“The more confused I get, the more I’m growing as a writer – I’m getting better at expressing confusion.”
So says North London-based musician and producer Leo Bhanji, fresh from the late October release of his five-track EP, Arm’s Length. Having released his acclaimed debut No Guard in the midst of the UK’s first lockdown last year, working through feelings of uncertainty and self-exploration has become one of the 22-year-old’s artistic trademarks.
Since then, Bhanji has bagged himself a record deal with Dirty Hit and received critical praise for his work. But his knack for creating DIY tunes with dreamlike textures, often produced at home, hasn’t changed much at all. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
“I’ve really examined how I make music because I have resources now,” he continues. “I’ve been trying out a lot of things, and you can hear some of that in Arm’s Length. I’m starting to listen to what I did before I got signed, take in who I was when I first started and every step forward I’ve made.”
Arm’s Length features melancholy, meandering beats overlaid with bare guitar strings and lo-fi, R&B inflections. Its narrative is non-linear, as Bhanji tracks his evolution via witty, sometimes cutting lyrical wordplay. On the pared-back Sea Demon: “I been doin’ transatlantic so that’s why I’m ovеrstated /And these suits talk about mе with blood on their plates /How my money’s on bein’ more than they say.” On the intoxicating title track: ”My shadow like your substance /Shallow like your substance, yeah.”
For the time being, Bhanji is happy to continue using music as a means of figuring it all out. As for how he’s evolved creatively up until this point, “it’s a weird one. I’m not always getting closer to what I want, because I keep finding new things that I have no clue how I’m going to do. I’ll make something and think it’s better than anything I’ve done before. If you’re a writer, every time you’re set back, you’ll be able to express that fluently.”
It is, he concludes, “about developing that craft, even as things get complicated.”
As Bhanji continues on his upwards trajectory, get your 100% fill on why he hates music, his big plans for the world and the weirdest DM he’s ever received.
10% Where were you born, where were you raised and where are you now based?
I was born in California but I’ve been in North London since I was about three years old, and I’ve not moved since.
20% What kind of emotions and experiences influence your work?
Things in my life that feel a bit cinematic. Sometimes you know you’re living a moment that will carry significance when you tell someone about it, the type of experience that would make a good anecdote or story. I have a good sense of knowing when something would sound good if it was retold.
30% If you’re cooking food to impress someone, what will you make?
Indian food! Maybe a couple of dahls.
40% What’s a piece of advice that changed your life?
I enjoy reading writers who write about writing. I’m reading Alice Walker’s essays right now, and she talks about how some of the best novelists didn’t just lock themselves away. She writes about a woman who had five kids and woke up at 4.30am to write before going to work. Some people live their lives and fit creativity in, rather than being an isolated or sheltered creative. That made me think: “Am I going to contribute more by just sitting around playing with words, or having a life of my own?” Not that I have five kids or anything, but you know what I mean.
50% Name something you love, something you like and something you hate.
I love my granny, I like writing and I hate music.
60% Why do you hate music?
That’s my motivation to make music: hating it. If you work hard enough at something, you start to hate it, and that’s how you know you’re properly trying. I’m motivated by hatred.
70% You rule the world for a day. What goes down?
I would try and make a really soft-touch change to the world. When people want to completely revamp things, it would destroy the world’s infrastructure! I’d outlaw inheritance or something minor like that. It’s like a terrarium – you make one change and everything needs to adapt. So I’d make one little economic shift.
80% Which five people, dead or alive, are you doing a Tesco food shop with?
So they’re back from the dead to go shopping with me? I can’t think what they would get out of that. Why am I dragging them along?
90% What’s the strangest DM you’ve received?
There was one I really liked. This guy was like: “Hey man, you’d look younger and cuter if you kept your hair long.” And I did. I said: “Thanks man, I will.” No one tells me these things!
100% What can artists do to help save the world?
Not get stupid and maybe put art aside sometimes. Creativity needs to happen around actual lives. If artists stay grounded in real life and make sure their art is pertinent to reality, I think they’ll contribute more to the world.