Island Records

James TW

James TW is no ordinary teenager. The British 19-year-old is a soulful singer-songwriter with a big voice and even bigger aspirations.

 “I want people to hear my music and think ‘how did that guy describe the way I feel’,” James says, and he succeeds. Recently signed to iconic label Island Records as one of the youngest artists on their roster, James has managed to develop a wholly unique pop-blues sound and lyrics that capture real, relatable emotion.

 James grew up in a small English village two hours outside of London. His father, who plays guitar in a wedding band as a hobby, came home one day to find James banging on the drum kit. Shortly thereafter, the band’s drummer wasn’t able to make it to a show. “It was either let the ten-year-old play or cancel the gig,” James remembers. “So they let me play and I just fell in love with performing.”

Since that day, James’ passion for music has grown exponentially. Naturally gifted, he picked up a guitar when he was 12 years old and, at age 13, taught himself to play piano. As James honed his skills as a multi-instrumentalist, he began to post cover songs on YouTube. His videos showcase an undeniable talent with immense technical aptitude and a voracious will to learn. “I would like to be received as a serious musician,” he says. “That’s really important to me.”

James’ discipline has certainly paid off, resulting in a distinct blues and jazz-infused singer-songwriter sound that recalls John Mayer and Jamie Cullum, two of James’ influences. He is equally capable of delivering ballads reminiscent of Ed Sheeran’s work, another artist who has had an impact on his music. James’ songs demonstrate critical elements of experienced songwriting and resonate with ease.

James has a maturity well beyond his years. He speaks with authority and a sense of worldliness that is rare for someone of his age. James’ old soul is evident in his music. He cites Marvin Gaye and B.B. King as influences and aims to emulate the vocal nuances and guitar riffs of classic blues. Despite his youth, James’ lyrics offer a distinct point of view, convincing any listener of an incomparable wisdom about love, heartbreak and the world around them. He’s also undeniably romantic as highlighted by the subject matter of many of his songs. 

It is clear that James is experiencing life to the fullest, with athletic interests including playing basketball and rugby in addition to posting videos online and performing at gigs. He’s looking forward to putting together his debut album, though he’s been unknowingly working on it for many years. “It’s so exciting how fast everything has been happening,” he says. “I was just a kid trying to get noticed by playing songs on YouTube and now I get to make music my career.”

James is a teenager in a business made up mostly of adults, but exceptional talent and unrelenting drive promise him a long and successful career. He was named after his parents’ favorite musician, James Taylor, the folk-pop legend. With hard work and good luck, James hopes to be as accomplished someday as his namesake. His songs are widely appealing but hardly typical; they have weight and a sense of staying power that so rarely accompanies pop music today. For James, the path ahead is clear: “I want to connect with people by making music with meaningful lyrics and memorable melodies.”

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Grey

Upending expectations and reimagining the musical landscape itself, Grey dive beyond the  superficial surface and emerge with a signature style and sound of their own. The duo—brothers Kyle and Michael Trewartha—architect lush, layered, and lively pop by way of organic instrumentation, cinematic ambition, and a hint of neon dance-floor sheen. This approach cemented the multiplatinum Los Angeles group as a quietly influential force throughout popular music since their emergence in 2014.

To date, their catalog eclipses 1 billion Spotify streams. That growing discography spans everything from the 2017 Chameleon EP to singles such as the RIAA triple-platinum BMI Pop Award-winning “Starving” alongside Hailee Steinfeld, “Crown” with Camila Cabello for NETFLIX’s Bright Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, “I Miss You” [feat. Bahari], and the 2018 Hot 100 Top 5 smash “The Middle” with Zedd and Maren Morris. Not to mention, they continuously turn heads with their high fashion runway-ready style and neo-futuristic aesthetic. In addition to touring with Zedd, the pair have performed everywhere from Electric Zoo to The GRAMMY® Awards, The Billboard Music Awards, Ellen, and beyond.

Everything stems from a pure passion for music shared by the brothers since childhood.

“For us, music is way deeper than an accessory to identify with a social group or tribe,” exclaims Kyle. “Throughout our whole lives, when we heard certain songs, melodies, or chord progressions, they evoked this visceral emotion within us. We’re trying to get everyone to experience that same sentiment.”

In order to do so, the boys widened their sonic palette in 2018. As “The Middle” took off, they made a conscious decision to further incorporate live elements beyond their signature piano and guitar. The instrumental core remained intact. Such choices represented a clear and cohesive evolution.

“We come from a band world,” continues Kyle. “The more we got into the electronic dance music scene as DJs and producers, the more we missed playing instruments, so we gradually added as many live elements as we could into our shows.”

The 2018 single “Want You Back” [feat. LÉON] sees them confidently leap into new territory once more. A rush of piano, echoing beats, and rich orchestration, they create an inimitable and idiosyncratic soundscape augmented by samples of water and streetlights referencing direct lyrics.

‘Want You Back’ really shows the scope of our sound for the first time,” says Michael. “We were listening to LÉON a lot and thought she would fit perfectly. She ultimately did. Musically, we want to bring something weird and unique to pop. This song does that. It all felt meant to be.”

“We want people to feel how powerful music can be,” Kyle leaves off. “We hope they experience it the way we do.”

“We’ve really come into our own,” concludes Michael. “This is our identity.”

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Dean Lewis

On Dean Lewis’s latest single, “Be Alright” for Island Records, he perfectly captures gut-wrenching heartbreak that comes with the hardships of a break-up. But while it deals candidly with anguish, the chorus swells with hope; a recognition that this pain is only temporary, with Lewis emotively singing “It’s never easy to walk away/ Let her go/ it’ll be ok”.

Lewis says the song is written about a bunch of different relationships.  It was at the end of one of those relationships that he remembers driving straight to his brother’s house, “He met me at the front door, handed me a glass of whiskey, and said ‘It’s over, put the phone away, it will be alright.’ We had a drink and it just felt good to talk. For me this song is about hope and knowing that when you surround yourself with good people, things do work out."

The song is stirring and stripped back in instrumentation allowing listeners to really grapple with the emotional weight of the track. Sonically, the song places Lewis in the vein of his heroes like Noel Gallagher and Richard Ashcroft. “Be Alright” is a testament to his knack for writing thoughtful, evocative no-frills pop songs, and signifies Lewis as a bona fide star in the making.

But, surprisingly, it almost didn’t happen.

Before Lewis’ debut EP Same Kind Of Different, before the international tours, and certainly before his chart-topping hit “Waves”, Lewis was a sound guy. This job was disheartening for Lewis - he spent most his days watching others live out the dream. He made a little music back then: A song, and a video had been uploaded online, and the response had been good, but not life-changing. He let it rest, not sure if anything would come out of it. It didn’t look like a career in music was on the cards for him.

But a friend of his changed all of that. Years ago, at a function, his friend befriended a woman who was in music publishing. After chatting, he told him about Lewis: How he was having trouble making it in the music industry, how he couldn’t seem to catch a break. His friend asked if she wouldn’t mind listening to Lewis’ music. She listened immediately and was completely won over by Lewis’ raw talent and unique songwriting. He was pretty much signed to her publishing company by the end of the taxi ride home.

At first, he did a little bit of songwriting for other artists, but found it frustrating and unfulfilling. It wasn’t until Lewis’ publishing company sent him to the small town of Hitchin in Hertfordshire, England to work with producers Nick Atkinson and Edd Holloway, that things started to take off. The first song they worked on was “Waves” which turned Lewis from unknown songwriter to hit-maker overnight.

“Waves” was added to Triple J rotation, has had over 122 million streams, 31 million video views and was the second biggest Australian single of 2017.  Suddenly, Lewis was gracing the stages of Europe’s biggest television shows, playing headline shows and festivals slots across Australia and the US. “Waves” even appeared on programs like Suits, Riverdale and Grey’s Anatomy.

When recording “Be Alright”, Lewis struggled to capture the heightened emotions of the demo.   He went back to the UK to record and reconnected with Atkinson and Holloway and recorded the song four times, “I finally knew we had it because when I was listening back to the song, I could feel the emotion coming out of my voice.” “Be Alright” is the first taste of Lewis’ forthcoming album, and signals a newfound conviction in his own storytelling and singing capabilities, something, Lewis explains, he had to learn. “I think a lot of people are in their rooms writing songs, thinking it's not good enough or wondering why your voice doesn’t sound like everyone else's. But those things you think are weaknesses are actually your strengths. It’s what makes you unique. And after a bit of time, it’s the thing that gives you confidence.”

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Banners

BANNERS’ songs have an anthemic, ecclesiastical quality. They’re haunting and inspiring, effervescent and relatable. But the gospel of BANNERS is not one of deities or religion. Through tight musicianship and evocative lyrics, BANNERS’ music preaches about the incredible, enigmatic world around him.

“I tend to write based on the place I’m in and the context,” says Mike Nelson, the mind and voice behind BANNERS. For his newer releases, that context was ephemeral; each song is deeply inspired by Mike’s experiences on tour. “The more I played live,” he says, “the more I learned what I want my songs to be.” Performative elements run through each track, amounting to a stripped down and finely tuned version of BANNERS’ entirely unique sound. “I don’t ever want to rely on production to make me sound good,” Mike asserts. “I just want to sound like me.”

His songs are sincere, accessible, and organic. They flow with ease and resonate more with each utterance of Mike’s stunning falsetto croon. There’s also a timeless but personal quality to BANNERS’ music that is wholly indicative of the sense of community it’s inspired by. “Everyone is part of this,” says Mike. “I think I can write and sing but there are so many things I don’t know. I try and take everything on board and just do the best I possibly can.”

“Someone to You” is uplifting and universal, with elements that call to Mumford and Sons and Ed Sheeran. It’s magnetic and warm, capturing the simple pleasures of falling in love, while maintaining the thought-provoking choral components that define the BANNERS sound. “Firefly” holds a similar contradiction. Though it revolves around a through line of innocence, there’s a sense of liberation that adds complexity, and creates serious impact.

“I never want a song to be super happy because that’s not what the world is like,” Mike says, addressing his more upbeat tunes. “There always needs to be a twist.” “Empires on Fire” certainly has darker elements. Focusing on the oft-upsetting state of the world, it’s critical in its lyricism while avoiding being preachy. Mike’s observations are astute and grounded, marking his ability to make important music without sacrificing the fun inherent to a live performance.

“There are certain songs that become the soundtrack to a specific time in your life,” Mike says. “If my music can become the soundtrack to a moment for one person, that would be the dream for me. That would make me so happy.”

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Astrid S

In her five years in the studio so far, Astrid S has learned that it is sometimes the best songs that come fastest. ‘I knew it was something special,’ she says of her forthcoming single Emotion, ‘because I took a sneaky demo of it back to my hotel that night and couldn’t stop playing it.’ Emotion is an ebullient smash hit in the wings, a rush of pop blood to the head. Its lyric concerns facing up to and excusing yourself from a toxic friendship. One of its finger-snapping collation of killer hooks is whistled, a studio experiment that turned out to be too irresistible to turn into singing. Astrid’s vocal, a bittersweet confection perfectly suited to the subject of her script, is lifted from the first-take.

Emotion is one of those songs which sounds like it’s been whispered in your ear before you first hear it. ‘We spent a year re-vocalling it, trying different tempos, until we went back to the beginning.’ All involved knew that they had found gold-dust first time round. ‘So we went with the original.’

Astrid S was born in the tiny mountain hamlet of Berkåk, population under 1000 as of the last census. ‘In the heart of Norway,’ she says, ‘quite literally.’ There were no showbiz inklings in the family homestead, but for an obsessive love of 80s pop music by her father and the occasional tootling of a saxophone by her mother. Astrid was having piano lessons from five, then played flute in the local marching band with mom. ‘I was a supergeek,’ she says. ‘Loved school, loved learning, always, always playing music.’ Her first public appearance was at 2, singing Mamma Mia at a local outdoor event. Her fidelity to the Scandipop tradition stretches back beyond Max Martin to the originators. ‘No-one messes with Abba,’ she instructs.

Life in the mountaintops was pretty, conservative and secluded, in both the emotional and literal senses of the word. ‘Emotions weren’t regularly shown,’ she says. ‘It was considered quite weird to talk about how you were feeling or if something was weighing on your mind.’ So she buried herself in pop music, as a non-English language speaker intuiting its strangely endless emotional dictionary through melody alone. ‘I think that’s helped me as I grow with my writing. You almost get the chance to fall in love with pop music twice. First without the lyrics, then when you understand exactly what it is a song is saying.’

She was a gregarious child, communicative, cheery. ‘When you grow up in a very small environment it can feel like being in a bubble. That has to burst. I felt like the world was amazing because my little world was amazing.’ Her first miniature rebellion came at high school. ‘I wanted to do something to be a bit rebellious.’ She had to lose music to come back to it. Instead, she focussed on the pursuit of soccer, for which she was showing an aptitude and flair as a young defender.

Astrid decamped to a sport’s school, away from Berkåk, living in a small student apartment. She bought herself a guitar, unbeknownst to anyone, steadying herself to get back into her first love. ‘I guess where I come from in Norway in general we’ve always been ahead of gender norms so I didn’t really look at football as a gendered thing. Of course I can look at boys as being more easily drawn to or interested in it but I thought it was a really cool thing to do. It was the best thing in the world.’

It didn’t last. When she saw an advert for the massively hyped tenth anniversary season of Norwegian Idol on the TV, her life turned on a sixpence. ‘The show had premiered when I was 6 years old and I was 16 now. ‘I remember telling my mom when I was six years old, I really want to be on that show. She was like, you can’t be on until you’re 16, that’s ten years away and likely not going to happen. Yes, this is my chance!’ She duly won a place on TV, in the big city of Oslo, at the coalface of the music industry. ‘I didn’t have any expectations, then I went to the audition and it just happened.’

‘I moved to Oslo to do the show,’ she continues. ‘I remember just walking around the streets and my cheeks would hurt because I was smiling all the time. I bought this neon pink beanie and no-one cared. I could’ve never worn that in the small village I came from. Everyone would’ve said what the hell is she wearing? It was small steps in this new world of learning how to express myself. Also realising of course I wanted a career in music, what am I doing at this high school doing soccer.’

It was Astrid’s sensitive reading of Dolly Parton’s Jolene which hinted at a star in the making. She picked up fifth position on the show, but an unusual twist of events made her the contestant most likely to succeed because of it. In her final week, each singer was asked to write and produce a song of their own making. Shattered saw her voted off the show and but also make the Norwegian top 10 in the same week. ‘I don’t know if I remember a lot of being on TV. I still have this feeling of just going for it. Thinking back that was a crazy year, the year that changed my life.’ She signed to Sony ATV Music Publishing as a songwriter at 16 years old.

The intervening five years have seen Astrid turning into the artist she was meant to be. Her sound has developed into world class electropop, delivered from the heart. Her capacity for storytelling in song has taken on sophisticated twists. Her confidence has grown, at a steady pelt. A bona fide national treasure in her home country and ever broadening global fan base – she has near to 1 billion streams on Spotify alone. She has toured with Troye Sivan, duetted with Shawn Mendes, provided an impromptu BV session for Katy Perry. A succession of her own hits have built the groundwork for a new emerging international star. Astrid S’s debut album will appear, as if by magic.

The early augurs for what lies ahead are strong. Her opening shot will be Emotion. ‘It’s about that sort of relationship a lot of people go through. It was written at breaking point. Music can be like therapy when it works like that.’ She couldn’t be more delighted with the stylistic results of the song. ‘I had this idea that I wanted to make something modern and hopefully stand the test of time,’ she says. ‘It’s so great to have got there.’ The subject matter had to be exactly on point, too. ‘Boys can sing from any perspective, you notice that a lot. I want to be able to, too.’

Astrid S recalls exactly what pop music made her feel like as a young girl in a small town. ‘The moment I put a Discman on I was in another world. It was magical.’ Now she is ready to translate that early metamorphosis for her own fans. ‘To give them a world to get lost in as well.’ She is ready to colonise pop music with her own indefatigable energy. ‘Now I feel ready to fly.’

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