From an outside perspective, it’s easy to look at Maverick Sabre through a lens of disregard; the BBC Radio1 regular who was somewhat affiliated with pop’s dubstep annex and who looked like he might be resigned to the scores of artists who fizzle into obscurity. In all honesty, it was only weeks before my chat with him that I began to fully appreciate and digest his stories of love and social mobility, really listening rather than stockpiling him with a list of musicians that I perhaps didn’t find particularly enthralling.
Sabre, in fact, is unrelenting in his sense of identity and immoveable on issues which he regards as important. His debut Lonely Are The Brave, which reached No. 2 in the UK Charts, was evidently a commercial success and came with all the things you would expect from an 21 year old creating an inherently pop record: love, youth and loss. But far from the normality of apolitical commercial pop, Sabre offered stark illustrations of life in a grey, urban Britain and detailed injustices through characters hounded by a questionable police force; aligning himself with the likes of Plan B rather than, as his voice may suggest, Amy Winehouse. This, he told me, was his “duty”.
Throughout our conversation, it became obvious that although Sabre does primarily deal in the typical themes that we associate with pop crooners, he is not one to be defined by a single facet of his being. A perfectionist who is in equal measure a romantic and a protestor, who feels obliged to expose what he sees as injustices to his audience. Principally, however, he is someone who still drinks in the same pub and wants to keep his head beneath the clouds.
Read on for the story of Maverick’s friendship with Joey Bada$$, his obsession with vinyl and the news on his forthcoming LP Innerstanding.
Lonely Are The Brave has been re-issued on vinyl. What’s it like to see that record on wax?
I was raised on wax. From a kid, before I was listening to tapes or CDs or anything like that, I was looking through my dad’s crates upstairs, back in Ireland. So anything of mine on vinyl takes me aback a bit and it’s definitely a proud moment.
Are you a vinyl collector yourself then?
I’m a vinyl collector myself, yeah. The first time I came to London and got a bit of money for myself, the first thing I bought was a turntable and a good sound system and went down and bought as many records as I could.
Do you have any particular favourites in your collection?
Urm, let me think. There’s one that’s quite close, two actually. I’ve got a Lewis Parker, a record called ‘Masquerades and Silhouettes’. If you’re not familiar with him yourself, he’s a UK emcee and producer and his beats are really inspiring. He really inspired me on my first record, I used to listen to him a lot. Another one is a compilation of classic Irish folk and folklore stories and songs and it’s quite close to me. I got loads of reggae and soul and they all mean different things, but those two stand out in my mind as I’m looking at them.
Has the traditional Irish music stayed with you from growing up in Ireland?
Yeah, well that’s really what I was raised on. I come from a line of Irish musicians that have been heavily influenced by both traditional stuff and a lot of blues and soul, early rock n roll, Chuck Berry and Ray Charles. My grandfather, back in the 50s in the small town I was raised in, used to go around and play Ray Charles songs and blues songs at the pub. He was known for it and he passed that onto my father. My father got into rock n’ roll and that all got passed down to me. I was raised off trad-Irish, blues, reggae and soul. It’s been in the family for generations.
There’s been a delay in the forthcoming record. Has there been any pressure from your label to get it finished?
Look, don’t get me wrong there was pressure. I think the main bit of pressure was probably right after I finished touring the first album which was at the end of 2012 and the start of 2013. That was really the pressure, because you know, the way the current climate is now, labels expect and the industry itself expects albums out almost 6 months apart. The thing was, I couldn’t release anything. I hadn’t experienced enough to release anything yet. I needed to find myself more and take a break. I’d cheat myself and cheat the fans of my music by giving them something bland, or something that sounded like b-sides to Lonely Are The Brave. I wanted to go away and experience life. Fall in love, fall out of love, see the world and travel to different places I had never been to and been inspired by different musicians that I had never played with before. I needed to do that to come back and be ready for it and that’s what I did.
Did you ever feel compromised as an artist by that pressure?
Labels are labels. It’s a business and you have to realise that and not get offended by it. If you take it in a personal way you’ll be offended every minute of the day being in the music industry. You have to realise they’re a business and they wanna make money and profit off things. At the end of the day, it’s how much you give and how much you allow them to have an input into your creativity. For me, I can’t put out anything unless I’m happy with it, so it doesn’t matter what pressure anyone puts on me or what anyone says to me. Unless I’m happy with the creation and the art I’ve put out or have ready to put out, then I’m not gonna put it out.
How much is left to complete on Innerstanding?
It’s done now. It’s just one mix left on the second single and then that’s it. There’s no definite date, but it’s September. We haven’t picked an exact date in September yet, but it definitely will be September.
Are you looking forward to having something new to play?
Yeah, I’m looking forward to getting back out on the road to be honest with you and just touring. That’s what I miss. We toured so much off the first record and you realise how important touring is and especially when you’ve got new music. It adds a whole new dynamic to the show, so I’m just looking forward to getting out on the road and playing as much music to as many people as possible to be honest. Do you prefer being on the road or plugging away at the studio? There always is something special about the early creation, the birth of the music. There’s definitely an excitement that you don’t get out on the road compared to those early stages. But for me, touring is key. That’s where you get the natural reaction off people and especially when you play new music. You can get lost sometimes in the studio and get lost in your own head, both in a positive way and a negative way. You doubt yourself or think something connects more than it actually does. When you go straight onto the road, you get the immediate reaction off people. So, for me, I love being on the road. That’s where I feel comfortable.
A few weeks back, there was an article about musicians on tour and some pretty serious difficulties that they suffer from. Do you find anything particularly tough about it?
What is tough is relationships. That’s the first thing that comes into my mind. Relationships that I have to keep up. Both friendships and love relationships are hard to keep up when you’re on the road because it’s a constant thing. You’re always in a different place, you’re always travelling and you’re schedule is on top of you all the time. When you come of stage, you have the high of being on stage and normally you want to go out boozin’ and stuff like that and it’s a constant thing. That’s the only negative side. At the end of the day, you have to find a balance and a commitment to it. My thing is, to try and keep my head in check when I’m on tour. I get a bit excited and I hit it hard when I go on tour and I end up getting a bit ill halfway through. I need to look after my throat and take a day or two rest, but apart from that it’s just keeping up relationships.
You’ve been back in the studio with Joey Bada$$ - what’s it like working with him?
Yeah, Joey’s wicked. Me and Joey connected about three years ago just naturally over Twitter. We are both fans of each other and we started messaging each other. When the time arose to work together, I did something for him; a remix which actually ended up being the single ‘My Yout’ that he released. Yeah, then he jumped on ‘We Don’t Wanna Be’ when he came up to London and I jumped on a song ‘On and On’ on his record and we recorded a couple other little pieces which haven’t been released yet. We work very similar, we are of a very similar mindset and we just connected. I don’t like to work with people in that sense unless we really connect and we’re close and we’re friends before anything and we connect on a different way before we get into the studio. Yeah, that’s my brother there. Being in the studio with him is inspiring.
He has a real serious work ethic and DIY roots. Do you think that’s why you get on with him?
Yeah, definitely. It’s a roots way that he has done everything in the sense of what he believes in, how he believes he can achieve it, what he has actually done and the music he has created. That’s very similar to my outlook on things. We have a similar outlook on the world and on music so yeah, I think that’s why we connect definitely.
That song [We Don’t Wanna Be] is stuffed with socio-political commentary, as are some tracks on Lonely Are The Brave. How much does importance does that still hold on your writing?
Yeah, I think it’s very important. I always try not to speak for any other musicians - everyone’s got their own path - but the music that inspired me and my opinion of musicians and what we should do with our music, is that I think it’s our duty to serve the people and represent the times that we live in and what people really feel in the society and the culture of the world we live around. The injustices we see and the unspoken, unheard voices of people that can’t speak up and don’t have the chance to speak up. It’s our duty to speak for that. To be aware and to be conscious of what we live around and to try and make it better through our music. For me that’s always what music’s always been about. So, I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a musician or as an artist if I wasn’t speaking about the world around me in a real sense.
Is it surprising to you that the political commentary stuff is fizzling out, considering the political environment we live in today?
I’m not sure if it’s surprising, because I think there is a reason it is fizzling out. People don’t feel they can make money off it, that’s why it’s not being promoted as much and that’s why certain topics and certain music is being pushed. This kind of view of idolism and over-sexualised and over-violence stuff is being pushed quite a lot because there’s a money making scheme behind it. Positive, conscious stuff is not really seen as being worthy of that in a sense. But, I think within time stuff like that will only fall in on itself, you know. As you can see, day by day people are getting more aware of politics and more annoyed at the powers that be not solving problems. It’s not just affecting working classes, but it’s effecting middle classes. It may not be representative now, but I hope it will shine through a bit more. But right now, you’re right it’s not. It’s kind of fizzled out a bit. It’s a rarity, especially in mainstream music it is a rarity, but I think it will come back and if it doesn’t then we’ll have to fight for it to come back.
It is such an important aspect of life that music can stand up to. Throughout history, music has been the most effective art form at getting people to change opinions.
Most definitely, it’s the last boundary we have really got. Not to be too extreme about things, but it’s the last stand we’ve really got as people because every other form seems to have been taken over and dumbed down and desensitised to the world around us and I think music is the last stand. Everyone has an iPod, or iTunes on their computer or an Apple product or something. So, everyone has got music around them, probably more than they’ve ever had. So, let’s use that and use those 3 or 5 minutes in a kid’s ears, or a woman on the tube on the way to work, or a man on the way to five a side football on a Sunday and let’s say something that can change their perspective, and let them feel their being spoken for.
Will Innerstanding feature this stuff too?
Yeah of course! That will always be within my music. I can’t not write about that side. It’s like blocking out a side of the way I think. Obviously, I’m an emotional, romantic lover as well, so there’s always going to be love. There will always be personal stories about family and situations I see with my own eyes before me, but there will always be a commentary on issues that I feel need to be spoken about when I sat down and wrote the record.
Having a number 2 album and being a house-hold name, has that buffered you from these things on a ground level?
Well no, because I’ve never kept myself in a bubble. I may be seen at award shows, or a premiere here or there, or a fancy party with what people call ‘celebrities’ and other artists, but I still do the exact same things. I’m still in the same pubs, I still hang around the same people, I’m still on a ground level. I’m still walking the same streets, you’ll still see me on the top of a bus, you know what I mean? I’m still about. I’m not suddenly sitting in the back of Addison Lee cabs 24 hours a day. [laughs] Obviously, things have changed to a certain degree because I’m not the 17/18 year old kid that was on the dole back in Ireland. I’m not on that level anymore, but I still see everything and I’m still conscious of everything and still on a ground level. As long as I am possibly able to, I’d like to keep myself at that level. I think that’s the way I’ve always been able to connect with people, you know? I’m still here, I’m still around, I haven’t changed and I’ve still kept my head to the ground and my feet on it.
The ‘We Don’t Wanna Be’ video was directed by Drew Cox. How did you get in touch with him?
A friend of mine, the producer of ‘We Don’t Wanna Be’, New Machine – Adam Jordan, he actually had done some work with Drew. Drew had done a simple thing where he was in his room and was doing some funky shots in a simple bedroom setting and Adam showed me these shots and I was like: “These are brilliant. Let’s get him down for ‘We Don’t Wanna Be’”. The vision I had for ‘We Don’t Wanna Be’, Drew saw it exactly. We connected through it the exact same as me and Joey. He felt what needed to be represented and didn’t want to shy away from anything and we just kinda clicked. It’s the same thing that happened with me a Joey. Me and Drew clicked and got the vision and that was it.
He’s a real grity director.
Exactly and that’s what you need, especially for ‘We Don’t Wanna Be’. I couldn’t have some soft video that shies away from everything and puts a bubble over everything. I needed it to be gritty and raw, you know?
UK hip hop and grime is obviously blowing up a lot more, now more so in America as well. How do you see the relationship between UK and US hip hop developing? Is there something they have that we still haven’t grasped yet, or vice versa?
I watched an interview with Skepta recently and he said the way of breaking into the US with hip hop we’re doing over here, is to not make them think that we’re trying to do something that they’ve already done. Just like when the south came up and everyone was thinking “All we’ve been hearing is New York hip hop and boom-bap and New York emcees with new York accents for years” and then suddenly the south came out. It was just a different vibe, they were doing their own thing, their own take on hip hop and I think that’s just what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to represent ourselves. Music across the border, from The Beatles, to Amy Winehouse, Adele and everyone has always connected, you know? We’ve always been doing our own thing anyway, so we just need to stick to that and not try and separate ourselves and be viewed in that way. So it’s almost like another state.
I agree. That’s what I love about grime. It doesn’t try and pander to an ideal of hip hop, people like Skepta just do what they do.
Yeah, of course. Just do what you do and make the style come out. I love when I see everyone coming back out in the tracksuits and everything again. I was like “Yeah, that’s awesome. People can respect that” You can even see the influence it’s having on American people. When I went to New Orleans recently, I was asking a couple of young lads down there who they like in the UK scene and everyone was saying Skepta, JME and they knew everything about grime. That’s a positive thing, that people in those kind of areas are connecting with it. It can only be a positive thing really.
Maverick Sabre's new single 'Walk Into The Sun' is out now.