- Wed, 2007-12-05 10:30
After two years away from the charts Kano is back, with his top 15 album, London Town out now, a sold out UK tour and brand new single, Feel Free featuring Damon Albarn. I Like Music caught up with Kano to talk about working with Damon Albarn and Vybz Kartel, London and why music is so important.
''I Like Music because.... it brings people together. It makes people smile and dance, it makes people happy. I like the energy it gives off.'' Kano
ILM: Your new single Feel Free is out December 10. Please describe its vibe and how it came about?
Kano: The track came about from hearing the Gorillaz stuff. I was just into Damon and what he was making and I just approached him. I got someone to see if he was into doing something with me, I didn’t know what. I just threw it out there, I didn’t expect him to agree to it. He came back and said yeah. So we got into the studio and just spoke about music. And I just jumped on the MPC, put down some basslines, Fraser did some stuff; everybody was just throwing in things, so that’s how it came about.
ILM: What was it like working with such a legend?
Kano: It was cool. He was easy going. He’s random though. He’s one of those people where you just have to press record at all times, because he’ll do something in the booth but you’re not recording it and you’ll say, ‘yeah do that, and he’ll be like, ‘what?’ he won’t know what he’s just done. He’s just constantly creating new things and onto the next thing, to the point where you’re thinking, ‘does he know what he’s doing?’ But of course he does. Then he started playing the piano which changed the whole dynamic of the song, changed the whole vibe and made it really special. It’s intense, the song, it gives you shivers when you listen to it. It’s got that vibe about it.
ILM: Yeah, it’s a modern classic. Did you learn anything specific about making music from Damon?
Kano: Nothing directly, but it’s just watching him. When Fraser and I went back, he just encouraged us and inspired us to work like that, to build a working environment where anything goes, where you can 100% express yourself so anything can go down. In his studio he’s got loads of little bits of equipment about, you can pick up anything. There’s so much music around you, you’re never really stuck for something to put in next. We took that away with us, we need to build an environment just like that, and don’t be scared, put anything down, even if it doesn’t sound like it works on paper, just do it.
ILM: Yeah, so go with the flow. Well the track is called Feel Free, and that’s what you’re doing musically with someone like him.
Kano: Yeah, totally.
ILM: The track also stars a kids choir from your old school, where your mum still teaches. Bet that was fun to record too?
Kano: It was fun yeah. My mum was telling me they’re looking forward to it. We thought there’d be 10 kids and then double it up and do it again so it sounded like we’d got loads of them. But my mum was like, ‘umm, yeah we’ve kind of got 15 now, because that group can’t come because the other class will be jealous.’ We ended up having 35 kids going into the studio. They were kind of shy, but it took us a while to get them going and after a few goes of saying ‘be louder’, in the end they were so excited and loud. It was fun for them and it was good for me to do something with them, to make their music lesson more interesting. When I used to do music at school we didn’t do anything like that, so I felt like I was giving something back.
ILM: Yeah, when I was at school, we used to get the recorder out to play London’s Burning and that was about it.
Kano: Yeah, the recorder, that was it.
ILM: You performed at this years MOBO awards, and you did a track with Craig David as well. How is it performing at awards ceremony? Is it more nerve wracking?
Kano: It is, but in some ways it’s less nerve wracking because you don’t really give a shit. At a gig your fans are there and they look up to you and you don’t want to let them down. But awards are a bit more stiff. But I try to find the people who are vibing at awards, because I can’t perform to stiff people.
ILM: Which track on your London Town album was the most fun to record?
Kano: Probably This Is The Girl, the one with Craig, that was fun to record and Buss It Up, the one I did in Jamaica, that was fun too.
ILM: For ‘Buss It Up’, how was it working with Vybz Kartel, one of the biggest dancehall artists on the Kingston scene, and his producer Don Corleone?
Kano: It was good when we were at the studio. But for the most part we were sat around waiting for the studio session to happen. It took about three days, but once we got around to it, it was good. Vybz, I’ve never really seen anyone like it before. He heard the music, he smoked, lets just say a ‘cigarette’ and drank a Guiness and started writing and in about five minutes he’d filled up two pages and was like, ‘yeah I’m ready to go’. That was pretty good; I’ve never really seen anyone do that.
ILM: Your album is called London Town and you were announced as one of London's Heroes of 2005 by Mayor of London Ken Livingstone. What’s the best thing about London and worst thing?
Kano: A lot of the good things about London we take for granted. People visit London from all sorts of places to see the architecture and see this building and that building, and we drive past them everyday and don’t really care about. The London we know for me is East London, the barber shop up the road, the park round the corner where we used to play football, which is all still there. The little familiar things.
The worst thing is the violence I suppose with the kids; the stuff that’s started blowing up in the media, this year anyway.
ILM: Police and Thieves is a story of how easy it is to give into peer pressure, for a normal young guy to put themselves in a position where they can be shot down. What's your advice to young people on handling peer pressure and staying safe?
Kano: It’s easy to say when you’re focused and have a stronger mind. But you need to be strong minded and avoid the wrong paths and whatever. Just be yourself, don’t try to be anything else. The people who are telling you to be this way, they don’t want to be it themselves anyway, just be you and think about the future. A lot of people don’t really look past today. Life is about the future. You’ve got to think ‘would you want your kids doing that?’ You’re going to be the same person telling your kids not to do things they shouldn’t.
ILM: Please describe the Kano process of music-making. Is it the lyrics and rhymes that come first or the melody?
Kano: It happens in different ways. For this album it was less of hearing a beat and then writing the music for it, because I did a lot of that on the first album. This one was more starting from scratch. A lot of people would send me beats who I worked with on the first album, but I just couldn’t just create like that anymore. It was hard to write a song to something that was a finished product. A lot of things that inspire my flow would be the smallest part of song that when you’ve finished the song you don’t really hear too much of, like a high hat.
So a lot of the times in the studio it might be me making a beat and while the beat is in isolation, I might start flowing and getting a few words together and then Fraser who I work with might get some keys down and then I might write a chorus for those keys and then we might build the strings to fit that chorus, so it’s just a knock on effect like that.
ILM: It’s great that, for you, it’s all about the music, for you rather than the money or the fame. It’s the same for ilikemusic.com because we set this site up and opted to focus on music content instead of making money so it’s all independently done and we focus on the music rather than gossip and never slate artists, so you’re a man after our own heart… do you think that’s something that people should focus on, their passion rather than making money.
Kano: Yeah it definitely should be. But it’s hard when a lot of that is put in your face and that’s all you can see. Nobody really talks about the hard work or the process of being creative; you just see the end goal. I was watching a programme today and there was this woman trying to set up an internet café where the kids could make some music and take it away at the end of the day, and they were interviewing some of the kids who were making music and asking them ‘why do you want to get into the music industry and one said, ‘I want to get famous’ and that’s completely the wrong mentality. It all starts with the music.
And a lot of people they look up to, whether it be Jay-Z, Eminem, or whoever, you just see the end result, you’re not really told how they made their money and how they made their success, it all started with the music. That’s what surprised me about Damon, because he’s sold so many records from Blur and The Gorillaz, and I didn’t know if he’d have an ego, but he didn’t. He struck me as a normal person. He didn’t make me feel uncomfortable, it was 100% about the music, which I hope I can be like.
ILM: What's your advice for young people on pursuing their dream career?
Kano: You have to work hard, be focused and dedicated. Sometimes advice from a parent would be, ‘have a back up plan’ but there needs to be a time when you should put your eggs in one basket and really go for it if you believe in yourself. If you want to be a producer, become a producer. Not half-heartedly. You’ve got to do it 100%, believe in yourself and you’ll get knock backs along the way, but you’ve got to have faith and focus on that one thing.
ILM: What d’ya want for Xmas?
Kano: I want a hi-fi to play music on. You wouldn’t believe I’ve not got a hard-fi. I’ve got an iPod, but I want something to play CDs on too!