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Dollars to Pounds: Bayou

Selim Bulut is a music writer who lives in Manchester. He has the most meticulously organized iTunes folder in the land. He'll be writing about some of the excellent music coming out of the UK every other week.

My first encounter with Bayou came back in November, when a short but sweet email popped into my inbox from an anonymous sender with a link to "Cherry Cola," a lush, lovelorn bedroom R&B jam. Dazzling, hypnotizing, heartfelt—however you want to describe it, it was seriously impressive, appearing out of the blue yet sounding so thoroughly complete.

As it goes, hearing Bayou was such a wonderful coincidence I almost want to call it fate. The alter ego of one Hari Ashurst—co-owner of ace indie label Double Denim—Bayou also used to play in the band Prizes (he’s actually a Dollars to Pounds alumnus), who I’d booked for a show at my university a couple of years earlier. Said show was something of a disaster: the band got held up on the motorway, arriving to the venue only to find that their food had been eaten and their beer long gone. The place was freezing, too, and by the time they took to the stage the crowd had thinned to around 20 survivors. Ashurst didn’t mind, though: “That was actually one of my favourite shows we did!” It’s this kind of attitude that drives his work as Bayou: rather than excessively releasing tracks, piggybacking off of whatever’s hot or desperately trying to garner some of that impossible-to-quantify “buzz”, he’d be happy enough knowing that 20 people have listened to what he has to say and have formed a genuine response to it.

Bayou followed up "Cherry Cola with "Forever Deluxe" earlier this year. We don’t know what he’ll do next, but it’s worth keeping your eyes and ears peeled. You can watch "Cherry Cola" and read our interview with the man himself below, on Wong Kar-wai, Michael Jackson and popping out fully formed.

I don't really like describing new music as "fully formed," but those are the words that popped into my head when I first heard "Cherry Cola." How long had the Bayou project been gestating before you decided to share it? I'd been toying around with a batch of songs for a couple of months before I put "Cherry Cola" online. I finished the song the morning I put it online—it was a pretty spontaneous decision. The song itself came together pretty quickly. I'd written the melodies in my head, walking around London for days or weeks before I sat down to finally get the idea out. I think that's why it felt so complete, because I'd worked the whole song through for so long before even playing a note. That's the way I've been writing all Bayou songs.

Starting out anonymous and unsigned, is it fun being in control of what information people know about you? Sort of. I actually don't like the mysterious, anonymous thing so much—all my favourite music and musicians have a lot of personality. But I really wanted "Cherry Cola" to exist as this weird, fully formed pop song with no explanation attached. It's an intensely romantic song and that felt like the most romantic way to let it out into the world. I wanted it to feel really pure too. There's nothing stage managed about it. Just me writing, singing, producing and deciding how to get it out there.

Where'd you get the visuals for the "Cherry Cola" video? The film buff in me wants to say it's something by Wong Kar-wai because of the colours and lights, but I’m probably be very wrong. My friend Jamie Harley made me the video. I'd been talking to him about this film Last Life in the Universe, which is some all-time shit for me, and found out he also loved it. I love Wong Kar-wai too. Chungking Express was a big visual reference. I've never been to Japan but when I think about Tokyo I think about the beautiful electric lights and how weird it is that that whole romantic ambience comes from, like, brand logos.

You've had a lot of positive response to the music, considering you've only put two songs out. What would have happened if everyone was really scathing? There's a weird part of me that would have enjoyed that. I love criticism and honesty, it makes you better, whether that's in songs or anything else in life. These songs are really personal and I'm really happy with them so it kind of doesn't matter to me if there's somebody who hates them. Happily they didn't, and it was thrilling watching people get into the songs and being so positive. Such a rush.

Your music expresses a desire to run away to distant lands. What's wrong with Blighty? It's not so much a criticism of London or England, but partly it's escapism. I haven't seen a lot of the world so most of it still seems larger than life and worthy of song. I use characters a lot too—you can be anybody you want or wherever you want for three or four minutes of a pop song. You can be rich, do things you never do, or whatever. Playing all of that off against the real things in life is what I find most interesting to write about.

When was the first time you decided to sing? I must have been about 12 or 13 and recording songs into a boombox. The first album I bought myself and really treasured was a cassette of HIStory by Michael Jackson, a greatest hits collection. I wanted the blank cassettes I was recording on to sound as good as those songs. I didn't really understand the thousands of processes and tracks that went into perfect pop music like that. The one tool I had at my disposal was my voice, so singing always came first. Then, later, I got really into production, and songwriting.

Michael Jackson is a pretty credible first album. What was the first embarrassing thing you owned? Nothing too mortifying comes to mind, although it feels like we live in a post-embarrassing world. My MJ love did spill over to 3T at one point. Remember them? They were a boyband trio, one of which was MJs cousin? 

Do you think with all the social media goings on it's a good thing or bad thing that people know so much about musicians? I think it's pretty cool. Musicians can have so much power now, there's no censure from labels or managers. If you really want to drop a record for free and have thousands of people hear it right away, you can. That's amazing, right?

I guess I meant the mystique there – with "Cherry Cola" coming out anonymously, I couldn’t just look at your Twitter or Instagram to find out more about you. It felt important to me that people couldn't do that at first. Maybe I was being old fashioned about it, but you kinda don't need to know everything about an artist who just has this one song. It's more fun if you don't. I'm down with the Mike Jones approach, give people your telephone number. I'd much rather someone googling me or hunting through my Twitter just called me up for a chat instead.

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Dollars to Pounds: Bayou