Dive into London-based Leo Kalyan’s pool of soul baring smooth grooves.
Riding the wave of post-Jai Paul contemporary R&B, Kalyan has carved out a niche for himself by fusing his Indian heritage and classical training into songs like “Fingertips” and “Get Your Love”. Self-producing his material alongside occasional co-producers like MNEK, Cass Lowe, Shift Key, and Grades, London born Kalyan has got it all going on. He even makes his own artwork, including the above collage which he created especially for us.
Oceanic daydreamer, Leo Kalyan makes the kind of music you’d hope to hear when you press a seashell to your ear. Sure the supposed sound of the sea is nice, but imagine you heard a mix of moody downtempo house and lustful contemporary R&B in there instead! Science tells us that the rushing sound you hear in shells is in fact the surrounding environment resonating in the shells cavity, which is the perfect analogy for Kalyan’s reflective and contemplative songwriting.
When did you begin training in Indian classical music?
It was kind of an 'on and off' thing that I did in my teens and kept doing ever since. The actual training process sort of faded. On my next EP, I'm using more Indian and classical influences. It always ends up bursting out of the seams even if I don't want it to. It's still a part of my family back home, so I can't escape it. It's in my makeup!
How does that Indian influence show up in your music?
When people think of Indian music the first thing they think of is tablas and sitars. I don’t really do that, I trained in vocal, so the thing that makes it Eastern is the way that I use a melody and the way that I manipulate my voice, the runs and flicks that I do make it Indian. Some of the things I do are quite traditional, some are rather modern. Basically, I use classical Indian melodies as inspiration instead of percussion.
How do you feel about being considered part of the new wave of contemporary R&B producers?
I see it as a compliment. My stuff is morphing away from that and it’s not limited to R&B, I describe it as a combination of electronica, downtempo house, and future R&B melded together. The EP I’ve got coming out, Outside In, moves across all three of those genres and presents me in a way that I haven’t been presented before.
I’m being more honest, vulnerable, and open about who I am in this work. Where I come from and the experiences that I’ve been through. I’ve used my production like a mask for a long time but this EP is called Outside In for a reason. It’s the first time I am letting the mask fall and putting myself in front of the production rather than putting the production in front of myself.
What are your thoughts on the diminishing club culture in London?
I don't really know how we can save it. The world that we live in, where people meet each other online, has led to people going out less. Fabric has been going for a long time and I've had some really amazing nights there, but clubs don't last forever; nothing does, right?
That's evolution. I don't know if it's about saving what's there for nostalgic purposes or letting things evolve. I wasn't expecting it to be around forever.
You live with two other musicians, Ryan Ashley and MNEK. Do you talk music at home or is it strictly 'no business' chat?
We talk about music all the time! That's one of the perks of having very close friends that do what you do. A lot of artists don't have anyone to speak to about their careers apart from their managers, so to have that connection is really rare and unique. I'm so grateful for it–I think we all are. Whatever we're thinking about trying out, we run it past each other first. It's really fun to do that!
Being close with somebody on that level, adds an extra level of honesty with your work, right?
Absolutely. I think the closer you are with somebody the more honest you can be about not liking or even trashing an idea. Also, you're working with them because you want to, not because you've ended up in the studio with them for a session... Although I have had some amazing studio sessions with people I hadn't met before, and I've written some great songs out of them. It's nice when you don't have to worry about people's ego.
You're a big fan of The Great British Bake Off! In an age where everyone's online presence is scrutinised, do you ever worry about being considered 'cool' online?
I don’t know that Bake Off is uncool! Besides, everyone likes cake, right? Even cool people! I don't care about whether it's cool or not!
Published Dezember 2016, Majestic Journal, Print Issue 1
Interview by Douglas Greenwood