Let’s not beat around the bush. We are going through some very strange and uncertain times, with Covid-19 tipping the world as we know it on its head – including bringing the music events industry to a grinding halt, with no live shows in Bristol for the foreseeable.
Thankfully, Nitelife managed to squeeze in one more gig just days before government announced lockdown, when Bristol welcomed UK jazz pioneer Moses Boyd to Rough Trade as part of his Dark Matter album tour. To celebrate the release of his debut LP, the drummer and producer extraordinaire performed a half hour set, following his previous night’s show at Bristol’s Exchange, showcasing tight composition with his band and finesse behind the drum kit.
He won his first MOBO award in 2015 for Best Jazz Act (…) winning the accolade again in 2017
Moses Boyd is considered one of the beating hearts of the UK jazz scene, helping fertilise a new wave of jazz music that’s now acknowledged and praised internationally. He won his first MOBO award in 2015 for Best Jazz Act as part of jazz duo Binker & Moses, winning the accolade again in 2017 as a solo artist; though it wasn’t until the beginning of this year that he unveiled his first, fully-formed solo album.
Nitelife were lucky to have the opportunity to grab Moses Boyd for a quick pre-show bevvy ahead of his intimate Rough Trade performance back in March. Before the show, we met up with the humble but highly revered drummer and took him to the nearby Milk & Thistle for pre-show Mojito, to chat about his latest album release and the journey that brought him here.
Your album Dark Matter dropped back in February this year. Despite popular belief, this is actually your first solo LP. What made you take the leap and release your first solo album?
I understand a lot of people thought my last project Displaced Diaspora was my debut album, but I never saw it like that. It was just a collection of songs I had written as a teenager and had always wanted to record and release. I didn’t really plan to put it out, which is why tracks off the EP like Rye Lane Shuffle ended up having a staggered release since 2016.
I decided to take the leap and release my debut solo album Dark Matter at the beginning of 2020, but finally I felt it was the right time. I have found my feet and I had material I felt needed to be put out to be heard and talked about.
I had material I felt needed to be put out to be heard and talked about
You are a producer and a drummer. When it came to the writing process for Dark Matter, did you reach for the drums or the laptop first?
I tended to reach for the laptop and synthesisers first and drums second, not all the time though. It was a very organic process. I liked exploring how to get sounds out of a synthesizer, as I had a lot of time to experiment. I also stumbled across particular sounds on my keyboard that I never would’ve found on the drum machine.
A couple of your friends and longterm collaborators, including Poppy Ajudha and Joe Armon-Jones make an appearance on this album. How did you go about choosing who you wanted to feature in your debut album?
I knew as I was writing the music who I wanted to feature on each track. It’s almost like they were tailor-made for them, in some way. I know Poppy and Joe very well, so when I listened to the tracks I just knew it would work for them. Luckily, when I called them up they were really keen to get involved and very open to work with, so it made the recording process very easy.
Looking back to the beginning, what inspired you to pick up the drumsticks?
I decided I wanted to learn to play the drums after seeing somebody play at my school. I went to a performing arts school, so we had a pretty decent music department. I remember walking along the corridor one day and hearing an older kid at my school playing the drums, and it just blew me away. Up until that day, I had never seen anyone play the drums, as this was before YouTube existed or anything like that.
It’s in my personality to want to dedicate time to learn new things
I immediately wanted to learn after I saw this kid play. It’s in my personality to want to dedicate time to learn new things – I was the same with basketball and skateboarding. I followed my intuition and decided to pick up the drumsticks, and I’ve never looked back since. It stuck.
To hear and watch you perform, you can see the drumkit is almost like an extension of your body, how did you reach this point?
Again, I’d have to thank my school for this. I went to school in a time where we didn’t have austerity like we do now, so back then we could have free music lessons every week and, obviously, I’d abuse that! My drum teacher was amazing too and let me sneak in extra classes here and there, which really encouraged me to practice. I really owe a lot to my drum teacher because he saw what styles I was interested in and matched that with what he taught me.
I went to school in a time where we didn’t have austerity (…) back then we could have free music lessons every week
It helped that I have a bit of an addictive personality too. I used to come from school and practice every day and get myself better each week. Man, I did that for years – and to be honest, I still practice pretty much every day even now.
You are recognised as one of the pioneering names to come out of the ever-growing UK jazz movement. Was the eruption of the UK jazz scene in London and beyond planned, or was it a happy accident?
The London jazz community has been operating for years prior to us, but also something very mystical happened that I can’t put into words. For instance, I have known Sons of Kemet’s tuba player Theon Cross and his trombonist brother Nathanial Cross since I was 12 years old, prior to any of us learning to play an instrument.
something very mystical happened that I can’t put into words
I didn’t see Theon for years, then when I was 16 I saw him again, but this time he’s carrying a tuba on his back. I’m learning to play drums and his brother was also learning to play trombone. Unbeknown to each of us, we were all separately learning to play jazz.
I also met other young people like saxophonist Nubya Garcia and guitarist Shirley Tetteh in East London, who were also trying to push the jazz sound. That’s why I feel like it’s mystical how it all come together, because a lot of people picked up their instruments and started to learn around the same time.
Finally, what’s next for Moses Boyd?
I am very restless, so I’m already thinking what I will be working on next now the Dark Matter tour has come to an end. I already have in my head what I want to do for my next album, so it’s just a matter of playing, recording and turning it into a reality.
Photos by Dominika Scheibinger
Location: Milk Thistle, Bristol // @milkthistlebristol