There comes a time every once in a while where a musician comes through from what seems like nowhere. For me, I have been broadening my palette when it comes to searching for good music, I’ve always been one for experimentation, and yeah, sometimes, you strike gold. Taking it back to almost a year ago, the BBC Sounds Awards introduced me to East London’s BERWYN with a song named “Trap Phone”. Intertwining a collection of soulful, R&B-tinged vocals mixed seamlessly with powerful lyricism from a rap background, BERWYN had me hooked. Since then, his talents have taken me through a journey of one mixtape (DEMOTAPE/VEGA) and a bag of singles which have since been released on his latest project, which dropped today, TAPE 2/FRMALHAUT.
So when I was offered the chance to sit down with BERWYN and pick the brains of one of the most exciting artists in the UK right now, I came with an overall sense of excitement, and some rarely-felt nervousness, feelings that only arrive when I know I’m speaking with someone special.
Now, off of the back of his debut mixtape, DEMOTAPE/VEGA, BERWYN, full name Berwyn du Bois, shares his new project that takes us on a turbulent journey into inner-city life, homelessness and unrequited love, along with a longing for his relatives in his hometown of Trinidad. Sombre, skippy trap-infused records such as “I’d Rather Die Than Be Deported” capture BERWYN’s past struggles with the Home Office, while previously-released single “Rubber Bands” takes us on a different journey of lust and love, opening himself up to the world as he shares his deepest insecurities about previous love affairs.
So it’s safe to say that the Romford-raised musician lives a very musically-open and intimate life with the fans. But besides the vulnerability that comes from the music, BERWYN is feeling good right now. “Life’s hectic, manic, but it’s all good. How can I complain, man? Life is sweet. It’s hectic, crazy, busy, but I’m balancing it – I’m doing what I love when the day comes, so I could not be happier.”
Straight away, signals of humbleness struck me. Comfortably smoking by his window, his awareness to the world, and himself, instantly showed me why his music appears to be so honest. But with that amount of honesty, the deepest of emotions have to shine through every once in a while. See BERWYN’s “100,000,000” to hear lines touching on homlessness and what seem like battles with personal depression: “you know I put the P into depression,” he sings.
Music seems to be the personal muse when it comes to using the microphone as a journal and therapist. I asked BERWYN if music is his therapy, his method of clearing his mind and releasing weight from his chest.
“It used to be my therapy when I could do it when I wanted to at my own will,” he said. “I’ll be honest with you. It comes like burning yourself – it’s easy to do, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. I could take this zubby and burn my hand, but it doesn’t mean it was easy to do, you know what I’m saying? So that’s what it comes like nowadays. But now I have to be open and honest with what I do, that’s a commitment I’ve made and I’ll stand by it, but you’ve got to learn when to flick that switch. It’s different now, I can record a song today, but I’ve then got to relive that song forever. When you’ve recorded the song, you’ve got to re-listen to it a million times, then once you’ve re-listened to it, you’ve got to sing it a million times!
“But each time you sing it, you need to realise that each person is a different person who’s paid their money to come and see you. It’s not like you can half-live the whole experience, each person in that crowd wants to see you live that experience, you know like that? So, it’s just about learning when you’re going to flick that switch and when you’re going to just be normal.”
Over the last year of listening to the music, the amount of resonations have been rare, in terms of how many tracks have touched me. I love music, and I love it even more when it connects with me. I listen to BERWYN in the same way I have been listening to Amy Winehouse for all of these years… Honest, unapologetically themselves and musically aware: sounds that don’t suit the trends of what is the ‘in’ right now, but sounds that have been written with an underlying factor of longevity. I asked BERWYN who he was listening to growing up, and who the artist was that brought the light-bulb moment of wanting to be a full-time musician.
“I can’t remember… I feel like I only really wanted to become a recording artist when I saw the likes of Ed Sheeran come up, Drake was just reaching commercial places, that was the time I wanted to do it as a day job, the rest of the time before that, it was just for the love of it. But, knowing I wanted to do it as a job… Yeah, Ed Sheeran was the one, Devlin was out there, Wretch was king of the streets, you know those days there? I would say artists like Stevie Wonder, Amy Winehouse, Aretha Franklin, these kinds of names… Yeah, I dunno, I’m sorry [laughs].”
But after hearing the names that were listed off, it all seemed to make sense after listening to TAPE 2/FOMALHAUT. Influences in the music are easy to understand when you’re told by the musician themselves, but the frequent nature of back-to-back individualism in the music allows you to realise that a new lane has been created. I wanted to know how difficult it was when it came to creating the new album.
“I’ve made like three projects! [laughs] I think the hardest part of the process was just getting over shit. We made loads of music, and picking this album, it was more of flicking through the music that we made, songs that could poetically work and line up with the title. Then it was just reworking little bits, you know, rewriting a line here, moving this here, working with samples…
“But yeah, I wanted it to feel like a concept album, but not so much a concept album – loose around the concept. Little things like the end and beginnings of songs, so that was the meticulous part. But for the most part, it was just about writing a shit load of music! So I got signed, I already had Vega, then as soon as the lockdown happened, I made an album of 14 songs, then things happened, then it became the point where the lockdown loosened, then I was wild and free and made another 30 songs, and it was like, “Okay, there’s another thing there,” then it was more like plotting because it’s like a business!
“You have to plot the next step from the last step, so it’s like how do we do that. Those are things you have to pay attention to… So that was the process really. But instead of the blah, blah, blah, the main thing is, go make loads of music, pause, go make more music, pause, then go and make some more music, you know what I’m saying?”
I think every BERWYN fan is expecting some huge commercial success to come at some point soon. After performing for the likes of Jools Holland, the stage has been set for a while now. But most recently, hit single “Vinyl”, has seen successes that have shot the musician into a new stratosphere of numbers. Written about a call made to his ex-girlfriend while in a different relationship, this song was written during the first lockdown, and is appearing to hold replay-value that will take us through the indefinite future.
“”Vinyl” came from the first lot of music that I did. When lockdown first happened, I was in this little studio on Cable Street. I wrote it maybe a week before that, then I went to the studio to record it. It’s about me calling my ex while I had a girlfriend. That was one of those 14 songs I wrote… Maybe I’ll release all three of those projects! [laughs] But that one was just a mental blur in the studio, you know?
“I sat down and wanted to write a story, and I liked it. It’s not often you can do that, sometimes you’ll write a story – well a kind of old story – and sometimes it just doesn’t work. But with “Vinyl”, it has a narrative to it, but not too much of a narrative. I like “Vinyl”, I’m happy with it. It did well… It was one of the early babies.
“I always get the nod of approval from the person the song is about just out of respect, because you never know what’s going to happen to it. For example, “Vinyl” has been played to a million people – imagine a million people hearing a song about you and not knowing about it, you know what I’m saying? So, it’s just about being respectful… I’m not in a bad position with anybody in my life.
“A lot of my music is experiments though, “I’d Rather Die Than Be Deported”, you wanna know how much of an experiment that was? The chords from that song – they were from a song I was writing for James Bay [sings, clicks fingers] and I’m going to write that song one day! But what I do sometimes, I like remaking songs, so I’ll take a beat or whatever and make something new from it. I was spitting over the chords and it worked – I’m glad it worked! Not all of them do, you know them ones there? [laughs]”
But now the experiments are working. We understand that we’re never going to hear every single song ever written by BERWYN, the diversity in the sound is what is going to keep us satisfied. Listen to debut project, DEMOTAPE/VEGA, to come to grips with a collection of sounds that embody a versatile rawness that has only laid the foundations for new, improved and matured music to come through the pipelines in this latest, and future projects. Commenting on the difference in sounds in his relatively small collection of released music, BERWYN smiles.
“Thanks, man. That’s what I’m hoping for, but I don’t know if they do in my mind. I clocked it the other day… You know those pens that come with all the different colours in the back? And I just got to use how to use one colour ink without letting the other one dry out… You know what I’m saying? I just got to try to paint the best picture with all of these colours. It’s a job but I’m getting better at it every single day.
“But, listen. I know that I’m going to be the best that ever did it, but I’m not that guy just yet… But I’m going to be the best that ever did it. I’m past the manifesting, that’s the stuff that you’re listening to now.”
Now as our conversation came to an end, we took it back to this latest album release. Compiled of 14 songs, a loose story is told. With each BERWYN release, you learn more about an interesting character that leaves it all on the line within a three minute record. Although the quality of the music is above and beyond the expectations of “good” music these days, there still looms an unfortunate (but slightly satisfying feeling of being one of the early discoverers) feeling of “if you know, you know” attitude.
Closing the conversation with his expectations from this new album, BERWYN said:
“I don’t expect any type of commercial success with this body of work, I’ll leave it there, it’s coming from the heart, so it will be listened to by the heart, which is good. That means everyone will have an emotional attachment to it. That’s great, because not many people get that from their album these days. We’ll chase the top 10’s, top 20’s on the next album. There was a pandemic, this is just an artistic display of what I was like during that time and what I think a lot of other people will be like as well.”
You can listen to the latest BERWYN release, TAPE 2/FOMALHAUT, below.