IT’S HARD TO PREDICT WHAT TO EXPECT BEFORE LISTENING TO A BAND THAT DESCRIBES THEMSELVES AS A CROSS BETWEEN ‘JAMES BROWN AND JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE’ BUT TRUST ME, WHEN I AM KING IS A COLLABORATION THAT SHOULDN’T BE MISSED.
EDITED BY ZAHNA EKLUND
The last Coffee House Sessions before Christmas brought with it the Scouse alternative soul hip-hop band When I Am King to entertain the flock of students that gather at Dylan’s Monday lunchtime. The group use instruments consisting of a cajon, bass, electric guitar and vocals – not your average set up, but it works. The confident run of their well-practised and pristine set proves not only the incredible talent they have but also the tightness they have formed over the years as functioning together as a band.
There is no surprise that these guys are relaxed in this buzzing and expectant atmosphere as, although having gigged together for only 3 years, they have already graced the stages of some of the biggest festivals and venues around, including SoundCity Festival both 2012 and 2013 where the likes of Royal Blood, The Vaccines and Peace have also played. The musicians, however, haven’t let the stardom get to their heads: “We still like the intimate gigs,” Joe Hazlett, the vocalist tells me, “The other week we had a gig at Sofar Sounds in London in someone’s living-room, the atmosphere was intense.”
Further conversation with the band reveals that they haven’t always played in the unique style they play now. When they first got together they worked on softer rock songs with the influences stemming from the likes of Radiohead and The Civil Wars. The increasing addition of rap and hip-hop elements have helped shape their sound down the more R’n’B fusion direction, while still maintaining the raw emotion and powerful lyrics that stem from their soul roots. Their first EP – released in late 2011 and titled ‘Coffee and Cakes for Funerals’ – they tell me to forget about. “Our style has changed massively”, Andrew Finney, the drummer says, “we’ve been working up to our new EP which we’re releasing early next year with a whole new sound and feel to it. We’ve worked hard on it and are looking forward to finally putting it out there.” The debut single from their newest EP is already gaining radio airplay and impressing the likes of Trevor Nelson on BBC 1Xtra.
The only cover in their set is of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’, and it has the whole of Dylan’s in awe. There is no doubt that the style and vibe of their songs are perfectly suited to their talent and show off their skill to the best extent. They have had to alter their songs to play a more stripped back set to adapt to the coffee house atmosphere as they normally play with a full drum-kit but they are still able to create a softer sound with an electric guitar. “I only ever use acoustic when I absolutely have to.” Michael Blackburn, the guitarist says. The zany blues riffs that the guitar brings work perfectly though and add almost a funk sound to the soul backdrop.
The set finishes with their debut single from their upcoming EP and it leaves an incredible chilled vibe in the air. The cleverly crafted harmonies in the chorus are catchy and no doubt the melodies will be playing through our heads for a while.
When I Am King‘s new self-titled EP is due to be released early next year and guided with Iggy Azalea’s management company ‘Turn First Artists’ (which has represented stars such as Ellie Goulding and Jessie J), there is no question that this band have a lot coming for them in 2016.