How Conor Albert went from failing University to become a DIY virtuoso
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  • Post published:01/03/2022
  • Post last modified:01/03/2022

When I meet Conor Albert, he’s enveloped in a large coat, hiding from the biting wind. We’re in Hyde Park and the 22-year old is a little apprehensive doing what’s one of his first interviews. It’s a surprising contrast for an artist confidently hitting his stride on his third EP, due for a spring release.

This month sees the release of “Piano Joint” – an ‘official version’ of a TikTok viral track Albert made. “I don’t really get excited about releasing music very much anymore,” he tells me. “I think the songs are great and I really love them. I love making them, but I guess the problem is them being like, a year old before they come out. I’ve kind of moved on mentally to what I wanna make. That’s one thing I’m struggling with at the moment.”

Born and raised in Basingstoke, Albert grew up in a family unlike many. Instead of a Saturday night composed of The X Factor and Ant and Dec, the Alberts would trawl through over hundreds of music video channels until they found one that matched their mood. “I thought all families did this until very, very recently” shares Albert. “I was thinking about that a while ago and you know what, that probably had a really big impact on me musically.”

At the ripe old age of eight-years old, Albert’s father sourced some production software for the family laptop, paired it with a £30 guitar, and set him on his way. With the threat of it being taken away if he didn’t use it, Albert picked it up and began making music in his own way. “He never really taught me anything,” Albert recalls, “I remember we had two lessons, I think where he taught me bits and pieces on guitar. Everything else I did by air, and he wasn’t he wasn’t really up for teaching me stuff – and not in a bad way! I think he just knew, maybe instinctively or not, that it was better to just leave me to my own devices.”

His intitial experiments aped Skrillex and other dubstep producers (gaining a few thousand SoundCloud followers along the way) but it was when Albert finally found his own style after discovering future bass as it rose to prominence in the mid-2010s. As he played shows and performed more and more, his style developed, infusing elements of jazz and soul as he learnt.

Production and guitar weren’t all he focussed on; Albert found himself learning the saxophone and piano throughout school. “I’d just broken up with my girlfriend and she was in the friendship group that I always hung out with, and I found it really awkward after we broke up” he says. “So every break, every free period, and for a few hours after school, I would go to the music department and just play piano for hours and hours. I’d come home really, really late at 10 or 11 or whatever.”

Albert also unearthed a hatred of sheet music in school, when forced to have a teacher as he learnt saxophone, and still envies the skill some musicians have when it comes to sight reading. His sister on the other hand, was the total opposite. As his sister became a cellist who was an expert at reading, Albert swung the other way along the musical spectrum and became one who loves to write.

His musical education continued into university, and Albert spent six months in Guildford’s ACM before dropping out and heading to Goldsmiths for three years – which he tells me he’s just finished. “Congrats” I say, but Albert swiftly corrects me “Well, don’t congratulate me because I failed.” Albert’s final year was the one that saw his music pick up traction, as he was posting his viral content on Instagram as well as participating in sessions as he gained notability. As he picked up the real-life experience, he realised that he was only doing university to get this experience, so why sacrifice it to gain a degree? “I’m sure a lot of people get a lot of things out of music education,” he says, “but I didn’t really get anything.”

Albert’s gigging career began back in Basingstoke when he began producing music for Albert Gold. Gold was the first musician Albert had met from London, and after producing a few successful tracks (that are still up today) he was invited to be in his band, which he gladly accepted – even if it meant spending half of his £50 payment on the trains into town.

Through Gold, Albert met up-and-coming singer Carmody at a BBC Introducing event and immediately hit it off – securing his first ever session with her, and together they wrote “My Kind of Love” that later appeared on his first EP Collage 1. The pair grew their musical relationship and Albert eventually ended up in Carmody’s band, supporting the likes of Tom Misch, and meeting other up-and-comers like Loyle Carner, Zak Abel, and Will Heard along the way.

“I realised I got really lucky with a lot of things”

Taking a dislike to actively networking and coming across too keen, Albert took a different route to get his follow rising musician’s attention. “I started posting those videos on Instagram. I was doing one every day, for like a month,” he shares. “And I think that’s just the thing, if you just see a lot of the person, it makes them look busy. It makes them look, you know, in demand. I got loads of people messaging me through that.” So as he began working with more people, Albert decided to up the ante with his videos.

Using an idea from Jacob Collier, Albert created videos of himself being the entire band – cloning himself on camera to play a variety of instruments. He maintained his momentum by posting nearly every other day, but burnout quickly took hold. “It was crazy and very addictive the first time, but after a while I got really bored of doing them,” he shares, “so that’s kind of where I’m at now, where I’m just taking a back seat and trying to figure out what I want to do with the Instagram stuff.”

“I realised I got really lucky with a lot of things” says Albert, as he details how his recording deal with Young Poet essentially fell into his lap. As the label was just beginning to start up, his demos came at the perfect time and he was snapped up fairly quickly. Cut a few months down the line and Collage 1 is out in the world, containing the track with Carmody and a handful of others.

Albert is still unsure of his work though; it’s strange to him that people actually stream his music. “It’s funny that that EP still streams the best, and one song in particular called ‘Tell Me’, which is such a random song,” says Albert. “it’s not got like millions and millions, but it’s weird to me because that that tune gets the most streams every day of any song.

His second EP Smile was a collaborative effort with one single artist: Alice Auer. “I don’t even think I was in London yet, but I got this message from this girl, Alice, who just put out her first EP,” shares Albert. “I just loved her voice so much. We met up and wrote this tune called ‘Forget’, and then I think she was just going to chuck it on her next EP, but I was like, why don’t we just make one [together].”

“She’s my favourite person to work with,” he says, as he mentions Christmas single “In The Bleak Midwinter” that he also made with Auer. “She’s legitimately such a joy to work with…. she literally did the whole thing in one take.”

With a new publishing deal with Dirty Hit and the EP release this spring, Albert is now taking the time to find out exactly what kind of music he wants to make. He cites Fred Again… as one of his new favourites [“I just think it’s the best dance music that’s about right now… so clever, and just perfectly made.”] and Tom Misch comes up as an obvious inspiration. Fellow Dirty Hit-signees The 1975 are also a recent love: “I like the songwriting, and just making pop music really cool,” he tells me.

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