation of what I wanted my music to be.
As you know the political situation at the moment is so divided and people have never been as polarised; do you find that artists are adding to that?
You can’t be ignorant in music which is something that I hate so much. And it’s something you see a lot in rap. People just say stuff like they know exactly what they’re talking about, and are controversial just for the sake of getting clout.
What are your thoughts on Brexit?
Yeah, Brexit is so sad and it’s gonna mess up music as well. Artists like me might not be able to tour in Europe, or we’re going to have to get visas when now it’s so easy to just go.
Who knows what’s going to happen, we might even have to stockpile pasta…
Haha, all I know is that I’m against it happening. I don’t want us to become this irrelevant nation. I was talking to my mate Lawrence who paints stuff on the topic of Brexit. He was painting people who he know who weren’t born in the UK, to make a statement and show who is going to be affected. I didn’t even get to vote in the referendum because I was 16 but it’s going to affect my future so massively.
The politics and media love to portray young people as these apathetic zombies who are tied to their phones 24/7. To what extent do you think that’s true?
I’d never not vote but I don’t really seek to argue with anyone about politics. No one is going to change their minds after a conversation on politics, if anything they’re trying to change you. Other than bigger issues like Brexit I don’t really talk about politics.
Do you feel like you might incorporate some political stuff into your music?
My next single actually is me asking questions about how stuff is changing a lot. I talk about social media on it a lot, and how it can fuck you up mentally. It’s shit growing up with that.
Right so some of your mates must be looking at your socials and thinking, ‘rah, he’s on it,’ ‘he’s going places,’ ‘his life is sick.’
Yeah and that’s the thing, but no one is going to look at their own feeds and think yeah people are going to think I’m the shit. They just look at everyone elses and think that. Social media can be such an unhealthy burden. I think for people who are like 25+, it’s great. It can be so intense when you’re growing up though.
You’re 18. I’m 21. Already I’m aware that you’ve been immersed in all of this technology at a younger age than I was. When did you get your first phone?
Like, I had Snapchat when I was 12.
Shit, I didn’t even have a phone until I was 15. And that was during the Blackberry Wave haha.
Yeah the Blackberry wave! Haha, I forgot about that.
What’s most important for you in the immediate future?
I need to have my boys around me putting me down. I don’t want them to be around me bigging me up all the time, I want them to just be like “fuck you” and chat normal. If people around me started to treat me differently, I’d tell them to sort it out haha.
If you’re in London on Valentines Day, you can catch Leyma at the Finsbury Pub: https://www.facebook.com/events/227418681518334/
If not, give him a listen on Spotify. You won’t regret it.