Xo Mo are set to release their debut single Sweat following an eight-year musical journey for the childhood friends from Mullingar. The duo of Jordan (vox) and Elliott (production) started creating music together for an unusual reason, Jordan needed a song to go to Music College in Amsterdam and, like a typical teenager, he left it until the last minute and drafted in Elliot to help him write and arrange a song in less than 48 hours.
“I needed original material so I went over to Elliott's house and we recorded a song and that's when we started actively making music” explains Jordan, noting that ”Elliott spent all night patching it together”.
Elliott explains that the song was constructed using Fruity Loops but advises us that he “was really passionate about it but terrible at making music at the time”. Jordan interjects, exclaiming; "But it got me in!" before booming with laughter.
We soon learn that, despite Elliott’s late night exploits with Fruity Loops to beat the deadline, Jordan never attended the Conservatory in Amsterdam. "You're such a good friend," quips Elliott.
And so, Jordan the Choir singer and Elliott the apprentice producer and secret poet began making music together. “Over the last 8 years it's been - 'here's a poetry thing' - let's turn it into a song and we chip away at it until it sounds like a song,” explains Jordan.
Some years later, education would once again spur the duo into taking their music more seriously, with Dublin’s BIMM (British & Irish Modern Music Institute) pushed the pair onto greater heights. “I had a thesis to write on the process that goes into writing and recording an EP. So I asked Elliott did he want to work on four songs?” says Jordan. “We went to James Darkin in Temple Lane (now in Herbert Place) and we showed him the blueprints of what we were doing and he said 'right, this will work, this won't work'.”
“That was the first time we were in the studio together” explains Elliott, ”and we always give a lot of props to James, because, in his own way, without forcing anything, he showed us how a song gets better and how you keep momentum in a song. We had the building blocks but he'd go 'no, that's the wrong way round'.”
“I think we had a million ideas and he was able to go 'these are actually your million dollar ideas',” adds Jordan.
The pair went through several names before settling on Xo Mo pronounced Zo Mo, which is an amalgamation of both of their names “Elliott‘s always been known as Mo and I'm Nigerian and Xo is a part of my name so we joined the two together.”
The arc of Xo Mo’s 8 year development was also aided by one of the biggest stars on the planet Kanye West.
“I'm one of the biggest Kanye fans in Ireland. I had the extreme pleasure of meeting him,” explains Elliott as casually as if he was offering you tea. “I got to meet Mike Dean, his right hand man essentially. He's one of the cores of the Kanye machine; a complete genius and a complete gentleman. He's a real life rock star, he doesn't fake shit, he goes out and lives the life, but also he looks after people."
For the uninitiated, Mike Dean is a five-time Grammy Award-winning producer and songwriter who has worked with the likes of Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Frank Ocean, Travis Scott and Madonna.
Elliott explains how the superstar producer gave him access to some nifty software to help him grow as a producer. “He gave me all of his Reason refill packs because he didn't use Reason any more and that's how I got better. It's gonna sound weird, but he was a mentor for a short period of time.”
Dean even brought Elliott around Marlay Park when Kanye played Ireland on the Yeezus tour. "The timing was just perfect, I had a week off and they went to England on tour and I went with them. I met Kanye 3 or 4 times and he was just so nice, so open. I know people call him an asshole and I guess he's had his moments, but he was so kind to me.”
This kindness extended to new shoes, accommodation, some serious email addresses and advice for the young producer.
“At the time I'd nothing arranged and I ended up sleeping on the streets in London just to be over there. I didn't tell them, I didn't want to seem like a leech. So at night time in London I'd sleep outside a Starbucks and in the day time I went to Wireless Fest or to the hotel they were at.
So many people around him are so nice and so open and you just don't hear about it enough. They're under pressure when the paparazzi hit them but if you're next to them they are so nice. There was this girl Laura on his team and when she found out that we had nowhere to stay she gave us her hotel room for the night because she was going on to the next city and we stayed in the Marriott.
"Kanye's conversation with me then was just so open, so nice. He joked about my shoes being dirty because I was moshing at the show and his people gave me shoes. He introduced me to Larry Jackson from Spotify and said 'give Larry your email'. He found out I was over there (essentially) homeless and he was so nice to me."
Elliott’s positive experience with Mike Dean and Kanye prompted him to throw himself further into music. “I came home from London and went fuck, I'm not doing enough, I'm not good enough. The stuff Mike gave me really helped me get better and helped me make the project with Jordan.
"It sounds stupid but I remember the first time I heard a Kanye song. If you believe in a higher power or even continuity in life, Steve Jobs had a saying - 'When you look back, you see the dots connecting'. It's in his Stanford speech on Ted Talks. When I look back at certain things, like meeting Jordan or my first time listening to a Kanye West song, it's funny because, in the song [Diamonds from Sierra Leone], he says, 'My body got still like a paraplegic' and, when I first heard it, I got still and completely froze up and I had to listen to the song. I remember the first time I met Jordan and the first really deep conversation we had. I remember the first time we bought a microphone. And when you look back you realise it was always gonna be this way.”
With the new release, it's time to see if Mike Dean’s faith in Elliott was justified. Rather than attempting to copy his heroes, Elliott’s style of production takes on a darker hue, taking its cues from the likes of Depeche Mode circa ‘Ultra’, approaching R’N’B and pop from a Noir angle not normally associated with the contemporary Irish field.
Elliott describes Sweat as a "visceral description of what it feels like when you need to lose someone”, with Jordan adding; “The Lyrics say: 'I gotta sweat you out my body'. It’s about you realising that you don't need that relationship any more; I'm sick of your shit.”