By Olisa Jr
“I’m really good bro...feeling really great today,” Venna remarks, positioning his phone camera as he settles in for our conversation over Zoom. “Today’s been my day off in a while, so I'm just laid back and relaxing.” It’s sometime in the early evening, and though the rain showers — pittering and pattering — over in London cause our call to cut in and out, Venna’s serene narration of his steady rise to success and finding his love for his music holds my unwavering attention.
Born and raised in Forest Hill, South London, the now 22-year-old saxophonist and producer Venna, has continued to make a name for himself with every track he’s featured on. In his astonishing craft, he elegantly fuses alluringly improvised melodies and fetching choruses to open a door to a world of hypnotizing sounds. “Classical piano was my first instrument, and I started it when I was around six years old. My mum had me doing music lessons every Saturday, and she always made sure I never missed them,” he says, carefully recalling memories from his childhood. “I tried guitar for a bit but it wasn’t really for me. After a while I didn’t really enjoy classical music...it seemed very regimented to the dot, and I felt I needed more room to express myself in my music. So I tried the sax, and bro it’s done well for me you know? I can’t complain.”
As Venna prepares for the release of his first solo project, Venology, which he hopes will feed the souls of his fans and spark a new wave of musical expression, he and I spoke about the seemingly beautiful road of uncertainty he’s journeyed, and how it’s shaped his ambitions and hopes for his career in times to come.
Speaking on Standard ft. Knucks - It’s been out for almost a month now. How do you feel about the responses from your listeners so far? And was the creative process like with Knucks?
Venna: It’s been, good bro. It’s my first release as an artist, and we’ve been getting positive feedback about it you know? Everyone seems to love the tune, the video, really everything about it. And it’s been something people have been asking about because they’ve been waiting for a tune from me for a while now. It was made at the top of lockdown last year, so it was really a weird time for everyone, but it was good vibes.
Would you say it’s been your best work yet or is there another project you feel has served more as a testament to your musical genius?
Venna: It’s actually the first single on my first upcoming project, Venology. The project itself is a masterpiece in my eyes. This (Standard) was just my introduction to everything. I’ve done a lot with Knucks, so I felt this was the best way to come out. It sounded a bit jazzier, and a bit more musical than what Knucks would normally do. As for the project, I’m really excited about that one because it’s proper music and proper feel-good tunes.
Speaking on that, you’ve definitely teased a bit about your upcoming EP, Venology, in the last few months. What can you tell me about it without disclosing too much?
Venna: You know what? It’s a lot of good music and something that would feed your soul...something proper good. I’m an admirer of good music and good records; so for me, I want to at least feel it and have it resonate with my spirit. I feel it’s something the UK hasn’t heard, and maybe even the world too.
And do you think, this being your first solo project, there are any feelings of anxiety or stress surrounding what is or isn’t on it?
Venna: No bro, I’m confident. I’ve had other projects even before this one, and we’re also talking collaborations included. Maybe I was hesitant on those ones, but this one here is my baby. This one is the masterpiece that I’ve been waiting to create. I’m happy that it’s unfolding, and I can’t wait for you and everyone to just take it in, and enjoy that one.
Would you say you’ve garnered more attention as a saxophonist or as a producer?
Venna: I would say more so as a producer now. Though, I’ve realized people are normally more intrigued by the saxophone. There’s a lot of producers, innit. A lot of them, but not many can really produce music. I think that’s a thing I take pride in — knowing I can produce masterpieces and compositions. So I think definitely more people are impressed by the saxophone, only because they haven’t experienced the depth of my production.
Do you ever find yourself, as a producer, overly stressing about the smallest of details?
Venna: I’m proper finicky when it comes to mixing. Like that snare there has to be dropped by this much or that much, I mean you just have to be that way. Though a lot of the time listeners won’t really tell but I know the difference when something is not the way it should be. It has to be perfect or close to perfect in my perspective. However, one thing I’ve tried to learn is to let go of it, and try not to be as possessive of the music as before.
I have been listening to a lot of your songs recently, and you’ve seemed to motion more towards records with soul-driven, intimate, and heart-warming rhythms and melodies. Citing songs like Got My Back by Rimon, Long Nights by 6lack, or even High Forever by Lord Apex. Do you feel as though that’s the case? What are your thoughts?
Venna: Actually yeah, one thing I’ve been told recently and I’ve become aware of is...no matter what kind of record it is, I normally sound like me. So I think it’s my tone, the way I play things. I don't think I play like any other saxophonist or vice versa. It’s a thing where I try to compliment the record, and each one is different. The approach is always distinct. It’s also not something I’m conscious about; I think I just play how I’m feeling on the given day.
And when playing the saxophone on tracks, you often turn to improvisation…
Venna: Everything is improvised bro. There might be times where I have to think of a particular line for a record, but even then it’s off the top. No one really tells me what to play, but sometimes some people would give ideas, and I’ll only take from certain people. I would just play and see what catches or what sticks with me.
“The best way for me to play and execute is if I’m not thinking about it. It’s second nature.”
When do you feel things really changed for you? In terms of success?
Venna: I’m 22, so I feel like I’m still on that journey. One thing I’m always told is that I’m like an old soul. I think I’ve seen some things and adapted to them. In terms of success, the first record that ever came out that really shifted things for me was Burna Boy’s song, Anybody. We got the Grammy nomination from that, and that came up when I was about 19 turning 20. I remember I was in my part-time job at the time, and I was trying to figure out a way to make music my full-time thing. Time goes by, and Anybody became the song that it became. Slowly things were coming together, and I think it was gradual. So I think the past two years have really made me realize what I’m capable of.
What did winning a Grammy Award mean to you as both a musician and a black man?
Venna: Actually, the year before we got nominated but we didn’t win, and I honestly felt like we had it there. I told myself next year that we were gonna win it, and I had a feeling. And guess what? Next year we won. It feels good bro, and I’m just proper happy for Burna and everyone that worked on the album. It’s the kind of stuff that gets you dreaming as a musician. I remember when I was younger, in class, I drew out an award of a trophy but it was like an MTV type design. And now it's come full circle cause the other day I found the paper with the sketch on it, and it just made me happy.
I want to talk about Wizkid’s album, Made in Lagos. Your ability to flow along and also set the tone on certain songs is really spectacular, especially on Mighty Wine. It really stood out to me amongst the rest. What was the experience like, working on the album? What defined your peculiar sound and style on the project?
Venna: I was actually so excited to work on the album. It was proper good, and I think that was getting close to the end of 2019, and it was really just a good time. I feel like I played how I needed to play. I was allowed to do what I needed to do, and it was beautiful, given it was also one of my favourite projects to work on. It’s great to see how it’s flourishing, and as a musician, you want people to love and appreciate your stuff. I love that people point out the sax and really feel it when they listen to those songs.
What makes you happy? In general or relating to your music?
Venna: Making proper good music makes me happy. This upcoming project Venology, which I’ve been working on for so long...when I actually started making the body of work that’s here now, I was sooo happy. It feeds my soul, and that’s what I want other people to also experience. Outside of music, I need some more hobbies in general. I'm just in the studio, but recently I’ve been taking it easy. I’ve been trying to sort out the more creative side of the project like the short film, the video, and the artwork. It’s another realm I’m trying to tap into.
You’re referring to a more creative direction position…
Venna: Yeah, exactly. I can make the music without seeing anything, but now I have to go back and sort of create what I’m seeing when I listen to the music. Does that make sense? It’s kinda tricky though.
What are your hopes for the remainder of the year?
Venna: I’ve got some festivals. I’m trying to go to LA in September and get some work done. I’m also really looking forward to Venology landing, and people appreciating it. I can’t wait for everyone to hear it. Also working on Knucks project closely with him which is something that’s special.