October 21st 2022 was one of the most stacked day of album drops in recent memory. Pop megastar Taylor Swift dropped the most highly-anticipated albums of the year, whilst compatriots Meghan Trainor and Carly Rae Jepsen battled it out for second place.
On the other side of the genre scale, Arctic Monkeys dropped what’s widely considered one of their worst albums in ‘The Car’, whilst Dry Cleaning raised the stakes once again on their second studio album ‘Stumpwork’. Under the radar, however, London rapper Loyle Carner dropped his most reflective album to date, and marked a new high point in a career that never fails to amaze.
On his third album, ‘Hugo’, Carner tells the story of coming to grips with his past and finding a way of recontextualising the often fractured relationship with his father following the birth of Carner’s own son.
“As the album went on it really started to take shape itself” Carner explains over Zoom from his Hackeny home, “My role in it all is to document, to keep my head down and just create, be open to influences, be open to collaborations and the beauty of these kind of albums, and albums in general, is that they tend to make themselves as long as you stay open to them. I think my job is really to get out of the way and allow the story to be told”.
‘Hugo’ is the latest step in a career which has spanned over a decade. Born of Guayanese descent through his father who left shortly after his birth, Benjamin Coyle Larner (his stage name is a spoonerism of his double-barrelled surname) was raised by his mother Jean, who had the help of his stepfather Nick.
At the age of 6, Carner was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexic, and has since spent his life of finding ways and methods to understanding on the world around him.
It began with cooking, which he was taught by his grandparents (he’s since opened a cooking school in London for children with ADHD) before he turned to acting, from which he was accepted to the Drama Centre, an acting school who receives over 7000 applications for a 20 student class.
In 2012, he performed his very first live show, when, at 18 years old, he supported MF Doom in the Button Facotry. It’s a night he still remembers fondly to this day.
“It’s just a place I love” he explains of his connection to the capital, “I came up with a few of the artists from over here, I’m good friends with Kojaque and I love the lack of fear of what people will think of you”.
“In London people are so conscious of what people are thinking and seeming cool and I feel like that inhibits the show; but there’s none of that here.” he adds, “I love that”.
In 2014, following the sudden passing of his stepfather to SUDEP, he dropped out and decided to commit himself to music. Later that same year, he released his debut project ‘A Little Late EP’. Since then, he has gone form strength to strength.
By the end of it, he would just a name a place and I’d take him there; I became his chauffeur
In 2017, Carner released his Mercury Prize-nominated debut album ‘Yesterday’s Gone’, which garnered him two Brit Award nominations as well as a place in the upper pantheon of British hip-hop. He followed this up in April of 2019 with ‘Not Waving But Drowning’, a record which began to show some of the darker aspects of Carner’s discography.
‘Hugo’ is a deep down into such elements, and finds an artist breaking down all he knows around it in an effort to build himself a better life and a better relationship with both himself and those around him.
The album’s content came to Carner following a series of driving lessons he took with his father during lockdown. Every day, they would sit in the car, only the road to focus on, and talk through all that came before.
“I had a chip on my shoulder based on resentment towards my father” he’s said in the past, and these lessons acted as an antidote to that negativity.
“They were good but stressful” Carner laughs of the lessons, “I was learning to drive in the middle of lockdown when really we shoudln’t have been out, but the roads were really quite because it was really just us out. There was no rush hour, no one was going anywhere. By the end of it, he would just a name a place and I’d take him there; I became his chauffeur”.
Over time, they unexpectedly found themselves breaking ground on conversations that, if both were honest, probably should have happened years ago. It was an advantage, Carner admits, to have the road ahead of them and not the impulse or the ability to stare each other in the eyes.
“It took all the confrontation away” Carner admits, “That was the biggest part of it for me, not having to feel awkward, we were just being open and honest, driving around with music playing in the background. Then when we got out of the car it was all over, there was a natural end to the conversation that didn’t end in conflict. There were these little awkward moments but not types I’d be used to in other conversations”.
“It took a long time to work on it, two and a half to three years, so it feels like a really long process coming together, like making a movie” he recalls of the creative process, which included writing over 100 songs.
Writing is something he’s always tried to do consistently, but has found at times it just isn’t possible. An interview he read with I May Destroy You writer and actress Michaela Coel changed his perspective on writing as a whole, and the importance of finding the right inspiration to let creativity take flight.
”She was talking about how after writing I May Destroy You she hasn’t been able to find anything else that’s inspired her the same way and I really relate that” he recalls of the interview, “I’ve made this album because it means a lot to make and while I’m dipping my toes into other art and writing I need to find something that really feels worth saying next”.
It feels like a really long process coming together, like making a movie
This weekend, Loyle Carner will join Paolo Nutinie, SPRINTS, Inhaler, Kynsy, Gilla Band, Just Mustard and SELLO in taking to the St. James’s Church stage in Dingle for this year’s Other Voice.
Next year, he’s already sold out three Vicar Street appearances and has already been announced as one of the first acts to appear at next year’s All Together Now.
What about his work makes him so popular on this side of the Irish sea? “No idea. It blows my mind” he laughs of the question.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and you always feel like the last thing you did was your plateau, the peak and then something else happens and for me this is the peak.
Dublin and Amsterdam are the only two places that have sold out three nights in a row and I’ve got no idea why for either. Both are just easy going people unwavered by the bullshit of the government, left-thinking, open-minded people, I don’t know; but I can’t wait to come back”.