There aren’t many young singer/songwriters around at the moment that can, in the space of a couple of songs, reference grime royalty Dizzee Rascal and 17th-century composer Henry Purcell, and do it seemingly so effortlessly. But that’s the vibe Jorja Smith gives off – from that gorgeous voice to easy-going manner she brought to the Hunger studios when she came to visit us recently.
Also, check out her new, self-made video for latest single Where Did I Go?
How long have you been in London pursuing this?
I moved to London on July 3rd last year and before that I’d come up in holidays and half-terms and work in different studios, I used to work with Maverick Sabre a lot and New Machine and Ed Thomas. I used to write at home – Blue Lights and A Prince were both written at home – and just listen to beats on Soundcloud and write. I play the piano a bit as well so used to sit and write to chords.
Is there much music in your family?
Yeah, my dad was actually in a band called Second Nature and music was always played in the house, a lot of reggae when my mum was cooking! There was a lot of music growing up and they’re always showing me new stuff – my dad will text me links to new stuff all the time.
There are two very different influences in a couple of your tracks already – Dizzee Rascal on Blue Lights and Henry Purcell on A Prince. Is this a reflection on your influences in general?
Well I listened to Dizzee a lot growing up and I did A-Level music at school and Purcell was something our teacher played. So I went home and listened to it again and thought it was really good! And I used to sing classical in school too and do the exams – I got up to grade five – and had to sing in choir because I was on a music scholarship, so there was a lot of singing in German and Latin. And I learned a lot because it’s good to learn breathing techniques and range.
What’s you writing process like, how do you get started?
If I’m in the studio and someone’s playing chords or patterns I’ll start singing a melody and certain words will just start to stick – I might just keep repeating a word – and that’s what I’ll tailor the song to. Blue Lights started with ‘don’t you run’. I used to write things down in a little book and now usually it’s with a voice note on my phone but I like free styling when I’m singing.
How did the video for Where Did I Go? come about? You filmed it all yourself right?
Yeah! At the house I’m staying in with my auntie, uncle and cousins – they were all away for the weekend – I noticed the lighting was really good on the stairs where there was a skylight, so I balanced the camera on the banister and just started singing. What I like about the video is that any girl could do it, so I feel like it’s more real and relatable for people.
How much are you inspired by the DIY route?
Oh I love it! I did the artwork for the song too and so many of my friends are really creative – the artwork for Blue Lights was done by my friend Shannon. I like using people around me, it makes it feel homemade. I always have ideas for my videos too, even if I can’t direct them myself I’ve always got an idea of exactly how I want it to be.
How much has the culture of growing up with the internet fed into that way of working?
Well, I don’t really know any different! But it’s great for inspiration.
Do you generally find it to be positive space though?
Oh yeah, definitely. When I got to London I didn’t even have twitter so it’s really nice how people are following me now just for the music. Instagram is definitely more shallow though. If I post a selfie I’ll get more likes than if I post some music.
Which artists would like to see yourself emulating in terms of retaining artistic control over what you do?
I love Amy Winehouse as a writer – if I could’ve written any song it would be You Sent Me Flying – and I love the way Rihanna presents herself. She’s very real, she always comes across as she’s just acting as herself.
And have you been able to do things the way you want to do them so far?
The team I’ve got around me like what I’m doing so they’ve just allowed me to be me. I’m not rushing anything, allowing myself time to develop because I know how I want things to sound and look. I’ve got a lot of growing up to do but I know myself quite well at this moment in time. I feel in a good place. Everything’s growing and when I listen back to old songs I can see how I’ve grown lyrically.