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Stormzy: ‘I’m where I’m meant to be, and I’m who I’m meant to be’

The British music icon spoke to Rolling Stone UK about the launch of a new virtual concert with Rockstar Energy, life since ‘This Is What I Mean’ and his return to the studio

By Hollie Geraghty

Stormzy performs live
Stormzy (Picture: Press)

“I like to think I’ve set a precedent from the beginning of my career, that anytime anyone pays their hard earned money for a ticket to come and watch me perform, I will give them everything I’ve got,” Stormzy tells Rolling Stone UK. “I will leave nothing on that stage.” 

The grime legend is speaking ahead of the premiere of a digital concert experience with Rockstar Energy to celebrate the launch of their new ‘Press Play’ platform.

The virtual headline show – which was created using motion capture sensory tracking – will go live on Spotify on Friday, July 21, 5pm BST, where Stormzy is set to perform tracks from his latest album This is What I Mean.

‘Press Play’ headline performances will allow viewers to experience five digital worlds, crafted to capture the essence of ‘Play’ for each artist.

As part of the partnership, there’s plans for an exclusive Stormzy UK gig later this year, with more information on how to win tickets due to be shared on the Rockstar Energy website.

Ahead of the launch, we spoke to the British music icon about the new project, his imminent return to the live stage and what he’s been working on since the release of his third album.

You can read our whole Q&A with Stormzy below.

Hi, Stormzy! To create the digital concert performance you used motion capture technology, which you said helped take your music into different realms. What was that process like?

That was sick, and it was sick to see myself on the screen as well. It’s literally like being a real life avatar. That was always exciting, especially in my career, finding new ways to perform and new ways to do exciting things. And it’s like what I usually do with performing but [this time I’m] like this real life avatar and this kind of video game character, and also knowing that whatever I do there I’m not even gonna see the final result until it’s all done. So I’m kind of just trusting the process of putting on this suit and then performing it and knowing that they’re gonna turn me into so many different things. 

Stormzy wears a motion capture suit for a virtual performance
Stormzy builds his performance in a MoCap suit (Picture: Press)

How did you find performing without an audience, and bringing that energy of your live shows in a virtual context?

It was fun. You’ve just got to trust the process. And this is gonna be a funny comparison, but I was watching a video of Halle Bailey [from] The Little Mermaid, and she was talking about how the first couple months of her shooting, she had to perform to nobody, because they were gonna VFX it in and do all the post-effects. I think there’s a similar thing where you just gotta use your imagination and kind of conjure up energy from that. It’s a different task, but it’s what I do anyway. But it’s just me trusting that someone’s gonna install that energy.

With the soul and gospel influences on This Is What I Mean, have you found your approach to performing live has changed at all since the album came out in November?

I think from the beginning of my career, my performances have always been a blend of high energy and soul, and a kind of mixture of explosiveness, but also stillness. I think with this last album, there’s obviously more focus on the soul side, but just because of my character and who I am as a human, I think it will be a balance of both. It will all be high energy and it will also be soul, because I think that’s just me as a human. Even if you take away the music, just on a day to day, anyone who knows me, knows that I’m just a mixture of a big kid but then also someone who’s very still and an adult and who’s chilling. I’m on both sides of the spectrum when it comes to energy.

Rockstar x Stormzy ‘Press Play’ performance
Rockstar x Stormzy ‘Press Play’ performance (Picture: Press)

You’re returning to the live stage this summer with your This Is What We Mean Day at All Points East. What can fans expect?

I always say that whenever I step on that stage, I’ll take my job extremely seriously. I like to think I’ve set a precedent from the beginning of my career, that anytime anyone pays their hard earned money for a ticket to come and watch me perform, I will give them everything I’ve got, I will leave nothing on that stage. And even the amount of preparation and the attention to detail that goes into every intricate thing that can be associated with a live show, with the music, even my setlist, the transition, there’s a lot of hard work that goes into it.

I think it’s a cliche thing for artists to say that we work hard, but I take my live show as seriously as I take my music and my albums. I think it’s just an extension of that. So anyone who comes to see me, just know that they’re gonna get an incredible show. That’s one thing I can always guarantee, I’ll always give people an incredible show.

How has life been since This Is What I Mean came out in November, and have you thought about the next steps at all?

I think I’m just where I’m meant to be, and I’m who I’m meant to be and I’m doing what I’m meant to do. I think the album reaffirmed my confidence, and it let me know that I should always stick to my guns, and I should always be brave. And I think even going forward with other albums, and new music, it’s like, ‘Just always trust yourself, back yourself to be brave, and be confident with your musical decisions, and carry on being free, and carry on being the cowboy and carry on just going into whatever musical terrain or musical experience that you want to do. Don’t ever be bound by anything and just make whatever music you want, wherever music is in your spirit’. So I think it has given me more confidence to do that.

You were recently back in the studio. Can you share anything about the music you’re working on right now?

When I’m making music, it’s always super deep, but it’s never that deep. I can’t explain it, it’s deep because I take music so seriously, and it’s my craft and it’s my passion. I promise you, I’ll just go to the studio and however I feel that day, that’s what I do. I try not to be super premeditated. There are times when I’m intentional if I need to be intentional when it’s like, ‘This is what I’m doing. I want to make this kind of song’. But I just go there and I just pray to God, I’ll literally pray to God, and everyone in the room prays and we’ll say, ‘Let’s see where the Spirit takes us today’. It’s literally a random box. I think that’s why, over my career, you get all these different flavours and these different genres and these different styles, because it literally is just that, it’s just me going to the studio and trying to figure it out when I’m there.

How do you find that raw studio process aligns with doing more tech-focused projects like this one? Do you enjoy both?

I’m always open whenever there’s original creative ideas that can marry with what I’m doing, and I don’t have to bend or fold what I’m doing. When someone like Rockstar said, ‘Yo, we want to do this with you’, I think as artists we’re meant to be true to our process. And then if someone wants to come on board, I’ll say ‘cool’. If I’m making an album, and then someone has an idea I’m always open to it. So I think it’s always sick when you can be your most authentic self. And then that still marries into ideas and visions of another brand or another creative partner.

Stormzy poses in a black outfit while holding a Rockstar Energy drink can
Stormzy x Rockstar Energy (Picture: Press)

Your collaborator on This Is What I Mean, Debbie, is very much at the heart and soul of the record. What was it about her as an artist that made her such an integral part to the album?

She is honestly, probably the best songwriter, the best artist, the best vocalist I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with. I got connected with her in the early stages of the album, and the first song we made together was ‘Give It To The Water’. Her confidence and her ideas, even I learnt a lot from her during that process, even being in the room with her, and she came to Osea Island to work with us.

I’m someone, when it comes to music, anything that comes with bars, I see art as a canvas. If there’s other painters who can come in and help me paint, and they’re incredible, I’m never gonna be against them. Imagine there’s a canvas, and then Picasso says, ‘Can I come and help’, I’m gonna say, ‘Yo, come Picasso’. So Debbie was just another Picasso amongst an amazing group of creators where we were trying to create something beautiful. And I think the greatest art in the world comes from collaboration when it comes to music. She was just an amazing collaborator and she had so many wonderful ideas. It was just amazing to connect and do it.

The Rockstar in-app digital concert experience starring Stormzy will go live on Friday, July 21 at 5pm BST, and will be available to stream across Spotify until August 4. For more information on information about Stormzy’s upcoming gig, visit Rockstar Energy.