What was the inspiration behind your new album?
All the songs on the record are stories from either my life or the people close to me like family and friends. Life was definitely an inspiration for the record. Musically, I feel like every song had different inspirations, it wasn’t like a couple of records inspired the album. I more focused it on the songs. There are influences from Lauren Hill to James Blake. Amy Winehouse is a massive vocal inspiration for me. Hip-hop as well, in some of the production. It’s kind of a mix of stuff.
Do you have a specific song-writing process?
My process it that usually I write from melody or chords first and then once I have that I try to figure out what I want to say or how the chords make me feel and then relate that to a story. Then I’ll start writing the lyrics but it’s always music first and lyrics last.
Some of your songs touch on mental health issues and you’re an advocate for the charity CALM. Do you think musicians today can play a role in fighting the stigma surrounding mental health?
Definitely. Anyone with an audience is always presented with an opportunity to speak about issues especially mental health because it’s something that one in four people will experience and go through in their lives. I think it’s important. I certainly do it in my music, Professor Green speaks about it a lot and there’s a guy called Hussain who does the same. People are starting to talk about it. Zayn Malik came out and started talking about anxiety. But I understand that it’s a difficult thing so even though you’re presented with the opportunity, I don’t know if it’s your responsibility. It depends if you feel comfortable talking about it. If that’s what you want your music and your art to express, if you want it to have that message then go for it.
Has music helped you with your own mental health struggles?
Yeah, not necessarily making music but listening to music - songs like Lean on Me. When I’m in a certain kind of mood music can help me to bring myself out of it. Writing down my thoughts has helped too and sometimes they turn into songs. I think the main thing that has helped me though is just knowing that you’re not the only person going through that kind of shit.
What venue are you most looking forward to playing on your upcoming tour?
I’m only doing three dates so I’m looking forward to all of them. Manchester’s always a lot of fun. I recorded a live EP there and the crowd was amazing. Birmingham’s also a lot of fun. I’ve got some close family friends there and my missus’ family is from there so it will be good to see them. London is the biggest venue and Coco’s is somewhere I’ve always wanted to play and headline. It’ll be the biggest crowd I’ve ever performed to.
Are you planning to play a gig in Notts anytime soon?
Yes, I’d love to play in Notts. I’m not sure when I’m going to play though. Maybe after summer. I’d love to do Rescue Rooms again and of course Rock City would be a dream.
What do you think of the Notts music scene? Are there any upcoming artists that take your fancy?
I really like Bud, she’s a singer-songwriter and quite reggae influenced. She’s got a song out at the moment called Sugar which I think is great. My mum got me into her funnily enough. I’ve been a bit out of touch with the Notts since because it’s been three years since I’ve lived there. I always see Bru-C, I really like him. Harleighblu, is not so much up-and-coming now but she’s amazing. Liam Bailey is probably the best voice the UK has, not just in Notts. Georgie is on Columbia records now but I really rate her as well.
I think the scene in Nottingham has always been amazing. There’s a good mix of music, it’s not genre specific. Without the music scene in Notts I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now.
Is there an artist you’d like to collaborate with in the future?
I would love to collaborate with D’Angelo. That would be amazing. Kendrick Lamar would be huge as well. Chance the Rapper - I’d like to do some more stuff with him. Michael Kiwanuka would be a cool one as well, not necessarily to put something out but just to be in his presence because he’s sick.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
I used to have a plan when I was younger, especially when I was leaving secondary school and then through uni but as you get older things don’t always go according to plan. I’m not so rigid with my plan anymore. I just focus on what I’m doing now. It would be great to carry on doing what I’m doing - singing, releasing albums and being able to live off that. It would be really nice to sell out arenas all over the world and win Grammy's but at the same time it would be nice just to be happy and have my health and my family’s health. As long as I’m having fun with what I’m doing I’m blessed.
Ady Suleiman performs at Rough Trade Nottingham on Sunday 11 March 2018. He tours later in the month. His debut album Memories is out now via Pemba Records / Sony Music.