If you were one of the lucky few at Ella Eyre’s Cardiff leg of her tour in the packed venue of Y Plas, a lasting memory from the gig will be the name – and the music – of Joel Baker. Despite being in such starry company, the young singer-songwriter from Nottingham managed to astound the Welsh crowd on his own merit as he treated them to a set-list of warm, heartfelt folk-pop which was the perfect antidote to the freezing Welsh autumn weather outside. For once, a support act that can actually fully command the entire attention of the audience long enough that people even waited longer than usual to get a drink at the bar (hence the bar area being strangely more vacant than usual during a support slot).
For those still unfamiliar (though not for much longer surely), the best way to describe his sound is mellow folk crossed with seductive R’n’B tinged vocals. Add introspective lyrics that capture the soul and sun-soaked melodies that arrest the mind. The result is a truly sincere sound carved straight from the heart and one that sets him apart from the countless other guitar-wielding male singer-songwriters currently dominating the music scene.
Armed with a back catalogue of songs that demand to be played at full volume on the radio, it is a strong but assured claim that he will become a much bigger presence within the next year. I was lucky enough to meet and interview the Nottingham crooner in the union’s local drinking den The Taf before his support set. Here, he opens up about his music influences, his across-the-pond ambitions, his political background and working in Parliament…
How has touring with Ella Eyre been like so far?
It’s been a really positive vibe all the way through. How good a tour is depends a lot on the people who you’re playing with. Ella Eyre has been fantastic towards all of us. I really get on with Kimberly Anne and got to join her on stage at the Manchester gig to perform a cover with her. Seinabo Sey has just joined us on tour now and she is absolutely incredible, and so nice as well. A highlight of the tour was playing at Shepherd’s Bush which has long been a boyhood dream of mine.
You played Cardiff earlier this year at the Full Moon in support of Ryan Keen. What do you make of Cardiff and do you enjoy playing here?
The first time I played in Cardiff seems like ages ago now! I love coming back here though, because the atmosphere in Cardiff is so friendly and positive. I feel like I haven’t quite seen the city yet unfortunately. My first time here, I literally went straight to the venue, did my set and then was gone again. This time, I’m actually staying in a hotel just a few yards from the venue. I’d love to experience the city properly one day – I’d have to go for a night out here at some point.
Earlier this year, you performed at the Radar showcase for unsigned and newly signed acts. Do you think those type of showcase events are good for getting up-and-coming artists noticed?
It was actually a hard show to play and these type of industry-focused events usually are. The people in the music industry who tend to go to those events are people who specialise more in the ‘business’ side of the industry rather than the musical side. Therefore, it’s a very different atmosphere compared to playing a gig in front of lots of people who just enjoy live music. But I certainly think those type of events are good for meeting and connecting with fellow artists who are at a similar stage to you.
Who are the biggest influences on you musically, or perhaps the artists that first got you into music?
When I was at school, I used to listen to artists like Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan. Those artists have really formed the foundation for everything I’ve liked and listened to since. I was really into hip-hop too and when I was growing up, grime was starting to get bigger so that sound tracked my musical tastes during that period. I’m particularly into the conscious side of hip-hop and artists that talk about relevant or personal themes in their music, such as Drake and Kanye West.
When I write songs, lyrically I take inspiration from artists that are open and honest about themselves and their life experiences in their music. Musically, for me it has to sound raw, organic and real.
You’re from Nottingham originally and relocated to London. Do you think having a base in London is the best route for artists to further recognition?
I don’t think it’s the only route you can take, but it’s great to be surrounded and inspired by the current UK scene there. Everyone is just doing their own thing, there’s gigs on every doorstep and you always bump into someone with a connection to the music industry – whether it’s fellow artists, record labels, managers. I never originally went to London thinking I was going to be doing music as a living in a million years. Until then, music for me was purely a hobby. I remember having a conversation just before I left for London about whether I would continue doing music
What did you want to do before music?
I studied politics at university in Leeds, and was originally going to chase a career in that. I’m very much led by what I believe in. Music for me wasn’t something to believe in – I just doing it for the love of doing it. I worked in Parliament when I was in London, but being surrounded by the music scene in London and meeting so many talented musicians who would later become good friends, gave me this spark of inspiration to go into songwriting. All my goals when I was in Parliament – expressing myself, being able to travel – weren’t being fulfilled, and songwriting seemed to offer me that. That’s when my passion for music became much more serious.
You’ve released two EPs so far – Long Sleeves and Every Vessel. Will a debut album materialise soon, possibly in the next year?
I’d love to do an album and have so many songs written now so I definitely have enough to make one. I want to make sure that before I record an album, I know the type of sound that will work for me and which is more expressive of who I am at an artist, while making me accessible at the same time. We’re definitely at the bridge now where we’re starting to consider what songs to put on the album when we get round to recording and mixing it, and I’m very excited about that.
In a similar fashion to Ella Eyre and other current artists, would you ever be open to collaborations?
I’d absolutely love to work with Seinabo Sey. Her voice reminds me of a Swedish Adele. I’m really good friends with Nick Brewer who is a rapper from London, and used to work with him a lot so would definitely like the chance to resume working with him in the future. It would be great to sit in a room with artists like Hozier and Ben Howard as well and get to see their approach to writing songs.
There’s lots of people I’d like to write with but not necessarily perform on a track with. Collaborations are tough and sometimes they can feel almost unnecessary, unless the chemistry is absolutely perfect.
A lot of UK artists are crossing over successfully to America lately. Would touring in America be a possible goal for you?
America would absolutely be a dream for me. I think my musical vision is actually orientated towards crossing over the pond. In the UK, the route to getting onto radio seems to be having a sound that is on-trend and edgier than anybody else. I don’t like following trends. When I write music, I just want it to come from the heart and to express how I feel.
I went to America recently and they seem to prefer that approach to songwriting more, and value music that is timeless rather than being the hottest thing now. I feel I’d be appreciated more over there, and most of my musical influences are American too. I can’t wait to do some gigs over there and hopefully can start planning them soon.
Check out the video for ‘Every Vessel, Every Vein’, from his latest EP ‘Every Vessel’, below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsRdDQyhFCo
Find out more about Joel Baker in AfterDark Artist Pages here: https://afterdark.co/artists/joel-baker
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