Q&A, Swindle: Jazz Not Normal

UK-producer Swindle follows his acclaimed albums Long Live the Jazz (2013) and Peace, Love & Music (2015) with a new LP, No More Normal, on which he expands on his unique sound by connecting his grime and dubstep roots with jazz, funk and soul. The 11-track record – released on January 25 via Brownswood Recordings – features a plethora of guests currently leaving their mark on the UK music scene, including Kojey Radical, Eva Lazarus, Kiko Bun, Riot Jazz and Nubya Garcia, among many others.

Swindle spoke with JAZZIZ about No More Normal, what jazz means to him and the importance of the importance of collaboration in his work. Below is an excerpt of our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity.

JAZZIZ: You’ve described No More Normal as a “class photo of 2018.” What did you mean by that?

Swindle: I should have changed that quote to say that it’s a photo of current times! With No More Normal, I wanted to make something that represented all of us that contribute to music in the UK – and beyond, I suppose. I wanted to look at ourselves and the things that connect us, whether you’re making jazz, grime or hip-hop or whatever, and put that in one place like a class photo.

All of these songs are collaborations that happened mostly organically. Going back to that class picture concept, at one point, when the album was really starting to take shape, I began to worry about the balance of who was represented or who wasn’t represented enough. I began to think about, who have we missed? Who isn’t in this picture? How do we find a way to show Knucks and Eva Lazarus and Nubaya [Garcia] and everyone in the same breath? I wanted to get that balance, get that picture, make sure that everybody’s in it and is not overly represented or just present in one small corner of the music.

There’s a visual quality in your music. Do you see your music as well as hear it?

I’m not sure if I aim for my music to be visualized but I definitely focus on my visions. I don’t see music literally as shapes kind of flying at me when I’m listening to it but when I’m creating, I often have imagery in my head and when I do, I really try to follow that and listen to that.

The way I see it, I’m looking for the palette. I get an artist in and sometimes, before I record the track, I have a palette in my head of sounds and textures that I think will kind of fit with them. With Kojey Radical, it was horns. [On “Coming Home”] I wanted to do a big brass arrangement track around him. I’m always looking for the palette. It’s like painting. When I was a boy I would draw every day, constanly. Everyone thought I would be an artist one day. But when I found music, I guess that satisfied that same need.

What does jazz mean to you?

Jazz to me means so many different things. Jazz has always been an influence to me in sound, learning and freedom in my music. What jazz means to me has changed over the years somewhat, depending on where I’m at in my life but it’s the one constant that’s always been there. To me, jazz is a genre, a style and a technique, theory. But it’s also a state of mind. To me, jazz can mean whatever you want it to mean and it can be whatever you want it to be. That’s one of the most interesting things about it. It’s mouldable. It can be fusion, it can be contemporary, it can be modern, it can be classic but it’s that constant trying to find those things that bring it all together.

How do you see the current influence of jazz on the UK music scene?

It’s an incredible thing. It’s a continuation. We look at it as something new or something reoccurring but I like to think it’s something that we could always draw on within ourselves as musicians or people. I like to think that in ten years, there might be new conversations about this new jazz like we have conversations today about bebop.

Why did it take you three years to complete No More Normal?

I just wanted it to be right and didn’t force any of the music. I just worked on it constantly and didn’t stop until it was ready. I’ve been devoted on it for so long and I wasn’t really watching the clock at all. It was always a case of better-right-than-rushed with me. The interesting thing about No More Normal is that the title came first and the idea was that we’re going to do things our own way. We’re going to paint our own picture, write out our own future, create our own universe and we’re pushing and pushing and pushing. I guess that is the “no more normal.” Creating our own universe and using ourselves, our own powers, doing away with the rulebook and starting over together. That’s another thing. I felt it’s only possible doing it this way. It’s only possible through collaboration and joint effort. I really feel like I’m not alone on this project. It’s so much about me than it is about us.

Swindle: “Jazz is a genre, a style and a technique, theory. But it’s also a state of mind.” Photo: Adama Jalloh

How do you make sure that message is communicated?

Lyrics are important to me and I hope that all the elements combine, paint a picture that someone could really take in. With each song, I’m quite particular about what it should be about, which ones I’ll keep, which order they will go in on the album because it would be my album. It’s different when I’m working with other people on their own album. The narrative of this whole thing has to be something that can stand by. An honest output, even though I’m not vocal myself. I’m really hoping that people will listen to No More Normal and bring the narrative back to me. Then I’ll know that I did my job.

Many of the songs on the album make references to places and life on the road. Do you feel music is your guide?

So much of our lives as musicians is spent on the road and I meet a lot of artists on the road. The journey is often based around touring and being able to visit so many of these amazing places and play music and spread that message further. I guess, naturally, it comes out in the music. I’ve completely submitted myself to music and I’m on the path that music puts me on. I see music as my priority and it’s a conscious choice of mine that music comes first. I allow myself to just be taken by where the music takes me and that defines my interactions, the people who I work with and even my social circuit. Everything comes back to music first.

Will you be taking No More Normal on the road?

On March, we’re doing a UK and Europe tour. We start playing some festivals over the summer but hopefully, I’ll get to bring the show to some of these places I’ve visited before through Long Live the Jazz and Peace, Love & Music, and share the message with as many people as possible. We’re working on it. Anywhere that will have us, we’ll be there at some point.

Did you also record this album on the road?

The last album I recorded in all different places. On Peace, Love & Music, I recorded every track in a different country. No More Normal was my first time actually taking myself off a tour, locking myself away with my favourite artists and musicians and just focusing on creating. It’s the first time I’ve ever had the opportunity to do that.

Given the influences of the past, present and future in your music, is timelessness something you think about when you create?

Yeah. I guess we’re all lucky now that we can choose a lot of the music that we come across but I believe that everything passes your eyes and your ears, anything you interact with, can surprise you in some ways. My ears and eyes are quite open – I’m a total addict about discovering. I’m always trying to discover new music or a new artist.

Is integrity important you?

Yeah, and that goes back to music being first. I do nothing where music is not a priority, which is why I’m often turned off by music that I feel has another motive, be it financial or whatever. That could possibly stop me from listening to some of the more popular music, but I try to understand that everything has its place and that there’s something to be learned from everything. But for me, in my music, it’s important to stay honest and that keeps integrity in there, I like to think.

And that goes for any output of mine, whether it’s under my name or under someone else’s name. It’s so important. I express myself and I’m here to help other people express themselves and hopefully contribute something positive to Earth. You’ve got to find a way to do that, a way to do your part. My small part is contributing music.

Feature photo credit: Adama Jalloh.

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