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In Conversation with Carlton Makaza: On His Latest EP False Poetry

Photo by Carlton Makaza

Now more than ever, creativity for music is at stake given the pressure to circulate virally and the onset of AI in music production. What artists need now is a reminder to maintain a clear vision of what they want to make and show commitment to it. Despite the apocalypse now, it was hopeful to speak with Carlton Makaza, who just released his second EP False Poetry. In a special chance encounter, I met Makaza whilst queuing for the Kendrick Lamar show in Birmingham and have stayed in contact ever since speaking about music and other topics. I visited Birmingham for the second time to meet and conduct an interview with him. 

It is my first time interviewing anyone, and, likewise for Makaza, the first time being interviewed. Makaza seems nervous just like I am, but sees it as a good opportunity for him to reflect on his creative process. After easing into the conversation with the topical Kendrick Lamar and Drake beef, he starts speaking openly about his creative process, which burns brightly with his sincere passion, his control over his artistic production, the clarity of his message, and his tenacious diligence towards making music and following his creativity.

Can you give us a brief introduction to your music, for those listening to it for the first time? Who are your biggest influences?

I would describe my music as a falsetto-singing style, which is influenced by Earth, Wind & Fire and The Weeknd-type genre. Musically, it is like a fusion of Travis Scott, Kanye, Childish Gambino, and Don Toliver. In terms of trying different things, I would say I am inspired by Kanye the most. I’d take notes from these musicians to see what they do. Imagine being a chef and trying to create your own recipe. You still have to borrow some elements from recipes already made by others, right? In musical terms, I started making music by imitating these artists, and then, I gradually started to derive my own musical ideas from them.

What exactly do you take away from those artists you mentioned? Is it a musical element or lyrical element, or both?

It is always production elements. For example, I learn from The Weeknd because he also has a falsetto voice just like I do. I look at the way he sings and also the way he manipulates it in the production, and see if I can use it in my music. I always start by making music rather than writing lyrics. I can never start from writing lyrics because do you want to say something beautiful or do you want to make something that sounds beautiful? As much as you have beautiful words, they might not always sound good to listen to. I always start by making music and try to infuse words into it.

Then, how do you come up with your ideas? What does your production process look like?

I always start by finding instruments on digital software and start playing instruments. Piano, synth, bass… If you feel something with instruments you find, you start from there. It can be a stressful process as you could go through billions of instruments and might end up taking the one you find at the very beginning. Furthermore, I’m always telling myself to stop using the same instruments because I might get stuck in my comfort zone and people might find my music predictable. You have to challenge [yourself] sometimes for different instruments. 

You released EP No Poetry in 2022 and then it is False Poetry this year. And, I can definitely see a development to your sound. I see you departing from the guitar sound that you previously had and using more high-pitched instruments like the flute for this EP. 

The funny thing is, I actually didn’t make the 3 songs from this EP around the same time [as its release]. ‘Angels need Angels’, I made that in 2022. ‘Stay with You Forever’ was in 2021, and ‘Like’ was this year. When I made those I obviously had no intention of putting them together. When I needed 3 songs for the EP, I had to make sure that the sound signature was the same and listeners could get stuck to the atmosphere. I usually like to do things in a uniform way, and that’s what I learned from Kanye’s music. I just want to make my album or EP consistent throughout the way. 

I want to ask you about the lyrical and thematic side of this EP— What’s the theme of False Poetry?

Falsehood is a double-edged sword and sometimes it is the part of the poetry that makes it beautiful. Think of you being in a relationship. When you’re so deep in love, you start to believe in false things. You know that meme asking you “Would you still love me if I’m a worm?” That’s so weird question. But when you’re in love, it feels right to say that and makes it believable.

I found that theme of ‘False Poetry’ really interesting, and I was actually going to ask you about the theme of love in your lyrics, next. There are many approaches to expressing love in music but I find the theme of longing, conflict, and uncertainty in love are reflected in your lyrics for False Poetry. The most beautiful part and also the scariest part about being in love is that you won’t get to know what others are thinking, am I right?

Exactly. That's part of False Poetry. If you’re close to someone, you believe that you know this person in full. But technically, you still don’t know if they can fool you, you don’t know what they think about. It’s not always a negative thing. There is a leap of faith in talking to someone, trusting them and just accepting the word they give you.

Going back to the production side of this EP, how did you try to express this conflicted aspect of love in music?

Those tracks express the side of hope and wish and I had to make sure that instruments are making sense for the emotion I’m writing about. For ‘Angels Need Angels’, the track is mostly instrumental and the lyrics are just saying the same things: “I know you’ve been waiting for an angel and I know that you feel kinda lonely…” for 4 times. The reason why I did that is to let the audience think about what I’m saying. It is working as an interlude to introduce my audience to music and what’s to come for the rest of the EP. 

I really appreciate that you’re doing this with a clear vision and idea of your soundscape. But I remember you mentioned last year that your No Poetry EP might be your last music ever to put out. Why was it and what changed your mind?

I’ve been making music for a while and there are so many unreleased tracks in the vault. At that time, I thought No Poetry should’ve got more recognition before releasing any other stuff and otherwise I felt like I was throwing up my best work. But I realised that these songs still exist and you just need a commitment at the end of the day. I’m not Kendrick or J.Cole so I need to keep releasing music to gain or keep recognition. And you also have to keep training yourself. Music is training. It’s just like muscle memory and if you leave from making music for a while, soon you will forget how to sense and work with different melodies, keys, and instruments. Music is also volatile and you’ll also be pretty much behind the trend of music, suppose you take a year break from making music. 

So are you still making music today?

I would actually say that now is my peak of making music. I can’t stop making them and have melodies and beats to write down. The idea of the song Like came from me wanting to make this catchy and melodic rap song. When I made that song, I was like “This is it.” But already, I want the next. Now, I am confident in making something better than ‘Like’. Most musicians make music when it’s time to release albums or EPs, or whatever. But I think it’s smarter to keep making music throughout the year just like artists how Ye does. Because you'll never know when you can make your next hit. It’s better to just keep making songs and statistically, you'll have more chances of them sounding great.

This EP is entirely self-produced and produced with your phone while you had producers for songs from No Poetry. What change did you find in the experience of producing False Poetry all by yourself?

So we had a studio in my cousin’s house back when I was in university. And one day I found this app called BandLab. I clicked on it, tried it, and the first song I made was ‘Stay with You Forever’. Man, it’s just a different experience, like do you know how much I pay to go to the studio? Sometimes, your production might even end up being incomplete if you don't have enough time and budget. But now I can just do it on my phone. It’s an incredible thing because I also used to have problems with some producers and engineers as well. There was one time that we had a disagreement between what I wanted to do and what they wanted to do. Once these producers were done with the basics, I couldn’t afford to do extras and get more experimental. Now I have the experience and knowledge to produce by myself and I am liking how this music sounds.

It is true that you only know the perfect sound you’re looking for.

That’s why you have to keep training and experimenting. In that process, artists have been creating new genres and sounds. For example, think about how drill rap came along. What happened in between the pre-drill era and after that? Someone just experimented and played different melodies and tempos. And it turns out that that’s actually what I am always trying to do with making music. Creating my own sound.

Keep up with Carlton Makaza by checking out his Instagram, Spotify and YouTube.


Edited by Akane Hayashi, Music Editor


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