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Novelist’s career has been on a steady and well-deserved rise over the past 5 years. When he initially received attention with The Square, his sharp lyrics and memorable hooks made way for some extremely diligent wheels on several radio shows. His departure from The Square confused many, but since then, Novelist has continually been evolving his sound and lyrics to develop himself into a individual, curious artist.
‘Curious’ is probably the most accurate way to put it – because Nov’s desire to keep experimenting with sounds, moods, themes, and genres is catalysed by his curiosity to keep discovering. The formulation of Ruff Sound two years ago also brought another shade of complexity to Nov’s character, the music – which was considerably darker and more menacing – confused but also attracted many people trying to identify its subtle differences from his original grimier roots. Now, after a series of EPs, singles, and releases on wax, Novelist releases Novelist Guy: an album written and produced entirely by himself, on his label MMMYEH RECORDS.
Keep Hush got in touch. We’re thankful to have exchanged a very honest conversation with Novelist about his role as an artist, the importance of change and choice, and focusing on the positive in environments which offer anything but.
Great to speak to you Nov, how are you doing this morning?
Love man, I’m good.
Throughout your career you’ve really asserted yourself as an original artist: only one Novelist, paired with only one Grandmixxer. Your work rate and releases have definitely proved that. Despite having pretty strong roots in London influences, your sound has fluctuated a fair bit. Where do you think Novelist’s creativity lies now? How far has it come?
I mean, when I first came out – I was probably about 16 or 17 yeah? – people didn’t know me then, because they were only seeing what I was showing them – of my influences. [Now] I’m more expressive of the things I’ve grown up on, as well as my UK roots.
I feel like musically the direction I’ve gone in, especially with my album, is just me expressing the majority of the sounds that have influenced me coming up. I got funk influences, I got jazz influences, a lot of foreign influences – like Asian sounds, down-south stuff in America… All types of sounds that I heard growing up. I thought, “okay, this is part of my…I don’t know my ‘palette’, let me pick colours from those palettes as well.”
Definitely, so you feel right now you’ve got a hybrid of influences going on?
Yeah, yeah, yeah – that’s the best way to put it.
Aside from the album, the last real sonic shift that we heard in your music was the introduction of Ruff Sound, but that idea is still a bit unclear for some people. Can you explain what your vision was for Ruff Sound?
Yeah, the thing with the Ruff Sound is that we’ve only laid the foundation of the music. I mean, the original Ruff Sound guys was definitely Dizzee Rascal and Wiley et cetera but they never put a name to those kind of beats, they was just making ‘em. Me personally, I make beats like that so often, I said to myself: “for this to be well received, I’m gonna have to make a full set of this stuff and then name it something, so people know where they can find it if they want this direct sound.”
That’s really where Ruff Sound came from: a lot of Memphis influence, a lot of jungle as well – it’s a merge of many things, man. It’s basically a half time or double time all on the one beat, if you’re able to do it and it doesn’t sound wrong. You know some people call it sped up grime – but it’s definitely not sped up grime, ‘cause you have to make the beats with certain grooves in them. You can’t do that by just making a grime beat and speeding up the tempo of it – it’ll sound cluttered.
Me and my boys, we were just making a beat at 150/160bpm and putting in the grooves and taking influences from jungle, drum n bass, ragga, like down south Memphis kinda style, know what I’m saying? That’s kinda where we stand with it and that just was what we called the Ruff Sound.
Novelist @ Boiler Room x ICA (2015); photo by David Brimacombe
It’s also very atmospheric. Was this your key focus, or was that to bring together the influences you had?
It was just to make another vibe.
You know sometimes you can be stuck doing the one thing init, and everyone’s doing the one thing, so you just wanna do something else that’s more expressive in a different way… That’s what Ruff Sound is.
Your label MMMYEH has in some ways become a platform to release it. Do you anticipate future MMMYEH releases being primarily Ruff Sound based?
To be honest yeah, I’m looking to do a Ruff Sound compilation – so it’ll make more sense for the people then.
Sick, are there any features on the comp?
Yeah there will be, but I can’t say right now.
And what have we got in store for the label this year?
I’ve got a lot of stuff coming out, just singles, and I got a lot of stuff coming out with my brother as well.
Brilliant. You’re album is really diverse, and I’m sure it came as a surprise to many who streamed and bought it. Can you tell me a little about your creative direction with Novelist Guy?
I just wanted to be very vulnerable, and put my actual personality in the music – because I guarantee it took a lot of people by surprise, the kind of thing that I was saying. I know myself and I been knowing myself, but obviously, growing up South East London, everyone’s this similar kind of character.
The public have known me to be one way, or a certain type of way – obviously I’ve always been a positive guy – but they’ve known me to be a little rough neck, still full of energy. But I’ve got many different aspects, so I wanted to make sure I expressed that in a positive light.
Yeah, one thing I really noticed is the stark difference in production in the album material. I’m also getting a lot happier, hopeful, compassionate vibes from your lyrics and sounds in Novelist Guy, it’s a lot more honest. Has this album-making process been a very personal, forward-thinking one?
Yeah man, yeah. I believe every person in the world has their true spirit, their happiest spirit, you know what I’m saying? So for me to get the clearest message out of who I really am – it wasn’t necessary for me to express all of my negatives, because that’s the side of me I’m trying to suppress.
I wanted people to feel some reassurance, I wanted them to feel there’s something to look forward to, to feel uplifted. I want people to feel happy and enjoy themselves.
Seeing that you’ve proved to be a diverse, explorative artist, which path do you see yourself going down in the short term? In terms of grime, Ruff Sound, the album.
Oh boy, wherever I feel like fam. I think the problem with the music industry is they’ve got ‘blueprints’, everyone’s got ‘blueprints’ and if someone’s not following their blueprint they get conscious of you. But music is art work man. Art shouldn’t have that business. As far as I’m concerned I’m an artist and I’m just gonna keep making whatever I feel like making, whenever I feel like making it, and wherever I feel like making it.
It’s for those who decide to like it, it’s not for everyone. I’m not like McDonalds, where anyone can just come eat it at any point – that’s not my thing, you know what I mean? I’m not a generic guy.
You know, there’s a massive capitalist way of going about things, like the way artists move now, but I don’t wanna be that person, because I’ve always made music for the fun of it. And the day that I decide to stop making music for the fun of it is the day I stop making music.
If people get it they get it, but if they don’t, then at least I’m doing what I wanna do.
Just one final question! I’ve noticed on social media, and through your music, you’ve been pushing this stance against (or away) from certain paths that people might take in life. Have you noticed a difference with your fellow artists, friends, peers, or supporters in their attitudes towards life?
Yeah man, I have. It’s good because at the end of the day, yeah, when the flood comes, you’re either gonna be part of the people that are drowning in it, or be someone that’s guiding people out of the flood.
And I feel like I’m not in the flood – I’ve gone through half of the stuff, ‘cause obviously like a lot of my friends have died, I’ve been stabbed myself, had my own fights wherever, some of my friends are in jail, I know a couple of people in a mental hospital, and I feel like I’m not really trying to push that no more man. I don’t wanna shine light on that, I wanna shine light on the good things, so that people know that there’s other options, there’s other ways of thinking about stuff.
Me doing that, I feel I’m doing what I can do. I’m not gonna go tell people “ah stop doing what you’re doing” or “live your life like this”, but at least by me being an example of some sort they can see that, yeah, there’s other stuff going on.
Well Nov, it’s always great to talk to people continually pushing barriers for UK music. Thank you so much for speaking to Keep Hush and I wish you all the best with everything.
Ah cheers brother, thank you, much appreciated.
Keep Hush is a community-driven underground music platform. Check out other interviews (like our recent one with Trends) in the Hush Q, or become a member for free here to attend our events. For a taste, here’s a video from last month: Sir Spyro and D Double E going hard.
– Background photo by @ber_clips –
– Interview by Saagar Kaushik, @_saagark –
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