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Greentea Peng: ‘A pop star? I have no interest in being a pop star’ | Pop and rock

A polluted intersection on the A1 doesn’t look like Greentea Peng’s pure habitat. Its ear-splitting soundtrack – of screaming horns and the odd exploding crisp packet – couldn’t be farther from the 26-year-old’s most well-liked sonic mode: blissed-out, dub-inflected psychedelic soul that speaks of renouncing ego, embracing love and bringing down Babylon. However it’s her chosen location: the south London-born musician, in any other case often known as Aria Wells, found this Turkish roadside cafe on her present go to to the capital and has returned repeatedly. “This place does wonderful baklava,” she enthuses, earlier than asking a barely confused waitress to dollop some chilli sauce into her soup.

The place precisely Wells is visiting from is a thriller: she’s going to say solely that she has relocated to the countryside (exactly which nation’s countryside stays unclear). It was a transfer, she explains, made in pursuit of a “basic equilibrium, now my way of life’s acquired a bit extra intense”. It’s one other manner of claiming that issues are going fairly nicely for Wells.

She solely started releasing music as Greentea Peng (a moniker impressed by a packet of the Peruvian inexperienced tea Seng that featured a lady in a tea-leaves bikini; “peng” being British slang for engaging) in late 2017; simply 18 months later, she recorded a performance for the German music platform Colors that went viral. Final yr, she guested on the Streets’ comeback mixtape and showcased her huskily honeyed vocals and leopard print Rasta crown on Later … With Jools Holland. Having picked up comparisons to Amy Winehouse and Erykah Badu, in January she positioned fourth on the BBC’s next-big-thing forecast Sound of 2021, securing her place as one of the crucial promising and idiosyncratic skills in British neo-soul’s present wave. Subsequent month, she is about to launch her attractive and extremely distinctive debut album, Man Made.

On paper, it seems like a seamless execution of a masterplan for stardom, or not less than mainstream success. In actuality, Wells finds the prospect ridiculous. “A pop star?” she scoffs, when I ask how she feels about doubtlessly turning into one. “I have no interest in being a pop star or a family identify. Being thrust upon individuals … ” she shakes her head in disdain. “As quickly because it begins to really feel prefer it’s about something aside from the music, that’s when I’ll take a step again.”

Claiming to be “all in regards to the music” is, in fact, a large cliche, however with Wells one is inclined to truly consider her. She needs Man Made to be “a suggestion of therapeutic”, and insisted on recording it tuned right down to 432 hertz fairly than 440, the frequency standardised in the mid-Twentieth century to permit devices worldwide to be tuned to the identical pitch. Some individuals really feel 432 is a much less abrasive choice (there are on-line quizzes you are able to do to see if you happen to agree); Wells describes it as “extra of a bodily, heart-zone penetration-type frequency”. Her band weren’t precisely converts, “hating” Wells for utilizing it as a result of they needed to always detune their devices in periods.

The visible aspect of the business additionally leaves her chilly: in a really perfect world she “wouldn’t even make music movies. I’d do reveals and I like to decorate up however I would in all probability depart that out.” Neither is she delighted when I point out the aesthetic – quite a few face and neck tattoos, arresting hats and, immediately, sky blue eyeliner and many, many necklaces – that helps her stand out from her fellow singer-songwriters. “What, I’ve acquired a great deal of tattoos? I don’t assume it’s a huge deal, I guess it’s for some individuals. It appears to be.”

It’s no shock that the onus on artists to advertise themselves on social media is one thing Wells finds “jarring” and “tedious”. “I in all probability wouldn’t have Instagram any extra if it wasn’t for having to advertise my music, and that annoys me,” she says. What would occur if she determined to do away with her account (complete with 150k followers) immediately? “I dunno if my label would let me,” she muses, earlier than backtracking. “Nah, in fact they’d. I guess.” In any case, Wells can not deny the platform’s smothering affect. “It’s like the primary manner individuals promote their shit now,” she says. “It’s infiltrated each facet of society. You possibly can’t get a job since you don’t have sufficient followers on Instagram; I’ve heard individuals not being allowed in events as a result of they don’t have sufficient followers on Instagram. That’s fucked up.”

Greentea Peng
As you mic it … Greentea Peng. {Photograph}: Rex/Shutterstock

Her present label is a main: Man Made can be launched on AMF Data, a part of Common Music Group. Wells says the setup fits her. “I don’t have the enterprise thoughts to be an impartial artist. Even if you’re not, you continue to have to take care of a lot. I’m all of a sudden having to make schedules which I’m not used to. It’s actually out of my character.”

She appears to have a loyal group round her, main her down a long-term, career-minded path. “I’ve been fairly fortunate in that sense as a result of if it wasn’t for my first supervisor I in all probability would by no means have even … I was cool simply making music and importing it on YouTube or SoundCloud. My band was in Mexico; in my head I was at all times going to return to Mexico and simply sing on the seashore.”

Wells started travelling as a teenager. When she was 21, she moved to Mexico in order to “swap up the energies. I wished to go someplace distant and stunning and culturally completely different and do some self-delving.” (She has talked about in different interviews that it was an try and kick her dependancy to Xanax, and that on the time she was in a “correct unhealthy manner”.) In any case, she discovered what she was in search of when she landed a job at a yoga retreat, a place she says remodeled her, altering all the things from her food regimen to the way in which she seen herself.

One night, she carried out a rendition of Lily Allen’s Smile at an open-mic night time, a second that was instrumental in reigniting a love of music Wells had misplaced in her teenagers. She had loved performing as a youngster, a interest influenced by her actor father, who shared along with her his love of musicals equivalent to Oliver Twist. After her mother and father break up up, she moved from London to the south-coast city of Hastings, a choice prompted by her mom’s unwillingness to let Wells attend a native secondary, as a result of “the colleges have been all turning into academies”.

Had been the colleges in Hastings any higher? “Fuck is aware of!” she laughs. “I don’t need to say it was a garbage college or something, however I didn’t have the very best time. It was confined: you needed to put on the identical garments as everybody. You weren’t allowed to actually query something, I was simply extra of an impartial sort of youngster.”

When Wells first moved to the coast, she made funky house-influenced tunes on GarageBand and carried out at native festivals. At 14, she stopped utterly. “I moved into a extra melancholy part: singing and music didn’t match up with how I was feeling.” It wasn’t till her early 20s, when that impromptu efficiency led to her turning into a fixture of a Mexican seashore band, that she began placing music out into the world once more.

In between Hastings and Mexico, Wells moved again to London, alone, on the age of 16. Earlier than discovering work at a bar that got here accompanied by a “messy” celebration way of life, she studied politics at school. It was one other defining interest of her childhood. “I was concerned in youth parliament and shit like that,” she says. “I used to need to be the mayor of London or the prime minister. Later years, I’ve in all probability turn into considerably disillusioned.” For any specific motive? She offers me a look: “I imply, come on. The record might simply go on and on.”

In 2019, Wells uploaded a spoken-word poem known as Bun Boris to YouTube (“I wager you sleep nicely at night time because the variety of homeless rise / Whereas there are 70-year-olds and disabled individuals having to work nights,” went one couplet). She says she doesn’t like “to get too political in interviews”, however identifies one huge theme of Man Made as “austerity”. As in the financial coverage? “Austerity in all senses of the phrase. You possibly can interpret it nevertheless you need, however I’ll simply depart it as ‘imbalance’.”

Lounge music ... Greentea Peng.
Lounge music … Greentea Peng. {Photograph}: Suki Dhanda/The Observer

Except for inequality, one of many main recurring themes in Wells’s music is medication. On early single Moonchild, she says she would “fairly spend my time getting excessive and staying aligned”. On Man Made she has a “huge zoot litty” and implores the listener to “free your thoughts eat some magic shrooms”. A observe known as Free My Folks consists of the lyric: “Launch all of my brothers on a weed cost please.” When does she assume wider society’s perspective to the drug will change? “As quickly as they work out find out how to make cash off it,” she says dryly.

Wells says she has by no means had pushback from on excessive over her drug references “as a result of I don’t make music for kids”. And he or she has no intention of beginning. “I don’t assume getting excessive is my most important theme in my music but it surely’s positively been current, as a result of it’s been a operating theme in my life.” Is it nonetheless? “Oh yeah, I love weed. Marijuana: it’s a stunning plant.”

Wells admits that her lifestyle doesn’t mesh nicely with the regimented schedule of an up-and-coming artist. She already has the remainder of 2021 mapped out “which is basically annoying for me, as a result of I don’t wish to make plans”.

It’s an outlook that everybody could have to undertake due to the uncertainty of pandemic life, she observes; a attainable “silver lining”. It may very well be simply one of many methods the general public will be capable to hop on to Greentea Peng’s frequency in the close to future: a wavelength teeming with mellow sounds, therapeutic intentions and right-on sentiments. It’s definitely no unhealthy place to be.

Man Made is launched on 4 June by way of AMF Data

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