joel baker, music

Joel Baker: Interview

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Joel Baker has dropped his mixtape Bag of Dreams, his first ‘mixtape’ since his 2012 EP Long Sleeves. He played at The Bodega on the sixth of October, and we wanted to know all about his new music, his inspirations, the Nottingham grime scene and so much more…

You were discovered by Radio 1 bosses after sending your EP in an embossed parliamentary envelope – what’s the story behind this?

That is true! I recorded a single called Further Than Feelings, and emptied out my savings and got a radio plug. We got a few radio plays, but playing it at shows and seeing that people really loved it meant that I thought it could do so much better than a few local plays. So I took my chance and sent it to these guys – George and John who ran BBC Introducing, and Fearne Cotton. And the next day I get a call saying, ‘Oh my days we heard your EP and we love it, do you want to come and play? So it was sick, a good idea in retrospective… quite illegal but it was worth it!

Your mixtape Bag of Dreams has a different sound and feel from Long Sleeves – what inspired this change in your music?

A lot of it is time. I recorded Long Sleeves a while ago, when I was listening to Ben Howard, so more acousticey and cello vibes. So I think I have evolved as a person, and it has been a trend of music away from that and getting into Tom Misk inspired soul music- and I just love the beatsy hip hop stuff. I’ve always loved it and wrote verses like that, but this is more of a step musically in that direction.

You’ve described your songwriting process as a sort of emotional release – how has doing this helped you cope with situations?

I live in my head, and to be able to have that feeling of release… The relief of getting something off your chest, and it becoming this thing that you can play. It’s this thing you boxed in, that was a mess inside your chest. And it’s the best thing getting it off your chest.

Who is the voice at the end of Bag of Dreams, and what inspired you to put them on the track?

Courtney Williams, my boy! He is one of my best friends, one of my most valuable friendships. We couldn’t be more opposite, but we also have a lot in common even though we have had very different upbringings. I met him in very strange dicey circumstances three or four years ago, and we ended up becoming very good friends. He is someone that really motivates me as well – he has really changed his life around completely so he is very inspiring to talk to. Whenever I’m a bit like “Oh I haven’t had a very good week”, he’s like “Well how many songs have you written?”, and I’ll be like “Uhm, two?”, and he’ll be like “That’s not good enough! We need four!”. I’ll send him a song and he’ll be like “We need to make it bigger!”. He just inspires me. I think, some of my friends are in the music industry and we can get bubbled into that mentality and just think ‘oh this is just how it is’, and complain a bit. But he is none of that. He has zero tolerance for complaining, zero tolerance for feeling sorry for myself. He is just like get on with it, be the best you can be. He really believes in me, so I wanted to honour him with that for that friendship. There have been lots of moments when I have felt like giving up and he has really helped me, so it was fitting to put him in that.

You hinted on Twitter that you’d be interested in supporting Taylor Swift – what other artists would you like to play alongside?

Right now I’d love to play alongside Anderson Pack who is really cool, John Mayer is a big favourite of mine and I’d love to play with him, Ed Sheeran wouldn’t be bad… Who else do I love at the moment? A lot of rappers. I’d love to support someone like J-Cole.

You’ve worked with producers like Maths Time Joy and Dan Priddy – what have different producers brought to your songs that have really enhanced them?

When you’re working with someone it’s completely a 50/50 thing, so they can either be make or break, they can either give you the worst day in the world or the best day in the world. It all depends on how your vibe works together. Maths has got a unique vibe, and that’s why we wanted him on the mixtape, plus he is on five or six songs on the coming EP. He knows what he likes, what sounds he likes, and he is very sure of himself and his sounds. It was great collaborating with him, and I love working with people.

Further than Feelings was played on The Only Way Is Essex – what other show or shows would you like to see your music played on?

That was amazing, I’m so proud of that. I’m more of a Made in Chelsea guy, although I haven’t watched it for a year, I love that programme. I always wanted my songs to be on Teen American dramas. Growing up I was obsessed with The OC – Ryan, Steph and the gang – and when you just get the right scene and the right moment, and there’s that conflict and you like gasp. And that songs hits and takes it to another level. I would love my songs to be in moments like that/

You are a Nottingham-born artist – what do you miss from Nottingham when you are away promoting and touring?

Nottingham has very distinct vibes. I feel it has more unique places, that are run by one person and that venue is unique. But then it loses that a bit, even the ones are boutiquey are actually chains. It’s a hard thing to fake being unique. There’s a community here, fairs and German Markets. If I was to spend half a day, and you can see the weirdest things.

What local artists are you a fan of?

I love Addy Solomon. Jake Bugg is unbelievably talented with an unbelievable voice and is so, so good. There’s a really cool rapper here called Snowy as well. I think the grime guys need to rep us more here. We have a big grime culture here, but we need to have that level of excellence. Birmingham has broken through. Last few years, people like Mist are some of the biggest names in grime right now, which used to be unheard of outside of London! Obviously you have Bugzy Malone from Manchester who is a big player at the grime table, and Nottingham needs one of those. Somebody needs someone to step up, and I’m really excited for that to happen. I also love Saint Raymond, I’ve been on a couple of tours with him and I know him from when I was younger.

What advice would you give to local bands trying to make it onto the music scene?

Work hard. Keep doing gigs, keep going. If it’s something you really want to do, you’ll do it anyway. Sometimes you can put all of your hopes into one moment or one gig when you think ‘Yes, this is it, this is my make or break, this is my up or down’, and it never is. It is never your up or your down, lots of little straws seem they don’t have an impact, but after a while, they do add up. That’s what I have learnt.

You can catch Joel Baker on his Coffee House Sessions tour, where he will be playing at the Nottingham Trent Student Union on the 23rd of October.

By Eve Smallman

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