Labrinth on ‘Team UK’: “We’ve got everything we need to make good music”

In every school, college or university, there’s always that guy who does it all. They play sports, run the student council, get the highest grades and have been tipped for great success at the end of term. That same motif applies within the the music business as one artist will always push past the competition due to their numerous talents.

In 2010, that crown of glory/pressure sits on the head of Timothy McKenzie, better known as Labrinth. At first being merely recognised as the vocalist on Tinie Tempah’s smash “Pass Out”, Labrinth now stands as one of the most influential figures in popular music today.

With various production, songwriting and singing talents on his CV, the 21 year old finds himself signed to Simon Cowell’s SyCo label and at the start of etching out a musical legacy set to dominate the charts for years. Soul Culture sat down with the ‘Head Boy’ of the new school of artists to discuss the future, Team UK and being Simon Cowell’s latest investment…

SoulCulture: How have the last twelve months been for you?

Labrinth: It’s gone really well, it hasn’t really been much different since I was independent. I was even signed to a label before all the fanfare kicked off for me. I was working with a number of different artists – Pixie [Lott], JLS, Master Shortie but behind the scenes rather than in front of the camera. I’ve been working for a very long time, even though most people think I just appeared recently. I’ve been in the studio since I was 13 so in a way I am slightly used to this new pressure which has come recently.

SoulCulture: What do you make of people referring to you as new, even though you’ve been making music for some time?

Labrinth: I’m not resentful to the fact people consider me new. I am new – in the public’s eyes – in terms of being in the press. To be interviewed, performing on stage, it’s all a relatively new experience. I’m still learning and finding myself as an artist so its exciting and there’s a lot of great things happening for me. I’ve received great advice from Tinie Tempah, Professor Green [and] Tinchy Stryder so it’s been really good.

SoulCulture: You’re a producer, songwriter and an artist. Which would you say is the title you’d associate yourself with more?

Labrinth: It’s been as a producer for a very long time but I believe I’m comfortable doing all three and I love them equally as well. Now its time for me to be an artist so I’m going to be pursuing that avenue for the time being. But of course I’ll still be producing and songwriting when necessary.

SoulCulture: What’s the transition been like from working independently to being signed to a major label?

Labrinth: There’s more deadlines and more things at stake such as single releases, people’s jobs so I always have to keep that in mind when working. Before I could spend a month on a beat but now obviously I might have to work a bit quicker. But it’s all fun right now, I feel like songs are just forming easily now, I’m not worrying as much about writing songs as they’re coming naturally to me now.

SoulCulture: Being one of the most in-demand musicians out today, should an artist wish to collaborate, does getting in touch with you remain the same as when you worked independently or does the label play a role in collaborations?

Labrinth: I’m a person who doesn’t believe in people getting in touch with me through label executives. I respect artists and always want to work with people who I feel are talented. So getting in touch primarily remains the same, but obviously I have to respect the way labels work with regards to hooking up with other artists.

SoulCulture: You’re the first artist in six years to be signed to Simon Cowell’s label that hasn’t appeared on a reality show. How has Simon been as a mentor?

Labrinth: It’s been really cool. Simon’s a nice guy. You see him on The X Factor and you see the scary side to him. I’ve always respected him because he’s straight talking. The way Simon works is the same way I like to work – you have to get serious, you’ve got to lead.

When Simon leaves the X Factor character behind and gets into leader role it seems intimidating but it’s all for the good. When I met him he was really nice. Simon believes that there’s longevity in my career and I don’t believe he would have signed me if he never felt that. It doesn’t feel that he has to work his backside off to help me get to where he wants me to be. I’ve progressed quite far before him and I can only get better with him guiding me.

Simon’s offering me an extra hand in order to help me reach my potential as well as him seeing a return in his investment!

SoulCulture: Urban music within the UK has become dominant over the last 18 months? What do you think the reason has been for this recent success?

Labrinth: I think it all comes down to it being our [urban music] time. Bob Dylan once wrote “The Time’s are A-Changing” and in theory it’s supposed to happen every fifty years. Things change; no one knows why they’re happening and I feel like this is the time we’re in.

Urban music was very much Blues, R&B, Soul and the Grimy stuff which people found violent. I think we’ve found the formula now. Some artists have altered their sound, some straight sell-out others go with the times. You’ve seen Wiley go from the grimier sounds to the electro stuff such as “Wearing My Rolex”.

I think more artists are more open to listening to different styles of music and are now letting those genres influence their own output. I feel as artists mature, they start to express themselves a lot more openly than when they were younger, which could be anything from their lyrics to the music they produce.

SoulCulture: There’s a new slogan being promoted with every new single or album release – Team UK. What do you define as being Team UK?

Labrinth: ‘Team UK’ to me is just artists which need to be heard. Sometimes we forget or ignore our homegrown artists so I think it’s just letting people know that we have good music as well. ‘Team UK’ is like the banner which all good UK music falls under. I wouldn’t support an artist strictly because they may be shouting, ‘Team UK’.

I believe in the UK developing but that isn’t an excuse to allow poor music through. We’ve got everything we need to make good music – I’d be willing to help people to develop their product but I wouldn’t support anything if it wasn’t good.

SoulCulture: We’re seeing more and young people pursuing music as a professional career. What tips would you give new artists or students who may consider becoming a musician?

Labrinth: I would say you can learn a lot but experience is best. I never went to university but I studied on my own learning chords, studying things I would need to help develop. It’s important to understand the history of the music you plan to make. I’d also say it’s important to find out who you are – or more specifically – who you are as an artist. Don’t let any past depictions or representations of music reflect you, being yourself is what’s most important. There is room to bend the rules.

SoulCulture: Finally, what would you consider to be a successful year for you?

Labrinth: A successful year for me would to firstly see my single “Let The Sunshine” get to number one, a number one album would be amazing and for my label Oddchild (an imprint on Simon Cowell’s Syco Label) to kick off allowing me to take on new UK artists and to develop them into future superstars.

Labrinth’s debut single with Simon Cowell’s Syco imprint, “Let The Sun Shine”, is out now.

Labrinth online: / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube / MySpace / SoundCloud

Photography by Neil Raja.