In Talks With London’s Ascending R&B Star – Joey XL
4 Nov 2020
Hailing from East London, Joey XL was raised into music from a young age, from going to Church and playing the drums to his younger brother JVCK JAMES flourishing into a championed singer – music runs through his blood, quite literally! Breaking onto the scene back in 2016 with ‘Forever Is A Lie’ and ‘Ready’, Joey XL has done nothing but grow since. Writing for a wide range of artists from across the globe, the rising singer and songwriter is best known for his intimate wordsmith and butter-like vocals. Kick starting the new decade in full force, Joey XL has released a string of refined and polished singles; gearing up for the release of a forthcoming project, we caught up with the rising star to find out more about him….
Firstly, how have you been? How have you found this pandemic and lockdown so far?!
I have been finding it quite difficult I can’t lie, I have been spending a lot of time with myself and it’s been a big reality check. A lot of the time we use distractions to mask what is actually happening in our own lives and for me, because I have been with myself a lot I was experiencing and understanding myself more. It’s been a rough process when it came to creating, I make a lot of music every single year but out of all the years, this has been the least amount of music I have made. I haven’t been consistent throughout the year, I stopped making music for 3 months and then went back to making music for 2 months and stopped again – that’s never happened before, it’s definitely been a rough year but it’s also had it’s blessings as well.
Do you think that’s because we’ve had nothing to do, so you’ve effectively been forced to sit in your room and make it?
That’s exactly how I feel, because my studio set up is in my room so when I wake up that is the first thing I see. It’s just the fact that, I had to stay in my house and there wasn’t really other options and it mentally clogged me, so I felt trapped in my room, as well as in my mind. There was so much happening in the world, it was really hard for me to take it in. I can’t complain man, when lockdown happened a lot of artists were stressing about going to the studio and that was never a concern of mine, I don’t have a problem recording! I’ve been quarantining my whole life basically but when someone tells me I have to quarantine I’m like “Wait, now I feel trapped. I don’t have to do this, I do it by choice usually”, you know what I’m sayin?
I read that you grew up in East London, could you tell us a bit more about your upbringing and how you were introduced to music from a young age?
I was born into Church, my parents are very religious so I was exposed to a lot of Gospel music. With Gospel music, a lot of music in general like R&B, it all derives from Gospel music. A lot of the bigger stars like Whitney Houston and Beyoncé, they all come from Church. I was into music from young, I started playing the drums when I was 3, by the time I was 10 I was the drummer for my Church, I was the wavey little drummer which was cool! *laughs*
Later on down the line, my brother was really into singing, my brother is JVCK JAMES init. When I was 15 or 16 I thought I was the best A&R in the world, I thought my brother was the best singer in the UK but no one knows yet, so them times I started writing. I’m more introverted, I can be extroverted at times, but I keep myself to myself, so I express myself through art and that’s always how it’s been. I used to write poetry and spoken word, my brother kept on singing and I thought let me turn these into songs, I have song structure, I have melody – I had everything to a t. Music was just my life subconsciously but at the time consciously, so I started writing songs for my brother and he used to sing them, there were some cool ones we released back in the day before anyone knew him. Then I started to venture out and started writing for other people, my output of songs was way higher than people recording my songs, and because I couldn’t sing myself I would ask James (JVCK JAMES) to sing the song and I’d try and give it to someone else – so it was two different processes before I had even got a song back.
Describe your sound in 3 words…
Meticulous, rich and blue!
You have been doing music for a hot second, would you say that the release of ‘Forever Is A Lie’ back in 2016 acted as a break-out track for you?
I recorded ‘Forever Is A Lie’ and I kept on playing it, I had a feeling that it was timeless, even though I can’t say that because it has to stand the test of time. But for me, the song lyrics “Forever is a lie, were in temporary times”, that was something that could resonate with a lot of different situations as well as the current situation we were living in in 2016, right now it feels like the world is ending and back then it felt like the world was on the way to ending. People could relate to this when they were referring to a relationship, or a death, it’s timeless lyrics and it was just a timeless sound for me.
I reached out to these mixing engineers that mix Chance The Rapper, SZA and Smino, a whole Chicago collective init, I asked them how much they charge for mixing because I wanted it the song to be mixed sick, they asked me to send it to them and they said they charge $400-600 dollars per track but they were mind blown by the track. I kept saying I had never released music before, this was the first track I recorded for myself and they said they would do it for free, they took it and then I put it out. It was a weird one because when I put out ‘Forever Is A Lie’, it got such good reception that I didn’t know what to do with it, on SoundCloud loads of producers and people started hitting me up asking for the next song, I felt the pressure because I didn’t expect this to happen! I didn’t think of the next step, I just had the first part!
Since then, you’ve been releasing music but not as much as you have this year alone and writing for others! Could you talk us through what you’ve been doing up until now?
I then released ‘Ready’, my friend Kye who I didn’t know at that time, reached out to me on SoundCloud and sent me some beats, I made the song and I took a while to release it because I was too self-conscious when it came to my music, but I released it and that’s the song that most people seem to know me for. That’s the song that put my name into some sort of place where people wanted to hear more music from me – it’s one of my more special songs. That same year I released one more song called ‘On the Low’ which I produced myself and that song is cool!
I remember all of these tracks!
Oh, for real? *laughs*
So yeah, that was 2016 and I ghosted until 2019 only because I knew what I was capable of, so I went to the mountains basically. In 2016 I said “I’m gonna ghost, work on my writing properly, work on my singing and my sound”, so I went to LA and started writing for a lot of other artists and doing studio sessions. I was meeting new producers in LA and going back and forth. I wanted to release a song but have another song ready to drop a few months after, I needed to be more strategic, so I made a song on the hiatus I was on called ‘Broken Ones’. That was a song for me that I felt like not everyone could make, there’s a lot of cool artists and music out but I don’t want to make music where someone thinks “Yeah, I want to make a song like that”, I want you to listen to it and think “How did he make that song? I’m not going to try and make it but how?”. I wanted it to be more of a ground-breaking thing and not just fitting in with the times and the vibes, that’s how you receive timeless-ness when it comes to music. That song did really well as soon as I released it, on Apple Music it did 100k streams within the first month, I had a lot of anxiety because I had released all this music before, hadn’t dropped music in three years, and all of these people that were onto my music three years ago had probably forgotten about me now and thought I wasn’t serious, but these times I was putting my heart and soul into it.
I then released another song called ‘Really Love’ and that didn’t do that well, I feel like it got slept on, I’m not sure why but if a playlist misses you out then the song can literally just get swept under the rug. That was it in 2019 really! I did some features with my boy in LA called Ye Ali – just little things here and there!
Like I said earlier, you’ve really returned this year in full force and released a string of singles from the ‘Situations’ teaser, to ‘Hold On’ and ‘Made Time’ etc. What made you decide that this year would be the year to take things up a notch?
I feel like I haven’t established myself enough, people probably just think I’m the type of guy to make music from time to time but the amount of music I have on my laptop, I can’t allow people to think that because I put a lot into this. 2020 comes and I thought “Yes! This is the year” and then boom – Corona! My main goal this year was just to release more music, 2020 is the year that I owe not only to myself but other people that have shown love to my music and just give them sounds of very high quality!
During March times, one of my friends Kai-a who also produced ‘Ready’, he sent me a beat, sometimes people send me great beats but it will take me 6 months to write to it, sometimes producers can get funny about that! If they send you a beat pack, they want you to respond or send something straight away, but it doesn’t always work like that, but with this beat I instantly wrote to it. It just started coming out, the first line is “Feel alive when I’m deep inside”, and I don’t know what came over me and it was just pouring out! I sent it to him, and he said it was crazy, he sent me another beat to the song I have called ‘Focus’. I wrote that straight away and then I had two tracks called ‘Deep’ and ‘Focus’, which was crazy because my plan this year was to release previous music! I made those two songs, they were so fresh and I didn’t want to overthink so I thought let me put them together, it explains the relationship with a girl that I was in and it explains my head space in terms of career and needing to focus, and getting to the bag. I put them together in a project called ‘Situations’, which is a series where I’m going to keep updating important situations in my life. At some point there will be a ‘Situations 2’ – so yeah, that was that!
After that I released ‘Made Time’, it was a song I really vibe with and I wanted to release something, so I put that out on the fly. That is also a slept-on song! I then released ‘Hold On’, a lot of my music is healing music to them, I’ve received some mad stories in my time about my music and it is helping people! This song was about a relationship, but it’s also a metaphor about the times we are in, you are going through a rough relationship but you are still holding on to what’s real around you, and our relationship with the world right now.
You recently dropped ‘Friday Night’ alongside KC Locke, which I believe is the flip side to ‘Friday Love’ which you both released in summer. Could you tell us a bit more about the thought process behind this? Did you guys mean to do this or were you just in the studio having fun with it?
I have my own sound but when I’m with other people it adapts, I’m a songwriter first so I feel like that’s where it comes from. If I was in the studio with Adele, my vibe would change towards her vibe, it would still be my own, but it would change to accommodate her more. I was in the studio with KC, he came to my crib and he played a beat by Daniel Zenith, we were freestyling the song and it just came out! It was more toxic vibes from me, it wasn’t sweet! I’m human, there is definitely a toxic side to me as well. We were just talking about the situation, when I’m done in the club, I’m going to give you ‘Friday Love’ *laughs* Straight away, we knew ‘Friday Love’ was a slapper! It was different! You don’t hear songs like that all the time, you can play it in the club but you can also play it when you are chilling by yourself – it’s R&B but it’s not proper R&B! Since it’s been out it’s been on Hip-Hop playlists, R&B playlists and Pop playlists, this song is in all of these different genres!
We had ‘Friday Love’ for over a year, I must have been at a studio near KC’s yard, so I pulled up on him and he played another beat by Daniel, and this was the ‘Friday Night’ beat. The same pop instrument that was in ‘Friday Love’ was in this tune, I’m hearing this new track and freestyling “I don’t want to miss you, kiss you / I don’t want to love you, but we can make love all night / Ooohh, on Friday night”. The song sounded like a hit, and next thing you know KC said, “You know this is the same sample as ‘Friday Love’” and I was like “Huh?!”. At this point, we had created a song called ‘Friday Night’ but I had no idea it was the same sample as ‘Friday Love’ – those things only happen because they are supposed to happen! It was weird! We recorded the track and now we have them both!
Which side do you prefer and why?
I prefer the deeper R&B side but only because that is my comfort zone. It was nice seeing people dance to my tune! I have a lot of tunes that sound more up-beat, so it was nice to give the people something diverse rather than just giving them the same sounding songs all the time.
How much do you think you have grown since the release of ‘Forever Is A Lie’?
Damn! I’ve grown loads! Before I would write a song and hope for the best, but now I can actually piece a song together exactly how I want it to be, and make it sound exactly how I want. For example, a painter will try and create a piece that looks like a Picasso piece and it doesn’t hit the spot, I can have an idea of how exactly I want it to sound and make it sound exactly like that.
Do you releasing all these songs hint at a possible project dropping soon or are you picking up pace again?
I am working on a project right now; I have a project ready that I have been trying to release for ages, but I haven’t because of rona! I am just waiting for the right time to release that. I think I’m putting together another project that will be out in December, but that’s TBC!
What else can we expect to hear from you this year, other than the project in December?
I think that’s all you are going to hear from me this year! As much as I want to say I have a lot of music but I’m not going to force loads out. I feel like a nice way to end the year is with a small project, I feel like I owe that to people that really dive into my sound. I haven’t released a project yet and I feel like that’s when people start to take you more seriously because any one can create and release a song, but putting together a project that sounds cohesive it’s harder to do! I just want to show people that I can give you the slow songs, the up-beat songs and put together a project – I can do everything at a very high standard.
Are you going to drop any visuals?
I do intend to but the reason I haven’t got them yet is because I need them to match my music and I refuse to compromise in that way! Visuals are coming though!
Keep up to date with Joey XL via his Instagram here, and stream ‘Friday Night’ below.