Mauvey wants you to know you’re special. Not in a self-aggrandising way, but just for a brief moment pause the mind’s capacity for negativity, and make you feel valued – a philosophy that underpins his art and showmanship.
I first saw him perform at Other Voices’ festival in Cardigan, where his show had the jubilation of an evangelist sermon, not least because his sound dips into gospel and RnB (as well as hip-hop, indie and just about every genre imaginable). In fact, only ever wearing mauve – obviously – a colour chosen precisely because it’s hard to pin down. A purple hue that carries a bit of grey, a bit of pink, a bit of blue; in much the same way his musical output takes a number of forms.
Yet, whilst his music might defy categorisation, his ambition certainly doesn’t. And with a new song out now, ‘WE HAD THE TIME OF OUR LIVES TOGETHER’, featuring Canadian star Lights, we caught up with Mauvey for our series on emerging artists.
Mauvey, how are you doing?
Yeah, good. I’ve got this release with one of the biggest pop artists in Canada, Lights, and I’m on tour around Canada. So the year’s already up and running.
First thing to get into your story: when did you first realise you wanted to be an artist?
It was actually quite late in the game. I always identified as an athlete; I played basketball growing up. I played for England, played pro in Denmark and Switzerland and in the top league in England. I thought that’s what people knew me for, and you get to think that’s all you can do. Then my friend was killed when I was 21, 22, and that really changed me, made me think differently.
Going back a bit, I went to prep school in Kentucky, and my homeroom teacher was a creative writing teacher as well. Every morning, she’d say, ‘I want you to write me a poem and I’ll grade it.’ I kept writing, and it was the highlight of my nights. After basketball practice, I’d write a poem, and would give it to her the morning after. I’ve always been creative in that way, but it was just a hobby. When I quit basketball, I went back to writing.
After my friend died, I quit and went back home. I started writing short stories, started a novel. Then my sister’s made me go to an open mic about a year into my home-writing – because I was starting to write folk songs and spoken word. I went to this open mic, I never did covers, always my own music, which is kind of weird at an open mic; you’re there doing your six-minute song no one knows. I kept going back every week and building my confidence there.
After about a year of doing these open mics, I put together a band and booked a bunch of shows, different festivals. At the end of that summer, I wanted to take it to the next level. To do that – it was random – I said we’ve got to do a world tour. We didn’t have any fans, had absolutely nothing, but let’s go on a world tour. The band said ‘Nah’, only the guitarist said, ‘Okay’. So I did 30 shows in 30 days in New Zealand, and about 15 shows in Australia.
How did you sort that? Were you signed at this stage?
Nope, I spent three full months, day and night, at a 24-hour library, booking all the shows myself. I contacted local promoters and curated the whole lineup. I looked at all the venues, the people who performed there, contacted local acts, put together lineups, then went to the venue and said, ‘Hey, I already have this three-act bill.’ Once I’d secured one show, I’d use that to secure another.
So you’d sort an entire event from afar, then call up the venue and tell them this is the deal…?
Yeah, there was no sleep, it was 72-hour days. But then I thought no one knows me in any of these places; in order to sell any tickets, I’ve got to galvanise local bands that shouldn’t really care I’m coming over. And I did. A few of the shows actually sold out, like our first show in Christchurch, New Zealand.
This happened in 2015, and it spanned ten months – in the US, Europe, Australia, New Zealand. It was quite an undertaking. To get more people I auditioned local bands in each city. We were in each city for about a week, auditioning people. The people who didn’t make it, the environment was so cool they’d come to the show at the end of the week.
Fast-forward, when I came home, I recorded about 100 songs that I’d written songs across the whole ten months. Then this random guy said, ‘You’re like Chris Martin, you’re like Bono, I can help you do this and that.’
I’m not someone who does something in small ways; he said he just needed three songs from me and then he’d start sending it to people. I thought this was my shot, so I recorded 50 songs, shaved them down to 20; booked a cinema screen, filled it with friends; worked my ass off and bought little iPod Nanos for everybody; I put the music that I recorded onto this iPod Nano and gave it as a gift to every person that came to watch this cinema show.
Then I went around England and shot a stop-motion video for each song and played that on the big screen. Later that night, I played a local show in Southampton and sold it out. This was all for one guy who said he was gonna manage me. I just wanted to show him I wasn’t an average person to be managed. I want to be the biggest act on the planet and I’m this hard-working so let’s go.
It was a test, showing him what you were about…
Totally, and I think it scared him. He called me and said, ‘Honestly, I feel so embarrassed, I said more than I could actually do; I can’t do the things I said.’ He was really honest about it, he said, ‘You need someone who’s going to actually be able to do this for you.’
When did you realise you had the talent; again it feels like there’s a bit of a leap between you doing basketball and then realising you could do music?
Even at that point in the story, I wouldn’t have considered myself an artist. After that period I was so distraught, I quit music for a year. In 2017, I poured too much in, so I quit everything, and ended up going to a library every day. In three months, I’d written a four-part novel series. The second I put the last full-stop in, I realised, ‘You’re not quitting, this is not a random dream, you are an artist.’ I’d never called myself an artist ever. I always thought I just liked to write. But after finishing that novel series, I thought not everyone can write one novel, let alone four in such a concentrated period of time.
It sounds like we could talk for hours about other artistic ventures. But to return to the music, when did you realise music was the art form you needed to express yourself in?
After that I just buckled down. I moved to Berlin and was writing for different artists; I did some sessions with Cher Lloyd and other European acts – Isac Elliot and some others. I always thought my strength is writing, so I did lots of different sessions. Then I started building the brand for Mauvey around 2019.
Had you been in mauve up until that point? Had you been Mauvey, the artistic persona?
No, I wanted a different identity for Mauvey. So that was the beginning of 2019 where I thought of this name and then really committed to it. Because it took 2018 to really think, ‘How am I going to build this brand? What’s going to set it apart?’ 2020 was approaching and I booked this UK tour – from St. Andrews in Scotland all the way down to Southampton. Then I just went on the road, I sold out of merch four times. They weren’t massive shows, but it worked.
Then the pandemic happened, which was tough, but really good for a person like me because I thought, ‘When this pandemic is over, someone is going to support me to take this to the next level.’ So I really buckled down, I worked every single day of that pandemic, wrote new music, rehearsed my live show to elevate everything.
Toward the end of 2021, that happened: I got signed to one of the biggest labels here in Canada. (They’ve got Carly Rae Jepsen, and Nickelback, and some other rock acts). That was what I needed. So in 2022, I was able South by Southwest, The Great Escape, Other Voices and things like that.
Why mauve? You say you devised it, what’s the thinking behind that?
I’m obsessed with purple, it’s my favourite colour. When I was looking for an identity for my projects, I always start with colours, and short of being called ‘Purple’, I started looking at shades of purple. When I saw mauve, to me it’s the hardest colour to describe. It’s a bit purple, a bit grey, a bit blue, a bit of so many things. If you watch my set or listen to my music, you absolutely cannot say it’s one thing; it’s a bit pop, a bit rock, a bit alternative, a bit hip hop.
So I had this thing in my head that my music was a bit mauve-y, and I came up with that word. And then I also had this thing where I wanted to unofficially own all the shades of purple. For example, if someone says the word ‘apple’, you don’t automatically think of the fruit; some people are gonna think you’re talking about the brand because it’s that big. I want the product to grow to a point where if you see purple, you’re gonna think of Mauvey, that’s my goal. And then the commitment is that whenever anyone sees me, I’m wearing something cool and something purple.
Does that become hard, practically? Do you ever just need to go to the shops and would rather just put on some grey trackies?
Other than black, I now don’t own anything that isn’t a shade of purple. It’s becoming expensive, though, because every look is a one-off design. I don’t buy it from a store, I make it with a designer and these are fabrics we’re sourcing, they’re from-scratch designs for every show.
Last year I played 68 shows, so that’s 68 outfits. This year it’s going to be 120, 130 shows, so we’ve been working on all the looks. It’s a huge commitment and it’s no guarantee I’m going to be the biggest artist in the world. But I guess, from a basketball point, I’m a really focused, fierce competitor. I’m not going to accept anything other than being one of the biggest artists on the planet, because I believe in my message, which is to distribute love. And that’s worth me putting everything I have into what I’m doing.
Let’s come on to that. It forms quite a key part of your artistic philosophy. What is that message? And why does it motivate you so much?
I’ve always wanted to change the world. My parents are awesome, their response was always, ‘Well, how?’ I always thought that was the most fascinating response, and it stuck with me. So I looked at what I was able to do. I don’t have a billion dollars and, even if I did, can I change the whole world with a billion dollars? I would probably need $100 billion. So money is not the thing that’s going to do it. It’s helpful, but it’s not going to really change the world; so I thought about what the world actually really needs, and what it lacks.
We really need love and really need it in huge quantities, because it’s the lack of it that’s ruining the relationships we have with ourselves, with each other, and the planet that we’re on. I thought if I can distribute love then surely that’s how the world can change. There are some people who are wishy-washy, saying ‘peace and love’, but I’m talking about it practically.
What does that mean exactly; when you say you’re ‘distributing’ it as though it were a physical good?
I’m distributing it by the fact I’ve got this opportunity onstage and offstage. If I can make somebody buy that they are important; if I can actually make you believe that, then everything you’re going to do is going to change from when you thought you weren’t.
I’ve successfully distributed physical love by just convincing people they’re important. The next level is, ‘Go and tell your mum that, or your friend that – and make them really believe it’. If I can do that in a theatre with 3,000 people, and 50% of them believe they’re important when they leave, imagine if I can maximise that at, let’s say, the Grammys one day, with 100 million people watching. I think by default a lot of people’s biggest problem is they don’t think they’re important. They think they’re on some tiny planet, in the chasm of the universe, and it doesn’t matter what they do with their life.
How I convince people practically is tell the story of how I got a tattoo of a lightning bolt; I tell people that every second of their life is more unique than being struck by lightning. Just as a thought: every second you live is the most unique thing, it can’t even be attempted to be replicated. How can eight-plus plus billion people experiencing eight-plus billion unique moments every second per day forever not be important, if every second of their existence is completely unique? So that’s the first tool.
The next layer is how we treat each other, in eliminating things like racism, sexism, and hate of any kind. The next level after that is protecting the planet that we only have one of. Resources can help me to distribute this at a higher level. Two years ago I was doing it in tiny shows, but last year, I played five shows at South by Southwest, where I could say this every single time.
It’s interesting you work outwards from the self. What’s it been like to be on the road experiencing that transformation within people with every show?
I really feel like – it sounds very airy-fairy – but it’s love taking over. It’s such a big emotion that once you put it out there, genuinely, it’s not about the person distributing. That’s why I look at it like it’s changing the world; because it’s not me changing the world, love is. And that can capture a whole room.
I played a show last year at a dream venue called Vogue Theatre in Vancouver; and was able to do that at a place like that where the whole room goes silent. People are listening and I’m telling them to repeat after me, ‘I am important’, and they’re yelling it back to me – I tell them not to just say because I’m asking, but to mean it.
I’m doing this at every single show, and I’m gonna keep doing it at every single show. Then at the end, people come up to you and tell you how much they needed to hear it. I know those people are going to live their life a little bit differently from then on, and that’s the whole point.
Let’s come on to your music. You released your debut album, The Florist, in 2021. How much did you feel that was an expression of you as an artist?
I look at that as a mixtape. In my mind, my debut album is gonna be out in 2024. With The Florist, the label wanted me to put out these double singles; then at the end I thought we should just bundle it all together and put it out as a mixtape. I love The Florist; it’s very Mauvey, there’s lots of different sounds and genres in there.
I wanted to do a series before the album, which leads to some sort of album. So I’m releasing one song with Lights and then releasing songs which, at the end of the year, are going to end up being this mixtape. Then, hopefully, wherever I’m at my career, I’m gonna put an album out in 2024.
So what’s the grand vision, what’s the endpoint you want to get to?
I mentioned I’m a fierce competitor – perhaps not like other musicians – and I’m also not ashamed about that, about wanting to be considered one of the best songwriters of all time. And I want to be considered one of the best live performers of all time. Period. I stand very firmly on what my purpose is, so I care very little about any level of negativity, or any level of doubt in what I’m doing. It doesn’t register to me. I know my message is love, so you can’t put me to the side, because I’m only here to distribute love. And I can do that most effectively if I’m on the biggest possible stages.
It doesn’t matter to me if people believe that or not. If people think it’s about money, good for them; if people think it’s about fame, good for them. I know why I’ve given up everything and why I actually don’t care about the mundane. I just want to be on the biggest possible stages, commanding an audience and a fanbase that’s able to help that… I want fans to know I care absolutely and deeply about their existence – truly. Whether people believe it or not, that’s the only reason I want to be the biggest artist on the planet, unapologetically. It’s gonna take a lot for someone to try and stop me.
You touched on something at the start – and mentioned it during your performance at Other Voices – about your friend who passed away, which almost kickstarted your artistic journey. Is that something you reflect on a lot, and has that primed your sense of purpose?
Yeah, you’re awesome because that’s hitting the nail on the head. Like I said, I don’t have time for negativity because – honestly, I know people have lost people – but do you think I care about any negativity when my best friend died? I was the last person he spoke to before he died. And for me, my focus is absolute; it’s unshakable. So there’s nothing anyone can do to stop what I’m doing. I’m entirely focused on why I’m doing it, it’s such a driving force.
This human who – and I know everyone says when people die, ‘he was just such a light’ – but he really was life of the party, had come from absolutely nothing, developed himself to a person who was going to play in the NBA, and then he was killed. So that, and my parents, as we come from nothing, the random opinions of anyone who wants to doubt anything I’m doing is minus 1,000,000% to me.