Smilin' While I'm Grindin': Novelist Interviewed
It’s late Sunday afternoon on South Congress in Austin, Texas. The sun is out, but most are dragging suitcases down the road, humping them into Ubers and joining a serpent of cars headed for the airport.
From a table at Hopdoddy’s burger bar, Novelist is unfazed by any of the rush. He surveys a tray of sauces delivered by a waiter after a polite request to try “one of each”, and begins to test them out one by one, dipping away from the mountain of fries in front of him.
It’s the end of another SXSW, but Novelist, his brother Prem and DJ Sus Trapperazzi, have a trip to Los Angeles planned that will lead them into mid-April. The Lewisham MC is elated by his first time in Austin: he’s thrown himself into the SXSW experience, taking on every opportunity the festival has thrown at him, from playing our showcase at Scratchouse, to riding around on scooters, talking to the locals and linking up with fellow rising stars from around the world.
Taking in a moment of calm before he sets off on his next adventure, we catch Novelist in a reflective mood to discuss his time in Texas.
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Did you have any expectations ahead of SXSW?
When it came to coming here, for the most part I knew what I was going to bring to the table - no matter where I go in the world I don’t change how my live show is. I wasn’t sure how they would receive me, but it was exceptional. Every show that we did went better than I expected. I didn’t expect it to go bad, but there was a whole lot of love that you just don’t see coming until you see it. So that was really special for me.
Even the staff, the people who work behind the scenes, they showed us so much love and regard, and they welcomed us, obviously us not being from Austin. It was cool to be around all of these different cultures, and people from different states and what not.
Do you think that the experience has exceeded your expectations?
I think this has certainly exceeded my expectations. It’s a constant carnival, but less hype. I’ve never seen this many black people in one place before, as well. I’ve not been to Africa, I’ve been to the Caribbean, but it’s a bit different. We’re talking about urban culture. So that was a nice experience for me.
There’s nothing like this, it’s kind of hard to put into words. You have to come here to get it. People told me about SXSW for years, but I never knew it’d be like this. I didn’t know the dynamics of the situation. You’re coming out and just bumping into so many random artists on the roads, backstage at places. It’s different to anything back home. It’s a different vibe. You can bump into the most massive artist, just by themselves in a shop or something. It’s weird, but I like it.
And do you think those people you’ve bumped into are leads you’ll then follow up with when you get back home?
100% man. There’s guys that I’ve had some real hearty conversations with. I don’t really like to deal with people on a musical level. With me it is what it is. You can be the greatest artist, if we don’t get along naturally then it’s just going to be a pleasant interaction.
But there’s certain people that when you meet them you just click. And there’s been a few people who I’ve met since I’ve been out here that are just safe man. So hopefully we stay in touch with each other and just let it be what it’s going to be.
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Did you set any goals for yourself before you came out here?
No, I didn’t set any goals. I wanted to guarantee that I put on a good show. To me that’s like a given. But everything else, I just wanted to go with the flow and see what would come of the experience. I’m out here with my brother, and my boy Sus who’s my DJ. We’ve got each other. So that’s enough entertainment. Anything else is a bonus, and we’ve had a lot of bonuses.
Even down to our taxi journeys. The drivers have just been completely different to how I’ve been received in any other country. Very lovely people, down to earth, welcoming. They get personal as well, they tell you some stories and what not. It’s cool.
Outside of performing, how have you utilised your time in Austin?
We’ve definitely done a lot of browsing, and just talking to people. Because there’s all kinds of people here, it’s not just musicians, there’s people that own brands, people that work for different organisations. Some people are just straight fans who’ll give you their opinion, some people are first timers, they’ve never seen me before.
We’ve just been bumping into civilians, tell them who we are, they tell us about their life. It’s lovely because there’s been no animosity at all. There’s been straight good vibes, good weather, good food. And in terms of work, kicking back at the hotel writing lyrics, listening to other people’s music - kind of critiquing in a sense. We break down songs and say what we like from songs, amongst each other. Just doing what we normally do, but out here.
Have you discovered any new music while you’ve been here that you’ve been into?
Yeah, that guy Lucki. Flipp Dinero, I didn’t know about him. Sus is into a lot of trap music, but melodic trap and not so heavy, so he’s put me onto a lot of stuff. And it’s funny because we end up bumping into these guys.
There’s a few female artists I didn’t know about, I didn’t know about Megan Thee Stallion, I bumped into her, said hello, she was cool.
What are the most important things you’ll take away from this trip that will help you to progress?
Just be myself. That’s the main thing. In terms of interacting with people and networking, it’s always got to be natural for me. I don’t really reach for anything. You just show love, you get love wherever you go. Because you never know who you’re talking to, and it’s really like that at SXSW.
In my career on a whole, that’s really what’s propelled me. Just personal relationships with people, all being natural, authentic. I just see that people take me for who I am, and they like what I bring to the table. So I just keep being myself, that’s the main thing. And hopefully I can bring the UK to places where they don’t have much of our music.
That’s what I’ve really taken from this trip. The people like it a lot!
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What have your personal highlights been from the trip?
We had a cab driver that we prayed with. That was wonderful. He said “Can I pray with you guys.” So I was like, “Yeah of course, I would love that.” So we prayed. That was a highlight.
And just meeting all the artists and artists managers. Interacting with people has been a great highlight. And it was also nice to see some of my boys from the UK like the Boy Better Know mandem and the American Grime mandem, we all linked up and did The Den at Scratchouse. That was a moment as well.
Then rolling with Jamie Dred. Love Jamie Dred, he’s a good guy man. He has his own studio set up here, so I went to link him, we ate some fruit together. This has been an amazing trip, I’m very happy that I came out here. It’s only been plusses, everything has been a plus!
Would you say it’s worthwhile for artists to come to SXSW?
Super worthwhile. Even if you’re not booked as an artist, try and get yourself out here and just be amongst what’s going on. Talk to guys, that would be my advice to anyone that’s coming up and wants to make a presence in the US.
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Novelist was funded by PRS Foundation’s International Showcase Fund to attend SXSW 2019.
Words: Grant Brydon
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