Everyone wants to talk to Loyle Carner. Not just because he’s maybe the nicest man in music, but because two years after his debut album ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ introduced him to the world, he’s still one of the most exciting forces in British music. (We also know this because it took us a long, long time to pin down the bloke for a chat, but it’s all good because as we mentioned, he’s bloody lovely.)
ICYMI, Loyle Carner – born Ben Coyle-Larner, a stage name that plays on his dyslexia and ADHD – is the full package. He’s not only a Brit-nominated, Mercury-nominated, expectation-defying musician, he’s also a cooking enthusiast, who started a cooking school for kids with ADHD, and an actual YSL model.
And yes, despite all of that, he’s still about as humble as you can get. We spoke to him a week before the release of his second record ‘Not Waving, But Drowning’, just before he heads out on the tour supporting it too, and it sounds like he’s quite honestly shitting himself.
“I just didn’t know if anyone was gonna come,” he says of the tiny venues he’s playing on this tour. “I hadn’t put any songs out for like two years, so I played smaller venues so if they don’t sell out, it’s less embarrassing than tryna sell out a massive venue.”
As if he’d have anything to worry about, he sold out Brixton on his debut (and the rest), but he’s having none of it. “You never know, the world changes, people can change how they feel about you in a heartbeat. Now that we’ve seen that people are still up for paying for tickets and still wanna come and see me live in support of whatever kind of weird shit I’m doing, we’re gonna try and do a bigger tour to cater to more people, because I don’t want people to miss out. I’m just surprised that so many people bought tickets so quickly.”
To be fair, he probably could’ve toured that debut record for much longer than 18 months. It’s still being discovered by plenty and is well loved by the rest. But instead Ben headed back to the studio to write an even more intimate and personal record.
‘Not Waving, But Drowning’ is a family-centred record, much like ‘Yesterday’s Gone’, but Ben shifts his focus to thanking his mother and writing a literal love letter to his girlfriend this time. He opens the album with both of those themes on ‘Dear Jean’, a song to his mum about how he’s fallen in love.
“The last song is a poem from my mum, which is cool. I wrote this poem to my mum about how I needed a hand, and I’d fallen in love blah blah blah, and she wrote one back, saying that it was okay, basically.”
It’s far far more than her just saying it’s okay – the poem tugs on your heartstrings and your tear ducts as she tells him “I’ve gained a daughter; I’ve not lost a son.” It’s the kind of stuff that earned Ben the title of “the sentimental face of grime”, a title written by an out of touch Guardian journalist when he was first making a splash. “I miss the days when I was called a grime artist; it was quite funny. I used to love The Guardian, but they’ve fucked me over so many times – they’re still cool, I don’t hate them – it’s just the guy that called me the sentimental face of grime has no idea what he’s on about. Sometimes I just think it’s weird that you’ve sent like a 50-year-old guy to review my gig, because what does he know? Do you know what I mean? So fuck that guy.”
On his second album, it becomes clearer that Loyle Carner is a poet first; much of his music is rooted in his lyricism and writing something for himself or those dearest to him. He’s also heavily influenced by poetry, with both his mum and granddad contributing to that influence. The title of this record comes from a poem too, one that Ben found is a nice parallel to his own life.
“It comes from a poem by Stevie Smith – my granddad also wrote a poem in response to that – and it’s about a boy who cries wolf and one day he dies at sea. He’s kinda waving to the people on the beach, and they’re all like, ‘look at that guy showing off’, and if he’d have put his hand out and said ‘guys I need your help’ he wouldn’t have died, but he was putting on a front.
“I kind of thought that it was true in life – in my life in particular, like me, myself, if I’m struggling, I don’t put my hand out and ask for help, so things only get worse.” The poem is explained on track ten by its original author, Stevie Smith, reiterating Ben’s own thoughts about it.
There’s a bunch of familiar names on the record too. He’s joined by Rebel Kleff again on ‘You Don’t Know’ (he also writes ‘Krispy’ to him), Tom Misch, and Jorja Smith also feature, along with Sampha, who beat him to the Mercury in 2017, but obviously, there’s no beef about that.
“The music I end up making is just music I make with friends. I’m lucky enough to have a few friends who are successful, but yeah they’re just friends of mine, so it’s good to be able to work with like Jorja or Sampha, because they’re just people who are cool with me.”
Before the release of the Jorja Smith collaboration, Carner posted a video on his Instagram of the pair in the studio. In it, Jorja says “that’s the thing, I don’t want to do features with people I don’t know”, which he repeats in a fashion. It’s something that comes through on the record, how personal music is for him. Whether it’s the lyrics or the interludes of him watching football and ordering food, or the feature from his mother, or speaking about his nerves around this album cycle now, Loyle Carner is effortlessly relatable. His candid nature lends itself to his artistry in a way that makes him a real national treasure.
“I’m not making music because I’m tryna be a superstar or anything,” he says. “At first I was kinda freaking out about it. I just wanted the album to be as good as the other one and to do as well as the other one, but you can’t think like that so I just had to start thinking about it in proper terms, like what I wanna do and how I wanna talk. So I think I found the balance which I’m proud of. I’m nervous for people to hear it. I hope they don’t think it’s shit. But I’m happy with it at least. If one person likes it – which is me.”
At the end of the ‘Dear Ben’, he says to his mum, “it’s even better than the first one”. Maybe that’s true of the whole album.
Taken from the June issue of Dork, out now. Order a copy below. Loyle Carner’s album ‘Not Waving, But Drowning’ is out now.
Words: Abigail Firth