Glints is a name that’s been floating around in our Spotify playlists for a good couple of years now. The 25-year-old singer-rapper Jan Maarschalk Lemmens is a prime specimen of a vocal chameleon that can handle any beat in fine style.
Although his earlier work is characterised by a moody gloom that predominantly depended on the singing part, last year’s single ‘Bugatti’ proved he can drop some heavy bars over a hard beat. It marked the beginning of a new chapter for the Antwerp-native; one where he is ready to let the world take a peek inside his head. If his recent single ‘Fear’ is anything to go by, we’re in for a wild ride when his long-awaited debut album drops. Before that happens, though, we visited Lemmens for a rather lengthy conversation about his battle with anxiety, performing alone in front of thousands and his countless upcoming projects that may or may not involve a couple of juicy collaborations.
Hi Jan! How was your summer?
Good! I've spent all my time in either the studio or on stage. There were big stages, small stages and even a show in Marseille; but Pukkelpop had to be the most impressive one.
It’s the third year in a row you’ve played there. Have you seen the crowds grow in size each time?
Yeah, I have! Three years ago I was still
playing with a band, last year I played the Lift (one of the smaller stages of
the festival, dedicated to upcoming talent, ed.) and this year it was just
around ten thousand people and me! That was the biggest crowd I've ever played
© Thor Salden
You were alone on stage. No band, no DJ. That’s a remarkable choice, as many new artists feel a certain pressure to prove themselves and they feel like they would only be taken seriously if they have a full live band with them…
In the beginning of my career, the music I made was a great match with a live band. Since then, my sound has evolved into something that suited a more direct approach. Two things lead to this. Firstly, I was looking for a pure medium in my own way. There are only two things on that stage: me and my music. That forces you to nail your delivery and stage performance without room for error. Secondly, I have learned a lot of things I wouldn't have known otherwise. Entertaining a crowd of thousands with just your voice and your beats is one of them.
Let's dive into some more in-depth stuff. You recently made a post where you addressed your battle with anxiety. How has this part of your life shaped you as an artist?
My anxiety is something I used to suffer from a
lot when I was younger, because I didn't know what it was: derealisation,
depersonalisation, dissociation, etc. When you're young, you think you're the
only one who's going crazy. But at one point, I met people that had the same
issues, which helped me put everything in context gradually. Some ups and downs
can come up at any time, and when that happens, you’re just gone for anything
between one hour and three days.
There are only two things on that stage: me and my music. That forces you to nail your delivery and stage performance without room for error
So does standing on alone stage help you deal with that? Or could it make the problem worse?
In many ways, my job on that stage is obvious and straightforward: let go completely. You're not really thinking, and adrenaline is pumping. Then again, sometimes you snap out of it, and you suddenly realise there are thousands of faces staring at you. That could be triggering, although I feel comfortably in control doing my shows lately.
Is it wrong to say that anxiety can be a great source of inspiration for an artist?
Not at all. Anxiety has formed who I am and what I make. You have to get your inspiration from somewhere, and you can't always choose where you get it from. So, of course, my demons are connected to my music.
So is there a difference between you as an artist and you as a person?
I think there's not much difference, to be
honest; or at least I hope so. There has to be some difference, of course. You
have to keep a certain edge when
you’re about to mount the stage, because that isn’t a normal situation. But yeah, what you see on stage is pretty much
who I am in real life too.
Earlier, you have said you feel connected with the UK culture, the country where you have roots. In which ways can we hear that in your output?
People often say my parents are from the UK, but that's not true. My aunt is from London, and because I had a cousin of the same age, I often visited from a very young age. She didn't speak any Dutch, and so I picked up English pretty fast and early. My grandparents passed away, so I would go to visit my surrogate grandparents every year. Looking back on it now, that time was pretty crazy. Me and my cousin must have been thirteen, and we just spent countless days hanging around London. Especially at that age, this place would feel like a weird parallel universe, and I liked that. Add the local music culture to the mix, and I developed a deep love for that scene. Artists like The Streets, Skepta, Kano or Wiley were huge discoveries for me. Their music, their vibe and their accents were so different to what we had over here during that time. It just made sense for me.
Which of those early UK underground genres did you feel most? Were you a junglist, a raver or a grime fan?
Of course, I had a brief drum ‘n' bass phase like most kids of my age at the time, but it was grime that completely enchanted me. It never felt like a genre that fitted with the rest. Now it has become a lot bigger, but it used to be outsider music. So I identified myself with that. From there, I got into artists like Mount Kimbie, James Blake, King Krule, etc. All these artists who were making leftfield stuff. They made me realise you can also sing over a weird electronic beat. It was so eclectic, and that felt right for me.
At one point, you’ll know what you want your music to sound like, and you’ll need some good friends to help you get there.
Alright, let’s get into your production process. How do you usually start making a song?
I have my ways. I never start with a beat that someone else has just sent me – unless another artist asks me for a feature. Either I have a clear idea that includes the chorus, the melody and the overall theme, or I start from scratch without a plan. All the tracks on my album belong in that first category. Last year’s ‘Bugatti' is another great example of that. The harmony and the verses were in my head long before the first note was written. The next step is taking that idea to Yello (Staelens aka Yong Yello, Maarschalk’s close friend, roommate and producer, ed.). Then we usually sit down and plan everything out in front of us. What will be the tempo? Which synths and chords will I use? Should we use an 808 or a more organic drum? Once we have everything set, I finish off my lyrics and – voila – we made a song. That said, inspiration doesn’t strike every day, and productivity requires discipline.
© Thor Salden
Do you have the feeling that you have evolved a lot as an artist compared to when you first started?
I have evolved so much! In the last two years alone, I have made so much progress. I now have a lot more faith in collaborating with other people. The click I made with Yello helped me realise that. As a young artist, you need to know where you want to go, because there are so many options in front of you, even within just hip hop. It takes time to make that decision. But at one point you’ll know what you want your music to sound like, and you’ll need some good friends to help you get there.
I heard you are taking that advice to the next level. You’re moving into a new house with a whole bunch of other artist friends. Is this a new chapter in your life?
Well, I can't give you too many details on that (laughs). But yeah, me, Yello Staelens, Faisal Chatar (a well-known DJ and producer who goes by his first name, ed.), Iljen Put (who is an excellent painter and who also designs my artwork), Thor Salden (a talented photographer who’s always on the road with me) and Pieter Fivez (my trusted friend from day one). Together, we’re moving in an old halal slaughterhouse in the centre of Antwerp. We’re currently renovating the place and building our studio’s in there. All I can say is that a lot of music will be made there (laughs).
Working alongside and together with other artists seems to be your new thing indeed. In the past few months, you have been in the studio with The Subs, DVTCH NORRIS, Martha Da’ro and Eddy Ape, just to name a few. Many artists see collaborations as a necessary step to widen your audience, but you can't seem to get enough of it…
I think you can learn something from everyone, because none of us work in the same way. By inviting another artist into your creative hub, you both take something useful back to your own space. I don't see this as a necessary evil, as it forces you to step out of your bubble. Finding the balance between your ways and those of another is an interaction everybody benefits from. Not only do you learn to know the other person better, you learn to understand yourself better. That's how scenes are created and strengthened. Imagine I work together with a producer and that person turns out to be the inspiration I have been missing all my life? It would be crazy to deny yourself opportunities like that, right?
© Thor Salden
So there will be a lot of collaborations on your upcoming album I assume?
There won’t be that many, to be honest. The single ‘Fear' with DVTCH NORRIS will be on there, but other than that, I don't want to share too much information just yet. It's a super personal album that will deal about a rather dark chapter in my life. Don't worry; I've moved out of that mindset already, in huge part because of the people around me. But the story I want to tell in the album is my story, hence the relative lack of collaborations on there.
It did take you a while to start working on a debut album. Did you not feel any pressure?
After ‘Bugatti’, things shifted into a higher gear. I could have made ten different Bugatti songs and put it on an album, and that might have worked out well. But that’s not I wanted to do. I wanted to tell a story, I wanted to create my own sound, and not just copy paste something that I’d already done before. So we took our time with it until all the pieces fell into place. I don’t like to rush things; the music is always a priority. Sometimes everything falls works out in a month, but sometimes it takes years. If there’s one piece of advice I can give to people, it’s to make sure you take your time.
A little bird told me you’re already working on the second album…
It's true. I'm already deep into a new project
that will have a lot more collaborations on there (but I can't tell you with
who) because it's an entirely different project. That project has been going
great, and I'm glad people will see another side of Glints.