SXSW Interview: Theophilus London
by Winston "Stone" Ford
Photos courtesy of Darkroom Demons/Green Label Sound
We live in a new generation, where the lines of hip-hop, pop, rock, and electronic music have been blurred. No longer is someone “just” a rocker or “just” an MC. Artists these days are crafting their music from a palate as diverse as an iPod on shuffle.
Theophilus London most surely fits into this category.
By the time I got to Austin’s Club DeVille for the Green Label Sound showcase, the lines were already almost a block long. No doubt many people were in the audience for headliner Theophilus. The Brooklyn artist has been gaining Internet buzz for the past year, and even though SXSW marked the first time I’ve seen him perform, his stories about packing Brooklyn warehouses and back alleys have become almost legend.
Backed by only a laptop and the drummer from Philadelphia psych-rock trio Popo, Theophilus definitely pleased fans during SXSW 2010. However, will his sound transcend beyond the streets of Brooklyn? I hope so.
I got a chance to sit down with Theophilus for a few minutes before his Green Label Sound Showcase. Check it.
It seems like there is this new generation of–let’s just say it–Black men who don’t really fit into the box of what urban hip-hop MC’s “should be” doing. You have Cudi. You have yourself, Mickey Factz, and now Chiddy Bang. How you do you feel about this new emergence in music?
It’s exciting man. It’s exciting that we live in 2010 where social media is taking over the world. People are happy again. There is no anger. There are no more “You Can Hate Me Now” songs. People are looking into their hearts and writing more modern love songs and songs about freedom. I’m really happy about that you know?
Word. I heard the Soundcheck and it sounded great. I love your sound. It’s a bit of hip-hop, indie rock. How do you describe your sound?
I describe it as pop music. Pop music is some of the most successful music around. Also, with pop music there is a lot of freedom. I don’t limit myself to doing anything. I love waking up in the morning with a melody in my head and just putting it on wax. There is no better feeling than putting my emotions out and my strengths out in music.
No doubt. So even though you would describe your music as “pop,” it does seem to have a lot of variation within it from all genres. Who were your inspirations growing up?
Michael Jackson for sure. Marvin Gaye. Morris D [of the Time]. I’m very big on frontmen and how they control crowds. I want to thank my ancestors because they are the reason that I wake up with melodies in my head.
My first experience of your music was the track “Cold Pillow”. Can you describe the thought process behind the music?
I was going through a really bad breakup at the time. I was doing some research on pillows in general. And then I was like, every time there is an song about a pillow it’s on some R&B sex shit, and I wanted to make the title a sort of evil, mysterious thing. I wanted to show the pillow in a different light. Instead of love, I wanted to show the “cold” side of the pillow, for those who aren’t happy.
I know that you are huge in NYC. How has the response been to your shows at SXSW?
The response has been very great. I’m very appreciative of everyone who supports me and loves my stuff. I’m very excited of the moment and I don’t take any minute for granted. It could all be gone tomorrow.
You have the single “Humdrum Town” which dropped on Green Label Sound, and you’re touring now. What can people expect in the future for Theophilus?
I got a EP coming out soon. I’m working with this producer Lightspeed Champion. I’m also working with Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio.
Yeah. It’s all about creative minds coming together. You can expect great things in the future. It’s about bringing a community of people together and making it bigger. I’m working on a bunch of stuff right now.
Good look. Theophilus London’s single “Humdrum Town,” is out on Green Label Sound right now. You can also download his previous project This Charming Mixtape and be on the lookout for his new EP mentioned above.