So striking is SIPHO.’s sound — quick fire drums, zingy guitars, melodious vocals — that you can’t help but tune in. Whether it's the crashing mix of jungle beats heard on Glue or the bassy grooves which run through Lock It In (No Regrets), the rising Birmingham artist's debut album Prayers & Paranoia is the proud outcome of its creator's experimental approach to songwriting.
‘For a while I didn't even know what any of [the songs] were about,' the Dirty Hit-signed musician, wearing a bold scarlet tracksuit, tells M from the front seat of his car. 'I felt that these words suited what was coming together. The first song Elevation and the last Plans are the overarching ones — they say everything I want [to say].’
As he soaks in the ‘relief’ of having his first full-length release out in the world, the 23-year-old can also bask in the knowledge that he has now announced himself as a musical philosopher who can stack Radiohead and Queens of the Stone Age-style guitar hooks alongside his lyrical stories of faith and fallibility. Across this project, SIPHO. showcases the relatability of his songwriting, particularly as he is an artist motivated by the barriers affecting everyday people — from the pandemic and the cost of living crisis to being part of an extremely online generation.
While working on Prayers & Paranoia, SIPHO. quickly learned that both its manner of expression and production style would be vital. In a digitally dominated world where genuine connections can be tough to forge, he manages to imbue a sense of togetherness across the album, from its cover art (which pays tribute to Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali) to its frenetic sound. ‘I wanted to be tactful about how I approached that side of things,’ he explains to M. ‘It’s a homage to the different ways we worship and contemplate, and the gathering of people. There's a reason that people bump to concerts, and listen to music and sing together.’
One band SIPHO. found particular creative inspiration in was Radiohead. ‘The way they express things, it’s very urgent,' he says. 'For me, the first track [on Prayers & Paranoia] was alarm bells ringing — it was about being very urgent and very sincere about everything. If you look at Radiohead’s OK Computer or Queens of the Stone Age’s Songs for the Deaf, there are all these different layers. But, at the end of the day, you know what they’re saying and it’s right there.'
SIPHO.’s desire for immediacy is splattered across the dance beats and unsuspecting piano moments that crop up throughout the album. It’s all part of his overall ambition to drive his sound forward in a bid to be heard and not just listened to.
‘I want to keep on making sure there's good music around and pushing things forward,’ he says firmly. His goal seems to be paying off: ‘The most random thing I was told today is that there's a radio station in Okinawa, Japan that's been playing Lock It In (No Regrets) every day. I just want people to hear it and resonate with it.’
Making your mark as an emerging artist in this way is no easy feat, especially when it comes to producing a record. For SIPHO., receiving career support from the PPL Momentum Music Fund and PRS Foundation's International Showcase Fund was instrumental to both the overall creative process behind the album and establishing his presence on the touring circuit.
‘It helped us grasp certain opportunities where you need the funds to bring everyone together and make things as efficient as possible,’ he says about the benefits of the funding. ‘Getting stuff sorted for live shows like SXSW, and being able to go and meet people out there and have that experience, helps a tonne. Without it, we wouldn't have been able to do that. I'm grateful to have had the help from PRS.’
Much like how his album recognises the cost of living crisis, SIPHO. is well aware of the difficulties of breaking through in an economically-challenged industry. But he is hopeful that organisations like PRS can further help facilitate the future of upcoming talent.
‘In this climate, [funding] is definitely going to be needed,' he says. 'We come from this little island where some of the greatest records ever have been made. We need to make sure we're paying homage to the institution that inspired me and so many other people to keep doing these things. So many legendary artists come from here, and I'm sure they had their support and help too. You wouldn't want to let such a legacy under-perform, so it's important to have those things [in place] to keep the [creative] push going.’
As SIPHO. gears up for his next career step (‘I’ve already started. I’ll do it — you’ll see’), the musician is still appreciative of reaching the coveted debut album milestone.
‘It's a good reminder of where I've come from and paints a really beautiful picture that makes you think about where to go next time — I feel that personally,’ he says. ‘It’s also been an awesome chance to hear my favourite combination of instruments and ideas with synths, guitars, drum and bass and strings. I think it’s a great first attempt.’
SIPHO.’s debut album Prayers & Paranoia is out now via Dirty Hit.