Colouring

 

“I've always been on the side of making up scenarios rather than being really honest about my life within my music,” adds Jack about his second album Love To You, Mate. “This is the first time I've been able to do that. I've been less scared of it because it's not my story. It’s a shared one.”

The Nottingham-based songwriter and producer’s life was upended in February 2021, months before the release of his debut album Wake, when his brother-in-law Greg Baker was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. What followed was the most “unbelievable” year of a family’s togetherness when life seemed set on fracturing the life of a young man. Kenworthy, knowing in particular that he needed to be a pillar of support to his partner Helen, whom he’s since married, found that the family’s journey together in the face of adversity was both brutal and beautiful.

“We were of course so terrified,” Kenworthy remembers of the following Christmas spent in hospital, a memory etched into the album’s title track. “But they're just such positive, kind and inspiring people who had everything thrown at them and handled it all with this incredible togetherness and spirit. We’re all so grateful to have had him in our lives.”

Colouring has been a solo project since Wake, an album influenced by The Blue Nile alongside the 00s post-Britpop greats (early Coldplay, Elbow) but taking electronic and rhythmic cues from Radiohead and James Blake. Originally formed of four friends while he was studying at Goldsmiths, the band came to a natural end in 2019.

Thanks to a confidence boost in early 2020 when Kenworthy’s longtime collaborator Gianluca Buccellati (Arlo Parks) laughed off the idea of him folding the project, Kenworthy did what he usually does: write compulsively as a means of nourishment and escape.

Around the time of Greg’s illness Jack had been building “a new palette of sound” that he hadn’t designated for anything in particular. “I was trying to be like, ‘Just write, just say anything. It doesn't matter, you can change the lyrics later.’” Certain phrases from family members would get lodged in his head during that year. “Things like, ‘How did it get so real?' That was something that Helen said to me once,” Kenworthy reveals. “And then I was writing something and it just fell into that song.” There was “no real intention” to make an album about a turbulent time but it “sort of became that”.  

On ‘How Did It Get So Real?’ Kenworthy pulls focus on supporting his wife (“I promise you a home / Inside of me alone”) atop spectral keys, shuffling break beats and an In Rainbows-era arpeggio guitar melody. It’s the only obvious example of guitars on Love To You, Mate. Kenworthy and Buccellati made a “conscious effort” to use only piano, drums, bass and whatever curio atmospherics the OP-1 synth sampler could muster.

Singing into the OP-1 “gave it a human, organic element” rather than songs sounding too synthetic. “I think that was the goal, really, to keep the soul behind the electronic parts.”

‘Coda’, a twilight piano number that hears Kenworthy push his mellifluous falsetto to its limits, is a devastating track that extends the aforementioned motif (“I'm sorry this is real”) about his wife.

“I just remember completely breaking down in tears when I wrote that song. I think that was when I realised, ‘Maybe you should go with this for a bit and see if it's saying anything of use or power.’” A very moved Buccellati gave Kenworthy encouragement. “I went to see him in America and that gave me the confidence that this story is worth telling and celebrating,” he says.  

Another contributor Mikko Gordon (The Smile) told Kenworthy over the phone that hearing the initial sketches of ‘Coda’ made him cry. The song became the foundation of the album, the ideas of which were collated, expanded on and then recorded between Nottingham and in LA from Spring 2022 after Greg’s death.

Once Kenworthy accepted that the album was a musical prism refracting those troubled yet oddly uplifting times, he felt able to make his songwriting more personal.

Sonically, Kenworthy doesn’t bog the album down with sadness. The final two songs, ‘For Life’ and ‘Big Boots’, are more upbeat tracks that serve to celebrate life and the unity of friendship.

“‘For Life’ is my attempt at trying to write an Elbow song,” Kenworthy says, noting the song’s specific reference points to locales in Loughborough where the Bakers are from. “A Guy Garvey approach to a lot of the music is definitely there, thinking about how he references Manchester. With being specific I found that it can also be so universal.” The song ends with a recording of a drunken family do where Greg is playing guitar and singing Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ with others.

“Love To You, Mate is a love letter to my wife, family and Greg for what they all did; a photograph of that time.” Kenworthy continues. “We were this tight-knit, inseparable group of friends for a whole year… a year we look back on with great pride. I really feel we've made this music together.”

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Colouring

Love To You, Mate

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