Interview: Wes Nelson on life before Reality TV, Musical Influences and Nice To Meet Ya

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Wes Nelson

Wes Nelson rose to fame on the UK reality show Love Island in 2018. After successful appearances on Dancing On Ice and X Factor Celebrity, the Staffordshire born singer/songwriter has turned his attention to music. His debut single See Nobody has caught the public’s attention, garnering over 41 million streams on Spotify alone. His blend of Afrobeats and R&B, along with a super smooth melodic hook make a Wes Nelson record stand out. In this conversation we talk about his musical influences, life before reality TV and his latest single Nice To Meet Ya featuring Yxng Bane, all while reflecting on journey so far.

You’re from Staffordshire. Can you tell me what it was like for you growing up there?

I had a typical, suburban, classic family upbringing in Staffordshire. The Midlands are in between Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool so I was right in the middle of the UK. What that meant was I got to experience quite a few of the big cities in the Midlands. It’s completely different to London but, it’s a nice little location. I grew up with my brother, my mum and my dad (who are still together). My brother’s a footballer, my dad is an Engineer (I followed in his footsteps) and my mum works in a University. Yeah, it was just a nice upbringing, I had a happy childhood.

So, you are Jamaican and English. How did you manage to keep in touch with both cultures?

My whole family is really close- on my mum’s side and my dad’s side. With some families, you sway towards one side or you are closer to one side than you are the other. I think with mine, it was so even. We just spent a lot of time with each other. Both sides of the family spent time with each other. It wasn’t just I go to visit this side of the family and then I go and visit the other. All the family events would be together, which is really good and it’s nice to have that bond between both sides of the family. It just worked in perfect harmony.

Like you said, when you’re from two different places sometimes you sway more to one. Did you find it easy to relate to both sides of your family?

I did! I don’t think it was difficult. There was never any pressure on either part. I think it was easy for me because everyone got on so well, we understood each other’s cultures and what was different about them but, made it work.

What were you listening to growing up?

I loved R&B! I still love R&B but, I was obsessed with R&B growing up. I played a lot of Neyo- Year of the Gentleman was the first album that I bought. Usher, T-Pain- that era of music for me was the greatest. The newer songs you’re going to hear soon has a lot of that influence in it and I think I’m trying to bring that back in a more modern, UK way.

Nice! You mentioned T-Pain, Usher and Neyo. Who are you influences musically?

Neyo was one of my biggest early influences for sure. His vocals are crazy and I always used to copy his riffs and runs. He was a big influence growing up. Drake for his consistency, I just don’t think that guy can miss! I just want to be able to be as consistent as Drake. He constantly puts out good music. Another weird one is Hans Zimmer who is a great composer. I just love how he can put you in a place or time sonically through music. That crazy! Without any lyrics, he can put you in a space and I think that’s something I definitely want to try with my music- outside of lyrics- making people feel like they are somewhere else with sounds.

Absolutely! During lockdown, people were definitely imagining themselves in places like Jamaica and Dubai, trying to get away from everything that was going on.

Escapism-that’s what I want to achieve!

So, most people know you from a little show about love which happened to be on and Island (Love Island) but, you’ve also been on X Factor Celebrity and Dancing on Ice. What were you doing before all the reality TV?

Before everything, I was a Nuclear Assistant Design Engineer. I did Engineering. I followed in my dad’s footsteps although he did Automotive Engineering. So, a lot of science, a lot of Physics, a lot of maths and it was great. I studied it at University too.

Where did you love of music come from?

I’ve always been into music since as long as I can remember. I was constantly doing something to do with music. The first Christmas gift that I can remember was a guitar and a karaoke. Every single year onwards, it was something music related either a drum kit, or a microphone- it was always something music related. My parents couldn’t shut me up! It’s weird, everyone has a love of music. All artists have a love of music and I think everyone is something before they are an artist. You can’t be an artist before you’re an artist, you’ve got to come from somewhere. It just takes that leap of faith to actually commit to it which is what happened recently.

Your music is a lovely bend of Afrobeats and R&B. What made you want to go down the Afrobeats route instead of going strictly R&B?

I wanted to come out with energy and I think Afrobeats is full of energy. I think the drum patterns and the way that it is structed is beautiful. I was working with Ayo Beatz and we pretty much worked from scratch. I just love afrobeats but then, I also want to put some R&B flavours in there and just switch it up a little bit. I just love the jumpiness and moving to it.

Has anyone in particular inspired that Afrobeats/Afroswing sound?

I think it’s the UK as a whole. There are so many examples of people. J Hus more than anyone- the way he flows and the way he rides a beat is cold! I would say probably J Hus is the biggest inspiration.

Do you see yourself collaborating with any Afrobeats artists on the African continent?

I would love to collaborate with Burna! I just think Burna, that’s all I’m on! Weather if it is Afrobeats or anything else, definitely Burna. I just want to collaborate with Burna!

As we are slowly coming out of a pandemic, how has it been trying to navigate the whole pandemic? Artists have found it very hard to be creative and find other outlets to express themselves.

For me, it’s been better for my creativity purely because I’ve taken away all distractions. I built my studio in my house which helped massively. It’s pretty much been me waking up in the morning, going to get changed- pretty much rolling out of bed and into my studio. It is perfect to be around it all the time and not have the temptation of going to the club or doing other things. I think it’s just one of those things that you’ve got to take- it’s been a hard time for everyone, everyone’s not doing what they would usually do and we’re not finding influences from outside that we usually would but, you’ve just got to look within yourself and be comfortable in your own company. It is difficult but, it’s been good for me to take the distractions away. More of a win than a loss for me, I think.

Even though 2020 was crazy, you ended the year on a high! Your first single See Nobody came out. How did you decide on collaborating with Hardy Caprio?

That happened because I was calling a lot of people in the music world, trying to get opinions on See Nobody as I had nothing to compare it to- it’s my debut! While I’ve got these contacts that I have, I thought I might as well make the most of them. These are experts in their fields so, I might as well ask them and see what they thought. Hardy was one of them. I spoke to Hardy, I played the song and then, within 15 seconds he jumped out of his chair and was running around the room saying, “I’m spun!” I was gassed because he liked the song. Then he said “Bro, hold there. Give me 15 minutes, I’m going for a drive” and I said okay. He came back in 15 minutes and he was like “Bro, I want you send that with an empty verse.” I didn’t even ask him for a verse! Within an hour or two, he had sent back a verse and it was cold and that’s how he ended up on See Nobody.

See Nobody has over 41 million streams, it’s Gold in the UK and it’s double Platinum in Ireland. For your first single, how does that make you feel?

I mean, no pressure! To be fair, it’s one of those things that you look at and you think “Wow, that’s amazing! I’m so proud of it” which I am. I’ve just got to thank the fans for getting behind it and everyone getting behind the music. At the same time, you’ve also got to be consistent like I said earlier with Drake. Chip (Rapper) told me the song was amazing before it even came out but, he also said I need another 10 or 15. You’ve always got to be looking for more and I think it’s a lot of pressure especially now that I’ve released Nice To Meet Ya and I was like “This has got to slap.” I’m not naïve enough to think that every song is going to go double platinum- that’s not the case. I’m just happy to be making good music. I think you’ve got to focus on the music and all these plaques and accolades will follow. Just focus on the music and the rest will be fine. There’s no pressure in that sense to constantly get the same silverware. I just want to make good music and be a reputable artist.

You wrote See Nobody during the lockdown. Why did you think lockdown was the perfect time for you to make your return to music?

It was just timing really. I had so much work that I could have done with TV, I just wasn’t feeling fulfilled, it wasn’t fulfilling me. Music is the one thing that I’ve always wanted to do and really, the only reason I hadn’t was just because of confidence. That’s what I’ve gained over the last 2 or 3 years because I’ve been on camera. I just thought I’m not doing all this TV stuff anymore; I’m going to do this music stuff and I dropped every contract that I had with TV. I dropped- pretty much- most of the fashion things I was doing with influencing and just said “Let me commit to this.” I sorted out a studio and just got to work with See Nobody. For me, it was just a matter of time. Thank God I did and never looked back!

Touching on confidence, how did you manage to build your confidence?

I think for me, it was just being comfortable with myself. Understanding myself. Understanding what I’m good at, what I’m bad at and actually saying that aloud. You start to believe your own narrative in your head. If someone says you’re not doing something right, it’s easy to take their comments negatively instead looking intrinsically and thinking you could be better. When you start to look inside and be constructive with yourself, you come to terms with your flaws and then you celebrate your strengths. I’ve always been able to sing but, I’ve always kept it super quiet because I was too scared to actually just sing in front of people and as soon as it happened, I threw myself in the deep end with X Factor. The first time I had sang outside my shower was to millions of people on X Factor. I jumped straight in the deep end and I knew I could do it again after that. Even though my parents would hear me in my room singing, as soon as they opened my door, I would be silent- I never sang in front of them. They must have thought I was a weird kid, running around the house signing everywhere but, as soon as they opened the door I would stop. But yeah, the first time I ever sang was in front of millions of people.

Talking about the reality TV side of things- now that you are an artist, have you found that you have to work harder to prove yourself because you’ve had a platform already?

Yeah, it’s annoying in two ways for me. There’s been so many talented people that have come from reality TV that have tried to go into music and it hasn’t worked. So many people have done it and have not got over 20 thousand or 50 thousand streams. People look at their following and think it’s a direct conversion and that it will convert to streams. There are so many artists in the world right now that have got a bigger platform than I do or more engaged fans than I do. Sometimes I feel like we can be discredited for it because it does not convert the way people think it would but, at the same time, its super incredible to have that platform. It’s just a lot of pressure though because if it does go wrong, you’re getting slaughtered. You know, you’re on the blog pages in the morning and the caption could end up being “Wes Nelson releases music and it’s trash” can you imagine that? Or after I’ve just gotten my confidence and all that happens! It’s amazing to have but, I think with consistency and constantly making good music, no one can argue with that. Whether you come from reality TV or whether you’ve come from a singing school in London, good music will always be good music.

Wes Nelson and Yxng Bane

That’s the best thing to focus on anyway! Your latest single Nice To Meet Ya featuring Yxng Bane came out at the beginning of the month. For anyone who hasn’t heard the song, what is this song about?

To me, it’s about just flexing and feeling yourself. It’s 3 minutes of escapism in a time where everyone is not really feeling 100%, no one really been having trims until this week, no one has been getting out and seeing their friends and their family- I wanted to give you that fresh trim feeling. You walk out the barbers, you’ve got a fresh pair of air forces, you’ve got your Sundays best- that’s how I wanted everyone to feel. Feel good singing the song and celebrate the good times in a time where its not too great. That’s all I really wanted to do.

So, how did this collaboration with Yxng Bane come about?

(Yxng) Bane just suits the song! He’s a cheeky chappy- that’s who he is. The guy is always looking good, he’s got some big drip on at all times and his voice complimented the song. I think we both compliment each other so well with the way he comes in and bodies it. There was a couple of options but, Bane for sure was the one.

I think he really does suit the song too! Yxng Bane is such a great artist!

Bane is a sick guy! He’s a lovely bloke!

So, looking back on everything from your Engineering background to you secretly singing in your room right down to reality TV and where you are now as an artist, how would you define your success?

It wouldn’t be financially; I would say I’m just happy and comfortable. I think being comfortable is huge for me in terms of success. People say financially stable but, I think emotionally stable is a big win. I’m super comfortable in myself and happy. My family is in good health and wealth, I have been able to treat them to things that they would never do before and we’ve been able to go to new places and meet people that I would have never met before. I’ve had so many experiences for me just turning 23 and so many more to come. I’ve clocked that money isn’t the key to all. It helps you do things that can make you happy but, I think just everyone in good health and wealth- I’m happy with everyone around me being happy and just being able to experience new things. That’s success for me.

You’ve released See Nobody, you’ve got Nice To Meet Ya out at the moment too and as the world is opening up-everyone is looking for to June 21st, what should we expect from you moving forward?

June 21st, there will be a song that’s out. I can’t say the name just yet but it’s a jam. That’s my favourite song at the moment. It’s good. It’s very good! There is no way in hell that anyone is not dancing to that song. I refuse to believe it! Live stuff is going to be happening around then as well, expect to see me doing some live stuff. Yeah, just wait for that one song. I’m getting excited talking about it! Everyone I’ve played it for has said it’s banging!

That’s good! You have to be excited about your own music and be your biggest fan!

I am my biggest fan for sure!

Any live performances or any projects dropping anytime soon?

Yeah, I think there’s going to be a project towards the end of the year which I’m looking forward to. There’s going to be a lot of live stuff but, I am building my songs up at the moment. I don’t think people would be too happy if I just did a two-song set. So, I’m building my songs up and when I come out for lives, I want it to be a big set instead of just doing one or two songs.

Photo Credit: Universal Music Group


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