“Telling the story of Black Englishness isn’t something that stops at the narrative or in the rap itself” – In Talks With Leeds’ ATO

Elle Evans

By Elle Evans

Elle Evans

25 Aug 2021

Hailing from the Northeast of England, more specifically Leeds, ATO over the years has proved himself as a force to be reckoned with. From collaborating with Vic Mensa, to selling out shows, the championed artist has recently followed through with his brand new and highly awaited ‘Side A’ EP.

Spread across 5 tracks with no guest appearances, ‘Side A’ is a fluid project that pushes sound in multiple directions, making it impossible to coincide with any given genre. Housing pre-released singles “Muscle Twitch” and his recent digi-toned drop named, “No Caroline”, ATO takes the listener on a vulnerable journey as he uncovers the chaos that came with growing up Black in the Northeast of England, mental health, discovering his identity, and more.

Mixtape Madness got the opportunity to catch up with ATO over the phone for an in-depth chat about his journey thus far, being vulnerable, men’s mental health, his latest ‘Side A’ EP and more. Make sure you tap in below to see what he had to say!

How have you been finding the past year or so as an artist? Would you say it’s helped shaped your music in any way going forward?

It has really motivated me and made me focus to get things in line. Before the pandemic, I was without music and when we went into lockdown, I thought this would be a good time to start working with different people ironically, and so I hit up different producers.

A producer called Steve Cooper hit me up with a beat pack and the first beat he sent me ended up as “Muscle Twitch” and it resonated with me immediately. In that same week EDEN introduced me to an artist named singular balance who’s based in Tokyo, he’s an incredible producer so he ended up getting involved and working with us on new songs, so between us all we created a virtual bubble and we depended on each other a lot creatively through lockdown. Despite the fact we were all based in different parts of the world, we shared ideas and it was great. low dose ivermectin for heart worm treatment Between May of last year and October we got this whole project finished. We felt freer, there was less pressure, and perspective to experiment with new ideas in a time where things were so uncertain. It gave me the confidence to step out of my comfort zone, and in turn established a new comfort zone that pushed the sound forward.

Let’s take it back to the beginning, talk to me through your upbringing and your introduction to music?

I found my creative foundation in drawing and writing stories, it wasn’t necessarily music. I found my strengths in that as opposed to music, it wasn’t until I got older and came across Eminem’s ‘The Marshall Mathers’ LP and 50 Cent’s ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin’’ project. Those albums got me excited about expressing myself through music and enabled me to build more of a relationship with music over time. That was my outlet, but it was always a muse of expressing myself because that was something I struggled to do when I was younger. I was on only child growing up in York who always saw myself as a bit of an outsider, I always saw music as a form of therapy. Even now I am very conscious of taking it back to that origin and keeping that authenticity there. ivermectina gotas dosis

Are there any key artists that have helped shape your sound recently?

When I was around 15, I was influenced by Ghostpoet, his perspective was progressive and telling of a different Black experience and I’ve felt that more recently with Blood Orange. Those artists have been quite influential to me over the last few years.

You kicked off the year with “Muscle Twitch”, the lead single for your forthcoming project,’Side A’. What was it about this track that made it the initial taste of the EP? I read you wrote this track in an hour…

It was partly because I had such a raw relationship with the instrumental. The title of the beat was “Muscle Twitch” which resonated with me anyway because I had a year of experiencing severe muscle twitches from anxiety due to my family’s health. As soon as the beat started, I let a bunch of stuff out that I didn’t know I needed to. how often to take ivermectin paste I thought it was the perfect song to express where I’m at and give an insight into where this project is going.

You aren’t one to shy away from your thoughts or feelings as demonstrated in your music. What are your thoughts regarding men’s mental health and it still being a taboo subject?

I think men are struggling in today’s age and there is still a lack of understanding as to how we can deal with this. Some of the approaches are a little bit linear regarding “men need to talk more”, they need to understand that we need to talk more with the right people and in the right spaces. There needs to be a continued conversation about being open and normalising feelings that we all have. I get a lot of DMs from people speaking to me about how they feel and sometimes I feel frustrated that I’m not able to help them more. From what I can see, they take a lot of inspiration from being creative. We as a society need to support young men and build a confidence within them and make it normal to talk and feel without judgement. It can be hard sometimes and young men can feel lost within that. There are a lot of pressures being a young man in this time and it’s important for them to feel like they can reach out to people more.

I think it starts from a point of education, when I was in school, I didn’t do well and I found myself with GCSE’s, I didn’t do my A Levels and I was lost for a few years. Luckily, I was directed into a foundation course at a university that allowed me to have a second go. A lot of young men wouldn’t be aware of these initiatives surrounding second chances, or the privilege to do it based on certain circumstances. It’s important to build safety nets for young men in society so if they make difficult or wrong choices, or if things go wrong in their adolescence, they can get a second chance.

Do you find it easier or harder being vulnerable in your music?

I find it quite liberating. Whilst I feel very alone with the feelings that I have; I am reminded by how we are all going through similar things. We are all very connected and it makes me feel at peace with who I am knowing that I am not completely alone with what I am going through.

You recently shared the visuals for “No Caroline” – tell me a bit more about this single and your intentions behind this release?

I originally wrote the first half when I woke up one morning. More recently, I’ve been writing as soon as I wake up before I am influenced by the day. I had the melody down and Steve Cooper switched it up and introduced a very traditional Hip-Hop breakdown halfway through. In that section I felt motivated to delve into the depths of a dysfunctional past.

When there was an opportunity to spit on the second half there was something in me that wanted to understand why I was conveying toxic masculine traits in the first half. In the second half I wanted to dive deeper into my past, from my relationship with therapy, my parent’s illnesses, my friends’ mental illnesses, and the chaos around growing up Black in the Northeast of England and how that affects us to this day. It took me about a week to do.

Sonically, the EP explores various routes and it’s quite hard to pin it into one box! How did you want to approach it sonically?

Telling the story of Black Englishness isn’t something that stops at the narrative or in the rap itself. A new perspective also pushes rap music sonically and visually, in reflecting my experiences growing up it has pushed them into uncharted territories. There was no real intention behind how we were going to sound other than we wanted it to feel unique, authentic, and reflect an alternative perspective.

How would you go about describing your sound?

I spent an hour thinking about this the other week! I came down to Art-Rap or Future R&B…I think!

You close out the EP with “Nobu”, which is my personal favourite. Having touched on you discovering your identity, mental health, and the other trials and tribulations you have overcome. This song seems to have a more refreshed perspective and outlook. Is this what we can expect to see on ‘Side B’?

That’s a really good question! The first half of the EP is very retrospective, looking back into the past and dealing with it. With “Nobu”, this song is more optimistic, forward thinking, and content with the present. I let go of feeling insignificant and realised my potential. I realised that I am enough as I am, to live more in the moment and move on. A lot of things that I was battling have recovered in one way or another, while the song on the surface feels quite shallow there is a lot of meaning behind it. It’s a real butterfly moment into ‘Side B’.

What’s your favourite track from ‘Side A’ and why?

It would either be “No Caroline” or “Nobu”. “No Caroline” feels like a relief to be able to get that off my chest and it enabled me to make a song like “Nobu” where I could start looking forward. I felt a lot freer when I made that song, the relationship between the two tracks goes hand in hand.

Putting the music aside, what do you like to do for fun?

I love to play basketball; I am always trying to go out and play with my mates! I love cycling! I moved to London the other day and I didn’t feel like I had moved in properly until I got my bike! I like to walk a lot as well, that started through lockdown! I do that for around 2 hours a day.  

What more can we expect to see from you this coming year?

I have my live shows coming up which I am excited about! I’m doing one in Leeds and London!

Oh yeah! Is there a song you are looking forward to performing most?

Good question! “No Caroline” would be fun but also quite daunting, rapping all those long verses! *laughs*

Keep up to date with all things ATO via his Instagram here. Listen to ‘Side A’ below.