For anyone who has listened to a track by the London-based singer David Arlo, it may seem like music was a passion for him from his earliest years, however, such is not the case. It was when he was studying Economics and Politics in college that this changed. “I was what I would describe as a late bloomer to music,” says David in conversation with Post-Burnout. “Like, my parents do not have any footage of me singing in school, or like…You know those kids who are like, ‘Oh, yeah, he was singing Beyoncé at 10’ or doing a Michael Jackson routine? I was never that. Like, loads of my best friends had never even really heard me sing before. And I think I got to about 18 or 19 – as I just started university – and was just like, ‘You know what? I want to do music!’
“And I forget how we met, but I met a producer who, at the time, he had done a lot of stuff with Amy Winehouse; and – a guy called Steve Booker – he had done some stuff with Duffy; he [did] the single ‘Mercy.’ And he just really championed me and really getting me…You know [how] you often hear artists talk about that person in their life that sort of believed in them, and sometimes it’s their mother and their father? For me, it was him. And we don’t work together anymore, but I actually saw him recently and we often tell that story that he sort of gave me that confidence of, ‘You’ve got a really, really interesting voice, and recorded, it would probably sound even more interesting!’ And he sort of pushed me into that world, and I think once you get that bite, it’s really hard to come out of it.”
Yet, for David, he finds the music he makes to not necessarily align with the music he listens to in his downtime. “I’m a massive Afrobeats guy,” he says. “I love Burna Boy, I love Wizkid, I love Oxlade, Rema. Yeah, so I don’t know…If I go to a club or I’m in my car, it’s the first thing I want to listen to. It’s what’s on my sort of playlist. And I think that’s always been something that’s quite interesting with me, is that I’ve never really listened to the music that I make, if that makes sense. As in, not necessarily my music, but, I suppose, the sort of contemporaries that you would put me next to. That’s not what I sort of listen to in my spare time, if that makes sense. I’m not listening to pop music. I’m always listening to hip-hop. I’m listening to quite a lot of Afrobeats, at the moment.”
After years of releasing soulful pop with the Manchester indie LAB Records, David took some time out to focus on a new direction for his music. For his upcoming project, David worked with legendary producers Boots (best known for his work with Beyoncé, Run the Jewels, and FKA twigs) and Malay (best known for his work with Frank Ocean, Lorde, John Legend, and Sam Smith) to figure out what this new direction would be. After a call between Boots, who was in New York, and David, who was in the Dominican Republic, they realised they had a shared vision and goal for a record. David’s A&R team then suggested they add writer Marcus Semaj (a contributor on Giveon’s Give or Take album) to the mix, and a new sound was bred from that.
The first piece of music from this collaboration was a single which was two years in the making, “Speeding,” which showcases both a notable jump in the production and mix, as well as David’s vocal performance. “It felt like, out of all the songs that we recorded, it just felt like a record that sounded like an introduction, like a reintroduction,” says David on their choice to drop this song first. “It just felt like, ‘Oh, who’s this?’ Like, it doesn’t hit you in the face, or go for your jugular, it’s not massive in its vocal scale; it’s just sort of like, ‘Oh, this is interesting. I’ve not heard this before.’ And I think that is what we wanted. We wanted to sort of give people a little taste of what’s to come, and I think the other records that are coming are a bit more in-your-face. And, also, ‘Speeding’ is an indication of how honest I’m planning to be on the rest of the record. So, I think ‘Speeding’ is quite honest, so you can only imagine how honest it does get.”
In addition to his ever-growing musical career, David is also attached to an upcoming television programme, which is being produced by the producers of Netflix’s smash hit comedy series Sex Education. However, he is unable to divulge too much information about this project at present. “I feel like it’s definitely been a reset,” he says of this new direction. “I feel like I’ve always had a very stop/start relationship with music. The music industry’s very interesting, especially for new artists, especially if you’re not backed by a label, it’s very hard to be consistent and to consistently put out music of a certain level, and what we’re constantly seeing is this environment, fans, gatekeepers, whatever you want to call people, they react to artists who are consistent, who are consistently putting out music, and if you’re not in a financial position to do that, it can be really difficult to do that, because life just happens in-between.
“Like, you’ve got bills to pay, you’ve got family, people get ill, you get ill, all these things happen, and I think sometimes maybe we don’t pay enough grace to people going through those situations, and we sort of just assume, ‘Oh, they must have a whole body of work, ready to chuck out.’ Like, music videos are expensive. Artwork is expensive. All of these things are really expensive, and I think, for me, you have to make that conscious decision whether or not you want to do music. As much as it’s a passion, and a vocation, and something that I love, it’s also a job. And I think this has been…like, this new sort of phase in David Arlo has been like, ‘Yeah, this is what we’re doing. This is what I’m doing,’ and I’ve been really fortunate to have a label that’s supporting me, and we’re able to be more consistent with it, I’d say, and there’s more of a plan and all of that good stuff.”
The label that he’s referring to is the revered major Arista Records, which is now a subsidiary of Sony Music. “It was during the pandemic, and the President of the label heard some demos – we got connected through someone mutually in the business – he heard some demos, and that was it really,” explains David on how it happened. “It was weird, because we spoke for quite a long time – I want to say a good six or seven…I don’t know, actually, if I’m honest. [Laughs] It was quite a long period of time – before we even spoke of doing a deal or anything like that, and we just really got to know each other, and we share so many similarities – I’m British, he’s British. He lives in America, I spent quite a lot of time living in America, obviously, I’m back [in the UK] now. I’m a twin, he’s a twin – it’s weird! There’s so many similarities between us! Obviously, there’s so many differences, too. But there was so many similarities, and I just felt like he believed in me, and I think that’s a really important thing you want with anyone who works with you. And then Arista, just the legendary acts, from Whitney Houston to Usher to Avril Lavigne to Aretha Franklin, Prince. There’s so many acts that have been on there, you’re just like, ‘Oh!’ And then little me, now!”
David Arlo’s latest single “Speeding” is available on all streaming platforms now. Keep up to date with his projects on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. For a more extensive interview with David – where we expand on the topics discussed, in addition to his background, how his heritage influences him, getting more comfortable being vulnerable in his lyrics, and more – be sure to tune into today’s episode of POSTBURNOUT.COM Interviews… today at 17:00 (IST) on YouTube and other streaming platforms.
Aaron Kavanagh is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Post-Burnout. His writing can also be found in the Irish Daily Star, Buzz.ie, New Noise Magazine, XS Noize, DSCVRD and more.