Balancing a degree and red hot potential, Getintothis’ Emma Walsh predicts XamVolo will be set for world domination once the academic reins are lifted.
XamVolo is not your typical GIT Award nominee, if there even is such a thing.
Among the nominees this year we’ve seen artists already signed, already causing significant ripples on national radio waves, already providing support on high profile European tours, and already lauded by those in the know as “the next big thing“.
At the other end of the short list however, we’ve been introduced to the next generation of fresh faced artists who’ve been bubbling just under the surface of the Merseyside scene and are set to take the city by storm.
Singer-songwriter and producer XamVolo, or student Sam Folorunsho as he’s known to his classmates, is in the third of a seven year degree in architecture, fostering his musical talents in whatever spare time he can muster, but despite his study commitments, there can be no doubt about where Sam‘s real passion and interest is invested.
His roots lie in grime, igniting his enthusiasm from the young age of 11. “That’s just the kind of stuff I grew up around” he tells me, but explains that by 14 his interest in music was stretching further than that of his peers. He listened to a lot of RnB and hip hop before discovering the jazz and soul music which were to have the greatest influence on his future sound.
“It exposed me to a lot more melodic, vocal-heavy music” he says, “I’ve never had any [singing]lessons but I went towards vocals more and started moving away from rap music”.
As a vocalist and self-taught producer XamVolo was drawn toward jazz and neo-soul, a genre he’s described in the past as one that captures all the elements he loves about music, that has “such a distinct and timeless sound“. But his scope of influence reaches much wider, citing Erykah Badu, Miguel, Frank Ocean, Maverick Sabre and Kendrick Lamar among his influences.
“I think D’Angelo is probably my main influence currently, he’s got the kind of jazzy grooves and a darker aspect to the content, even the production” Sam tells me, “I like all that minory stuff”.
His own music has been described as “a messy mind over raw, dark jazz grooves” with “gospel-infused sophistication” but in terms of where he might pin his sound on the grand spectrum, XamVolo encapsulates his ‘genre’ perfectly on his Facebook description: “Cook me up a big pot with everything in it, but don’t be shy with that jazz now”.
Keen to soak up everything he can about the music industry Sam is receptive to all influences and eager to learn from anything and anyone he comes across. He’s self-produced almost everything he’s created and is pretty much self-taught when it comes to the technical side of things.
“The first time I ever made anything it was twelve tracks long, that took me five days. I literally locked myself in my bedroom and just started producing, doing things by trial and error. I recently got a Mac and Logic and I just decided to learn it by making something. That first project was twelve tracks long, the next one was ten tracks, then eleven and then nine and then this one [Binary in Blue EP, released last year] is only four tracks long. It’s as if, as my skill increased I realised that it would take a lot more time to develop tracks, the volume started to decrease but my attention to detail has been increasing”.
This goes some way to explaining the rather sparse presence of work on Soundcloud and Bandcamp, but Sam assures me there is no shortcoming in inspiration, in fact he has rather a full body of work under his belt already: “On my Soundcloud at the minute I’ve got like four public tracks but maybe fifty something hidden tracks that I’m not finished with or completely happy with yet. I’ve just spent the last two years producing and producing and producing”.
The quality of the tracks he has published can attest to the high standards and expectations Sam has set himself. He has big plans for his future career: “I really wanna be hands on, people have told me I should really focus on song writing and performance etc, but I really wanna be hands on with all the studio stuff and production. I don’t play any instruments, the only way I can really write music is because I know Logic inside [pause]half out, maybe not fully yet, but I’m getting there”.
“I’d really like to keep learning and the more I work with others, like Steve Levine over at the LIMF Academy late last year, he showed me tiny little things that I took back home and now, I just wanna take maybe six months to discover and to get to grips with these little things that he showed me in just a ten hour studio session. Being exposed to other people’s knowledge and skills, that is something that I treasure”.
Sam speaks with real passion about his craft as a songwriter and producer, he seems humble, almost bashful, at times speaking about his own skill level, though he admits that as a teenager he was much less coy: “When I was younger I thought that I was perfect, I never said it but I thought I was better than X, Y and Z. Then you grown up and improve and you realise how far you have left to go,” he thinks aloud “the higher you go, the further away you realise the horizon is – someone said to me once”.
“Seeing where I was at 18 and seeing where I am now at 20, 21 in April, I can realise I’ve got a long way to go, I haven’t been established yet and I’m grateful to everyone who’s supported me and brought me to this stage”.
Having the wisdom and self awareness at 20-years-old to look back just a couple of years and to see how far you’ve come, XamVolo has been on a steep learning curve but he knows he’s not finished yet: “Even if I consider myself at like an 8 and I meet someone who’s maybe a 2, I shouldn’t neglect them or miss out on their influence, because then I miss out on the opportunity to be a ten – the 2 that they have is something I don’t. Just taking the opportunity to learn off everybody I come across whether they’re better subjectively or whether, I dunno, I have a higher standard, subjectively, it’s so important to feed off everyone”.
It’s almost impossible to imagine how anyone can be so immersed in their music and so eager to develop while also balancing an intensive seven year degree. Originally from London, Sam moved to Liverpool in 2012 to study architecture, now in his third year he admits it’s been difficult to find a balance at times: “From my first year I wanted to leave but because of parents and what not, they convinced me to get the degree out of the way. If it wasn’t for uni I’d probably be full on, pushing ahead with the music”.
It sounds like quite a compromise for someone so driven, Sam agrees with a sigh “Yeah, definitely. If it was any other degree, like an honours degree, I would have a lot more time on my hands, but with architecture you spend so much time doing more, and a lot of menial stuff, I just want to come home and work on my writing or go somewhere and work on vocals or even just sit in a studio all day”.
Despite his subdued tone, Sam does sound resolute in the decision to continue with his studies while pursuing his music career on the side: “I just have to ration the time, the majority does towards the degree and the rest of the time I have to work”.
Considering the sheer class of current EP Binary in Blue, and the full body of unpublished tracks he’s not satisfied with yet, it’s almost frightening to imagine the quality of work XamVolo might be capable of producing when he finally can trade the textbooks in for studio time and really focus on the music. The realms of possibility and potential are dazzling, and just talking about the future puts a buzz of excitement in Sam‘s voice.
Asked if he’ll be set to explode onto the scene once he’s donned the cap and gown, and hung the degree on the wall, you can hear the yearning excitement in his voice: “Aww definitely! I can’t wait. I’ve got a lot of big ideas. I want to be so hands on. I haven’t done any videos yet, I want to be hands on with that. I take big inspiration from all the really arty stuff like FKA Twigs, that’s the kind of thing I want to do, that avant garde craziness. Or like Hozier‘s video for Take Me To Church, that arty, eye catching stuff”.
Sam spills forth plans and ideas, unable to find the words quick enough to express himself, but it’s clear to see where his passion for music and his experience in art and design have common ground.
Talking about Liverpool’s music scene, the Londoner continues with fervour: “I want to network and come up with a collective – a lot of people work together in a kind of art collective and feed off each other’s skill set, having a skill set in music and graphic design I feel I’ve got a lot to offer so hopefully I’ll find people that would be happy to work with me on some collaborative pieces.”
With so much passion and capacity for learning from others, surely we can expect some exciting collaborations involving XamVolo in the future? “Ahh, who knows?” he says, adopting a cooler, humble head, “I don’t really want to be the guy who sings on the hook on some pop song but if someone has an interesting idea or an interesting sound, maybe song writing for other people too, because I have a hundred and one million songs that I know I can’t sing personally because they’re too happy or not for me”.
“Collaborating on a songwriting front would be great. Collaborating on a production front would be great, but I don’t think I could do anything too pop. I’d like to remain quite creative.”
Keen to steer clear or ‘too happy’ or ‘too pop’, Sam admits the more melancholic sound comes more naturally to him, “The stuff I have out at the moment, compared to the stuff that will be coming out, it’s a lot more gritty”.
“I’m coming out with new stuff, I’ve got an EP that’s got four or five tracks that I’ve been working on for quite a while.” he says, “It’s a bit annoying really, because I was going to release something in January but the few people who’ve heard it, they’ve advised me to hold back and rather than self-produce in my room, to take what I’ve got at the minute into a studio and fine tune it so it’s completely radio-ready. Hopefully I’ll get that done in the next couple of months. I haven’t released anything in a while, it’s really frustrated me”.
And with a new record, can we expect a few more gigs too? Since releasing Binary in Blue XamVolo has charted on the bill of LIMF, on their Academy Stage and played the launch of Liverpool Soulfest but gigs have been few and far between for Sam so far: “I haven’t done many performances, maybe five under my current brand. I’ve spent a lot of time building up skill set in the studio on the tech side of things, a lot of time recording but it’s been really good being exposed to the live scene and realising that perfection isn’t everything on stage, you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to get the emotion across”.
With appearances at Threshold Festival, a support slot with Bipolar Sunshine and of course his live set at the GIT Awards next month, XamVolo follows his approach to production when it comes to gigging – it’s not necessarily quantity, but quality that counts.
“When I was approached by Revo to support Bipolar Sunshine, I jumped at it. I immediately wanted to ask people to get a band together. I’m looking forward to that one so much, if that goes well it’ll be a great opportunity for me”.
Bringing a band into the mix is another welcome challenge for Sam. “Being on stage with a live band, the first time it was quite daunting but now I’m getting used to it, whatever happens, hopefully it all goes well!”
He’s keen to truly immerse himself in the Liverpool music circuit too. “Liverpool has been very good to me in terms of reception and promotion and support and what not, so I want to give back to the reputation, especially on the soul side – Liverpool cannot be counted out when it comes to soul, when it comes to artistic ability. It would be great to be a part of that”.
Talking through his fellow nominees, Sam has praise for everyone, (“I love their new video” of All We Are, “DROHNE have such a big, active following”, “I’m really looking forward to Lapsley’s performance on the night – she’s so good and she’s only 18!”).
He has a special mention to for Roxanne Jones, praising her latest track I am a Woman and her potential with the same excited anticipation which he gives his own: “I haven’t heard much of her music yet but I’ve heard that track and if she gets that right, she could do so well, she’s got such a great image, she seems to have it all down”.
And for himself, what does it mean to be nominated?
Again Sam adopts the tone of humble appreciation with which he’s spoken of anyone who’s supported his music career: “It’s just great. It really seals in the fact that Liverpool has been so extremely receptive. I’m eternally grateful – just the nomination has done so much in terms of credibility and support, it’s been amazing seeing the tweets and the buzz on social media”.
Hearing Sam talk you can’t help but get the sense that in his ‘other’ world of university and design and academic pursuit, the personal importance of his ‘real’ world of song writing and producing doesn’t seem to translate, that perhaps, his career ambitions haven’t quite been taken seriously by others.
“Even at uni, people who don’t know me or didn’t want to, they knew that I did music but didn’t take me seriously before, but now they see that I’m taking it seriously, that this really is a serious avenue for me. I’m grateful for that. It’s another testament to how much Liverpool has helped me improve“.
Sam‘s passion and enthusiasm is infectious. He talks with such wisdom yet expresses such genuine surprise and appreciation that anyone might even listen to his music never mind value it, you can’t help but share in his excitement for the future. It’s all coming together for XamVolo, we predict very, very big things… once he’s got this damn degree out of the way.