- Words Demi Bailey-Paul
- Photography Jack Orton
- Production Studio Notion
Venna speaks freely about his upcoming project ‘VENOLOGY’, his love for using real instruments, working with WizKid and Burna Boy, and how his hometown helped him develop his passion for music.
Hailing from the music hub of South London, Grammy award-winning saxophonist and producer Venna is the mastermind behind a plethora of globally successful songs that have recently shaped the music space we love and know today. Effortlessly blessing any track and feature he’s on with his signature saxophone melodies, the musician has decided to step out of the shadows and take the stage in style.
Having studied his craft to perfection from behind the scenes, Venna has worked with icons such as WizKid across his ‘Made in Lagos’ album, playing the saxophone, and then Burna Boy on his ‘African Giant’ album, working on the tracks “Andybody” with P2J and “Alarm Clock” with P2J and Diddy. Venna then linked up with Burna Boy again on the iconic tune “Ja Ara E” on Beyoncé’s ‘Lion King Album’, no less.
Now, Venna has soaked up the knowledge learned from his artistic peers over the years to create his own path in the music industry, getting ready to drop his upcoming EP ‘VENOLOGY’.
Having learned the piano from the age of six, Venna moved onto the alto sax at 12 years old and the rest is history, attending performing arts school to hone his craft and even appearing in multiple bands with various acts, he was always destined to pursue music one way or another. Venna has been consistent ever since, making the sort of tracks that leave you wanting more, constantly on repeat. The young talent has had us all in a trance by simultaneously pairing his music with his enigmatic persona and never has that been more apparent than on his debut two singles from his new project, “Standard” ft. Knucks, a high-octane, skilfully constructed offering for his long-term supporters and the newly released “Avenue B”, which sees Venna truly showcase his unequivocal talent both as a saxophonist and producer, with added keys, vocal chopped moments, heavenly sax solos, and endless atmospheric soundscapes. “Avenue B” is a stand-out moment in Venna’s music history’.
Feeling that now is the right time to bring all the pieces together and share his full craft with the world, Venna wants to take ownership of the music he creates, and not just leave his coveted saxophonist stamp on the creations of others. Undoubtedly talented and unstoppable, Notion had the chance to catch up with Venna ahead of his forthcoming project ‘VENOLOGY’ to talk about his flourishing journey and much more.
A lot of musical talent has come out of South London across the years, do you think where you grew up played a part in your success, and did this mean you were able to nurture and grow your love for music?
I’d say South London played a role in my development in music due to the schools and extra music classes I’d go to. But to be honest, I think a lot of the praise needs to go to my mum. She made sure that I had music lessons inside & outside of school, made sure I practiced and did performances. I feel like my love for music has always been there as it’s something I’ve done my whole life, it’s just certain situations that made my love for it grow. Certain teachers, certain albums, and certain people have contributed to me becoming a better musician.
As a producer and Saxophonist, you have already solidified quite a distinctive sound in the music space that is recognisable within an instant. Do you try and incorporate jazz throughout or are you interested in exploring other sounds?
I try to not let genres define or box my music. Music is either good or bad in my eyes, so I try to incorporate what’s right for the record. Whenever playing or creating music, every part that gets added has to serve a role. However, Jazz runs through me, so 9 times out of 10, something of a Jazz nature will be played but that could get played on a Afrobeats record, a Reggae record, etc. Music is limitless and I try to explore as many different routes to get to the same outcome of making great timeless music.
As a young producer and musician, you definitely have an old soul, and “Avenue B” is a stand-out moment for your journey so far. Can you tell us what inspired this atmospheric production and why you chose to not have a lyricist on this one?
For me, Saxophone is like a vocalist! Whenever I play, I try and play how I feel like how vocalists will write/sing about how they feel and a lot of my favourite Saxophonists play with a narrative, well at least to me it sounds like they’re telling a story. Normally I just make beats and see what I want to develop further. At the time of making my single “Avenue B”, I was listening to a lot of J Dilla and A Tribe Called Quest. So I feel like that comes out through the swung drums. Regarding the rest of the record, I found a sample that I could build off and chop up for sections, and the rest I finished off with my guy Marco Bernardis. Marco always gets the vision and we just make amazing music with each other!
What can we expect from your new EP ‘VENOLOGY’, will there be any surprising features fans can look forward to?
You can expect timeless records! I put a lot of my heart and my soul into this project, and it sounds just like the music I enjoy and draw inspiration from. I made the whole project in lockdown so the features that I have on the record are all the homies who I was around during that period of time. So, I don’t think any of the features would be a surprise, I think people would be surprised to hear the artists on this kind of music though! This is a different realm for them but a realm that they all enjoy and that lives within them. I make my best music with people that I’ve known for years. People who trust my ear and respect the vision that I have and know that I’m just trying to make beautiful music.
You’ve won a Grammy also, a major achievement! You’re also probably one of the only UK saxophonists I know that has a big social media presence. Do you think woodwind players are often overlooked in the industry and do you hope to change that narrative?
Musicians, in general, are overlooked let alone woodwind players. Musicians are the backbone of the industry; they’ll literally give someone’s record life whether it’s for studio or for live performances. Musicians don’t get treated right in my opinion and I believe I’m on course to hopefully make a change with regards to how musicians are dealt with. Even when I first came into music as a Saxophonist it was a tricky one for me to maneuver through. I hope I’m a testament to the industry of how crucial musicians are because we can really enhance a record. One thing I’d say to all musicians is learn to produce! Don’t rely on others to get you placements! You already have the knowledge so just learn how to get your drums right and how to mix all your sounds in so it sounds sweet.
You’ve linked up with a variety of notable UK artists, ranging from Jvck James, Kadiata, Loyle Carner and Knucks, on your previous song ‘Standard’. A song I’ve had on repeat since it came out…How did these collaborations come about, did you have a good relationship with these artists beforehand?
With all these artists I’ve known them for a while! Some longer than others. I’ve known JVCK since I was 14 and Knucks since I was 16. Music is always better when you’re making it with people you know are on the same wave/vision as you. I met Loyle at a session when i was about 18. I just finished college and was trying to figure out a way to make music work for me. Had a session with Loyle and Conducta (don’t think the tune will ever come out) but it was good for me to meet Loyle and just talk about things. I DM’d Knucks when I was still in college after I heard a couple of tunes of his where he used a midi/software sax. So, I just DM’d him saying hit me up if you ever need a saxophonist. The first tune he ever sent me was “Home” and the rest is history.
You worked across the whole of WizKid’s ‘Made In Lagos’ album and also Burna Boy’s songs “Anybody”, “Alarm Clock” and “Ja Ara E”. Masterpieces for sure. What was it like to work with Nigerian icons, Burna Boy and Wizkid?
I worked on all these records with one of the greatest producers of our time, ‘P2J’. We’ve both helped each other in making these classics & it feels amazing that these records get the love and appreciation that they do over the whole world. The first Afrobeat record I ever worked on was “Anybody’’. At first, it was a challenge for me to kind of stop playing Jazz and play more rhythmic & anthemic in a way. Afrobeat is spiritual and it’s all about timing and where you place yourself within the music. I’d say ‘MIL’ is my favourite body of work I’ve been blessed enough to play on. We did numerous sessions to capture everything the way it needed to sound, but it was a beautiful time in my life and it made me believe in myself even more.
How does it feel making your own music now, as you’re used to leaving a saxophonist stamp on the creations of others? Is this you stepping out of your comfort zone?
I’ve always wanted to make my own music. I’m always my harshest critic so I wanted to make music that I’d be proud to play in 20 years. Music that when I hear it, instantly takes me back to the times when I was creating it. Timeless Music! It feels rewarding to be able to make my own music and it gets the love and appreciation that the music deserves. Music has lived within me all my life so it’s only been a matter of time for me to start releasing my own. However, I’m happy I took my time. I’ve been blessed with being able to be a part of classic records and learn from some of the best producers and musicians which have all aided in my growth as a musician/producer.
Having a well know presence behind the curtain of the UK music scene for quite some time now, what do you think is missing from the industry?
I’d say we need more producers who understand music and the elements of creating a masterpiece. People can make beats but there needs to be more producers who really understand and see music as a spiritual being rather than an 8-bar loop. We need more producers who will push artists to do more than what everyone else is doing and do something that hasn’t been done before. Quality control is something that is needed also, I’m trying to hear music that is going to age well and music that is refreshing and inspiring to all generations but more so for the next generation coming up!
As a producer who uses live instruments, what are your thoughts on computer generated sounds. Have you ever used any when working on tracks?
Regarding software horns, I haven’t used and will never use them. Think they all sound terrible in comparison to the real thing. Producers – go get real musicians and have fun making music with them, you’ll definitely learn a thing or two. However, there are nice keyboard sounds, flute sounds (sometimes), bass sounds, etc that I’d be happy to use. I just strongly dislike software horns.