One of the most prolific producers in hip-hop, Swindle talks to Notion about all things music, life, and how we can inspire others.
London producer Swindle is known for creating two types of music, one that produces good vibes and one that allows the tough questions to be asked – this is why he’s become so loved over time. Whether it’s creating the conversational, good feeling ‘Lost’ with the likes of Loyle Carner, Kojey Radical and JNR Williams or if it’s making powerful and inspiring tracks such as ‘Knowledge’ with Kiko Bun and Eva Lazarus, Swindle is only showing glimpses of what is to come.
The interview began and it was an immediate vibe, but one moment really stuck out to this writer. “I’m still trying to satisfy my creative need” he explains as the topic of creating honest music came up. It’s easy in this music world to make music that is all about gaining followers, only wanting girls and the like. To write, rap, and produce music that touches any listener’s soul can be difficult, but as many rappers go through hard times, they are beginning to write about those hard times even more. This is allowing for honest music to come through and have a connection with fans, family, and strangers unlike any other.
“Honest music makes everyone dance” is a quote Swindle himself has used many times when discussing the impact of music on his life. As a child, he was told he would never make it, told he’d be a failure, but life somehow showed him a different path when his mindset was fully focused on music from a young age. During the lockdown life was showing a path of retirement for Swindle, a chance to be with his family. But when a fan explained that Swindle’s music helps this fan live with his disability and the music allows him to keep going on when the going gets tough, there was no way Swindle was retiring and that is what makes him so special. That connection, that love, and that realism is a part of the artist and the man himself.
Whether it be discovering collaborators like Joel Culpepper through him being a teacher of a friend of his or working Ghetts since 2006/2007, one thing is for sure. Swindle has trusted in the process and explains “If you go in with a pure heart and, and treat music right, then music will treat you right back in my experience. You know, I’m lucky enough to, I’ve been releasing music for more than 10 years and people still discover me now. And I know that it’s because doing the right thing by music and putting that first has paid off for me. So have the confidence to do what you want and, and trust in music.”
With the Red Bull documentary, you talked about being called a failure and not being able to make it in music, how does it feel to prove those people wrong?
Great, great. But first and foremost, being able to prove myself right is far more important to me, you know? It’s great to prove something to people, especially like high school teachers and stuff like that. But I don’t know if they know what I’m doing now or anyway you know, the real prize is proving to myself that.
“Honest music makes everyone dance” is one of my favourite quotes from you, do you feel this is true with today’s music?
Yeah, I do. I think it was always there in the underground and I think that’s why so many of us kind of gravitate to it. It’s an underground genre because the music was honest just like wherever it’d be like drum and bass or wherever it’s going to be.
You know, grime or whatever it is. It’s a true expression, isn’t it? People always gravitate towards that. But, in the modern day, I think that on a bigger scale, people have the ability to expose their music to massive audiences online, you know, and that kind of. Growth with the independent eyes has meant that we now have access to far more people kind of who have the confidence to put forward, like truly on this music.
I think that it has benefited the landscape of music a great deal.
One of my favourite tracks of yours is “Lost” featuring Loyle Carner – it’s a conversational track so how did that come together?
Yeah. This whole album was written and recorded in its entirety together in a week. Yeah. So during the pandemic, there was, you know, during that time where people’s mental health was spiraling downwards. We had no end of protests and just a very ugly social situation where people were struggling to have constructive criticism, constructive conversation around important things.
I did lay off isolation on top of that, which made it far more polarizing and just depressing. So as a result I kind of called this emergency meeting at Real World Studios where we were able to bubble for a week. It was on the first day of easing off the first lockdown.
This whole album was recorded at that time. So, you know, the reason that some of these songs sound so conversational was because they really were conscious. And I enjoy being the parent of artists in Koji Radical and Loyle in ‘Lost’. They were sitting next to each other on a sofa. You know what I’m saying?
Like Loyle said something. Koji said something and how you hear it is really how it happened. Same with Maverick Saber and Joe Colepepper, ‘No Black, No Irish’ in this big conversation around race. You know, we’d been protesting not long before this session and that interaction where Joel was sharing his truth without interrupting, you know what I mean? And having that conversation and sharing perspective and reaffirming their brotherhood, that was that song same with daily and in your darkest hour, depend on me. We were literally lifting each other up during this time of like mad, uncertain certainty as well, you know?
I’ve always had an important relationship with Southampton’s music scene. I hear you have an important relationship with Bristol’s music scene, why is Bristol’s music so good?
Bristol is just one of those cities. Bristol, I guess, is the perfect balance between inner city life, where you have cultural food, art, music happening, but also have a fast countryside kind of surrounding it, beautiful walks and nature. That’s just like an amazing balance, you know? So yeah, that’s what I like about it.
Are there any venues, places, people, festivals that really helped you become the creative person that you are today?
So many man. To be honest, traveling the world as a DJ just changed my outlook on everything and that’s what helped ‘No More Normal’.
Having these snapshots of different countries, you know, one day I’m in the Philippines and the next day I’m in Tokyo and then I’m in Switzerland and then I’m in Cape town. And then, I mean, LA you’re suddenly faced with how amazing and different these places are, but then. Through peace and love of music you find the things that tie us all together. And that, for me, was really reaffirming. And I also learned loads of production techniques by recording lots of instruments that I hadn’t encountered before, whilst on the road. So that’s where I picked up a lot of the technique behind recording live instruments.
I think that’s what makes each individual artist or creative person in general, because we all have our unique stories and our unique ways of life.
When it comes to inspiring people through music, how does it feel to be a part of someone’s history?
I mean, it gives you purpose and that’s something that we want isn’t it? Purpose.
I often ask myself this, so I’d say a positive memory in general. I’m the kind of person that walks into a cafe and likes to ask the person behind the counter, how their day was. And just kind of buzz off that.
I just like to leave people with something positive. And then I guess in the grand scheme of things, I’ve kind of decided that’s what I want to do with my life. You know what I mean? So when I’m no longer here, people can go back to these records and, and see that I’ve given everything I can, you know, I’ve consciously contributed to something positive.
You’ve worked with the likes of Loyle Carner, Ghetts, Kojey Radical, Joy Crookes and others. Does it feel weird to work with your friends in a professional sense?
So I first worked with Ghetts in 2006 or 2007. So, we really go back and I think what’s more interesting to me is the fact that we’re both still here. Yeah. You know, that all these years later, the game has changed when we first started. It was like, the ambitions felt big, but they weren’t in comparison to what people are kind of just expecting. The industry wasn’t the same, especially for black musicians and it was like being on pirate radio, it might be your ambition.
Or having a mixed tape in a record shop in central London that might have been the top of your ambition. Whereas now, you know, people come in and are just at a top five album this year, you know? So it’s just amazing to see the hard love to be able to go back and tell what kind of.
The teenage student won’t get slapped. This is what’s ahead of you guys. Do you know what I mean? I dunno if we believe it or not. Yeah. I mean to be, uh, I can also imagine they’ve also been some times where you’ve maybe plans a certain way of life and it hasn’t gone the way you want it. And I’m just curious to know this is also maybe me, me being, um, this may be just maybe.
When your career hasn’t gone the way you wanted it to go, how have you picked yourself up?
I see comments on it should be this and should be that it’s so underrated. And there’s definitely been times where I’ve felt that as well, but ultimately. To have come this far, this wasn’t always on the cards for me. And, you know, I’m committed to continuing on this journey, you know, and it’s not like I don’t make pop music in the hope to be successful.
You know what I’m saying? I don’t really have the ambition of that status or finances to get involved in my creative process. So what I present is a different thing. So I know that for me, it’s the long game.
I’ve read multiple times that you said you don’t have an ending goal, is that true?
I don’t want to keep to a time and just keep getting out. I might be coming to like the golden age of a producer, you know? I always say that Quincy Johnny’s made Thriller at an old age. That Dr. Dre’s album ‘2001’, was made at a young age, but I’m still on my way to that and that’s alright. I don’t think I’ve peaked.
Why were you initially wanting to retire?
The album happened. When we went to the studio, it wasn’t to write an album, it was to retreat and just heal. You know what I’m saying? That’s how I’ll put it. It was a musical retreat and it really just kind of lifted me up.
I really realized what was happening, but it would just lift me up. And, and the fact that I was able to put that together. I felt like I had to then carry on and present it as the new world and there was more music recording in that week than these nine songs.
But these were the most collaborative. Songs. And that really spoke to the intent of why we were even there in the first place. But prior to that, I was strongly considering just retiring completely and going off to something else. So it just shows you don’t know what’s around the corner, man.
I would have still been producing and doing music. Music is all I know, you know, I don’t have a plan B, so it would always be music. But I was in a space where I just felt like I needed to draw a line in the sand.
So I carry on. I get so many messages like, people who are ill, you know, like someone who comes to mind straight away is someone that’s always followed and supported what I do. And he’s developed Parkinson’s. Yeah, he’s deteriorating, physically. He’s used to doing gardens. That was his pride and joy enjoying these. The music seems to be so important to him and kind of motivates him to keep moving forward. That’s what motivates me now, you know what I’m saying? As I understand that music is what vibration really does heal people basically is the longest short of it.
Finally, if anyone is struggling right now, whether it be in life or career wise, what would you say to them?
Trust in the process. And if you go in with a pure heart and treat music, right, then music will treat you right back in my experience. You know I’ve been releasing music for more than 10 years and people still discover me now. And I know that it’s because by doing the right thing, by music and putting that first has paid off for me. So have the confidence to do what you want and, and trust in music.