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January 26, 2018Feature

Nightmares on Wax released his latest album 'Shape the Future' today featuring artists as diverse as Allan Kingdom, Jordan Rakei and more. Cóilí Collins calls the Leeds artist and receives advice that will remain with him for years to come.

“I’m pretty sure we don’t need a leader, history shows us that they don’t do what they say they’re going to do. I think it’s really up to us as individuals.”

It’s been almost thirty years since Nightmares on Wax’s debut studio release, ‘A World of Science’. Over the last three decades he has gone on to shape a career that is as polished as it is varied.

With sounds deeply rooted in the trip hop scene, which emerged via himself and other legendary UK acts like Massive Attack, each of his seven studio albums have managed to explore various facets of that genre while incorporating soul, hip hop and a multitude of other sounds under the one, down-tempo, umbrella.

Another hefty schedule is accompanying his upcoming ‘Shape the Future’ tour. As we’re organising this interview, George Evelyn (The name he grew up with in Leeds) has gone from Toronto to London (his flight was delayed by five hours), and then on to Germany. When we’re finished talking on the phone, the call history reads ‘Spain’ under his number.

That’s four countries in the space of four days, with a small break and then a full blown world tour in February. For someone knocking on the door of their third decade in the game, it’s an admirably hectic schedule. Yet when the dial tone ceases and his West Yorkshire accent greets me, an air of calm is present and it’s clear that this isn’t just a tour or an album. It’s a case of spreading the message that we can all shape the future together.

“I’m always making music, I never say ‘right I’m making an album’. Once things become coherent, there’s a body of work coming together. This album was heavily influenced by a lot of my travels, a lot of my journeys inwardly and outwardly. Different cultures, different societies and seeing the same problems.

“Waking up to the idea that something needs to change, we’re trying to fix something with the same system that broke the same thing. Whether that’s politically or religiously, that brought the awareness to my mind; What’s my relationship to my reality? My relationship to my experiences? How do I respond to them? It made me realise that I had a choice and that took it to another place… Isn’t this all about relationships?

“I’m pretty sure we don’t need a leader, history shows us that they don’t do what they say they’re going to do. I think it’s really up to us as individuals. How do we start? We start by working on ourselves and our relationships with ourselves. We move that to relationships that are close to us, people we love and then to our community, then our relationship to the world and how we see the world. A lot of us walk around in the world as we’re told how it is, not as how we’re experiencing it. A lot of those questions are posed on the record, it’s important to have that conversation.

“With all this turmoil and all the stuff that’s going on, it’s a massive opportunity to shape the future.”

After being on such a long physical and mental journey, it’s interesting to see what the man himself makes of the world around us. Given that it’s then shaped by our interactions with each other, how does he see our current state of communication and interaction?

“There’s a state of amnesia going on. There’s nobody to blame. In order for things to exist, they need to be allowed to in the first place. The news has made people zombified and helpless when none of that is true. It’s there to control people, to keep people in a sort of aversion. I’m not here to preach this idea, it’s to pose the question so we can have a conversation.

“The more you try to control, the less control you have. The more you let go, the more balance you have.”

“Even for them [the readers of this magazine], what’s your relationship to the reality you’re living in? How you relate to things affects everything! You decide whether things have meaning, whether they bother you, you’re constantly making decisions over time. Maybe we should start posing the question, maybe there’s a different way of living. If we start posing that question then we have a massive opportunity to start shaping the future.

“We have gotten to a stage where we’re just sitting around and complaining about everything, but we’re not doing anything! What does complaining about things do? It just promotes the idea. My expression of that is coming out on this album.

“Imagine if we gave a bunch of children the opportunity to express how they see the future, bearing in mind that none of these children know about politics, know about religion. Can you imagine what they’d say? It would be optimistic, it would be forward-thinking! It says a lot about where we are, and we’re supposed to be adults?

“I’m not telling anyone anything, I just want to share my experiences and see where that conversation goes. If we all have the opportunity to see a brighter future and we were all wanting a brighter future, do we even realise what a massive shift that would be on a global level?”

Mass negativity in the media and politics has definitely shifted into gear over the past couple of years, as has the public’s adoration for musicians and people of note. Being one of those individuals, George highlights the importance of people like him fighting against a current of skepticism.

“Someone can come up to you and say your music helped me when I was in a coma for six months or when I lost somebody or when I was studying. I could be making music in my bubble, but my music affects people, and once you release it, it becomes something on its own. How people process it is up to them, but once it’s out, it’s out.

“I know what I want in life, I want peace, love and happiness and I want it for everyone else too. I have an opportunity to make people feel good and to share some awareness. As I’m having internal conversations and realisations, do I keep them to myself? No! I share them and that’s what’s good about music.

“Especially at a time like now where they are censoring the internet. It’s happening with Twitter, it’s happening with Facebook. You can pick out any so-called political scandal that’s going on and you’ll struggle to find it in the newsfeed, unless you’re going into alternative media and doing your research. That stuff is only there if you’re looking for it.

“Music seems to be the only platform that’s not being censored. I recognise that I have the ability to be able to do something with my music and I’m going to do that. My music is coming from my heart now for thefirst time in my life and I want it to come from my heart. Whatever it does to people, I’ll be responsible for that.”

Trip hop and down-tempo has always had its own solid awareness of its sound and the ever changing world around it. ‘Change is the only constant’ was a particularly striking line from George’s forthcoming album and it also seems to serve as a motto for the genre which has always had its place, but has constantly adapted to the tumultuous world around it.

“An album is a reflection of where you’re at. I can go back through my albums and remember what was happening then when I made them. That’s why I have said that this album is a reflection of the journey. It’s like I’m reporting back to base. What does the resistance of change do? It creates stress.

“The more you try to control, the less control you have. The more you let go, the more balance you have. I’m not saying this as if I know everything, I don’t know jack shit, I’m just finding out.

“There are times when you might be grumpy and you don’t know why you feel grumpy. Maybe it’s down to the chemicals in your body at that time; your sugar levels are low, you didn’t get enough sleep last night, you need more water, maybe it’s just that? We want to personalise everything as if there’s some drama going on and then we repeat that drama and then it affects the people you’re with.”

‘Shape the Future’ features a litany of contributing artists, who all serve to diversify an already well-developed sound. It was tricky to pinpoint whether this was the direct result of a four-year gap between albums, accompanied by a mountain of travel, or just the respect someone like Nightmares on Wax commands in the music world at large.

“We could go through it song-by-song and each has their own story as to how they were manifested. Some of them were over a period of years, even before the last album, some of them were made in the moment during a day. None of it was like ‘we need this, we need that’. I really wanted a female presence on the album, I think it’s really important to have that energy there. That might be the closest thing on the album in terms of contriving something.”

Despite the conversation spinning around the album and the storied career in music that the UK native has had, it all comes back to improving ourselves as people, an impressively pertinent characteristic in someone with ‘nothing to prove’ as such.

“Somebody could be doing your head in at work. Sit for a minute on your own and envision an alternate reality where you’re relating differently to that person. Take control of it for yourself. You know the answer, you’re just not aware that there’s another option. You’ve never actually told that individual how their actions affect you. The reality will change right in front of you because you’ve gotten rid of the resistance.

“Listen to that inner voice and have that conversation, maybe the answers you’re looking for are inside you.”

Despite aiming his conversation towards the wider audience, there was a tangible sense of meaning behind each nugget of wisdom George was offering up through the phone. As we go back and forth over a few more issues regarding the state of hip hop and how impressed he is with previous District interviewee Allan Kingdom (who features on the album), we’ve both said our bits and it’s time to hit the big red button on the cracked screen in front of me. Just as my thumb makes contact, the speaker emits one last parting note from the Leeds man gone international.

“Thanks for the support and don’t forget how great you are.”

Photography: Sequoia Ziff

Nightmares on Wax plays District 8 on February 6. ‘Shape the Future‘ is out now.

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