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Ones to Watch: Leyma

Leyma, which derives from a combination of his first and last name, (Ma)x Han(ley,) is a 19-year-old, East London-based, self-produced rapper. Having just dropped his four-track EP, L O N G D A Y S, he’s made it on our list as One to Watch. Playing off the length of hot summer days, and the emotionally draining definition of “long,” his sophomore record deals with the trials and tribulations of London youth, but ends on a positive note with his track “Reminder.” After the release of his EP, we hopped on a call to talk about the state of his computer home screen, his dream day in London, and why we’d all be better off with a coffee table book called How to Damon Albarn. London fans: catch Leyma playing Camden Assembly on November 8th.

What have you been up to today?

Writin’ a bit of music, a few interviews now. 

What were your first favorite albums when you were younger?

Probably quite a big one, but Please Please Me. I was a massive Beatles fan. From 7-11, I only really listened to them. 

You went to school for music, right?

I didn’t study music in high school, or college, and I got to year 12 (that’s six form here, that’s just after high school) and I wasn’t doing music, but I realized that it was what I wanted to do. I spoke to my teacher and told them that I didn’t want to be there unless I was doing music. They said I couldn’t change, so I just left and found a music colly that I was doing two days for about a year.

Do you think you fell into music because of your surroundings? Are a lot of your friends are musicians? Were you going to a lot of shows? How do you feel like you got into that world?

I grew up in music, my dad was massive. He’s always been playing music in the car, and in the house, so I’ve always just been listening. And then I never really thought about writing music, but I always did. I always wrote songs and always wrote music. It was just sort of a hobby, second nature sort of thing.

 I was shown by one of my friends that you could just get a laptop and start recording at home; that sorta blew my mind a bit. It’s not some really difficult thing to do. You don’t have to spend loads of money, or go to a massive studio, or get an album, you can just do it at home, so since then I just became obsessed and couldn’t stop doing it. 

Do you typically write the music first or the lyrics first?

Music first, music first. In the process of making the song, I will make a beat and put some guitar down. And then I’ll flip through my notes, and usually when I’m just walkin’ around on the way, wherever, I think of something, or I find something, and I just put it down in my notes; maybe just four bars, or a chorus, or a hook, or something that just sounds cool. And then once I made the beat, I’ll just find what sounds good over it, and write a song from there. 

So…what does your computer home screen look like? Do you have a million folders? Are you an organized person?

Basically, I got a secondhand laptop when I first started doing it, so my laptop is really slow, and not very good. I had to buy a hard drive, and that hard drive is just the messiest. If someone who had OCD saw it, they would cry probably. There’s just folders and folders, and folders, and files, and files…no organization. If I tried to find something now that I did three months ago I wouldn’t be able to find it. And all of the files are named something stupid like “balls” or something, you know what I mean? 

You want to talk about your new EP?

L O N G D A Y S, it’s finally out. I intentionally wrote it in April to come out in Summer, because the instrumentals are very light; they’re kinda happy instrumentals. It’s called L O N G D A Y S , just a play on words; like the long days of summer, the longest hot summer days, as well as long days that are emotionally draining, and you just want them to be over. That’s sort of what the topics in the songs touch upon, really.

It’s a four-track EP, and the final song is just a round-up. The first three songs have a lot of emotional lyrics and deal with what’s not going well, and then the last song just rounds it up and reminds you that you’re good and it’s all worth it, and that’s the first single that came out, it’s called “Reminder.” 

Let’s talk about the video for “Cuppa.”

That was a fun video to make. So that was in my flat; it was the hottest day of the year, like 34-35 degrees [95 degrees F,] and we had about 18 people in our front room. We had blackout curtains on, to make it look dark, and it was just so hot. Everyone was just dying, but it was a fun one to make. 

What was the process like? Did you have a storyboard before? Who made it with you?

So we linked up with one of my guys, Relta. It’s the second single on my EP and it’s called “Cuppa,” it’s got three verses on it, two guest verses. All the topics of conversation are a little bit different. So we just decided to make a scene of people, like a party scene, but people were getting drunk of tea. 

In the beginning, when you started, you were very low-fi, bedroom producing. Was this record made in the same setting?

I will always be making music in my room. A few more songs now, I’ll be going in the studios with people who have better equipment, but all the roots of those songs have been made in my room by me. 

Describe that environment? Do you need to have a cup of coffee? Do you make music at three o’clock in the morning? Is there a prime time?

Probably not a prime time that I do it, but the best music I make is past 2 AM. Very low lighting, and candles and shit. In my old room, I had the perfect set-up. I recently moved out, so it’s now in the front room, so it’s a bit more social because I’ve got roommates, but it’s always past 2 AM.

Because your dad was a musician, what do you think are the most important things that he passed on to you, in terms of practice or your general ideas surrounding music? 

He sort of just passed on the love of it, really. He could never read music or nothing like that. He just loved music and loved to perform music, and that’s sort of what I learned from him. He’s always told me it’s the most important thing. That was a constant growing up, so I never thought of it as a chore. I never took any lessons, in any instruments, I just sort of did it. It’s kind of the best because now I still love it. 

Who would you say are your mentors; people that have kind of guided the way you think? It doesn’t necessarily have to be music based.

Music has always been my language. Damon Albarn has been like a hero since the beginning; with Blur, and then Gorillaz. If there was a book that’s like, “How to Damon Albarn,” I think I would have that on my coffee table, do you know what I mean? He sort of hit it on the head, and just did it. I really like Jarvis Cocker, he’s from Pulp. His stage presence is inspiring; I take a lot of that in when I’m performin’. The way you control the crowd is awesome; and his lyrics, he has some really fascinating lyrics, because you can listen to them, and you can hear a new lyric every time you listen; you hear a new way he’s saying something. Kevin Parker, Tame Impala; he’s the production genius that I want to come. 

It’s cool that Kevin [Parker] finds himself in so many different genres; have you seen the Travis Scott documentary?

He’s so versatile. I haven’t seen the documentary, but I think he produced “SKELETONS” off of Astroworld. It’s crazy because when I first started listening to Tame Impala, I just thought it was Psychrock, do you know what I mean? No way in hell, would I ever think that he’d be in the Hip-Hop world. I’d love to be in the studio with him one day, that’d be crazy.

Back to your visuals, for instance, your Instagram icon is a Euro, or you’ll post a photoshopped football match, or tube signage with your show details — why is it so London/EU?

There was a long time where I didn’t want to be from London, and I just hated it. But you just have to embrace where you’re from. I felt I would be ingenuine, and obviously, I’m never trying to lie in my music, and so it would be ingenuine for me to pretend I’m from somewhere else. It’s all grey and rainy and shit, so I’ll just try to make something look good out of that, out of the vibe that’s here.

Do you make your graphics?

Yeah, with a bit of help, I do most of my graphics and stuff. I was heavy into art at school. So I try and keep that interest going.

Okay, so if you were going to take us on a day trip in London, what would the day look like? Where would we go?

We would start off a caf, either a cafe or brunch, or San Marino’s in Leytonstone, and we’d get a full English, and that would do us until like mid-day. Then we’d take the train to…ohh haha. It depends what’s on, innit?  I never really do one thing, I would never do it again. In London, there’s always something different on.

Okay, this a dream day in London…

AH Okay, it’s hot outside. It’s summer, innit. We’ve had our full English. We’re outside, and then, in the afternoon, someone’s got a barbeque going on, so we’ll go to that barbeque. We’ll play some football, listen to music, have a good one. And then probably go pub afterward. Keep it local. They’re the best days, you know? In the summer when everyone’s just not stressing about anything. Sorry, that was such a boring day. I must sound so sad.

No, not it’s perfect. It’s like a day in your EP. 

If you were to look back on yourself a year from now, what would you’ve been happy to accomplish?

I just want to get gigging more and see more bits of the world really, get out of London. Obviously, I want to release more music. I want people to hear what I’m doing. New York and Tokyo are the places I need to go, if I can I will. 

Last question, what’s your favorite British/London slang term of the moment?

I can’t even think of one on the spot right now. I could say a really bate one…have you heard of the word “Peng”? Peng is the one I use most.

Haha yes! In your own words, what does “Peng” mean?

It means good, it means naughty. If someone is peng, it means they’re beautiful. If something is peng, that’s good. 

Images courtesy of Lauren Maccabee

Stay tuned to Milk for more Ones to Watch.

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