Friday, 12 May 2017

Nurturing creativity with L-FRESH The LION

Photo by Clare Hawley (

As Become celebrates an incredible year since its release, we sat down with L-FRESH The LION to explore the elusive nature of creativity as he prepares for the next stage of what's to come. L-FRESH delves into his athletic approach to music strategy, how he recognises the potential of an idea for a song, and what his song-writing process looks like in its earliest stages.

Part 1 Nurturing Creativity

"You're trying to find a good balance of what works for you and what works for your brand, and for me at the moment it's been about self development, a lot of reflection, and to just live for a bit because that's where content comes from - it's how ideas are solidified and nurtured."

What have you been up to since the release of Become?

It's been really busy since then. As soon as the album got released we were peak album cycle - we were in the middle of executing plans that we had thought of six to twelve months prior.  It was heads down, let's go focus on this as a project and then how to maximise the momentum of the record. After the record came out and after the tour, my focus shifted on some of the things I had going on at the end of the year. I went to the US for a bit and that was to connect with Sikh community over there and to explore music opportunities. It was a relatively quiet start to the year in January and February I suppose from the outside looking in. It was really busy on my end in terms of just going back into strategy mode, planning for what's to come next, as well as working on a bunch of other opportunities. 

I had work with the AFL, work with Holden, I can't speak too much on it but I got my first acting gig which is cool, and then strategy around music - how do we execute things, work on new material and work on getting better as an artist. For me that has a lot to do with writing a lot, coming up with concepts, making new beats, challenging myself and putting myself in situations I hadn't been in before. I got to be a part of APRA SongHubs this year where they put together song-writers from around the world and Australia in a studio together for a couple of days and just see what you come up with. So I got to work with one of the dudes whose music played a huge impact on my life as a teenager. His name is Mike Elizondo and he spent years working with Dr Dre, made some of the biggest hits of all time in hip-hop, helped kick start Eminem's career, produced a lot of the stuff on 50 cent's first record. 

Did you have to actively seek these opportunities or did they just naturally come your way? 

A combination of both. A combination of, where do I see myself heading and where can I contribute, and how does that strengthen the brand. So yeah, very strategic about that stuff. And obviously just trying to align with things that I'm very passionate about. The other part of that is that yeah things just kind of come in as part of organic growth - people recognise what you do, what the brand stands for so they want to be a part of it. 

Starting out in this industry, did you think your profession would extend into all these different aspects or were you just thinking about producing music?

It was part of the long term vision for sure. From the very beginning, my passions were to create music that's going to have an impact on people in a positive way, so create movement music, and the second part of that was to make sure I was always involved in the issues that I'm passionate about at a grassroots community level. Those two are still at the centre of everything - they go hand in hand. The community stuff was really kind of broad. That can be from working at a grassroots level, working in community workshops, working with young people, or it can extend to being involved with campaigns that I'm really passionate about - working as an ambassador for All Together Now, White Ribbon, the AFL

What would you say is the main difference between release life versus non-release life? 

A very simple explanation would be, release life is the execution of plans and non-release is the development of plans. Another way to look at that is, non-release is the building up of momentum and release is executing that momentum and capitalising on it and trying to have that grow. Everyone's strategy is a bit different but you're trying to find a good balance of what works for you and what works for your brand. For me at the moment in the non-release part, it's been about self development, a lot of reflection, and working on ways to improve, trying to find the right strategies to advance and also about having breathing room to just live for a bit you know, because that's where content comes from, it's how ideas are solidified and nurtured, it's how you go deeper with ideas. It's really about all that stuff so that when you are in release mode, it's just the execution of everything you've been working on in the non-release stuff - it's like preparation and then the action.

On your point about needing to have some time to just live so that you can develop ideas, how do you nurture a space to work on those ideas?

I view everything holistically so my whole life is geared around what I do as an artist. I kind of feel like everything is preparation for being in the studio and writing stuff or being on stage and performing. On one hand I suppose that works as a positive thing cause it means I'm always focused and everything is geared towards a purpose, and in a negative sense means I don't know how to have a holiday because even holidays are viewed as having a purpose towards something. Going back to the point of viewing everything as holistic, every experience becomes a potential idea, every day has an opportunity to bring to life an idea that can become something, but it's more so a thing that sits in the back of your head as opposed to it being a thing that you're always conscious of. Instead of actively hunting for stuff, it's more so a thing of letting things happen and then having a switch that can automatically flick on when you notice there is something there to grab.

The process of creating can be quite a daunting thing because creativity is such an intangible concept that comes and goes. What are some ways that you motivate yourself during this time? What keeps you going during this creative process?

I'll definitely use goals to motivate myself and I'll constantly remind myself of why I do what I do and why it's important, and also develop the right habits so that when your motivation fails you on any given day, you rely on your habits to get you through. A really practical example is with relation to performance. So performance is a really physical thing. It takes a lot of energy, it's a work out within itself so if my motivation fails me on any given day to go to the gym or train, I'll at least remind myself, ok well make sure I eat good that day or that I'm drinking enough water or I get enough sleep and rest. My motivation might have failed me that day to actually get up and go work out but what else am I doing to contribute to that goal of being ready for being on stage?

Similarly with writing, I might not be in the studio that day or have the time to sit down and write, but what can I do to think of concepts, think of lines here and there, flow patterns, so that when I do get in the studio I'm prepared. I don't go in having not prepared for that moment. I take a very athlete inspired approach to this stuff just because I'm so inspired by sports. I think of things from the viewpoint of discipline, of preparation and execution. This is all practice and release cycle is game day. 

Part 2 Capturing Creativity

"Nowadays I'll present things quite early to people - just a small team so they can kind of see where I'm at and where things are heading. I feel pretty confident in where I'm heading and where I'm going and it's good to get some inputs particularly from the label and my band members of how to improve."

What are some characteristics of an idea that indicate to you that it has potential as a song?

Initially it's coming up with an idea and then determining whether or not there is enough in that idea to flesh out an entire song. Whether there is enough content there that a story can be told, whether it's been told before and then to consider what to avoid so you're not doubling up on what someone else has done. It then comes down to, does it have a vibe ? A lot of it is just feel. I might think a concept is great, but then when I write it out and put it over a beat and it just doesn't work, then you just discard it at that point. Working on a beat is a good example of this because you can make a beat in an hour and then come back to it a week later and if it doesn't give you anything then you kind of put it in the practice pile. Same thing with songs. I might write a verse and a chorus just to get an idea out as a test and then see what it sounds like. If it's inspiring me to keep going then I'll go for it, but if it feels like it's not at the level I want it to be at, then I'll discard it or won't prioritise it, maybe I'll come back to it later. I'll prioritise with things that are making me really excited. 

At what point do you bring other people into the idea process?

Nowadays I'll present things quite early to people - just a small team so they can kind of see where I'm at and where things are heading. I feel pretty confident in where I'm heading and where I'm going and it's good to get some inputs particularly from the label and my band members of how to improve. I tend to work with producers. I'm working with Michael McGylnn again who produced the first two records. We'll work on stuff together and both have our inputs and then we'll play for our inner circles and kind of catch a vibe. Or we'll come back to it later when we want to flesh stuff out a bit more. 

Generally speaking, you can know what your potential single will be immediately. If you create something, send it out as a first draft and it has quite a level of excitement around it, you can tell it's gonna be something. Other songs take time to develop that level of excitement. 

So you'd say that going into this process, it's important to have a certain level of self confidence?

Yeah a level of confidence about who you are and what you're doing. I don't take anything personally, ever, when it comes to critique and that. I'm happy to send most stuff at an early stage to people and be like what do you think and not to take things personally. People might say 'I don't know about that delivery, I don't know about that tone, maybe the lyric isn't strong enough' and I'll be ok, I'll put my head down and get better at it. If you start to take it personally then yeah you're not giving yourself the best chance to improve and to shine. I've learnt very early in my career to not take things personally.

Tell me more about how you're approaching the beats side of things again?

Yeah I didn't do it on Become. I made a lot of the beats for One.  I felt like on Become I needed to focus a lot more on where I was going lyrically, I didn't want to have to put all the energy on what I didn't consider to be my strength, but I learnt a lot through that process and watching other producers do their thing. Now I'm back to making beats again which is so exciting for me because I have a bit of a direction of where I want to go. I know what my style and sound is a lot more now then prior to Become which is really exciting. I'll take skeletons to people that I want to work with then let them build on top of that, or when I'm working with producers I'll have a lot of input on the beat.

What's the process like from idea to song?

Most songs for me will start with a concept - it might be a working title or a bunch of words or lyrics, and I'll pen them down and then I'll sit on them for a while before I can fully flesh out what it looks and feels like in my head. I just wait for that moment of ah, got it. Sometimes that can be a day, a week, a month, a year even. I'll have a stack of concepts and a stack of lines and I'll constantly go back to them. With concepts, I'll wait til I have the right beat.  So I'll either work on beats or work with the producer and when we've created something I'll go back on a concept that I've been thinking about and then write it out. Every now and then a beat will spark something brand new and we'll just jam and I'll come up with a new concept and lyrics on the spot. Very rarely will I have verses finished without a beat. I'll have parts of verses and choruses but I'll wait til I have the music as well and then marry them together. 

How do you organise all those ideas knowing that they all could have potential?

It's just about being patient and trusting in yourself. I know my processes, I know what works and what doesn't. The way that I have my ideas organised, I'll trust in that and then I'll just chip away at them when I'm thinking about that concept. The case might be that I'll come up with a concept and I realise that I don't have enough knowledge to fully tackle it yet and I'll do some research and go chip away at it again and so some more research. Other times it's just knowing subconsciously that you've got a stack of concepts that's there ready to go and then something happens in your life that contributes to a concept and you chip  away at it, waiting for the right moment to flesh it out. 

Do you feel like your writing processes have changed over the albums?

They have definitely changed. At the start I used to just sit and force myself to write something from start to finish. Now I know it's not always like that. I'll go a lot more with feel. I trust a lot more in my ability to jam flow patterns, rhythms, melodies and then I'll marry them up with words. When I learn new processes, I get really excited about implementing them, so yeah it's definitely changed since the very first record, even the mix-tapes and EPs I was doing before the first record. It goes back to trusting in what I have to say, in my intuition, and just being patient.

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