ECHO

EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Breantonia and Jak

London based songstress Breantonia and producer Jak have released their debut track, “Exposure.” The single is a creative and fresh take on evolving affection for another through the metaphor of a camera. The soulful track is a fusion of Breantonia’s masterful songwriting and Jak’s distinct production rich with ‘woozy RnB’ and lo-fi fuzz. 

Find out what Breantonia and Jak had to say about how they got connected, their single,”Exposure,” and what’s to come from this impressive collaboration. 

Jak: My name is Jak. I’m a producer from London. I also work at Sony as a studio engineer. I record a lot of UK urban and just general pop music. I teamed up with Breantonia just over a year ago and we’ve been working on a really cool soul/RnB project for you guys.

Breantonia: My name is Breantonia. I’m a singer/songwriter from London as well. I also work for Sony, but a different sister company. I’m in international marketing, so I’m into music corporately and creatively, which is a really cool mix. I met Jak about a year and a half ago. We’ve been working on this super cool project.  

How did you two get connected? Was it through Sony? 

Breantonia: No, actually. When I was at uni, I was coming up to my final year and, as we all do, I was scared and terrified of what life was going to be afterwards. I reached out to my lecturer for her to connect me with another songwriter who works in the industry, but is also creative. She was like, ‘I’ve got exactly the person for you. She’s an industry veteran, but she’s also songwrites and produces and stuff. She’s the person to talk to.’ So I ended up connecting with this woman, she’s called Vérité and she was like ‘Hey, actually I think I’ve got someone cool to hook you up with.’ So I was like okay, that was fine and it was Jak. I connected with Jak on Facebook, I think it was. He told me, ‘Oh, I work for Sony too.’ And I was like, ‘You’re a liar. No you don’t. I don’t see you around.’ We actually work for two different arms of Sony. 

Jak: Vérité was the lady that got me into writing music for TV. I used to do loads of crazy video game music or stuff like that. Then she would set me up with artists on the side, occasionally. It just so happened that one time I met Bre and the first song we made was “Exposure” and we took it from there. 

What was the inspiration behind writing “Exposure“?

Breantonia: In terms of the lyrics, when Jak and I were in the session, I had come up with the chord progression for the chorus. Immediately, I just kept singing ‘exposure, exposure’ and I had already had a melody down that I loved. We got to a place where we couldn’t really take it further in that session. We were like, ‘We’ve got something, but we don’t really know what to do with it.’ As we left and kind of sat with the demo, I was like, I love this word exposure, but I don’t want it to be kind of too generic in terms of love and revealing yourself to someone. I was kind of like, ok, exposure is taught in photography in terms of its theory and stuff like that. I had studied photography the year before so I was like, sick, I can still speak about love and getting into a new relationship and wanting to be vulnerable and open with someone, but I will do it in the analogy of a camera and that intimacy that you share with a photographer. Exposure is when it’s so bright that you can’t really see the image.  I think that’s a cool metaphor to use for a new relationship and getting to know someone. That came about in terms of the lyrics. 

Jak: Coming from a sort of producing side of it, inspiration wise, we had a little sit down when we had done this first session and I think we were sharing some artists we came across – people like Ravyn Lenae from the US and then in the UK, sort of across the Atlantic, trying to be inspired by artists like NAO, I guess that kind of vibe. There were a few different places we were taking influence from. I guess we listened to a lot of US RnB and UK RnB to try to get the feel for what we are going for. We wanted something a little bit more abstract, something that took it away from your standard formula for writing songs and that’s how we came up with “Exposure,” really. 

How would you describe the sound of “Exposure”?

Breantonia: Oh, that’s you Jak. I don’t even think you can. When Jak sent me the first – it was still a demo, i’d say, but it was the first kind of produced version of “Exposure” as we know it and I lost my mind. I was obsessed with it. But I couldn’t describe it to other people. I didn’t know where to place it in terms of genres or who to even reference in order to give everyone an idea. I feel like, Jak, you do a good job. 

Jak: I’ll definitely give it a go. It’s easier to explain it when you kind of start from the beginning because this was our first session. We had only just met. We were both inspired by similar artists. It was the song that we came up with together, as in the demo we came up with together that kind of gave it that summery love thing. It felt really nice and really upbeat and uplifting, but we wanted to give it that dance flow,  something that you could actually bop to a little bit. This is when we actually started going in a little bit harder. Like, how are we going to get all these cool crazy sounds to come through? Do we want to keep it completely electronic? Do we want loads of random instruments coming through? I think, like Bre said, after that first session we had the piano that Bre came up with. We had the guitar, which you actually hear at the very start of the song. We actually recorded that on the first demo session and just really liked it, so we just kept it. To get that real feel,  sonically, I guess we were going for energetic synths, you know stuff that sounded really out there – capture your imagination straight away. When we came up, actually if you listen to about ten seconds in when it drops into the drums and the beat, that’s where the synth came in that I made just from scratch just because I was trying to get that cool kinda like wonky funk kind of feel that NAO does so well. I spent ages trying to get something crazy, something that sounded similar, but original enough that it was our own. Once we nailed that initial sound, I think everything from there kind of progressed. It became easy. That’s a bit of a long explanation. I would like to say that we have a kind of a bit of a wonky R&B thing going on – something a little bit askew 

Who did you listen to growing up and did they have an influence on your sound today. Can that be seen in elements of “Exposure”?

Breantonia: I think for me, in terms of lyrically, I’m an old soul. I was always in my Mum and Dad’s CD rack, so I listened to Donny Hathaway – Stevie wonder is like my number one guy. So lyrically, I feel like even when you look at the lyrics to “Exposure” and you see how poetic it is, I think you can see the way that I’ve been inspired by songwriters like Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder. I think that’s my biggest reference in terms of how my upbringing has influenced me now. I think I can get real poetic because I still got that Stevie influence on me. 

Jak: Stevie is the one there to be fair if you’re going to be drawing from anywhere – one hundred percent, I will not deny that for a second. I guess for my own kind of upbringing, musically, it wasn’t really just embedded in soul particularly at all, RnB, you know the stuff that I kind of predominantly make now. I came from a much more acoustic songwriter place. Jack Johnson was one of my first albums, In Between Dreams and that was a big one for me growing up. I guess how it inspired me now is that I still try to incorporate a lot of acoustic guitar and a lot of live elements into my production, so it’s definitely still something I crave that when I’m listening to a song, not just an electronic production. As much as I love that and I focus on producing like that, I feel like when you get the perfect combination of your live and your electronic it just sounds great. That was a big one for me. Other than that, I’ve got some crazy albums from my Mum when I was younger. She was dropping me stuff from Cypress Hill and stuff like that when I was pretty young. I had quite a lot of different influences coming through. I learned a lot from hip hop when it came to vibes – something really strong that was just overwhelmingly good, it’s like you just couldn’t stop listening to it. You know, somewhere in the middle of those two things definitely. If I’m talking R&B, then it’s got to be Corinee Bailey Rae though – that was my nonstop that first album. I think it’s literally called Corinne Bailey Rae.

Breantonia, you mentioned on Instagram that songwriting is your first love. What is it about songwriting that you really enjoy? 

Breantonia: Oh, do you know what? I just love the freedom that you have with songwriting. You can literally tell any story you want and I think that “Exposure” is such an example of that. We’re so free and as a songwriter you’re so flexible because of the english language and you can flip things on its head like the word exposure, where it’s got two sides to its definition and you can take inspiration from one side where it’s photography and than you can also utilize the other side of it. And that freedom to just build whatever narrative and story you want to present to the listener. I just think it’s really fun to see what you can do with it. I was telling Jak in a takeover we did on instagram, for me, my technique with songwriting, especially when I’ve got a really clear concept, I will do a spider diagram.  In the center I’ll put the word or the title of the song or whatever theme I’d say is behind the song. For “Exposure,” I did photography and then off of that I wrote all the photography terms that I know and would want to use: capture,  dazzle, depth of field, I had focus, I had glass flash,  then exposure and etcetera. For me, being able to have those words and then tell whatever story I want with it, I just think it’s endless fun. 

Jak: That’s so cool. I don’t see how you do it, Bre. It’s amazing, especially when you’re using concepts like that. I think to give it that conviction where it’s so meaningful, so powerful to use a metaphor like that is so amazing, honestly. 

I’m such a visual learner and having a spider diagram is such a good way to do it. I’m going to start using that for my writing. 

Breantonia: I’m a visual learner as well. On my notes on my phone or my laptop, I always write the alphabet as well at the bottom so I can just see these are the different letters you can use. When I try to rhyme with a word, let’s say it’s there, I can say ‘h’ hair, ‘c’ care, you know, just stuff like that. In terms of songwriting, you just got to go with whatever inspires you. 

I love the artwork for the cover. You worked with Kingsley Nebechi on it. How did you get connected with Kinglsey and did you collaborate with him on the design or was he inspired by the music? 

Breantonia: Aw, yes. Kingsley’s work is insane. I can’t even remember how I stumbled across him on instagram, but I’ve been following him. I showed Jak early on, as well. I was like Jak, if we do artwork it has to be this guy. I’ve been following Kinglsey for ages and I had one of his pieces saved on my Instagram archive. So I reached out to him. We sent him over the music and we told him what we wanted or I guess a brief of what we’d like to focus on. We said obviously the camera and a relationship etcetera. Then Kinglsey went away and came up with all these ideas. 

Jak: Yeah, it’s crazy, really. [He gave us] Loads of different ideas introducing the elements we wanted and juxtaposed against each other. Obviously, what he came up with was incredible. 

Breantonia: And so many people have come up to me afterwards and even before “Exposure” came out – I put the artwork on Whatsapp or something. Everyone was like, ‘Is that a book? What is that? It looks so sick. What is that?’ It is actually so broad, if you just look at it alone, it can be used in so many different formats. 

Jak: But that’s why it’s quite outstanding. You would recognize “Exposure” straight away from that artwork. That’s what I think is so powerful about it. Sometimes you see artwork and are like that’s super powerful, but it could be anything. [With this image], You’re like, this is “Exposure,” I know what I’m listening to, I know what it is. Good imagery. 

In the image, he included a butterfly at the top. Where did the butterfly come from? 

Breantonia: That was me, wasn’t it Jak?

Jak: That was the butterfly you mentioned, definitely. Then we ended up using it in the lyric video at the very start. But yeah, I’m pretty sure that was yours.

Breantonia: I don’t think I asked for a butterfly. In the brief, I spoke to Kingsley about this development of love and how you grow into it, a relationship starting off in one place and growing towards something else. That journey of life and development and progress. I feel like Kingsley interpreted that as the butterfly because it is the epitome of that kind of growth and development. I don’t think I actually asked for a butterfly, but as soon as Kingsley interpreted my brief and had that I was like that’s it, we’ve got to have the butterfly as an element in the lyric video. I just felt like it worked well.

If you could set fans up in the perfect environment to listen to “Exposure,” what do you imagine it looking like? 

Jak: We go through a few different styles throughout the song, so it would be quite hard to pin one. But I’ve always been one for like a summer party in the park kind of vibe. Just really popping off. Just big music, big dancing and a lot of people enjoying themselves. That’s always the way I picture it. 

Breantonia: I completely agree. I’m not gonna lie, I definitely imagine – in London, we’ve got quite a few rooftops where you’ve got your lounges and areas to sit down but they’ve also got bowling or little games around. They’re just fun places to go in summer. I imagine just loads of young people, those kind of rooftops and you’ve got “Exposure” playing, everyone is just vibing. Although, I did play it for my family for my brother’s birthday. That was just a week after it came out and in my house we’ve got these dim lights that change – it goes from green to purple to orange to whatever. Playing “Exposure” at night with that light going around in rotating colors, it was so sick. It was such a vibe. 

Jak: So cool. It’s got that kind of late night feel to it as well. I think it’s versatile. I could easily picture it on like that 4 am playlist, you’re up super late and you just kind of jam out. So maybe a couple of different places, but definitely that summer party vibe, a kind of rooftop thing. I’m always picturing a Primrose Hill kind of thing in my head. 

What has it been like to see so much positive reception to the song? 

Jak: For me personally, I’ve been quite overwhelmed really because this is my debut as an artist. I’ve released other music before with other artists, but never with my own name stamped on it like here’s me and Breantonia. When we went into it, we were really confident in the song. At the end of the day, you’re making music for other people, but also something you want to make for yourself. This is what epitomizes our sound together. We are drawing from two different places trying to make something together, so when we did finish it, I kind of felt like I didn’t want to consider what other people were going to think of it too much. I just wanted to make sure it was going to be released really well, we had everything to do with it completely finished, I guess. So yea I’ve been overwhelmed. We’ve had radio play, we’ve had all these magazines get in touch, interviews, even right now, it’s all just crazy stuff, to be honest with you. Bre, you might be a little bit more exposed to it maybe. 

Breantonia: Not even! Do you know what it is as well? I think because it came from such a pure place, and when I say pure, I mean I guess what you said Jak about how this was more so just for us. We just love this. [It was] less about, let’s come up with a strategy to get this many plays and whatever, It was just this is a sick song, we both love it, let’s just put it out and share it with everyone. And for me, it was to a point where even if it wasn’t well received, I still love the tune, I still play it, I still sing along to it. The fact that on top of that people are also in love with it and playing it and everything it’s just so incredible and it’s so nice, especially looking at a lot of my work friends who don’t even know me in that capacity. They just know Bre the marketing –  you know for other artists so for them to hear me singing and songwriting and stuff they’re like, ‘what hell? who are you two? like what’s going on?’ So to see their reactions and support, it’s meant a lot. It’s been really nice. 

Jak: Definitely – I feel like sometimes you might release music or when I have done it in the past you feel like you’re trying to get an audience. You’re trying really hard to push and make sure everyone is listening to it. For “Exposure,” I was so happy with it so we weren’t really focusing on pushing it so much. So many people are messaging up and dming us and saying great tracks – honestly, I love this. It’s just nice when you know it kind of does the work for you.

Breantonia: That’s a good shout. A lot of things that have happened have been off the back of the song just being a good song. It’s not us harassing people. It’s just been people dming me being like, ‘Hey can we do this? Can we use it here? I’m going to play this on radio tonight’ and it’s just like, ‘Wait, what? Thanks, sure.’ 

What can fans expect next? 

Jak: I think next up, as in the most recent thing that’s going to come next – hopefully, if everything goes to plan – will be the live rendition of “Exposure.” It will be amazing. We’re still sort of organizing it. Obviously it’s a difficult time to get everyone together in the same space, but I think we might have worked out a way to do it, so hopefully we will have a really amazing live rendition of “Exposure.” A little bit more live, a little bit more kind of rootsy, a little bit less produced, hopefully just with a few plays, like a big room nice and spaced out -that’s the next thing on the list. And then you know, post that we’ve definitely got a lot of ideas for a music video that we planned a little bit before lockdown came along. We sort of have that one in the bag anyway, we just started filming so that will be amazing to share with everybody. I’m obviously really excited about that. But then we do have a few more songs in the pipeline as well. It’s hard to know where to start. I think we’ve got a few great ones. 

Breantonia: I was going to say, in terms of new music, there’s a nice little pot of pop  songs sitting in there ready to be released. In terms of “Exposure,” I’m ready to live with this for a minute because there are so many different ideas we have. Like Jak said, the live version, even just “Exposure” on keys sounds so gorgeous. The live version is definitely something that we want to do and then the music video because we planned it so long ago. It obviously had to take a backseat because of everything going on. That’s something that we definitely want to do. I’m down to live with “Exposure” until we fully kind of utilize it for all it’s potential. 

Jak: Definitely – we’re not in a rush to put out new music just yet. It’s quite nice to not have deadlines in the way. Now that we’ve released this one, we’re just going to relax and enjoy it for a little bit longer. Steady work on these other bits. But yeah, some live stuff would be great. 

I heard you might be coming out with an EP soon. Is that true?

Breantonia: You know what, I’m more than happy to tell people that because I think what I’ve received from people who have heard my first EP and then have heard “Exposure,” they’re kind of like, ‘woah, Bre this is like a whole new you. This is a whole new angle.’ So the fact that they’re so excited to see this new sound, let’s see what else can happen. I’m like, ‘Yeah, stay tuned. An EP is coming and you’ll hear more.’ I’m all good with letting people know, yes an EP is definitely in the works. 

What is one quote that you have heard or that you go by that you want to ECHO out to the world? 

Breantonia: I feel like this is a timely one. I saw it this morning and I was actually going to send it to my friend for encouragement. It was “direction over speed and faith over fear.” For me, that is like my mantra for life right now. Regardless of how long it takes, I don’t really care as long as we’re going in the right direction, as long as we’re doing what we’re meant to be doing, as long as we’re living in our purpose and we’re living our fullest. That is my priority right now and definitely faith over fear. If anything, I think this is the time to just be you. Just do what you want to do. Do what makes you happy, produce, create, share – share it with the world. Share it with your family and friends. And just be. Be in your purest most authentic form. That’s my nugget of wisdom. 

Jak: I love that. I’m not going to say anything because I feel that that is a definite take away there. I think I’m going to take onboard that myself. It’s such a good time to actually just be and reset. If there’s any positivity that you want to take out of it or any sort of silver lining, why not think of it as a chance to not necessarily reinvent yourself but focus on yourself.

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