SXSW 2019 INTERVIEW: NOVELIST’S FAITH CHANNELS BELIEF INTO BRITISH MUSIC

“I like being in my own lane. I’m free to do what I like, which is funny ’cause I’m only 22.” It’s not so much “funny” as it is outrageous. The fact that at age 22 Novelist has carved out his own sound, been Mercury nominated for his debut album, and is the most genuine artist you could have the pleasure to meet, that’s outrageous. He also has a smile that could thaw an iceberg, which adds another layer of charm to the whole situation.

Watching Novelist perform live at SXSW 2019 Fader Fort was a proud moment, and I’d only just met him. In front a crowd who largely didn’t know who he was (save for most of BBK) his energy won them over from the first track. Bouncing around the stage in a neon outfit, getting the crowd to interact throughout and clearly enjoying every minute, it made you feel like this is exactly where Novelist is meant to be. Observing him speak to fans, to other artists, or to SXSW staff, his countenance is the same; he’s polite, calm and isn’t look for anything from anyone.

Novelist has spent stints in the US and Canada before, and after this trip to Austin, he stayed in LA for over a month. Speaking about being a fairly unknown artist out there, he’s buoyed by this relative anonymity: “It’s nice to be around people who don’t know me. They’re really getting the true me. I feel like they might have their own idea of what a UK artist is, and when they see my actual vibe and I talk to them, it opens an understanding that I’m for the people.” If Novelist is our prophet evangelising the strength of British music to our American cousins, then we should be proud of such earnest representation.  

Asking how it felt for Novelist Guy to be nominated for a Mercury, his response couldn’t betray more humility: “It was just God showing me that He will help me with whatever I ask Him to help me with. I said I want people to understand that I’m on a different level, and I’m making music that’s positive. There’s no expletives on my album, you can play it around your kids. I’m consciously doing these things. I wanted it to be on a platform where people could receive it well and by the grace of God it was there.” Novelist’s attribution of success to God and his faith is steadfast. Beyond his music, this public declaration of divine gratitude continues to set him apart from his peers.

One might imagine that the more successful an artist becomes, the more things he can buy, the more places he can visit, that his relationship with God might wain. However, Novelist dismisses this scenario out of hand: “I’m doing it because that’s what I’m called to do. I wouldn’t trade nothing in this whole world for my relationship with Jesus. I’ve been in the darkness where I couldn’t see past my next step, but now I have a peace that passes understanding. So I don’t care about the riches, I don’t care about the women, I don’t care about the money. The only reason I feel this peace is because of Jesus Christ. That’s it. I’m not gonna sugarcoat it.”

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He’s unbothered by what people call him, whether it be a ‘conscious rapper’, a ‘grime MC’ or something else. Novelist the artist is the same as Novelist the person, there is no pretense or fakery: “I am conscious. I’m wide awake. I’m not unconscious. People call me what they want. I’m just me. I’m Novelist.” This rejection of crowd-sourced identity applies to genres as well: “I don’t know what to call it. I don’t know whether to call it grime or just call it trap drill or to call it soul. When you hear it you’ll be like, ‘That’s a Novelist song’. The mission remains clear at all times: “As long as I live I’ll never do anything that’s unnatural to me. You make money for peace not the other way round; you don’t swap your peace in order to have money.”

Self-sufficient in his process, and self-confident in his sound, Novelist is indeed in his “own lane” (“I actually said that in ‘Take Time’: “And I stay in my lane and ting ’cause you dun know say I got a brain and ting”.”) He keeps production quite literally close to home. His big brother Prem is a producer and co-manager with his mum, and with his DJ Sus, they do most production “in house.” This keeps everything consistent and uninterrupted by influences or inputs that aren’t the ‘Novelist sound’. In terms of software, he knows what he likes: “Reason is my base, but I use Vochlea as a plugin. It’s just a innovative piece of hardware because the Dubler mic translates midi. If I want to make a drum pattern real quick I can beatbox it and then it will translate as the actual drums. It makes producing 10 times quicker if you can audibly showcase your idea.”

Novelist & Sus

However, just because he’s been producing since he was “a little kid”, doesn’t mean he’s not interested in learning on the job: “I do everything myself. But when it comes to mastering and mixing, I probably take it to Abbey Road so I can sit with the engineer and tweak it. That’s what I did with my last album.” He continues with modesty, “They know how to do things in a more efficient way, a better sounding way. When I go and I bring my music to them, I sit in and I learn. So I’m not just getting good music, but I’m getting good education.” As he currently builds the next album, Novelist is a little coy on the subject, but unlike Novelist Guy, there are some features on this one. Singles will be out “very soon”, along with visuals, which he hasn’t created many of until now.

Taking his talents to the US is Novelist’s way of challenging himself. He’s not trying to ‘break America’ but he is using it as a staging area to find inspiration in a new culture and unfamiliar people. Novelist’s faith may be the foundation for his own success, but it’s also inspiration for others: “Whatever you do, do it well and let your light shine through it, and then give God the glory ’cause he’s the one who gave you the talent in the first place.” He takes his achievements in his stride, and is certainly proud of them, but not for a moment does he allow the illusion that he is the source of this greatness. Wearing his favourite Biblical verses, Matthew 22:37-40, on a custom-made gold and diamond signet ring, this is the ultimate manifestation of faith and success, the Novelist way.

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