Saint & Nicola Jane Interview: “The urban music scene is on the rise in Liverpool”
With a new collaboration album as well as their own solo projects, Saint and Nicola Jane are two of the most prolific artists in the L100. Shaun Ponsonby speaks to them both about their joint release, the difference between their working and personal relationship and the rise of the L100.
Saint and Nicola Jane are a unique prospect in Liverpool’s hip hop and R&B scenes.
Each maintains their own careers and projects, Saint as an MC and Jane as an R&B vocalist. They have collaborated in the past, but now they have unleashed a full-length release, Still I Kept The Substance. This in itself isn’t unusual, but that the two have been in a relationship for a number of years adds a natural layer to the project that is missing from most collaborations. You can feel genuine, comforting warmth on the final product, which is clearly the result of a loving, stable relationship.
But that isn’t to say this falls into the cheesy duets album category, so there is no reason to recoil with horrific images of Katie Price and Peter Andre singing Disney’s A Whole New World. It’s a thoroughly joyful experience, the likes of which we rarely hear coming out of the city.
The resulting album dropped in the summer – which makes perfect sense, the emotional warmth on the record does evoke a summertime feel. But the project is ongoing, with the video for Just Doin’ Me expected to arrive in time for Christmas.
Ahead of that release, and in the middle of the promotion for Still I Kept The Substance, we spoke to Saint and Nicola Jane about the new album, their individual projects, the difference between their working and personal relationship and the rise of the L100 crew.
Planet Slop: You’ve released music separately in the past, so what made you team up for this project?
Nicola Jane: We started off working on a couple of tracks together, then we made a few more that were on a similar vibe to one another and people seemed to respond really positively to the new sound we were creating so we decided to make more music on that vibe and turn it into a collaborative project.
PS: How does your personal relationship impact your working relationship?
NJ: Working together musically has actually had a positive effect on our relationship if anything, granted we spend more time together which leaves room for the odd spat but It’s good having someone who is motivated, and Saint’s work rate is insane so it keep me on my toes with regards to writing and new material.
Saint: It does have a positive impact in some ways, especially when it comes to writing music, things happen spontaneously rather than working to a set time scale. For example I hear a decent beat or Nicola hears a certain melody and we can get to work while the ideas are fresh as opposed to sending things back and forth.
PS: What is the significance of the title Still I Kept The Substance?
S: Still I Kept The Substance is a sort of motto I apply when it comes to making music. So when I switched up my style to make this project, it sort of felt right to call the album that. Although the vibe is more laidback and soulful, The Substance and street lyricism I bring as an artist is still there regardless.
PS: I think the most attractive part of the whole project is that it is quite bright. It has a laid back charm, almost like a light in a particularly dark time. Was this a conscious effort, or was it just a result of your natural personalities?
NJ: We thought the project as a whole felt like summertime! Also with the music having an old school vibe to it we almost felt the visuals and artwork should reflect that. From the pop culture patterns and colours of the artwork to the locations and props we chose for the visuals accompanying the album.
S: I agree, We put a lot of thought into making it thorough and bringing it together as one piece. There was lots of chopping and changing, we made a lot of songs that didn’t make the final cut because we were so set on keeping the right vibe throughout.
PS: The video for Still Here is kind of emblematic of this. You’re both walking around iconic places in Italy as the sun beats down. Was it the plan to film the video there, or did you simply go to visit and make a last minute decision to film while you were there?
NJ: As I mentioned earlier, the project felt like summertime, and as British weather isn’t the most reliable, our sound engineer and videographer Kof (GoPlay Studios) suggested filming abroad to ensure we had that sunshine that was so important to us! The next stage was choosing a location that stood out as being a cool place to shoot a video and Milan Just embodied everything we needed and wanted for this particular visual!
S: Kof had a concept for the video before we went but it turned out better than we thought with the locations and the sunshine, it was perfect for what we needed, Milan is an amazing city. Big up Kof every time.
PS: You’re both continuing to work on other projects – Nicola, you recently collaborated with Miss Deep and Iona Fazer on a track called U Got Me. How did that come about?
NJ: I met Zakiyah a couple of years back whilst performing at a gig at 24 Kitchen St for Hushush Media supporting Shystie and we swapped contact info. From there Miss Deep wrote a few tracks for me such as Treat me Right and Man Like U and then we continued to work on tracks together, one of them being U Got Me also featuring Iona Fazer.
PS: In some of the promo pics for that single, the three of you look like a proper girl group – and I’m a big fan of girl groups! Are there more collaborations planned between you?
NJ: As the promo shoot for the video and the video it’s self-generated a lot of hype around the collaboration, you’ll be pleased to know we have decided to release a joint mixtape that is written by all three of us. This allows us to showcase elements of our individual writing styles, but is still in theme with our classic R&B image! It’s really nice to be able to work on something together as the three of us have become really good friends.
PS: Saint – you’ve also recently dropped a video for Through The Speaker. I actually found this interesting in contrast to Still Here. Whereas that was bright and colourful, Through The Speaker is filmed in black and white, and is full of more urban imagery. Obviously it suits the song more, but I’m wondering if there it was a conscious decision to separate from Still I Kept The Substance?
S: Yes, as a solo artist the music I make is more gritty and with this track not being part of the project I wanted there to be a clear distinction between the two visuals. With the video to Through the Speaker also being shot in Milan, I wanted to depict a different side to Milan which contrasts the more iconic buildings and scenery. Plus the tower block you see in the video was too sick for us not to shoot a video in front of! I’d like to thank Igor Salmi for his input with some of the locations seen in both Through the Speaker and Still Here.
PS: Still I Kept The Substance is full of collaborations with other local artists, such as KOF, Jamie Broad and Shak Omar. How did they come about and do you feel like there is a special camaraderie with the urban acts in the scene?
S: Kof played a big part in the project and laid backing vocals on a few tracks, so it was only right that we recorded a track together for the album. We’d worked with Jamie Broad on a few occasions in the past and I knew his style of hip hop would suit the style of music we were making, so we had to get him involved on a couple of tunes. The same with Shak Omar. I hadn’t worked with him previously but I knew his style would complement the sound of the album. Can’t forget TyTy, his feature was a funny story; we’d never met before but our studio sessions overlapped and he was waiting for a lift and asked if he could sit in on our session. Midway through the song he said he thought he had a bar that would suit the track, so we let him get in the booth and do his thing and he smashed it! Big shout to man like TyTy for that one, he made the tune a belter!
NJ: With regards to the camaraderie, I believe there is, especially between certain sets of artists. I think DJ 2Kind’s L100 Radio Show helped accommodate this as it provided a time and place for a lot of Liverpool and the North West’s urban artists to showcase their music as well the various L100 cyphers and live performances which allowed artists that wouldn’t have usually worked together to come together and unite their talents.
PS: Have you found it difficult as a rapper and R&B singer in the Liverpool music scene, which has traditionally ignored those genres?
NJ: Yes and no. Yes in a sense because Liverpool’s music scene in general does tend to cater more for indie rock music and bands, but I do believe the urban music scene is on the rise in Liverpool with more hip hop, R&B and grime events popping up at more and more venues across the city, so hopefully this means that rappers and R&B singers alike will begin to get the recognition and gratification they deserve.
S: At times, for example when it comes to set times and stages at multi-genre events and festivals we seem to get overlooked in the city, although things do seem to be moving in the right direction.
PS: How do you combat that?
NJ: Just by maintaining a positive mind state that is focused on the original incentive of why we make music in the first place, which is to create art that we can be proud of as as well as it being a creative outlet.
S: It’s just about networking and slowly but surely changing people’s opinion on hip hop and grime. There are more events that showcase bands and DJ’s because that seems to be what people want to spend money on to go and listen to, that’s why it’s harder to get the exposure needed for our genre to move towards the forefront.
PS: So it is getting better?
NJ: Yes as I said, I think the urban music scene in the city is definitely on the rise, I’m excited to see how it will further evolve in the future.
S: I’ve noticed more local artists involved in bigger events as of late which is always good to see. But we need more places and events that cater for local artists without there being a big named headliner on the bill.
PS: It is nice to see the guys who often make up the L100 Cypher get into some bigger gigs at the moment, even if you do seem to be placed unfairly low on the bill. I was stuck outside in the queue during the performance, but I saw the footage of the crowd for you guys at LIMF. What was that experience like?
NJ: I loved performing at this year’s LIMF! The whole day was brilliant from start to finish. From the nice weather and the acts that performed to the general positive atmosphere. It’s nice to see so many people from around the city come together in one place to appreciate music.
S: To be honest, festivals are probably my favourite type of events to perform at. For me there’s nothing better than being able to go and watch other acts and get involved in the atmosphere and it’s always a pleasure to perform as part of the L100.
PS: Do either of you have any more projects in the pipeline at the moment?
S: I’m in the writing process at the minute, acquiring beats and stacking tunes ready to go and record. I’m looking to drop a solo EP this winter.
NJ: As well as the project I’m working on with Miss Deep and Iona Fazer, I’m also working on some solo stuff, as is Saint, but you can definitely expect some more music from us together as a collaborative in the near future!
Still I Kept The Substance is out now.