"I have those two sides to me. Rizzle Kicks definitely facilitates the consciously positive, upbeat mind set I've always had. Even as a kid, I used to roll around my estate in a Pikachu t-shirt as happy as Larry. The reality is that you have that other side to you. If people want to ignore it they can - people don't have to listen to it," explains Jordan Stephens, who is sat across from me, dyed green hair under his baseball cap.
Fortunately, 24 year old Stephens' other side is well worth a listen. He's just released the VERT EP - a collage of thoughts about his life of excess, heartbreak, and love, set to a raw rock beat. Herman Stephens, his musician father, is on bass, and producer Tommy D is on drums, samples, guitars, and other flourishes. They took a no nonsense approach in making music that they wanted to make, regardless of what people might think - and people do judge.
Following the release of VERT, some fans have taken to his Facebook page and posted comments saying he's changed, and suggesting they want Rizzle Kicks back as soon as possible. I understand why they might be concerned. Musically it’s far from the happy hip hop beats they're used to. Thematically, it’s explicit - and to the more shielded personalities, who don’t like to face realities of despair, and drug-addled nights out head on, it could be an uncomfortable brush up. To some, it may be the equivalent of seeing Santa Claus with his beard off and a bottle of whiskey cracked open.
The immediate standout from the debauched EP - there’s a squint eyed press pic to accompany it - is 'Baggy', where the words, 'I've got an apppetite for self destruction' ring loud and clear.
Speaking with the boundless energy you would expect from the cheeky chappy who’s spent the best best part of his early adulthood bouncing around on stage with his best mate Harley Sylvester, he opens up about the context of this daring song name.
"’Baggy’ is about entering into a childlike state of mind, which I feel everyone has the desire to return to - there's something weirdly satisfying about it,” explains Stephens. “I feel by like four or five in the morning, my expressions and mentality are always back to basics of survival - so it's kind of just like girls or drink. Only those two would appease me.”
Continuing to explain the context surrounding ‘Baggy’, he elaborates: "Aside from any mention of drugs or alcohol it's about a self-destructive mind set in general. I remember there was one scenario when in was at The Box [a burlesque bar in Soho] and there was one girl I had been out with the whole night and then for whatever reason, I suddenly started changing what I thought about that girl and it baffled me that my mind could change like that."
The Box Club is where Stephens found time to socialise over the last 18 months in his first break from Rizzle Kicks since they were signed as teenagers from Brighton. So has this break led him completely astray?
"The danger when you’re your own boss is that sometimes you have too much time on your hands or you have a little bit too much money and the margin for error is way too big," he admits. "I'm over aware of us becoming those young fuck ups, that's inevitable when you get famous at 19. It happens… Some people we’ve met in the industry have fucked their lives up and fallen into a dark corner because they have surpassed the boundaries of society and they're just left to their own devices.”
Fortunately, Stephens' desire to let loose is overshadowed by an overwhelming sense of productivity. He's been acting, and is set to star in Access All Areas with Ella Purnell, and his creation of Wildhood is a sign of his inability to not create whilst Rizzle Kicks are on hiatus. It's also the first time that Stephens - who is much better known as a rapper - has unleashed his stunning singing voice.
"I just came into Tommy D's studio and whenever I'd do something good he'd record it," he says. "It was also very straightforward, rewarding way of doing things because I could just do what I want and then I'm rewarded with it when I did it well. I got more and more confident and now I don’t really give a fuck."
He's completely right to have confidence in it; he hits falsettos like Chris Martin on his sultry 'Star Fucker'. Meanwhile, he has a powerful, anguished raw rock energy on 'Double Dark', and standout EP track 'Where Have You Been' is a poetic tear-jerker, centred around the universally relatable theme of loss, made all the more emphatic by tender piano chords.
According to Stephens, this change of style away from the hip hop beats he’s normally associated with, and more towards an embrace of grunge and indie, is down to his mother: "My mum used to make these cassette tape of late 90s indie pop when I was a kid, and I think it’s funny that I made music that sounds like a reflection of that." he tells me.
His father also makes a strong addition to the sound, as the raw bass guitar lines - prominent in the mix - give it an edge that Krist Novoselic of Nirvana would approve of. This approach is natural for his Dad. “My Dad was a punk and would have kicked the lager out your hand when he was a younger,” says Stephens. “He’s having a great time playing with us.”
But despite his current involvement in a rockier style, Stephens isn't likely to rest on a single hat of reinvention. "It would be nice one day to do a Lauryn Hill-esque thing, it's just finding the right time, " he says in regards to his future plans.
And what about Rizzle Kicks, could we see a return soon? "Wait and see,” he says, keeping his cards close to his chest.
The VERT EP by Wildhood is out now.