LUI HILL’s come a long way – in many ways – from the small city in which he grew up. He can – at least in part – thank his father for this, though not for the reasons that many musicians thank their parents. HILL’s father, after all, didn’t play him records, nor teach him guitar, nor take him to his first concerts, though he did help build the rehearsal room that allowed his son, from a young age, to practise playing music every day. But no: the key reason for HILL’s gratitude to his father is the time they spent through his teenage years exploring the globe together. “He taught me how necessary travel is,” HILL elaborates. “It helps you understand how beautiful and varied this world is, and its occupants and cultures. It helps you stay flexible and open-minded, and to get a different, more focused view about what we have and what we lack.” Such an outlook won’t come as a surprise to anyone listening to HILL’s debut: ideas of movement and distance are red threads running throughout. Even its title, 5000 MILES, betrays this. In fact, journeys of multiple kinds lie at its very heart.
A vital one, naturally, is the one upon which he takes his listeners. Fortunately, 5000 MILES – like the forthcoming album – features richly textured, immaculately conceived electronic soul that displays a rare accomplishment and mature depth. At once raw and polished, it reflects Hill’s own experiences, encapsulating his exploratory instincts and subtly, even subconsciously, exploiting his influences, from Stevie Wonder to Frank Ocean, from Steve Reich to Sohn, from George Clinton to Childish Gambino. It also boasts such sincerity that one hesitates to refer to its creator as a producer. The word is suggestive of mechanical fabrication, while HILL’s voice – simultaneously husky and smooth, boasting a singular strength in its upper reaches – exudes pain, pleasure, suffering and relief. Most evident of all, though, is wisdom, learned from being forced to confront these emotions.
HILL’s musical journey began at a youthful age, encouraged by his mother, who played violin, piano and accordion, and was never shy of sharing her enthusiasms, whether for The Beatles or Bach. By the age of 12, he was fronting a punk band, and a brother who was eight years older helped expand his horizons, exposing HILL to funk, blues and jazz. His brother also helped supply the most treasured cultural experience of HILL’s childhood: the night they went to see the original ‘Gangster Of Love’, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, and HILL, who was just 14, was invited to sing with his hero. A couple of years later, however, he picked up drumsticks for the first time. Though music still competed with both his painting and love for skateboarding – even now, that’s his preferred mode of transport when exploring new cities – drums became the focus of his music university studies. To this day, they remain an important part of the LUI HILL musical experience: at concerts, he still plays while he sings.
As he developed his skills with other instruments, HILL began to write. It is, however, perhaps unsurprising, given his habits, that his debut album only began to take shape while he was travelling. He’d headed to South Africa after being caught in the grip of a lengthy period of misfortune, helpless as a long-term relationship fell apart, and still crippled by disappointment after a record deal had swiftly turned sour, the initial shock of which had left him temporarily, but quite literally, deaf. Furthermore, his father – the one to whom he owed so much of his perspective on life, a strong character always at the heart of the family – had passed away, almost inexplicably, not long before. All it had taken was a wasp sting.
“My first wish was to clear the table of difficulties with a plane-ticket, and head for new surroundings,” HILL admits. “When you do that, you escape your toxic environment, and this helps you start to breathe again.” Nonetheless, the poignant nature of 5000 MILES derives from the fact that HILL isn’t, by nature, so naïve as to believe you can leave your difficulties behind. “Problems follow you, no matter what random and remote places you’re walking around,” he continues. “I don’t agree that people who travel are running away from themselves. I think it helps you to get to know yourself better. Create distance, and you get closer to the core of things.” In a pleasing twist of fate, South Africa played a role in not only enabling or inspiring 5000 MILES, but also in bringing about its release. It was while HILL was in Cape Town that he first met Tobias Herder of Filter Music Group, who’d flown there to sign another act. Herder, who discovered Milky Chance, returned instead with HILL’s signature, and the singer is now ready to share his world with the release of his debut single, accompanied by a striking video which presents another side to his universe, one equally singular and similarly compelling. Shot in Los Angeles – “a place that lets your dreams blossom,” HILL says, “but easily destroys them too” – these dreamlike sequences tell a story of their own, but though their setting couldn’t be much further from the physical environment in which the song was conceived, their eerie atmosphere suits the track perfectly. “I love the mood,” HILL smiles. “No daylight, no beach, no desert…” So now, finally, you can explore HILL’s world by joining him for 5000 MILES. Just as he once did with his father, you’ll learn a lot along the way.