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Art Comes First talks Sound, Voice and Messaging

Music has so much to do with bringing memory back. Even creatively, before we started making clothing, it was really more trying to make music.

Sissi Johnson: What inspired you to start using sound and music to communicate your brand?

Sam Lambert: Music has so much to do with bringing memory back. As soon as you hear it, you can picture yourself when it happens. Or you can picture yourself where it should be. It’s a way of traveling. Music helps us to travel a lot.

Mind traveling which we do often, and also physical traveling. So I think the sound really started from there. Even creatively, before we started making clothing, it was really more trying to make music. It was a group of us, that was the birth of Art Comes First. Probably about 8 or 10 of us from different backgrounds, growing up in London. The idea was trying to express ourselves through sound. Let’s put some of the ideas we have out there, and really tell people how we feel.

But then, afterwards, it became really more about let me listen to what other people are saying, so sound became very important to me. It’s something I always had, I love voices, I love sort of different level of sounds. I love the distorted sound of punk, and the melancholic sound of blues. I love the sound of people’s accents, that is also the reason I travel a lot. I love being in Mexico and hearing someone speaking Spanish with such a different accent than what I heard growing up in Spain. I love being in Ivory Coast, hearing people speaking french with a totally different accent than what I hear in Paris. But at the same time, they can speak local languages and it’s quite interesting, I might find a few words I know from my own background.

Sound was always something I had around me. I always also searched for sound. Since I do a lot of people watching, I’ll often just stay at the market and listen to different sounds. It is a place where I find comfort. I use music when I’m happy, when I’m sad, when I’m aggressive. That was probably the only place I could go to with every single emotion.

Before I start any collection, the first thing I do is to play music, like when I wake up in the morning. I just discovered this Malian music, I bought a record when I was in Abidjan. While playing it I was trying to define what was the sound. They’re singing in Mandinka, but they are playing chords, sounding like a soundtrack from a Chinese movie because her voice was so sharp. And I was trying to figure out “what year was this in? Why does it sound like there is an influence of Asia?”. I try to examine everything I listen to. Sometimes to create a story on top of it. If it wasn’t that way I’ll recreate a story on top of it. Let’s say if I was a filmmaker, I’ll make a film through a sound, and I’ll just write the script through that sound, so I think it helped me a lot in terms of just mind traveling and hoping to different places.

It sets the tone of the collection, it sets the tone of the style, it sets the tone of many different things. As soon as you see someone who looks a certain way, you might attach it to a movie, that movie may have a sound, you know?

You know your hat looks like Zorro’s! You can hear the soundtrack of Zorro if you used to watch it. So that’s the reason the soundtrack is quite important in terms of creating. Music and sound set the tone for everything before us saying or showing anything, you hear the sound. Even the sound of a well-made cowboy boot on a wooden floor, you know you hear this sound coming. Or even on a concrete floor, you hear that sound coming, you know that it’s something elegant, and you know how that person will walk so you start creating something in your mind: “this bold guy who walks with this strong… or this beautiful elegant woman who just drops her legs like… and every second you learn all these things based on the sound.

I think having that bit of direction through the sound is important. It’s really about what you hear and what you see. The hearing helps you to visualize and even before you create the visual, the hearing is quite important.

Shaka Maidoh: When I met Sam, we started off as wannabe musicians. We wanted the uniform to go with the music, so that inspired the clothing we did. When we played music for our friends, they were more interested in the clothes we wore than the music we were playing.

Eventually, we realized that music wasn’t for us, and we gave up to focus more on the styling of ourselves. I think fashion and music are like cousins, or husband and wife… However, you want to compare them. They need each other and they rub off on each other, complement each other and that’s why music plays a lot in our creative process.

Sissi Johnson: Can you elaborate on the importance of sound as it pertains to your projects and collaborations over the years?

Sam Lambert: I think we found ourselves creating more based on the people we liked or inspired our work in the past or current days. One thing I can remember really well, which was quite a highlight for me in my career, was that we created a piece called ‘Bismillah’. It was inspired by a word used in the Islamic religion. While we created a shirt, we had Mos Def on our mind, Yasiin Bey, just because we grew up listening to his music and you can always hear in his music, his intros using a few Arabic words, or around spiritualism. The first time he met us, that was the first piece he gravitated to without even knowing where the inspiration came from. So in a way, we created the ‘Bismillah’ just for Mos Def and that part is what made that relationship strong. I think Yasiin Bey and us became closer because we were speaking his language without even him knowing it, and without us realizing we created based on Yasiin Bey. I think it’s always been that way, we always create clothing for our heroes, but we don’t always get to express it fully to them.

I know that instance that was really beautiful when we started creating our leather jacket, which ended up on many people’s backs. We were really happy to be one of the first people to dress Anderson Paak. He had our jacket when he was touring in Europe, which made so much sense because he’s quite stylish and messes around with style a lot.

At that time, he was really messing around with punk and skinhead looks. So when he was in England, he was wearing Doc Martens and stuff, so when we got him that jacket, it was great to see that it actually fit into his world.

That type of story is always aligned with the person we have in mind or working with like Saul Williams, one of the greatest poets. You go see his work, there’s a project on Martin Luther King, and he had this sort of aggressive feeling of the project. Almost deep into his own digital world because he was also working on a few films… We created a leather white vest for him with all these different messages which again linked. So there have always been those heroes of ours which are in the back of our mind without us realizing that when we create that piece, they just seem to gravitate towards it.

I think it was a blessing in disguise, just being able to create those pieces and finding the right person for it. While they obviously always inspired us, people like Saul, Mos, have always inspired us. It made more sense at the end, when they gravitated towards the pieces and it was a given.

Shaka Maidoh: The whole punk aesthetic was something that we gravitated to, and some musicians who even though they weren’t making punk were attracted to the whole ideology behind punk.

In collaboration with Anderson Paak, he was more interested in the whole Black Punk Movement. When he went online and saw the way we presented ourselves: the color palette, the ideology again, not just the way we dress, but the whole DIY approach to designing and the whole social and political aspect of punk, he reached out to us.

So it was an easy collaboration because he understood our ethos, and where we were coming from, and what he needed to be able to style and dress him.

Anderson Paak and Art Comes First

Sissi Johnson: Can you speak to some of your earliest music memories and how they shaped your sense of style?

Shaka: My dad was always into Jazz. Someone like Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, are people that I have always looked up to because again, outside of the music being just beautiful, the way they presented themselves was very classy. Very well dressed, carried themselves very well. That’s my very early memory of music and style.

Sissi Johnson: We worked together on a few projects, and one of them was with Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, jazz musicians. So I am curious to know, what is your favorite musical instrument?

Sam Lambert: My favorite instrument has got to be the electric guitar. Electric guitar, why? Because I am a huge fan of Jimmi Hendrix, and I do believe God is a Woman. I do believe the guitar has the shape of a woman’s body. I am a part of the electric church of Jimmi Hendrix, so I’m a strong believer that there is that female spirit in everything that we do, especially when it comes to Rock & Roll.

I love the sound of the electric guitar, the way it’s designed, the strings. I think there is so much of that that when I was young, growing up in London whenever I would see an electric guitar at the market, I would end up buying it. I remember my house was full of electric guitars everywhere. My partner would ask me, “why do you have so many electric guitars when you can’t play?”

Even though I tried, I couldn’t really play that well… It was because every time I looked at those instruments, I could have all these feelings: thinking about Electric Church of Jimmi Hendrix, thinking about a band of Gypsies, thinking about Rock and Roll in the 60’s, thinking about all these different sounds guitar can make that are so beautiful and so mesmerizing.

I think that part of that instrument is just all-encompassing for me. So guitar must be the instrument, even though it might be something that a lot of people could say “me too”. Even if I knew how to play drums or trumpet I would still say guitar because I think it’s one of the most beautifully shaped instruments and the sound of it is amazing.

Sissi Johnson: How does sound help your creative process?

Sam Lambert: Sound helps my creative process by making me dream. Making me teleport myself. I often spend probably 24 hours a day listening to music, just so I can actually dream out of the place of where I am.

Sound has always been that thing where if I’m listening to it, I get motivated to start creating. So, thanks to music I don’t have creative blocks because I can feel like “I’m not feeling inspired today”, if I play a song, it takes me to that journey that will help me to unblock certain parts of my thoughts.

I use the sound of music as a medicine for my mental health. It’s always been one thing that always fixes me. It’s the place where I find comfort.

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Art Comes First: Exploring the Intersection of Style and Identity

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