Cornfield’s Editor spoke to multi-talented pianist, composer, producer and 2017's Winner of Britain’s Got Talent, Tokio Myers, ahead of his huge UK tour – coming to Birmingham’s O2 Institute 8 April 2018. 

After huge demand, the artist added seven more shows to his previously sold out tour, which will support his debut album ‘Our Generation’. What makes Tokio’s music so unique is his ability to fuse contemporary sounds with older musical influences, giving classical elements fresh, modern twists. 

Having grown up in North London, Tokio was inspired by the music that surrounded him; hip-hop, dance and 90s soul was mixed with the music his Jamaican parents listened to. The eclectic mix of musical styles Toki grew up listening to shaped him as an artist – evident in his completely unique and essentially genre-defying sound. ‘Our Generation’, which topped at Number 4 in the UK charts last year, contains an intriguing blend of original tracks and ingenious re-workings such as Ed Sheeran’s ‘Bloodstream’, The Weeknd’s ‘Angel’ and Robert Miles’ ‘Children’. 

After studying at the Royal College of Music, Tokio embarked upon a series of impressive tours as a studio and session musician, working with the likes of Amy Winehouse, The Police, and Kanye West, something the artists describes as having provided him with invaluable touring experiences.

Following the success of his tour announcement, Tokio has since teamed up with medal winning athlete Jazmin Sawyers as they take on ‘Jerusalem’, the Official England Commonwealth Games Anthem. Released with npower on Syco Music back in March, the collaborative track features a mammoth 54-piece orchestra, accompanied by a 10-person choir, Jazmin on vocals and Tokio on a multitude of keyboards. 

Speaking to Tokio ahead of his Birmingham gig, he revealed his thoughts about his new music, reflecting upon his genre-defying music and intriguing tour production – set to be a whirlwind of audio-visual delights.

So how are you this morning?

Very good! The sun is out today – I think once the sun is shining everyone get in good spirits. So good times! 

It’s still raining down here in Birmingham so I’m jealous. [Laughs] 

[Laughs] Aw, we love Birmingham though!

How has your week been so far?

It’s been very, very productive. Very productive. We are getting everything ready for the tour and yeah, it’s been proper full on [sic] but yeah…we are getting there!

Good to hear! Your remake of the classic song ‘Jerusalem’ with Jazmin Sawyers will be released March 16. How has it been working with Jazmin?

Jazmin is great, she’s a really good laugh. One of the things I like about her is that she’s completely in the zone. I admire the fact that she’s competing in the Commonwealth Games and then at the same time she is able to, you know, casually record a track…

…As you do. [sic] [Laughs]

Yeah as you do! [Laughs] So, yeah I find that really cool, and we get on really well and it’s cool. It’s been really exciting working with her!


Fantastic. I know you recorded the single alongside a huge 54-piece orchestra and 10-person choir – this must have been an incredible collaborative experience?

Yeah it was! We took over Abbey Road, the legendary Abbey Road. A full on [sic] 60-piece orchestra and a huge choir as well, and we had people competing in the Commonwealth Games join in. And everybody’s parents and friends came along. [Laughs]. There were over 100 people in the room and it was such a cool and special moment – for sure. 

It sounds like it must have been a phenomenal experience, really looking forward to hearing the track. 

Wicked!

Of course you’re also going on tour, and coming to Birmingham on 8 April. You had to add dates too, because you basically sold out everywhere! [Laughs] Did you expect to sell out so many shows on your debut tour?

No not one bit. I think…and I mean this…you just don’t know what to expect at all and I was so, so overwhelmed, and very happy with what happened when we first announced the dates. I think it sold out in like record time – I think it was five minutes or something crazy. So we thought, ‘We have to add some more dates!’ and I think we added three lots of extra dates. So what was meant to be just the five-date tour ended up being something like 25 dates or something like that? So, whatever it’s going to be it’ll be long - the whole of April [Laughs]. I’ve probably got this all wrong. [Laughs] But I’m just so happy that people want to come out and see me perform, I really am. I just can’t wait for people to see it and to see what surprises I’ve got in store. It’s going to be very different to anything anyone has seen, I’m sure everybody says that… [Laughs] because of the concept of who I am – you know, you’re coming to see a pianist - and I’m playing so many different instruments at the same time…and we have like a 7 metre visual screen and I’m working on the lighting too…it’s going to be like watching a movie. I want people to cry and laugh. It should make people feel intense and a bit challenged here and happy there – I want people to just walk away and think, ‘Wow, what was that?’ You know what I mean?


Like a whole audio-visual experience?

Basically, yeah!

That sounds incredible. I know that you were a very experienced session musician and have toured with some fantastic artists and musicians before. Do you think these earlier experiences touring and performing live have shaped your solo career at all? 

Good question. I mean, I never thought I would be a solo performer – especially because it’s very hard to say to people ‘I’m going to make a career out of playing the piano’. So it was never in my mind that I wanted to be a soloist. I always thought I would be a session player or back other artists, but I would say in terms of understanding how touring life works…and all the little aspects that are so important are embedded in me. So now, there is not as much pressure because I understand certain things already, which is great. But of course I’m still learning every day, in terms of being on the stage and stuff [sic]. Every time I’m on the stage I try to push myself, and challenge myself to do something different and never thought I would do. I think by the end of this tour, when I’m going into the festivals and everything, I’m excited to see that transition and see where I can take it. I think people are going to be very surprised, in a good way, seeing the progression since BGT. I don’t think people will expect this. I like to think not. It’s good!


You just mentioned since BGT you have wanted to push yourself further. Do you think as an artist you have changed since you first auditioned for the show? Can you see any changes in yourself?

Only in terms of getting better. The core essence of what people are is always there – I haven’t gone nuts or anything like that…[Laughs] Feeling confident, and knowing who I am is an artist – that has all improved. Understanding where I sit in life…I feel like I’m in a good space and I have my own little lane going on, and I want to carve it out right and the best that I can. 

 

I think because you’re so unique as an artist I think it will be a completely different experience for a lot of audience members, to see you perform live. Your acclaimed album ‘Our Generation’ released in November last year was extremely successful – what a phenomenal debut! How would you describe the sound of your album? I know you mix the ‘old’ with the ‘new’ and play a lot with musical genres.

Thank you! I like to think of artists, like Jamie xx?

Yes - love Jamie xx!

You don’t know what you’re going to get with him. One minute you’re crying your eyes out, and the next you’re raving until the end of the night. [Laughs] I think because I play so many different styles of music you can’t really box me in – I’m doing a track for something right now…I don’t even know if I can say right now it almost slipped out…[Laughs]

[Laughs] 

It’s actually more guitar-y and very ‘stagey’. I like that I can cross over and do all of these things and not lose the essence. For me, it’s all about trying to cause some kind of emotion or stir within you, whether it’s happy or sad…that’s almost like my trait, my signature. It’s hard to box it into something…I think maybe cinematic or soundtrack-kind of…I don’t know. I’m waiting for someone to give it a genre if I’m honest with you. I get asked this all the time and just say piano, production, beats and everything else! [Laughs] 

I think that speaks for itself – you can’t just pinpoint the music to just one style or genre because it’s such a wonderful mix of things. You’ve spoken before about the music you’ve grown up listening to, and how your dad’s records (such as The Beatles) have influenced your music. Are there any musicians in particular that you feel have really shaped your sound?

I think of recent; I would say ‘the Kanyes’, people like that are progressively doing different stuff. People like Travis Scott have inspired me when performing live. When Travis Scott performs like his energy is incredible…it does something to me. I would like to bring that kind of energy to my performances. Of course we’ve got Kendrick Lamar, a band called 21 Pilots who I absolutely love, The Slaves are this punk rock duo…it doesn’t matter what genre, whether you’re smashing guitars or staying true to who you are – that’s what gets me the most. Obviously from back in the day there’s people like MJ and Prince and Freddie Mercury – that’s what I grew up listening to. I always thought, ‘Yeah these guys are incredible.’ 

How has it been working on the tour as a whole?

There are so many pieces to the jigsaw puzzle, so many people working on the tour. It just makes me appreciate things more…when you see people like Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar…when you see the production they’ve got, I’m telling you, the work that goes on to make that happen is IN-SANE. I’m just getting a tiny little taste of it, where I am right now in my part of life, but it’s a lot of work and literally 24 hours. I’m on the phone at three in the morning to guys about all kinds of stuff. Yeah, it’s a lot of work but when it’s done it’s something we can all be proud of. 

So you’re talking to the production team and seem to be so involved in different areas, not just with the music. Do you have a creative input with what goes on in the show?

Absolutely! Ab-so-lutely. I have to be so involved in everything that goes into an album I produce – so I’ll be making the merchandise I’ll be involved in the lighting, giving time to every single lighting change or visual…I’ve completely thrown myself into every part of the process and of course I’m working with fantastic people who can make it come to life. It’s a lot man. [Laughs]

[Laughs] Well it sounds like it’s going to be a phenomenal show, it sounds like nothing I’ll have ever seen before so it’ll be really cool to see it come together. 

Wicked, I look forward to seeing you in Birmingham! Cheers darlin’. 

 

Sun 8 May 

Birmingham, O2 Institute         

SOLD OUT

 

Full tracklisting for ‘Our Generation’ below:

1. Red

2. Baltimore

3. Bloodstream

4. Angel

5. Limitless

6. Mercy

7. To Be Loved

8. Children Interlude

9. Children

10. Polaroid

11. Our Generation

12. Lotus Flower

13. Pursuit of Happiness

 

 

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