We catch up with vocalist and filmmaker Wesley Joseph, as he reflects upon life as an independent artist, the AIM Awards 2022 nomination and his upcoming sophomore body of work.
There are many parallels between music and film. Both creative mediums act as one’s vision fully materialised from pitch to production. While music is often entrenched in melody, cadence and rhythm, film is often underpinned by mise-en-scène, framing and performances.
Roll sound and… action! Enter, Wesley Joseph. The Walsall-born, East London-based musician-director never set his sights on the UK rap scene, nor the UK music quarry in general. As a child, his gaze was deadlocked onto Pixar’s 1995 classic, ‘Toy Story’. Entranced by its worldbuilding, sharp animation and digital aptitude, Joseph was hooked. Later graduating from film school, the West Midlands artist applied what he’d learned to his audio and visual presentation from the get-go.
Rarely collaborating with others vocally, Joseph constructed his character with a mystique more akin to Tyler Durden [‘Fight Club’] than Tyler, The Creator. With music heads impressed by Joseph’s 2020 breakout track “Ghostin”, Joseph was touted as the next big thing in UK music.
Last June, Joseph shared his debut project, ‘Ultramarine’. The eight-track ensemble was a lo-fi detour into bedroom pop, alternative R&B and smoke rap – coated in a layer of low-fidelity beatwork that impressed the music press and the underground scene alike. This February, Joseph shared the Leon Vynehall co-produced single “Cold Summer”. Assembled with trap-licked production quirks and freezer-fresh rap stanzas, this track was the first piece of Joseph’s forthcoming second tape.
Before Joseph could even follow up with another single, he was snatched up by the prestigious AIM Awards, with his “Thrilla” visuals winning AIM Awards’ Best Independent Video Award in 2021. Continuing to prove his ‘one to watch’ credentials, Wesley recently received a double nomination at the upcoming AIM Awards 2022, for Best Independent EP/Mixtape and Best Independent Video. Dedicated to championing independent artists, labels and outstanding individuals, the in-person event is set to return at London’s Roundhouse on September 28th.
As the Black Country multi-hyphenate gears up for his 2023 project, we sat down with Wesley Joseph to investigate his relationship with music and film, the importance of artistic integrity, and the role music plays in self-expression.
What was the catalyst that made you want to be an artist?
‘Toy Story’. Specifically, that first movie. I remember watching that as a kid. It was the perfect escape. I remember just feeling warm inside watching it. I can never forget I asked my Mum: “who are the people who made this?” and she told me it was Pixar. From there, I always aspired to work for Pixar. I guess it was a full circle moment for me when Pixar’s former technical director, Najeeb Tarazi, did my video for “Ghostin”.
Was it difficult breaking into the industry as an artist from Walsall?
I never really thought about it. In Walsall, I was very isolated. No one around me had been on the radio or had a big team behind them or anything like that. I came up around 18/19 years old with a very romanticised, farfetched perception of what the industry was like. The internet was my first vehicle. I didn’t see music as something I needed to get into London; I saw the internet as a world stage where everyone could take in my work. Both music and film. I see film as my favourite medium of art.
Speaking of film, you’re a film school graduate, which means you came up in a very non-traditional way, compared to many UK artists. Was that a challenging transition between film and music for you?
It’s funny you ask that. To be honest, I don’t even know if that pivot has even occurred for me yet. I see both film and music as the same – they share the same amount of importance to me. I guess the world sees me putting a focus on my music right now, but that doesn’t mean I’ve definitively picked one.
Any parallels between directing and making music?
Yeah, there’s a bunch, actually. I think with both making music and directing a film; you’re trying to create a feeling of some kind. I believe that feeling can be told through various beats, melodies, tempos, strings or verses. In that same breath, directing is all about storytelling and capturing an idea down to every last minuscule detail.
I’m sure you’ve heard of synaesthesia: the idea of seeing sounds. I want to play a quick game with you where we’re going to run with a similar concept to seeing sounds, but instead, we’re going to do it with movies. I want you to tell me a film you associate with these songs of yours: “Thrilla”, “Martyrs” and “Ur_Room”.
To me, “Thrilla” is that song is all about balance; it’s about dark and light. Regarding colours, “Thrilla” reminds me of Wes Anderson’s work or maybe even Stephen King. There’s something quite chilling about that track.
For “Martyrs”, it’s kinda similar. That track is melancholic to me. I’d probably say the movie that comes to mind when I think about that track is ‘City of God’. There’s real dirt and realism to that track.
For “Ur_Room”, I’d say that song isn’t like one specific movie or director, but more like that one pivotal scene in a movie like ‘Scarface’ where the protagonist is on top, and the shit is about to kick off. In other words, “Ur_Room” is like kissing the love of your life, knowing you’ll never see them again.
As an independent artist, what’s something you wish you could tell your younger self?
When I was 18, things were much harder for me back then, compared to how they are now. I was doing my own marketing, engineering, production, and artwork back then. I’d probably tell myself to stay resilient, push through and make the right decisions creatively. Also, I’d probably tell myself it’s important to know when to fall back because so many people were popping back when I first started out that are now nowhere to be found. That’s the problem with a lot of these major labels.
Would you ever sign to a major record label?
I don’t know. Never say never, but probably not. Early in my career, I sat down and looked through all the terms and conditions and small-print that come with signing, and it just didn’t align with me from a business and creative standpoint. I think staying independent helps me retain all the hard work and infrastructure I’ve been building all these years.
Your feature list is often very light; is that intentional?
Being independent, a massive recording budget wasn’t always within reach – it was all very DIY. Because of that, if I needed a hook, I’d do it. If I needed a rap verse, I’d rap it. I never really looked elsewhere. I continuously operated with the idea that I needed to prove myself. Why would I reach out to X, Y or Z for a feature if I felt I hadn’t built up my foundations yet? I am much more open to working with different artists and producers in terms of beats.
Do you have any dream collaborations?
Yeah! Sampha, James Blake, Frank Ocean, Baby Keem and Kendrick Lamar. I think those five artists are people I’d love to get into the studio with.
Your project ‘Ultramarine’ was sparse, cloudy and introspective. How does your upcoming project compare musically?
This new project feels a lot more vibrant and more current. It’s a reflection of where I just was mentally. I’ve just left that space metaphorically, and I’ve already started work on my third tape. My upcoming project was like therapy to me as ‘Ultramarine’ was so much of my DNA and being.
Sonically, what can we expect?
R&B, funk, trip-hop, indie: all of it, there are dance tunes, sad moments, and rap songs.
So, you won the AIM Awards for your “Thrilla” music video. How did you feel receiving such a sought-after distinction?
Winning that award was probably the best night of my life. The record itself was perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever worked on, and getting the video produced had so many uphill battles. I think receiving that award around the time ‘Ultramarine’ came out helped a lot. It made me feel like my goals were achievable. For the “Thrilla” video, a lot of production companies and people in the industry turned me down and told me the concept of the video couldn’t be done on the budget I was working with. To have it not only fully realised but recognised by AIM was life-changing.
It’s been a minute since ‘Cold Summer’, when can we expect new music from you?
I can’t tell you when my new project is dropping but expect a new single from me very, very soon. I’ll be sharing my new track before the year closes out. Stay tuned for that.