First Look: Espa Reveals The Origins Of Her Edgy Soul Sound In Her First-Ever Interview + '150th & Broadway' [EP Stream]
Espa has recently emerged from London's (not just) knee-deep pool of genre-splicing soul, making waves on this side of the pond with her ethereal r&b sound. Earlier this week, she dropped an ambitious statement in the form of her debut EP 150th & Broadway, setting herself even further away from the pack. A prism of atmospheric instrumentals and tender and airy vocal treatments, 150th & B'way epitomizes the current UK sound while also revealing a more straightforward, nostalgia-inducing r&b ethos, shedding light on some Espa's half-submerged 90s soul influences.
Her four-track introductory course is as dynamic as it is deceptively deep, with the sultry and whispery ballad of unrequited lust "Apartment 2F" (a collabo with NYC's own Flatbush Zombies) or the lingering perpetual hook machine of "Your Ghost" and capping the EP off with some hard-nosed funk on "Let's Get Dark," a blazing rocker laced with white lines and NPG vibes. While you might have caught wind of London's lilting lady as Zane Lowe's "Next Hype," we're here to tell you that you'll be hearing plenty more from this powerful young talent in the years to come. Get familiar with celestial r&b stylings of Espa as she introduces herself to the world via our exclusive interview--her first-ever--below, as she talks us through 150th & Broadway, reveals the hand behind the pen and something of her origins as well.
OKP: Let's start at the beginning, please tell us your age and government name...(?)
ESPA: 23 years old. Espa.
OKP: You're based in London but tell us where you're originally from and how you got started in the music game?
ES: I'm a london guuurl. My family is from East London but I've grown up all over London (and a bit in NYC). I'm also half Russian Jewish and a bit Sicilian by blood. I first got into music via my grandfather, he was an incredible musician of the big band era in the '50s/'60s and toured with legends like Frank Sinatra, Quincy Jones and Judy Garland. I was introduced to this kind of music from a very young age.
OKP: There seems to be quite a vibrant underground movement in London these days with Li'l Simz, Kwabs, Daley, Hawk House, Tinie Tempah, FKA Twigs etc. etc.--do you all know, influence and collaborate with each other? Or are you coming from separate places that just look like a 'London scene' from outside?
ES: London is actually a huge place with eclectic talent. It's a hub of multicultural, hugely varied art. And we're all trying to bring something new to the table. I love all those artist you have listed, such boldness!!
OKP: One of the first Espa tracks that caught our attention was your feature on "Balistiq" by Louder (which was featured on Zane Lowe's next hype)--was that collaboration part of a larger partnership? Or how did it come about and happen to fall into Zane's hands?
ES: These boys are great! Most of our time in the studio was spent talking about life, the laws of attraction and artistic expression. LOL at the deepness!! They are so smart and talented. We've written a bunch of tunes together for both of our projects.
OKP: The track "Apartment 2F" is a result of your friendship with Brooklyn's Flatbush Zombies--tell us how you linked with them and what's the nature of your relationship with the crew and the Beast Coast movement generally?
ES: I've been spending a lot of time in NYC since I was 18 years old and have a whole sub-life out there now, with amazing music collabs, close mates and a favorite rock in Central Park. So I have to go regularly! Working with Erick (as well as Jewice and Meech) [of Flatbush Zombies] is a breath of fresh air. There is a deep mutual respect for what each other brings to the studio. Erick let's me get on with song writing, and I let him get on with being the best producer on the East coast! I've brought some Brit vibes to the Beast Coast movement and am honored to have featured on Flatbush Zombies tracks' as well as the new super group with The Underachievers [called] Clockwork Indigo. There is more music to be released and so much more to be written, this is an ongoing partnership.
OKP: You are obviously bringing a wide range of influences from Bjørk on down...do you consider yourself a 'rap' or hip-hop artist primarily? Do you think of your sound as r&b?
ES: I think of my sound as 'genre-bending', my influences range from Nas to Nirvana. The way I see it is this, if it's touching the listener in some way, I'm achieving what I set out to do. My sound is whatever you interpret it to be.
OKP: What rapper would you most like to collaborate with? What artists generally?
ES:Kendrick Lamar...and Vivienne Westwood. She could style the video shoot. That would be fire!!
OKP: We have heard that you're involved in every aspect of your music yourself, from art to videos and styling--do you come from a visual art background? Can you articulate the larger vision that demands all those pieces work together?
ES: I am an artist. There's nothing about that statement which says 'I am a singer' or 'I am a songwriter'... it's simple, 'I am an artist'. Therefore I will take responsibility for all things art related on my project. To allow the person who is listening to the music or watching the video to have a fully immersive experience, everything needs to come from the same place and have a 'bigger picture' to it. I work with an incredible creative team and would not be able to realize my vision without them, it's collaborative, just like the music I make!
OKP: We love the song "Your Ghost." How did the song came together--especially the writing of the melody and words...?
ES: This tune is very special to me indeed. It's a co-write with two of my best mates, Todd Oliver and Shift K3Y. When we work together as a trio, everyone is involved in everything. We'll all write the words, we'll all sit round a sing melodies at eachother. When there's a genuine friendship already existing, you become very brave at trying out ideas and that's where bold and unusual songs are born. It's a dedication to my someone I was very close too, we wrote it on the anniversary of their passing. The boys were so amazing at tapping into what I was feeling and communicating that in this piece.
OKP: "Your Ghost" underscores a certain spooky, gothic or dark strain in your music--do you feel that's fair/accurate? do you have a dark side as a person or is the mood of the music in contrast with your own temperament?
ES: Dark and light co-exist within me, and within you, Ms/Mr Reader. That is the yin and yang of human emotions. It's no good fighting the darkness, as then you won't be able to recognize the light. It's important for me as, an artist, to express all shades, as I want the listener to be able to come on the journey with me and gain something from it.
OKP: What's next for Espa--what can we expect in the near future?
ES: Bigger, bolder, and braver music, visuals, and--of course--hair.
OKP: Turn down for what?
ES: Ooo stick you, yo mumma too and your DADDY!!!!!