This interview is part of DREAMERS, a collaborative project with MCQ that couples aspiring artists to their heroes for a one-on-one advice session. The conversations are recorded, redacted, and can be read in their entirety on my.mcq.com.
Thursday 6 May 2021, 5pm London time
Charlie Osborne: I’m a visual artist, but I’m quite into working with sound and video. So I thought it would be nice to talk to you even though we’re not in the same fields. We’re both makers and what you’re making inspires my making, when I listen to it. Maybe we could start with talking about the beginning of your musical journey?
LA Timpa: I would have to go back to living in Nigeria. I grew up in a church for the majority of my life, and we went there every Sunday of the year. My first memory is the music in the church – a lot of praise and worship, devotional songs. I do remember the first time I ever heard hip hop, which is probably the biggest influence in my life. My brother was listening to the Eminem Marshall Mathers LP album. I’d say that hip hop is definitely my foundation, that’s the one genre that I studied and went back to, listening to stuff that wasn’t of my time.
Charlie: I interpret your music as feeling powerful, coming-of-age, magical like a fairy in the woods, underground, experimental, electronic, folky and indie. Which all results in a beautiful intimate mishmash of characters and feelings. What’s your relationship to these words and storytelling through your sound?
LA Timpa: The words that stand out most to me are storytelling and folk. I’m not gonna sit here and say that I’m the biggest folk listener, but again, it goes back to the church. I consider that a form of folk music where a lot of times it all begins in the community, and you would just pull this one kid to be the drummer, and these three women and two guys to sing in a choir. They don’t necessarily have any traditional training, maybe they don’t even want to do it, but all in the name of God, they make it happen. I’ve been in a lot of beautiful churches, and experienced a lot of beautiful moments where they’re singing their hearts out, and what’s guiding them is this force of God. So when I think of folk music and the connection to what I make, that is the ultimate foundation. I just had the vision that I can do music in a certain type of way. I think that also ties in the mystical element because with every creation that I make, it’s always a clean slate. There’s no, “Oh, I’ll use this thing from this other track.” It’s always brand new, there’s no template. It’s whatever I’m feeling at the moment. And you know, just tapping into this mystical moment where time doesn’t exist and you’re just enthralled. You’re just really digging deep and pulling from yourself. When I put myself in those types of situations, I’m often so hyper-aware of my emotions, and sometimes I’m not even necessarily that aware of what I’m feeling, but music always brings it forth. It’s always the truth, whether I like it or not.
Charlie: I also wanted to ask you about the relationship between your drawings, hand-written titles, and hand-held visuals combined with your music. Do you see them as connected?
LA Timpa: Yes, that’s been in tandem with my music practice since the very beginning. When I and my brother were young up until when we were teens, we’d imagined this ‘world’, where we just sat and told each other stories about this land, family, brands, artists, musicians, different cities, it was just very detailed. It’s that idea of world-building, just believing in your creativity to go further and make it as vivid as possible, and that definitely comes back through my work today.
“As I got older, I built more confidence, and when I would walk into a room, I would always be myself. I think that allowed the designers and the stylists to feel that and perhaps recognise that they could just trust me.” – LA Timpa
Charlie: What’s your experience working in fashion as a musician been like? I’ve seen some beautiful images of you, do you get to have much creative control in these environments?
LA Timpa: It’s always been a very separate thing. And I think, as I got older, I built more confidence, and when I would walk into a room, I would always be myself. I think that allowed the designers and the stylists to feel that and perhaps recognise that they could just trust me. I share my opinion, I never shy away from that, but do it respectfully, because at the end of the day I’m just a piece of their vision. And I respect that, it’s cool. It goes back to the collaboration, I’ll do my best to make the best product, because I am a part of it.
Charlie: I can also imagine your sound, especially your track ‘Core’, would work amazing for a film score. You carry a very cinematic quality, is this something you’d like to do in the future?
LA Timpa: For sure, and I think that naturally my music just has that quality. The first soundtrack that really stood out to me was the Suspiria soundtrack by Goblin, which is probably one of the most influential things to me in terms of me being older and making music. It did something to me and allowed me to be confident in the music that I was making. I like the storytelling aspect of it sonically.
“More than anything, the simplicity of hip hop, how direct it is, and how simple the compositions are. It’s community, confidence and just belief. It’s raw, it’s in your face, it’s direct. It’s mystical in a lot of ways.” – LA Timpa
Charlie: With this kind of format of a meeting, I thought it was impossible to not mention our current climate COVID. So I wanted to ask you, how have you navigated during this time? What advice would you give to someone who’s young and creative during a time that’s full of limitations but an exciting time for life?
LA Timpa: There’s something really comforting knowing that we’re all going through it together, even if we’re in different circumstances. The limitations and restrictions are heavier for some, depending on where you are, but we’re still in it together. Personally, I liked sitting and creating without distractions and interruption, but I do think that connecting with people is extremely important. I’m now in New York City, but prior to this I was in Berlin and moved back to the suburbs in Canada, where I was just isolated for months. I think that was extremely necessary, being in nature and constantly recording. But now in New York, people are getting vaccinated and things are opening back up, and it’s really interesting to see people interact with each other again. It’s a tough time, but I do think that there’s many positives to take from it, to connect with yourself again. Doing things that feed you in a positive way, building good habits – that gives me life. I started training in martial arts during this pandemic, and finding other things that have piqued my interest and fed me other than music, because I do think that there needs to be a balance for creation. Whenever I’m exercising, training, running, I never consider the physical aspect of it, it’s much more mental, I like the discipline. This period has also made me connect more with my family, which was extremely important, because it allowed me to connect back to my core foundation as a person. It was super important to keep those tabs open and be aware.
Here in New York, I love the music that’s constantly playing from the street and the cars. And it’s beautiful because a lot of the music that I’m hearing is stuff that I used to listen to, it’s like a deep dive. The other day I heard somebody playing a track from the DJ Clue mixtapes, it’s that connection: “Whoa, somebody else knows this and is playing it!” It’s really, really, really dope, actually. So that’s feeding me in a positive way. More than anything, the simplicity of hip hop, how direct it is, and how simple the compositions are. It’s community, confidence and just belief. It’s raw, it’s in your face, it’s direct. It’s mystical in a lot of ways.
Charlie: It’s really great what you describe, I think they’re all components of your sound, if not more, because I think your references come from everywhere. If you could play anywhere in the world, where would it be?
LA Timpa: This question is interesting, just because I’ll be the first to tell you that I’ve never yearned to play or perform live. That aspect of music has never really been my forte. I’ve always been more drawn to the creation, making an album, and going from that type of thing. With live shows, it just kind of happens. If I think right now about performing, especially because New York is slowly opening, maybe just doing performances inside a loft or just having a really intimate crowd, that interests me right now.
Charlie: I think those are always the best experiences.
LA Timpa: I feel, in a way, that’s even healthy. I believe that we all need to be thinking about how we heal from this pandemic. How do we actually recover from this? On a personal level, because it’s different for everyone. But I do know, for myself, in the question of playing a show, I would want to have something intimate, where I could try stuff, things, ideas that I’ve just been building up for the last years.
Interested in learning more? You can find all the interviews from the DREAMER series here.