Exclusives Interviews 7 June 2023
Author: Ore Bolarin

Mnelia Talks New EP, Biggest Career Challenges, Inspirations & more

7 June 2023

Mnelia is one of the UK brightest R&B talents. With releases like her 2018 EP 2:4 containing tracks like “Luv” and “Speeding” Mnelia made waves in the scene due to her touching, introspective lyrics and idyllic vocals and melodies. Her breakthrough single “Say Yeah” released in 2020 put her on the map and the radar of wider audiences, showcasing her ability to make catchy songs alongside her talent sonically and lyrically.

Recently Mnelia has been gearing up for the release of her third EP Closure Tapes. Already we’ve been able to hear a few singles from the project like the retrospective “Closure”, the more upbeat “Genius” and the drill-influenced “White Lies” featuring Peckham’s Kwengface. I had the opportunity to sit down with Mnelia and ask her a few questions regarding the EP’s release, her career as a whole and more.

What made you want to get into music and when did you sort of realise that you wanted to take it seriously as a career?

 “It was really the only thing I was good at. I was a bit of a delinquent when it came to lessons in secondary school. Like I remember specifically skiving off maths lessons to go to the music room so it kinda was all painted out for me for quite a while, like before I’d even started artistry, music was a part of me and something that I felt like I could actually do. And then when I started uni and uni didn’t go too well for me, I was like, oh cool, let me do something that I love. What do I love? I love music, let me just do it. And then I just did it.

“And then I remember I would get like messages from like, specifically it would be like girls that looked like me, they’d be like, “oh my god, I love you.” And I’d be like, okay, as soon as I started to realise that what I was doing was gratifying other people, I was like, okay, fine. Because I like that stuff. I’m very much so like an outward person, like, I like doing nice things. I like being the person that’s overly nice, like I’m that person, so when I felt like music was doing that for me without me having to like necessarily go up to people and have those conversations, I was like, okay cool, this is the effect that I want, I can do this, I can do this, I can actually do this for life.”

What would you say has been the biggest challenge so far in your career?

 “Getting over myself. I’m too conscious of everything I do, from the way I walk to the way I talk, or I was. But I had to really learn how to get over myself. And also, I think, in the middle of that, because I had a child, the identity crisis that I experienced was a bit mad, because before I had my son, I was like, I don’t know what I’m doing. And then I had my son, and I was like, wow, I really don’t know.

“All I know is that music is a constant, and it’s something that I will wake up every single week I want to know where I’m going studio, so I’m making that song because to me the most rewarding thing I experienced throughout life apart from having a child now, is leaving the session and listening to the bounce and being like rah you made that? like yeah are we going to make something better?

“So I would say definitely identity crisis and stepping over the obstacle of insecurity, which is something to hard deal with. I think it amplifies itself when you’re in people’s faces, 1000%, but I also just think whether you’re in your bedroom or whether you’re on a TV screen, your insecurities are your insecurities. So having to be like, whoa I’m scared. But it’s a step-by-step thing. I’m starting to realise you’ll never really ever be 100% like, yeah, I’m that person because there are days that are built to knock you. But like on the other side of that day, that I’m starting to get used to that.”

One of the most interesting collabs on there is the KwengFace collab on “White Lies”, how did that come about?

“It was kind of random, but I don’t believe in random things. I genuinely feel like fate aligns itself. Like, I feel like we were always going to end up crossing paths one way or another. We have too many synchronicities for it to just not have been like that. So, my A&R at the time, she goes around London playing my music essentially, like she’s one of the biggest cheerleaders and she must have gone to a session with his manager, played the song once…and the next thing I knew I just got a bounce, I didn’t hear Kwengface is gonna jump on your song. I didn’t hear anything. There was no prelude. It was straight into it. Kwengface is on your song.

“I listened to it. I was like, is he singing? Like, the man’s singing. I was like, no matter what happens, I have to do something with this. Just because I genuinely feel like for someone who does drill to step so out of pocket on an R&B song, and actually sing with his full chest. I said, you know, big up yourself. Honestly, I have the utmost respect for Kweng. I love him so much. He’s legit my brother. And I feel like it was almost like we made the song like five years prior, had known each other for 10 years, like that was the most effortless collaboration I think I’ve ever had in my life.”

“He made it so, so smooth. And I never have rocky collaborations. Anytime I ever, always so smooth. But that one, takes the cream, it was just amazing. It’s one for the boys…I make sure that a lot of my music is digestible for them.”

Sticking on the topic of collabs and stuff, who would you say is your dream collaboration?

“Lauryn Hill. My answer has changed so many times over the years, but I think I’ve come to realise that so Frank Ocean is the love of my life, like from top to bottom, that man with every single fibre of my being, every single time. He’s so sacred to me that I just wouldn’t even want to, he’s that one person I wouldn’t even meet, like I love you so much that I don’t want to meet and taint any perception. But for me, Lauryn Hill, is legit the epitome of artistry. From her demeanour to the way she articulates herself, her bank of knowledge, the way she conducts herself and makes music.”

“In the UK, Angel, WSTRN I would love to collab with, Ava would love to collab with, Craig David I’d love to collab with, if I could collab with Sade.”

Who are some of your biggest inspirations in the music industry and music in general?

“Definitely Frank, definitely Brandy, definitely Jasmine Sullivan, definitely Craig David. My dad, though, he’s not in the music industry, but my dad was at the epicentre of my musical influence because he was the first person to introduce me to music, he was the first person to introduce me to singing, he was the first person that mentored me, like my dad would sing in church and I would just copy him. Like, I remember I never used to be able to sing lead. I would always harmonize because my dad would be attached to harmonizing. But like, he is the epitome of my musical influence. That’s one thing that I can never take away from that man. He got me here.”

What’s your writing process like and how easy does that come to you?

“My preference when it comes to writing is that it’s a collaborative effort, because I’m an over-thinker so there’s only so much that my world can channel into one song. I will take 15,000 different topics and put them in one song if I could, I promise you. Everything has its own world, but I find that whenever you collaborate, not only do you give people the space to be able to build in your world but on top of that as well you take things outside of your perspective. So a lot of the time I like to collaborate, but in the case where I’m writing by myself it would just need me and a piano because I truly believe a song is only good if you can play it with one instrument.

“Like if you have one instrument and that song is good, it’s a hit. That’s the way I see it. If you have to dress it up with the beat, then you’re running away. And this part, especially specifically in creating this project, the emphasis has been on vulnerability and making sure that I’m not trying to hide behind anything, not trying to hide behind the instruments, I’m not trying to hide behind the truth, just being very, very honest, raw and vulnerable. So a lot of the time it takes saying what I want to say and then drawing back and then creating the metaphors and building up this garden around it, but at first I need the soil.”

 How would you sort of describe your style and the music you make?

“Once upon a time this question was very difficult for me, but at this point now I’m starting to realise that my writing falls under the category of therapy and the sonic falls under the category of ‘feel good’. So regardless of whether the song is a sad song or not, the aim is to make you want to move. But I think there’s so many different places that I draw inspiration from. R&B will always be the bed, but it’s like, you can dress up a bed with any sort of covers and sheets and pillows.

“Sometimes I do pull from my pop influence because I was an S Club 7, Westlife babe, I was indeed the sort of girl that was listening to Take That when I was younger. I absolutely loved them. But then at the same time, I did have a fondness towards Erykah Badu, I had a fondness towards Jill Scott. I used to love Musiq Soulchild, like the elements will always be there. It’s just like a pick and mix box when it comes to me. Specifically with this project, there’s like, drill influence, there’s like an R&B ballad, well there’s like almost two R&B ballads, there’s like a proper like soul, almost jazzy song, there’s so much going on, but I think it would just be R&B and her kids.”

What was the process of putting the EP Closure Tapes together like?

“I’d be lying if I said it was a smooth slope. I had about two projects before I finished. So, 2020, I dropped After 6. And that was kind of like, I’ve been away for a second, only because you guys didn’t know I was pregnant, but here you go. Then early 2021, I went into the studio, and I started constructing a project. But I started to realise that because I had taken so much time out to be pregnant, I hadn’t lived life enough and the project didn’t feel true. It just felt like a cop-out. And one thing I’m never going to do is just give you a result because you want it, or like necessarily be like, people are asking for this, I’m just going to put as much of myself as I can in it as possible.

“So I had a project and I completely scrapped it, threw her in the bin. And then the process of getting back into creating Closure Tapes came at a time where there was like a massive turnaround for me. I had new management, my son was about to turn 1, I’d just split from my partner and it was like, there was so much going on and it was like this is the level of life that I kind of needed to be experiencing in order to put it in the music and finally make music of substance.”

“So a lot of it was getting in sessions, again quite collaborative, some of the songs on the project, I think two of them were made in LA, the rest of them were made here and the whole project came at a time when I needed closure, and so I would record loads of voice notes, that’s why I call it Closure Tapes. Because I would record a ton of voice notes ,or I would like think of a song when I’m really sad and I would just record the voice in my phone and I would just be like consistently trying to jot down and record and recollect my emotions to be able to just put them in the songs, as opposed to waiting for the emotion to resurge and then being like, I’m going to write a song about it.”

“It was all very live and happening in the moment. So, for instance, a song like “La La La”, I think genuinely happened a week after a similar situation that I’m singing about in the song had happened, and it was like I was writing based in real time, writing real time. Like this whole project, every time I listen to it, I’m like, I remember this, I remember when I went there, I remember why I wrote this specific line. It was a whole load of picture painting throughout the heartbreak, before, middle and after. With the intro being the last song that we wrote that tied in cos I finally get to articulate what this whole project is about.”

What is next for you after the release of Closure Tapes?

“World domination. I’m not wasting time, there’s a child on my back number one, and there’s a whole city behind me. And if not a city, there’s a country and outside of the country, there’s a genre. And I feel like all of these things deserve the praise. And if it has to come via a little girl from the North West London who’s showing everybody why these things are so important and how they make a killer concoction, then so be it. I will be the sacrificial lamb, I don’t mind.

“The mission I’m on is very important because there are so many people that deserve to feel seen, and I’m then happily, like very, very happily, not resting until people understand that R&B as a genre is the genre, never the second, only the first, and until people recognise that, if it’s coming from the UK, it’s cream, full stop. Like we do it best and no one seems to know until they wake up and understand, I’m gonna be the alarm clock. I will be running around with my pots, pans and sticks and I will be making a whole load of noise. So that’s it.”

On her way to world domination, Mnelia has dropped her third EP Closure Tapes. Make sure to check it out below.