Ady Suleiman is definitely one to watch. Hailing from the outskirts of Nottingham, his striking blend of soul singing, evocative lyrics and soaring melodies makes him one of the more unique artists to come out of the UK in years. His fresh and distinctive sound, which he puts to a blend of wide ranging influences has won him fans as varied as Gilles Peterson and Chance the Rapper.
2016 marks the start of big things for Ady – not only is he heading off on an 8 date UK tour in March, he’s also set to release a new single and play some major festivals. I was lucky enough to catch up with him to talk touring with friends, travelling and Kanye West, amongst other things.
How would you describe your music to someone that’s never heard of you before? What’s your vibe?
I would say it’s a kind of blend of R&B, reggae, hip-hop and soul. It’s a blend of those things.
How did you get into music in the first place?
I think it was mainly through Jimi Hendrix… Yeah for some reason when I was thirteen I just got obsessed with electric guitar and got onto Jimi Hendrix pretty early, and that whole kind of 60s culture… I just became kind of obsessed with it really. And through school, they put a soul band around me, so I went and I did gigs with the soul band. I just really enjoyed it, and kind of through that one thing led to another.
So, you grew up near Grantham, do you think being from a small town has had an effect on who you are as an artist?
That’s an interesting question.[laughs]. Um… I don’t know. It’s tricky really. I mean, I haven’t been part of the scene and I think maybe if I was in a big city that had a kind of scene going I would have been part of something, but maybe because I’m next to such a small town I just kind of did my own thing, and that’s why [my music is] a blend of so many things. It’s a difficult question to ask because I don’t feel like anything necessarily has had a massive influence – because I’m from a small town that I’m like this. But probably subconsciously, it’s deffo had an effect on me and my music, but nothing I can kind of pinpoint, if that makes sense.
You went to university in Liverpool, but how would you compare the scene in Liverpool to the scene in Nottingham?
When I was in Liverpool there was a lot more bands, and like alternative music, you know, math rock and stuff like that. And there was a couple of artists doing R&B and soul, but apart from that? There was no real kind of soul scene. And in Notts… when I went to Notts it was loads of soul singers like Liam Bailey… Natalie Duncan was kicking around, and Nina Smith. And they also had loads of bands as well, like D.I.D., and obviously Jake Bugg was massive at the time. Yeah… I think Nottingham, the music scene’s wicked. There’s so much going on and there’s kind of like a broad spectrum of genres, instead of it just being one kind of genre they allow anyone to kind of do what they wanted. And there’s a really strong soul scene in Notts. So yeah, it was really good. And my music deffo fitted into the Nottingham music scene a lot more than it did in Liverpool, because even though I was in Liverpool three years kind of gigging, there wasn’t really that kind of buzz around it as much. But as soon as I came back home to Notts, it was just like, it just felt right. It felt like my music had a home. And all the other artists got involved… things started moving a lot quicker when I was in Notts. Yeah, I love the Nottingham music scene, there’s a lot going on there.
“…if I’m honest the shit that I enjoy the most is probably… just when I’m sat in my room playing guitar to myself. That’s probably when I enjoy music itself the most.”
Talking about your music actually, you’ve said in interviews before that making music is about making connection and that it’s about emotion. So with that in mind could you tell me about your song making process, like how do you write songs?
Yeah… it usually starts with the chords, or a melody. So the music always comes first. And kind of depending on how the structure makes me feel, then I try and link it up with the emotions. So if I’m playing a chord structure that’s sad, I try and think of something in my life that’s sad, or someone in my life or my friends’ lives, like if they’re telling me a story that’s sad or whatever, and then try and connect that emotion to the chord progression. And then the lyrics start coming. They’re the last thing that happens.
Speaking about your lyrics, I’ve personally found them really evocative, and they tell really interesting stories. So what are your biggest inspirations when writing your songs? When you’re writing, what sort of things do you draw on from your life?
Yeah, could be anything. A lot of times it’s girls… sometimes… I wouldn’t really say politics usually but it’s if I’m pissed off with anything. So, with “State of Mind”, like some people say it’s kind of political. When I was growing up, definitely my teenage years I had a lot of stuff to write about. So anything that makes me feel any kind of emotion, that’s where my music comes from. So you could say politics, girls… A lot of it’s also like self-reflection, do you know what I mean. If there was anything that I was scared of or felt really insecure about I’d always run away from the problem instead of facing it. It’s all just kind of how I’m feeling. And then, the thing with “If I Die”, that’s – actually that hasn’t come out yet. But that’s about when a friend told me their story. So it’s all kinda either personal experiences or things that are happening around me.
Out of the songs that you’ve got at the moment, what’s your favourite one to play live?
Favourite one to play live probably is “Serious”, at the moment. I think it’s probably one of my songs where the beginning of the verse (and then kind of all the way through) it’s starting the story so it’s really kind of getting into the character of it. And then the chorus is… it’s kind of big. There’s a bit of a drop on the chorus. I dunno, it always seems to kind of go down really well. And, in the set, I put it just after the slow stuff, so it’s another pick-me-up, and I know that we’re kind of going into the end of the set where all the big tunes come… Yeah. So probably “Serious”.
Talking about the future and what’s coming up for you, you were in Jamaica a couple of weeks ago, can you tell me a bit about what happened while you were out there and what you were doing?
Yeah… Jamaica was a crazy experience. I was in Kingston, and I went over there to record a video for my first single. And I shot in this place called Rose Town, which is right next to Trench Town where Bob Marley grew up. Yeah, it was amazing, it was a really small community that live there and they all got behind the music video; everyone was kind of helping out, a lot of actors we had from the community, people helping out with crowd control… So it was a pretty surreal experience because I basically had this whole village working on the video with me. And then after that I went to Tuff Gong, which is Bob Marley’s studio, and did some live recording there. It was an incredible experience. I love Jamaica, and the culture. Hopefully I get to go back.
So would you say that travelling is something that really interests you when you’re doing your music?
Yeah, definitely, definitely. You know those people that take a gap year or get that time to go away and do loads of travelling… I kind of missed out on stuff like that because straight after uni I just went straight into doing music. And kind of once you start… I guess like with any job, or anything, it’s difficult to kind of take a massive, long break, do you know what I mean? It’s obviously going to have an effect. So, I try to do as much as I can through music – hopefully I get to go on a European tour this year, and obviously the dream is to one day do a world tour… you know, if I ever get to that level that would be incredible. But I think when you’re doing music, you don’t have to stay in the UK. Like if I’m writing for an album I could get a train to somewhere in Europe, chill there for a week and do writing out there. And when it comes to videos, I feel because my music is not necessarily like… I feel like it’s quite worldy. Like when I hear “Why You Running Away” and “What’s The Score” – “What’s The Score” had this kind of Latin vibe to it, which allows me to think “well I can go and shoot a video in Barcelona” or something that might kind of have that vibe to it. So I always kind of – if I can – try and get out of the UK through music, but… Yeah. I’d love to travel, if I had time to.
The Parklife lineup dropped a couple of days ago, and you’re on the bill. So how are you feeling about that? It must be exciting for you.
Yeah I’m really excited. I’ve been to Parklife a couple of times before when I was a punter, so it’s gonna be wicked – I don’t think I’ve ever played there. So it’s gonna be amazing to kind of be on the opposite side of the fence. I’m really excited. It’s a wicked festival as well, everyone goes pretty nuts usually.
If you could play any festival you wanted, anywhere in the world, which one would you play and why?
That’s a good question… Um… The Burning Man festival, is that a music festival?
Yeah, yeah it is.
Yeah… I’d probably play there just because I wanna go there. So if I got to play there that’d be wicked. And also Glastonbury. I’ve played there before but if I ever got the opportunity to play the Pyramid Stage, that’s like my bucket list. Deffo Glastonbury, Pyramid Stage has to be number one. And if it was to just go to a festival, it would be Burning Man.
So, your London show has just sold out. How does it feel knowing that so many people love your music and want to come out to support you?
Yeah, it’s wicked. It’s a very good feeling. It’s always a bit surreal because… I never really expect them to sell out, so it’s kind of a nice surprise when they do. And also when it’s a sold out gig, because it’s a full room, the atmosphere is just that next level. So, you get kind of more excited to play the sold out ones because you know that the atmosphere is gonna be nuts. So I’m very happy that I’ve sold out, very excited.
Music is such a big part of your life. What’s been your best experience with music so far?
My best experience with music… It’s weird because if I’m honest the shit that I enjoy the most is probably – this is gonna sound really boring – but it’s just when I’m sat in my room playing guitar to myself. That’s probably when I enjoy music itself the most, because it’s… You can never really recreate a moment, do you know what I mean? So like, if I write a song, it’s usually like trying to recreate a jam that I was doing. And then I’ll try and structure it out, so I can play it. But probably the best stuff is when it’s just kind of jamming, improvisational stuff… so I do a lot of that. When I’m playing the piano by myself it’s really satisfying for me. But probably in career kind of terms, it’s probably got to be when Gilles Peterson gave me an award for the Best Breakthrough Act of the Year at his award ceremony, in Camden, in London, at KOKO. That was a pretty mental experience as well.
“I think it’d be so much less fun if you weren’t going on tour with your mates…”
So, speaking of jamming, when you went on tour last time I noticed that in your band you had people – people who are your friends like Jay Alexzander around you. Is it fun going on tour with your friends and playing together?
Woah, how do you know Jay? Do you know him?
I don’t know him, but he was the support act when you came to Nottingham Bodega and he was playing some of his songs and talking about your friendship and stuff which I thought was quite cool.
Yeah, we all went to uni together – so you know Ed, my guitarist – and Jay. And we were like [puts on voice] “yeah yeah we’ve got to go on tour together, it will be so sick!”. So when I got the chance to go on tour, I was like, yeah, get Jay involved. And obviously Ed is always involved innit because, you know, he’s been there from day. But Jay… it was wicked to get him open up for me. Yeah, it’s sick. I think it’d be so much less fun if you weren’t going on tour with your mates. It must be the worst experience going on tour with people you don’t get along with, because you’re stuck in a fucking van for 24 hours with people you don’t like. So yeah, it was wicked to have Jay involved. And he’s amazing as well – did you go to the gig last time? Yeah, I saw you at Bodega on your last tour.
Oh sick. Yeah… Bodega was a weird one! Because it’s like a proper L-shaped room, innit. Usually I pace from like one end of the stage to the other, and for one – that Bodega stage is tiny, we were crammed on there. And half the crowd were over at the back down to the right, so I felt really weird. If I was to the left of the stage I felt really weird because I was talking to a wall, do you know what I mean? So, it was proper weird to perform there, but it was good, like it was Notts so it’s always fun. But yeah – Jay’s sick, he’s really good. At uni, we were the only people doing – we were the only soul singers. So we had a really good connection throughout because everyone else was quite musical, I guess. Or classical, do you know what I mean, more operatic. And we had one country guy. He was a funny guy. But yeah, so it’s been a good thing, amazing to get him on tour. But hopefully, when he drops some EPs and stuff he’ll get his own tour and I can return the favour. [laughs]
Okay, so just to finish up with, I’ve got some quick-fire questions… Just answer the first thing that comes into your head.
Oh god. [laughs]
It’ll be fine! So, what’s your tune of the day?
Tune of the day? Um… I don’t know. I go for albums. So it would be Donny Hathaway’s “Everything is Everything”. But Anderson Paak’s “Malibu” is on repeat as well.
Dream artist to collaborate with?
Probably… the first one that came to my head was Erykah Badu.
Favourite gig venue in Notts?
It’s gotta be Rock City. [laughs]
Kendrick or Kanye?
Oh, Kendrick. [laughs]. I was thinking shit, you’ve given me a tricky one! But Kendrick, for sure. Like Kanye’s wicked, but I’ve never listened to him explicitly. I think his new stuff, he’s obviously… he’s derailed a bit, do you know what I’m saying. Obviously, his main focus now is fashion, so, I don’t really know… I’m hoping that his next album’s good, but it’s Kendrick because I think at the moment he’s the one that’s dominating hip-hop. While Kanye… he’s done loads back in the day to be fair, his older albums are sick, but yeah… Kendrick.
Stan Smiths or Air Maxes?
Air Maxes. [laughs]
And finally, favourite way to relax at the end of the day?
Probably playing FIFA, or more recently watching Homeland.
The interview ends with Ady urging me to come along to his next Notts show – and speaking from experience it’s going to be a cracking night celebrating the best of Ady’s work so far. You’d be crazy to miss it.