When Theophilus London began working on his second album for Warner Bros. Records, he wanted his artistic scope to be limitless. “In my process of creating, I didn’t want to say, ‘OK. This is what the album title’s going to be’ and start creating around that,” London reveals. “I more so want to be free and creative at all times. In the whole two-year process, I was tweaking the album up until the last hours of handing it in. I feel like the album got called Vibes because everything that happened creatively and spiritually just all vibed together – all my decision-making while making the album. Everyone who worked on it with me did it on a family level. We all vibed together. You couldn’t even plan it. It was all vibes.”
The vibe was indeed flowing when London played friend Kanye West his “Neu Law” song. London had relocated from New York to Europe and then to Palm Springs, California. While working in the Southern California desert, London had created a new sound, a new way of expressing himself vocally and sonically. When West heard the cut, he was floored. The way London said he was seeking truth appealed to him. West signed on to executive produce Vibes.
“What I’ve learned during this process is that I started producing my own music and that there are other ways to express yourself,” London explains. “I have cousins who rap and I tell them all the time, ‘You don’t have to just rappity rap rap. There are other ways to express yourself.’ There’s sound expression, rhythm. I started learning that and adding things to what it is that I do.”
West then broke his own self-imposed rule of not doing any guest appearances and delivers a raucous performance on “Can’t Stop.” “Our verses are so different on that song,” London says. “That’s one of the first songs I wrote when I went to Paris. I played that for him and Kim when it was just the three of us in his house and that one really stuck with him. He played it over and over, asked his wife if she loved it. He started writing a verse and it took him two months to write that verse. That’s such dedication. Some people write their stuff overnight, like ‘I need it right now’ and just write some things overnight that sound like them. He actually pushed himself to write that.”
The concept for “Water Me” came from a different source. London had long admired the work of singer-songwriter Leon Ware and had even reimagined the album cover of Ware’s eponymous 1982 album for his major label debut album, 2011’s Timez Are Weird These Days. After Ware got in touch with London, the two met after London relocated to Southern California, which is where Ware is based.
London and Ware became friends and an exchange led to “Water Me.” “He texted me, ‘Water me and I will grow,’” London says. “When I read that, I was like, ‘That’s a powerful message that I’m getting. I’ve got to turn it into a song.’ It’s very simple. We don’t have time to talk about money, cars, ourselves or the girls we’re with. We’d rather talk about sitting down and watching the trees and the plants, what’s the source of life and things like that.”
London drew additional inspiration while writing “Water Me” from the passing of his great aunt, whom he dedicates Vibes to.
Elsewhere, London shifts gears by recounting having a rendezvous with a bisexual woman on “Do Girls” and being vulnerable on “Heartbreaker.” “It’s a song about you’re feeling like you’ve got the mojo,” he says, “but no matter how much mojo you’ve got, you feel like there’s still a girl out there that could break your heart.”
Vibes displays even more of its sonic muscle on “Tribe” and “Smoke Dancehall,” cuts where the music shifts dramatically and remarkably within each song. This creative explosion is the result of London drawing inspiration from his Trinidadian and Brooklyn, New York roots, as well as his time spent in Europe.
After emerging in the New York scene and garnering acclaim for his mixtapes, which showcased a brazen yet appealing mix of rap, soul, rock, pop, punk and electronic music, London recorded a portion of Timez Are Weird These Days in Stockholm. The time in Europe proved beneficially professionally and personally, as London developed strong friendships and creative connections while on the continent. He also scored a No. 1 hit in Germany with the remix of his “Wine & Chocolates” single.
London has always thrived while being in new locations and being exposed to new ideas and experiences while working on his material. He likes being out of his comfort zone.
However, while crafting what would be the follow-up to Timez Are Weird These Days, London had to deal with an unfortunate discomfort: the passing of his aunt. He was born in her house, was named after her father and had a tremendously close bond with her. The loss was substantial.
London found himself stuck creatively while mourning her loss, but after traveling to Trinidad to help bury her, he was able to achieve a type of peace, something he redirected into his creative process while recording Vibes.
“I feel like I have big pressure to make her happy,” London says. “I know she’s watching me and anything I do, she sees. I’m sure she’s helping me. This album is dedicated to her.”
That’s why the work is so personal for London, who served as his own A&R rep and manager while crafting Vibes.
“The goal was to get back to a happy place in my life, man,” London says. “I went through some dark times. On this album, I was chasing demons and sacrificing a lot. I’m just excited that I could make a piece of work that I’m happy about, that my great aunt was spiritually here for me to help me finish writing this album.”
The Vibes are powerful, literally and figuratively.
SUNDAY, MARCH 8, 2015
FORTUNE SOUND CLUB – VANCOUVER, BC
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