Atwood Magazine talked to British artist Leyma about his start in music and his new project, as well as the exclusive influences playlist he put together.
LEYMA may be the pinnacle of what you think about when you picture a Gen Z artist. After growing up with a music-loving father and being inspired by artists like The Beatles, Joy Division, and Amy Winehouse, the dreams and aspirations of gracing the stage with his own music never stopped coming. While his friends were deciding what to study in university, Max Hanley (aka Leyma) stumbled upon a friend who was getting a degree in music production making a beat on his laptop. That’s when everything changed.
Realising he could avoid the bureaucracies of finding a record deal and releasing music through a label’s schedule, Henley decided to save money, buy a laptop, and a few YouTube tutorials later was making his own beats in his own room. Mixing the influence of the older artists he grew up listening to with indie artists of today like Cuco and modern rappers like Lil Peep, and slowthai, Henley came up with his own genre, Brindie-hop, and is doing things his own way.
Today, Leyma releases his EP L O N G D A Y S, a reflection on the warmth and emotionally intense, long days of summer. Atwood Magazine talked to the artist about his start in music and his new project, as well as the exclusive he put together.
Listen: L O N G D A Y S EP – Leyma
:: A CONVERSATION WITH LEYMA ::
Atwood Magazine: How did you come up with Leyma as your artistic name?
Leyma: So I was in a dream and John Lennon came down to me. He said, Leyma wake up. And I was like “Leyma”! I’m joking, it’s the end of my last name and beginning of my first name. It’s a really shit one, innit? That’s why I’m trying to come up with little things.
No, I mean, that's what I was thinking as well. And that‘s why I was like, ‘Oh, I might know the story already‘. Especially because your YouTube header has like your name and your last name together, but then you were you were talking about John Lennon and I was like, ‘Oh, I did not know it at all‘.
Leyma: I’m going to change the story every time, keep people on their toes.
I read your father is really passionate about music and was in bands. Did having this creative person in your household inspire you to be a musician?
Leyma: Yeah, he was in bands, he was never really a musician but was passionate about music definitely. He just imbued a love of music into me. I always dreamt about fucking becoming a musician or whatever, performing and stuff, but I never like, I never was like, ‘Oh, that’s what I’m gonna do;’. It was always sort of like a dream and then having him was obviously like, listening to music non-stop, and it was always good music.
How did you decide you wanted to pursue a career in music?
Leyma: It came quite suddenly, really. People started talking about university and stuff and what they wanted to do, and I just didn’t really know. And my friend who was doing music production at school started making music. I went to his house and he was on his laptop and started making a beat. I was like ‘What? You can just record at home for nothing?’ I’ve always thought in my head, that you needed to have loads of money. And you had to be ready to have a record deal and stuff like that to make music. I didn’t realise you could just do it at home. So then I saved up and got a laptop and started making music and was like ‘This is what I want to do’, it just captivated me like that.
What inspires you the most when you‘re writing?
Leyma: I think the best songs I write, I write the lyrics in 20 minutes or half an hour. Something’s happened or something has been on my mind that I can just blurt out really quickly. My best songs always ones I’m most happy with because I don’t to go back and change the lyrics for weeks, it’s just always what I’m feeling. That just comes from what goes on around me, obviously what I’m observing and feeling.
Is there anything you wouldn‘t write about?
Leyma:A few things, innit? Talking about getting money, having all these cars and stuff, that’s not really me. But you know, never say never really, maybe I’ll get a massive gold chain, say “fuck the indie stuff” and become a big rapper.
I think I asked that because you have a song, “tonyjaffa”, about your struggle with anorexia. And I think that that‘s so personal and it‘s like, especially to come from a young man because this disease is normally attributed to women. So since I feel like since you went there, was it daunting at all to put that more vulnerable side of you out there?
LEYMA: It was massively daunting, but when I wrote the song and put it on Soundcloud I never really stopped and thought about what it was about, because I wrote it in twenty minutes, until my parents started talking to me about it. It was scary at first, of course, it still scares me a little bit to just be so open about stuff. I think it’s key for blokes especially, to be open about their emotions because too many gone too soon. And that’s just because people are alone in their own heads, afraid to talk to anyone.
This mixture of hip hop and indie, or what you call Brindie-hop, seems to me like the pinnacle of the music that shapes today‘s youth. How did you land on this sound? Had you ever tried something different before?
Leyma: I never really landed on it and been like, ‘Yeah, this is the sound’ it sort of just came after a long time, maybe like a year or so, making music. I think the bedroom pop sound came because it was coming out of my bedroom with no knowledge of how anything really works so obviously it sounded not well-mixed and stuff. But I grew up on indie music. I grew up on ’80s and ’90s British music and also The Beatles, so I was always accustomed to singing and catchy songs were always wanted to hear. So I think songs that have choruses like that, they’ll be repeated, and it’s just what I’m accustomed to hear. And then obviously as I was getting a little older and started to get my music taste not just what my dad was showing me, I got a little more into rap and UK rap and stuff, which is what dominates, the UK now, dominates the world really. But I never ever sat down and said ‘I’m going to sing about this now’ it’s just how I came about.
You‘re releasing a new EP - can you talk me through the story you’re telling with this project?
Leyma: I wrote this project in April I was intending it to come out in like June, July, the middle of summer because it’s called long days to play on that word, the long hot days of summer, and also like, the long emotionally draining days that you just want to be over. So that’s why it’s called that. And that’s basically what the EP is, it’s four songs that have softer, summery instrumentals and the topics of conversation are always a little bit more emotional, a little bit darker, really. And that’s what the four songs are. And then on “Reminder” which is the single being released, “Reminder” is basically saying like, you just gotta remind yourself that it’s alright, there’s always blue skies behind the clouds. That’s basically what “Reminder” is, it sums up the questions and stuff in the first three songs with that answer.
Can you break down the EP‘s cover art for me, please?
Leyma: I literally just had this idea on the day, I was just like I’m going to go get ice cream, they’re actually someone else’s shoes and they got pissed because I was putting ice cream on them. It just matched the EP, ice cream on the green grass, with vibrant colours. It’s summer. And then it’s like ‘I just dropped my ice cream and it’s shit’.
Now that it‘s not being released in the summer, it‘s being released in the autumn, how do you think that changes the EP? How will it live now that it's going to have to live through all the darker days before it reaches the summer again?
Leyma:I got upset we had to push it back because obviously that was on my mind. But I thought about it for a long time and “Reminder”, the hook goes “You remind me of those days” so it’s sort of like the EP, you remind me of a better time, the summer was a better time. Even though we’re coming into winter, you can reminisce. You don’t want to just be listening to dark songs all through winter, you’ll get sad.
“Sunsout” takes us through a whole journey. So much life inside one song. Why did you choose to close the EP with it?
Leyma: My guitarist in the band, Harry, he put down that lovely lick and we made the beat from there. Obviously what I was saying, I don’t know exactly why I was saying it, it was what I was thinking at the time. It was to do with old management and stuff like that, so just like ‘who do I trust?’. So it has this little break, like switching songs on the radio, it’s like ‘Alright this day is done now’, it’s time to go forward.
Do you normally write with the other members of your band or do you also write alone?
Leyma: Yes, it can be both. I’m lucky because in the band we have two great guitarists and I’ve lived with both of them now so like, I come home and there’s stuff on the laptop and I’ll make a beat over it. When I write lyrics usually straight away will put a hook down, whatever sounds nice and I’ll write the song from that. But yeah, musically it comes from them and then sometimes from me. And then the rest of it’s just me.
“Cuppa” is the EP‘s lead single and it closes the EP. Can you tell me more about the song, what the process of writing it was like etc?
Leyma: That started same way, my guitarist Harry wrote the riff and straight away I was like ‘This needs to have like a really hard beat over it’ because it’s what I was feeling. So we started to mess around with that beat and then I wrote my verse and the chorus straight away, again not really thinking but it came out about like, just the insecurity of a beginning of a relationship. Yeah and then I have two guest verses on that song and they both, I told them what my bits were about, and the first guy took the insecurity of how he fits in in the society and did a verse on that, and the last one was again insecurity in a relationship. So it’s funny because it takes me a while to realise what a song is about.
Watch: “Cuppa” – Leyma
The music video is quite hilarious as well because at the same time that we‘re seeing teenagers at a party, it‘s a little surrealist because you’re all getting drunk on tea and the goldfish is alive out of water. What was the concept behind the video?
Leyma: We sat down with the director Relta and we were bouncing ideas, about how the verses talk about different insecurities and we were thinking for a long time, it would be very difficult to put all of this into a video, all the different things we’re talking about. So we were like ‘Let’s just play on the name’ and like, have you guys get drunk off tea. I think it was the best that could have come out of that brainstorm, we could’ve tried to do some serious stuff with the video but I don’t know if it would’ve been as funny.
The playlist you put together for us is very eclectic. What‘s the thread that connects these songs for you that inspires you?
Leyma: That’s the thing, these are songs that some of them I’ve heard in the back of the car since I was a kid and then some are ones that I’ve found the ones or have been shown by my friends and it’s just these are the ones that will stick with me. “A New England”, Billy Bragg, I know that song from when we were just driving in the car and I was looking out the window at fields, and also I’ve seen Billy Bragg few times live, he’s a massive influence. Winehouse, obviously, that’s another one. I think these are just people that I respect massively. The list could have gone on. And these are the songs that stick out as ones that are me. If you put them all together, that’s my head.
The influence of artists like Cuco, Mac Miller, and Loyle Carner is really heard in your music, it feels like your music exists in a world between Cuco and Mac Miller and Loyle. But how do older artists like The Beatles, Amy Winehouse, and Joy Division influence you?
Leyma: Just the romantic side of it, it’s art. That’s what I see the older music has. “Nowhere Man” is like, a song that I never knew the meaning of when I was younger, and it just stuck to me because it’s so catchy and so melodic and their melodies and stuff will stay in your head, you don’t need to know what I’m saying for you to like the song. And that’s why these songs are the songs of my childhood because I never knew the meaning of them, I just listened to them. I listen to music differently now. I’ll hear the whole song as it comes in and most of the time now I’ll listen to lyrics first because that’s just how my mind works. Yeah, but back in the day, I just listened to the music.
Do you like the idea that like, your music can mean something to you, but then if you just put it out there in the world, people can like create their own stories and attribute their own meanings to your songs?
Leyma: I love that. I think that’s the best thing about it, 100%. I want every song to be personal to each person who listens. Sometimes I get a little worried, telling people what the song means to me. It shouldn’t mean what it means to me for you. That’s not how it should be, I want it to be an experienced for you. Obviously I understand, because once I listen to a song, and I’ve heard what someone said about it, I listen to it in the way that they’ve said. But yeah, that’s my favourite thing about it, really.
You have a show coming up soon! Are you excited for it?
LEYMA: Man, I’m so excited. Yeah. Camden Assembly is a nice venue the last we show played, we sold it out and it was amazing feeling. I’m just giddy to get back onstage.
Do you think that your songs like come through differently when you‘re performing?
Leyma: 100%, I play with a full band so obviously it sounds a little different. And then we manipulate the songs easier, if we want to play them fast or surprise people and switch in the middle. That’s fun. I love the energy you get from being onstage with other people.
What‘s the best circumstance in which to listen to your music?
Leyma: I reckon like they’ve gone out on a Saturday night, and it’s Sunday and they’re there with some nice grub just listening to it. Early evening or really late at night.
Leyma: I don’t know really! The worst, that’s me. Also, the band is called the worst, Leyma and The Worst, but I don’t know, I can’t really think about it.
Why is the band called The Worst?
Leyma: Because it’s the best band name ever!
What‘s the last great thing you listened to?
Leyma: I was showed a song by my mate the other day, King Gizzard, because he went to see them at Ally Pally, “Work This Time”, beautiful song. He was like ‘I am going to go see them tonight’. I’ve seen them before when I was at a festival and I was walking past and I saw a sign and listened but I hadn’t really gone into their music. But one of the guys from King Gizzard makes all the fast like crazy psychedelic songs. The other guy makes really slow songs. And that song is beautiful, that was a really nice one.
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