Photos / Angelo Kritikos
Story / Freza Paro
Mura Masa’s upcoming album is fire. Case in point: when I received the album to preview, I made the mistake of first listening to it right before bedtime. I had planned on a quick listen to get the soundwaves in my brain, so they could marinate through my REM cycles but that first listen turned into 30. I’m normally comatose by 10, but that night I stayed up well past midnight, replaying the album, dissecting it and furiously writing down notes in time to the glitchy, lovesick beats.
The sound on the producer’s forthcoming eponymous album is recognizably Mura Masa, with its deft beats, exotic instrumentation, and longing-infused lyricism. Mura Masa is a complete, complex, well-rounded piece of work and a solid step forward for one of the music’s most exciting new producers. After that sleepless night, I was stoked to chat with the Guernsey-born producer (who goes by Alex Crossan IRL) about his life in London, Coachella and why people still love music that highlights our loneliness, instead of hiding it.
Do you think growing up in an area that was isolated from the music scene affected the way you create music? If so, why and how?
Definitely, I think the isolation from any main music scene or any underground culture really helped me come up with an original way of looking at music; I had to learn about things like club culture through the lens of the internet so I think it gave me a really unique perspective and way of using those influences.
I read somewhere that the first track you produced was a dubstep track that sampled Robin Williams shouting, ‘Good morning, Vietnam!’ What were some important influential milestones between that first track and your style now?
Haha, it was truly fucking awful that track. I think learning more about songwriting and just generally honing how I produce has been the most important thing. Broadening the music that I listen to has also been super important. I went from not really knowing a lot about music to listening to very difficult stuff like Swans and Death Grips in quite a short amount of time and it’s really opened up my perspective on creating.
I’m always curious about artists who launch their own careers, just by sheer quality of their work. When you first started gaining traction, how did you feel?
It felt cool to have a little cult following, but it was entirely internet based so it wasn’t really “real”. It wasn’t affecting my day to day life per se. The key thing for me was harnessing that cult status and translating that into real world influence and trying to use my internet following to shift things.
You once said in an interview, “I feel like people yearn for that lonely bedroom sound.” In an age of oversharing and social media, why do you think that yearning holds?
Because it’s relatable. At the end of the day, no matter who you are or what you do in your life, you’re always alone in a way, in your own head. That sounds really fucking depressing when I put it that way but I think people relate to that introverted way of thinking. Everybody lies in bed at night with their own thoughts.
Where were you when you first heard yourself on the radio?
Me and a group of friends sat outside our university flat and listened to Annie Mac playing Firefly for the first time on radio. That was nice sharing that with some friends.
You’ve spoken in the past of the effect that visuals have had on your musical process. Did you experience that with your new album?
Definitely. The visuals for this album are like a raw, youthful collage of London life for me, and that’s totally reflected in the music. It was a total breakthrough when Matt De Jong and I decided to have the modular design for the typography, spilling out of the frame, defying convention. That’s the same reason I wanted the entire tracklist on the front. It just felt very freeing and lateral.
You’re featuring so many incredible artists on your upcoming album. Did you enter this process with a clear idea of who you wanted to work with, or did the collabs unfold as you progressed through the album?
The collaboration process for me is always about mutual appreciation. If two musicians are fans of each other then they’ll bring out the best in each other I think. So that was the main focus, trying to work with artists I love. I also love how diverse and prolific the guest list is for this album, lots of different people from all over the world with different stories and narratives lending their voice to a project. That’s reflective of London in many ways.
Can you describe the process of developing a track with another artist?
It really depends on the artist. Some collaborations happen via the internet and over the phone as in the case with Charli and Desiigner. But others happen in person in a studio like A$AP Rocky and Christine and the Queens. I like being fluid and being able to adapt to the vocalist’s style as a producer, it helps the process I think.
You just got back from Coachella. How was performing at such a prolific festival?
It was amazing. It’s a very strange vibe, not really a festival in my opinion because it’s so regulated but nonetheless an amazing experience. The tent we played in was packed with just as many people outside. Watching other acts was amazing too. Bon Iver was transcendent, especially when Nao came out and sung with them.
You pulled out some dope acts at Coachella like A$AP Rocky, Charli XCX and Desiigner. From what I’ve heard, the crowd went ham. I know what that feels like from an audience perspective; how does it feel for the artist, that sort of energetic call-and-response?
It feels amazing to able to shock people in that way, to just keep pulling people on stage and letting the crowd enjoy so many different voices and styles. Definitely a very special show.
Who are you listening to a lot right now?
Listening to a lot of Beatles, particularly Sgt. Pepper’s and The White Album. Just kind of doing my homework. Haha
When you’re listening to a new piece of music (that’s not yours) and you’re trying to decide whether or not you like, what do you look for?
I’m not sure really, good songwriting is probably central. It’s a lot about context though, where you hear it, who the artist is. I’m a sucker for a deftly produced tune though.