A couple months ago we had the opportunity to sit down at Monocle Cafe with our good friend Joel Baker to discuss his then upcoming London Sleeves EP. We are all aware that in life timing is everything so with that in mind it seems only right to unleash our conversation with the songwriter now that the EP is available for purchase. Humble beginnings, influences, faith and London life were all subjects touched upon during our discussion with an added look into what the future holds.
First off, let’s talk about your recent tour. It’s the first one you’ve been on right? How was that on the road experience?
It was a really good experience and good fun. It was good to see a lot of cities in the UK that I’ve never been to before. You never get a chance to go to weird places like, I dunno, Glasgow. Although Glasgow left me with a rash, look how bad it is *shows his hands to us*, Glasgow’s a dirty city man.
DJB: What have you been up to, maybe you’re a dirty guy…
I’m clean man, I’ve got a girlfriend. No but it was good, I became really good friends with Sam Bradley the other support act. He was a vibe, so much jokes! Ryan was great as well, it was just the best. It was the first time ever that I’ve performed where people have actually respected you, like to the level of wanting things like signatures and photos and stuff like that. People just generally, outside London, have a greater respect for music. Not for music but for performers. You can perform in London and people are like whatevs. It was great, I want another tour tomorrow.
Your Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe cover gained a lot of attention from urban media and if I’m not mistaken was even played on BBC Radio 1xtra. Is it important to you to capture that urban audience, as majority of your covers have been covers of rap songs?
I think so. I don’t really think about what cover will capture this and that. Hip-hop is just my favourite type of music, I love hip-hop so I just want to cover what I like. So that Kendrick tune, in fact people were telling me to cover it before I even heard it. My brother said I should but I was like I don’t want to hear the Kendrick album until it’s actually out, I’m not on this pirate ting. So yeah people told me to cover it before so when I heard it one afternoon I went to Joe’s (The Confect) and we were just catching a little vibe and it just happened. It was one of those really beautiful processes where we were like we’ve got something, everything just worked. The sample here, the little guitar string here but it didn’t come together until the very end and then it just came together and we were just like ahh, yeah this is cool.
Rarely do you have such beautiful moments like that so it was a special moment man.
You’re looking to release your next EP later this month. How does this latest body of work differentiate from previous releases?
Well in terms of the covers EP this is all original. I think it’s got more of a sound which is more in line with the sound of music that I’m gonna end up making. So it’s all kind of organic, all acoustic guitars – it’s got a bluesy kind of soul to it. I just love song writing, my favourite thing to do in the whole wide world is writing songs so its very song writery. Lots of cool lyrics, lots of cool concepts but I don’t think it’s much of a break from what I’ve done before, its like a continuation. Between Kings Cross and Old Street its was like me and Joe finding out feet, what kind of music do we want to make, what direction do we wanna go in. So that EP is almost like a stepping stone, you can almost hear the whole process in that EP. And then this ‘Long Sleeves’ we recorded in like two and half weeks because we had already got the sound, we had already got the songs. Everything was just there and it was just like boom boom boom record.
You say you love to song write, how does that come about, where do you write, how do you get inspiration?
Usually from girls screwing me up slightly, that’s the main inspiration. Most of the time, I’ll be in my bedroom and just vibing to some chords trying to access the some special place that you try to reach and if you get there you can be honest, overly honest but I think that’s what song writing is all about. Literally telling people about your life. A lot of songwriting isn’t that, it’s amassed in clichés and people put barriers up and are like oh brother this and oh mother that and it doesn’t actually mean anything. You’re not actually telling anybody anything about yourself, so I just try all the time to access a place where I’m ok with being honest.
Also I guess phrasing it in a way that’s different. Everybody’s been through heartache, everybody’s been through love and everybody’s written about it for the last 100 years. But it’s about trying to find a way or an angle that’s different. So that what I like, ‘Further Than Feelings’ is trying to talk about love but slightly different, if you know what I mean.
So you say you consciously want to write things different. So do you go back and re write stuff. So you might write something and think I want to say that but I want to say it in a different way.
Yeh, I doesn’t always work like this but the way I try to make it work is so I’ve got two documents on my computer. One is called song lyrics and one is called song concepts and I’m constantly noting down concepts. I might have a conversation with someone and we might say something like Coffee at the Monocle and I’ll be like oh that’s a cool phrase and so I’d note that down in concepts. When I come to write I’ll basically try and pick off a concept and when I try pick it off I’ll just brainstorm and then kind of go into it from there. If I’ve got a strong enough concept it just kind of writes itself.
Further Than Feelings, I was having a conversation with a girl and like I literally said it should be further than feelings and I was like ah this is cool. Plus I was in a jazz café on Southbank so it was just easy. I was like this is a song, I went home and just wrote it down. I wasn’t me really creating anything it was just life and I guess that’s what song writing is, its just putting your life out there.
People, mainly urban outlets, have bracketed you as alternative but as a musician how would you personally describe your style of music.
I don’t mind people calling me alternative. I’ve been a white boy geek my whole life so if I can get in that bracket I’m cool with it, that’s what I live for man alternative urban. I dunno man, because I think there are certain things that are different about me than just your average singer songwriter. I’m not from Cornwall or Devon, I’m from Nottingham. This is slight hip-hop elements in what I do, even if its like phrasing things or even prioritising lyrics more than other singer songwriters do. I’m quite happy with that but I’m not really quite sure what it is yet but I guess I’m still finding my way.
DJB: Or maybe you don’t want to be boxed into a category.
Ideally the dream would be to keep making different albums like John Mayer. I’d be like yeah ok I want to make a blues album and then cool I want to make a country album. That’s the dream, I never want to make a sound that’s to ridged so people know me for my sound rather than songs. So the sound is fluid I’d say but there’s certain elements that have to stay the same, so like the soul element has to stay the same, the bluesy element has to stay the same apart from that everything else is flexible.
In terms of collaborations we all know that you have your frequent collaborator over here (The Confect) but who do you want to collaborate with in the future and what do you look for in a collaborator?
Either someone that I really admire or someone I can really relate to or I feel like has the same way of thinking as me. That’s why I can so easily can do stuff with Nick Brewer, nothing has actually ever been released yet but we’ve got some songs right, we’ve got songs I promise you and with him it’s just so easy. It’s so simple, we just get into a room me, Nick and Joe and make a song because we all think the same. We’ve all got the same core beliefs, values and the same vision for where we want to go so its easy. I’ve tried to make music with people in the past that are like all about the hoes and all that and it’s just a bit like, I’m not sure if we have really the same vision with this music thing, I’m not about that life.
I watched in on a session that Confect had with Ghetts which was just fascinating. He is formidable, I would love to make a song with Ghetts, I think that would be really special but it’s just about trying to tie him down. I think rappers are just the most enjoyable people to make music with. There’s clear defined roles, its like you spit and I’ll sing. I find it hard to write with other singer songwriters because its weird. If you’re going to be really honest about your own life how do you do that with another person that has a totally different life. I find that really tough, that’s something I’ve gotta get used to I think but I’m not used to it yet so rappers are just for me.
We’ve known you now for little over a year since we shot the video for your song Thunderstorms, however we’ve never had the opportunity to sit down with you and allow our readers to get to know more about you. So let’s start from the beginning.
Who is Joel Baker and what does he do?
Well I have a weird life! I came to London almost two years ago to work in Parliament. I still work in Parliament, it’s very strange. I go to work and say hi to Big Ben every morning. My day job is just sitting in an office and talking to MP’s and then in the night I just spin around like superman and go off to Holloway Road and make music. I’m just a normal guy, DJB.
How does work in Parliament coincide with your music. Does it influence your music or do you keep them separate?
I wish I could say yes but no I try and keep them as separate as possible. I’ve kind of fallen out of love with politics a little bit, well domestic politics. I got into politics for international politics reasons and wanting to help the poorest of the poor, this that and the other but I’ve kind of got involved with Tory bashing and I’m not really into that. I don’t think it influences me much and I think it’s really hard for singer songwriters to talk about ideals and stuff with out coming across preachy do you know what I mean. I think rappers have a hard enough time as it is and you’ve got to be a really good rapper. Only very certain rappers can pull that off, maybe Lupe Fiasco back in the day but otherwise you sound preachy. I’d rather do music, make really good music and then talk about politics with you afterwards.
You have strong faith, which is something you and Yin have in common, could we see elements of that seep into your music at some stage. Is there a Joel Baker gospel record on the horizon?
100% a gospel album haha. It’s not over the top! I guess my faith shapes my world view and my world view shapes everything that I write. So even though I’m not talking about Jesus in songs the way that I’m writing about love or the way that I’m writing about break ups or the way that I’m writing about myself that’s sort of shaped by how I perceive the world and that’s shaped ultimately by my faith.
So when you were back in Nottingham did you make music or was it when you came to London that you started.
I always made music. When I was like 14 I picked up a guitar and made music with bands and stuff like that, got involved with wedding bands and funk guitars and done a few things with rappers. A guy called Jermaine Bruski so yeh I did a bit but I always said to everyone, whenever anyone said do you want to do music for a living, no never never never. What good does music do to anyone, I’m not really sure if its what I’m meant to do, I’m not really sure where God is leading me right now. I remember having loads of conversations with Monique about this, I made a mixtape with her just before I came to London and she was always like do you want to do music. I was like no this is pretty much like the last musical thing I’ll ever do and then I’ll pack it all in and stick to politics. To be honest with you I think at the time in Nottingham, it wasn’t what I was meant to do because if I tried to do music in there. I would have stayed in Nottingham and that would have been the worst thing for my world.
It was politics that got me to London and that was what got me into studios in Holloway. I needed to meet those people.
Would you say it’s London that has breaded a new found confidence and a new love for music.
When I came to London it became something that actually was an option. Music suddenly had a purpose, I saw it has a scene. There’s places you can go in music. In Nottingham. there’s no where you can go, very few artists make it that have stayed in Nottingham so it was never a career choice. But in London I met people that were like yeah I’m doing this for a living, I’ve got a publishing deal, I’ve got this sort of deal and also I was suddenly making music with people that had the same vision as me. Nobody before did, they were just like yeah I want to do music for the girls or whatever but suddenly I was making music with people that had a vision. They want to change the way people view music, they want to make real music and want it to have a real meaning so that really excited me. Music could be something more than music. it really was meeting Joe and Nick that gave me the confidence yes but also a sense of purpose in it. I need to do something in life that I feel like has purpose in it. That’s why I got into politics and I’ll always do something that I feel like has a purpose to it. That was really important for me.
So looking into the future, what does the rest of 2013 have in store.
Festivals, I never done any festivals I’ve never been to a festival I don’t really like mud. I don’t really know what it’s going to be like but I hope its going to be a good experience. I spoke to Ryan about it when I was on tour and he said that people just come, they don’t really care who you are or whatever they’re just drunk and just they just want to have a good time. So as long as you’re up for that, I think it could be a vibe. At the moment I’m just paying my dues, I’m on small stages at festivals but it’s about being there and mixing with other artists I guess and just building up my repertoire of gig and stuff like that.
I feel like from the start to the end of the tour I’ve gotten so much better at gigs and touring so I hope it’s going to be the same with festivals. So that’s six festivals in the summer, I’m hoping at the start I’ll probably be a bit nervous and be like ahh this is weird, big stage and big open field but at that the end of it, I’m hoping to feel quite comfortable with it.
So there’s that, I’m hoping as well by September that we’ll have another EP. There’s more than enough songs, there’s too many songs. This EP has been recording for ages, since like February and I’m excited about it but I’m also excited about just recording something else. Me and Joe have got loads of songs to record so we’re going to record another EP and then after that I don’t know, maybe an album or something. At the moment we’re just taking everything as it comes, living for the moment. YOLO and all that.
If you’re looking for pulsating beats, crazy harmonies or something to twerk to then Long Sleeves and Joel Baker are not for you. However if you are into lyrics, strings and a distinctive voice then he is just the man for you.
Long Sleeves is a soothing, chilled out vibe with Joel’s voice the mouth piece of discussions had about love which in turn inspired these songs. One fact I really enjoy about the songwriting is that he always fills the song with a lot of words. Now that may be a strange thing to say but it seems all to easy to write a song these days with the use of just a few lines that a repeated over and over again. His music is very lyric driven so be sure to pay attention to what he is saying.
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