To celebrate his nomination for Best Independent EP/Mixtape at this year's AIM Awards, Saint Joshua reflects on his evolution as an artist and how he defines success.
Storytelling comes naturally to Saint Joshua. Empathetic and observational, the south London-based artist has a knack for picking up on shared feelings, noticing the nuances that tie our experiences together. Whether he’s spending above his means on recent single ‘Blah Blah Blah’ or calling out frenemies on ‘Fake Friends’, Saint’s discography paints a relatably messy portrait of life in our 20s, and he’s not afraid to surrender to the chaos. Proudly candid with a commitment to his truth, he’s an artist who values self-expression above all else.
With 2022 project ‘EP2’, Saint Joshua followed through on his vision. As well as reaffirming his work as a skilled lyricist, the EP established the foundations of his sound. Rooted in pop and R&B but often experimental, Saint’s approach is malleable and always reflective of the story he wants to tell. With a new project in the pipeline, he’s delving deeper into experimentation with his most daring work yet.
For now though, it’s time for the artist to take in the success of ‘EP2’, nominated by the Association of Independent Music for Best Independent EP/Mixtape at this year’s AIM Awards. With the list of previous AIM Award winners featuring Little Simz and Rina Sawayama, the event is renowned for cherry-picking rising talent that will go on to shape music and culture.
Saint’s category competitors span a range of genres, with ENNY, Bellah, yunè pinku and Jessica Winter also in the running to take home the award. With the full list of 2023 nominees including RAYE, Shygirl, Ezra Collective, Kelela, Obongjayar, Overmono and many more, it’s a list that maps out all corners of the industry. Embodying AIM’s wider goals of levelling the playing field for UK independent artists, it’s a night not to be missed by anyone with one ear to the ground on the new music scene.
To celebrate his nomination, Saint Joshua reflects on ‘EP2’, his evolution as an artist and how he defines success.
Looking back to your younger self, what role did music play in your life growing up?
I didn’t realise it then, but looking back, music has always been an escape for me. I used to spend hours listening and learning about music. I used to dive into my favourite artists’ discography and watch all their interviews, performances and study their work. As I got older, I realised that obsession led to me wanting to make my own music.
Are there any artists you remember listening to early on that have influenced your sound, or your identity as an artist today?
There are so many, but I always draw inspiration from these artists whenever I make music. I love the honesty from Adele, the humour from Amy Winehouse, the quirkiness from OutKast, the emotions from John Legend and the versatility from Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake. I always go back and listen to music that I listened to growing up because it reminds me of the feeling, and when I feel that feeling with my own music, I know I’ve done something good.
You often write music for you and your mates, and your most recent track ‘Blah Blah Blah’ had that in mind. Can you tell us more about the inspiration for it, and how it relates to the experiences you, your friends and your listeners are living?
We are broke! I wrote the song when cost of living was doing a whole lot to my finances. I had a couple of honest conversations with some friends, and to my surprise, they shared the same experience. I was like, ‘hang on, it doesn’t look like that on the socials though!’ It was just that moment when I realised we’re all in the same boat. So I wrote a song about a fictitious someone who’s living lavish and doing the most for the socials, when they really have insufficient funds and you just want to tell them, ‘it’s OK, we are living the same’. I love the relatability of the song. Everyone knows that guy or at least someone they want to say ‘blah blah blah’ to.
Why do you think storytelling in music comes naturally to you?
I think because I write about the world around me. I’m always observing and people watching – sometimes I forget that I can be seen. I studied Psychology (for two lectures before I dropped out, but that’s another story) so I reckon I have an inquisitive mind about people in general. Not to quote Marvin Gaye, but I ask myself ‘what’s going on?’ before I write a song.
Do you want people to see themselves in your music? How does it make you feel to be able to do that?
100%. Music is universal and I try to make music that can be enjoyed regardless of ethnicity, gender or sexuality (or economic status – ha). It amazes me that I have listeners that resonate with my music. When they tell me how much a song can mean to them, it’s probably the one thing I value most about this whole music thing.
What other artists do that for you?
Frank Ocean. Solange. Wow, the amount of times my ears have perked up to a song of theirs and I’m like, ‘I FEEL THE SAME WAY!’ as I yell out to ‘Cranes in the Sky’ or something.
‘Blah Blah Blah’ is part of an upcoming project – how does the song fit into the rest of that EP thematically? What else were you writing about at the time?
‘Blah Blah Blah’ is quite candid and that frankness definitely travels throughout the project. I normally write in euphemisms but these days, it’s straight to the point. I’m introspective so I’m still writing about myself and my vices, but it’s generally centred around my relationships both platonic and romantic.
As an evolution from your previous work, how do you think you’ve grown in the upcoming music? Are you exploring new sounds, or building on what you’ve already put out?
In the last two years, I’ve released three EPs that have their own distinct styles. As a result, I’ve realised what I enjoy making which is a blend of neo-Soul and pop. My next project definitely harnesses this sound. I am making more daring music – some decisions I’ve made on the project so far I would not have done in the past.
This year you’ve been nominated at the AIM Awards for Best EP/Mixtape, for ‘EP2’. Reflecting on this project, why do you think it’s resonated so deeply with listeners?
I think it’s really relatable! I have four songs on there (‘Fake Friends’, ‘Palo Santo’, ‘Stuck on You’ and ‘Devil’s in the Detail’) and those four baddies have done so much for me, especially ‘Palo Santo’. It’s such a versatile project but blends together quite nicely. Lyrically, I think I didn’t do too bad on it either and I was happy to say things we often refrain ourselves from saying.
Would you put that project in a genre, or your music as a whole? If not, how would you describe it sonically?
It’s a hard one. I’ve had various genres thrown at me but nothing has fit my music in its entirety. ‘EP2’ is rooted in R&B and pop, which I think could describe my music as a whole. However, I won’t ever be imprisoned by a genre, I will always create music that inspires me to convey whatever story I want to tell.
What does it mean to you to get that recognition with the nomination?
I feel good. This is my first nomination as Saint Joshua and I’m proud to have the recognition this early, especially as an independent artist. This road isn’t easy and I often forget to celebrate the little wins so the night allows me to do that. I’m mainly looking forward to the ceremony though, I’m going to have a nice suit and a celebratory (or commiserations) champagne or two.
Who else on the nominees list should we get to know?
Well, we already know Bellah and ENNY! Those two are great. I enjoyed Adultsville when it was released, I had ‘Prototype’ stuck in my head for a hot minute.
Other than peer and industry recognition, what does success look like to you?
Success is unabashed self-expression. What’s the point in making music if not?
If you could manifest a dream career day in a years’ time, what would it look like?
A dream career day would start with my natural waking from my slumber. I have little to no tasks to complete because I’ve already handed everything in. In fact, I’d spend the day looking forward to my listening party event where we celebrate and listen to my brand new project and dance the night away!
You’ve got a London show coming up in November and then a tour early 2024. Can you tell us about a moment you felt most connected with your music and audience – be it a live show, or a fan interaction?
It was at my first headline show back in February. That night is etched in my brain because it was the first day of the train strikes and I was bricking it because I thought no one would come and the venue was packed! We had such a great time and everyone was singing along. It was just good vibes. Besides everyone singing to ‘Palo Santo’, my favourite moment was when I announced I was going to sing ‘Devil’s in the Detail’ and I heard someone exclaim, ‘yes, this is my song!’ That warmed my heart because it’s not a single but a track chilling within my discography and they took the time to listen to it. Thank you to that person, and everyone else who came to the show.
For anyone just getting to know you and your music now, what’s one thing they should know about you?
I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my sh**!