Having worked with several artists, such as Tinie Tempah, credited British songwriter J. Warner is putting down his pen and getting behind the mic to flex his vocal skill set as an artist. The Southeast London-bred artist has taken years to cultivate a more realistic and conversational approach to his music that allows listeners to get a peek into his life. Just like many creatives before him, Warner worked through the typical stage of doing what he thought was expected of an R&B artist. Utilizing his newfound spirituality, Warner has grown into his own and shows that he has found his voice on his new EP, Est. 1990.
Tell me a little about your career so far.
Three years ago I signed my publishing deal as a songwriter so I was actually in the music realm, I guess. And, I mean, at that time, when I signed the deal, I was managed by nobody. I had a manager before who was working closely with RocNation and stuff and he approached me as a writer before we kinda went our separate ways. He kinda got me into the whole mode of songwriting and understanding what songwriting is. Being a young, black British guy, but being brought up on Gospel, I only listened to like, Fred Hammond and Kirk Franklin and all these people up until the age of like, eight or something like that. So, I didn’t really even know about secular music until quite later on. So, I was obviously influenced by R&B like Brandy and all of those people. When I use to write certain songs, like over here in the UK, in the song writing realm, you can only really, to make money off of music, you can only really write pop songs and like, they’re not trying to hear four, five-part harmonies. They’re trying to hear one-part harmonies, two-part harmonies and just basic, catchy things. So, I had to understand and learn that. So, that’s where it started. Then, I had my year to myself and then I signed my deal with Disturbing London. With like Tinie Tempah and a few other people on the label. I was just chasing cuts really, just trying to get loads of cuts with different artists. It’s been OK, but it’s still slow and there’s not a lot of priority when it comes to—it’s kind of like obviously who you know and who you’re around to get in the right places regardless of whether you’re signed or not, so I had to learn that, also. It’s only as of recent coming into like last year I found a new manager. He’s one of my close friends and he kind of saw everything that was happening before. I went through some typical music trials and tribulations like having one of my previous managers, we had a little situation with money. These are all life experiences, I guess. I’m kind of happy that that happened at that time rather than later on so I kind of learned from that. At this point now, and at last year, I just decided that I’m going to stop chasing cuts. I decided to just start writing and now I’m here today with a finished EP.
In your music, you’re able to talk about issues in relationships without bashing women. Why do you think it’s important to make your music relatable to both men and women?
I never wrote [about it] consciously, but I think it was one of those things where it’s such a typical and generic thing to be, to me anyways in my humble opinion, that egotistical kind of artist like, “I got bitches, etc.” I think it’s just because of where I’m coming from, as well and I think the culture is a little bit different in how we look at things. On top of that, me as a person, I just respect women in general. The fact that they can just do the amazing things that they can do such as like, give birth and stuff like that. I think that if I ever were to have a song where I’m talking specifically in a way which could possibly come across as me bashing a women or whatever, it would only be me reenacting a situation that’s actually happened to me. It’s funny that you picked up on that because I was never conscious of that up until now.
Walk us through your process for writing a song. (Do you start as soon as you hit the studio? Do you journal? Do you have to write a whole song as soon as it hits you?)
The songwriting process for me is very, very…random. Personally for me, I’ve become a much more spiritual person over the last two years. I think that has really enhanced my ability to be able to really use my gift to its full potential. Before I was very conscious and was like, “Ok, I want to write a song like this, I want to write a song like that.” During the process of making this EP, a lot of songs were just really spontaneous. I didn’t really have concepts. I was just writing what I felt. I understood more about myself and the fact that I am someone who is very good at explaining things; it’s my delivery in how I do things. I’m not really the person who comes up with the maddest concepts, but if someone gives me a concept or I get inspired by something, my detailed writing about it is something that has come about in probably the past year and a half. There’s no real method to how I write. My thing is…I just like to be very conversational. I like to just have that thing where people hear it and they’re like, “Oh yeah, I definitely get that.” It’s weird. That writing technique, I was inspired by two people: Frank Ocean and Drake. I feel like when Drake first came out, that set him apart. A lot of people were like, “Nah, he’s soft, man.” But I don’t know, the way that he says things, that’s why girls get him so much because he has that organic honesty thing where he’s almost in the room talking to you. Like, that’s almost how you feel when you listen to his music. He’s just in the room talking. Frank Ocean is very much like a visual writer. He might write something about an African lady wearing elephant tusks in the middle of Cambodia. Like, he would actually sing something like that and as soon as he says that, you see it. I kind of bear those two main things in mind when I’m writing. Now, I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t force a concept. I just wait until I’m inspired to write. I normally just go to the studio and we’ll talk for about two or three hours. Then, someone will say something or someone will go on the keys and be like, “Oh, that’s nice. Let’s build on that.” Then, whatever melodies come to my mind, I literally just lay them down. Sometimes I don’t even have to lay down loads of melodies. Sometimes it’s just one thing that always resonates with me and so that’s how the song starts. Other times, it just comes and that’s it. Before I know it, I got a whole song. Other times, it’s just me literally laying down the melodies and just going to the next part of the song, laying that melody down, figuring it out and saying, “Yeah, cool. This all makes sense. This mixes. This is catchy. Let’s run with it.” Most of the time I just hear the song in my head. I try to explain it to people, and this is why I know it’s a gift because it’s almost like, there’s certain things that I do or there’s certain things that I hear, but it’s like someone’s singing it in my head and I’m just repeating it. That’s literally the only way I can explain it.
How has your environment and upbringing influenced your music?
Basically I was raised in not the roughest area, but it wasn’t the best area either. I was raised by my mom and dad. They were always together. I never really had a broken home. I went to a mixed primary school and then, I went to a predominately white high school. At that time, the school was in a place called Elton that wasn’t the best place to be in if you were black. They had an infamous killing of Stephen Lawrence. He was killed by a racist attack and my school was down the road from there. At that time, it wasn’t the ideal place to be, but it was the best school for what we could get at the time. Around when I was 11, that was when grime [music] started. Some of the people are coming to the surface now, like Skepta. Everyone who was everyone, at that time, grew up on grime. Everyone was trying to spit, be a MC, and spit bars. That was one of my main influences. Me and the producer that helped me do “Chill Chase”, we first started off making grime beats and spitting bars. Before we use to be MC’s. In secondary school, I was exposed to secular music. That’s when I started finding my love for real R&B. I found out about Brandy and that kind of changed my life. It changed how I looked at harmonies, riffing, and all these mad technical singing things. My mom’s from Barbados so there was a lot of influences from that side, as well. There was a lot of reggae and Bob Marley, all that stuff. It’s weird, I feel like if I wasn’t born in the UK, my musical taste would be a lot more narrow. In London, it’s so diverse racially and there’s so much we can take from it. We’re all sponges in regards to what we’re influenced by. There was a lot of gospel R&B, there was pop, Backstreet Boys, and Michael Jackson (who influences everyone at some point).
Tell me more about your new single.
“Do or Die” is literally that moment when you offer everything you have and don’t have to the person or thing you care about most in the most epic way possible!
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