Hailing from Bristol, Jethro Sheeran AKA Alonestar is an artist who fuses hip hop and urban pop, folk and soul to great effect, winning two Exposure Music Awards for Best Male Artist and Best Urban Song.
Following a very successful 2011, where Alonestar signed a publishing deal with EMI, performed to over three million television viewers and released Warrior, a six-track EP featuring Ja Ja Soze, Rosie Ribbons and his cousin Ed Sheeran, the Bristolian rapper returns with Real Life, another collaboration with Ed, on Reel Me Records.
Ed Sheeran also featured a portion of Alonestar’s song Shottas Paradise on his hit single You Need Me, I Don’t Need You.
M caught up with Alonestar to find out more.
You seem to come from a talented family, did you get together with them and play music as you grew up?
Yes, my mother used to sing folk music and play a lot of Bob Dylan, Buffy St. Marie, Neil Young etc. I used to make beats on my MC505 groove box and fuse folk and hip hop together with my cousin Oli Thomas who played guitar over the beats. After that myself and another cousin Ed (Sheeran) would write songs over them, myself being the rapper and Ed usually laying the hook.
Who (or what) influenced you to start creating music and writing songs?
I’ve loved hip hop from the days of the electro tapes, NWA etc. and was into the breakdance/graffiti scene. Coming out of Bristol I had Rob ( 3D, Wild Bunch, now Massive Attack) to look up to, but I was really first inspired to write when I heard 2Pac’s Dear Mama I was impressed how real it was and you could be a strong character or as ‘Pac would put it ‘a gansta’ as well as being sensitive. Man, 2Pac had a big heart and all his music reflects that.
Which artists have inspired your work?
Of course artists like 2Pac, Eminem, Dr Dre ,Tracy Chapman, Royce Da 5’9, Nas, Massive Attack have inspired my work but also an artist named Ataklan from the island of Trinidad who I’ve had the pleasure to work with , he is a true artist and an amazing talent.
You’ve collaborated with cousin Ed a few times, how did each one come about?
My collaborations with Ed came about from a long history of working together since we were kids. I’ve spent some time in Framlingham where he was brought up and I featured on two of his EPs. I was living in London and brought him and his Dad (my Uncle) down to be in my video Skyla Rain (He’s the kid smashing up my car with my other cousin Murray) and brought him to the studio I was working in. Ed was into singer/songwriter/guitar music and I was into rap/hip hop. We fused them together and it worked really well! I was doing the heavy drums and rapping and Ed was playing guitar and singing and also started doing a little bit of rapping. He actually does my raps that were on the first EP we did at every show for the last four years to date. I saw him recently at Brixton Academy and smiled when I heard it! The same rap is also on his highly successful debut on SBTV which went on to be You Need Me , I Dont Need You. I’m sure that’s what lead Ed onto doing his No. 5 Collaborations Project with folky vocals, story telling and featuring rappers. We kept at it and Ed has featured on both my EPs to date, on the songs All Falls Down, Raise Em Up and Real Life.
Are you more of a studio ‘head’ or do you prefer the rush of performing live?
I love being in the studio. I’ve been working with Roy ‘Red Devil’ Merchant now for years and he recorded all Ed’s vocals for my projects. I produced and wrote all my songs – Ed, Rosie Ribbons and Lifford Shillingford featuring on most of them. I’m a real studio bod and would stay working for weeks if I could! Saying that, I love being on stage and performing. It gives me such a rush and there’s nothing like it. I love the energy you get back from the crowd. I’d say it’s 50/50 studio/live.
How do you put your songs together, do lyrics or melody come first or do you prefer to write a top-line over a beat?
I usually write the beat first and vibes it in the studio and see what comes out. I nearly always write my raps to the beat rather than the other way round. Once I’ve got my verses I’ll start on the chorus and melodies, it might just pop out or I’ll play the instrumental track in the car and start humming away. Once I’ve got something I’ll pull over an sing it into my iPhone. Sometimes it works and sometimes not. I’ve got some terrible ideas on my phone, ha ha!
Where did the inspiration for Real Life come from?
The inspiration for my single Real Life came from wanting to make real music about real life and expressing that, the life I live and am surrounded by – not the bling-bling, plastic, fickle rubbish I’m hearing in hip hop today. Life is hard and a struggle and we all feel that no matter what culture or background you come from. But we get to pick ourselves up and try again and move forward. I had already produced the beat, recorded the live brass and it was pretty much ready for Ed to come and lay the chorus. He just came in and wrote the chorus in less than ten minutes. I was working with my bass player (Coreysan) and Ed was just nodding his head. He tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘I got it!’. He’s very quick at writing great hooks. The operatic vocal was sung live in the same way, most people think it’s a sample.
Do you have to put a lot of work in to get your music heard, aside from actually making the music?
Great question! Yes I do spend so much time getting my music heard, Probably as much time as making my music. I think it’s so important to keep up with the social networks and keeping it alive on the street. I’m promoting my music non-stop but that’s what you have to do without a major record label at this level because radio pluggers are very expensive!
I want people to hear my music and feel it’s positivity and I’ve had such amazing feedback. The feeling that I’ve changed some peoples lives is overwhelming and that is why I do this. Music is about the spirit.
Bristol has, of course provided us with amazing music from Massive Attack to Portishead, Tricky and Goldfrapp, is the scene there still strong?
Oh yes, the Bristol scene is big as ever! I love the place! Bristol has a vibrant brand new label called Reel Me Records. They are the new breed and will make waves this year! Reel Me have such energy and I am very excited to be working with them. I’ve signed some tracks to them and they have also just signed Laid Blak who I’m in the process of collaborating with. I’ve actually just spent a week with Grant (Daddy G, Massive Attack) helping him do up his new house and he’s talking about some exciting stuff! Also Joker, End Of The Line, Interface, Beth Rowley, Laid Blak, Smith & Mighty, Ways And Means amongst others are making some great music. Were still very bass-heavy!