“I never thought about making money out of music, I never even thought about playing live before I moved to Liverpool.” We’re walking along Crosby Beach with XAMVOLO, it’s a disturbingly warm October morning, the sun glares through obtrusively from the clouds that barely obscure its unwelcome glow. The sea breeze offers glimpses of solace from the uncharacteristic mugginess. Though the day is still young, it’s been an early start for XamVolo, who has been working in the studio prior to our meeting. It seems as though he never stops, despite his calm, cool and collected demeanour. It’s only been two years since his last interview with Bido Lito! but an awful lot has changed.
Quite unlike any other artist on Merseyside at present, his sound is one that encapsulates the spirit, soul and pop sensibilities of the greats and marries that with his love of weird leftfield experimentalism. It’s an amalgamation of an eclectic set of influences, diverse as RnB and hip hop all the way through to indie and rock. A songwriter, a producer and rather the enigmatic figure, his lusciously recorded blend of passions is one that has captivated audiences from the very first tracks that he uploaded to SoundCloud, made on his laptop. Becoming obsessed with music in his teens instead of going to lectures, the architecture student spent his time watching tutorials on mixing and recording tips.
Already an artist standing out from the crowd, in 2016 he signed a deal with Decca, part of the Universal Music Group. “They’re quite different to the way that most major labels work in that they’re quite keen to push the weirder, more leftfield stuff. It’s not really been about creating a product for a certain person.” Working on a debut album with the label, the full-length medium has allowed him more space to experiment and spread his wings. Though keeping his cards close to his chest on the full details of the project, he delves a little deeper into what we can expect: “I can’t say too much, but what I can say is that it has a lot to do with desire and ambition and what people would do given a chance. So, I set my focus on that and gave myself a primary character along with a few others. All with paths interwoven.”
Playing around with concepts seems bold ground for an artist making their debut but Xam isn’t any ordinary artist. He pushes the boundaries and takes risks. “One of the reasons why I feel that people don’t give music their full time and attention – and I’m not saying this about everyone – is that some writers don’t really care about adding anything new to the table. They’re too hung up on their precedents, and names and pigeonholing the music. I feel that a lot of people who have resonated with me are artists who have tried to push boundaries or been sonically weird, bringing something new to the table.” Some of the greatest artists of all time have played around with the concept album, with everyone from The Beatles and Bowie to Kanye and Frank Ocean, experimenting with the format. It’s not a pursuit for the faint hearted.
“If you see someone writing a concept album around themselves then it barely is one. I could go online and figure that out rather quickly. Even if I do use the word ‘I’ on occasion in the album, it’s not about me. There’s so much more to talk about in the world than us.” In a world where privacy no longer seems a human right and where our every move both physically and virtually is tracked, Xam’s desire for distance between himself and his music makes perfect sense. It also adds to his mystery as a performer. Today, as he says, when you can find out almost anything online, sometimes less is more and the flickers of light in the dark are more desirable than a full blast of bright white light which exposes everything. It adds texture. “My truth isn’t so important that it needs to be etched into vinyl. Instead, this project can be interpreted by anyone in any way that they want to and I’ve always written like that. We see more than we are.”
Much like his previous output, his new material has seen him work predominantly by himself, though he takes the opportunity to receive feedback and to collaborate seriously. The chance to fly to LA to collaborate with producers and songwriters seems to be have had a profound effect on him. “I’ve learned a lot from a lot of people in the past 14 months.” The time spent alone nurturing his talent appears to have been just as beneficial for him. “Recording and producing by myself has been great. It’s been like a long-arse course. I feel like I’ve learnt a lot just being in that room. If I was to talk to the person I was two years ago, I would teach him some serious tricks. All that time experimenting is great and you’ll be learning, learning, learning and then there will be that one trick which just revolutionises everything.”
With the industry less willing to hand out money to emerging artists, those signed to majors have become fewer and fewer, and this is a notion which has definitely embedded itself in Xam’s head. “I don’t think I’ve spent this long on anything before. I’ve spent fourteen months on it. I’ve been thinking about how albums have a long shelf life rather than being a flash in the pan. If this was the last piece of music I ever made, what would people think of me? This is something I wouldn’t have been comfortable with before but, now there is a body pushing me, I have to think about how myself and my music will be perceived. I don’t know how many chances I’m going to get to create a project under these circumstances again so it’s kind of [about] how to best take advantage of that.”
The influence the Internet has had on the distribution of music over the past ten years alone has been huge, and the opportunities to record an album with the backing of a major label are few and far between. Despite SoundCloud opening the door to the music industry for him, the rise of the streaming platform also means that music is more accessible than ever before, making it that little bit harder to become noticed, to stand out, for your music to make a difference. As you’d expect from an artist so considered, Xam is not taking any chances on being missed. “People will go and see a film about pretty much anything, but with music it seems a lot harder to gain an attentive audience. So, I’ve tried to take elements of what draws people to the other art forms and apply them to this album.”
It’s rare to find an artist taking such a wide angled approach to how best to survive in one of the most ruthless industries on the planet. Trying to learn from other artistic forms and finding out their secrets to captivating an audience creates a lineage between Xam and some of the pop culture’s most visionary artists who’ve drawn inspiration from film, art and literature. It also shows his determination to stand out. To grab the opportunity proper, he has had to think outside his own artistic medium and thrive for success.
As our walk ends we are still not entirely certain as to what to expect from Xam’s debut but with the little he’s told us we anticipate it eagerly. His signing to a major hasn’t seen him become complacent: it’s obvious to see that he’s still keen to push boundaries and propel his music forward. Reluctant to let his music fade into obscurity, it appears he’s still trying to break the mould. A true renaissance artist, he’s considered every aspect from the art through to the business, fighting and kicking to stand head and shoulders above the rest. Looking back at his past catalogue and having chatted about his plans for the future today, we’re sure that XamVolo is a name that won’t be lost.
XamVolo plays the Bido Lito! Social in association with Outsiders Store at District on 30th November. Find out more here. Feels Good is out now.