PAULi LoveJoy, FKA Twigs & Jamie xx’s Music Director, on His Toy Selectah Collab and Caribbean Roots

PAULi LoveJoy has been kind of a big deal for a little while, both behind the scenes as musical director for FKA Twigs and Jamie xx and behind the drums with Damon Albarn and Gorillaz. The UK-bred musician has now released his first proper single as a solo artist, a dreamy slip of electronic pop called “I Don’t Care.” Fully focused on his own music these days, he’s preparing to release his Kwes-produced debut EP in 2016 and is currently working on a full-length album.

For now, PAULi has shared a crazy good remix with us by none other than Toy Selectah, which we are proud to debut here. If you are wondering how this came about, well, we were curious too. PAULi met Toy Selectah at Corona Capital Festival in Mexico City last year while playing drums on Albarn’s Everyday Robots tour. According to PAULi, the Mexican producer was watching the show from the side of the stage in a hat that said “CUMBIA.” PAULi had just been introduced to cumbia in the underground clubs of Buenos Aires. They got to talking like that.

So, what happens when an up-and-coming (New York-based) member of London’s creative vanguard collides with one of Mexico’s most formidable electronic music producers? This remix. PAULi tells us Toy Selectah describes it as “Mex Future 3ball meets Jersey.” Toy took the sweet, very British, and melancholy “I Don’t Care” and put it through a 3ball blender, turning the refrain of “I don’t care” from a gentle “It doesn’t matter, love” sort of vibe to something more along the lines of “IDGAF.” The souped up version is exactly the kind of Toy Selectah chaos that gets things going on the dance floor.

PAULi tells us he has a great affinity with Latin American musicians, and, as it turns out, there’s a lot more to the story of PAULi’s connection to Latin American music than this remix, as we learned when we got him on the phone.

Why did you want Toy Selectah to remix your single?
I think he’s one of the most exciting musicians I’ve ever met. His ideas are just crazy. The way he talks about music as well is just insane. Every time he speaks about music, he gets me excited about music. So, just to have a track where he’s remixed my story – he’s made it his own story, and I think that’s so exciting.

What was your first impression of cumbia when you heard it in Argentina?
I was really confused, because we went to this tango club – we went to a few tango clubs. The first one was an underground tango club and it got shut down and we all got kicked out. The police just kicked us out. So, they were like, “We have to go to this other tango club,” but they played cumbia as well and I didn’t understand. I didn’t know what cumbia was. I was learning how to tango, so I went on the dance floor and I was learning how to tango and then the DJ put on this other song and the whole vibe switched and everyone ran onto the dance floor. They didn’t have partners; they just started moving, doing their own dance. Everybody was like, “This is cumbia! This is the cumbia sound!” I was like, “Right. This is a lot easier to dance to than tango! It’s less regimented. That was it for me. The vibe and the energy – I was like, “This is my vibe.”

What do you mean when you say you have an affinity with Latin musicians?
I went to Cuba and really got into Cuban music, like Afro-Cuban stuff. That was my first way into Latin music – understanding the different patterns, like clave patterns. I started as a percussionist, so I was really interested in all these clave patterns: 2/3 clave, 3/2 clave. I went from Cuba to the Dominican Republic and I learned about merengue. On top of that, I started communicating a lot with some Mexican musicians. I’ve got some friends called Centavrvs. I love these guys. They’re amazing. They showed me so much Mexican music and Latin music. Every time I go to Mexico now we always go in the studio and have a jam session. We’ve done it probably three times now.

“When I go to these islands, I realize I’m more connected to them than I am to my English roots.”

I just feel really connected to Latin music. My origins are Caribbean and Jamaican and I feel like there’s a disconnect between a lot of the islands just because of European settlers saying “This is Spanish,” “This is French,” “This is English.” I don’t think that’s real, because when I go to these islands, I realize I’m more connected to them than I am to my English roots.

So, that’s why I feel such an affinity to Latin American musicians and music. Although I may not look the same as anyone when I go there, when I speak to people, when I play music, instantly we’re speaking the same language. That means the world to me. When I was in the Dominican Republic, I was taken to some of the ghettos and I met this guy. He was 103 years old. When I looked at him, he could have been my granddad. We had the same eyes – everything about us was the same. We just connected playing drums with each other. He was teaching me some different patterns and then I learned about the cuatro, which is the four-stringed guitar. They were just showing me their culture and I was like, “This is not just your culture. This is my culture as well now.” I just connected instantly. It didn’t take me a while to understand it. It just instantly made sense.

I just feel really connected to Latin America, especially to Mexico. Every time I go, I get these amazing gifts. The last time I went there I got this huge piñata, a custom piñata with an afro. It looked like me! I’ve got some amazing fans in Mexico and Argentina. I think I’m going to go to Mexico to record with some Mexican musicians.

Would these recordings be for your debut album?
Hopefully. I just want to explore as many different worlds of music as possible. I spent so much time dipping in and out of Mexico and South America last year. It’s really had an impact on me but, equally, I’ve been to Africa recently. Last year I went to Mali, which is amazing. So, I’m definitely going to go back to west Africa, but, another thing I’ve got planned is going to the Middle East. I’ve got these plans to bring different territories of music together, because it’s all the same language. As an industry, we can put everything in boxes, but we’re just talking a language and the language is music. If done in the right way, you’re just talking to people’s hearts. It’s spiritual.

What can you tell me about the EP?
I’m very excited about the EP. It’s produced by an amazing British producer called Kwes. He’s someone who, if I couldn’t get him to produce this record, I don’t think I’d put a record out. I’d have to make a different record. I wrote all the songs knowing pretty well that I wanted Kwes. He just has the other side of what I need for this chapter.

“We’re just talking a language and the language is music. You’re just talking to people’s hearts. It’s spiritual.”

I love the way he looks at music and just turns it on its side and it looks just as beautiful. Where most people take something and turn it on its side, you’d say “Oh, it’s just the wrong way up?” He has a really beautiful mind.

Is there anything you learned as a music director that you’ve been able to apply to your own work?
I think it’s more of a hindrance. There’s so many different levels of musical directorship. Some projects, they give me a budget and say, “Hire who you think would work within this budget.” Other times, they say, “This is the looks that we’re going for. Hire who you tihnk would work based on the market that we’re trying to break into and we need this demographic of people.” So, knowing that the live music [and] entertainment game can be quite fickle, I have to almost unlearn some of these traditions. If anything, I have to go back to the beginning and say, “I don’t know anything.” I have to approach it as a baby.

If I took everything into my own project, I would be doing myself an injustice. It would probably end up very perfect and polished and plastic. And I don’t think that’s what I want. It needs to be real and honest. That’s what my music is.

What has been the best thing about doing your own music?
It’s quite cathartic. It’s like giving birth. Obviously, I’ve never actually given birth, because I’m not a seahorse. My sister gave birth recently. I’ve just become an uncle, and just seeing how she carried this child inside her for nine months and she just released this beautiful being into the world, and just seeing her joy, seeing how at peace she is with herself, knowing that this child is perfect in every way – that’s how I feel now. I’ve released something into the world.