[INTERVIEW] LOUIS VI
Up and coming Jazz influenced London rapper Louis VI is a breath of fresh air. His music tells deep introspective stories of a complex brain. His latest album ”Sugar like Salt” released on the 15th of this month has features from Mick Jenkins, Nubya Garcia and Jelani Blackman. Louis VI is one of the most interesting artists on the rise from London right now as he fusing Jazz with poetic lyricism and hip hop flows. Photographer Karis Beaumont (@karisbeau) and artist Tawana went to have a chat and photo shoot with Louis VI in London. Also check out his new album here: http://smarturl.it/SugarLikeSalt
So Louis the 6th right?
Louis VI: Louis the 6th but most people say Louis VI
Any reason for that name at all?
Louis VI: Yeah there’s a couple reasons, Louis’s my name but the whole switch from my last Ep to doing really honest music I wanted to be just my name. But surname ‘Butler’ which is a slave name from the Caribbean, my family being from Dominica. So its kinda like putting an X on that slave name but instead, I put a number VI and 6 is my lucky number since I was born on the 6th. But also I’ve got French ancestry as well and so you’ve also got all the French Kings that went by the name Louis
I was gonna say Louis 6th was also a French King who was known as the warrior king, so that was pretty cool because listening to your music we hear your battles, so your also a warrior in that kind of sense.
Louis VI: Aha deeper, I’ll take that!
On Soundcloud, it says your rapper, producer, baseline-writer, engineer. That’s a lot of stuff, how do you manage to balance it all?
Louis VI: I don’t know, in a way all that stuff is kinda just part of me and of my experience being a musician. I couldn’t do one without the other so I’ve been someone that has to do everything. I work with loads of amazing producers as well but at the moment I’m producing more and more for myself and there is also kind of seamless thing where I’m writing lyrics at the same time that I’m in that zone, and then I’m mix everything myself and engineer everything myself. I listen to an artist called River Tiber and the way he mixes his stuff, the songs are sick anyway but then the mix is like a whole other soundscape, a whole other art. It’s like wow you can take that to an artistic level as well. And I mean its just fun but it does take long.
So are you just in love with the art of music as a whole? Not necessarily any particular part of it.
Louis VI: Yeah I just happen to do all these parts of it, you know rapping was definitely first. I then learned to produce by faking an ID to go on this producing course when I was like 14. Then continued to add different strings to my bow and yeah I’m just still learning, take it to the next level it takes time.
Aha faked an ID, that’s passion man.
Louis VI: Aha yeah! It was funny, I think everyone knew that I was not 18, you had to be 18 to go there and I was this 14-year-old kid but I was always quite tall and with me putting on a deeper voice so I kind of got away with it for the first day. Then they kind of noticed but they still let me come.
So when did you start rapping?
Louis VI: Damn…like ages and ages ago. I’ve probably been rapping since I was like 10 years old and first got ‘Illmatic’. My cousin gave me ‘Illmatic’ and the first-ever rap song I learnt was New York state of mind and it just carried on from that. I mean my raps were terrible, my boy got a mic and like a basic DJ setup in his attic and we’d just go there and just write. Then I got into this thing part of the roundhouse slam poets ran by Jacob Sam-La Rose who taught a few quite prominent MC’s. It was just about thinking about lyrics on a much deeper level and how you can play with concrete imagery and stuff and it was a real introduction. I was like, oh ok you can really take this as far as you want, access the next level and go as deep as you want, to look at yourself and digest things within yourself. I think that’s what music has always been for me a way to digest all the crazy shit going on in my life.
Yeah, I feel like a lot of people don’t realise a lot of these rappers are modern poets and they’re just as good as the Shakespeare of the past.
Louis VI: Yeah I mean Kendrick Lamar winning the Pulitzer prize is a Hugh thing and proof of that.
Do you remember your first lyrics?
Louis VI: I do you know! It’s terrible though, and it doesn’t make no sense, it was off like a nursery rhyme. The first recorded one, “I’m the king of the swingers of the jungle VIP, not an established rapper yet but that’s not what’s bothering me.”
That’s not bad
Louis VI: Aha nah its quite bad, silly times man. I used to steal notebooks from school to use as lyric books, I still got 10 or 12 of crap lyrics, you just have to go through that stage man.
That shows your development in comparison to where you’re at now.
Louis VI: I’d love to go back through those notebooks, I bet there’s something in there.
What’s your process for creating a track?
Louis VI: The process for me changes every time, I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with not forcing it and just wanting it to be organic. In a track people are gonna forget the melody or what you’re talking about, the name of it, forgets the lyrics, they’ll forget everything about it but they won’t forget how it made them feel. So you have to have that feeling that there’s so much honesty in the track, that its uncontestable that its there. Regardless of what that feeling is no one can ever judge you for that because it’s just honestly how you feel. And people will feel that and people can tell the realness of that immediately. I feel that’s the difference between a track and an excellent track. So my process will usually start with making a beat or some melodies or someone send me an idea and quite often I’ll just loop the melody without any drums and I get really lost in it, then I go start going into a bit of a writing frenzy. I’ll scrap stuff and edit, and not be afraid to chop and change. I’ll come back and then build the beat around that, I was watching a thing with Kendrick and Dr.Dre and he said a pivotal thing was when he started forcing himself to write the chorus first. You can just write a stream of consciousness and all rappers can just do that, it feels great and amazing but then to turn that into something that’s conceptually solid is a whole different thing, so I look at the chorus and try and solidify that. My technique right now which I love is when I just turn on the mic and freestyle, not caring what comes out but the flow and cadences will be there. Everything needs to be organic and the words will match to that, the feeling will be there and I’ll kinda know what direction I want to go. It’s like this is what I was trying to say the first time and the first time is usually the best. So you capture that moment and then you go through that picking bits, working out what your trying to say. Everything on this new project is all that and it just feels right.
I hear a heavy soul/jazz/hip-hop influences in your music. What do those genres mean and who are your influencers from there?
Louis VI: I always had hip-hop and couldn’t escape grime, because I was like 14-15 and like woah this is exactly my environment and what they’re talking about and that will forever influence me, the energy of it as well. In conjunction with it as well I had this jazz world, my mum was always playing jazz, my sisters name is Ella and mine Louis because we were named after Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong because there was always jazz playing around. De La Soul, Gil Scott Heron all this amazing stuff, my mum is my main musical influence. I play jazz drums, keys, played the trumpet once but drums was the main thing. The cadence and the flow and the way they use triplets I found infectious and it just applied to so many different types of music and the soulfulness came from that as well. Neo-soul is so thick with emotion and vibe, hitting that Neo-soul chord just makes you feel so much. So I was combining that and jazz, applying it, hearing people like Iman Omari who kind of like cross-pollinate and do crazy things. No genre these days is divided so I just let it all mix.
How do you feel about how these genres are being represented today by others and yourself?
Louis VI: Today it’s amazing because a lot are my friends like Moses Boyd, Nubya Garcia, Jo Armon-Jones and Femi Keloso. All these young people in the UK jazz scene are killing it and UK jazz scene is blowing up. Yusef Kamal and others, these people have gone completely international, some are looking to the UK for jazz whereas it’s traditionally been like an American and West African thing. It’s like really were running it here and were running many types of music because people are looking to hear from hip-hop and Grime [and that] has put the UK massively on the map. And it’s amazing to see everyone not just rise and doing great but they’re doing it being themselves and not having to change. I don’t know what my part to play is, maybe I’ll be bridging a couple of these things because I’m a fan first and foremost of all these different genres. I’m just putting myself out there and seeing what happens.
Touching on how you said the UK scene is blowing up. You’ve had collaborations with Poppy Adjuha, Nubya Garcia, Denai Moore and others. How do those collaborations take place? Are you guys all friends or you just reach out to each other?
Louis VI: We were like all friends. I went to school with Nubya, I’ve known her for ages maybe since I was like 14 and she’s from the same area as me. Poppy, I got put onto her and we would just go to shows and became tight, that’s like my little sister and I recorded one of her first ever songs on this little ep I did called the VI ep. She’s on the first track called “Take your time” and I was just like this girl is next level, she’s got something and it’s amazing how well she’s doing now. Denai, my first ever show was her first ever show as well and we were on the same line up, it was at a time where it was like indie and no one was trying to fuck with black music at all, and we were like this is weird what are we doing here but we did our thing and stayed in contact and did a tune.
It’s very exciting to see you guys on the rise, grime has given us all in the UK the gateway but at the same time especially with you guys, it shows that there’s so much more.
Louis VI: Yeah there’s so much more. I feel like the world could be blinded to that but it looks like they’re not going to be because it’s looking good.
What artists from the UK on this soul wave do you think people should be listening out for?
Louis VI: Nicky Cislyn is someone that has been about, I’ve worked with her a lot. She’s from London and she’s like on this Neo-soul tip and is one of the best at arranging vocals that I’ve ever know. She writes just like that and will be so deep, she’s a really accomplished writer and has written loads of hits for people but her as an artist I feel hasn’t received the due love that she deserves.
We’ve seen you branch out internationally collaborating with some artists in America. Jowin previously and Mick Jenkins on your new track “Jazz Got Me”. How did that come about?
Louis VI: Jowin’s my guy, I love that brother we always have a good time when were chilling. He’s from Atlanta and there’s a weird thing between London and Atlanta for me but I’ve always got on with people from Atlanta and the guy that does all my artwork Sage Guillory is from Atlanta, so I got friends there. Jowin just loves music, produces for Isaiah Rashad and TDE but is also a dope rapper himself and he’s just good peoples man. Mick is a good friend of Xavier Omar’s, who’s also killing it as well and IAMNOBODI who’s also my boy. I made this track sitting here in my bedroom and said to my boy my dream feature for this would be Mick Jenkins and he was like yeah yeah that would be wavy, and then we left it obviously thinking that’s never going to come about. I go to New York and see Xavier Omar do a show and I was just telling him about this track and he was like oh I’ll put you in touch with Mick’s manager just send him the track and see what he thinks. I was like what, he was like yeah yeah yeah its cool aha. So I got put in touch with the manager it was a bit slow but I was like I feel like Mick will actually like this track so let me just speak to him direct. I messaged him twitter told him I had been speaking to his manger sent him the track and to let me know what he thinks. He fucked with it, sent back his verse in like the same week, the track suddenly had Mick Jenkins on it and it was like this is mad. I was supposed to go to Chicago but I had to change plans. It’s crazy how the world can work if you’re just open to it, the universe will just do mad things for you and pass you a little golden nugget if you’re looking, and Mick is like one of my biggest inspirations.
Do you travel a lot?
Louis VI: I’ve been lucky enough to travel a lot, I’m an independent artist so I’m doing a lot myself and I hardly have any money. So I’ll be deep in Norwegian air on this amazing cheap flight to New York or LA or somewhere. I spent 3 months last year in New York to just be in another place out of London because it was just all getting to much. I was able to let whatever come out of me just off the energy I give out as an artist and see what happens, and suddenly I had this album. It was like shit! This shit works, going and putting yourself in a new space. I met all these amazing people, LA I met some people that are honestly family to me now. Emille Martinez who plays the horns on “Jazz Got Me” he’s the horn player for Iman Omari and Anderson. Paak and others. So the whole world starts to get smaller, smaller, and smaller and you realise it’s just about relationships with people and if you vibe on a good level you’ll make good music.
Are you a full-time artist?
Louis VI: I’m a full-time artist but every now and then I need to do some driving jobs, some odd jobs. It’s undulating. I haven’t got past the surface far enough yet that I know I don’t have to go back down. So it’s still the hustle, one thing that saved me a little bit last year that enabled me to do the album, was that I got the opportunity to make some music for an advert. It was a whistles clothing advert that I did with Moses Boyd, just some jazz stuff. Got a bit of money but then got Nike one where they wanted to mix a track in 12 hours, I was like yeah but screaming inside like I can’t do this shit. It was like a totally different type of music that I’ve never done before it was like a weird running track, like deep house soundscape stuff. I was like I’m either going to step up to this and have a new avenue of income or I’m going to fail. I stepped up and it got to like 5 am in the morning, I didn’t have anything and I had to deliver it at 7. I was like ‘fucked it’ but then I was like let me just have one more go and then I just got something, and then it won an award and it was like shit ok! Then I did like 10 films and it was like ok I’ve got enough money for this album, let me do this album!
It’s amazing what you can do when your pushed to your limit isn’t it?
Louis VI: Yeah when you’re pushed to the edge! And I’ve recently been back on an edge in another sense, in an emotional sense. It’s always up and down and I’ve always been someone to talk about the struggles of being an artist, the mental struggles. But I think when you get to those places and you get through them, you’re like ah yeah I can get through this shit. I’ve been through some bad shit before so I can get through this. You keep this energy from it and I think that’s so fundamental to being successful.
Is the struggle worth it?
Louis VI: Yeah! I mean it can be pure pain sometimes and it’s not for everyone but if you get through that you learn so much about yourself. And I think that is worth it. I think one of the main goals of life is to try and understand yourself and the shit around you.
What is success to you?
Louis VI: Success on a blanket level is that I want to be respected by fellow artists as someone who does it in his own way and is an expert at his craft but is always trying do something better and push the boundaries. I wanna be able to play shows, travel around the world and see my music connecting with different people, create that vibe in a place not in a preachy way but where I can spread a message. If I can push the world in a slightly better way then that’s success but you need a platform big enough. But really just to be making music full time and just keep putting albums out, having like a 30-year, 40-year, 50-year career.
Do you believe success changes?
Louis VI: Yeah I think success definitely changes. The fact of life is you can go ‘this is what you want’ but it will never work that way. It always comes from a totally different angle and you’ll be like oh it’s coming like that, ok let me adapt. I think you win when you just adapt. It’s so important to tell yourself you’re not losing by having to go and get a quick part-time job to stay afloat, that’s actually ‘hustle’ and you should feel proud about that. I have to tell myself a lot watch your own lane, decide what you want to be happy with, set your goals and actually try to achieve those goals. Don’t think something is too out of reach because things happen in a day. But yeah allow success to change and allow yourself to be open to different things.
Your lyricism is very contemplative and you weigh them against reality and seem to come from a very introspective place. I guess I would like to know, what it’s like for you to think a lot?
Louis VI: It’s peak basically. I feel like super peak aha! I mean I’m reading a book called the power of now. It’s interesting because you’ve got all these thoughts going on and all these thoughts are passing and they’re affecting the mood. So these thoughts could be positive or negative and they are, but then you realise you’re listening to these thoughts so if your listening to these thoughts, there’s a ‘you’ outside of these thoughts. It’s happening in front of you but the real you is like back there somewhere. And that’s kind of what meditation is, focusing on something so intensely that the thoughts aren’t right in front of you, not controlled by your mind but your mind is your tool to use. But at the same time when your overthinking and having all these back and forth, constantly self-analysing, that leads to the art of being creative. And I think another way of dealing with these thoughts is putting them to paper and trying to understand yourself. Anything that pains me, music is medicine for me. They say the people that really think about the world are often so self-critical they don’t do anything and the people that don’t think a lot just do and they’re more often successful.
Do you think it comes from a place of solitude?
Louis VI: Yeah it comes from a place of solitude that you can create in your own mind. It can also come from a physical place of solitude where your allowing yourself to sit in your own mind. But I think also you can use it to your advantage because thats the realm of creativity as well. Just in the same way as going to the gym or for a run, it’s an exercise of the mind.
In ‘Jazz got me’ you say “music is the only thing I need”. What does music mean to you?
Louis VI: Everything. I thought about it the other day and I don’t think I can separate myself from the music. If I had to like stop I don’t think I’d be me anymore I’d be a different person. It’s so fundamental to my emotions and how I get through the day. It’s learning just like reading your indenting words, prose that goes deeper than the artist because they are also influenced by someone. It’s like reading but fun!
Do you feel any bitterness in the way industry materialise art in a sense and manipulates what is for the audience?
Louis VI: I did feel a type of way but the reality is it is what it is. And it’s also up to people to be like this is obvious. Make up your own mind and don’t just blindly support what the industry is telling you to support.
How has London influenced your art?
Louis VI: The beauty of London and its culture is that it’s so mixed. You’ve got every country you can imagine, especially where I live. I hear several different languages just walking down my road. Whatever is going on in the world you’ll hear about it, it’s just an amalgamation of Caribbeans, Africans, Middle Easterns, Asians, everything. It’s a super unique place! And I think Camden as well has super influenced my music in just being open to everything.
Yeah, your music sounds very homegrown. Do you believe that the music you listen to has a direct influence on your everyday life?
Louis VI: Yeah definitely. When I was finishing this project I didn’t listen to much else, and I realised how much music affects you because I felt like I was missing something. It’s like when you haven’t listened to a band you love from years ago and it’s like a crazy buzz. There’s certain messages or vibes that I need to be reminded of just to get through life. So I’ll listen to Outkast sometimes for that otherworldly zone, J Cole to understand what’s going on in the system. Kendrick to get some insight and intellectual prowess, or like right now because I’m going through some shit I’ve been banging Skepta every day because it’s defiantly raw. So yeah it affects everyday life fully, it gives you whatever you need it to give to you basically.
Your older projects still hold a freshness and relevance for everyday life. One project you released was ‘Lonely Road Of A Dreamer.’ Can you tell me what the lonely road dreamer is to you?
Louis VI: It was a place where I was. That dark deep depression and I felt like I was making music that didn’t reflect that. I felt like I was this guy chasing this dream that’s so lonely. Relationships are falling apart because everything came second to the music and even your mental health came second because you’re devoting everything. So I felt I had to be honest about it. So it was a scary moment releasing that because it [was] showing people so much of myself. But people felt it and the honesty was really refreshing for me. That album was very introspective but now this next album coming out ‘Sugar like Salt’ is very [restrospective]. I’m still on that road but it isn’t so lonely anymore.
You said a bar from one of the songs on ‘Lonely Road’ called ‘Please be there’. You said, “I see my friends taking substances but don’t know what substance is.” So I want to know what substance is to you and do we really know what it is?
Louis VI: Nah we don’t, but I’m trying to find out and I think that bar was saying that I see people not really trying to find out. Or it’s not that they’re not really trying to find out, they might know there’s more but they’re covering it up and they’re desensitising themselves. It’s not to say it’s bad people are doing this stuff, it’s about them having to desensitise themselves to all this stuff that is going on in their mind.
So your new material coming?
Louis VI: Yes! “Sugar like Salt” a whole album out June 15, 2018. Goes off the idea you can’t tell whether something is sugar or salt unless you taste it and even then you don’t know which one is which, in the sense where a bad thing in your life will make you actually have the energy to do something great whereas something really good can make you complacent and you can fall off. So there’s no such thing as good and bad but it’s rather just experiences and whether you grow or not. I feel like the universe has been keeping me at the moment because I’ve just been having so many things that are happening to me and I just go back to the phrase of the new album “Sugar like Salt” and I’m just like…mad aha. That is exactly it, something will happen and you’ll be like this is the maddest thing I’ve been through, then something else will happen that you perceive as good and you’re like woah I’m able to do this because of these past mad experiences.
Any or tours or shows scheduled?
Louis VI: Yeah the plan is to do a tour and festivals, and headline shows in September. I’m so excited because live shows are my thing. When you see the music hit people directly there’s no barrier between you and the listener it’s the best.
Finally, if you could pick one word to inspire and summarise life what would it be?
Louis VI: Openness. If you’re looking out and not always in then your always going to see whats going on and that you’re part of everything.
Words by Tawana
Photos by @KarisBeau