Coming to listeners from Staffordshire, England the emerging teenage producer XO, aka Sunil Heera first tickled the ears of his university classmates before gaining SoundCloud cred with his first original production "Old Skool". With over 140K listens on his first original output, XO is feeling inspired as he prepares to unveil his debut EP, which is slated to be released later this year.
Born in the 90s, the 18-year-old producer/songwriter is attached to R&B/hip hop rhythms but stays close to the timelessness of house. With plans to surprise fans with some unique productions and unexpected collaborations, XO seems to be posed for a bright 2014 as he gets ready to make his extended debut. Taking a moment to chat to with me between his final year of studies and crafting music, XO opens up to EARMILK readers about the what it means to be a English producer on the rise.
EARMILK: Tell readers a little more about how you got started as a producer and writer.
XO: I first got into music production when I was around 14 years old and started to write songs at a similar time – of course I wasn’t any good! I downloaded my first copy of FL Studio at that age and haven’t looked back since. I’m not really sure as to how or why I became interested in making music at such a young age but it’s definitely been really beneficial towards myself and has put me in a good position at 18.
For those who know me on a personal level, it goes without saying that I’m really passionate about music and I’m constantly searching for new artists, styles and songs – I guess this was an important factor when making the decision to become a producer.
EM: Obviously you are an emerging artist, tell readers about your sound and how you gravitated to house influences.
XO: It was just a style I’ve always been familiar/felt connected with, especially with house being such a timeless genre, it only felt natural to create it.
The sound that’s been associated with me so far includes bright chord sequences, catchy vocal samples, alternative breakdowns and a breakbeat sample or two. Before XO, I had casually produced a lot of music which fizzled out pretty quickly, whereas with house, it feels like it’s always been around and hopefully will be for a long time. It’s great to see a lot of house producers doing so well because of the popularity of the genre over the past couple of years.
EM: You started gaining recognition from your remixes, but recently revealed your first original production “Old Skool,” what went into making your first original production vs. the remixes?
XO: I think it’s important for me to gravitate towards original productions this year as I’m really keen to showcase a side of me that hasn’t necessarily been revealed just yet. Yes, “Old Skool” includes elements which are very much similar to the remixes, however, a lot of music in the pipeline includes original vocals and ‘pop’ structures – significantly different to what most of my listeners are used to. “Old Skool” wasn’t really approached any differently to “Golden” or “No Scrubs” or any other track. It was just a case of “do” and trying not to over think it.
EM: What are you studying in college? Do you see music as your career path?
XO: I’m currently in my last year at college finishing my A Levels in Psychology, P.E. & Graphic Design. I definitely see music as my career path long term, it’s all I ever seem to be doing, even at the most crucial point of the academic year. I think staying up late ‘til ridiculous times writing songs and working on tracks when I really should be in bed or revising for exams speaks for itself! Fingers crossed I don’t miserably fail...
EM: How does success at such a young age impact you? Or what is it like to be in college, while creating music for a scene that is heavily listened by college students?
XO: I’d like to think that I’m quite a grounded individual and to be honest, I don’t ever really bring up anything XO related unless I’m asked. A lot of people in college don’t even know I produce music and I have in the past actually seen someone listening to one of my tracks on their iPod!
It’s really flattering to know that people support my music but I try not to think about the audience it may or may not reach, I ultimately make music to enjoy myself – and if people like it then that’s a massive bonus!
EM: You track “Old Skool” has a distinctive sound with unique “throw back” garage and 2-step touches, how were you influenced to create music with influences beyond your years?
XO: Even as a 90s kid, I still feel like I was born slightly too late! It would’ve been so cool to actually live through that great musical era rather than being born smack bang in the middle of it. Fortunately for me, my family are pretty clued up when it comes to 90s house and garage, my older sister has in fact influenced me on a couple of occasions when producing tracks. I was brought up around a lot of hip hop, r&b and drum & bass/jungle too – I guess that also helped to mould the sound that’s been heard from me so far.
EM: Do you feel like “old school” 80s & 90s inspired sounds are trend in the house scene or something that will be around for the long run?
XO: I think 90s sounds in particular will always be part and parcel of the house scene as that was a significant decade for the genre, helping to build the foundation for the typical house sound which is so currently popular. Also, the great thing about being a producer is that you have the freedom to sample and incorporate whatever the bloody hell you like in to your music, it’s all down to the individual.
EM: Who are your current influences and who are you most interested in collaborating wtih?
XO: At the moment, I’ve been influenced by quite a range of artists and producers including the likes of SOHN, Cashmere Cat and Kaytranada. I’ve also been listening to a couple of underground producers such as Darius Syrossian and Frits Wentink – currently loving their stuff.
As for collaborations, there’s a really cool Australian artist/producer called Jordan Rakei, I would love to work with him at some point. He’s an extremely talented singer/songwriter and his overall sound is so diverse, ranging from hip hop to reggae influenced tracks – love it.
EM: What can you tell me about your forthcoming EP?
XO: Well firstly, it'll definitely be a surprise to most of my followers, hopefully a pleasant one. I've spent time carefully developing the concept of each track for a few months, all of which will feature original vocals - something which hasn't been done under XO just yet. I've also written one of the songs on there so I'm keen to see how everyone responds to the artist side of me.
Most of the EP is still in progress, I’d say it’s about 60% complete so far but all will become clear within the next couple of months! Excited for sure!
EM: What do you see coming in 2014 for your career? Are you planning tours, stopping at festivals, etc?
XO: I’ll hopefully continue to make more good music, write songs and collaborate with some cool artists over the course of this year. I don’t currently have anything planned as far as tours and festivals go for this year, although I would love to play one at some point! Any further booking information will be posted on the old Facebook/Twitter page as always!