INTERVIEW: WITH ‘WILKO WILKES’

Wilko Wilkes is an alternative rapper, writer, lyricist, singer, MC & storyteller from West Yorkshire, UK. Wilko released his first single in 2019 and has since been turning heads throughout the Yorkshire music scene. Wilko Wilkes is no ordinary rapper – it’s not traditional hip hop and you won’t find any of the usual rap clichés in his work, instead he tells masterfully-crafted stories with relentless energy, compassion and humour.

Wilko Wilkes is releasing a new single called ‘Poverty in the UK‘ on April 9th and he is also raising money for a great cause at the same time. The iTunes pre-sale started on 26th March and all proceeds from any sales of the track are being donated 50:50 between Andy’s Man Club, a men’s mental health charity as well as housing and homelessness charity Shelter. Wilko Wikes says “Poverty in the UK is a frustrated rant about the desperate poverty that unfortunately still exists on a large scale in many parts of the UK”.

If you want to help donate to this great cause, you can donate via Wilko Wilkes just giving page – Link below:
https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/wilkowilkespoverty

We spoke to Wilko Wilkes about his new single and about raising money for these two charities:

NMY: Hi Wilko Wilkes, thanks for talking with us, we really like how you are trying to raise money for not just one, but two charities the ‘Andys Man Club’ and ‘Housing and homelessness charity Shelter’. We always appreciate artists who try to raise money for a good cause.

Wilko: Thanks for having me and thank you very much for your donation!

NMY: Could you tell us what your new song ‘Poverty in the UK’ is about and also why you have chosen those two charities in particular?

Wilko: Yeah so much like Ronseal, it does exactly what it says on the tin and it’s about… poverty in the UK! In my professional life and with some of the volunteering I’ve done, I’ve worked for years with people in the poorest communities in Leeds. I’ve worked in housing, homelessness and social care and I’ve seen a lot of people struggling, living on or below the breadline in really precarious situations. It upsets me that we’re in a country with so much wealth and yet there are still lots of people who aren’t safe, can’t pay the bills or don’t have suitable housing and their hands are tied by the situations they find themselves in, they’re basically stuck in a life of poverty without any opportunities to get out, so this track is about that. It’s me venting whilst also trying to pitch a different perspective and shine a light on poverty in this country to people who maybe don’t appreciate how rife the issues are. There’s a feeling of helplessness from my side and many others who are trying to help the situation, but these are massive challenges so it’s a message to just try to breathe, do our best and look out for each other.

As for the charities, since I’ve written something about such an important topic I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to try to raise some much-needed funds for two charities in similar areas to those referenced in the track. Shelter provide help and advice to people facing homelessness and are very much about fighting for social justice, so it was an ideal relationship. And Andy’s Man Club are a fantastic charity who run men’s talking groups at 40+ locations across the country and online. I’m involved with them personally as a member of the Leeds groups and it has been a great outlet for me to be able to take some time each week to talk about how I’m feeling and any challenges I’m going through. I’ve met a lot of inspiring men there and the groups are invaluable for providing a safe and non-judgemental environment for men to open up. For some people getting mental health support can be tricky, there can be long waiting lists or a lot of expense involved, whereas with AMC any man can attend every week for free and get some stuff off their chest. For me what both Shelter and AMC provide is a safety net for people when they’re at their worst and need some help, so I couldn’t think of two better charities to be supporting with this track.

NMY: How did you write and record ‘Poverty in the UK’?

Wilko: Gradually! I have a lot of notes on my phone and on my laptop for songs, skeletons of potential songs, most of which never see the light of day, but I knew that I wanted to write a track with a social justice angle. I have a friend who is a producer and makes beats and he first sent me this in July 2020. My writing process usually takes a while, I’ll find a great beat and listen to it on repeat, assimilating ideas, making up flows in my head, get a few lines together and it progresses slowly but surely. Quite often I’ll hit a dead end and have to sleep on it, then as soon as I’m in bed the ideas start firing and I get up again to write some stuff down! With this one the hook came to me quite quickly and the rest was a pleasure to write as it’s a topic I’m passionate about, but it still took me a few months until I was happy with the lyrics all the way through. Then I had to actually be able to rap it – it’s fast and there are a few tongue twisters in there but practice makes perfect. Eventually when I was ready I recorded the vocals at home, something I’ve improved with as I’ve had my hand forced by lockdown, and my friend produced it, we bounced it back and forth a few times tweaking things and in the end I’m really pleased with the resulting track.

NMY: You have a video following the release of the single? Could you tell us a little about this? 

Wilko: I do indeed and I think it’s probably my best video yet. I make my own videos just using my iPhone and a free app called Splice. I could probably do a more professional job to be honest but videographers aren’t cheap and I enjoy doing them, I don’t have a massive budget so I’m trying to be sensible as I’ve seen other artists blow large amounts of cash on all-singing all-dancing videos only to get a few hundred views anyway. I went to Allen Brickworks in Hipperholme near Halifax to film it, a derelict former-factory that is in disrepair, covered in graffiti and littered with the rubble and remains of its former glory. It’s a really cool place for anyone like me who enjoys urban exploration. It’s mostly shots of me in the zone rapping and gesturing wildly, intertwined with photography from two very talented local photographers who kindly agreed to let me use their work – @real_bradford and @beefy63 on Instagram – and a few stock photos. The video shows lots of bleak urban scenery, with minimal people in the photographs but often pictures where you can see the desperation in places where people have been and gone. I have a few fans and supporters from overseas where I think they often have a rose-tinted view of the UK and will be surprised by some of the images taken here. It’s been carefully thought out and I think it fits well with the theme of the song.

NMY: For people who are new to your music, how would you describe your sound?

Wilko: Essentially it is fast and powerful rap with a socially conscious message. It can be bleak and depressing at times but there’s always underlying messages of hope and some humour in there. I am a big fan of good fast rappers but I find with a lot of them you can’t really tell what they’re saying and I try to avoid this at all costs, so I rap fast but with good diction to retain the message. It’s quite technical and I like to throw in some alliteration, a few metaphors and similes and some very British references. I like to capture the mundane realities of normal life and I rap about what I know so there’s often themes of mental health, the struggles of being trapped in your head, internal pressure and other stuff that I spend too much time thinking about. It’s quite articulate and I use minimal swearing, it’s respectful, inclusive and self-reflective. I like good storytellers and I try to write each track as a cohesive piece with a beginning, middle and end. I write from the heart so it’s raw and authentic and I think people appreciate that. Genre-wise I call it alternative rap but I’m sure I could come up with something better! If anyone has any ideas please send them my way!

NMY: Is there a message you try to communicate to people with your music? 

Wilko: Yes there are a few! One of the main things for me is about chasing your passion and finding your creative voice. Music is something that I always daydreamed about pursuing but I never had the self-belief or the courage to settle down and focus on it. I had a million dissenting voices in my head telling me I’d fail, hearing other people’s jibes, discouraging me from putting myself out there. I think this formed at a young age and was embedded in my psyche, I often sacrificed my own happiness and self-satisfaction in favour of bravado and wearing a mask through sheer dread of putting myself in vulnerable positions. As a performing artist you’re putting a piece of yourself out there and, like anything, others will view it in different ways that you can’t control. There are loads of aspects of life that I find overwhelming and difficult and it’s been a constant battle to keep my head above water at times, as I know it is for a lot of people. Finally facing my demons and doing this, putting time into it and having a creative pursuit to focus on and enjoy has been fantastic for me so naturally I try to encourage others to find something they love and put some time into it. When you have a purpose and something you’re working on it makes everything else a little easier so I hope to inspire a few people who are being held back by the shackles of their own mind. In my head I thought I’d get a lot of negative comments, people laughing at me or worse, but in reality everyone has been really supportive. It was a big thing at first for me to take the plunge and become an artist but it very quickly became normal, and I love it so much that now I really couldn’t care less if there are people having a giggle at my expense. A lot of people do that unconsciously to deflect from their own insecurities, but personally I love to see passion in people and the freedom that it brings to people’s lives when they can just do what they love and give it their all without feeling embarrassed about it. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel the way I felt for so long so I’m always encouraging with people and if I am to have any legacy from this music journey for me there couldn’t be much better than giving somebody else the boost they need to find their happiness. I think a lot of men especially are terrified of failure but if you’re following your heart and feeding your soul then there’s no such thing.

NMY: Has Covid and the restrictions affected your music writing/creativity and if so, how did you overcome this? 

Wilko: Yeah definitely I think it’s changed the course of all our paths! At times it’s been stifling, at times it’s been inspiring. I’d hoped to be getting out and about more with my music, meeting people and having real life experiences and I’ve felt quite restrained by having to do most of it digitally over the past 12 months. In terms of writing and creativity I’m satisfied with what I’ve managed to produce during these strange conditions. I think I’ve managed to overcome it and get through it by just doing things in small chunks and focussing on one thing at a time. Really though my dream with all this is to play live and I’ve had plenty of time to practice so I’ll be ready to rumble when it’s time to tumble.

NMY: What artists/bands would you say have strongly influenced your own music?

Wilko: I have a very eclectic taste in music and take little bits from everywhere. The music I first fell in love with was around early-2000s era nu-metal like Korn, Slipknot, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Kid Rock, a lot of heavy metal with rap-like verses, hard aggressive vocals that were raw. A similar love was there for Nirvana and Pearl Jam and some grungier stuff but I also love loads of classic hip hop, pop music, classic rock, dance music, my playlists tend to jump around from cheesy songs I heard on Eurovision to heavy metal and back. I love high-tempo, powerful music with big drums and a consistent beat and massive vocals delivered with conviction, if you’ve got that it doesn’t matter who you are or what genre, I’ll be listening.

NMY: What are your plans for the rest of this 2021?  Any shows or new music set to release?

Wilko: I have a few irons in the fire! Firstly the most exciting thing for me is I’ll be playing live. I’ll be taking my rap to the streets and busking around Yorkshire which I’m really looking forward to. I’ve got my first gig in the calendar for later this year but I’m tentative about it as it’s been moved already, fingers crossed I can do more. There’ll be new music from me too, there’s only been five weeks between my last two releases so there’ll be more of a gap between Poverty in the UK and what’s next, but it’s written and ready to record. I can’t look too far ahead and as 2021 progresses we’ll see what happens but I’ll definitely be beavering away on something.

NMY: What other new artists/bands are you enjoying listening to at the moment?

Wilko: A few tracks I’m loving at the moment are Everybody by You Man & Jerge, Toe Jam by Elephant Foot and Stop by Plummy. Locally there’s a rapper called Said the Bear whose track 1993 is a must-listen, and a singer-songwriter called Mark Pratt in particular his song I Was Made for Loving You is about as raw as it gets. I’m also part of a network of independent artists called New Artist Spotlight which has loads of brilliant emerging artists from around the world, they have a few different playlists on Spotify which everyone should check out. I could go on all day about this to be honest as I’m always listening to new music and when I find something that grabs me it generally gets played on repeat until it’s embedded into my skull for the rest of time!

NMY: Lastly, What have you personally seen regarding poverty in the UK in our area of Yorkshire (or Bradford) ? And what do you think would help to make a difference? 
Wilko: Great question! Honestly I’ve seen things that would shock anyone and I’m at the point where nothing surprises me anymore. Whatever the worst conditions I thought were possible for people to live in have been surpassed time and time again. There are clear and consistent themes entrenched in the lives of almost all of the people that are living in the worst conditions – abuse, neglect, addiction, debt, lack of options, multiple barriers and complex issues that basically make it almost impossible to make significant improvements. So we need to focus on the simple things that can make a difference, like access to housing support and mental health services, hence my support for Shelter and Andy’s Man Club with this track. On a personal level I think the biggest thing we can all do is to make a conscious effort to respect and support each other without judgement. You can never really know what anyone else is thinking and how important your interactions with them could be, so in my eyes the people really making the world a better place are the ones lifting each other up instead of tearing each other down.

We at NMY really enjoyed this new single, we also admire any artist who tries to raise money for a good cause with music. Make sure to have a listen to ‘Poverty in the UK’ and follow Wilko on his socials medias (below) and also if you have some spare money help him to meet his just giving goal!

Crowdfunding to be split between Shelter and Andy’s Man Club on JustGiving

Additional Song Info:

The beat samples “Little Drop of Poison” by Tom Waits

The song will be out on all streaming platforms from 10am on April 9th 2021.

A video will follow, using video footage shot around Allen Brickworks near Halifax, combined with photos from @real_bradford and @beefy63 on Instagram. 

iTunes pre-sale will start on Friday 26th March and any proceeds will be donated 50:50 between Andy’s Man Club and Shelter.

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