A few hours before his incredible set at Edinburgh’s Hidden Door Festival 2023, Billy Got Waves sat down to chat with SNACK about his background, his influences and his uniquely effervescent and futuristic brand of hip-hop.
FYI, I’m not a trained journalist, I’m just a guy who likes listening to music and talking about music.
[Laughs] I’m not a trained musician, I just like making music.
I don’t know really anything about you, so… Tell me a little bit about your background?
So I’m Billy Got Waves, the reason I got that name was because of the late Virgil Abloh who was a designer, artist, and Creative Director at Louis Vuitton. He gave me that name randomly on Instagram; he just commented some waves [🌊🌊🌊] on an old picture of mine years ago and I ran with it.
Basically, I’m from Edinburgh. I started making music at about 12 years old, just for fun with friends. We got a little shitty mic, shitty laptop, free software and rapped over the most stupid beats. But what I actually used to do was breakdance. I started doing it professionally from about 17 till 25, travelling the whole world, doing competitions and corporate events, so… I’ve been performing for a long time.
Are there any musicians who’ve been instrumental in getting you to the point that you’re at?
I would say two people. My friend Joell, who also is still making music. My other friend Woozie, who now just does visuals. We used to be in a group together called 131 Northside — like 0131 without the 0, which is the Edinburgh area code. From that, Joell and I both become solo artists. Without them, I wouldn’t be doing music.
Also, I would say Young Fathers because Joell’s dad used to manage them back in the day. We were always in the same circles — but they were a bit older — and we ended up getting a music studio with them down in Leith. That’s where I made my most recent project Rocket Boy back in 2020. So without those guys, I probably wouldn’t have had that album or anything else.
There’s quite a silky pop flow to your vocals and a bit of a laidback glide to the music, but there’s still a good thump to the beat as well. How would you describe that to somebody? [At this point, someone nearby overhearing the conversation chimes in with ‘amazing, just salvation’]
[Laughs] Em, what she said! I would describe how what I want music to sound like in five years’ time. And I made Rocket Boy in 2020 so we’ve got two more years to go but I think it’s current now, so I wasn’t too far off the mark. We’ve had a few different names for it, ‘futuristic punk rap’ was one of them. There are loads [of descriptors] but none of it really is anything. I feel like I just make what I want to make and I feel like that kinda comes through in the music.
How did you actually go about developing your sound?
To be honest it didn’t come too naturally. It’s more like, just trying random shit as much as possible and just doing song after song after song and then finding little bits that are like… ‘Ok this is kinda cool, why don’t I do that but do it more like this’ and you just find your style. I’ve got maybe 500 songs that aren’t ever gonna the light of day.
So KiIl Billy, which I keep wanting to call ‘Killy Billy’, I keep tripping on that but… Was that your debut album?
I would call it more a mixtape cause it just features a shit tonne of artists from around Scotland. It was my first ever proper solo release. At that point, I didn’t really understand the music industry the way I do now. So we put out one video for one of the songs and just released the full album without any marketing, any promo, anything at all. So… I kind of fucked it but at the same time, I did get a lot of shows from it which put my name out there.
You’ve worked with other up-and-coming artists. You obviously mentioned Joell, there’s Bemz, there’s Tallisker. How did these come about?
Most of them were just through social media. Tallisker actually was because her producer and engineer worked on Kill Billy and a few of Joell’s projects as well. Scotland’s not that big so, you go to a show and there’ll be loads of different artists there and you just end up speaking to people.
So Rocket Boy, why release it as three parts?
It’s like a three-chapter album. I could have released it as just one big album, which probably, looking back on it, would have been the better thing to do, but… I just had this vision in my head that I wanted to release it bit by bit so people could really take in each part.
It’s basically a linear journey up to the point where I was at in 2020. The first part is like hell, when I was going through a bad time, like messed up with drugs, drinking, partying, just letting that life take over. The second part is purgatory which is kind of like the middle ground, where I’m like ‘I need to break free from this, I don’t know how.’ The third part was meeting my now ex-girlfriend. It’s heaven, where it’s like this person has basically saved me, shown me the light and taken me away from all the badness. To be completely honest, I didn’t even plan it. It was just me and my friend Baygee went into the studio for two weeks straight, made a shit tonne of music and a week later it was lockdown. We had all this music and I just started to piece it all together, and it just like slotted into place so perfectly.
That third chapter of the album opens with ‘Kawasaki, Pt.2’. Now, ‘Kawasaki’ is the opening track from Kill Billy. What was the idea behind that?
Well, ‘Kawasaki’ was just a random song I made in a basement one time surrounded by candles and it was like 15 seconds of vocals, but I just loved it. It was probably the most meaningful thing to me in that Kill Billy project. Even though it was so short, that was the only track I really connected with. ‘Kawasaki, Pt. 2’, with the third EP, it should have been the outro song because it talks about me basically having broken up with this girl and then regretting it. But I used it as the intro because it sounded like an intro. But yeah, that’s actually the linear end of the whole project because I broke up with a girl at the end.
You’re obviously performing at Hidden Door tonight. What can people expect from a Billy Got Waves live show?
A lot of energy, even though I’m ill as hell today. A lot of emotion, a live band who are unbelievable, and just good vibes. Loud colours, different senses I guess. Obviously not smell unless you get too close to the stage but yeah, it’s gonna be very visual.
And what about the other people in the band, how did they get involved?
There’s Kombo, who’s working the backing track and pads and things; messing with the sounds. Magnus is the synth and keyboard player. There is Mark on drums and Connel on guitar. And yeah we basically started playing together mid-last year, and I just knew after the first rehearsal that we did that it was a game-changer. It really elevates the music to a new place because the whole project was made on a laptop with laptop sounds, there are no real instruments being played, it just makes the whole thing so much bigger.
I’m looking forward to seeing that. Scottish hip-hop in general seems to be in quite a good level of health at the moment. Have you got any recommendations?
Obviously Joell, because he’s like my brother, we knew each other since we were babies actually. Chlobocop is one of my good friends as well. There’s a girl from Glasgow, Lamaya, who’s really good. We actually did a live performance video which will be out in like a month or two. She’s not actually released a song yet but when she does, you’ll see it. It’s like next-level. Superstar.
Nice, I’ll keep an eye out for her. What’s next for you?
I’m working with my friend Leon T Pearl, and I’m just coaxing him back into making music — we’re making an EP together. I’m working on a full album but that’s like bits and pieces just now. I’ve got quite a few collaborations coming on the way with artists that you wouldn’t expect me to work with, but I just like to do whatever I do really. A few things coming out that aren’t even hip-hop so there’s a lot of stuff in the pipeline.
Rocket Boy 3/3 is out now