Speaking to Ben Coyle-Larner is like speaking to an old friend; the conversation is immediately comfortable and warm. And although on stage he is known as Loyle Carner, this natural intimacy is not only present, but also intensified in his music.
Throughout his debut album, Yesterday’s Gone (released 1/20/17 by AMF Records), Carner invites us into his world. We’re introduced to his family — his mom recites a breathtaking poem on “Sun of Jean” over piano that was recorded by his late father — and his life. Carner’s lyrical vulnerability allows him to make uniquely refreshing hip-hop that will leave you feeling like a part of it all. Even if you’ve never been to South London, after listening to this album, you’ll feel as if you have.
In the wake of Yesterday’s Gone, Carner has toured most of Western Europe, Australia, and the United States. He made an album about home and then left it. Along the way, he was welcomed by loving fans; they’ve brought him into their worlds as much as he brought them into his. The personal connection he fosters with fans has made his debut album both popular and accessible and sets him up for continued success in the future. With Carner and his music, what you see is always what you get.
Atwood Magazine caught up with Loyle Carner to talk about his debut album, tour, and what it’s like to find a home away from home. Read our full conversation below!
A CONVERSATION WITH LOYLE CARNER
Atwood Magazine: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to chat with me.
Loyle Carner: Oh yeah, no worries. Thank you!
Of course. Well, first of all, congratulations on your debut album!
Loyle Carner: Thank you very much.
Four months out; how does it feel to have it out in the world?
Loyle Carner: Yeah, it’s weird. It’s strange, it feels like it just came out yesterday. But yeah, it feels good, man. Now I don’t have to worry about it. It’s fun to kind of let it out and let it do its thing. Ya know cuz, I got no control over it now which I kind of like.
So, when you were picking songs for the album, you had a handful of previously released tracks on EPs; how did you go about getting a final track list?
Loyle Carner: It kind of came about because it was everything we had, pretty much. I’ve never been one to make loads and loads of tunes so it was kind of like we picked a little bit, but it was just the tunes that were made were put on the album.
And in terms of the spoken tracks on there like “Swear” and “Rebel 101,” how did you go about collecting those and why did you choose to include them?
Loyle Carner: Usually they were kind of accidental. So, the one with my mum, I was actually trying to record a first recording of a song and she ended up coming in and chatting with me and I had forgotten it was there completely and it just kind of captured stuff. But I think it was important for me because the album started just talking about home. Quite early on, when I started putting it together, I wanted to take that idea and push that idea as far as I could. So, I started trying to find extra bits that would further that story and really take you into my world of South London.
Yeah, and I think that the album cover really gets that image going too.
Loyle Carner: Yeah, man, wicked. Thank you very much.
Your mom’s part on “Sun of Jean,” I’ve got to say, is one of my favorite parts of the entire album.
Loyle Carner: Yeah, it’s the best bit. She was the only person I was happy to let outshine me on it, for sure.
How did that come about? Did you ask her to do that?
Loyle Carner: Yeah, so basically my dad made this album before he passed away; when my mom gave it to me, I didn’t know about it. But she gave it to me and I sampled my dad on that song; the piano playing at the end, that’s my dad on the keys. I decided to—I kind of wanted to bring up image again, to memorialize him. So yeah, I had her write a poem and I didn’t know what she was going to write about, but that’s what she chose in the end, was me.
I mean the whole album is great, but that verse is so cool it gives me goosebumps every time.
Loyle Carner: Yeah, thank you very much. I will pass that on to her.
Please do! So, kind of going off that: some of your lyrics are so intensely personal, I was wondering if there was ever a moment when you stopped and said, “Oh no, that’s too much, that’s too personal,” or has it always been about getting it all out on the table?
Loyle Carner: I mean, yeah, I used to a little bit but as I’ve grown and as I’ve been putting things out and they’ve been accepted, I’ve kind of let them be, ya know? I’m now quite good at knowing that that is the stuff I want to write—this is what I write about—and just getting on with it and embracing it.
Yeah, well I think that’s one of the reasons your music has been so well received; your lyrics are real and vulnerable. That’s definitely one of the best parts of the album.
Loyle Carner: Well thank you very much. That’s one of the things that’s most scary about it but it’s the bit that makes it the most exciting, for sure.
Let’s talk about your tour for a minute! You’ve been touring pretty much non-stop since the album came out. Do you have a favorite part of the experience in general?
Loyle Carner: Of the tour? Yeah, going to Australia. It’s just the most fun I think I’ve ever had. I don’t know—I don’t know what it was about the place, but it feels like London; it feels like home to me, just a little bit further away. It’s like a sunny version of home which is well received.
have a huge fan base out there, and also in the US, how do you reach those people?
Loyle Carner: I don’t know. With the music getting out there, I had no idea; when we started putting music out, a lot of people in Australia started getting in touch and it became quite clear that we were going to have to get out there at some point soon. Ever since my first EP came out, there were people reaching out saying they were big fans and they wanted to be a part of it.
That must be such a cool experience; to just be so far away from home and have fans out there.
Loyle Carner: Yeah, we couldn’t have been further away from home, but couldn’t have felt more at home. It was really weird. But it was a beautiful thing, man.
You’re in the States now. How was the San Francisco show?
Loyle Carner: The San Francisco show was crazy! I was expecting it. I don’t know. I’ve always been a bit hesitant just because I know that America is where hip-hop comes from. And, ya know, I rap with an English accent and it’s not the same as what people are expecting sometimes. But they were really crazy. I chatted with some people after the show and they really looked after us. They were super complimentary, which I didn’t really expect.
That’s awesome. And you have New York City tonight?
Loyle Carner: Yeah, we’re here tonight and tomorrow. Brooklyn tonight and then Manhattan tomorrow.
Loyle Carner: Yeah, I’m very very excited to play some hip-hop; no pressure.
And what about Tom Misch? You guys have a handful of songs together. What makes that something that you keep coming back to?
Loyle Carner: Just because it’s fun. It’s fresh because he plays instruments—I used to play the trumpet, but I’m not as in tune with it as I could be. It’s nice to see the freedom that he has and to play off that sometimes. It’s really strange though, I didn’t know how famous he was out here, but he’s a superstar. It’s crazy. Everywhere we go, people are talking about him or wearing a t-shirt. It’s mad.
Yeah, those are great songs and definitely a little different than your own stuff.
Loyle Carner: Thank you. Yeah, for sure, for sure. I like it because it’s a genuine collaboration. And it’s quite rare to meet someone and actually collaborate with them—the outcome doesn’t sound like my stuff, doesn’t sound like his stuff; it’s both.
What about your music videos? You’ve put out quite a few over the past couple years and you’ve either directed or co-directed all of them. Can you explain that decision a little bit for us?
Loyle Carner: Yeah, I guess I kind of want to work on the direction because it’s my tune, it’s my story that I’m trying to tell. It’s not just for someone else to say what they want to say. I think that sometimes the video is the first impression you get on a tune and I think it’s important for me to be behind that and to be giving people what I want them to be seeing and nothing more and nothing less.
Do you have a favorite video?
Loyle Carner: Probably the “Ain’t Nothing Changed” video is my favorite one. It was very fun to do.
I saw you tweeting a little bit about getting people to register to vote back home. Where do you stand on using your platform to be politically vocal or active?
Loyle Carner: I try not to do it too much. I mean, I think it’s important, giving people that might not understand or have the right information to make their own decisions. I don’t really tell people what to vote or who to vote for. And I really try to keep it out of my music. Because I think that people that make music, sometimes it’s a bit too political and it loses its appeal, it kind of loses the fact that it’s music. If I write something and it works, and it sounds good to me, and it has some sort of political web behind it, then I’m sure I’d keep it. But I’d never want to sacrifice musicality or integrity just for a political voice. I think saying it on social media works better for me than in my tunes because it’s more direct. I can actually say what I want to say without trying to get it to fit.
What’s next? You’ve had a wildly popular debut album, sold out shows all around the world, and that’s all been in this year. What does the rest of 2017 look like for you?
Loyle Carner: I have no idea, man. I mean, I am quite happy to be enjoying it. I’m trying to see how much I can play this album and see how many people I can play it for. I don’t know. We’ve got the cooking school starting up in the summer again which I’m excited about. Just more shows. More shows, more music. More money, more problems.
Do you want to talk about your cooking school for a second?
Loyle Carner: Yeah, the cooking school’s cool, man. It’s a cooking school for kids with ADHD. I hoping to do another big class this summer. I was also hoping to maybe get one set up in Australia. It’s just a matter of having something else to be doing alongside the music; it keeps my brain active.
Well thank you so much for chatting with us!
Loyle Carner: Yeah, of course. My pleasure.
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cover © Laura Coulson