At the end of January, producer Swindle dropped his masterpiece of a record No More Normal, recorded at Peter Gabriel’s idyllic Real World Studios, which has hosted artists from Beyoncé to Björk. The album was three years in the making and the realisation of ideas a decade strong, bringing together Swindle’s career-long catalogue of influences across grime, jazz, funk, soul and R&B, brought to life through scaled-up live instrumentation and boundary-pushing production.
grime, jazz, funk, soul and R&B, brought to life through scaled-up live instrumentation and boundary-pushing production
The producer has become increasingly drawn to vocal features over his last few releases, and with No More Normal Swindle presents an entirely vocal album, with high profile contributions including Ghetts, Kiko Bun, D Double E and Kojey Radical, who feature repeatedly throughout the record’s 11 tracks.
Swindle has long had an important connection to Bristol’s music scene and the new album opens and closes with a powerful intro / outro from Bristol’s Rider Shafique and features Eva Lazarus on three tracks, making full use of her chameleonic skills as a soul singer and fierce MC. Last month, he chose Bristol’s Rough Trade as the location for a screening of his No More Normal documentary (via Red Bull Music) and Q&A session with Butterz head Elijah.
I don’t think you can do music in the UK and not have a special relationship with Bristol
‘I don’t think you can do music in the UK and not have a special relationship with Bristol’ he says. ‘It’s probably one of the most creative places in the country, and working with people like Joker and playing at places like Motion, it becomes one of those home from homes. Everyone’s had an afterparty and a red stripe in Bristol – if you haven’t, you’ve not lived.
‘Rider Shafique and Eva Lazarus’ significance on the album is really important to me. With Rider’s opening speech and his outro, he almost works as my narrator. He’s played a massive part in getting what the message is supposed to be across. His input isn’t just a verse, it definitely means something. And Eva is like the glue to it all also, the way that she reappears on the album, she’s a constant thread. I think she’s incredible, I really do, and Rider; I’m super blessed to have them involved.’
Swindle has previous releases on Deep Medi and Planet Mu, though he’s been with Elijah and Skilliam’s Butterz since his 2015 album Peace, Love & Music. No More Normal sees the producer team up once again with Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings, who put out his 2014 Walter’s Call EP in collaboration with Deep Medi, however, Swindle is quick to point out that Butterz are still very much a part of his process.
‘Elijah and Skilliam are a part of the journey wherever we’re at. Brownswood are a wealth of knowledge and resource and bring stuff to the table that make them a perfect partner for this record. It was more about putting the dream team together, which still includes Elijah and Skilliam quite heavily – the family got bigger.
Elijah and Skilliam are a part of the journey wherever we’re at
‘With Butterz, I think people look at it like a business, but really it’s a support system for each other. Whatever any of us are working on, we’re all aware of it and those boys were in the studio when I recorded half the album. Recording at Real World was actually Elijah’s idea.’
With more than 10 featured vocalists – many of which he’s worked with back and forth across his career – and instrumental contributions from the likes of Yussef Dayes, Nubya Garcia and Riot Jazz, the resulting album is more of a collaborative project, with Swindle at the helm steering the ship in line with the changing winds.
‘I wanted to do a full vocal album, so everything was really led by songs and ideas. Everything was built from scratch, mostly with the vocalists and musicians in the room. So a small idea that comes in 10 minutes makes progress over the next eight months and becomes something much bigger. I just follow wherever the music is leading me. I don’t imagine an end goal, I just create. I chase what feels good.’
I don’t imagine an end goal, I just create. I chase what feels good
No More Normal also marks a return to Swindle’s roots, whose introduction to music came via his blues guitarist father, giving him guitar lessons and putting him in front of a piano from a young age – a skill that later landed him a spot as the keys player for Mala’s Mala in Cuba live show – and whose record collection still greatly influences Swindle today. Although the producer has always favoured live instrumentation in his music, No More Normal takes a significant leap forward in this direction. His gurgling, grime track Drill Work was created with an eight-piece horn section, 16 strings, a bass guitar and drums. The result is a future-classic grime instrumental, but with an energy and warmth that can’t be replicated on a computer.
‘One of the early ideas of this record was “what would it be like if we didn’t cut any corners?” That turned into replacing all strings with a real quartet and working with much bigger ensembles of instrumentation. Like a lot of music that I’ve grown up listening to, I wanted to make a new record in that way.’
what would it be like if we didn’t cut any corners?
At first glance, No More Normal seems like an unusual statement from a producer who is anything but ordinary; one who has bridged a gap between genres as seemingly disparate as grime and funk. So who or what is he challenging?
‘Everything’ Swindle explains. ‘The meaning changes for me so much, because the title came before the music. It was about making our own thing and presenting it our own way – gathering up the X-Men. It’s also about challenging your own aspirations. Now that it’s out, it feels more like a statement of ambition. It’s also a statement of unity and creating our own universe and inspiring others to do the same. No More Normal means anything’s possible, if you can dream of something, you can go and get it.’
It was about making our own thing and presenting it our own way – gathering up the X-Men
Swindle is bringing the No More Normal live show to Fiddlers this month via Colston Hall Presents with support from Eva Lazarus and Bristol vocalist Javeon, and he has some surprises in store. ‘The show is definitely bigger than a regular show. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’ve got a lot of ideas and I think lots of people will be happy.’
Though Swindle is undoubtedly a serious talent, who has proved his worth and versatility time and time again over the years, No More Normal feels like a new chapter for Swindle and certainly a step up from anything he’s done previously. There is a sense of excitement and possibility in the record and in hearing him talk about it.
I’ve been constantly looking for why I’m able to do this, why I’m able to make music, what I’m supposed to do with it
‘Throughout the last 10 years, I guess I’ve been constantly looking for why I’m able to do this, why I’m able to make music, what I’m supposed to do with it… This album is almost like a realisation of that, it feels like this is the starting point of where I’m going.
‘What I can guarantee is that I’m fully committed to music and I’m going to give it everything that I’ve got, and spend every waking moment trying to create something bigger. Whatever the next step is, I’ll just wait for the music to guide me, but in terms of what the sound is, I have no idea.
‘I’m working on new music constantly. Some of it may end up as Swindle music, some of it may be other music. It’s been really good connecting with artists so closely over this project and opening up ideas of what stuff I could do with other artists.
‘I also just want to say that without the level of collaboration, people sharing something and being open to new ideas, the album wouldn’t have come together like this. So all the compliments and stuff, I want to share them – with Eva, Rider, Kojey, the musicians. I want everyone to feel like it’s ours. Also the listener and the people who are writing about it and the video directors… It started off as an album, but it’s become something different. It feels like a bigger movement.
It’s not even my album anymore, it’s ours
‘It’s not even my album anymore, it’s ours. Even when you put this interview out and someone picks it up and then interacts with the album for the first time, then you’ve just become a contributor too, do you know what I’m saying? This one’s all of ours.’
Photos by Dominika Scheibinger