Ady Suleiman: Exclusive shoot for FAULT Issue 28

Ady Suleiman was shot by Miles Holder and styled by Edith Walker Millwood exclusively for FAULT Magazine Issue 28 – the Structural Issue. Interview by Will Soer.

Ady Suleiman knows who he is. Since he started singing his own songs aged 18 he’s been through a lot; collaborations with superstars (Chance the Rapper, Joey Bada$$, Erykah Badu), major label deals, and intense promotion schedules. His blend of honesty and groove formed irresistible rolling RnB, that explored the issues of his life in real time. Last year he wrote an article for the Independent opening up about recent mental health issues, a heavy stall on his mind and career that had taken a lot of work and lifestyle changes to release. Today I’m talking to him a couple of weeks before his debut album Memories will drop, and one day before he thinks he’ll be over a flu, but things are calm where he is. He’s enjoyed the excuse to binge-watch TV in his London flat and feels excited to be back on the road. Before getting into the interview we talk about another recent experience he enjoyed; his photoshoot with FAULT chief-editor Miles Holder; ‘it’s a skill for the photographer to get a natural look, as standing in front of loads of bright lights is always a bit tense.’

FAULT: Do you find photoshoots that different from performing in gigs, in terms of aesthetically presenting yourself?

Ady Suleiman: With music you always have the song. Any time I get lost and start thinking ‘oh shit there’s a lot of people in here’ and that’s in my mind, I say to myself ‘listen to the music’ and I can get back into character.

One thing I noticed in your music is that there’s a lot of direct addresses, to friends and lovers, when performing these tracks do you go into that headspace?

I think it’s really good to, as it’s like a scripted performance; you can perform the lines in a million ways, some are right. You can just go onstage and perform, and people would think it’s alright, but I want that extra level; the songs are personal and emotional and quite direct, so I want people to feel that story. I don’t necessarily visualise the person I’m addressing, but I always think about me as a character, what am I showing here to the audience, the emotion I was feeling when I wrote that song.

Do some of your tracks have an element of you talking directly to yourself?

100%, it works in both ways. For example, with Why You Runnin Away, it came about from me being frustrating with someone close to me, I was like why the fuck are you doing this shit. As I wrote it I related it to myself; maybe me running away doesn’t have as much consequence as yours does because you’re in a more severe matter, but I can still apply this to myself.

I recently read an article that connected the rise of quiet-storm style RnB in the US with political tension, as it’s a time when people need help with pessimism and anxiety. Do you think about your music as something that could help people like this?

Definitely. It always depends on the concept, sometimes it is just a story, but sometimes I think what am I trying to say with the story? Why am I telling it? Music is stuff that you say, you know everyone goes through, I can get away with saying it by singing it. Like with Running Away maybe I didn’t actually say that stuff to my friend. Some other people are comfortable just saying that stuff normally, but me not so much.

Do you feel like, this ability to express yourself more through song than through spoken word is aided by your musical lineage? Do you think that, in comparison to other genres, your style empowers you more?

I don’t think so, because I don’t really think of genres as doing a specific thing. I think I’d still be direct if I was into metal. If someone gave me a hip hop beat, a reggae beat, a soul beat, a jazz beat, what I’d do on top of this would be similar in terms of my delivery. Genre for me is more the instrumentation and what you put around it, rather than delivery. I think I got that from Amy Winehouse, because she was doing Jazz on that first record, but her lyrics were like ‘I need to get the right angle so he can fuck me right’. That’s why I really liked it, it was contemporary; she spoke the same way that we speak. I wanna talk the way I talk and speak freely.

So is she the GOAT for you?

Vocally, yeah 100%. She made me believe in myself, because she did that jazz/hip hop cross when I was wondering if I’d be able to the music I wanted to make.

She gave British music more hunger for that kind of direct honesty and strident character, that broke away from the semi-American ambiguous Simon Cowell delivery.

Yeah absolutely, I feel like I knew her, like she was my mate. When I went to see that documentary about her everyone in the cinema left feeling the same way, and I felt annoyed, like ‘you don’t know her better than me!’ I don’t think we’ll see anyone like that for some time.

Listening to the 6 minute version of Need Somebody To Love makes it clear how central rhythm is to your voice, even the acapella section keeps a headnod going, and I could tell when the track’s end came without checking my phone screen because your voice broke time and curtails off. Where do you think that flow in your voice comes from? I’m assuming it’s not Amy Winehouse.

I don’t know, maybe hip hop, I listen to a lot of stuff like Damian Marley and Lauryn Hill. This is just me making sense of the question, it might not be true, but I think it’s because of my dyslexia. My reading comprehension is actually quite bad, so when I write something I freestyle. The freestyle has a specific flow, and I write to that flow. Some people can write something and then change the melody afterwards but that’s not how my brain works, it’s too fucking slow. I wish I could, because it takes ages to write this way, but once I’ve written something it’s already got an accent. Because I write in this instinctive manner I feel stuck to this flow. The music’s put around that; I don’t write to beats, it always starts with me and the guitar. It’s always so natural, which can be a fault sometimes because I want to just write a sentence, but at the same time it helps bring that uniqueness. Like I don’t focus on that flow in my music, it’s not a conscious thing, it’s just me. If you really want to be unique, even if you can’t sing, just crack your voice on a record, because no one else has your voice.

You sing about your social anxiety in Pass The Alcohol; is it difficult to re-access songs that are about being in that dark place?

Absolutely not. Those songs written about my mental fragility, I find it really easy to slip back into them, probably because I still have those thoughts but I respond differently to them. That song was about a time when I was using alcohol to deal with social anxiety, and I can still imagine doing that, but I’m choosing not to. Serious and State of Mind can be harder because they’re more about me having a theory, and I’ve developed on those theories now; I see naivety in them.

Do you wanna keep it that way, or would you consider rewriting songs to fit where you are now?

The only thing I sometimes do is in the outros, I’ll add little bits on, it’s a reflective period. And that’s actually how Need Somebody To Love was, the rappy part after the big chorus when it’s like *sings ‘bam bam bam bam’ beautifully*, in the story it’s like ‘cool, now I’ve met that person.’ But because it’s all me it’s not hard to go back to those places.

Do you think that your ability to slip into the mindset of something that’s been hard for you is easier once that you’ve solidified it into a song?

There’s a sense of that, because there’s a distance from it. When I come offstage I’m not still in that song, it’s over, though that depends where you are in your life. When I wrote Drink Too Much and performed it in those months, I’d come offstage and think about it, and I’m having a fucking drink. This is why I called the album Memories, because these songs are like little segments, little thoughts. Have you seen that Harry Potter thing, where he pulls memories out and puts them in a bowl? I can go into the songs and then come back out, without it sticking.

Photographer: Miles Holder
Fashion: Edith Walker Millwood
Grooming: Shamirah Sairally
Words: Will Soer

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