"We speak to Tinie Tempah producer and Simon Cowell's new protégé, Labrinth, about his impending world domination"
Put simply, 22-year-old Timothy McKenzie (aka Labrinth) is one of the hottest talents in music right now. A studio maverick, Lab co-wrote and produced Tinie Tempah’s BRIT Award winning chart-topper ‘Pass Out’ and follow-up single ‘Frisky’, plus he’s worked with artists including JLS, Devlin, Pixie Lott and Professor Green and remixed tracks for Gorillaz and Jessie J. Clearly onto a good thing, Simon Cowell signed Labrinth as a solo act to his label Syco Music last year and the first fruits of came in November with the gloriously feel-good number three hit ‘Let The Sun Shine’.
We caught up with Lab to discuss how his upcoming debut album is coming along, his thoughts on his boss Simon Cowell and to find out why he didn’t join Tinie Tempah on stage at The BRIT Awards…
Hello Lab, how are you today? Happy birthday for the other day by the way!
Labrinth: “Haha! Do you know what man, Wikipedia have got it wrong! My birthday is actually January 4th - I had my birthday ages ago. Maybe the label or someone got it wrong?!” (According to the site Lab turned 22 on March 21st – never trust Wiki, folks!)
Haha! Hopefully we won’t get any more facts wrong! Let’s talk about your debut album to begin with, then. Last November’s ‘Let The Sun Shine’ was a very upbeat single - does it reflect how the rest of the album sounds?
“No, not at all. The idea is that we listen to loads of different types of music, loads of different styles and we’re not trapped down by one style. I think people can hear that through my journey from ‘Pass Out’ to ‘Let The Sun Shine’ and the stuff with Devlin and Professor Green too.
“I want my album to be an example of what I’m about and what I’m into. I love indie, I love hip-hop, I love R&B, I love all these different styles so I’ve found a way of representing them all through me.”
You’ve got Lostprophets on board haven’t you?
“Yeah, we had a chat with Lostprophets and they wanted some stuff for their album so I said ‘well you better give me some sh*t’.” I never grew up on rock music - I know a lot about the style but I don’t know too many artists. I do love a bit of rock though!”
I’ve heard you’ve approached Nicki Minaj to work on the album too. Has she said yes yet?
“She’s feeling it man, she’s down with what we’re doing. It just depends because everyone’s so busy so it could change through the months – something could come along and it could take a bit longer so it just depends. ‘Features’ are always trouble.”
You’ve already had great chart and award-winning success with Tinie Tempah. Do you worry whether your solo material will live up to this?
“You’re only as good as your last song. As long as you’re positive and creative you’re gonna reach the same success. I’ve worked with so many big writers that have sold millions of records around the world so I feel as though I’m taking on some of their skills and adding it to my craziness. The album sounds like a big record already; I’m really excited about it.”
‘Let The Sun Shine’ was written way back when you were 17, are there quite a few older tracks on the album?
“A lot of the older songs are getting kicked off because the new songs are fiery and very futuristic. I’ve taken on some of my older songs because, y’know, it’s not good to throw away your baby pictures. Those were the songs that made me who I am now so it will be nice to give people an idea of who I was.”
You’ve been out to Nashville to work on the record. How was that?
“Yeah man, I loved it. It was an amazing experience, they don’t use technologies, the only thing they use a computer for is to write lyrics. They don’t use autotune or anything – it’s just vocals and instruments and that’s how you write a song. I love the idea of that, I haven’t done it for so long and it was really nice just to focus on the songs more than making a wild beat or wild sounds. It’s added another dimension to my album which I’m really happy about.”
What other songwriters and producers have you drafted in for the album?
“I recently worked with Swedish House Mafia. I’ve worked with Rami who wrote some of Britney Spears’ biggest records and Autumn Rowe who wrote Alexis Jordan’s ‘Happiness’. I’ve worked with some crazy writers and I’m going to work with a few more like Eg (Francis ‘Eg’ White) who’s worked with Adele.
So it’s pretty much a ‘who’s who’ of who’s hot right now, then?
“I don’t just work with people who are hot. Although he was coming up, Devlin wasn’t really hot when I worked with him. If I like what I hear then I’m going to get involved with it, that’s how I look at it.”
Is there a concrete release date set for ‘The Gallery’ yet?
“Everyone wants to release the album today! But of course you’ve got to worry about selling the record and sales come with marketing and stuff like that so you have to be prepared. If it was down to the artist, the music would come straight from the studio and straight to the radio.”
You’re on Simon Cowell’s imprint Syco - a label more synonymous with talent show acts – why did you decide to sign with them?
“At the time labels were signing a lot of black artists and urban was kind of in, there was a rap or R&B artist in every label and the only label I knew that didn’t really have that was Syco at the time. I just felt that if I go into any other label I’m not really gonna stand out so why not go to a label where you’re definitely gonna stand out. I wanted to be the odd child.”
Simon Cowell gets a lot of stick from some people, do you think it’s unnecessary?
“Yeah, he’s definitely misunderstood – people don’t really get that. He knows what he’s doing and he knows where he fits in the industry and that’s what I really respect about Simon Cowell. We’ve had talks about the album, we’ve had sit-downs about what I can do and how I can develop. He’s very supportive, man.”
Tinie Tempah’s ‘Pass Out’ was a phenomenal number one success - that opening bass hook was one of the most memorable music moments of the last year or so. Was it a eureka moment when you created it in the studio?
“No, it wasn’t a eureka moment, it just felt like I was finally free of that mentality of making songs to be successful and making what everybody else was making. When a lot of new producers come into the industry they’re very young and naïve and they think to be successful and have an amazing record or hit they need to make what Lady Gaga or Beyoncé is making. I didn’t really feel like that. When we made ‘Pass Out’ it was just like ‘let’s go!’
Did you crack open a bottle of champagne when it hit number one?
“I’m not that kind of guy. I went straight back in the studio and that’s where ‘Frisky’ came from.”
Where were you at The BRIT Awards last month when Tinie tried and failed to get you onstage?
“Tinie didn’t tell me about me coming on stage. I went to the toilet and when I came out Tinie was like ‘Lab get on stage man!’ and I was like ‘Oh sh*t!!’ It was funny”
You’ve worked with an array of artists from JLS to Pixie Lott. Is it a totally different experience in the studio with every artist you work with?
“The writing process is definitely different. Tinie writes all of his own lyrics and he’s a bit more quirky with his style of writing. He’s more personal whereas when you make pop songs it’s a bit more ‘for everybody’ – your mum can listen to it, your dad can listen to it, and your little sister can listen to it.”
Are you more comfortable twiddling knobs in the studio or singing, then?
“I’ve got to be honest at the start when I was singing I was a bit nervous cos’ I wasn’t sure about going on stage. I knew I had a voice but being an artist is a whole different thing, I’m always in the studio so I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to come out and be an amazing performer. Luckily the shows have been going really well so I’m loving singing at the moment.”
Many people are building you up as the next big thing. Does this pressure ever get to you?
“Whatever happens happens that’s the way I look at it. But I know I’m going to work damn hard to get where I need to be and I don’t really think about what people want me to be. Hopefully I’ll have a number one album and a smash hit this year.”
What are your thoughts on the state of British music at the moment?
“I’m a bit annoyed with it right now because it’s getting a bit formulaic and going back to how it was. Hopefully when we put some more songs out and make some crazy records it will be get back to its state where people start getting creative again, I feel like the records getting pop-py and formulaic – everyone is trying to roll out the same song.”
I saw one of your tweets earlier where you had a dog at pop stars who are more concerned with how they look than their music…
“This industry is supposed to be called the music business so I feel like it’s really important that we keep it that way and we make amazing music. I think a lot of people are living off their rep, they can make number ones out of music that doesn’t really have much substance to it and that’s not a good thing. Even if I can push those people and help try and add something to them – I’m not saying I can change UK music but I feel like my attention to detail is a little bit more respectful of the craft.”
You’re still only 22, what are you hoping to achieve in your career?
“We’ve just actually signed a new artist to the label (Lab runs his own imprint Odd Child under the Syco umbrella) called Etta Bond so I definitely want to take new acts to another level. I feel like we can take on the world! When you hear about new US artists they’re international instantly and, for us, we have a little bit of success in the UK and that’s enough. I feel like we need to be taking over the world and I hope our label can do that!”