Interview by Cheryl Dunn
What were you doing when you were nineteen years old? UK’s Sunil Heera is producing music under the moniker XO in his bedroom and has already played a massive BBC Radio 1 music festival. A great singer and songwriter in his own right, XO also works with other singers and artists to feature on his electronic and R&B tracks including Shay Lia on one of our favorites “U & I”. We spoke to XO about his process, playing Radio 1’s Big Weekend Festival in Glasgow, the release of his new EP “The Ethereal Experience”, and whether or not we will ever see a full length record.
When did you first start making music?
It was during my first couple of years of high school. I was about 14/15 when I got my first copy of FL studio after being inspired by the steady rise of young bedroom producers. Although I didn’t produce full tracks until I was about 16, and the XO project itself was started around 2013.
What was the music scene like growing up? Were you always a part of it making music or as a fan?
I guess I was a bit of both really, more so a fan in previous years. I was in to a lot of UK underground music like Grime, Dubstep, UK bass, House and Garage…that sort of stuff. It influenced me a lot and my first love was club music I guess. But back then, online platforms like SoundCloud were just emerging, so it was really difficult to get noticed. Great to see the tables have turned in favour of my generation, the scene is really thriving now.
When did you first realize you really found your sound?
I’d say my sound had blossomed after I finished The Ethereal Experience. It had been a tedious process at times, but completely worth it in the end. I’m fully comfortable in my own musical skin now, especially since I’ve gained somewhat of a signature sound. Time for expansion!
How do you approach songwriting? Do you always start with a beat or melody? Do lyrics ever come first sometimes?
There really is no set process as to how these things work. I’m a big fan of going with the flow. Most of the time, I’ll build a chord sequence or a short beat and gain conceptual ideas from there. Although, melodies usually come first and lyrics afterwards.
You’re incredible singer in your own right but collaborate with other artists and singers as well. How do you find the artists to feature on your tracks? Are they usually friends or did you find them through playing live?
Thank you! Most of the artists I’ve worked with were found online. Mainly as a result of late night SoundCloud binges just searching for good music, ha! This is why the Internet has been pivotal in the development of my project and I’m super grateful for that.
Out of all the songs you’ve written do you have a favorite right now, based on where you were when you were writing or recording it, or a feeling it gives you when you listen to it?
My current favourite is “Somethin’ About U”. I’m not really sure what it is, but whenever I listen to it, it’s like hearing it for the first time all over again. Whenever I think of music in general, I associate certain tracks with certain colours in my mind, so most of The Ethereal Experience is bright, bold oranges, reds and blues etc. I guess that’s why it has that sort of nostalgic “late summer night” vibe. My favourite part has to be the hook line – super proud of that.
What are you currently working on? Are you writing and recording? When can we expect a full album?
At the moment, I’m piecing together what I believe to be the 3rd release. Of course, a lot more needs to be done but I really want to bring branding and visuals to the forefront on this next one, as well as the music. But I won’t say too much. As for an album, I couldn’t tell you when, but I can certainly confirm I will be writing one at some point in my career, that’s for sure.
What do you like better: writing and recording or playing live?
That’s tough. Both are so good! I’d say writing and recording because obviously without them I wouldn’t even be able to play live. Plus, I’m very much a writer and producer first, rather than a DJ first.
What does your live show look like? Do you have a band/bring other musicians on tour?
The live show itself is something I should be working on in the coming months. I’m just DJing for the moment, which I really enjoy doing of course. That’ll probably continue for a while until my live show set up is, in my eyes, perfect.
Will you be touring extensively/coming to the US any time soon?
I hope so. Next year or even the year after may be the time for that. Watch this space.
What has been your favorite live show moment so far?
It’s got to be way back in May last year when I played at BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend in Glasgow. It still baffles me that music I produced from my own home resonated so well with the crowd out there that day. They knew all the words and were singing along. Really bizarre, but of course, wonderful.
Are you listening to anyone right now you think everyone should hear?
Check… Siba – “Ur My <3”. SO much more great stuff coming from that dude. I can’t wait.
What are you looking forward to most for the rest of this year?
Playing lots more shows of course, finishing off my 3rd EP release and just living life man. It’s what a 19 year old does right?
Listen to XO’s new EP “The Ethereal Experience” out now below and get your copy via iTunes here.
Reviewed by b3