Maverick Sabre is at a happy place in life.
The 30-year-old soul-pop singer, who grew up in-between Ireland and East London, is now an independent artist after almost ten years under the Universal umbrella. His last album, 2019’s When I Wake, was the start of this new chapter—one that’s brought him the most success he’s seen since his well-received debut, Lonely Are The Brave, in 2012. He’s also experimenting like never before: new project You Know How It Feels sees him try out indie-pop tropes with hip-hop and lo-fi production, but still with the live feels he’s had in his music since the start.
Gathering an impressive cult following over the years has been one piece of the puzzle, but the ability to adapt and fuse multiple influences into one sound is a skill that not many have been able to master. With a career heading towards the ten-year mark, and now that the power lies solely with him, Maverick Sabre is ready to take things to the next level. We caught up with Mav over the phone to find out how the You Know How It Feels EP came to be, those timeless Jorja Smith collabs, being compared to Ed Sheeran early on, and the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“My approach in creating music and what I want to say in my music has always been something very pure and close to my heart.”
COMPLEX: Since the release of your last album, 2019’s When I Wake, you seem to be in a different, dare I say happier space. Has anything changed for you since?
Maverick Sabre: The last release was my first independent release since 2015; I was under Universal prior to that. To be honest, since the last record, I’ve been the busiest I’ve ever been and the most successful I’ve been since my first album, Lonely Are The Brave, in 2012. Touring-wise, the last record’s been the closest thing I’ve had since the first record, too. So yeah, it’s felt like a bit of a rebirth for me.
With the new music that’s coming out, what fresh ideas have you brought to the table?
I had a couple of tunes tailed off for the last record that were like in the feels, sonically, of the latest song “Don’t You Know By Now”. They were produced by me, and they were a bit more experimental. I wanted to drag people into the world of the sound, and not get caught up in anything else. I wanted to create a sort of movie for the blind with these four new tunes. I want to pull people more into the feels. So with new EP, You Know How It Feels, it’s been a way to pull over more of my fans that were a fan of the more experimental stuff on the last record and give them the last little bit of flavour of some songs that suited that. Then, moving on to the future, we’ll have another EP coming out that will be full of the more traditional stuff that I’ve been doing since day one anyway, so it’s really a mixture of everything. It’s a sense of myself experimenting with my sound; I’m still learning the ropes as a producer too. I’ve always been involved in the production of my own music, but the last record and the new EP have really seen a sole focus of me working behind the buttons. So yeah, more of that and making sure I continue to make the traditional sounds that I’ve always put into my music that won over the fans in the first place.
“Don’t You Know By Now” sounds like it’s taken on a completely new energy, with much more of a lo-fi direction. Is this sound carried throughout You Know How It Feels?
Yeah, I’d say so. But you might listen to it and feel completely different! But that’s what I’ve been inspired by from the last record: a lo-fi, almost hip-hop sound. The production is what I directed towards before I actually wrote the tune. I made the beat and played my guitar. At first, it was just an instrumental, but that sound is what I’m massively inspired by; kind of lo-fi instrumentals.
How long did it take you to put the project together?
Not that long, to be honest. I had all of the tunes done at the start of lockdown, so it’s been over the last few weeks.
Your sound has always been so raw, with such a live feel to it. What is it about live instrumentation that you love so much?
I don’t want to keep saying the same points over and over again but, for me, it’s about making it as raw and unapologetically you, with a clear message that is as honest and as vulnerable as possible. Whether that’s the instrumentation or the lyrics or the voice, or all of that combined. That’s the aim of what I want to capture in a record. For me, the element of performing live, I can connect with people far more easily than on a record, so it’s almost been the opposite as time has gone on. I want to make the record and the recorded versions of songs as close to a live performance as possible. I’ve always wanted to master that in my records because I think there’s something about connecting to a listener, which is easy to do when playing live but it’s finding that little balance in a record where it sounds clean and polished but the listener can connect with it.
Over the years, we’ve seen you collaborate with the likes of Jorja Smith, Bugzy Malone and George The Poet. Your connection to the black British music scene is something that has been evident since pretty much the start of your career. Talk to me about that.
I view music like university. The majority of the musicians that have inspired me are black, and that hasn’t changed. When I was young, getting into soul music for the first time or reggae or hip hop, it connected with a part of my soul through stories of struggle and reflections of the world that I’d been connected to through my dad’s trad Irish/blues that he would play at gigs and that I was surrounded by. Tupac connected like Luke Kelly, Burning Spear like Damien Dempsey.
You and Jorja Smith have worked on a few UK soul classics, namely “A Prince”. Can we expect more music from the two of you together soon?
Oh yeah, mate! Me and Jorja have been making music together since, like, 2016. We’re always making stuff and we always will. We’re always writing stuff and passing ideas; we’ve always got new stuff and always have something in the locker. So yeah, for sure, you can expect something new from me and Jorja soon.
“The oppression of the black community is emblematic of how the world runs, so if we don’t stand up together for every injustice then we stand for nothing.”
When you first broke through, there was a huge buzz around you and at the same time, a similar buzz around Ed Sheeran. Both completely different artists, but both in the same ‘alternative bracket’ and therefore comparisons were made. Have you ever compared your journey to his like other people have?
I hear your question and I understand your perspective on why you’d ask me that, but I don’t look at stuff like that. Everyone has their own journey—he’s had his, and I’ve had mine. We represent two different things. For me, the journey I’ve had is a longer route and what I represent is not necessarily always the most palatable, you know? I’ve always had the same message, and sometimes it’s the longer route. More power to Ed, but I don’t like to compare journeys. Mine is very much in place and clearly planned out in my mind, so all in time.
Who have you been listening to recently?
There’s a young rapper from South London called Enny, who is great. There’s another musician called Ahmad Jamal, a jazz musician—he’s in his 80s now. Hak Baker is another one: he just did a Fire In The Booth with Charlie Sloth, where he took his guitar on and really went hard. Check those guys out, man. They’re hard!
The UK music industry has been swaying towards rap-oriented sounds for a number of years now; it’s essentially become the new ‘pop’. What would you say is your secret to longevity with the type of alternative music you make?
I think what I’ve always tried to keep in my music is a pure message, you know? My approach in creating music and what I want to say in my music has always been something very pure and close to my heart. I’ve always been inspired by musicians who think the same thing: that music should be for the people. It shouldn’t be for the radio playlists or the labels, it should just be for the heart and souls of the people who are listening. Music should reflect the people who are listening and that’s what I’ve always kept in my music. It’s about being real, that’s what my fanbase connected with in the first place, and I’ve always tried to stay true to that, whether that be in my music or in my interviews or whatever. So if you’re asking for a secret ingredient, that’s the best one I can offer. Just be true and real and stay consistent. My messages stay the same, and they always will.
That takes me onto my next question: you’ve had such a cult following for so many years—what is it about your sound that you think your fans have gravitated towards for almost a decade?
Well, for me, I’m a voice person, so if I feel something from someone’s voice and I feel that it is very pure and very true, then I connect with that. And I think that’s one element of why people connect with me. I think it has to be the message I give as well, but it might be different for different people. I haven’t changed my message. I’ve developed my sound, but I want to tell stories; I want to develop how I tell those stories and tell them in a more connected way, and write the best songs I can and connect with as many people as I can in the purest way. But I think the message—for me—is what I think keeps people connected the most.
Besides all of the coronavirus issues that have been going on, there’s also been a lot of attention on the Black Lives Matter movement off the back of George Floyd’s death. How important do you think it is for people to show solidarity during this time?
It’s massively important. We’re of a generation that’s experiencing life in a newly connected way, where we are instantly connected to stories and issues throughout the world more than ever before. So at this moment in time, the arm of oppression that people have experienced all over the world for generations and generations, the same structure is still in place. And with the world being so connected in the way it is, that is now being highlighted. But it’s now the time for young people to come together in the way that we have been doing, and to change a class structure and an economic structure that has benefited off this oppression over the years. The outcry over the death of George Floyd has shown that when real problems go unspoken by leaders and politicians, the power of the people’s voice is the last thing left. The oppression of the black community is emblematic of how the world runs, so if we don’t stand up together for every injustice then we stand for nothing. To enjoy black culture and art but not stand up for the people behind it, I see that as very problematic. For a lot of people, I think it’s time to really look deep into themselves: are you for the people or do you want to bury your head in the sand?