Working on his own terms, and in his own time, Col3trane has evolved into the musician he always wanted to be. Nicola Davies catches up with the trailblazer with the release of his latest single featuring Kiana Ledé!
Ever since Col3trane’s breakout album Tsarina in 2017, and the stand out single ‘Penelope’ featured on COLORS, the UK scene has cherished this enigmatic artist. With a name inspired by jazz legend John Coltrane, Cole Basta has taken it upon himself to make the type of RnB, soul and jazz-infused music that typically comes out of the US. Made easier by American dual citizenship via his parents, Col3trane has harnessed the opportunities more abounding out there for him.
With a near prolific discography for someone less than four years in the game, Col3trane is admired across the world by fans and industry alike, with collaborators such as Kiana Ledé, GoldLink and Miraa May. Using lockdown to finalise his next EP, this already successful artist is about to unleash his full potential.
I saw that you just turned 21, happy birthday! That’s a big milestone, what did you do to celebrate in lockdown?
I was going to be in LA, but we had a little party down here [his girlfriend’s family house] just the five of us. Lots and lots of drinking, good food, it was a nice vibe, man. I’m not really big on the party with loads of people thing, so lockdown or not it was pretty perfect.
You have an American passport, which makes splitting your time between LA and London a lot easier. What does LA give you that London doesn’t?
Nowadays I try and spend as much time in both places. With LA, there are so many random opportunities that arise out of nowhere that just don’t really happen in London, especially with the kind of music that I enjoy and make. I remember the first time I went there, I didn’t know anyone. Management gave me money and an AirBnB and said, ‘ok cool, now go do some sessions.’ I had just turned 17. Now I have a lot of really dear friends out there, so when I go the craziest shit happens in terms of collaborations that would just never happen over here.
You’ve collaborated with many artists but they’re mostly British, aside from GoldLink, and Kiana Ledé twice, including your new single ‘Clutch’ out today. Are there more collaborations we can expect from American artists ready to go?
I have a lot of songs with people that are American that are not out yet. For this project, it’s tough because I was going to go out there now, play my songs to people and see what the deal was. But luckily Kiana, who is just an unbelievably talented person, reached out to me at the end of last year and asked me to get on her ting. We’d never met before, I knew a couple of her songs but I didn’t really, really know her music. Then her album comes out, I’m like, ‘damn this shit is amazing’. I’m blessed enough to have her part of my next project, and she killed it on that.
Your collaborations tend to be super successful, most recently ‘Rendezvous’ with Miraa May. Do you have specific criteria for working with someone?
I love two artists that I really like and seeing their worlds mesh together. It’s just such a sick thing about music. But I didn’t really do it until the Heroine EP because it’s less easy for an artist to reach out when you don’t have something out.
Firstly, I have to like your music, that’s just the very basic criteria. Second of all, I’ve got to vibe with you as a person. All of the people I make music with, they’re all my friends I can hit up and have a conversation with. I think it’s really important to talk to the people you collaborate with and have a connection with them that’s not solely based around music.
Who would be your dream collaborator?
Probably Nas. To me, he is the greatest rapper of all time, and if I could put him on one of my joints that work, that would be really, really crazy for me, and I hope for supporters of mine.
You’ve worked with producer J Moon from the very beginning, and a large majority of your tracks are with him.
J[ay] is my fucking guy. He’s my Raphael Saadiq, he’s my Dr. Dre. He’s amazingly talented, and everything that I’ve made, he’s always had a hand in it some way or another. My sound would be very different if I didn’t have J[ay]. He’s a creative genius, and he’s completely insane, but there’s no one else like him and I love him.
How do you know when you’re ready to let a track go?
I’m getting way better at that. I used to suck, I used to be the guy who would spend eight years EQing a kick drum. With some songs I’ve put out, by the end stages of finishing the song, it wasn’t fun anymore – it didn’t feel like music, it felt like labouring, and I never want to do that again, and I’ve never done that since. Now as soon as a song stops being fun, we move on and then come back to it.
You’re always in the room but you don’t give yourself a production credit. Have you ever wanted to be a legit co-producer?
I’m not the guy at the desk making the song from the very beginning to the very end, but I’m definitely co-producing all of my songs. I’m never in the backseat. I never gave myself production credits, just because I didn’t really understand what it meant to give yourself a credit like that. As long as people know I’m writing my own songs, I don’t really care.
How important is songwriting control to you?
It’s important. All of mine and my supporter’s favourite songs are ones I’ve written on my own. It was something I really didn’t want to do at the beginning but I have fun with it, especially when I’m doing it with four other people. If I have a song that I want to write, I’m not going to get someone to help me write it, I’ll write it myself.
You have so many female/feminine names for your songs and projects – Tsarina, Penelope, Marie Antoinette, Heroine, Britney, Momma Bear. Who is your feminine muse, and is this a conscious direction?
I was mainly raised by my Ma, and that was obviously a really big impact on me from young. There are a lot of strong women in my life that I’m constantly inspired by, and worth shouting about. My most recent songs are about my girl, which is a beautiful recent development in my life. Those songs just wrote themselves, it’s hard to describe how or why they happened.
I read in a previous interview that Tsarina was your first project so you got out all the ideas that you ever had on that. How hard was it to make the second project?
Mad hard. Probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done because I made this project, and I thought I was ready for everything that was going to come afterwards. Then everyone was like, ‘sick, cool when’s the next one?’ Tsarina came out in November 2017, then BOOT came out October 2018, and between that time I did a solo UK tour, a UK arena tour with Dua Lipa, I went to LA for two months, I signed a record deal, all this other shit happened while trying to make music, and that was hard. Now I’m just calm, I’ve got so much music.
We have to talk about ‘Penelope’. It’s in two parts, which immediately reminds me of ‘Pyramids’ by Frank Ocean. It’s so hard to pull it off as one connected story. How were you sure you wanted to take that risk?
That’s the first time I ever clocked that about ‘Pyramids’, that’s mad cool. I was really stuck on it. Everyone was telling me, ‘you should do this, you should do that’. I remember I sent it to one management person, and she replied back, ‘I really like the second half’. Luckily people fuck with it. It wasn’t contrived, it wasn’t fake, it was a very honest way for me to show who I am as an artist, so it’s really cool that that’s the song people think of for me.
Its success has probably given you the confidence for you to do your own thing since.
You have a lot of music videos, probably more than many other signed artists. You’re so relaxed in all of them too.
I’m not, I try and be. It’s tough doing music videos. Now I’ve been doing a bunch of them, I’m getting to understand the language and how it works. I get to have more creative input so I feel more comfortable. With Jamie Whitby who directed ‘Rendezvous’, who is fucking amazing, from start to finish I was very involved in the whole thing, and it came out in a way that I really fuck with.
How does it feel performing songs you’ve written about personal experiences in front of strangers?
I think that performing live has become something different. It’s like they’re your songs now, and I’m just performing them to the best of my ability how I feel they should be performed. I’m thinking about the energy in the room and how to translate that emotion to people in the room and make sure everyone’s having a sick time. I do get the odd occasion when I’m like, ‘damn, this song is about such and such’, and you get a little bit overwhelmed with emotion. I sometimes think, ‘rah, I wrote these songs in my bedroom and now I’m performing in Kosovo and there are all these people here’.
Your career has escalated so quickly. You’re just 21 and you started at 17. What advice would you give your 17-year-old self?
I’d say you’ve got tiiiime. I don’t mean that in the sense of, chill out and do nothing all day. I mean really spend time thinking about what you want to do and then go and do it. That’s the advice I’d give to anyone trying to do what they want to do
What has one moment where you’ve stopped and thought, ‘Wow, this is really happening’?
I think when you start getting artists that you really fuck with hitting you up. Either talking to you about music, with people that you admire and they become your friends, that’s a really special thing.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
You’ve got to work harder than everyone else. Nobody’s going to do your job for you.
You have a fair few tattoos. What is the first and most recent one that you’ve got done?
I got a little ‘3’ on my arm, that was my first one. The most recent one says, ‘Sometimes it snows in April’, it’s on my belly, it’s a quote from a Prince song.
Who is the most famous person in your DMs?
Hahaha…Khalid? That’s my guy as well.
Which actor would you like to play you in a movie?
I don’t even know. I like Brad Pitt as an actor, I’m talking Ocean’s Eleven Brad Pitt.
Describe your sound in three words.
Soulful, heartfelt and smacking.
What’s your favourite line that you have written?
Does it have to be out? I have this bar, “She’s in my closet, and she’s talking about pieces / Funny how when she leaves, she leaves me in pieces.
Who was the last artist that you played on your Apple/Spotify?
Who is your Internet Crush?
I will say my girlfriend, not getting myself into trouble.
What can we expect coming up soon from you?
Lots and lots of songs that I’m sorry took so long to come out, but I put a lot of time into them, and I love them. I’ve got a lot of really cool features, lots of emotions, and an EP with a very aptly named title that I’m not going to tell you right now because I don’t know when I’m going to announce it.
What is success for you?
To be able to live to work, not work to live. I want to be able to work and enjoy my work, and also have my life and enjoy my life at the same time.