At age 23, Alex Crossan (or Mura Masa for anyone that doesn’t know him personally) already has a Grammy, and a headline show booked at Alexandra Palace in London. When we were 23, we were still paying off our student overdraft. So yes, if you’re asking, we are a little bit jealous.
When we catch up with him, he’s just got off a ‘mini-tour’ in Asia, playing to 2000 people in Japan, which is “pretty bizarre for a guy from Guernsey,” in his own words. He’s also running a bit late due to rehearsing with his new live band which he’s planning to use at that ally pally gig we mentioned. With all that plus a new album on the way, it’s amazing he has any time spare at all.
“It’s all a bit mad,” he laughs when we mention how packed his schedule is. “But that’s just the nature of it I guess. I was touring the first album for two years, or two and a half, and in that time I basically walked away from making too much music. I did the odd single here and there, worked with some other people on their albums, but I didn’t even approach making album number two, I was just at a loss as to what to do next.
“The idea with that first album was to explore every facet and every angle of pop music which was interesting to me at the time,” he continues. “And that meant going all over the globe with the features, and it was so broad and far-reaching that it left me wondering what to do next – I took a year out just to figure out what the hell I was going to do. Then someone, I absolutely cannot remember who, which is a shame because this was one of the seminal moments in the new album, but someone said ‘Why don’t you just do what you want to do?’ Which sounds blindingly obvious, but honestly I just hadn’t thought of it!” He laughs again. “I was so busy thinking about one-upping myself on the last album or refining what I’d done or just doing it all again. I was so worried about the whole sophomore album curse that I was kinda paralysed for a while. But once I’d been given that advice, I realised that what I wanted to do was write an album about nostalgia, because nostalgia has become such a strong theme in my life.
“With that in mind, it makes sense for the album to be so sonically different from the first one – or it does to me at least. It’s drawing from a whole different set of genres to the first one, genres that I consider to be quite formative in my childhood. Obviously, I’m twisting them in ways that make them a bit more up to date, but what you get at the end of it is essentially an alternative guitar album, which is… different to the debut.”
That last part is said with a big dose of understatement, as anyone who’s heard the album will know. Gone are the high-profile pop and rap features over glossy beats, swapped out for a more carefully curated list of guests, often against a slower, more guitar-driven backdrop. To top it all off, a lot of the singing is done by Alex.
“I wanted to change the idea from being about exploring popular music to being about something much more personal,” he explains. “And with that, it made sense for me to take more of a front seat as far as the songwriting and singing goes. That did take away some of the room for features, but it meant I could make sure that all of the guests on the album reflected the concept I was writing about. All of the guests either already write about the things I was trying for, or I knew their voices would lend well to writing about nostalgia and regressiveness, and this feeling of melancholy that comes along with that territory.”
These themes show across the whole album, but nowhere more clearly than on the Slowthai-starring ‘Deal Wiv It’, pushed as the lead single and one of the most unique songs on the album. “It definitely sticks out,” Admits Alex. “It’s the most raucous tune on the album, and it’s also probably the only moment on the album which gets close to hip hop, which is a bit of a sticker-outer, if that’s a word [it isn’t, but we get the idea – Ed].
“I think what made gave me the idea for the track was working with Slowthai on Doorman and just chatting to him and hanging out. I got this real sense that he was a guy who loved where he grew up and would have a lot to say about not just his childhood but his experiences in the area. So I asked him, and I was explaining all the influences I was feeling, all these punk records. And I suggested the idea of a track which wasn’t a rap song per se, but more just him yelling this horrible diatribe instead, and we went from there. The original recording is just Slowthai ranting and shouting in different voices, assuming all these different characters for like… 20 minutes? And he doesn’t repeat himself once!
“Obviously the full version didn’t quite make it on the album,” he continues. “But we’re doing a coffee table book to accompany the release, and the full transcription – done by me – is in there, all that yelling will be available for anyone to read. The version that is on the album I think sums up that feeling of nostalgia versus reality perfectly. Because he does mention gentrification, but the key thing he’s talking about is just change and how we perceive all the different times in our lives. It’s a different flavour of nostalgia to the rest of the album, but it’s just about going home, really. His mates say he’s changed when actually everything’s constantly changing, and that’s definitely something I relate to, even though Guernsey might move at a slower pace.”
This sense of nostalgia springing directly from how the world keeps changing is a motif that Alex comes back to throughout the interview, saying: “I guess what it’s really about is whether this nostalgia which permeates everything is a good thing. Whether we should be looking back for hope and comfort, or whether we should be pressing on. It’s a topic that the album doesn’t really come to a conclusion about, but my personal opinion, which is probably injected into the album somewhere, is that nostalgia can be really useful. It’s a way to learn from history, as well as being a safe place away from… these times, which are confusing and pretty miserable, particularly for my generation – without getting too preachy!”
“It’s a pretty broad topic, but I got really into this one aspect of it called hauntology, which is from a book by a guy called Mark Fisher. I’m now going to completely butcher the explanation of hauntology, but basically, it’s about 20-year cycles and culture being caught up in its own past, and that really informed a lot of the things I was talking about throughout writing the album.”
Nostalgia and memory might be big themes for the album and for Alex, but there’s still one particular trip down memory lane he doesn’t want to take. “I don’t google myself, but not because of bad reviews or anything, I just really don’t want to get confronted with a press shot from 6 years ago where I look like a complete nob, and to know that it’s just sitting there forever. I think I’d say that’s the worst part of being a musician, nothing like that ever goes away.”
Taken from the February issue of Dork. Mura Masa’s album ‘R.Y.C (Raw Youth Collage)’ is out now.
Words: Jake Hawkes