[Cover Story] FLVME: The blooming season

FLVME’s latest project Germander II cements him as a versatile musician with a long future ahead of him. In this cover story, FLVME speaks on his direction, inspiration, relationship with his mother, The Wrecking Crew days, and more…

Text: Lolwetu Pakati and @ubereatzz
Images: Courtesy of FLVME

Germander, a perennial plant grown mostly for its attractive flowers, works well as a metaphor for love, which FLVME uses it as. It’s strong and beautiful, and can have some health benefits.

Germander II is a sign of growth in the right direction for the artist, as he explores love in the context of relationships through R&B – a genre that is on a steady rise in SA. Germander II contains some of FLVME’s most sincere writing and most polished singing.

The project showcases FLVME’s latest form, and is another entry in his solid catalogue, which consists of masterpieces like Clouds, CandyMan, D.O.A (Dead Or Alive) and collaborative projects with Zoocci Coke Dope (Do Not Disturb) and Die Mondez (RedLight District). The consistency is unmatched.

FLVME started his career with a brief stint with Ambitiouz Entertainment. When he left the label, he went on to build The Wrecking Crew with his brothers, before moving on with The Lean Team – a subset of TWC – alongside Mellow Don Picasso and Ecco The Beast, who are still frequent collaborators of his.

His latest solo project cements FLVME as a versatile musician with a wide range and impressive staying power. His future – and that of SA R&B – looks bright.

It’s the germander’s blooming season, and if you know a thing or two about the species, you’ll know it lives slightly longer than other plants in its category, and is hard to kill, even though it’s non-woody and appears soft.

In the interview below, FLVME speaks to HYPE about his growth, the direction he’s taking as an artist, his relationship with his mother, and reflects on The Wrecking Crew, and more.

You dropped Germander (Deluxe) in 2019. Then, you came back with the follow-up Germander II, but this time, it was an album. A really interesting quality within your music is the theme of continuation, from the moments when you initially drop a project until you revisit it years later, and carry on by finishing the story. Is that intentional on your part ?

Damn! You are actually the first person who understands my music – like actually understands my music. There’s no one who has interviewed me who has ever said that before, and that’s exactly what I do. But to answer your question – basically, how I look at life is that everything that happens in life is the same, but it just happens in different ways and on different scales. Personally, when I listen to my old music, it’s a whole experience of me learning something about myself. A lot of the time, I look for my flaws when I’m looking back at old experiences; they are the one thing that probably makes me want to become a better person. So, with my older music, that’s the same experience I get from it – where I can find certain things that I can bring into my life right now, but tweak certain things for the better, and balance the person I’m trying to be, you know what I’m saying? ’Cause at the end of the day, if I already knew everything, I wouldn’t have anything new to learn. That’s how I look at the music process as well. I can’t stop learning at all. If I was already perfect at making music, I don’t think I would even have a reason to be making songs right now.

 

That’s a very valid point, because I believe an artist’s imperfections are what we gravitate towards as listeners. It’s relatable. It’s raw. It’s real. When listening to your music, there is almost a closeness to you but, then again, we have to remember that your life is quite different to us ordinary listeners, who probably have a different set of problems, routine and reality to you. How do you mould your sound to be so relatable to an average South African hip-hop head, but also maintain this international sound that is foreign, compared to what we’d typically hear locally?

I love that question too, because a lot of people really don’t understand the type of music I make, or look at me as an “American wanna-be” R&B vibe. But, if you’re actually paying attention, you’d know that as much as, yes, for sure, my sound is influenced by a lot of international music (and when I say international music, I’m not even talking about American-sounding music; I listen to a lot of Latin music; I love country music, which is crazy; and my favourite genre is soulful, old-school R&B), I’m more inspired by those types of genres than what people keep saying I sound like. To me, though, all my influences made me – Lesego Mnyandu, who was born in Katlehong and grew up in Pretoria – and that’s what you’re going to get on the music. Me. It might sound like it was written by a guy in LA, but it’s still me.

 

It’s interesting that you address that you’ve been influenced by so many sounds, because when listening to Germander II, you hear so many samples of old-school songs, such as Michael Jackson’s ‘Rock With You’ on ‘Rock For Life’, Usher’s ‘You Make Me Wanna’ on ‘Fall Thru’, and on ‘Prayers Up’, there’s this distinctive old-school West Coast vibe, which is a really nice nod to your musical influences. For this EP specifically, why did you choose those types of samples and those features too?

I think a lot of people don’t even realise what I actually did on that project. With every sample, it was actually more intentional than me just using songs in general, you know what I mean? I think my having to chop up all the samples in there and just create some of my best music, for me was like, yo, I just needed to do that for myself. First things first, I grew up around a lot of music at home. I grew up around my aunt and my older brother, and there were a lot of women at home. You’re hearing a lot of music that they’re playing. My grandma was the one who would be playing country music. She was playing your Dolly Parton and other legendary country music stars. What’s crazy is that I still love that music to this day. I still listen to those people to this day. My aunts were also listening to a lot of R&B and gospel. My hip-hop influence came from my brothers and my uncles. So, with my EP, I just wanted to do what I liked, and I’m also tryna show people where I come from. I was trying to show people that, as much as I’m a hip-hop artist, I’m really just an R&B artist.

“Back then, I could call myself an R&B artist, but today, I’m just an overall musician. I just jump on whatever sounds great to me.”

Is that how you define your sound – that you’re an R&B artist and not necessarily a hip-hop artist?

I need to answer that question carefully. Back then, I could call myself an R&B artist, but today, I’m just an overall musician. I just jump on whatever sounds great to me.

You speak about your musical influences, a few being Da L.E.S and Lil Wayne, but who are the people who shaped and moulded you as a person?

For me, everyone who has interacted with me has been so important in making me who I am. But I can name a few people specifically. I’ll start by saying that there’s no one who influences me more than me, but the first person after that would be my mom. She is the biggest influence in my life, and my whole family played a big role in how I conduct myself. My friends have been a big influence as well.

 

Are there any friends, in particular, who you believe have helped shape your career?

It’s literally everybody because I’ve learned valuable stuff from all the friends I have and all the friends I’ve had. With me, I don’t look at life from my perspective alone. I look at it from both sides, meaning that all the bad stuff that I’ve experienced in the past, even with friends, plays a big role in who I am right now. I believe that’s what keeps me grounded. It makes me just appreciate life in general.

You reference your mom a lot in your music. On Clout, your first EP to be released on DSPs, the first song is dedicated to your mom and also talks about your journey to fatherhood. You also expressed on The Sobering Podcast that your mom was very supportive of your dream of becoming a musician. How does your mom feel now that you’ve reached success as an artist?

You know what the crazy thing is? I feel like my mom has never changed a bit. My mom saw who I was before she even knew who I was. She understood me when I was a kid, and she was the only person who I’ve been the most attached to in my life. In my head, I feel like I could lose anything and anyone, but the only person that will always remain in my life is my mom. She has never changed, and the reason I say this is because I’m always changing my mind, but my mom always says the same thing to me. She always tells me that “you’re good, and you’ll always be what you want to be, but you must never crack under the pressure”.

 

Speaking of cracking under pressure, how do you navigate backlash or negative experiences that you go through, be it friendships, music, feuds or romantic encounters?

So, for me, when it comes to something like love and having a bad experience, I always go back to my music. I find that I gain more experience just by putting my emotions into my projects. When it comes to friends, I don’t like going around any new people, because I’m already surrounded by so many n*ggas who I know being around more would just bring more trouble. Like, I don’t even like calling my friends; friends, they are my brothers, and I can’t add more into my circle, you know what I mean? On Germander and CandyMan, I speak generally about my bad relationships, but what people don’t know is that, most of the time, I’m just speaking about one person.

 

Who do you speak about when you address bad relationships?

(Laughs). It’s just personal experiences that I have had with certain people, just at different times. I hardly even engage with a lot of women. I have this thing where I lose interest quickly, you know what I mean? I can just talk to a woman and make them feel good about themselves, and if I can just put a smile on a woman’s face, then that’s all I care about. It takes a lot for me to even get physical with them.

 

I’m sure that’s the misconception – people assume that you’re surrounded by many women. Even drawing back to a highly publicised encounter with a woman, people assumed the worst about your overall relations with women in general.

Yeah, and that’s the thing – I end up in situations that I wouldn’t even wanna be in a lot of the time. I would say that, basically, I’m a softie and I have this big-ass heart on my sleeve. It takes a lot to let anybody even get to the core. A lot of the time, I’ll talk to a girl and she’ll be like, “Yo, let’s link up,” and a lot of the times I’m like, yo, that was a bad idea. I don’t really do relationships. I’ve only been in four relationships in my life.

 

That’s very surprising.

Yeah, people think that I’m in these streets, but I actually keep to myself a lot. Also, I’m an artist. I can’t be corny; you know what I mean? I have to keep myself in check. But my last project was about one person. If you listen to it, when I talk about love and relationships, I’m not talking about a lot of women. I just vibe out, and if I fall into something, then I fall into something.

 

The two songs from Germander where you talk about love and romance – ‘Outside’ and ‘Fall Through’ – are incredibly romantic, and I think that a common occurrence when it comes to hip-hop and R&B is that love extending upon women is often discussed in a very degrading way. You have this knack for touching on romance over a beat that juxtaposes your lyrics. Even going back to when you were part of The Wrecking Crew camp, you always stood out, firstly, because you sang, and secondly, because there was a sensitivity to you that was quite different.

Speaking on you mentioning that I can be emotional over a really hard beat, that has been my biggest challenge, but I’m always trying to push myself as much as possible. If something is easy, then I don’t believe that I’ve pushed myself enough. I always ask, “How can I do something that will require me to think outside the box?” You know what I’m saying? I also look at it from the perspective of the people who listen to my music. I’ve always had a heavy male fanbase, only now am I getting more female fans who love my music. That made me realise that I need some sort of balance to include all people so that all of them can understand and relate to what I’m saying.

 

How is your relationship with your former collaborators and friends, especially The Wrecking Crew?   

The Wrecking Crew was one of the greatest moments of my life. I don’t know how the guys would feel about everything that happened back then, but for me, that was a great experience because I feel that was the time I had to work on myself and grow my sound. I learnt what I wanted to sound like and how I wanted people to digest what I’m giving. Also, I had so many great artists who brought different things to the table and had different vibes. That was where I learnt that you can always sharpen your skills, but you cannot sharpen your hunger.

 

You know how to play to your strengths, and one of them is being consistent, so what can we expect to see from you in the future?

I already have a lot of projects in the vault.

 

What other ventures are you pursuing that you can share with us?

Well, I’m venturing into the cannabis business because it reflects me; what I like doing. I figured I’m not going to try to make money from things that I don’t like, so why not make money from real things that I enjoy? I believe that, if you follow the things that you love, way more money will come in, you feel me?

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