Villem & McLeod | Interview

A seemingly unstoppable pairing while both notable artists in their own right, Villem and McLeod release their eagerly awaited debut LP ‘Playing the Changes’ on Spearhead Records next week – and it is worth the wait.

A seamless trail of cosmic creepers, jazzy, soulful rollers and jungle infused productions, the twelve track LP is a self-professed sonic representation of the duo ‘trying to navigate our way through life, using that as inspiration to complete a dream we’d always talked about’. A poignant and emotive body of work, listeners can float between the dulcet, rolling tones of ‘Labooko’ and ‘Let It Breathe’ – featuring vocalist Leo Wood – to classic, jungle breaks and the warm textures of ‘Quayside’ and ‘Never Run Away’. Weaving between delicate liquid and soulful rollers to minimal nuanced cuts, fusing modern influences with classic sound palettes and jungle flavours; the duos inaugural album showcases the endless potential in the pairing’s collective knowledge, skillset & creative prowess.

I had the pleasure of catching up with Villem & McLeod ahead of the release – here’s what they had to say about making the album, what it means to them and how they maintain a ‘normal’ life outside the beautifully chaotic world of drum and bass…

So, how does it feel to have completed your first album?

V&M: Feels like the next step, working on singles and EPs has always been about writing music with no prior goal, just writing, then using the finished tunes to send to labels and then they chose whats on the single/EP. With an album we were able to think about what sound we wanted to achieve and work towards building tracks that work within that sound, overall it feels much more satisfying to complete a larger, more thought out, project.

Were there any particularly high/low points during the writing process?

V&M: When we’re in the studio its always a buzz when you’ve created a new track and it feels like ‘a tune’ – then when you get to play them to our peers and crowds and its feeding back positively then there’s no higher feeling – that’s the apex feeling. We can’t honestly remember any lows, there were tough sessions, where it just didn’t happen, but we’ve been writing long enough to realise that’s par for the course, so we’d just dust ourselves off and try again next session.

Where did you draw inspiration from when making the album?

V: Inspiration, for me, comes in so many forms, I mean the usual musical influences, but also from outside of music, life in general – a tough day can lead to great music session, or listening to a podcast which inspires me to push forward and continue to create, it being a nice sunny day and the bike ride to Sams studio, sets me in a positive vibe.

M: Mostly from listening to other music and hearing a sample that I think could work really but sometimes times it can come from something in life that has made me feel a certain way. I once read these words in an interview with Nai Palm and totally associated with what she says and how my inspiration comes about in a similar way:

‘’The roots of most creative expression is birthed through pain. It’s usually from the need to process something fucked up or unbalanced within me. Working it out and then sharing it with people so that they might gain perspective for themselves, or something astoundingly beautiful that shakes me to my core and Ineed to connect to it through creation. There’s no set formula. Inspiration is intangible and elusive’’

How was it working with Degs & Leo?… Talk us through your process of working with a vocalist…

V&M: A good vocalist not only performs and writes well but half the battle is them working hard on the project, both Leo and Degs gave us so much to work with – we had lots of harmony layers to choose from, even if we didn’t use all of them, its just great to have lots of options. Its hard to find vocalists in Drum & Bass as we expect a lot from them (write, perform, record well), but these two are up there with the best.

Do you have any favourites from the album? 

V: Hard to choose! That’s like asking to pick between children! If I had a gun to my head, I’d say Labooko, Organic Veg, Quay Side, Let It Breathe – but honestly proud of them all.

M: As Villem said its very hard to choose! Labooko does, however, do it for me no matter how many times I hear it.

Were there any tunes that didn’t make the cut?

V&M: Yes there was a few, mainly the vibe was not quite right for the album – but mostly we wrote for the album and finished the ones that were telling us to finish them, the good ones finish themselves.

The LP took two years to write. Did you realise how big of a task you were taking on?

V&M: Yes we were fully aware, but at the same time, it came together fairly easily, think we’d hit a creative process that enabled us to complete tracks that we were happy with on a regular basis. Also over the years the experience factor of knowing which tunes were worth pursuing and which just needed to be left alone.

If you could go back and do it all again, would you change anything?

V&M: Maybe we could have done it earlier, but the time was right now because we’d earned our stripes through many other releases, and gotten the confidence that we could take on a bigger project.

How do you maintain a ‘normal life’ outside of music? – do you both have 9-5’s or do you do this full time?

V: I have a part-time job working within the Building industry, and with a family (2 boys and a wife) I think having that steady income helps take the pressure off of music being the main breadwinner. I like having the two side by side, having that home base is great to come home to after a weekend away DJing.

M: I work with a friend helping him with his Landscaping Company and also run a Screen Printing company of my own so life can be pretty hectic sometimes and Music has to take a back seat!

What did you both personally set out to achieve with this album and has it met your expectations?

V&M: Completing the album, for us, is the achievement. We knew which vibe we like to create and where our influences converge, that’s the easy part, the difficulties is maintaining momentum. Think we did well, just putting in the sessions, and not letting up until we had it done – we released other music during those 2 years, and we only meet once a week for 4 hours. We think remaining focused on what vibe we wanted helped us to be economical with our time. People think writing music you have to be inspired, but half the battle is to remain dedicated and focused – there are days where it feels like zero possibility of being creative, but you sit down, start, and sometimes those sessions turn into the best ones.

How would you describe the album to someone who hasn’t heard your music?

V&M: I think description takes away from what someone else feels about the music if we describe it then that puts restrictions on how someone else can interpret it. Music is best listened to and let the listener decide how it makes them feel.

What does the album mean to you?

V&M: We’ve known each other for 20 years, DJs first, our love for music bonding us – to be able to finish an album, something we’ve wistfully talked about for many years, is a dream that’s coming true. We’re fans of the culture, raving, sound system music, and to be DJing with some of our heroes, sometimes you gotta pinch yourself.

We’ve got to thank BCee for believing in us and pushing us to write an album, and giving us the platform to create it – that means a lot!

Has working on the album allowed you to fine tune your collaborative sound and working relationship in any way?

V&M: By the end of the process we were rolling the tunes out and had great momentum, we got in the studio together, side by side, which is getting rarer in this world. We’ve got a new set up which unfortunately will need us to work online, as we now live 3 hours away from each other. We’re looking forward to trying.

What piece of advice would you give anyone looking to write an album?

V&M: Have a sound palette you enjoy, and try and use that to give the album a vibe, a coherent theme – then its just turning up and finishing the ones that tell you to finish them. This sounds vague but its a skill that’s learnt over many many hours in the studio and one of the most important.

What’s next for Villem and McLeod?

V&M: Gigs, gigs, gigs!!

You can pre-order Villem & McLeod ‘Playing The Changes’ forthcoming on Spearhead Records here and keep up to date with gigs, releases and all things d&b here.