Wednesday 22 April 2020

Freya Roy: "Fantasy to Reality" [Interview]

2019 proved to be an exceptional breakout year for the multi-talented Freya Roy.  The release of her debut, self-produced album, 'AHLKE', saw Roy credited throughout as the writer, composer and producer of a project released through her own FCR label.

Spearheaded by the infectious groove of the utterly brilliant single 'Midnight Train', and the strong follow-up '22 Movements', the album took pride of place amongst many highlights of 2019 lists - including our own - and its success was further capped off with a sold out, headline performance at London's Servant Jazz Quarters.

As a graduate of Leeds College of Music (under the  of saxophonist Rob Mitchell from the Abstract Orchestra and ATA Records), Roy also studied jazz & production and jazz guitar at the Birmingham Conservatoire - all invaluable skills that have equipped her to have her musical vision realised.

While the compositions on 'AHLKE' were inspired by a more organic approach - something of an homage to the neo-soul and contemporary jazz artists that came before her like Jill Scott, Esperanza Spalding and Robert Glasper, 'Fantasies' looks to explore sonic soundscapes beyond 'AHLKE's comfort zone - perhaps in some way seeking inspiration from past collaborators Simon Beddoe, Taz Modi and Dom Howard of the Submotion Orchestra.

Partnering with vocalist Maya Law (herself riding high with her own excellent single, 'Tired'), the duo seek to carve a new path into the realms of future soul while still clinging to their own musical sensibilities.  With 'Fantasies' serving as the initial teaser for a planned EP due later in the year, the new musical terrain that Roy looks set to explore seems destined to deliver thrilling results.

Blue-in-Green:RADIO couldn't be prouder to have secured time with Freya Roy to discuss her musical journey thus far, 'AHLKE' and how the new single 'Fantasies' fits in to the wider vision of the upcoming EP.

Congratulations on the release of last year's debut album 'AHLKE': were you happy with how the project was received?
Thanks a lot!  I was very happy, yes!  I received funding from the MOBO Help Musicians Fund in 2018 which enabled me to push some boundaries and do the project in the way I wanted which I am very grateful for, for example, involving the likes of Submotion Orchestra members Taz Modi, Dom Howard and Simon Beddoe, who really helped bringing the tunes to life.  It’s still an album that I think people go back to which is a great feeling.  It’s also on the official Record Store Day 2020 list!  The vinyl LP is being re-released for this with Vinyl Hunter Recordings, based in Suffolk, so it’s another lovely way for new people to hear it.

'AHLKE' saw you credited as the album's writer, composer and producer: was that album the result of a vision that was a long time coming?
‘AHLKE’ was my first release in almost 6 years!  It was the result of a long development of creative work, I wanted to release something that felt completely right.  I had been reluctant to release anything before this and was spending the time trying to find the sounds I was hearing in my head, develop my writing and production approach, and that could only take time.  I feel that this album was just the beginning of a new creative start for me, it was a very organic production with the live and jazz element at the forefront, just the tip of the iceberg in the sounds I was wanting to create.  Even since the release in 2019, I have discovered new elements and subjects in my writing and producing and I am still going through a development process in many ways.  I am trying to write as much as I can, and the more I do it, the easier and smoother it feels to create what I have in mind.

Which artists have had the biggest impact on shaping your music?
There are definitely a bunch of artists that have shaped and continue to shape the direction of my music, such as Angie Stone, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Roy Hargrove, Bill Frisell, Rosie Lowe, Bonobo and many, many more..

How does the process of writing and creating new music usually work for you?
It still seems to be a discovery process for me, and I'm regularly finding new and different techniques.  Recently, my lyrical writing has taken more of a centre-stage in creating in new music, and I have found journalling a really interesting way in helping to develop songs later down the line.  I like to go back to things I have written a few months before to find words and phrases that I can turn into a tune.  In terms of my production, I have more of a focus on the electronic-side these days, so another approach is sitting down and putting a beat together and building with a synth bass line, before adding a chordal progression which usually comes on guitar.  From here, the lyrics sometimes flow, very often I find it hard to push it and I might have to wait for them to come in time.  Other times, when sitting down with a guitar, a tune can pretty much fall out of my mouth and on to the paper which feels great but it rarely happens!  Somehow all the different approaches seem to piece themselves together and I suddenly find myself with a few different things on the go.

And another congratulations is due for the excellent new single 'Fantasies': can you talk a little about how that track came about and the collaboration with Maya Law?
Thanks so much!  'Fantasies' is a tune I started putting together towards the end of 2019.  I had taken a little time out after the album release and string of tour dates and was using the time to explore various production techniques and new synth instruments.  As I mentioned above, 'AHLKE' just felt like the tip of the iceberg with getting comfortable with my developing sound, so the time I took to create 'Fantasies' gave me that opportunity to find everything I wanted in the tune.  The song seemed to write itself on paper in a writing session one evening, and throughout the following few months I went deep into the beat-making, sound-scaping and synthesis, building layers and textures.  After a little while I started to lose my ear and love for it so left it aside until I was ready to go back.  Maya came over to mine to record one of her tunes, which is on her forthcoming EP 'Hitchhiking', and at the same time I played her the demo of 'Fantasies'.  She gave me back all my enthusiasm upon listening and after making a few tweaks here and there, Maya took a feature.  I had started playing in Maya's band around the same time, and working together in this way had felt really easy and fun, so this feature only seemed like the right thing.  It was really exciting once I heard it for the first time, it had been what I was imagining in my head and now I was hearing it out loud!  Now it feels great for everyone to be able to hear the single, particularly as the sound is where I am wanting to be right now.

I understand this single is envisioned as part of an upcoming EP: what can people expect from that project when it's released?
The EP is going to be more in the direction of the sound of 'Fantasies'.  I have been exploring more electronics and this has slowly been trickling down into my tracks.  I'm spending a lot more time making beats and working on rhythm, and my lyrics have also started to take more of a centre-stage in the process.  Although it’s a lot more electronic, there is still an eclectic mix of styles in there, some stripped-back soul tracks, some more dub-orientated bits as well as tunes with an R&B and hip-hop direction.  All tracks are different and, although it's not finished, they seem to be fitting together already.  There is a lot more honesty in the whole of this project, probably fuelled by the break-up of a long-term relationship – in a way, the EP sort of feels like I'm putting my flesh out for everyone to eat, but I'm really excited nonetheless!

You had a successful series of live dates last year: how does your music translate from the studio to the stage?
Thanks!  I like to create a bit of a different atmosphere when playing live.  When playing solo, I strip things back with more of a jazz feel and I will also [add] loops and some drum samples here and there to build textures and energy, allowing space to incorporate some improvisation.  I played 3 dates with a 4-piece band during my UK tour, all of whom I met during my Jazz studies in Birmingham and Leeds, and this was also a different experience, combining a range of samples, triggered by drummer Greg Burns, along with jazz improvisation.  It brought a new energy to my tunes and to the performance as a whole.  I think it's important to treat the recorded music and the live performance differently, they are completely contrasting things in themselves so I think it's great to take advantage of that and create something interesting and engaging on stage, something you wouldn't experience otherwise.  I like people to hear my songs in as many ways possible!

Who would be a dream artist for you to either record or perform with?
It has to be Angie Stone, Jill Scott or Erykah Badu... I saw Erykah perform at Field Day 2018 in London and it was such an incredible performance!

Is there a song (by another artist) you wish you'd written?
Angie Stone, 'Wish I Didn’t Miss You'.

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