Night Lovell effortlessly conjures darkness. He has a set of pitch-black grills, and sports a sinister tattoo of comedy and tragedy masks on his cheekbone. Yet he’s a part of the original side of SoundCloud, one of a few artists who utilized the platform as early as 2014, long before the tropes of hair dye and face tats were even popularized. Lovell speaks about these times as “the old days,” when artists would get in Skype calls together and record vocals in their mom’s closets.
Born Shermar Paul, the 21-year-old rapper/producer hails from Ottawa, Canada, where he says “nothing really ever fucking happens.” But being one of the few artists from the capital of Canada, Lovell wears his country on his back with pride. He’s even got “1855” tattooed on his chest, the year the city of Ottawa was incorporated. Ottawa, which is not exactly known for its vibrant hip-hop scene, offered a vacuum free from local influences for Lovell to craft his own style: uniquely ominous, pairing his deep vocals with aggressive, often electronic trap-based productions.
Lovell has been elusive the past two years, describing this time as him being, “missing in action.” Despite releasing a few singles and touring, fans have heard very little since the 2016 album Red Teenage Melody. Last summer, Lovell announced that his third album would be entitled Goodnight Lovell. Anticipation was high, yet the day before the album debut, Lovell unexpectedly shared that the project would not be released as planned on January 25th, but on February 22nd instead.
Known for doing very few interviews, Lovell surprisingly opens up, as we speak on the phone, laughing and joking light-heartedly. Still, Lovell doesn’t gloss over the fact that the past few years have been both a dream and a nightmare as he struggled to create what he describes as his, “most personal project yet.”
What is it like calling Ottawa home? Do you like being from a generally overlooked part of Canada?
It’s such a small city that the majority of people don’t even know that I’m from there. I have no shame in calling Ottawa my home — it’s where I was born and raised. But I don’t really give too much credit to Ottawa for shaping my music much, because the Internet caught on first. SoundCloud was definitely my resume showing Ottawa that I actually do shit. They were like, “Oh this kid is from Ottawa and he has views!”
A lot of people have no idea that 1855 was the year the city of Ottawa was incorporated, but in “Pink Witch / Lesson” you said “1855, I put that on my back.” Are these relatively unknown references to Canada intentional?
I think there’s a thin line between saying I’m from Ottawa and it becoming corny, so I try to do it to the point where it’s not fucking annoying, like, “Okay dude, we get it, you’re from Ottawa.” So I like to reference it in different ways without just explicitly saying “Ottawa.” If I reference certain songs or certain streets in the city, most people don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about. Only people from Ottawa know.
Goodnight Lovell is your first full project in over two years. How have you kept not only your fans busy in that time, but yourself as well?
The first year of me be being quote, unquote M.I.A., I didn’t make music consistently. I didn’t rush it, and I didn’t want to come up with an album just because people are telling me to, and it end up being not what I want. It was hard. It was an internal battle between wondering if I’m being not creative and just trusting the process.
On January 24th, you posted a photo of a note announcing that the album will not be released as planned on January 25th. How did you feel breaking this news to fans?
I feel like shit saying it, but it is what it is. I felt like the best way to let fans know was a handwritten note, saying sorry and basically being like, “You guys are mad, I’m mad too.” I didn’t want to not tell fans, because then it’s kind of like I lied, like I didn’t keep my word. But it’s still coming out regardless. In a sense, pushing it back almost made it more solidified, but it was all ready to go then.
What’s the story behind the album art for the project?
So you can’t see in the album cover, but there’s a cage surrounding the skeleton which I’ll probably incorporate in stuff like lives shows. So the cage represents my dreams, and the skeleton represents what would happen to me if I was stuck inside my dreams. The jacket is just to give it some Lovell spice [laughs].
You expressed your disdain with the music industry before in Tweets. As someone who has been independently releasing music on their own, what has your experience dealing with the industry been like?
I guess certain things work for certain people, but I’m just a very to myself type of person. So it makes me kind of anxious when a lot of people are involved in something so personal to me. So sometimes I’ll be sitting there wishing when it was simpler, when I could just do stuff. You know I mean? I can still do stuff of course, but there’s just more things involved and obviously there’s a reason for it. But it’s just hard to transition if you’re the type of person I am. It’s not easy, but I’m doing it nonetheless.
It’s a hard transition, especially if you’re someone who comes from recording in the closet.
And I still record in the closet, FYI.
You said on Instagram, “I want to make it known that the past few months been straight hell dealing with certain shit.” What have you been dealing with as you have worked on this album?
Once again, the transition into approaching music a more mature way has been difficult. There’s more people doing things, and sometimes I get uncomfortable. I just wanna feed the fans and sometimes stuff gets in the way, or I see it as getting in the way and it really frustrates me. Like pushing back the album, just all that stuff together. I just wanted to inform the fans what I’ve been going through.
You’ve continued to work with producers like Ginseng and Fifty Grand, amongst others. What makes you keep working with artists and producers who have been on SoundCloud for years?
They all have that raw, unique sound sound that popular producers just don’t have. I want to take that raw sound and make it our own thing. People like Fifty Grand and ginseng, I feel like they’re really underrated and they capture my vision well. Like ginseng, I told him exactly what I wanted for this project, and he’ll send exactly what I wanted right back. It’s like he read my mind or something.
Your dad also raps, do you have any more collabs with him on the way?
Hell yeah. I definitely would make music with my dad again, one-hundred percent.
The night time and darkness is a clear motif in your work. What does the night mean to you?
I just feel like it’s a more vulnerable time of the day. That’s when people’s darkest secrets come out. It’s just a really personal time, so I feel like when I make music at that time it kind of sounds different.
Is it true you only make music at night?
Yeah, usually. I’ll write during the day when I have free time, but when I’m recording I feel like I have to do that at night.
I’ve heard you make music every night, what makes you keep a certain demo or concept?
I go through phases. There’s been times where there’s been months of me just not making music, like I just don’t have that energy. But once I capture something, I’m afraid to let it pass, so I make music every day.
Why have you decided to stay in Canada if the winters are so brutal and you’re so distanced from collaborators?
As dark and as annoying as Canada as a whole can be, I feel like it’s not necessarily inspiring, but it keeps you grounded. Like staying inside in the winters, you just get to know yourself better in Canada. I like going to places like LA when I need to and then coming back the fuck home. I don’t like staying in places like that, where it’s just busy and stuff is always happening. Even Toronto is really busy for me. So Ottawa works for me.