Photo Credit: Alex Galloway
We caught up with London-based singer/songwriter Meron T earlier this month to talk about her music, and the circumstances that led to her reflective R&B/Soul style. While her East African upbringing & early musical influences inform her songwriting, her meditative lyricism gives us a glimpse into her life as a creator.
What drew you to music?
Since I was a kid, I always played in choirs, I sang from a young age since primary school, and it always came quite naturally to me. Even though I went to university and I got an engineering degree, and a Master’s in International Development. In the back of my head, I was like — Yeah, this is cool, I’m happy I’m learning. But I know where I wanted to be, and that’s music.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
A mixture of R&B, Hip-Hop, Ethio-Jazz, a bit of Bossa Nova when I got a bit older. In my teenage years, a bit of indie music like dream pop. Also, being from London, a lot of grime, garage, and a lot of house and techno in my later years. So yeah, quite a lot of genres.
Your dad’s Ethiopian and your Mum’s Eritrean, but you live and grew up in London. How does growing up in a multicultural household inform your work, if it does in any way? I’m sure this family dynamic helped you inherit a few quirks. Do you see any of this affect the way you make your music?
The kind of music I grew up listening to–like Ethiopian music and Eritrean music, is the kind we tend to sing in the upper ranges, but it’s not necessarily airy. It’s quite chesty, so quite strong, and there’s a lot of vibrato in the voice. I feel like those little quirks have made their way into my singing style. Having grown up in London, I love faster-paced music with a lot of heavy bass-infused tracks. So I’d say a mixture of these things– being exposed to Ethiopian music and being exposed to London sounds and a lot of the Hip-Hop and R&B from the States which I grew up listening to, have kind of formed the basis of the different elements I’ve cut into my songs.
I want to ask you about something that happened in 2015 when you had a vocal injury. As an artist and singer, that must have been quite debilitating for you. It’s quite inspirational that you’ve gone back to music. Can you tell us a bit about how it all happened and what made you not give up?
There’s a side of music that almost requires you to be visible, social, out and about, and constantly connecting with people. So I was on the scene a lot, partying a lot, socializing, and sometimes I can put quite a lot of stress on the voice. It all got a bit too much, and I ended up causing some damage which meant I didn’t sing for a good two years. But then, in the back of my head, I thought— You’re going to have to face it eventually. So I moved abroad to another country (which I was lucky to do) and lived differently. I put music out of my mind and found different things I loved. After two years when I moved back to the UK, I decided it was time to make changes because I had to get back into music.
A lot of artists have found it hard to work remotely during the lockdown. What has your experience of working in isolation been like?
It’s been pretty good because isolation gave me a chance to learn new skills. I started learning production and probably made more music in the past year and a half than in the last three years.
Normally it’s with other producers and sessions, but because I learnt how to produce, it allowed me to make music on my own. At any hour of any day, I could just create. It depends if I’m making something by myself and there’s no agenda, then I like doing that at home by myself. But if I’m working for somebody else or collaborating, I prefer to have a session with them because then you can bounce off each others’ ideas.
Can you tell us a little bit about your songwriting process? What do you enjoy the most about it, and what are the not-so-good bits?
With songwriting, I tend to start with the melody first. The thing that I like about it is that normally I freestyle, and then from that, I write down lyrics and make sense of what I’ve freestyled. So I enjoy the initial process of stepping up to the mic with a blank canvas and coming up with melodies. I really enjoy that part.
It can get a bit tedious afterwards when it comes to filling in the gaps. Sometimes you’ll have a certain melody and certain vowels in mind, but trying to change them or finding a word to fit within that can be tricky. It’s more like solving a puzzle.
If you were in a studio with a bunch of people, would you have the same approach to your songwriting where you get in front of the mic with a blank canvas?
Yes, that’s where I feel most comfortable because what will happen is if I hear something, an idea will pop up in my head. If I sit down and spend too long trying to write it, that melody can become a bit boring, or I’ll forget the melody or the rhythm. Sometimes if I have an idea, I need to get it out straight away, otherwise, I will forget it or it’ll change, so it needs to be in the moment.
Have you had any creative blocks as a result of working in isolation?
I have moments because obviously, it was such a large amount of time being at home that it’s impossible to be productive the whole time. It fluctuated between me having weeks where I was super productive, and then I’d have a few weeks where I wouldn’t even open up Logic. You need moments of inspiration, and you need moments to take a step aside to recalibrate and then come back with fresh energy.
Do you have a way to come back to creativity, or do you just spend a lot of time not doing it and then get around?
What I try to do is— when I have moments where I’m not inspired, I’ll use that time for me. Whether that is going out in nature or socializing. Just stepping aside from music that way and not feeling the pressure or the guilt. In that way, when I come back to it, it’s like I had a proper break from it.
You’ve released a few tracks in 2021. Three of them are with a frequent collaborator Sey G. Is this a sign that there’s a collaborative EP on the way?
Oh, there is a collaborative EP on the way! Hopefully, it’ll be out by this year. The songs are ready, and it’s just about sorting out everything else that comes with the music. Making the music is one part; getting the music out is another part, but we’ve got things coming up very soon.
Given that the last two years have been so emotionally packed and very different from any other year so far, I have to ask what themes are you keen on exploring with the upcoming EP?
Things like emotional regulation, processing emotion, staying afloat, that kind of stuff. ‘Reflective’ is the perfect way to describe it.
Do you have a record collection, by any chance?
I’ve actually only got one vinyl, and it’s the Silhouettes Project album I was on. It’s a East London based collective group that I am blessed to be a part of. We played our first festival last weekend, which was very nice and was a really big achievement.
Did you have the nerves when you were on stage (at the festival you played at recently)?
I was okay. Obviously, it’s a bit nerve-wracking sometimes because you don’t know how the sound is going to be. Sometimes it isn’t always ideal, and it can affect your performance when you’re playing with a live band (normally, I don’t really play with a live band that much). Sometimes the drums can be too loud in the monitor if you don’t have the levels right. You can’t hear yourself properly, and it could compromise your performance because you don’t want to be up on stage and not be able to hear yourself. But then there are ways to work around it. I think I did well, and I enjoyed it.
I want to talk to you about your inspirations. As a musician, which artists inspire you? I imagine there are at least a few artists that inspire you.
One of my early inspirations, when I was younger, was Michael Jackson because his melodies and voice always captivated me. ‘Rock With You’ is still one of my favourite songs, actually. His voice on that track is so beautiful. Aaliyah is a really big one because her voice is so beautiful; even her songwriting and her melodies. So growing up, I listened to her a lot, and I’d say I definitely take inspiration from her singing style. As I got a bit older, Amy Winehouse became a really big inspiration. I started performing live around that time, and I loved to sing her songs. Her voice and a lot of her songs were guitar-friendly, so most of my initial covers were her songs (I have to really give her a shout-out because she’s such a kindred spirit).
Photo Credit: Alex Galloway
What about collaborations? Who would you like to step into the studio with if you had a chance to collaborate with any artist?
I would really love to step into the studio with Rosalia. I would love to see her songwriting process and how she comes up with melodies. She’s also another inspiration because she’s very talented and hard-working. For example, Kendrick [Lamar], I really love his lyricism, Robert Glasper, because he’s an impeccable producer and makes beautiful music. I really love Don Toliver at the moment; I love his voice. He’s also Gemini, like me, the same as Kendrick. Dave, right now in the UK, he’s doing really well. I love his flow, which is very unique. I would love to work with him; that’d be really cool!
London’s beautiful. It’s such a melting pot with so much going on — especially South London’s Jazz scene. Would you ever consider leaving London and staying elsewhere to pursue your music? Have you ever thought about that?
Yeah, I would like to do stints/gigs in other cities. I would like to do a few months out in LA; that would be really cool. Maybe some time out in Amsterdam too. I would love to move to Cuba for a bit and make an album there, kind of following in D’Angelo and Jimi Hendrixx’ footsteps as well.
Many people find themselves either looking back into the past or worrying about the future, especially over the last two years with CoVID and everything. Where are you at with all of these things? How’s your headspace?
I mean, I always used to be someone who would worry about the future and reflect on the past. But I’ve been working to be present and more mindful over the past year and a half, especially. I feel like I am a bit more in the present now, just kind of enjoying the process, enjoying the experience. Obviously still wanting things for the future and planning, but not in a way that I’m putting too much pressure on myself. Not in a way where the present stops being enjoyable
What’s the best piece of advice you were given as a musician? Has anyone told you anything that’s impacted you and made you think about things in a certain light?
This isn’t necessarily what somebody told me; it’s more of what I saw. In 2018, I went on tour with Masego while he was on his European Tour. The other musicians on the tour, like the drummer, the keys player and the bassist/guitarist, including Masego, were all so hard-working. Most of them are multi-instrumentalists who love music, and you can tell they’ve put so many years into perfecting their craft. Seeing them do that kind of taught me that—You can have a great voice or be super talented, but that’s not enough. You have to still work hard because so many other people in the music world are working really hard, and to get where you’re trying to go, the combination of talent and hard work is the winning formula. If you do both, it all resonates together.
Do you want to build yourself further as a multi-instrumentalist and a producer/singer-songwriter as well?
There is an argument of not trying to do too many things, but I feel like they feed into each other—for example, my understanding of music theory. Because I play the guitar, I’m going to start learning keys a bit more, as that feeds into production and feeds into melodies, which kind of feeds into the vibe of the track I can create. It gives me more room to create sounds that resonate closely with me because instead of creating something for someone else’s idea, it means I can create stuff from scratch. Trying to do too much maybe isn’t too great sometimes, but I feel knowing the basics of all of these things ends up being really handy because it allows you to see music on a different level.
With the music you’ve produced in the past and the newer music you plan on releasing, can you share some personal goals that you want to achieve with your music?
A milestone that I’m trying to achieve is releasing my first ever self-produced project, which I am currently working on. I’ve been working on it side by side with the collaborative project with Sey G. Once that comes out, it would be a huge milestone to actually have self-produced a body of work because I’ve only ever worked with other producers. I’m looking forward to doing my first ever headline show. I would love to do a European tour in the next year or two. I’d love to maybe get some form of deal where I can propel my career even further. So those are the kind of goals I have in mind.