Exciting “new” UK soul man Decosta Boyce is sat at his Hertfordshire home on a warm and sunny Tuesday lunchtime, talking on the mobile about his fabulous new album “Electrick Soul”, when he pauses the chat, and asks himself out loud: “Is that my boy?”
“Hang on a minute man…………” and he goes off to check on his 20-month-old pride and joy; treasured son Sonny-Rae. False alarm, the lad is still fast asleep after a morning with Dad at the park getting some fresh air in his lungs. We can continue.
Settled and content in his private life with his partner and their son, and in his music career with the new album, his own studio in a log cabin in their garden, 11 self-penned tracks on his own record label Vintedge Records – which has some heavyweight support from a crack team of music industry professionals asembled by Decosta – he could never be accused of being unable to multi-task, despite being of the male species!
Aside from writing and recording the album over a two year period, and gigging some of the songs with his own band as a solo artist, you may have seen and heard him for the last three years as a member of hit soul band Heatwave. One of the three singers in that famed outfit. If that didn’t keep him busy enough, he also sings on and creates music jingles and radio adverts.
Word got out about his vocal skills which landed him a job singing in an eight-piece male gospel choir as back-up to superstar Adele, on her famed ‘Adele at the BBC’ show. He has also been seen on TV show “Let It Shine”, playing guitar for Beverley Knight. Plus many nights opening for big name artists with his own band.
At 35-years-old, this is all a far cry and a very different path he was going down as a teenager, born and brought up in Stevenage and raised mainly by his Mother. Getting into trouble with the police and mixing with drug dealers and criminals. In fact, Decosta has no hesitation at all in telling me that his music saved him from jail and even death. Some of his friends from those days are either in prison or dead.
But he had a gift, a talent in the form of his song writing skills and his voice, plus as a self-taught multi-instrumentalist he was in love with making music, from the very first time he stood on a stage in front of up to 500 people at his college in Hitchin, Hertfordshire at 16. Singing and rapping the Busta Rhymes’ track “Fire It Up”, to loud applause and admiration from an audience of his peers, parents and VIPs, he knew EXACTLY what he wanted to do with his life.
First playing drums and clarinet, then switching to rapping and vocals, going on to achieve a BTEC qualification in Popular Music and an ‘A’ Level in Music Technology. Hearing music by all the US soul greats of the day such as Aretha, Stevie and Marvin from his Mother’s record collection, and then some friends of the family from the USA introducing him to music from Prince and Funkadelic, the fuse was lit.
Drug dealers, criminals and arrests…
But hooking up with drug dealers and other criminals, put his dreams of a life and career in music in grave jeopardy. Getting himself arrested more than once was the final straw for his best mate, who sat Decosta down and tore him a new one. Asking him why the hell someone with his talents and the world at his feet, felt the need to be such a jerk and court disaster. The penny dropped and his focus soon turned towards his music.
It was not long before what he thought was an appearance at an annual community gig organised by a devoted local community worker, developed into one of Decosta’s most treasured moments. To his surprise, he was singled out and presented with a coveted award for his work with youngsters in music. He was stunned and brought to tears with the recognition.
After college, Decosta landed an internship at a local studio, which taught him how to record and mix and he began dabbling in producing tracks and singing. But even at a young age, he knew that if he was serious about forging a career in music, he had to move down to London. Which is what he did and plunged himself into the London live music scene of open mic nights and jam sessions networking to hook up with like-minded musicians and get his face and his voice known.
So, we are now bang up to date, mid-July 2017. Decosta is talking about his great new record, which to most will be his first, but is in fact his second. The debut was the 2011 EP and album, “Student Of Life”, which despite lots of media noise about it back then and being hailed as ‘one to watch’, the album released under his real name of Nathan Watson, didn’t get the love and attention his talents deserved.
Denting his confidence and putting him off rushing into making and releasing another solo record. Feeling he had little control over the direction of his music career. Now he does, and “Electrick Soul” is a banger of an album, something a bit special, trust me…..
At the start of the interview, I ask the man why change his name. The answer is simple: He realised he badly needed to take back control, kill off the old artist’s persona, and be re-born as someone and something he did have full control of. “My full name is actually Nathan Daniel Decosta Boyce Watson…..I wanted a new start. If you search Nathan Watson on-line, the top search is a paedophile, then a dog trainer and a Motocross guy! When you search Decosta Boyce, I am splattered all over the place, straight away”.
As a perfectionist, Decosta admits he was “really anal” about every little aspect of the new album, and spent many, many man hours tweaking the mixes and the recordings to get it absolutely bang on to how he heard it all in his head. Penning the songs, recording, mixing and mastering ended up being a two year project.
The album features a real ‘A Team’ of London-based musicians, who add huge value to what Decosta’s vision. Lead guitar comes from Keeling Lee (Madonna, Groove Armada, Terri Callier), Sam Odiwe provides bass (Cody Chesnutt, Kwabs), Winston Marche is on drums (The Selecter, Chaka Khan), Ayo Oyerinde is on keys (Jessie J, Tinnie Tempah and Rebecca Ferguson), Mark Perry plays trumpet (Conor Maynard, Rudimental, Robin Thicke) and Stephanie Oyerinde (Lemar, James Morrison) provides backing vocals on ‘No Holding Back’. Cee Cee Stalin (Omar, Koop, Alicia Dixon) features on backing vocals on the Otis Redding-inspired ‘Don’t Go (Across The River).’
Decosta wrote all the songs, sang all the lead vocals and played guitar and synths throughout. He wrote 16 songs in total, nine made the record and he added an intro and outro cut. Track eight; “Good Music” cited as his favourite, mainly because of the lyrical content which urges people not to just accept the music they are spoon fed by the TV talent shows and the like; but go dig out great new music. I second that…
To give us a clue as to where Decosta’s head and heart are as regards his own influences; let’s find out what he has dug out in his own personal mission to find great new sounds…His “best finds”………….D’Angelo “Voodoo”, Shuggie Otis “Inspiration Information”, “every single Sly and the Family Stone album”, “every Prince album”, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Anderson Paac, Solange Knowles latest album, Kendrick Lamar, Michael Kiwanuka…..
The most personal song on the new record; “Don’t Go (Across The River)” was a tough ask for him to write and then to record, and created many emotional moments where he would break down in tears. A song dedicated to his late and beloved Grandfather. “My Grandad passed about three years ago. I sat down and played guitar and sang Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Lovin’ You For Too Long” for him, about a year before he passed, and he started crying. I thought after he passed, I needed to do a song for him, but when I was writing it, I got so upset, and when I thought about performing it I got too emotional. So I wrote it about missing someone and dedicated it to him. He took me to my football games, swimming and wrestling…. I played football from seven to 14 and he would take me to all my Sunday games. He was like a Dad to me. He supported QPR and I supported Tottenham, so we’d go to the QPR v Tottenham games together”.
JD In The House
The track immediately before the one dedicated to his Grandfather, “I’d Do Anything” was a different kind of “tired and emotional” for Decosta and his crew, when they cut that one! Courtesy of imbibing a tad too much Jack Daniel’s during the recording session. So much so, it turned into a giant jam and the track went on for ages and ages! Decosta suffering two headaches afterwards; the first from a hangover and the second the hours of editing required to create the finished cut in an acceptable length.
Ask him to describe his own music style and this album, and he gives a stock answer: “Electrick Soul”. Adding: “It’s funk, it is soul… just picture D’Angelo, Sly and the Family Stone and Prince”. But that is by no means the full picture, folks. The other 90% is all Decosta Boyce. A fresh, sizzling new artist and a real mutha of an album. Having learned valuable lessons from his first foray into the record making business some six years ago, he will not be content with being “the nearly man” again, that is for certain.
The label “retro” soul artist…is that accurate and fair? “A lot say it is ‘old’, but it is new music really, with that influence. What separates it from being just old school; it’s got a bit more of a modern twist to it. If I really wanted it to be retro, I could have gone all the way and done it all like that. But this stuff is not played like it was in the old days. ”
Decosta firmly believes that “music feeds the soul”, and he is sure it has literally saved him a good few times in his life. He sheds more light on his “rough upbringing” and the dangerous road his life used to be on. “I used to look up to all the drug dealers. A lot of my friends from back then died from drugs or are in prison. If I didn’t have music, that’s where I’d be. I got arrested a couple of times. For driving with no licence and insurance, and for fighting with the police, when I was 17 and 18-years-old.
“Music saved me big time. That’s where I channelled everything; all my upsets. My Dad wasn’t around. I used to get really angry and frustrated about that, take it out on other people, drink and all that stuff. Music did save me from going down the route I was going down, for sure….”
In 2009 he was awarded the Cambell-Younge Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Community. He’s a grafter, and aside from music has done many other jobs to make ends meet. At 17, Decosta worked in a sports store, he went on to work in construction as a sub-contractor for a metal fabrications firm. He’s also been a fencer and taken on many employment agency temp’ jobs, including delivering recycling bins street to street.
The biggest challenge and biggest hurdle in his life and career so far, admits Decosta, has been “staying on the right path and not ending up in jail or dead”. “My best mate Darren had to sit me down and say; ‘Hey, look. You got all this going on for you, and you are just throwing it all away. Why are you acting like this? It hit home with me and really helped me to start to change things”.
As for summing up his main career challenges: “Fighting against something I didn’t want to be. Most of my career, people say, ‘We like this kid and his music’, and then when we get into it, down the line they say, ‘You should do this, change that, be this not that’. I ended up saying: ‘Just let me do my music my way, man. ‘Electrick Soul’ is me being me 100%. No question”.
His ambitions and desires are simple: “I’m not worried about the whole fame thing. I just want to live completely off my music. If fame comes too, it would be cool. I am not being big headed; but I know the music’s good. If it gets done right, it will come across right. I just want people to buy it, and for me to do tours and live off of that for the rest of my life, and maybe settle down somewhere abroad one day…Have a nice boat…..”
But there’s one thing he will not compromise on at this point in his life and career, and that’s the barnet!His impressive, head-turning Afro’ hairstyle.
“It takes two years to grow it, but four years to get to this. When I get to about 40, I’ll need to start being more mature, dressing in suits and stuff; and I think I’ll cut it off then”.
I wouldn’t bet on it, and he is never going to get ignored with that look combined with that sizzling vocal range of his. The falsetto a la Prince is wonderful.
He was exploiting that higher end of his register during an Al Green tribute night at the Jazz Café in London, when he was spotted and offered a chance to become a member of Heatwave. He shares vocal duties with Donovan Blackwood and Byron Byrd.
We end the conversation with me asking Decosta to sum himself up in just one sentence. He takes a minute to offer me this: “Super funky soul ‘fro”. That might well do it, but best bet is to grab a listen to “Electrick Soul”, the unmistakable sound of a very talented artist treading his own path and making a bold and loud statement of intent.
I suspect we ain’t seen nothing yet with this guy – making the same level of impact on me with this record, as the likes of Omar and D’Angelo did with their early output.
‘Electrick Soul’ will be released on August 18th via Vintedge Records.
By Simon Redley