Exclusive interview with Liam Bailey: ‘Somebody told me that I had to do soul and reggae because I was black’
As an artist, Liam Bailey presents himself as a streaked individual, a wounded storyteller drawing inspiration from his experiences. His soul-drenched vocals are authentic. They can be listened to whilst in the middle of a sob fest or just for the mindful lyrical content.
The Nottingham native — who has already scored two top five singles — has earned some gushing praises over the last few years. In 2011, his debut album, Out Of The Shadows was scheduled for release but was unexpectedly shelved by Polydor Records.
Despite this knock-back, we can exclusively reveal that Bailey is making his hard-fought return having recently signed a deal with Salaam Remi, Executive VP of A&R at Sony Music Entertainment. To support the release of his latest singles, When Will They Learn and Soon Come, he agrees to what is a rare interview, conducted in a West London café. He is engaging, vocal and often exultant when answering questions.
How did you created this specific down-n-gritty sound of yours? What is your secret?
I always knew I could sing, but no one believed I could sing. But once I realised I could sing I did it my way. I am not a trained musician. I have never been taught how to sing. I’m impulsive and I naturally do what I want. Some people have to go and study what I have but I’m lucky that this is all natural. I have no secret.
What was your intention with your recent single When Will They Learn?
I was on my way to New York when the rhythm came into my head and I remember getting a bit vexed in the airport. I won’t lie, I don’t like the way they treat people. I was getting pissed off so I started singing, “When will they learn,” over and over. I was quite stoned when I came round to writing it, but looking back I just did it without any intention.
Whenever I’ve seen you live, people tend to sit there captivated. Is that something you’re now used to seeing?
When I’m on stage it’s a scary place to be and because of the nature of my output there’s always a lot of inner madness. I find myself sometimes acting a bit aloof like a clown on stage. At times, I’m severely introspective, and I just find the best way to handle all these kinds of different emotions is to shut my eyes and sing. I only tend to see the crowd reactions once I’ve opened my eyes at the end of a song. But when I do see people enjoying it, it feels better than any drug, especially not having loads of hits.
Your debut album, Out of the Shadows was scheduled to be released in September 2011, but never was. What emotions were you experiencing that can be felt on there?
It’s about an ex-partner who I was with for six years. There’s a lot of pain on there, but thankfully there is also some shade from that through Salaam Remi’s musical interpretation. The album was ready but Polydor decided not to release it – which I think was a really strange decision. To this day, I cannot understand it because if you remember, Blind Faith had just gone to number five in the charts. I didn’t have the best relationship with certain elements of the label because of the nature of my personality.
You’ve enjoyed huge chart success working alongside Chase & Status. How did your collaborations come to pass?
Saul was played You Better Leave Me, and got in touch with my manager Eleanor [Rita Ora’s sister], who then rang me up saying, “Chase & Status wants to work with you.” I was like, “Who are they?” And, she was like, “What are you talking about?” [laughs] I hadn’t listened to Drum & Bass since I was in my 20s getting extracurricular. Anyway, Saul sent me the track for Blind Faith, which I wrote while at a festival in Victoria Park. And straight after recording it, he rang me up inviting me down to his studio.
You’re currently featured on Shy Fx’s latest single, Soon Come. What’s the story behind that?
That was written in 10 – 15 minutes. I remember Shy playing it to me – and straight away I had the melody in my head. Once we did, we listened back to it for about half an hour [laughs] it was sick. I won’t lie but every other song that I’ve done I always tend to sit back and watch what happens – but I would love for it this to go to number one.
I want to talk about Otis Redding and Dennis Brown. A lot of people say that they are living through your voice. How are you dealing with the industry hype?
There’s the music industry and then there are the people – whatever they say is what they mean. You’d be an idiot to argue with that. When I listen to my voice I don’t hear Dennis Brown or Otis Redding – but it’s great to know that people put my voice in such a category.
Are you working on any new material?
With my new album I’m on this heavy soul and Duppy Rock vibe. I don’t want to be that reggae guy and neither do I want to be known as that soul guy. In fact, somebody in the industry once told me that I had to do soul and reggae because I was black and that nobody would listen to me doing anything else. Since I was told that, I have been tearing down that notion and whenever I go to make music – blues, soul and reggae naturally come out. That is exactly what I’m going to be capturing on my new album.
‘When Will They Learn’ is out now, and will be followed by Soon Come on July 29.Tagged in: Liam Bailey
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