I’m sat at my desk on a rainy Friday afternoon, my conversation counterpart waiting for a lift to a studio in Staines. This time at the other end of the phone is Nottingham-born singer-songwriter Ady Suleiman, who is on the cusp of releasing his long-awaited debut album next year. Having previously won the ‘Breakthrough Act of the Year’ award at Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards and gaining a legion of fans from the likes of Chance the Rapper to Michael Kiwanuka, Ady is set for even higher heights than he’s experienced thus far.
‘[I’ve been] recording, finishing off some bits from the album,’ he tells me excitedly. ‘It’ll be such a relief, there’s been work on it for so long and so many different stages. The experience of working with a major label, which now I’m not… this started before them. It’s been, like, a long period, it’s gone down different directions, but it’ll be good to shed my skin, give it to the world and move on and start writing new stuff’.
Ady’s natural and effortless vocals combined with a fusion of classic soul, R&B and pop genres has made him truly distinctive from your average musician, and it’s no surprise that fans are getting restless awaiting his first LP, having been releasing music for the last few years in a stream of singles and EPs.
‘I apologise sincerely!’ he remarks, ‘Without getting into too much detail, politics here and there, putting tracks out, it’s just been a long time coming. I’ve had these songs for so long, some of them are the first songs I’ve ever written. I’m 25 now, I wrote this stuff when I was 18 and 19, so it will be great,’ he promises.
This impatience should be seen as a compliment on his fan’s part. Ady’s Live in Manchester, This Is My EP and What’s The Score EPs, while critically acclaimed, act solely as a collection of teasers that have seen him receive a heck of a lot of national radio play. But with his latest releases, a double A-side of ‘Not Giving Up’ and ‘Say So’, are these the real taster of what’s to come next year?
‘With ‘Not Giving Up’, it’s two A-sides; I wanted to put more music out before I drop the album so it didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s been almost a year, just so you know that a record is coming,’ he quips. ‘[I’m] getting back into the flow, and I chose these two because, I mean, I just love both the songs,’ he chuckles down the phone. ‘I didn’t wanna just pick one, I thought it would be good as two A-sides.
‘The video is about loving someone who is spiralling into a very negative place, and the more time you spend with them, the more likely you are to spiral with them. You want space but it’s not easy to leave because you love this person, and deep down you know they don’t want to live the way they are living and don’t have the strength to stop.’
Well, I can’t argue with that – the more Ady Suleiman, the better. With him finding his feet once more, Ady is set to get back on the road very soon, hosting a string of intimate live shows. Something that he couldn’t be happier about doing. ‘You always get a bit nervous, like, the London show at The Jazz Café is sold out already! It was the first place I went to watch a show in London, to see DJ Premier just after Guru had died, so he did like a three-hour extended set.’ He recalls playing hip hop tunes down town with the lads and shouting about the big city, excited to be returning with his band and friends back together once more.
But what would he be doing now if he hadn’t found this particular musical path? He’s been lucky so far, with critical success and collaborations with artists such as Joey Bada$$, but was music his first choice? Would we instead be supporting Suleiman on the football pitch, or talking about him as an up-and-coming painter? It’s hard to imagine him using his talents elsewhere…
‘Things I’ve just loved have been hobbies like football, art and painting, but I ended up doing music because I got a good reception and then it turned into a career… I just do it because I love it.’ He confesses that he’s always wanted to be a writer, explaining ‘I’m really badly dyslexic and lost a lot of confidence, it’s weird that I’ve now ended up being a writer! … Although words can be my enemy, I rely on them a lot to get through’.
Despite his struggles with dyslexia tending to affect the speed of his writing on occasion, it seems he actually reaps the rewards of a longer, more thought-out song-writing process. ‘It is weird because you’re born with it you don’t know any different,’ he says, ‘They found out really early when I first went to primary school so I’ve always known it and I’ve always had support, whether it’s family or extra time on exams, stuff like that.
‘I’ve never really noticed it as a disability, but in my adult life I’ve realised how different I find some things, emails or writing articles, song-writing… writing lyrics is so slow but I wouldn’t change it. It allows you to look at things in a different way; my brain takes a different, maybe longer route, with an interesting perspective. I feel it more in my adult life, especially as you lose that support network.’
Speaking of struggles, our chat turns towards his most recent venture: a torch song for charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably). With his recording of the famed Bill Withers track ‘Lean On Me’. The choice was one that didn’t come straight away, but rather from asking for advice from his mum. ‘Lyrically, the whole campaign is summed up in that song, and with him being one of my favourite artists it just made perfect sense,’ he tells me. ‘I wasn’t really in a bad place when they asked me for the song, but it was so weird… the next couple of months was a really difficult time for me, and even though the song started out as something my mum suggested, I rinsed that song so much by the time it came out!
‘When I actually chose it, the campaign really helped me. For me it’s genres, I usually just play a genre, something like Motown; I’ve never had one song that’s helped me out until I did this.’
Now that we’re finally being graced with a potential debut album on the horizon, releasing through his own independent Pumba Records label early next year, Ady says, ‘A lot of songs I’m proud of for different reasons, so it’s difficult to choose one.’ Talking about his favourite, ‘State of Mind’ is mentioned, alongside ‘Longing for Your Love’. ‘I’m just really proud of that song, with the chord progression and the lyrics, the melody and lyrics go together… it’s just an easy song, I didn’t slave over it for too long and it felt right when I was making it.’
From the sound of his latest releases, if they’re anything to go by, his debut will be a highly anticipated treat to feast on. And if you can’t wait until his tour or album for your next Ady fix, why not give his brand new music video, out today, a watch down below?
Tickets for Ady’s tour are on sale now at gigst.rs/AdySu.
[Originally written for tmrw magazine]