Launching his first proper single with a show at Soho’s BLACKS next week, 21-year-old Josh Kumra follows a hugely successful Wretch 32 collaboration (Don’t Go) with what sounds like one of the most solid debuts of the year.
Helicopters and Planes is, in our humble-ish reckoning, an excellent showcase of Kumra’s voice, combining a stays-in-your-head chorus with some seriously good beats. We’re thinking 2013 will see this chap getting serious love both from radio and the record-downloading public and we recently shared a Camdenian couch with him for an afternoon’s quizzing, the transcription of which is yours for the perusing, below.
How did you first get into this ‘making music’ malarkey?
I was 13 years old and my dad got me this little plastic guitar. I think two weeks later I wrote my first song. It was absolutely rubbish. It was called The Telephone. I started writing songs properly from about the age of 15. Then something happened. My voice went from being really angelic to being very husky so my style changed.
What happened then?
Everybody was talking about how good London was in terms of the music business so I thought I’d do a gig in London. I actually got management here after my first London gig, when I was 18.
Where was that first gig?
Monkey Chews here in Camden. It’s a really cool bar, actually. Camden was the only place I’d really heard of in London before I moved here. Funnily enough, I had tonsillitis that day so I played one song and got my mates to sing the rest of the songs whilst I was playing. It still went down very well.
Yeah. For two years I was travelling back and forth between Swindon and London until a year ago I just moved across. Within two weeks I got a phone call from my manager saying that Wretch 32 had heard my version of Don’t Go and that he wanted to get on it. And I was, like, “of course!”. I was a big fan, anyway.
Was it then easy getting a record deal?
I had some offers before the Wretch 32 collaboration and Sony were always very supportive. After the Wretch thing happened, I found out that Colin Barlow [the former Universal bigwig who had launched Geffen in the UK back in October 2008] was going to Sony. We had a meeting and he was just really enthusiastic and it felt like the natural thing to do. It was pretty quick, to be honest.
And your debut album is pretty much completed now, isn’t it?
Yeah, I’m nearly finished.
How many tracks do you plan to have on it?
It’s going to have ten tracks. There’ll probably be a 15 track deluxe version as well. For those ‘real fans’ out there [laughs]. There were 20 tracks and we whittled them down to 10. But I’m still writing.
Let’s chat song-writing. What’s your favourite bit about the process?
I’m a really big fan of melodies. When I first hear a song, the thing that grabs me is the melody. The excitement of reading into the lyrics comes afterwards but the melody is the thing that gets me inside a song. To be honest with you, the more I try to write a song, the less it is likely to happen. So whenever I have spare time, I pick up the guitar and spontaneously play stuff. If it sounds good I’ll work on it some more. If it sounds rubbish, I’ll give it to somebody else [laughs].
Tell us about your actually-very-pleasing-to-the-ear new single, Helicopters & Planes.
That song was written by Emeli Sandé. I was working with Naughty Boy and he started playing this song and I was, like, “what’s that?!”. He told me that it was an Emeli track and I asked him why it wasn’t on her album, it was amazing. It was written after the deadline [for Emeli's debut album]. So I asked if I could have a go at it and fell in love with it instantly. It’s weird that my first single wasn’t written by me but I love it and it resonates with me. It’s all about being paranoid and having eyes on you, people watching your every move.
Have you met Emeli?
Yeah, she’s lovely.
What does she make of your rendition?
She’s really happy with it. We had a conversation about it and she really likes it. And Naughty Boy is really happy with it too.
Were you working together on your own album?
I’ve actually worked on his album. I did a track for him and I just got it back today and it sounds really cool. Wretch is on it as well.
Who have you worked with on your album?
Mr Hudson. I think it’s his first main project as a producer. He’s great. Obviously, he’s worked with Kanye and Jay-Z and he just gets it. He understands where I am coming from with these songs that I have written.
Do you get nervous playing gigs?
No. I mean, last year I got all the nerves out of the way. I did stuff like Jools Holland and for me that was amazing. I get a buzz out of playing live. I really look forward to it. I spend my day in the studio just so that I can then go out and play these shows. So it’s all worth it.
It’s good to know there won’t be any butterflies in the belly at your Blacks show!
It’s a small intimate venue so I’m just going to do a stripped-down set. I want to play all the songs from my album and see how it goes.
You mentioned Camden earlier. Is that your favourite bit of London?
Yeah! It’s on my door-step. I live in Belsize Park so it’s close-by. I just really love North London. Camden is great. You come down here on the weekend, there’s the market, you just can’t beat the vibe here.
Helicopters & Planes is out on 15 July on RCA. Josh Kumra plays Society Of Golden Slippers @ Blacks, 67 Dean Street on Monday 16 July.