Stafford born and Stoke based Sunil Heera has been making waves under his electronic moniker XO.
The young producer’s bespoke blend of R&B, hip hop, electronica and dance has raised the exceptionally well groomed eyebrows of everyone from Diplo to Chase and Status, demonstrating XO has carved out a sound all of his own.
Clash caught up with XO to discuss record labels, the Midlands and shining brightly beyond bedroom peers.
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First off, your mixtape ‘Those Who Wander’ came out last week. Can you tell us about the conception of that record and your stylistic and musical influences?
It was written at a time when I wasn’t listening to a lot of music. At that point in time I was locking myself away in the studio and where I work from home.
In terms of style as a whole it is probably close to left-wing electronica. In terms of influences, I couldn’t give you one specifically, I mean, a few track in particular such as ‘No Games’ has nods to Timbaland and Pharrell and then on the other end of the spectrum a track called ‘If I Go’ is more Flume-esque.
You have put this record out through your own label He Loves You Not Recordings, right? Why do you feel you needed to create your own label?
I started it two or three years ago to build my portfolio up I guess. When I first started it seemed so easy to go to label with a body of work and talk about signing.
As I learnt more about music I realised that a lot of people don’t have your best interests at heart. I educated myself on that front and realised being independent is the best way to go about things unless you are going to be a massive pop star. Essentially, labels can’t offer us anything that we can’t do ourselves.
Of course, I think it means everything that is coming out is like a pallet I guess. There’s all these colours and styles that blend together to create something almost alien-sounding.
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Essentially, labels can’t offer us anything that we can’t do ourselves.
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I don’t believe there is much out there that sounds like ‘Those Who Wander’. There are certain songs that don’t sit right with you at first because you are not used to hearing those mixes of sonics. With regards to it affecting my musical output, it has definitely meant I am doing things in a different way. I think that is probably a result of listening to all types of music throughout my life.
How does Stoke-on-Trent and the environment there inspire your music? Because it’s quite a normal and unassuming place right?
It’s a shit-hole mate. When I first started making music I was about 17 but I was one of the first kids to start making electronic music. It was quite weird because people weren’t making that kind of music and nobody understood what I was doing or what I was making.
Stoke has always been known as a band town so there was always these opportunities for bands to play on a Friday at venues like The Sugar Mill. The nightlife has improved around here recently but back then people didn’t understand electronic music because it wasn’t a thing.
After things like house and techno went massive obviously, people were affected by that and began to understand what it was producers and electronic musicians were making.
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Back then people didn’t understand electronic music because it wasn’t a thing.
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So, you are writing all your own music, producing, performing and recently foraged into the world of music video direction is that right? Can you tell us a little bit about that?
I did it with two guys called Daniel Etheridge and Beck Clewlow. Those two guys I went to school with and at school we were in different crowds oddly. Tying back into electronic music being on the rise here, Beck actually produces himself so that’s how we met. After I found that out we started bouncing creative ideas around.
We had worked on another single ‘Waiting Game’ together and we had great time with that but with ‘No Games’ we wanted to do something a bit weirder and a bit quirkier. So, we sat down at his flat and we just discussed ideas.
It was my idea to get Dan involved because he had recently dyed his hair blonde and he just looked like a bit of a crazy character. I thought it would work well because Beck and Dan are good friends, so yeah we sat down in this flat and just talked about what we wanted to portray and that we wanted to shoot it in our home town.
It wasn’t really something that was convoluted or long winded we just got on with it. Once we had the idea we basically shot it all the next week.
Have you played live yet?
I DJ’d quite a lot around the country. Obviously, that was a time where the musical style suited a clubbing environment. As I’ve progressed I’ve realised there are certain things that I am better at doing and some things I’m not so good at. Stuff like songwriting and producing I think I am good at doing so I’ve made those things a focus this year.
In terms of playing live, it was supposed to happen but I had this change of heart. I really did not want to be the front man right now. Because of the way the state of music is in now especially with up and coming producers, it seems all very predictable to me.
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It might be an album, it might be a mixtape...
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They will put out their first release, then they will put out an EP, then do a few remixes then announce a live show, I don’t know if it would sit right with me doing that. I’ve never ever wanted to be the front man and at this point in time right now I don’t want to do it.
So what’s next for XO and your other project?
What I can say is I’m working on the next full length now. I’ve got about 40 demos done, it’s a bit ridiculous! I don’t know what it’s going to be, it might be an album, it might be a mixtape who knows.
Aside from the XO stuff I’m going to be working with other songwriters and producers and that’s something I’m looking forward to. That is probably the bigger focus in the next 12/18 months, who knows you might see my name popping up in the credits a bit more!
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'Those Who Wander' is out now.
Words: Aaron Powell