“The stars aligned in such a beautiful way, but I didn't really look at it like a comeback...” hmv.com talks to Craig David
By the time Craig David released his most recent album, 2016's Following My Intuition, it had been almost a decade since his last album of original material and the singer seemed to have reinvented himself as a DJ and promoter, carving out a niche for himself with a radio show on Capital FM and a series of club nights - both under his TS5 banner, and both very successful, by any measure.
Even so, the chances of Craig David topping the UK album charts seemed very remote even five years ago, but after a performance on Mistajam's radio show went viral and a collaboration with Big Narstie began filling dancefloors and clambering its way up the charts, Following My Intuition did exactly that.
This week the singer returns with its follow-up, The Time Is Now, and ahead of the album's release we sat down with Craig to talk about his unexpected chart success, why his return to the UK has been a big part of that, and what we can expect from his new record...
The last couple of years have been pretty incredible for you; there was the 'Fill Me In' / 'Where Are U Now?' mashup that went viral in 2015, then your next single starts climbing the charts and ends up in the Top 10, and your first album in six years goes straight in at Number One – at what point did you start thinking: “the comeback's on, lads”?
“Ha! You know what? I think the move back to the UK from Miami, which was about two or three months prior to releasing ‘When the Bassline Drops’ and the Mistajam show, I think that move was quite pivotal for me, because I needed to be back around the culture and my friends and family. Once I did that, it then led to me being invited onto the show, meeting Big Narstie on the show, and then it went viral. The stars aligned in such a beautiful way, but I didn't really look at it like a comeback. It wasn't like 'OK, this is our mission', it was more that it felt like the time was right to do a garage tune.”
Did you feel part of things again?
“It seemed like everyone was kind of touching on it, Shift K3Y had this tune out ('Gone Missing'), Disclosure were doing their thing, Gorgon City were doing this vibe and it was all sort of leaning towards garage, but it wasn't like straight garage tunes. So as soon as we did 'When the Bassline Drops' and people reacted the way they did, it started creeping up the charts and it was like 'wow, people are feeling this'. I think if it'd been earlier people maybe wouldn't be ready for it, too late and you miss the whole thing, so it just seemed like things fell so perfectly. And at the the same time this thing was going viral with 'Fill Me In' over 'Where Are U Now', which ended up evolving into '16' on Following My Intuition.”
So having ridden that wave with your last album, what did you set out to do with this next one?
“With this one I kind of wanted to pick up where Following My Intuition had left off. With the last album, the way it came about was that I was in a lot of different sessions, I was leaning into places and working with people that I hadn't before, with some up-and-coming producers and artists. So you had people like Sigala, the track with Blonde, the Kaytranada track, it was a lot of different genres and styles kind of amalgamated into one album."
What did you do differently this time around?
“For this album, I wanted to make an R&B record. I remember when I did Born To Do It, your first album usually kind of represents your first passion and encapsulates everything you're about in that one album. So I wanted to make an album that has that feel, with the story-telling and the simplicity of the melodies, but with producers that would lean this into 2018/2019, because if you don't it would sound like a throwback.”
You've got quite a few different producers and guests on this album too...
“Yeah, there's Jonas Blue on the 'Heartline' tune, then Fraser T. Smith, who is having his wave now doing the Stormzy and Kano albums, but at the same time he was my acoustic guitarist from the first time round...”
Is that right?!
“Yeah! When I first did my first TV shows on TFI Friday and Jools Holland doing 'Fill Me In', he was my guitarist. He's gone on to have incredible success with his career as a producer.
“Then there's Tre Jean-Marie, who produced 'One More Time' on Following My Intuition and has about five or six cuts on this album. He's a name that maybe people won't know, but the crazy story behind him is that his dad, Lincoln Marie, was a backing vocalist on my first tour and he brought Tre to the Wembley show when he was about seven or eight years old. And now I'm in the studio with him, he's co-producing and writing songs with me and I'm just like: 'this is a mad thing going on here!' It's crazy.”
So when did you actually start work on this album? What was the first track you finished?
“We were kind of trying to find a producer that was going to bring out the more simplistic R&B, because we kind of played around with different people, I went to work with Diztortion on 'For the Gram', which leant a bit more on a kind of trap vibe. So we got some good stuff out out of that. Fraser T. Smith knew the vibe and knew that this R&B tip was starting to come full circle. But the first ones were with Tre and it would have been a song called 'Magic' that I wrote with Ed Drewett, he's a very prolific songwriter and when the three of us first got in the studio we did a song called 'Couldn't Be Mine' for the last album, it was proper R&B and that felt like a good starting point, so we got together again and I think 'Magic' was the first one we did.”
Kaytranada produced one of the tracks on your last album and he's back on the new record, with the collaboration you did together for his album too it seems like you've found some creative common ground there?
“Yeah, it's a funny one because he'll send a load of tracks over, it's quite remote the way we work, he will send a pool of tunes over and then I can pull out the ones that are melodic enough for me, that I know I can put melodies to. He has some very abstract tracks as well which for me are sometimes difficult to get the melodies I want over them, I need the chords to try and find it. If you start with chords and then strip them out, you can go as abstract as you want, but for me as a songwriter I need something to start from, so I'd always pull out the more melodic ones and there was one in particular where I was like 'this is a tune', which ended up being 'Live in the Moment'.
“And the timing was great, I was in the studio and I've been following Goldlink for a few years now. He was in town, I messaged him to say come over, the next thing he's in the studio laying a vocal down. And he said that his relationship with Kaytranada has been strong anyway, because they've done loads of tracks together.”
So were you putting a few calls in to the guys who worked on your last album?
“It's funny, sometimes you don't even have to put a call in now, you can just do an Instagram post tagging in the person that you're feeling, and if you get a response all of a sudden it's direct. That's how the Ella Mai track happened on the album as well, with a song called 'Talk To Me, Pt II'. I was literally just listening to one of her songs before a session, I tagged her in with the video, she tagged back going 'I can't believe you even messaged me!' So we start messaging and next thing we're in the studio recording the song.”
How did some of those other collaborations come about? The track you did with Dan from Bastille was quite an unusual one in terms of your different styles...
“We met at Radio 1 for the first time, on the breakfast show with Nick Grimshaw, we'd had a few sliding doors moments at different festivals where we'd just missed each other, but when I did actually finally meet him he asked me if I'd like to go on the Apple Music festival with him to go and perform 'Fake It' from their album, and then he would perform '16'. Then afterwards he was like 'don't tell anyone, but back in the day whenever anyone asked me to sing something, 'Fill Me In' was my go-to tune'. I've told everyone now, haha!"
How did it go from that to working together on the new album?
“The first tune we did together in the studio was him, me, Fraser and a girl called Carmen Reece who is a wicked songwriter from L.A., and the strange thing about it was that we were kind of doing the opposite parts of the song that you'd expect us to be writing. But we kind of clocked each other and had this moment where we were like 'are you feeling the same way as me about this melody?' Something had just resonated, you get those moments where a song just feels special. You get this payoff with the chorus, and then the lyrics were so much about inclusion and people coming together. The following day when we went in, me and Fraser were like 'we can't be grey on this drop, where it builds and goes where you'd expect, it's gotta be something different.' So we stripped it and went straight to the opposite, and I love watching people's reactions to that. They're like 'It's building, it's building, we're gonna put hands in the air and.... oooh, OK'.
“I love it because on paper people are like 'this is an interesting combination', but when they hear the tune it doesn't feel like we're too far out of each other's lanes, but it feels really fresh.”
What about the JP Cooper track?
“Again, I'd been following him for a while, wicked soul voice. He came in with Tre and we were like 'what are we going to do? We can't do the guitar / sing round the campfire vibe, it needs to be something people wouldn't expect.' So as soon as Tre started doing this beat that lead into a sort of trap world, this kind of Eminem vibe came in where he's talking about a relationship with a girl, where it was all good back in the day but he's now so involved he can't get away from her, and I'm like the friend going 'come on, bro, just get out of this situation'. It felt like a nice marriage where you've got two soul artists on the same record, but flipped into a slightly different place.”
Was it important to you to get some up-and-coming talent on the album too with people like AJ Tracey and Ella Mai?
“One hundred percent. For me, especially off the back of Following My Intuition doing so well, it would be very easy to pick up the little black book and make the calls, get the record labels to pull in all the well-known artists. But that wasn't the vibe I wanted for this, I want the new wave, and this time around people like Ella Mai are the new wave. I'd like to think that in 18 months' time people will look back and go: 'Eh? You had Ella Mai on your album?!'
“Goldlink has had a number one record on urban radio in America so he's starting to have his thing, and for me AJ Tracey is the next big thing to blow up here in the UK, for sure. Him and Big Zoo, his man that he goes out and does shows with, I saw some of his stuff and his energy in on some next level. I think when you're established and you have an opportunity to bring people through, that's what music should be about.”
Was there any particular track that set the direction for the rest of the album?
“I probably would say it's 'Live in the Moment', just because it had this old school kind of feel about it but still felt fresh, like future R&B, and the fact that Goldlink is on it gave it a different thing, like 'oh, OK, if you don't know about Goldlink is, you're soon gonna learn about him.' I think that kind of set the tone, and I think that R&B in 2018 is gonna be peaking. You started to see it early when Brandy & Monica are getting sampled, Ginuwine is getting sampled, all of it was kind of throwback, but on house records.
“But you start to see it now where it's ready for a TLC 'No Scrubs' 2018 version, I mean you've already seen it with Raye's tune 'Decline', which was produced by Fraser, using the 'Always On Time' sample from Ashanti and Ja Rule. So it's happening, and I think if you can have new music that's on that wave, it's gonna be a no-brainer."
So what are your touring plans looking like this year for the new album?
“It's gonna be all the festivals, really. We've got a lot of festivals coming up, we've got 12 weeks at Ibiza Rocks starting in June, which is the longest stretch I've done, we've done two seasons before this year. All that stuff is starting to flood in now, so come January 26th when the album drops it's actually not going to be as hectic as all that, but I'm just hyped for people to hear the album, you're gonna hear some tunes on there.”
The Time Is Now is available in hmv stores now, you can also find it here in our online store...