"Kanye West! I think the man is a genius!": Luke Burr on his new single Light's On and that man Yeezy

In a world where people are seen through filters and judged by the amount of ‘likes’ they get, Burr's Lights On is about giving someone the confidence to be completely themselves

                            "Kanye West! I think the man is a genius!": Luke Burr on his new single Light's On and that man Yeezy
Kanye West (Source: Getty Images)

Luke Burr is one of the most popular emerging artists from the UK. Described by many as the raw mix of early Amy Winehouse and John Legend, Luke's music is very reminiscent of his biggest musical inspirations – Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross and George Benson. 

The 22-year-old singer is a favorite among many renowned musicians and is all set to make an impact on stage and in the studio. From The Great Escape to Ticketmaster’s HQ, Luke has performed in many reputable arenas and is now all set to continue his streak of selling out shows during his performance at Communion’s music night at the arts club later this month. 

Meaww got the opportunity to pick Luke's brain about his inspirations, potential collaborations and biggest challenges among other things. Here are the edited excerpts from the interview:  

When did you first start performing? 

Luke: I’ve always loved music from a young age since my dad used to play his old soul records around the house! Stevie Wonder and Earth Wind & Fire etc just seemed to resonate with me and I guess I just started to sing along one day. 

Then I just entered a local talent competition when I was 14 and I won. This gave me some confidence to perform more and from the age of 15, I started to sing in local pubs. Rough pubs turned into nicer venues and parties/weddings and, during school, I was gigging two or three times a week.

It was at these pubs that I really developed my passion for performing and putting on a show. If I could entertain three grumpy old men in a corner then I could do anything.

Since then the venues have changed and I’ve built my own band performing my own songs but the challenge to entertain people and perform to the best of my ability still remains for me. The biggest buzz I get is when performing live.

Who are your biggest influences? 

Luke: Stevie Wonder is the greatest that’s ever done it for me and listening to his albums and watching him live will forever be a huge inspiration. The level of musicianship he kept in all of those hits is just ridiculous.  

John Legends first album came out when I first started to want to become a singer/songwriter so he will always be one of the biggest influences on my career. I’ve seen him live a handful of times and his tone never gets old. I heard the Get Lifted album and thought “I want to make music like this!" 

I also am obsessed with voices and gospel in particular. Artists like Smokie Norful inspire me to work harder with my voice and improve as a singer.
What kind of music do you like listening to? Can we have a link to a playlist/mixtape that you particularly enjoy? 

Luke: I still love to listen to the music that my dad first introduced to me as a young boy. So Luther Vandross, Kool & The Gang, Chic etc. will always have a place in my favourite songs. 

But I’m also into fresh production and music that pushes boundaries. Anything that I feel has soul and I believe is ‘real’, I connect to. Recently, I’ve been listening to H.E.R. a lot and I think she is incredible. 

Artists like Chance The Rapper, Anderson Paak, NAO are favourites of mine. As are Justin Timberlake, Timbaland and Pharrell who possess that ability to make great pop songs whilst always keeping an interesting delivery on the sound.  
Here is a link to My Fix playlist (that may include some of my tunes)

If you had to pick just one artist/band that you would like to collaborate with in the near future, who would it be? 

Luke: Kanye West. I think the man is a genius. What he did for John Legend on that first album and the sound they delivered will forever be one of the most influential album for me as an artist. He forever pushes boundaries and introduces new sounds. I’d love to see what we could create together. That would be a dream.

A very, very close second would be Timbaland.

Could you tell us a little bit about your new single Lights On?

Luke: In a world where people are seen through filters and judged by the amount of ‘likes’ they get, Lights On is about giving someone the confidence to be completely themselves. I’m saying “you are most beautiful to me when you’re 100% real”. 

Could you walk us through the production process of Lights On?  

Luke: Pantha produced the tune and Dantae Johnson wrote it with me. We were in the studio and Pantha was working on this little hip-hop beat. The day before the session, I was sitting next to a group of girls in a restaurant discussing how amazing this girl was on Instagram they followed and how jealous they were of her looks! It got me thinking about how so many people rely on ‘likes’ for confidence and see the world through filters.

I’d told Dantae about my encounter and we came up with a few melodies and really got stuck on the line “better with the lights on”. From that, the rest of the song came pretty quickly.
Any new collaborators that you’ve been working with or plan to collaborate with? 

Luke: I’ve just got back from a trip to Amsterdam where I met some amazing people. I have a track coming out with Full Crate and we filmed a live version of the song at the Red Bull studios, which was such a great experience. 

I’m doing some touring with Rudimental at the moment. And I’ve been working with ThirdLife, KZ, and more talented people.

What were some of the challenges/the greatest challenge that you faced while recording? 

Luke: Working out what my sound is. And to do that I needed to work out who I am. So working out who I am is the greatest challenge. As a young boy, I knew I could sing and I knew I could perform. And I guess I thought it would be like in the movies where someone spots you and gives you some songs and turns you into a superstar. I worked out pretty quickly it wasn’t like that.

As an artist and a songwriter, I need a message. Something I want to say. I knew the artists I liked to listen to but how I was going to be inspired by those and create my own sound was always going to be a challenge. It took me about 100 songs to work it out. But having more to write about through life experiences and navigating this crazy industry - being signed and unsigned - I started to work it out.

And I’m still working it out now (I think I’ll always be trying.) I met a producer one day who I clicked with and who gave me sounds I knew all along I’d needed but hadn’t achieved in my records. I wrote a song where I meant every lyric and, from that day, I had a template and a ‘sound’ of Luke Burr I could always refer to.

Vinyl or digital? What’s your preferred format and why? 

Luke: Vinyl is beautiful and songs really do sound better on there. However, the accessibility and portability of digital make it my preferred format.

What do you think about music streaming? Do you think it’s helpful or harmful for up-and-coming artists? 

Luke: I think both. 

Music streaming makes it possible for anyone to achieve great things. Anyone can be listened to, anyone can be found. One song can go ‘viral’ and all of a sudden introduce everyone to a whole catalogue of your music. I think it’s great for up-and-coming artists in the sense that they can upload a song and develop fans in another country that would never have heard of them. I’m listening to more music than ever now.

Before streaming, I wouldn’t have had the ability to download as many songs as I am from as many artists and so, therefore, there’s a higher chance of me stumbling across a new up-and-coming artist whose music I wouldn’t have bought before.

But that brings me on to the flip side. Before streaming, I would get my money and buy an album. I’d listen to that album and I’d live with it. Even if at first I didn’t connect to all the songs, the fact that it was the only album I’d bought that month would mean I would sit with it and connect with the songs more. I’d give music more time. 

I feel streaming has helped to develop a culture where people are desperate for songs to grab their attention in the first 15 seconds. It’s a fast food culture and this can be a negative to up-and-coming artists. 

Some songs are “growers” and get better with each listen, but streaming has encouraged people to not give songs a chance (or a second chance) as they just skip to the next song on the playlist.  
Any plans of touring soon? 

Luke: I’m currently doing some touring with Rudimental which is exciting. I also have some gigs and festivals lined up this summer including a show for BBC Music Introducing. I have a headline show that I am preparing for at the end of the summer.
What can we expect next? 

Luke: You can expect collaborations this summer. More original music later this year. And a body of work very soon. Oh, and some amazing gigs — so come see me live!