Interview: Gabzy on Music, Alter Egos, Life in Lockdown and the Malone EP

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Gabzy is a multi-genre artist who has been paving his own way in the music industry. Emerging on the UK music scene in 2016, Gabzy has definitely made his mark. After the release of a string of singles including; Coco featuring BOJ and Summertime featuring Jamaican Dancehall artist Gyptian, Gabzy gained attention with the release of the collaborative EP Summers (with American producer Melvitto). His ultra-soothing vocals and relatable lyrics, combined with cutting-edge production make a Gabzy record stand out in the crowd. In this sit-down conversation, we talk music, life in lockdown, navigating life as a British-born Nigerian, and his latest body of work- Malone, all while getting to know the man behind the music.

If I asked you to describe your music in one word, what would it be?

A vibe.

Why did you pick that word?

I feel like it’s just a reflection of me. I feel like I’m a vibe. I’m just chilled and laid back and it shows in the music

You are of Nigerian origin. Did you grow up in England or were you brought up in Nigeria at any point?

I grew up in Peckham (South East London)- the land of the legends!

How have you navigated being British- Nigerian? I feel like it is such a unique experience.

Where I am from is very multicultural and there are a lot of Nigerians in Peckham. We just relate to each other a lot more. I feel like it’s a good experience to just be Nigerian. I wouldn’t want to be from anywhere else.

So, how have you kept in touch with your Nigerian culture?

Just being brought up in an African household, I guess. I go to Nigeria not as often as I should but, I still go back. I really love the culture, the music and watch a lot of Nollywood films.

What’s your favorite Nollywood film out of curiosity?

You know what, I grew up watching a lot of Aki and Paw Paw. For me, their movies are like ‘My Wife and Kids’. I can watch- pretty much- every single movie from them. What about you?

I really like Blackberry Babes. I thought the film was hilarious! Now, moving on to music, who are your musical inspirations?

There’s a lot. I grew up listening to Meek Mill- he used to motivate me every day on my way to school. He’s my favorite rapper. I like Drake too. From Nigeria I would say Burna Boy, Wizkid- I have a few. I love Neyo. Neyo was one of my favorite artists growing up. Frank Ocean as well. There are a few.

You mentioned Wizkid and Burna Boy but, who are the Nigerian artists that have influenced your sound in particular?

I would say Burna Boy and Wizkid because I listened to their albums growing up.

How have you managed to navigate the pandemic in terms of recording, writing, and maybe even shooting videos? What’s that been like for you?

I feel like it’s been kind of easier than I expected. I can still record; I can still do photoshoots and video shoots and stuff. Yeah, it’s been easier than I expected.

 

So, you have been making music since 2016. Am I correct?

Since 2014. The first song you probably ever heard from me would have been in 2016.

Okay so 2014. You’ve collaborated with Gyptian, BOJ, Ayo Jay and Abra Cadabra. How did those collaborations come about?

So, the Ayo Jay and Gyptian collaboration. I was signed to a label (One Nation Group) in America in 2014. I went out there to live for some time. I was back and forth from the UK to the US making music and perfecting my sound. That’s where I actually met Melvitto. Ayo (Jay) and I used to live together and that’s how that song (Mo Da Mo) came about. We were under the same label. Gyptian heard the song (Summertime) and he actually wanted it but, we managed to get him on the song. Fast-forward to the Abra Cadabra collaboration (Star Man), his team just reached out, we got in the studio and made a few songs. It was a good vibe and they’re good people.

You mentioned Melvitto. How did you both meet?

When I went to America, he was signed to the label as well as a producer. I used to be at his house a lot just recording. A song like Stay was recorded in his Brooklyn apartment.

How did you guys build the chemistry you have? It’s clear that you both have such great chemistry when it comes to making music together.

I feel like it’s just because we’ve been working together for so long. I know him and he knows me. I could send him vocals and he will make a beat around the vocals I send. He’ll make what I would expect from him around what I send to him. I just feel like us working together a lot has helped to build what we have.

You both have really good synergy then. You just understand each other.

Yeah definitely!

Moving onto the Summers EP. This project is really different from your earlier releases. What inspired the change in sound?

To be honest with you, I was always making heartbreak songs from before but, I just didn’t release them. Melvitto has always told me that if I make these heartfelt songs or songs that touch people’s hearts they will work with my voice. He’s always been urging me to do that and I felt like Summers was the perfect opportunity for us to do that. To be honest, the project was actually supposed to be called Girls Like Me because that was the first song we recorded from the project. I made 4 Nothin’ and it changed the whole concept for the project and we decided to run with that storyline. So, it starts with 4 Nothin’ which is heartbreak, to Girls Like Me. The way people hear it is different from the way we made it. Girls Like Me is me saying that I got my heart broken but, girls like me anyway. I’m out here! I’m partying! We go into Come Over which was meant as a way to get over the girl. Then, Still Think Of You is me actually coming to terms with the fact that I like this girl but even though we’ve broken up, I’m still thinking about her a month later.

What were you going through musically and mentally at this time?

I was going through things but, I wouldn’t say I was going through heartbreak. 4 Nothin’ wasn’t my story, it was my friend’s story. When he was telling me this story, a lightbulb went off in my head and the words that kept coming up were ‘for nothing’. You know, took her to The Shard for nothing. Bought her these shoes for nothing. Things just kept coming up.

You’ve talked about 4 Nothin’ but I also wanted to touch on another song on this project- Girls Like Me. When I listen to Girls Like Me, the first thing I thought of was this old-school Garage song called Babycakes (performed by 3 Of A Kind). Did you sample Babycakes for Girls Like Me?

That was definitely sampled. They (3 Of A Kind) actually reached out to me. I always loved that melody and I don’t know why no one ever thought to sample it because it’s so catchy. I felt like the beat was the perfect opportunity to bring that back.

Just to touch a bit more on Girls Like Me, what was it like recording it? Was it just vibes, did you sit down and write lyrics or did the lyrics come naturally?

My process is I just go in, listen to the beat, freestyle the melodies and then pick the melodies I like. I just happened to have freestyled Girls Like Me with the Babycakes sample. I liked it and kept it in there.

Your latest release Malone came out at the end of last year. Congratulations on that! It’s such a great project. For the people who haven’t listened to the EP, what is it about?

Summers was the short-term effects of heartbreak. Malone is the long-term effects of heartbreak. We go into As Friends which is me saying I’ve learned from before and I’m not trying to get into another relationship right now. I’m chilling and doing me. Then, we go into Must Be Sprung which is like- I’m still Gabzy but I’m Malone. I’m still out here. Brazil is the fun and vibey track. Malone Interlude starts to reveal this other side to me. We go into Toxic which is me looking in the mirror and coming to terms with what heartbreak has done and what it has turned me into.

So, would you say Malone is technically your toxic alter ego?

Yes! Definitely, my alter ego! Gabzy is sweet. He tells you what you want to hear. Malone is the opposite- he tells you how he feels. He might hurt your feelings in the process of doing that but, that’s how he feels.

I picked out a couple of the songs from this project- As Friends, Brazil and Malone Interlude. I want to start with Malone Interlude. Where did the inspiration for that come from? When I listen to it, the first thing I think of is looking at myself in the mirror and talking to myself- like I’m having an internal conflict with myself. So, what inspired Malone and, why did you feel it was important to have Malone Interlude right in the middle of the project?

Malone for me is like you’re with someone, everything’s rosy but she’s noticing certain patterns and she wants to dig deeper herself- she wants to know not “who are you?” but, “what is this side to you?” Malone is releasing that other side and letting the person you’re dealing with know that there’s this other side to me that you haven’t met and you might not like it but it is what it is.

With As Friends, would you say you were Malone or Gabzy on that track?

I feel like As Friends was a mixture of both. As Friends for me is humorous- it’s not even like it’s funny but, it’s true and relatable. It’s still Malone as well as Malone wants to have fun. It might not be what you want but let’s have fun in the process. So, it’s a mix of Gabzy and Malone.

Moving on to the only song with a feature, Brazil. Why did you choose to feature Blanco?

I feel like his sound is unique. He has his own sound, he’s in his own lane and is just doing him. I’m a fan of his work and I just felt like he would be perfect for it when Melvitto sent me the beat. It was a mixture of his world and my world and I feel like we just made it work.

What was the writing process like for Brazil?

The writing process for this was the same. I just went into the studio and freestyled, picked out the melodies I liked, and just put the words to them.

Was the Malone EP something you had planned to do or did it come about because you felt like you hadn’t dropped music in a while and you felt like it would be a good time to put out a project?

To be honest, the plan wasn’t to drop the EP yet but, you know, COVID-19 came and I felt like that was the perfect opportunity for me to work on the project. It’s even more special to me because it is my first Gabzy project. The other one is with Melvitto and as great as they say we are together; it was an opportunity for me to stand on my own two feet.

Was that scary for you?

Not really because it was always a leap I was going to have to take. I feel like a lot of people get lost in “Melvitto and Gabzy” and putting the names together (which is great) but, Gabzy is his own artist as well so, it was always a leap I was going to have to take eventually.

Looking back on your journey from the moment you started making music to where you are now, how would you define your success?

I feel like I’ve grown so much. Musically and in terms of the actual music business. I feel like I’ve learned so much, I have gotten better and grown in confidence in terms of making what I want to make. I will sum it all up with the word “growth”.

Touching on what you said about “growing in confidence” when I look at you as an artist, you seem like you’re very low-key and mysterious. Did you decide to make that a part of the Gabzy brand?

I feel like all of that is intentional. I wouldn’t say that has anything to do with confidence, it is just part of the Gabzy brand- like “who is he?”

What should we look forward to from you this year?

Definitely more music. They’re saying Boris (Johnson) is going to open everything up again so hopefully more shows and another project.

Would that be in the summer or closer to the end of the year?

Definitely closer to the end of the year but singles in between that.

Are there any collaborations we should look forward to?

Yeah definitely!

I saw a snippet of you and Odeal in the studio recently. Whatever song that was sounded amazing! Is that going to come out anytime soon?

Yeah, hopefully soon. We’re still in the process of finishing that off.

I’m definitely looking forward to that! Just to end off, do you have any advice for up-and-coming artists?

Just believe in yourself regardless of what anyone says. If you feel like you’ve got it, keep doing your thing. Keep working and keep perfecting your sound because there’s no end to perfecting it and just be yourself!

Stylist – Hannah-Marie Mayer
Photographer – Latoya Fits Okuneye
Clothing – Daily Paper

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