Finding Hope In Pockets: London MC Loyle Carner On Family, Mentorship & Channeling His ADHD Into ArtWritten by Luke Bodley on February 6, 2017
Loyle Carner is an absolute champ. Using poetry and rap, he has been able to befriend his dyslexia and ADHD – he refuses to accept the labels ‘disadvantaged’, ‘disabled’ or ‘broken’. He is a fireball, a man with heat and light at his centre. He is not distracted and inattentive, he just feels and sees the 100 million infinitesimal things that pin-prick our perception. He has a sensitivity and awareness of phonetics and sounds and can build his ricocheting energy, his hyperactivity, into the softest of word sculptures.
He shares his story and experience with youth, trekking the bent-like-lightning maze that he knows all too well. He works with kids and trains them in the art of cooking. They fight their demons over a gas stove’s blue flame. They chase each other’s fears away and cut indecision in the stainless-steel-glow of the industrial kitchen.
Carner is real. He loves his family. He misses his dad. He juggles.
Read this interview and listen to his music.
Loyle Carner – The Isle of Arran
Music Feeds: Hey man. You are not super well known in Australia at the moment. I want to paint a picture of your story. Can you start by talking about where your rap and your music come from?
Loyle Carner: When I was younger I used to write a lot of poetry. You see, I am dyslexic. So when I was at school I used to really struggle to write critically about other people’s work. I was not really interested in criticising literary texts. But I was really into poetry because it was something that I could do without getting told off with reference to spelling, punctuation or grammar. I kind of latched onto it.
One of my close friends passed away when I was really young. So I wrote a poem about him. It was one of the first times that realised that I could use poetry to make sense of the way that I was feeling; to order what was going on up in my head.
So then, I started battle-rapping in the playground with poetry and jokes – causing a bit of trouble. I grew up and listened to an eclectic mix – Bob Dylan all the way through to Mos Def. I just gradually found my feet more and more and began to write rhymes.
MF: In a recent article you said that you have a love for Benjamin Zephaniah the poet, who himself had dyslexia. It is commonly misunderstood that his idiosyncratic spelling is due to his Jamaican accent, but it is actually because he is constructing words and phonetics in a particular way.
Just in reference to your Dyslexia, you just talked about how it affected your relationship with language, but, how has that been for you as a rapper? Not only with dyslexia but also ADHD.
LC: It has been cool. It is something that you just can’t shy away from. My mum is a specialist teacher that works with children with learning difficulties and particular needs. So she taught me from a young age that I was worthy and that there were many things that I was capable of doing, even though my school was telling me otherwise. I am very fortunate to have her.
I think that as a rapper it just means that I have a lot more energy. I can just keep going when other people have to stop. So yeah, I think that it is a blessing. I know how to befriend and channel it so that it does not become a hindrance.
MF: I totally agree with you. I can understand the freedom that is in poetry, you can do as you please. It is, even more, the case with rap, it doesn’t have rules in the same way that critical theory and analysis would have.
LC: Completely. I think it’s funny. There are clearly some rules. But the rap art form seems to encourage not following those rules, but rather the disruption of them. I think a lot of significant people from rap have been shunned or regarded as outsiders. They do not care about those who say “you are not supposed to do that because it is rap”, “you are not supposed to do that because it is poetry”. They respond with “I can do what I want”.
MF: Taking that into consideration, describe to me your creative process, your writing process. How does it happen with you?
LC: It varies. I never write down on a piece of paper first. But, I do have thousands of line books that I keep losing. My mum says, “You can never write with a blank page because a blank page has nothing to offer you.” So the process tends to begin when I am walking around, usually walking my dog, which is what I have got to do in 20 minutes.
I am walking my dog and then I start to think of some ideas, and once they start to become more fixed I sit down and start writing. It can take anything from 10 minutes to 10 weeks to write a verse.
MF: In your writing and in your music particularly, there is a lot of familiar imagery, the domestic environment, intimate human relationships – not only is there a formal creative impulse, there is also your emotional story that you so willingly share. What is so powerful about your story that it compels you to share and disseminate it?
LC: I don’t know. It is all I see. I know people who rap about shit that they are doing: selling drugs or blah blah blah or anything else. But for me, what happened day to day in my family had impact. My dad passed away a couple of years ago, and I kind of got thrown into the role of man of the house. So it’s all that I see. I have always written for myself. I don’t like to or want to write for props and cred. I think about what is happening with me in my immediate life, surrounded by my family. I have utmost respect for my mum and brother. So all of that has translated itself into what I was writing, because I have got nothing else to write about.
MF: It is not only that you are writing about them. They are really a part of your art. You know, Tierney Terrace, BFG – your brother is sitting on your shoulders. You include them in your work. How does that work? What is the dynamic? Do you just ask them?
LC: Yeah. They have always been quite up for it. The weirdest thing is to overhear people mention them. They are not that big, but people tend think that they are. It is difficult because I need to maintain a balance between privacy and publicity. I love showcasing them because they inspired the art – their existence made the tunes possible – so I must pay homage in that respect. But, it does get to the point where I think, ‘Maybe, I do not want to give everything away’. I pour a lot of myself out in my work, and its draining knowing a lot of people know a lot about myself and my family. So I think, for them and for me, it can be nice to hold some stuff back. It’s certainly something that I have become more conscious of recently.
MF: It is really awesome to hear that kind of honesty and goodness in your art and rap. You really address the hard, everyday issues. Not only do you do this kind of domestic activism in your music, but you also have a cooking school. Before we talk about the school specifically, I just want to say that I fucking love cooking. What is great about the experience of cooking to you?
LC: With ADHD, I used to struggle really hard to focus and behave and what not. But, I find this unparalleled peace when I cook. I just zen-out and feel so relaxed. My brain is always doing a hundred million things at once, but when I am cooking there is nothing else going on. For me, there is this pure kinetic energy. It is literally just you setting fire to things, and man I love setting fire to things. So it just has this element of instant gratification. You want to make something and a few minutes later you are done and it tastes great. You can experience that it is good because you can taste it yourself.
MF: I was hanging with a friend over the weekend who also has ADHD. He loves cooking. One of the things that he loves about it is that his scattered hyperactive and creative energy finds channels. With cooking you can do anything, you can grab any ingredient, you can combine things as you please, you can punch a piece of meat, you can blend something, you can do whatever.
LC: That’s one of the things. There is an enormous amount of creativity involved in the cooking process. It is so malleable. I never really run from a recipe, I just hit the kitchen and see what happens. There is a fun and a danger to it, in this sense. Getting it wrong is just as fun.
Loyle Carner X GOMA – Inside The ADHD Cooking School
MF: Yeah. You learn. You taste it and you know it is shit, and then you can make it better. It is so good because the process and product are concrete. It is there in front of you the whole time. So with your cooking school, talk us through the purpose and plan behind this.
LC: Like I said, I grew up with ADHD, and cooking was really something that saved me. You know, saved me from myself and the pressures of others. I really wanted to work with kids in a similar situation. So I set up the cooking school to provide the kind of creative release that I got. Also, the one thing that I never had when I was growing up was a fucking mentor. I was kind of thrown to the lions a little bit when I was growing up. I never had anyone who had been through what I had been through, you know, a person who could help differentiate what was normal and abnormal for my experience.
I think that mentorship is a very important thing. The kids ask me shit like: “Yesterday I felt like this and was really angry, and this happened and I felt this way…have you ever felt that? Is that a normal thing to feel? Am I weird?” And I am able to normalise their feelings and experience from understanding my own emotional and mental history. It means that the kids do not have to assess themselves as ‘dangerous’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘broken’. For me, that is the best part of the cooking school. We obviously get to make some brilliant food as well.
They are told at school that they can’t do anything. You know, “You can’t do this and you can’t do that.” And I am just like, “You can do things. You can cook. Come and try it.”
MF: The great thing is that you did four weeks of cooking training and then you are doing public dining this Friday, which is awesome.
LC: I think that that is one of the important things about it because it gets the pressure off. I do not know if any of these kids will want to pursue jobs in hospitality, but it’s still a potential thing. To be able to prepare food for and service 150 people before you are 17 years old is ridiculous. Especially when the current system, general and education, keeps telling you that you are incapable. The program gives them a head start. It gives them an advantage in a society where they are seen as fundamentally disadvantaged. But the thing is, we aren’t. We are just different in our relation to ourselves, others and the world.
MF: You have shot a little documentary of the cooking school. Do you have plans to do similar things in the future?
LC: We are hoping to follow up and document the next year because it will be quite a big one for the school and myself. It will be cool to see how the kids have grown and what they are up to. It will certainly be quite loose in terms of its structure and style. We will take everything as it comes and just see what happens. I would love to travel around with some of the kids from the cooking school, try some food and let them take the piss out of me. That would be quite a good show.
MF: We need some replacements for Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver. Another cook-teacher. I just want to talk about two videos that I am really interested in. First of all, ‘BFG’ is a really interesting concept video. What is your relationship with your music videos? Do you direct them to a certain extent?
LC: Yeah, to a certain extent I do. I used to say that I directed them. But, I soon came to the realisation that I do not totally. I work with such good directors. But the idea or concept is mine, the shots are mine and the tone and feeling are mine. Professional directors are there to help facilitate my vision and add their own panache. For the ‘BFG’ video, at the time I was carrying the fucking world on my shoulders and the only way I could explain that was by putting my massive little brother on my shoulders. I really underestimated how fucking heavy he was though. So I just communicated where I was at, through that arrangement.
MF: Did you juggle for the whole duration whilst your brother was on your shoulders?
LC: Yeah that’s me juggling. There is no CGI. It was at my friend’s uni, Kingston University. He had to do a final project for his degree. So I was like, if you let me use your studio space, you can use my video as your final project. He ended up getting first. So he aced his final project thanks to my video. But yeah, I was just carrying the whole world and simultaneously trying to juggle everything at once. And then you think you have all of it under control, as is represented in the beginning of the video, and then suddenly a thousand things come and whack you in the back of the head. We all experience it.
Loyle Carner – BFG
MF: Where and when did you learn how to juggle?
LC: I went to this adventure park on a school trip when I was younger. There was this girl that I was wildly in love with, and I was 7 or 8, maybe even younger. She said something about being able to juggle, and I was like, “Fuck, maybe if I learn to juggle, it will happen. She will love me.” So I taught myself how to juggle and it happened.
MF: And it also resulted in an amazing video. The other video I wanted to talk about is ‘The Isle of Arran’, which is the most recent video that you have released. It’s a narrative and it has a fullness to it. It is also beautiful, I love the gospel at the beginning. How did you conceive this music video?
LC: The Isle of Arran is a little Scottish island off the mainland, specifically the top of Scotland. I spent a lot of time there and it is pretty isolated. The whole idea is that there is no one around – it’s quite easy to feel hard done by, that life has dealt you a shit hand. When I was putting together the video I was thinking of all the people who have been dealt bad hands and have nothing but have still managed to soldier it to the other side. The best people that I could think of were young fathers.
I have got a few mates that have had kids or been close to having them, and it is a big wake-up call, especially because they have bad relationships with their own fathers. It’s quite funny to sit back and see all of us are becoming fathers ourselves. I have no worries for my friends because I know that they are going to be brilliant dads. But it is interesting because we had nobody to teach us. I know I didn’t and I know all of my friends didn’t. I can only think of one close friend whose parents are still together. That is one of all of my friends.
MF: There is a lot going on in the world at the moment, obviously with Britain you have Brexit and then with America you have Trump being elected. You have lots of destabilising things occurring. The youth in some sense feel not only economically down-trodden but kind of like things are getting more difficult. You have been painting a story of hope about fatherlessness and ADHD. How is the world affecting you at the moment? Is it affecting your art?
LC: Yeah, I am not handling everything that is happening very well. Look there are undoubtedly little bits of hope. You have to find the hope in little pockets, it’s everywhere, but in small servings. I am struggling with what is happening. But you have to look after ‘you’ and ‘yours’, and fingers crossed you will be all right.
The Donald Trump stuff is just breaking my heart. I have got family in America as well, so it kind of worries me. Also, being mixed race makes it even more difficult because I do not really have a side or allegiance. I am very much every man and no man at the same time. There is no of defining culture or race that properly applies to me. It’s weird, I am almost in no man’s land.
MF: Yeah I get it. I am also mixed race. I totally understand what you are saying, you know, it’s like you are hovering at a mid-point. The reality is that one of my parents is like totally white and the other one is black, and I have both of those sides in me in a complicated way, it’s all mixed together.
LC: Yeah, it’s difficult. Because I am not ‘white’, I have been identified and have personally identified as ‘black’. ‘White’ people and racist people especially see me as ‘black’. Look, I know some ‘black’ people that are very incensed with ‘white’ people, and so am I, in certain places and systems. But, my mum is ‘white’, and she is the most liberal, open and accepting person that I know. She is aware and sensitive to colour, race and culture. For me, though, colour has never been a thing for me. I think that it is that way for a lot of our generation. If you are living in a house and your mum is white and your dad is black, there is no way that you can divide and analyse them based on colour. They are both there and they are both equal from a developmental age.
MF: And then you go out into the world, and at different times you invest energy into trying to understand your racial and cultural origins, and everything becomes rich and intricate. At the level of identity, there are collisions and connections. It’s good, though. It’s fucking great. Especially with writing and rap, you have an openness to different cultural mediums because from birth you have been multiplicitous. Black or white, good or evil, you know, all these easy dualities, don’t make as much sense. But, do not get me wrong, I do think that all people are capable of rising above overly simple classifications. I just think that it is a bit easy if you’re multi-racial.
LC: I definitely feel like I can get away with more because I relate to a bunch of different sides. One of my favourite poets, Langston Hughes, who was mixed race, was always able to connect with both sides. I know a lot of hardcore black history-loving poets that adore him and think that he is the best. He has this poem called ‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers’. There is something about his artistry and poetics that has allowed him to move across white, black, asian, latino, muslim, gay and straight domains. Everyone has been into him. There is a mixed-race fluidity, a certain flexible quality that is in him and his work. It is because he, and we, are both something and nothing.
MF: Fucking amen.
Loyle Carner’s debut album ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ is out now. Grab a copy here.