There’s a force rumbling on olde London town. Touting a penchant for slick early-morning ambiance, early-‘90s rap grit and Nietzsche-esque downward spirals, the intensely intimate and defensive Dewy Sinatra is a singer-songwriter on the cusp of psychological domination.
Blending a natural affinity and ability for R&B with emotional experiments on par with James Blake, Jamie Woon, Nadine Shah and The xx, Sinatra is soon to drop his debut EP, Wasted Youth. Lead single “Questions” has already arrived – scattered with bleep-bloop hooks that’ll burrow into that grey walnut between your ears, it’s a beguiling gambit, straddling the lands of electronic pop and sadcore hip-hop. There’s narcotic swirls within the noise, inferring a surreality that only comes from dissociating yourself with reality via banned substances or staying awake for a week straight.
We grabbed a chat with the burgeoning artist ahead of his first release, and discuss prioritising music over furniture, the importance of Coldplay, and searching for faith. Get a taste of his music for yourself by streaming Wasted Youth below:
Hey Dewy – can you just give us a brief biography of your musical life so far? What’s your origin story?
Since I was about 15 I’ve been interested in making music, but I always thought I’d go down the songwriter route. When I was 16, I got into a London based university and used my first student loan to buy this Pro Tools kit for like £500… then I just experimented making music. I dropped out after the first year because I wasn’t really enjoying it. Academically it was fine, but socially I just wasn’t ready. I took a gap year and just wrote loads of songs, then went back to university in Kent, and that’s where I really got into making my own music. It started out as fun after an open mic night but I kept with it. Fast forward a couple years, and I just kept honing my sound chopping and changing stuff I didn’t like, had a few managers but nothing really clicked until now; I’m happy it panned out this way.
What music did you grow up with? What did your parents listen to when you were a kid?
Growing up there was always a lot of music in my house! Something I distinctly remember is when The Score by The Fugees came out, that was played a lot in my house. My parents always played a lot of soul and R&B – I remember a lot of Mariah Carey, Prince, Boyz II Men, Luther Vandross – but also a lot of Hip-Hop. Missy Elliot and Busta Rhymes were big in my house!
When did you first want to pursue a career in music? What inspired that? Was it something you were always dead-set on doing?
It kind of sprouted, as I got older. Growing up I was sure I was going to be a doctor… then realised I didn’t like blood, so I switched to wanting to be a lawyer, but my passion for writing led me into music. I was 100% certain I wanted to do music and nothing else in my final year at university. I remember living in my student flat with no furniture because I bought equipment.
Who are your musical heroes? What sounds influence you now?
A lot of artists inspire me musically. Growing up I’d say Prince was a big influence on me. I always loved how he was left of centre in pop music he just did his own thing, and it was great, and think he gave me a great appreciation of melody. As I got older I was really influence by Kanye West because he was the first rapper I could fully relate to in terms of background, what he was talking about, and just how we was able to continue to keep pushing himself forward musically. For me 808s & Heartbreak is one of my top albums ever, and it kind of directed me to a more melody-driven place.
I’m also really inspired my artists now, guys like James Blake and The xx are huge influences on me. I just love the use of space and simplicity, but at the same time somehow being so emotional and engaging. I’m also a huge Coldplay fan – for me, not many acts can make a song everyone wants to sing along to at a festival but still makes you feel something.
What, aside from music, influences you to create?
Life in general inspires me, like just going somewhere on the tube and looking at everyone’s faces. Sometimes I sit wondering like “hmm, I wonder what you’re thinking… why are you happy? Why are you frowning?” I’m also really inspired by my faith and the struggles of being in a very digital world, where there’s so much to occupy yourself, but still striving to connect with something greater than yourself – an unconditional love. I think I explore that a lot in my music.
What was the first record you ever bought? How about the most recent one you bought?
First album I ever bought was Usher’s 8701. The first single I remember asking my mum to buy me was Prince’s “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World”. The last record I bought was Coldplay’s Ghost Stories.
Could you describe your music in three words for us?
This is tough! I’d say ‘melodic’, ‘sparse’, and ‘emotional’.
“I Need Luv” has been out for a while now – how did you write and record it?
I wrote “I Need Luv” back in 2012, so like a year before it came out. I had run into a friend from secondary school randomly, and we got to talking about music and that he had heard some of what I had online at the time. A few months later he inboxed me something he was working on and asked if I’d like to do some vocals on it. I was at my dining table downstairs on my laptop at the time so I went to get my mic and just recorded straight away without writing anything. I think I did two takes and that’s what you hear on the final version. At the time I was doing a lot of old school hip-hop so I was worried “I Need Luv” might be too far left so sat on it for a year, anxious, ‘til I parted ways with my then-management and went back to the drawing board. A few months after I just put it out on whim, no plan at all.
How was “Questions” written? What’s the story behind the track?
“Questions” was originally written to be a totally different track. It had more of a deep house vibe, but I wasn’t 100% happy so kind of discarded it. At this time I was working on some songs with a producer in Australia called Slamagotchi. He sent over a beat that blew my mind, so I asked if I could use it, but at the time it was for another band he was working with. A few months later I pulled it up, and the first thing that came out my mouth was “Questions”, so I recorded it and sent it to him asking if the band still had the track… they didn’t, which was super lucky! The song is basically about a time in my life where I was trying to figure out what the heck I was doing. My music wasn’t really happening, and I wasn’t really going to church, so I’d just be up early into the morning just wasting time playing video games. I’d be thinking about everything, just knowing I was looking for something. That’s why there are lines like “Father Father Father please/I need to hear the angels sing.”
How about the Wasted Youth EP in general – how did it come about?
It all came about really organically. I wasn’t trying to make a record per se, I was just making a lot of songs about what was going in my life and around me, but found that it had this running sonic thread. They were all songs I didn’t write down either, just came straight off of my chest, so I think it had this honesty and vulnerability. I wasn’t trying to make the best songs, just the most honest.
What are you trying to say with the EP? What are you being honest about?
In some ways it’s all about searching, but I wanted it to come across in a way so that anyone could relate. I just took regular issues and spoke about them. I think we’ve all had times where we were trying to figure out what we’re doing with our lives, or have moments where we want to be by ourselves or have questions about faith. So it’s just really about that. I think when you start at “Questions” and end on the final song you get a sense of a journey and growth. If I were to sum it up I’d say: “the sound of late night thinking… searching for a higher life… chasing faith.”
If you were the frontman of a supergroup, who would be the other members and what would you sound like?
It would have to be with James Blake and Chris Martin. It would be this huge mash up of big melodies, and sparse electronic production. Pretty much if you mixed Ghost Stories, Wasted Youth and Retrograde.
You’ve got your debut show coming up soon. What should people expect from a Dewy Sinatra show?
I’m super nervous, but also excited for it. I haven’t done anything live before really except a few open mics, but I’m really looking forward to playing a lot of new material and seeing how people react to it. From my live show you can expect a lot of bass, 808s, and energy. Wanting to play live was a big factor in the shift to a more melodic style of writing, so I’m looking forward to it!
Your sound has a distinct ‘London vibe’ to it, to my ears anyway; do you feel the city has left a mark on you?
I definitely think it has. Places like the US are taking more notice of the London sound and its influencing music in general. London is this dark moody place where electronic music is just buzzing at the moment and I think that’s a big part of what I do.
There’s also a pretty big night time feel, almost like The xx in a way. What’s the best time to appreciate your music?
I guess because I write most of my music at night, it has that kind of intimacy. I think you get a different reading of Wasted Youth when you listen to it late, when either you’re on the tube or the bus, because for me that’s when you’re most alone with your thoughts.
If you could rewrite the soundtrack to a classic film, what would you redo, and what would it sound like?
Such a great question! I’d chose The Matrix because it’s just the most mind-bending film, and I would love to make it sound super glitchy and electronic.
Is your namesake Nancy or Frank Sinatra? Are you a particular fan of either?
I’m a massive fan of both actually; “Bang Bang” by Nancy Sinatra is such a classic! I had this phase when I was super into Frank Sinatra. One of my best friends gave me his iPod, and he had a lot of Frank Sinatra on it. “The Girl From Ipanema” is one of my favourite songs of all time.
What’s next for Dewy Sinatra? Does autumn 2014 look busy?
Well I’m already working on new material so that’s something to look forward to later this year. A few videos for some of Wasted Youth and then really seeing where this all goes; it should be exciting!
Dewy Sinatra’s Wasted Youth EP is out now - download it for free via Dewy’s website here.