It’s just days before the release of Loyle Carner’s first album when he speaks to the Yorkshire Evening Post and the south London rapper is in optimistic mood.
And well the 22-year-old – whose real name is Ben Coyle Larner – might because the record in question, Yesterday’s Gone, is an impressive debut.
Yet he remains modest about the jazz-infused record itself, saying simply: “I believe at the time, from what I was going through, it’s the best I could do. I feel like I’ve said everything I wanted to say and it sounds the way I wanted it to sound. I don’t know how it’s going to be received but I think it is true to myself which is all I could really have asked for.”
Having grown up in a household filled with the music of David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Patti Smith, Carner quickly realised that songs needed to tell a story. “It was instilled in me from very young that music had to have a story, had to mean something. I’m just thinking what my Dad and my Mum listened to – all of these were storytellers and so when I started listening to storytellers, when I brought it back to the house, that’s what I was bringing to them – stories. It would get batted away if I tried to bring something to the table that didn’t have a meaning or push a narrative.”
Carner recalls he was “very young” when he first showed an interest in wordplay and writing. “It must have been primary school when I started out,” he says. “At school what I lent well too was poetry so I began to write poems, mainly for myself. For a very long time I would dance around with it whenever I could. I didn’t really show it to people. I kept a lot of it to myself.”
The idea that he could put his rhymes to music came later. “It was from TV, I used to watch a lot of music television, the MTV days, a channel called Channel U, it was heavily influenced by both UK and American rap. I started to fall in love with it and realised it excited me more. Putting words to a beat felt better to me, it connected with me and it was more satisfying.”
Carner attended the Brit School for a time then began an acting degree but in his second year at college his stepfather died. It proved a turning point in his life. “I just had to drop out of uni. My Mum was adamant that I should stay but there was also the part in house that you’re missing out on money etcetera so I knew that I had to be there for my Mum and my brother, just to provide.
“They were very big shoes to fill but financially I felt like I could at least try to help out there so I dropped out of college on a whim. I needed to find a job somehow. It was a choice of going further into debt at university or I could make something [of myself]. It was just a punt. I got offered this one support tour, it was just after the summer and my Mum was like, ‘You could be all right, I believe in you 100 per cent. If you feel like this is something that you want to pursue and you’re doing it for the right reasons and not just to make some money for your Mum then I’m behind it’. I had a bit of a search of myself and felt it was something that I really wanted to do just for the necessity. It was something that I’d always been passionate about but I’d thought could never happen.”
Family is an important theme in Yesterday’s Gone. “People tend to write about what is happening, what’s going on, and I live at home, I’m very close to my family and so they are the things that pop up the most because they’re the things that influence me the most. My little brother and my Mum are idols of mine because they’re both very strong and calm and patient and passionate. They are what I look up to.”
Two early highlights in Carner’s fledgling career are working with Kate Tempest, the performance poet and rapper, and supporting the US hip-hop star Nas. He admits to being “quite star-struck” when he first encountered Tempest. “I actually met her a few weeks before we worked together. I got out of uni and bumped into her at a train station and really embarrassed myself just by being quite overcome about how much I loved her.
My little brother and my Mum are idols of mine because they’re both very strong and calm and patient and passionate. They are what I look up to.Loyle Carner
“Nas was a completely different thing. I put my brother onto Nas when he was very young, it was something I introduced him to, so the bond that we shared forever was a love of Nas. To be at the show, being asked to perform and being very close to the stage and watching my brother and my Mum was massive.”
Another string to Carner’s bow is his love of cooking – indeed so passionate is he about food he has set up cookery classes for young people who, like himself, have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They’re called Chilli Con Carner.
“I grew up with ADHD myself and there were a few things that I felt I missed out on when I was younger, I never had any role models to look up to. I’m not saying I am a role model but I am someone who’s got through the other side of ADHD and was still standing. Also I kind of find there’s unparalleled peace when I’m cooking. I was very hot-headed when I was younger and it was one thing that really used to chill me out, so I figured if it worked for me it could work for kids in a similar situation, so when I got some money one of the things it made sense to spend it on was that.”
He’s hopeful that Chilli Con Carner’s work can continue alongside his music. “We’re doing some more classes this year – we’re doing some in the spring and some in the summer – and hopefully we can get to the position where it can become a bit of a light touch [for me] if needs be but it’s a nice distraction from music and the other side of my world, it’s not as pressure-filled.”
After his UK tour – which includes a show in Leeds – Carner says his plans include: “Making more music, hopefully seeing more of the world, and – fingers crossed – falling in love and buying a new dog.”
Loyle Carner plays at the Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds on February 8. http://loylecarner.com/