BBC Sound Of 2016: WSTRN interview

By Mark Savage
Music reporter

media captionWSTRN have come joint fifth in the BBC Music Sound Of 2016 poll

London soul trio WSTRN have come joint fifth in the BBC Music Sound of 2016 - tying with electronic producer Mura Masa.

The group was formed by childhood friends Louis Rei and cousins Haile and Akelle Charles - whose fathers were session musicians for the likes of Bob Marley.

After years of struggling as solo artists, the trio created the catchy seduction song In2 in a late-night recording session earlier this year. After filming a video for £250, they saw the track catch fire, eventually reaching the top 10 in November - at one point outselling Adele's Hello.

Named after their stomping ground in Hammersmith and Shepherd's Bush, West London, the band have attracted celebrity fans such as Wiley, Lily Allen, Wretch 32 and Rita Ora, and are frantically working on their debut album.

They spoke to the BBC at the Wendy House recording studio, where their names are etched on the wall alongside the likes of Sam Smith, Ellie Goulding, Stevie Wonder and... er, Jedward.

How did the band form?

Louis Rei: The name only came about recently - but us, as a collective, we're family so we've been around quite a while. But the name WSTRN has only existed for a short amount of time.

So what was the catalyst?

Akelle: In2. The hottest track on the road right now. [laughs]

How did that song come about?

Louis Rei: Basically, we was all just in the studio. We didn't even go in there to make the song. We was actually just chilling and going through some beats. Then Haile went in the [vocal] booth and laid down the chorus. We was like, "woah, what's going on here?"

How soon did you know it was going to be massive?

Akelle: We didn't really. We put it to one side after we made it. It was like, "that's cool - what's next?"

Haile: But then Akelle sent it to a DJ and that's when everything spiralled out of control.

What's the most surprising thing that's happened as a result?

Louis Rei: I woke up one time and saw that Alan Carr had done a parody of In2. That was just crazy.

Akelle: Alan Carr did the best In2 remix!

Louis Rei: Yeah, big up Alan!

Both In2 and the b-side Got Love are romance songs. Should we expect more of that?

Louis Rei: We just want to bring positivity back. Everything's way too serious right now, man.

Akelle: I'm going to rap about personal stuff like relationships, pain that I've gone through, pain that someone else has gone through. Real life stuff that people can connect to. So they can hear the song and they're like "Oh my God, this guy is talking about me."

Akelle, you claim on In2 that you've been "in and out with girls". Are you a bit of a ladies' man?

Akelle: I'm definitely a loverman! [He blushes and buries his head in his hands] Oh my God, I'm getting all shy! Why did I put that line in there?!

image captionThe trio are planning to release an "upbeat" follow-up to In2 later this month

Tell me about your background? What were you doing before WSTRN?

Akelle: I started making music when I was about seven or eight. [Late reggae artist] Smiley Culture brought me and my brothers and sisters into the music industry.

Like a British Jackson 5?

Akelle: That's what we were trying to do. We were trying to get somewhere with our family music but it didn't really work out.

Were you the Marlon or the Michael?

Akelle: I was Michael. 100 per cent Michael. I'm the youngest - so it makes sense.

Do you all have similar stories?

Louis Rei: My earliest recollection of music would be primary school. I think my dad wrote me a little lyric for a school project - and I remember how it felt, rapping in front of everyone. I got a buzz from that, and it's been at the back of my head ever since.

Haile: In my early teen years, I did music as a hobby with all my friends. Then, from 17 upwards, I started to take it more seriously. And then I met these guys and it all happened.

Louis Rei: So to go back to that question where you asked, "Did you know In2 was going to be a hit?" - it's hard. As a musician, I can tell you that many times in the past I've said, "Yeah, this is the song that everyone's going to like," and it just didn't happen.

image copyrightAtlantic Records
image captionAkelle: People say, "how does it feel to blow up so quick?" but it's been a long journey for all of us

How did you come up with the name WSTRN?

Louis Rei: It was actually our manager, Morgan Keyz. The music scene has its poster boys - East London had Dizzee Rascal, etc - so we're saying it's the West's turn now.

Is there a focal point for the music scene in West London?

Akelle: Everything's run by social networks now. You don't need a hook-up or a meet-up to create a scene. But there's so much more talent to come. We're bringing West London together. And it's divided. There's not much unity.

In what way is it divided?

Louis Rei: What's unique about West London is you can walk down a lovely high street and you'll take a turn and suddenly you're on a council estate. So you'll have friends from different walks of life.

Akelle: It's a proper eye-opener.

Louis Rei: You just get to experience things from a different viewpoint. It rounds you as a person.

Isn't it easy to become resentful when you're right next to people who have more than you?

Louis Rei: I don't think we focus on who's got more than who. If you're doing well and I care for you, I'm happy - and I hope you feel the same about me. And then we elevate it.

image copyrightAtlantic Records
image captionThe band say they're influenced by everyone from Lauryn Hill to Marvin Gaye and The Carpenters

Other urban acts on the Sound of 2016 list - Section Boyz and J Hus - have done everything independently. Why did you decide to sign to a major label?

Louis Rei: It's a difficult one. We started independently. We did the video for In2 and put it on YouTube ourselves. We generated ridiculous amounts of interest. But we went with Atlantic [Records] because we need a machine to take our music where we want it to go. We genuinely believe it can cross over.

Akelle: We had to make a decision - and a quick decision at that. But we didn't just go with them in order to say "yeah, we're on a label". We checked out all the labels that was interested and went with the ones that felt genuine.

How did they convince you?

Akelle: They were thinking long-term. Other labels weren't thinking long-term.

There's a perception that a major label will try to impose its vision on you. How do you stay true to yourselves?

Akelle: That's something we had to talk about. We know about the industry through experience - so we're not going to be puppets.

So what happens next?

Louis Rei: Just making more music.

Haile: We've got so much sick tunes already - but we're going to make more. Because we might make a better tune that we want on the album.

How many songs have you got?

Akelle: So many.

Louis Rei: Enough for an album.

Akelle: Maybe two.

Louis Rei: Everybody seems to feel like, "do you feel pressure after In2?" but we're really enjoying it. How can you feel negative? We started at zero, we're here now and if it stays here, it's a bonus.

Related Topics

More on this story

Around the BBC

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.