Soul-brother [ K S R ] talks on his latest project 'Peace and Harmony', the Manchester scene finally getting its spotlight, the bittersweetness of touring while grieving, and more.
In the last decade, the RnB genre has trended away from its tradition of grandiose vocals and quintessential love stories, and towards alternative, progressive sounds that tend to include Hip-hop drums patterns and less ambitious, more subtle vocal performances. Manchester’s very own [ K S R ] is a rare breed, in that the appeal of his vocal performances isn’t dependent on tides or trends. He has a richness to his tone that’s evergreen, a lightness to his voice that’s transcends eras. Cases in point – his honey-dipped, 2018 track, “Sweet”, and his latest project, December’s Peace and Harmony, where [ K S R ] purposes the silk of his voice to tell candid stories of life and love.
As part of Manchester’s growing enclave of Soulquarians (including but not limited to: Pip Millett, Children of Zeus and LayFullstop), [ K S R ] exists as something of a stylistic southpaw even amongst his own tribe. His most streamed song, “Sweet Jungle” is a Drum and Bass remix to the aforementioned ballad “Sweet”, and his growing list of D&B collaborations sit, ostensibly at least, at odds with the RnB that is the mainstay of his catalogue. Through the course of our conversation though, it becomes clear that whether it be the RnB side to his craft, his EDM ventures or anything else he embarks on in his life is only ever the organic result of his true-to-self approach.
When did you start making music?
I started music at the age of 17. I remember being in college at the time – I was attending a vocal artist course where you learn to be a vocalist whether that be a session artist or an artist outright – and then leaving college to go [be a supporting act] on tour straight away. From there I then went on tour with Children of Zeus and that was just a different experience. Cos the first tour I was 17/18 at the time, then I was just like “this is hella different”.
It sounds like your career began really organically? More often than not artists are clawing tooth and nail for any opportunity, but your talent presented you with opportunities from early on by the sounds of it.
It did come very naturally to me, but at the same time you still have to put in the work – nothing’s ever handed out. I would say it’s been a madness, the last couple of years have been crazy.
You’re still in the early stage of your career, but what are some of the highlights of your journey so far? And have you had to endure any really low moments?
The highlight so far has been able to put out my project with (Hip Hop, Jazz and Soul record label) First Word Records. That’s always been a goal of mine, and to now being able to have a vinyl as well alongside the release, that’s something that I never thought I’d be able to do so soon. It might be a small thing to a lot of people, but to me it means a lot cos I’ve definitely put my whole entire emotions and blood, sweat and tears into this project. So, to now see the vinyl and to be like, “I’ve done it”, that’s been the proudest moment so far.
The lowest moment? [Takes a moment to think it through]. It’s not exactly a moment, but more of a lesson for me. In the midst of me doing my music I get so into it that sometimes I can forget what’s around me. I guess losing friends, losing bonds with family alongside that – it hurts. It’s hard to explain, but that’s something that I carry on a day-to-day basis, but I guess that’s a sacrifice that comes with the creativity.
You hear that quite often from artists; the burden of chasing your dream and the effect it has on your relationships. On the flip side though, having your own vinyl isn’t a small thing – that’s some bucket list shit!
I’m just an ordinary guy from Manchester that makes music. That’s it. What makes me so proud is that my music travels all around the world, but I’m still in this likkle room where I make the music, you what I mean? Sometimes, I process that and think to myself – ”wow!”. So, in my head now, it’s like, “how far can I push this?” What else can I do? How far can my music actually travel? I’m just praying for the future to be really sick, man.
What are the themes of your latest project, ‘Peace and Harmony’?
I touch base on a lot of emotional things. I’d say the project explores: love, lust, wanting to achieve and be a better person, and looking at the world from a different perspective. But then there’s a battle with tryna find the right balance with things – that’s why on the song “Harmless”, I say “she’s seeking for my peace and harmony”. Really and truly all I’m ever tryna do is enjoy the things that are around me, that is my peace. But the thing is, I’m yet to find that balance.
What was the process of recording and releasing his latest project was like?
It was mad, you know. I think it was the second lockdown when myself, my manager, Dom Porter, Ed Staal and Mercy Cartel, we all got together in [the town of] Lemington Spa. Originally, we were just making music, we didn’t say it was for a project. After the first weekend, I felt like the body of work that we had could turn into something more. Especially with the stuff I was saying [on the tracks], it was aiming for a project – you just kind of knew that a project was cohesively coming together.
Given how cohesive the project is, it makes total sense that you and select musicians went away to lock in together. Those ‘camps’ summon a creative energy that you can’t create artificially.
It was the first time that the Syndicate Collective [his team] said let’s just go away and create music together. Because of the success of the Lemington Spa trip, we’re still doing that now. The other day, we went to Bath, got a little cottage and locked in for 3 days, just making music. We don’t know where the music is gonna go, it was just like “let’s make the music” and see what comes of it.
That approach aligns in with your origins as a musician – it’s all really organic.
I’ve always said to myself: I don’t know exactly where I wanna be [ultimately] but I’m enjoying the fact that I get to make music on a day-to-day basis and that I get to perform. These experiences for a kid like me, I won’t lie, it’s really rare to be able to go up and down the country and perform, and meet so many people in the industry. It’s crazy and it doesn’t happen often, so you just have to embrace these experiences. Embrace them so that you can pass on the knowledge you pick up too, that’s important.
My favourite song of yours is “Sweet”. So you can imagine my surprise when I heard the Jungle version and all the other Drum & Bass songs you’ve been featured on since. Have you always loved the EDM sound?
Even a couple years ago I wasn’t really clued-up D&B. It was only when I was around Tyler and Konny [of Children of Zeus], they showed me that D&B is a whole world. That there’s a scene where they really will embrace your sound, your lyrics. And at first, I didn’t get it, but bro! Best believe there are people messing with my [D&B] songs! For me, it’s surreal. When I first started doing D&B, I was just giving it a go, and the more I kept giving it a go, the more I kept falling in love with it. Finding different pockets. Finding melodies for D&B tunes – do you know how fun that is?! I remember, myself Abnormal Sleepz and a couple other D&B producers had an event for Hit and Run which happens in Manchester. I got there, and everyone’s singing my song! I was there baffled! It’s one of things where if you’re there and you see it then you really do understand that that sound is everything to that crowd.
Why has your home town of Manchester been producing so many amazing Soul and RnB acts of late?
You know what’s crazy? It’s been with us for a long time, in my eyes. Children of Zeus are the frontrunners and they’ve been carving a path for the likes of myself, Kinkai, LayFullstop. It’s shown that now as a collective we can stand on our own. It’s not like we felt like we couldn’t before, but we weren’t really given the acknowledgment at first. You can listen to us and take us in, but if you don’t that’s perfectly fine, we’re still gonna keep doing what we’re doing, we just keep it cracking. That’s the mindset I have. Life’s short, what’s the point of me feeling down about myself cos someone didn’t appreciate my music. Okay, he didn’t, but best believe somebody else will in this world. I’ll make music for people that appreciate my stuff.
What was it like supporting Pip Millett her on UK tour?
Honestly, that week was really hard but it was also a blessing at the same time. My Grandma passed away in the week and I couldn’t go back home. It was really hard to go about things and focus, but you have to keep going. But even so, parts of it were really good, I enjoyed being in that environment. I learned a lot Pip as a person and the people that she has around her. She’s someone else that’s so invested in her music. I feel like we have a similar story, but just to see how she’s grown into the musician that she is and also the woman that she is. She’s such a warming person. And talking about her music – her music is so amazing. You could see the energy in the venues, how everyone was just taking to her and being show engaged with the show. I’m glad that I done it and I’d love to do it again.
Right after Pip Millett’s tour, you headlined your own show at London’s legendary Jazz Café.
That was great, to do my first performance with First Word was amazing. Obviously, by that time is was Friday [the last day of the tour], so I’m knackered! But it’s instant – as soon as you touch the stage something tells “you only have a certain amount of time”. The whole time on stage was just great man, you could feel the warmth within the crowd. And by the time we got to the last song, when I sang “Given”, and dedicating it to my grandma, that just capped everything for me. I feel like the whole night… it was overwhelming! I really felt like I achieved something that night. I’m so appreciative of that.
Being there on the night, I could tell there was a lot of emotion when you were on stage.
100%. By the night of Jazz Café, emotions were more heightened then and I had to use that as fuel. I‘ve never experienced that in my life: losing someone and then having to continue working. You can’t stop, you can’t go home. It’s a wild one. I always say that my story is wild, it’s very weird. I’ve gone through so much stuff to get to here, to this one point. And even this point, it’s not even the max. It’s like I’m here, how can I stay here but still elevate; I just want to keep elevating.
I’ve no doubt that you’ll keep elevating. You have the right approach – you’re hungry but you stay true to your artistry.
I feel like creatives should always know that things run at your own pace. We have deadlines and stuff but if you strip it all away, everything really runs at your own pace. Even before covid happened, I had been going so fast, I couldn’t just chill. So, when covid came, it was like [he exhales]. Everything stopped. I’m not performing, I’m not doing sessions. That’s all I knew at that time. Just to have that break and then to slowly accelerate to where you’re like “I have my momentum now and I’m liking this pace”. So everything is looking clear now, everything’s looking clear.
It sounds like music is bringing you peace, and now you’re close to finding that harmony.
[With a smile] Yeah man! I’m close that harmony now.
[ K S R ] is playing at Manchester Blues Kitchen on April 28th. Purchase tickets here.