Finding your voice is a necessary and often difficult experience for many artists. The process becomes even more fraught if others seek to define you before you’ve had the chance. Such was the case for vocalist and songwriter Wayne Snow, who spent his formative years justifying his artistic experimentation. Then he moved to Berlin and settled on the minimal soul-inflected electronics of his debut record, Freedom TV.
The LP follows on from several collaborations with producer Max Graef and two EPs – Red Runner (2014) and Rosie (2015), splicing together elements of soul, bruk, grime, house and jazz with Snow’s gentle falsetto to create a complex narrative that reflects the complexities of a displaced life. Here, Snow reflects on the importance of spontaneity, the impact his surroundings have had on his creativity, and tells us how he found the freedom to create such a self-assured debut.
Ammar Khalia: How did you get into making music?
Wayne Snow: I was born in Nigeria and when I was young there was always music playing in the house, mainly American soul classics like Al Green and Marvin Gaye. When I was a bit older, my family moved to France and I started playing guitar and messing around with different sounds. I picked up the piano too and began to compose later on, but it was all pretty gradual.
Ammar: What kind of music were you making at first?
Wayne: Oh man, I was making all kinds of weird stuff – electronics, covers of Sade, I even got into a classic rock band, I was just messing around! I didn’t know I had a voice at first but one time I was vibing over some Aretha Franklin songs with a friend and I found myself singing in falsetto and I liked what was coming out. After that my sound started to take shape and I immersed myself in listening to vocalists who sing in falsetto too like Musiq Soulchild, D’Angelo and the whole nu-soul scene.
Ammar: You’re based in Berlin now – how did that move come about and how does the music scene there differ from France?
Wayne: The problem I had when I was in France was that no matter what I did, they always put me in the box of being an ‘African musician’. It was very disturbing because as an artist you are influenced by your environment, so I didn’t understand why to them I was first and foremost a Nigerian artist when I had been living in France for years. I always had to define myself, there was too much talking about myself! So, I came to Berlin with the need to put the music first, for people to listen to the music and then afterwards get to know the artist. I also moved because I started falling in love with synthesisers and that machine-like 80s electronic sound. To me, Berlin was like Detroit, a machine city, so it seemed a perfect fit for what I was into musically. When I arrived in Berlin I didn’t have to justify anything to anyone, I just did it.
“To me, Berlin was like Detroit, a machine city, so it seemed a perfect fit for what I was into musically.”
Ammar: So Berlin is more open to self-definition?
Wayne: Yes, definitely. The city is really connected and what I was doing musically seemed to make sense to most people here. I’m seeking out a newness, I’m making something very connected to my time.
Ammar: Did your collaborations with Max Graef come about through Berlin’s connectivity then?
Wayne: Yes, it’s the magic of connection! I met Max through a friend, Julius Conrad, and we listened to some of the tracks he was making for his debut record, Rivers of the Red Planet. I picked up a microphone straight away and recorded Running within an hour – things moved very fast. We weren’t talking much, we were just playing with sounds and recording. Through Max I then met the other two producers on my album, Nu Guinea and Neue Grafik.
Ammar: Is all of your songwriting as fast-paced as it was with Max?
Wayne: I love writing spontaneously, I work and practise every day so once I’m in the studio I put down everything that comes to mind immediately. In the studio it’s pretty do-or-die and everything that I release comes from that sense of emergency – that’s why it’s important for me to work with producers who are very fast. I also noticed that when I work on tracks alone I tend to be too melancholy and right now I want to share my music with many people because I spend enough time alone thinking and practising.
“I’m still looking for some spirituality in music, something that cries out and speaks to what is happening in the world, especially in electronic music.”
Ammar: What are the ideas behind the record’s title, Freedom TV?
Wayne: I have problems in identifying myself artistically since I’m not English or American, I have instead a vision of myself as a world citizen. In my music I try to express that sense of identity-conflict, the feeling of detachment from being wholly African and trying to find your place. The title references a space where you can appease yourself and speak freely about your emotions. ‘Freedom’ also refers to the Zimbabwean poet Freedom Nyamubaya, who was an incredible fighter, activist and writer; the song, ‘Freedom R.I.P’ is an homage to her and quotes some of her verses. Music doesn’t just come out of nothing, there’s pain in our observations on the world and there’s something really uncanny in the world itself, I’m just trying to find the freedom to express that in music.
Ammar: What projects are you working on now?
Wayne: I’m working on the live show and making a trio with Neue Grafik to go and play the music on the road. We’re coming to London in June and I’m very excited about that. One of the tracks I’m proudest of on the record is ‘The Rhythm’ and that was inspired by my brothers in the grime scene there. What I love about London and the UK now is that raw energy where so many styles are mixed together. I’m also working on the next album; I like magical realism and I want to add that impression of a dream laid upon a dream to my music. I’m still looking for some spirituality in music, something that cries out and speaks to what is happening in the world, especially in electronic music.
Wayne Snow’s debut album ‘Freedom TV’ is out now via Tartelet Records.