Labrinth has had a busy couple of years, scoring his first TV series with HBO’s Euphoria, releasing an album with his new supertrio, LSD (with Sia and Diplo), and co-writing the Beyoncé song “Spirit” as part of Disney’s recent Lion King movie. This wide array of projects is nothing new for the London-based singer-songwriter-producer, whose music spans electronic, hip-hop, R&B, gospel, and jungle, among other sounds. Labrinth attributes this genre-mashing to the influence of his childhood home — an “unofficial music school,” as he puts it, where his eight siblings each came in listening to a giant grab bag of artists. “I’m this 12-year-old kid being a sponge to all of these energies,” he says. “It’s like a bag of Skittles when I’m creating music.”
His style got the attention of Sam Levinson, creator of Euphoria — which paved the way for Labrinth’s opportunity to score the show. His soundtrack, due out in album form this Friday, hums with soft electricity, perfectly complementing the journey of the main character, Rue, a teenager caught in limbo between the euphoria of a drug high and the harsh consequences of addiction. “When you look back to your teenage days,” he says, “it feels semi-magical but semi-crazy and semi-psychotic. I wanted to make sure the music felt like those things.”
You started as a songwriter and producer in 2009, and since then you’ve collaborated with a lot of different artists. Can you describe the transition from producing into a career as a solo artist?
I’ve been creating since I was a kid; I have a really large family who are all musicians. It was like I grew up in a music school. I’ve been producing for God knows how long, and I ended up producing for kids from a theater school. That evolved into them playing my demos and records to record-label executives, and them kind of losing their shit over the music. Sometimes your music can sound better than you look [laughs]. When I went in to meet label executives, they were like, “Who’s this weirdo kid that has jeans double the size of his waist?” ‘Cause I used to wear my older brother’s hand-me-downs.
Once they heard that I could sing and I was writing the records — as well as producing them, [and] playing instruments on them — they were like, “OK, this guy has got something,” and it evolved into me getting signed to EMI at the time. They introduced me to Tiny Tempah, who was an up-and-coming urban artist in the U.K., and we ended up creating a record called “Pass Out.” It ended up becoming a Number One record in the U.K. and exploded in other territories as well. And that was the moment where the industry turned into … what was it? The Walking Dead. And they were all after me [laughs].
Your music combines a lot of genres. What’s the source of that?
In my household, my sisters upstairs listened to Jodeci and 112 and Aaliyah, and all of these R&B artists and great singers. And then downstairs it would be my brother, who was way more into hip-hop, so it would be Wu-Tang, it would be Jurassic 5, A Tribe Called Quest.
And then in the other room my other brother would be playing jazz, like Weather Report and Yellow Jackets. My eight siblings had friends that were bringing in music like David Bowie, Prince, and genres that were inspiring to listen to. I’m this 12-year-old kid being a sponge to all of these energies.
If you can understand the perspective of the energy of the music, you can always find a way of incorporating it. In “Pass Out,” it was electronic hip-hop with trap energy; it also had a reggae energy in it. I was using drum-and-bass, jungle-type stuff. That was me throwing my childhood into the music. A lot of these influences just came into my music. I listen to Nina Simone, who I love; Ray Charles, who I love; and Kraftwerk, and then funk from Parliament-Funkadelic. So it’s like a bag of Skittles when I’m creating music. I hope that makes sense.
I feel like you have your own genre.
Yeah! I remember Bruce Lee saying that his style was basically like water. For me, Bruce Lee’s style basically combined all the styles of the masters before him. And for me with music, I don’t feel like any of them are separate; I feel like you can merge genres by not putting them on a pedestal. I don’t put any genre on a pedestal.
So how did your experience finding your own sound lead to where you are now?
When I started, I was asked to produce stuff [for], like, Rihanna or Beyoncé. I got sick of doing it because it was never working for me; I never got a hit out of it. That helped me find my own identity, because I had things I wanted to say, and once I started saying those things, that’s when my career started taking off.
[2014’s] “Jealous” was a record that took me much further than people expected. It went to, like, Number Seven in the U.K. People liked the record, but it was a very drastic change for the audience. In the music industry, when you fall in love with an artist, you fall in love with them for a genre or a type of energy, and a lot of the stuff I was doing before “Jealous” was club-driven or electronic-driven. It took a long time for people to get into the record. By then it started accumulating a new audience and new listeners, and people fell in love with that version of me — that layer of the onion. That’s kind of weird, to fall in love with onions. But don’t worry.
And then people started singing my songs, like “Beneath Your Beautiful” or “Jealous” on American Idol and Pop Idol, and X Factor, and that started to expand into other avenues alongside me working with the Weeknd, on Beauty Behind the Madness, ’cause the Weeknd had heard some of my songs from my previous album. A lot of my music is slowly bringing fans closer. So “Jealous,” I remember Adele saying she loved that record. But then equally, [with] my record “Earthquake” or “Pass Out,” the Weeknd or Diplo were like, “I love that record,” you know? A lot of artists fell in love with the idea that I don’t really have a genre.
How did LSD come together?
I ended up meeting Sia, who’s an incredible artist, an incredible writer. We got on like a house on fire and became instant friends, and then started writing music just because people put us in a room together. A few years later, she wanted to use one of my songs for a project, and she was like, “Lab, I’m gonna steal your record,” and that was a record I was gonna turn into a single. So she decided to try and write me a new single, and then we ended up writing, like, 10 songs, and that evolved into LSD. We called up Diplo and asked him to get involved and he was like, “I would like to do this project with you guys.”
Were you working on Euphoria and LSD and everything else at the same time — in the last year or two?
Yeah, the last three years I’ve been working on at least about five projects all at the same time.
How did you become familiar with Sam Levinson? How did you first react when he got in touch with you about Euphoria?
Sam’s a good friend of my manager, Adam Leber. What I love about him is he’s had success in the music industry, but he hates it enough to have friends that are not in the music industry. Sam explained to me that Adam had played him some music from my album. Sam lost his shit about the music and was like, “This is its own thing, and its own sound,” and he could instantly see the music being part of his project. He was like, “I’ve got this incredible idea that I’m putting together, and I wanna make this series.” And I didn’t even care about how big it was. … His passion was so insane, and his love for music was so insane.
I started before I even [knew] what the project was. He was like, “Lab, I’ll also need a hard drive from you, and I’m just gonna take loads of music, because I’m sure all of these years that you haven’t been putting out albums, you’ve probably created an intense amount of music.” Which was true.
What did he want specifically?
At the time, he was like, “Lab, I wanna make a score that has hip-hop influence, has gospel-orchestral influence,” like the soundtrack for Edward Scissorhands. A lot of what was happening on the score was kind of naturally what I do. So Sam … it wasn’t like he didn’t want me there, but he was kind of like, “When I listen to the music off your album, [it’s] exactly what I wanna hear. You’re already going in the right direction. You don’t need any inspiration apart from watching the visual.”
How closely did you work with the cast while scoring the show? Do you think your choices in creating the score played a role in the character development?
Sam spoke to me about what the characters were about, and then he played me the first episode of the show. From there, I was inspired by the different dynamics of characters like Nate, who’s kind of … he’s an asshole! But in a beautiful way, because he contrasts with this mystical, almost fairylike character Jules. And then you’ve got Rue, who creates this incredible friendship and relationship with Jules.
For me, seeing how all of these relationships crossed each other inspired loads of ideas, even from my teenage years, where I was kind of trying to figure myself out and I was, you know, insecure and scared, as a lot of these characters [are].
That’s when I ended up writing “Still Don’t Know My Name” and I ended up writing “When I RIP.” That was one of the first ones I put together for Rue’s character, because I remember seeing that scene where she’s kind of having a trip. I was just like, “I wanna write or produce something that expresses the wonky weirdness and the kind of psychosis that she’s going through while she’s having that trip and that experience.”
Is that the scene with her and Jules with the glitter tears?
Yes, with the glitter tears. There’s a moment in the first episode where she talks about her experience of going through anxiety while she’s high, and while she’s having a trip. When I watched that first episode, I just got inspired to start writing lyrics about being high — no sleep, getting lost in what you’re doing, just kind of being out of it, you know? I wanted to write a record that expressed it sonically as well as lyrically.
Yeah! The scene that stands out to me is the one where Rue mentions the “two seconds of nothing” that she feels during a high. That’s probably what you were referring to. I will never forget that, I’ve watched it so many times. …
It was a moment. Yeah it was really beautiful, and of course, seeing what Sam’s doing visually was so inspiring. I was sending him tracks every five minutes, and he was like, “Lab, I think I’ve got enough!” [laughs]
And then, of course, Zendaya had heard some of the record, and she was sending some words of encouragement through the grapevine, and then we eventually met at the premiere, and she was like, “I love what you’re doing.” … It was weird; it kind of felt like we both musically knew each other from afar. And that’s how our music or collaborative relationship started growing. That’s how “All for Us” evolved as well, and Sam was like, “Lab, I love this record so much. I’m using it for the finale of the season.”
What was different about scoring a show compared to what you’ve done in the past?
Euphoria was like a beautiful master class and crash course in figuring out things that I didn’t have an idea how to do. Sam and the team at HBO, their temp score was pretty overwhelming because some of the music they were using for it was mind-blowing. So it was like, “I have to match this, or beat it.” That was very intense. Sometimes I had to do 25 pieces or ideas in a week, and to have to work on that much music was pretty taxing, but luckily I got through it. I didn’t know I could do that.
You can really feel sensory overload in a lot of those scenes. And in all the scenes where Rue is describing her reality, the score and the lights and the makeup all come together so nicely.
I want it to feel almost mystical ’cause it does feel like that when you’re a teenager. Your whole existence is invested into this bubble that you’re in, and the bubble is so important. When you look back to your teenage days, it feels semi-magical but semi-crazy and semi-psychotic. I wanted to make sure the music felt like those things.
Were you surprised — and were Sam and the rest of the Euphoria team surprised — about how the show was received? What did you expect at the beginning?
Sam was the nucleus of all of this greatness, and he made Zendaya do what she’s never done — what she’s always had the talent to do but people haven’t seen her go there. He went to me and he pulled out the gold dust that people haven’t seen in me, if you get what I mean.
He did that in every area with all the talent that he had around him. And the reaction has been beautiful because it’s like he basically stripped everyone creatively naked and said, “This is their raw talent,” and put all of those raw talents together right next to each other. It seems like people are falling in love with the collision of all of the raw moments of these different entities, if you get what I mean. Does that make sense?
That’s great, yeah! So I’m sure you know that everyone is dying for all of the tracks from the show to be released. [Editor’s note: This interview took place just prior to the release of the soundtrack being announced]
Yeah, “Where the fuck is the music?” Oh, man, it’s so funny.
So, you don’t have to say if you don’t know — but do you have an estimate on when that’s gonna be?
[Laughs hysterically] You mean like, “Lab, give me the answer now.” I’m gonna be held at gunpoint at some point now!
Well, is there a reason for the timing of the release?
I did all the music for the score, so it wasn’t necessarily like I was trying to make an album, or a soundtrack. It was all very focused on making it for Euphoria. But I do wanna give people the music, so I’m working on giving ’em what they want. I wanna feed the spoilt child [laughs].
The internet is crazy. Crazy! They’re all freaking out!
[Laughs] If I put a post up, the first message is “Where’s the album? Where’s the soundtrack?!” So I’m like, “OK, don’t worry.” We’re working on getting ‘em what they need.