Exclusives 23 August 2019
Author: Alice Moodle

GRM Exclusive: Craig David chats about his new single, SW4 Festival & the future of Garage music

23 August 2019

It’s been over 19 years since Craig David burst through the airwaves and out of everyone’s speakers with his unparalleled debut album, Born To Do It. Since then, the star from Southampton has gone on to have more than 20 UK Top 40 singles and an incredible stream of Top 40 albums. With even more just around the corner, GRM linked up with the UK Garage phenomenon to chat about his next industry moves as well as delving into his journey and music career so far.

It looks like you’ve got a busy week ahead?

It’s not too bad, I came back from Ibiza yesterday and I’m going back on Tuesday. We’ve got five weeks left out there. It’s wicked. I’m halfway through my Ibiza Rocks residency and it’s going great.

So Ibiza on Tuesday then back to the UK for South West Four Festival on Saturday?

Yeah, I dip out for Ibiza Rocks and then we’ve got SW4 coming around the corner. We’re doing a full day takeover of the tent which is going to be huge. To see TS5 go from being a house party all the way along to Ibiza Rocks and now to have SW4 which is a festival where I’ve played before is mad.

SW4 have bumped me up to some next level. It gasses me because I know the day is full of wicked acts. You’ve got people like Big Zuu performing, he’s a top boy I love him. I’ve got so much time for him, he can spit fire. He’s a humble, lovely guy but just he’s ferocious every time he gets on the mic. But as well as him we’ve got acts like Mabel, Sigma and Basement Jaxx on the stage too.

You’ve got acts that match your Garage side, your Dance side and all the other genres that you touch on as well, has that been planned as part of your TS5 experience or were they given to you for your stage?

Yeah, we kind of curated the whole thing. I wanted to create a show that felt was in line with what I was trying to cover in my performance as well. The performances are from people that could stand on their own right and perform and people will be like “Oh man, you can hold the stage and do your thing”. The vibe is right.

It’s funny because we’ve got acts like Mabel, she’s just had a huge hit and that was in the period after we booked her. Everything in the scene is about Mabel right now and we didn’t book her for that, it was never about the song, it was always about her as an artist for me. So that’s super exciting, it’s going to be wicked for the crowd. I think the day will play out really cool in and around me coming and do my performance and also having Sigma close it out. It’s not like “Oh yeah, I’m coming in to close the whole thing.” I was like, “No, that’s my day to showcase others”.

So you’re in and out between acts? I think a lot of people are assuming since it’s your stage, you’re closing it, is that not what’s going down?

No! I’m not closing it, I want it to be about the other performances. I wanted it to be that TS5 could hold its own as a curated day because I think it would always be too obvious to close out your stage with your own set. l was like no, Sigma can do that. They can close the stage with some huge drum and bass, play the jungle, they can turn it up and take it there and let it keep going.

If I was to have my set off the back of theirs you’d need to keep the lights going, you’d need it to be full-on, you’d need the energy and I really wanted the tent to go out on a bang and I think that was, for me was super important and Sigma can really do that. So I think we’ve put everyone’s set in the right place, the way people are positioned throughout the day has been really thought out. Plus the tent thing is always wicked, it doesn’t matter if it’s raining, if it’s not raining, it’s always a good place at a festival.

So obviously, you can pull in the crowds, you’ve had record-breaking crowds at Glastonbury stages, you’ve filled out the O2 Arena, and now you’re pulling in crowds big enough that you’re getting stages for the day at big festivals. Would you ever consider doing your own festival? Like an Annie Mac Lost & Found kinda vibe? Two, three days of TS5 presents?

Do you know what, I’d love to do it and that’s so wicked you’ve mentioned that! It’s funny because it’s an idea that’s been bouncing around in my head and you saying that again has weirdly enough reinforced it.

I’m a perfectionist, I would want to make sure that I can pull all the bits of experience and all the different elements that I’ve used with Ibiza Rocks over the last four years of getting that pool party right because it’s not just music. When you go into festivals, everything to the food that you’re putting on, where that food is positioned, how’s it feels when you walk in, what’s the experience that you get when you get there? There are all these little things, it’s much more than like “Oh, you’re on stage, you’re going to a good job performance so the festival will be a success”. That’s cool but a festival isn’t just music, I would always want to make sure the experience is amazing.

If I was ever to do it I’m not about to go crazy, I’d start at maybe a one day festival and you build it out from there because my house party was in my home and it built out to where its at now, Born To Do It came from back in the flat and from creating these songs they’ve grow out. So I always think that you got to start small and let it grow out. So yeah that’s how I would treat a TS5 festival, start small and tweak it until it was perfect then let it grow.

As well as hitting up SW4 on Saturday we’ve got new music coming from you next week, you’ve got your new single “Do You Miss Me Much” out on Friday. It’s unmistakably you but it has a new twist on it. You could have stuck with what you’ve done previously because you know those tracks do well as you’ve got your hits off the back of them, but you haven’t. Have you consciously made this different?

I knew that if I was gonna do a Garage tune then I had to use “Fill Me In”, “Rewind”, “What Ya Gonna Do” or any of the Artful Dodger things I’ve done as my benchmark, even with “When The Bassline Drops”, it had to go through the same tests to be like, is it worth it? Are we going to drop this? And that was a time when I felt like the scene wasn’t really looking for Garage tune. There were a couple of people doing it like ShiftKey doing his thing and Disclosure were touching on some of the elements of Garage but no one’s really doing it straight down. So when we dropped that, I was going on the fact that I felt that the actual song and the melodies, as well as the production, fitted all the moulds, it might not be what the scene wants right now but let’s go. Then seeing people react to it the way they did was wicked.

Has your new single had to go through the same tests?

Absolutely. With the new single it was the same tests of have I got a good melody? Have I got a lyric that will pull you in? Can I do this acoustic without any of the beats and any of the whistles? I was like yeah I can do this on the piano if I wanted. Then it was like, okay, well the things I’m going to have to do that are going to make this work are the vocals on the drop, it’s gotta have a little wobbly kind bass that’s gonna let people know its Garage. So when I was with Fraser T Smith who produced it he was like, “You know what, if we’re going to do this we’ve got to make sure that it’s got all the new elements, we can’t use old school stuff because that’s going to sound throwback, so new sounds will make it feel fresh but also you doing it innately with your melodies are always going to be that common thread back to “Rewind” and all those kinda tracks” and I think that the Garage scene is ready for it.

Do you think Garage is coming back around to where it used to be?

I think that there is is a new scene emerging and I think this new single could be a part of it. People like AJ Tracey, Jorja Smith, they’ve come in and introduced it in a slightly different way. Conducta has been on the garage thing for a minute pushing it through as well as Miraa May out there doing her thing. Some artists are the new wave and I think that now is the time where people will hear my new track and be like “It’s got that new garage-style but it holds that nostalgia vibe by it”. A lot of the people that are listening to this new wave of garage and might have never heard of my original style, they might not know the original garage vibe, so for them hopefully, that’ll seem like something new to them.

You’re a household name to a lot of people, do you ever find yourself relying on that when you drop a new track? You’ve had so many hits and have so many fans that do you find making new tracks a little easier or is there a sense of pressure to live up to what you’ve done before?

I think I’ve got proper quality control, I always look at my new music as if it’s a brand new sound and I’m the new artist coming through. I don’t ever take for granted that by writing the right melody and the right lyrics and it feels like it’s something that could go off that it will.

When it comes to the release of it and how well it does, it’s something that you can get fooled by. You have to be super careful with thinking about how many streams did it get? Did it get the right response? All I can do is make sure that I loved the process and I know it’s of a level of work that I want to put out but I can’t fool myself, don’t gas myself. I can’t be thinking “Okay the beat was hard, there was a little wobbly bass” you get gassed and just want to release it but I’ve got to think no-no-no. Does this track pass the test? Can you play against “Rewind” and “Fill Me In”? Then also consider have I gone in and taken time with the remixes? Have I thought about who I’m gonna work with? Have I got in the studio and done some new vocals?

So to cut a long story short, it’s never taken it for granted because even if it was that easy, I think people can feel when you’ve just ridden on past hits. People can hear that laziness.

Can we expect more music soon?

Yes, a new album later on in the year for sure. But it’s going to be back to that R&B Garage feel. It’s going to feel more Born To Do It than I’ve ever gone before.

Any artists you’d wanna work with in future? Any hints of features on the album?

Put it this way, looking at the line up of the TS5 takeover of SW4, there are things in that pipeline that have been going on. But I’d say that people who I’d love to work with in future would be some of these younger guys coming through like AJ Tracey, Mabel, Raye, Jorja Smith, I’ve got so much love for her, there are so many UK acts at the moment that are just so sick. Then people like GoldLink and Anderson .Paak would be wicked to work with, oh and something with Bruno Mars.

Are there any dreams or goals you still want to achieve? Is there a venue that you’re dying to play or someone you feel like you need to do a feature with for your career to have peaked? What’s left on your bucket list?

My whole perception of what the  music journey is, what the industry is, what I’m here to do and what I’m here to provide is different now. My thing now it’s the consistency of creating positive, amazing memories for people for years. What I have to do is make sure I come with the right music that for people that is relevant enough that people want to be involved with it. Not those throwbacks that people are thinking are self-indulgent for me. To me, it’s being able to keep excelling.

You keep on giving people that reason that when everything seems to be going pear-shaped and it’s like “Oh man, I’ve got to pay the bills and I’ve got this going on here but I went to see this show and for an hour everything felt timeless and I was okay and everything felt alright”. I’ve said this to a few DJ’s along the way, you’re giving a form of healing to people in the crowd. Music is a vibration that is literally scientifically a vibe. So when you play certain songs, it’s vibrating in a certain way. Why are the hands going in the air? Why is that other tunes that you could play that have a hard grimy beat make you want to go screw face and kind of be in that and be quite aggy with it, it’s because it’s a vibe. So when you’re the DJ and you’ve got the power to play those tunes, you can be quite conscious about what vibe you want to bring.

I really embody that now and I want to make sure that everything I say lyrically to the way I hold myself and everything in-between matters. When I meet people, I’ll take the time do that selfie and have a chat, because giving that person that moment, even for 20 seconds could really matter to them. That is it. When it comes down to all those other little things like playing Madison Square Garden, it doesn’t matter. 

With his new single “Do You Miss Me Much” out on Friday 23rd, ahead of the sold-out day at Londons South West Four on Saturday, Craig David’s 20-year career doesn’t look like it’ll be running out of steam any time soon.