SBTV‘s Ash Houghton sat down with Blizzard to chat about his upcoming appearance on Lord of the Mics V, his forthcoming EP, Testing The Water, and plans for his debut concept album…
How’s it going, man? Thanks for taking your time out to chat with us today!
Not a problem, man, it’s a pleasure.
So…you’re going up against Big Shizz on Lord of the Mics V – how’s your preparation coming along for the battle?
It’s been going really well, y’know. I’ve been trying to budget it accordingly throughout the amount of days that I’ve got. So, say I’ve got 16 days — and I need to write 16 lyrics — I’ll write one a day, just so I’m not overriding my head with too much. I think that’s a lot of people’s problem with preparation, they take too much on-board and then it just becomes patchy in your head because you’re going over so much different material that certain things you’ll just forget quite easily. The key to it is to keep it steady because, that way, you’ll have time to learn everything to a good standard. That’s what I’ve been trying to do, anyway.
You’re well known for your appearances in the Don’t Flop battle scene – What made you make the decision to jump on Lord of the Mics’ format and how do you think the two platforms differ?
It’s a tough one. Last year myself and Jammer were a bit prolific for getting in to a bit of a tiff on Twitter about how I wasn’t interested in battling on Lord of the Mics 4 and I basically just told him to go stuff himself. But, after a bit of thinking, and realising that it’s a brilliant platform that I’m privileged to be asked to be on; that’s what made me reconsider. Like you said, Don’t Flop and Lord of the Mics are kind of a similar concept but they’re in two completely different paradigms. You’ve got the grime clash of Lord of the Mics over beats in a small, intimate venue; but then you’ve got Don’t Flop in huge clubs with a lot of people watching but no beat, so it’s a completely different thing. I might have some experience, but not necessarily in grime clashes. I’m not gonna get too ahead of myself because I feel like Don’t Flop was something I was good at, but it’s a completely different kind of thing to Lord of the Mics. I’m gonna go in there with the same kind of angles that I usually do, trying to break people down – not in a malicious way – but just, the way I always saw clashing is all about catching your opponent off-guard. I can only hope for the best — I know Shizz is amazingly talented and I wouldn’t have taken the clash if I didn’t actually have respect for him as a musician.
Lord of the Mics is the biggest stage in Grime – is there any pressure there?
It’s a universal stage. As far as my career goes – and the people that have inspired me; Wiley, Kano, Scratchy – most of them have been on Lord of the Mics, so this to me is like I’m performing at Madison Square Garden and the biggest gig I’ve done before that is the O2 Academy Islington [laughs]. It’s a massive step up.
Careers have been made and destroyed there…
Of course, man. Sox was a brilliant example of that. At the end of the day, people expect it to get heated and I’m not gonna let it. If Shizz gets in my face I’m just gonna ignore it because I’m there to prove that I’m good, I’m not there to get in a fight with him. I’m a pacifist, I’d never fight. At the end of the day, we both know full well that we need to put on a good show because it’s a piece of grime history. All you need to do is look back at the previous CDs to see that it’s an iconic bit of grime.
Away from the battling, you’re releasing an EP early next year – What can you tell us about that?
It’s a very broad range of music. It’s bits of everything, really. A lot of inspiration points come from a lot of music that I was listening to at school, so a lot of Radiohead, Flying Lotus, Muse, Jazz and just trying to incorporate it all into a very eclectic body of work, and I think I’ve achieved that. My first EP was called Sooner Than Never and, as much as I like it, it’s relatively one-dimensional. There’s only so many tunes you can hear with 808 kicks and claps without it getting really tedious and boring. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love that product, but I am my own worst critic at the end of the day because I was there in the process of making it, so by the time it’s hitting the airwaves, I’m already sick of it because I’ve heard it so many times. No one records a whole track in one take, you have to go over it and you get so annoyed with your own words at times, unless the song is very sentimental and close to home to you, and Testing The Water has a lot of that. It’s very conceptual and quite retrospective. I’ve got a song on there about my whole experience in school and how people used to mess around and pick on me, but then I’ve got tracks about relationships and then hard-hitting grime tracks, so I’m really impressed with it. I don’t think it could have worked out better. So, from now until February, it’s my main priority. Then from there I’m probably gonna take a bit of time out and practice my acoustics and my live set, because I’m working a lot with keys at the minute and playing piano and it’s something that really interests me. I’ve been playing keys for about three years and it’s something I’ve always wanted to incorporate more in to my live set.
How do you juggle living in Manchester and attempting to get your music heard by the mainly London-centric industry?
A lot, a lot, a lot of public transport! So many Megabus trips, so many train tickets. That’s all I can do. As far as Manchester goes, some people are quite reluctant to go up there, but when you start networking and begin to go to executive things and meet people, that’s when you gain friends and get an insight in to the way that the city really works. I’ve been coming to London for probably about 6-7 years on a regular basis, as much as three times a week at some points. So I’m kind of over the hype of London now, it just feels like it’s a second home. I stayed there for about 7 weeks quite recently with my manager and we were getting a lot of stuff done. When I’m in London there’s so many opportunities, with Manchester it’s quite limited because it’s only so big. With London everything is there for you, it’s like a catalogue of things you can pick to do. I see tweets from people in Central London saying ‘I’m bored’ and I just think that they can’t be in the same city as me, because how can you get bored?! There’s just so much going on.
Coming from Manchester, would you say that the colourful musical history of the city has helped shape your style and taste in music?
Yeah, definitely. My Mum and Dad both listened to a lot of Northern music, but also a lot of London music. I grew up listening to Lou Reed, The Sex Pistols and The Clash, which is all London-based. But then in Manchester there’s everyone from Joy Division, New Order to Oasis, so I guess that did play a big role. I think that every area has a geographical watermark, if that makes sense? The main example is the accent; especially if you listen to any 70s punk, they would never sing out of their own accent. That’s what I like about it. When I hear people emulate the American accent it kind of makes me cry a bit because if I think back I was trying to appeal to my school first, then I was trying to branch out to my city and then eventually the whole UK. Appealing to Manchester was important to me because — if I was to put on this fake London accent like ‘Yes cuz, what’s going on?’ people would just think ‘This kid is a f*&$ing idiot! What is he talking about?!’ I’ve always just believed in being yourself and I think that your musical protagonist should be a direct reflection of your real-life character. So, that’s something that’s always been important to me, being myself and knowing that you can see a gleam of my real persona through my music. Which, I don’t know if I achieve that [laughs], but I’m trying.
I caught your show at I Luv Live last year and it was refreshing to see you incorporate live music in to your set. How important is that to you as a performer?
That’s the first time I’ve played keys to a live audience, before that I was well scared. The first bit of recorded piano work I’ve ever done was actually Love and Waviness for you guys at SBTV. So, I’ve still got a long way to go with that, y’know? I’m not on Stevie Wonder or Herbie Hancock’s level yet but, in time, in time [laughs].
It’s good to see you experiment with that element of your live show, not too many artists are doing that in Grime right now…
It’s all about being a bit unconventional and abstract, because that’s what brings people in. One example of that was seeing Ghetts live at the Manchester International Festival. He did the Diary of a Rebel thing and it was a completely different setup to what people usually have; a live band, Ghetts on stage killing it and then like a massive backdrop with a video playing and it really inspired me, y’know? Since then, it’s like, I don’t just wanna be a grime MC that raps over beats at a PA, this is why with the Megabus song and Love & Waviness it’s bringing people to a point where you realise that I’m crossing over but still keeping my substance and my pride intact. There’s a lot of stigma attached to being classed as a ‘commercial artist’, so the minute someone that came from an urban area or an urban music scene starts to make commercial music it’s the worst thing ever but, what defines commercial music and what defines pop music? It’s the fans that define it. If a pop tune fails, it’s not a pop tune, because ‘pop’, for one, is an abbreviation of ‘popular’ so, if the tunes not popular, you’ve already missed out on half of the meaning of the phrase. This is the thing; people are gonna hear my EP and think I’m trying to do something that’s not me, but if you listen to the words and you listen to the creation and how everything blends in together nicely, I think it’s a good representation of the kind of music I want to make without losing any sort of quality control or straying off my musical direction. With the rap verses — there might be a bit of singing there — but if you listen to the words in the rap it’s all my substance, nothing’s been tampered with. I’ve not dumbed any of my material down to appeal to radio. At the end of the day, if my music doesn’t get played on radio, I don’t care. I’m still gonna record music and people will either listen to it or they won’t. I make music to deal with things and to appeal to people so, if radio don’t want it, they don’t have to have it.
Can we expect a debut album to follow in 2014?
I don’t know how long the albums gonna take. I’ve got a name for it but that’s in my head and I’m gonna keep that for now, but I can definitely say the album I’m gonna make is gonna be a concept album. I want to produce at least half of it, if not all of it. I’m in to my production and I know what sound I want better than any other producer does. With me, I’m gonna aim to write it by mid-next year and then I’ll probably just go crazy and do a two-week studio session with an engineer and get some of the live band stuff down. I definitely wanna incorporate live instrumentation in to this product. One massive inspiration for me while I was making Testing The Water was the Signature LP by Sway. I think he had a whole orchestra on his back helping with production and it was an absolutely impeccable body of work.
Are you still signed to Launchpad Records? If not, do you see yourself remaining independent or are you looking for major label backing in the future?
Basically, I’m managed by George, who is half of Launch Pad, and we just work really closely together. Launch Pad released my first EP, Sooner Than Never, and I’ve always been affiliated with that roster but at the moment I’m an unsigned artist just represented by management.
That just about wraps things up for us! Any last words?
I just want to thank people for being so patient while I’ve been perfecting this product because it’s been so stressful for me. I wanted to make it perfect and not knowing if it is or not can be quite troubling, but the hurdle has been jumped and I’m buzzing to say that it’s coming out soon.
Blizzard’s Testing The Water EP is scheduled for release in January 2014
Lord of the Mics V is slated for a Christmas release.
Interview by Ash Houghton