During a 2016 lecture at Sonar festival, Brian Eno talked of the social implications of different musical genres; the pyramid structure of one classical conductor standing over a pit of musicians is not unlike a dictatorship. Modern genres displayed their belief in social equality by placing musicians alongside each other; with Jazz in particular, there is often joy in watching different musicians alternately take the lead, flexing their creative muscles whilst their bandmates provide support.
This dynamic is part of what makes Lyle's live show - and the EP sculpted alongside - so thrilling. As a bandleader and songwriter, he is utterly distinct; his music is as staunchly, intimately expressionist as its cover art (which was painted by his mother, by the way). And yet his band, comprised with R&B/Drill-influenced synth-demon Don Sinini and 70s-centric percussionist Leonard Doob, burns with creative heat, best described by Lyle himself: "we do see the band as like this machine that we whir up, turn on and don't stop till it runs out of gas".
In the run-up to his biggest headline show yet at London's Waiting Room - supported by DJ sets from his Ninja Tune-signed collaborator Nabihah Iqbal (aka Throwing Shade), and the wonder-kid of Lyle's own record label Morning Routine, Angus - I sat down with Lyle to talk through the record.
It's really really hard to pin down your EP Bathing; it's got a really consistent feel to it, but I honestly couldn't describe the genre. How would you describe it?
I see it as a dialogue between two genres that I'm interested in; as opposed to boxing it into one downtempo box, I say it's a very active exercise between New Wave - with its coldness and politics - and Soul.
One of the most striking tracks on the EP is I Can't Kid Myself, it's got this lovely balance between dark melancholia and light syncopated funk. The percussion's playfulness means it never feels too existential, despite the lyric's darkness. How did it come about?
We were all really amazed with how well that live jam recorded. It started out as a studio arrangement with a sequenced beat, but whenever I was getting references for the track alongside this lo-fi recording of it done in the Roundhouse with one microphone and two musicians, they'd say that was better than the studio arrangement. I was playing both synth parts and singing...and Cian was on the drums. I feel like these rabbit holes, that we as musicians go down, are where real experiences happen.
So by stripping away some of the self awareness of recording, you got to express yourself more honestly?
I realise that there's a new demand that I've got to meet as a vocalist, that's when I step up and respond to what's expected of me and the song. We're quite inspired by avante garde performers who trade under their own name, even when they’re in a band, and it'll be who they are as much as what they're making. Maybe it's me overanalysing it, but that's their individuality being really vital to their music, each individual is as important as the band. We do have our own aliases but we understand that as a band we're more.
This is the project where I've got the strongest sense of your identity in the music. And I think part of that is down to the collaboration; like with the Don Sinini-produced track 'Dance Wid Me' you did, its melodic identity still felt very you, so I was surprised when I found out that it was produced by Don, not yourself as all your released music is. Had you heard his music before you two first met?
Yeah my friend played me his soundcloud account. I had no idea that he was also South Asian, but the music he was inspired by was so similar to where I was at - it was R&B and Drill songs he was doing, and he was also singing a little bit at that point, but it was very elusive. I thought I don't know if I'll ever meet this guy but I really wanna work with him. It was really through the internet that we met each other. We totally bonded, and yeah he's becoming part of the Morning Routine family.
Listening back to my favourite track on your previous release, 'A [Palm Leaves]', there's massive ambiguity in the lyric 'You only want me when I don't want you, I protect what's mine', even though its meaning feels clear when I listen to you singing them. In the new EP's 'Tell Me I'm Crazy', the lyrics are even less specific. Does writing in this way allow the songs to stay relevant to you?
Yeah I mean that line always makes me think of La Roux's lyric 'You don't want me you just like the attention'… I've kind of carried that idea through about rejection. I think the binary of wanting to be wanted is something that's come through with the new track; the hook is just 'I Want You' straight up. Maslow's hierarchy of needs is something that really fascinates me, whether it's a literal need or something your brain tells you hormonally need, rather than want. I like exploring that. Like when The Weekend says 'I got what you need', it's an interesting physiological statement.
Yeah like it's relevant to romantic situations, but also to plenty of others; you could read it as a leader saying it.
It's microsocial, it's just about one interaction, that's how I interpret it. Tell Me I'm Crazy is my full studio sonic jam, which is just to be lost in - I would never talk about a specific meaning.
You sampled Aphex Twin on Palm Leaves, but the new record has no samples, why? How have you got it to sound so colourful despite it?
It's fun to sample, and I'm not gonna stop doing that, but this was a very personal release, so I just sampled myself. And my collaborators. I have been aestheticising the guitar parts by running them through a tape machine to make it sound organic. I've been inspired by the way Nabihah Iqbal works; she distorts the vocals and puts it through a guitar amp, in order to bring out the personality traits and give it a certain quality. Being a producer is about bringing out personality from content.
Tickets to see Lyle and Nabihah Iqbal at The Waiting Room on Wednesday the 11th of July can be purchased here.