Varren Wade: Venturing Solo & Breaking The Mould

You may remember him as one third of British R&B boyband Fun*dmental (or FDM as they were later known), now Varren Wade is stepping out on his own as he embarks on his solo career. And with last year’s Queen-sampled single “Rock ‘n’ Roll” garnering a positive reception, the singer-songwriter seems like a natural going it alone.

With a new style and sound in tow, 2012 will be a definitive year for the rising star, as he gears to release his debut solo LP. And while he hasn’t ditched his urban roots, the south Londoner’s new music is noticeably influenced by traditional rock.

“After watching my younger brother perform in a school play of We Will Rock You (a musical, based on songs by legendary Brit rockers, Queen), I was really inspired by the message it portrayed,” Wade explains, as we sit in his swarve South Norwood home studio. “The play is basically talking about how real music, rock and roll, is dead and everyone that’s doing music in our time – which is in the future [in the play] – is all doing the same robotic type of music and nobody’s being innovative.

“I was really inspired by that and just music of that era in general,” he says. “You know, back then, we had rock and roll, we had Motown, we had real music. And musicians made music from the heart, not just to be on TV.”

While Wade is heavily influenced by the music of the past, the singer is still very much so inspired by modern-day R&B artists as well: “Of course I grew up on the likes of Usher and Beyonce and really appreciate contemporary musicians,” he explains. “But there’s just something so real about music of past decades,” he adds.

After being in a band for many years [alongside Jermaine Riley and Kyle Lettman], Wade has had to adapt his musical style for the interest of the group, so it’s understandable the Jump singer is enjoying the creative freeness that comes with being a solo artist and being able to fully express his own musical influences into his songs.

“Vocally, a lot of people have been coming up to me and saying, ‘oh Varren, you sound so different’. It’s not that I wasn’t able to, but I just didn’t express my individuality as much as I do now,” he recalls.

“I feel like when I was in the group, it’s not that I wasn’t able to express my vocal ability or express this type of sound, but within the group there were three individuals and we all had to come together to cater to the group as a whole, not just as individual members.

“But me now doing my own thing and branching out as a solo singer, I’m able to fully express my musical tastes and incorporate all the different styles of music that influence me.”

He may be enjoying the creative freedom, but that doesn’t mean going solo was an easy task: “Even though the group broke up amicably and on good terms, there was still a moment of loneliness when it ended. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m by myself, is this really real?’

“Sometimes it’s still a bit weird now doing shows on my own. Like doing this interview now, it’s all me, whereas before I could sometimes sit back and rely on my bandmates,” he explains. “But as daunting as it is, it’s an experience that every artist goes through. Whether you’re coming from a group or a solo artist, you’ll go through periods where you have to reshape yourself, remould yourself [and] come out fighting. I feel like it’s a test, but I’m proving that I’m coming out on top – slowly but surely.”

It’s almost as if FDM were ahead of their time. The group first made a splash on the UK R&B scene back in 2006, and although gained a heavy fanbase and loyal following, British urban music wasn’t the commercially successful force that it is today.

But now with the likes of Tinie Tempah, Emeli Sande and co, proving that contemporary homegrown urban music is a serious contender in the charts, the timing is perfect for Varren Wade to launch his solo career. However, the musical shift is still a bittersweet moment for the talented young star.

“It’s almost a catch 22 for me. Obviously it’s amazing that (British) urban music is finally getting the shine it deserves,” Wade explains. “But at the same time it’s disappointing that it didn’t happen when we (FDM) were still around. But of course it’s definitely a good thing and there are a lot of talented artists right now flying the flag – which is so great to see.

“One thing I hope for though, is that we’re gonna get more pioneering artists. More artists that are gonna go out there and break the mould. Not only that we’re doing urban music, but we’re doing something different – hopefully I can be that.”

And there are quite a few pioneering homegrown talents that Wade’s co-singing : “They’re so many UK artists right now that are doing their thing and killing it on the commercial scene. But there’s also a lot of up-and-coming acts that are shining too. I’m really diggin’ [Birmingham rapper] Lady Leshurr. I feel that she’s really got something there and she’s different, which is very refreshing. I love here style and character. I’m also a big fan of Ed Sheeran. Everything he does is amazing. ‘Lego House’ is my track.”

During our chat at his south London studio, Mr Wade plays us some exclusive snippets of his new tracks, which sees the former boyband star delve into a variety of genres. And while the singer’s new music exudes a more diverse, mature and slightly experimental sound, it won’t alienate FDM fans.

“Right now I’m not scared to try anything new,” Wade explains on venturing into new sounds without limits. “When recording my new material, I didn’t care about the charts or what people expected to hear from me judging from my previous songs. I just went into the booth and expressed myself. How I was feeling, not what was expected from me. It was a very natural organic moment.

“The songs all have a different vibe and style to them and that’s what I’m about. Musicians shouldn’t be afraid to express themselves and try new things. And that’s what I’m doing with this record.”

One musician who isn’t afraid to express himself and try new sounds is Labrinth. And Wade is keen to work with the super producer, who’s made hits for the likes of Tinie Tempah, Pixie Lott and Devlin, to name a few.

“I would love to work with Labrinth,” Wade gushes. “What I’ve noticed about Labrinth is that he’s got so many dimensions to him and as a musician I could learn so much from him. He’s definitely someone I hope to work with.” There’s no denying female singers have dominated the charts over the last year, but with Ed Sheeran’s rising popularity and Michael Kiwanuka tipped for huge success, male solo artists are finally beginning to rival their female counterparts.

While he’s keeping mum about details of his upcoming LP, Varren reveals his new record will feature some “surprise collaborations” – and after hearing some of his new material, there’s no reason why 2012 shouldn’t be a promising year for the “Rock ‘n’ Roll” singer.

Varren Wade online: / @VarrenWade / Facebook / YouTube