Your eyes are closed, rain strums your bedroom window, your soul shivers. You open your eyes and you’re still on the bus, just listening to Harry Jay Robinson‘s debut EP.
This Leeds lad is the full package: rapper, singer, producer, musician and everything in between. He plays keys for Far Caspian and built a strong back catalogue in his chrysalis form, Heretic. Under that name he was also crowned Don’t Flop‘s Newcomer of the Year 2015, but battle rap is something we’ll get to.
Despite being such a vulnerable project, The Cold is a confident demonstration of Harry’s artistic progression and personal experience.
“People who are creative… see themselves as tortured artists.”
Since we spoke, Harry released The Cold early on Bandcamp. It wasn’t to reap the profits of the platform temporarily waiving its fees, but to donate the whole pot to Age UK’s COVID-19 effort. If his actions don’t tell you what kind of a man he is, then his music will, and our conversation below:
You’re back on RuneScape I see – what’s your weapon of choice?
“[Laughs] Goddamnit, yes I am. You know what, the other day I bought the abyssal whip for the first time. When I was like ten it was my absolute dream to have an abyssal whip and I could never get enough money or level up enough to get one. Now at the ripe old age of twenty three I finally have one of my own. That is my current weapon of choice and I’m very excited about it.”
What does your EP The Cold mean to you?
“It’s a concept EP in a loose sense. The idea is that when you’re out in the cold, things that normally would be easy turn out to be quite difficult, like your movement is laboured and a general breeze ends up feeling really painful. So the cold in that sense felt like a good metaphor for being in a vulnerable place where you’re feeling a bit weakened and you’re slower and not feeling as strong as you normally do. It’s putting that in the context of masculinity and that sense of wanting to be constantly unshakable, like ‘I don’t get cold. It doesn’t bother me,’ – that kinda thing. It felt like quite a good umbrella to put the concepts I’m talking about under. They all seemed to fit in with that idea so yeah, that’s why it’s got that name.”
You speak openly about addiction and mental health, how has being an artist and musician played into those experiences?
“It interacts with it in a lot of strange ways. There’s the negative side of it, which I made fun of myself for on my first single with the whole idea of ‘You Are Not Charles Bukowski’. It’s quite common for people who are creative to sort of see themselves as tortured artists. It’s sometimes seen as a seal of quality that you’re troubled, drinking heavily, smoking too much weed, or you’re a drug addict or whatever. In it’s own way it has a kind of romance to it that I had to talk myself out of quite actively. That’s one side of it, but on the flipside, there is the positive that when you’re the kind of person that articulates the way they’re feeling either in words or music, through a creative outlet for spilling your feelings, it can be a really positive and therapeutic thing. So, in different occasions and in different ways the two sides have interacted with each other in different ways, but the one I’m tryna focus on more is that sense of using it as an outlet to process things.”
What advice do you have for people struggling to write and release personal work?
“When it comes to releasing personal work I’m not here to encourage anyone to release it to be honest. I think it’s one of those things you have to want to put out there. It’s totally understandable that when going through anything in your personal life, that you don’t want loads of other people knowing the details of it. You don’t turn up to a house party and start talking about all of the horrendous, traumatic things that have happened to you if that doesn’t feel like something you wanna put across. So I wouldn’t even bother tryna advise people to do it if they don’t want to, but I would always encourage people to write about things or to put whatever experiences they have into whatever language, creative or otherwise, that they feel they’re best at.”
“Do it for yourself.”
“It doesn’t need to reach anyone, it doesn’t need to have an audience. But I feel like any process by which you’re going through and picking apart and having a look at your experiences and where your thoughts have come from, and tryna conceptualise them or put them into words, in my experience, is really useful in developing an understanding of them. That’s not to say that you can just write about a problem and it will go away, but it’s one of those things where self-awareness can have an enormous effect. So yeah, in a sentence, I’d say ‘Do it for yourself.’ If you have a creative outlet and a way of processing your issues in that kind of way then do it just for you. If you then feel inclined to share it, then go ahead and that’ll be great, but do it for you first and foremost.”
In 2017 I caught one of your final rap battles. What’s your current relationship with the sport?
“I’m a relatively passive observer of it. I mean, I was a massive battle rap nerd when I was involved in it. That was at a time when Don’t Flop was a lot bigger than it is now and it felt like there was a lot more energy around the scene and more going on. I kind of fell out of love with it as the scene got less busy and exciting. I’ve been to a couple of events, I went to a couple of Premier Battles events that I really liked. I still watch battles now and then but I’m just not that excited about it anymore so I couldn’t see myself doing another battle really, but I’ll still pop my head around the corner every now and then. I’m still obviously friends with all the mates that I made along the way with battle rap so I keep relatively up to date with what’s going on.”
Didn’t you do the audio mix for Premier Battles recently?
“Yeah exactly, that’s the kind of thing. I was one of the many people who were once involved with Don’t Flop that moved to UNILAD. I was working at UNILAD with Briggzy, Bagnall and all that, so I still have those friendships and relationships. So the fact that I produce and do various music related bits-and-bobs, I’m always happy to lend a hand to anyone who needs a favour done.”
How does your music as Harry Jay Robinson differ from past releases as Heretic?
“Well, there’s the sonic side and then there’s the content side I guess. Sound wise, I think with the Heretic stuff I was covering way too many different subgenres and hadn’t really decided on a lane or particular sound. I was throwing a mishmash of genres into projects and then towards the end of releasing the Heretic stuff I settled on a sound, or closer to a sound, that I thought would suit me as a singular lane. On just a content level, I think the Heretic stuff was a lot more abstract and political and I was talking about a pretty broad variety of things, whereas the Harry Jay Robinson stuff is obviously really personal. So I think it’s focusing my sound into one specific genre lane and then using my actual real life name, and that being reflected in the fact that I’m writing from my personal perspective rather than talking about a broad, abstract range of things.”
You were set to play SXSW with Far Caspian, but what are your thoughts since it’s been cancelled due to coronavirus?
“Oh man! [Laughs or maybe cries] Mate I got that news last night in the group chat and we were all like ‘You’re joking? C’mon? No, seriously? What? Really?’. I’m devastated obviously, it’s really, really sad, but basically I feel sadder for so many of the other people who have been preparing to go out for it. For me, I’ve not had to self-fund this trip, like I haven’t had to put my life on the line to go out there. I’m just a keys player in someone else’s band, whereas there’s loads of bands and artists who have had to self-fund their trips to SX by putting in crazy amounts of work, putting money into savings, and getting the Visas can be an absolute nightmare too. I really feel for the amount of people that have had to put so much effort into putting that operation together only for it to be cancelled like a week before. Yeah, it’s pretty sad man.”
We’re both actually past Punnit gameshow contenders… Can you give me a freestyle pun for ‘Popstars + Seaside’? eg. Ariana Sande.
“Oh really! Were you on there? Oh my god… popstars is so broad as well… Justin Seaber.”
What’s next for Harry Jay Robinson?
“That’s a really good question actually and I’ve not particularly decided. Obviously the EP is coming out 24th March. You know what the real irony is? I wanted it to come out on the 20th March because that’s like the first day of spring, but then I realised I can’t release it on 20th March because I’m gunna be in Texas. Now obviously I’m not gunna be in Texas so I could have gone with my original release date, but it’s too late for that now. So yeah, EP is out and then that’s kind of it as far as my plans go. I’m probably going to hold on for a bit before releasing anything else because I’d like to let things marinate for a while. I’d like to get some more shows done, I’ve got my first gig of the year in a few days’ time and will hopefully get a few more shows in. Yeah, I’m just gunna see where this EP takes me and then will release some more music along the line when it feels right, you know?”
Listen to The Cold now
Interviewed by: James Wijesinghe