Piers James Is Pioneering the U.K.'s New Wave Nostalgia Scene
The lyricist on his career so far, ’90s hip-hop and his love for Clarks Originals.
Following the birth of his son back in 2013, Piers James made the decision to put his aspirations of becoming a successful artist on the back-burner, if only temporarily. Focused on working full-time to ensure he and his son were financially secure, Piers set about laying the foundations for when the opportune moment to reignite his music career might arise.
“I finally became a full-time musician in 2016,” he explains. “I had to make sure I was in a good place for both my son and I before diving head first into something so risky — but the time was right”.
Fast-forward to 2021 and it seems he couldn’t have planned it better. With a unique sound dubbed ‘new-wave nostalgia’, the British storyteller — who recently featured in HYPEBEAST’s New Gen series — has found a gap in a congested U.K. music scene that no one knew was there. Sitting on a line balance between ‘90s U.S. hip-hop and noughties U.K. grime, all atop fierce instrumentation and a calm flow, Piers James is fast making a name for himself across the industry.
“When you hear my music, I want it to remind you of the good times, but also be there for you to get you through the bad ones too,” he says. “The music is nostalgic, but with new twists and beats”. Coincidentally, nostalgia played a part in Piers getting into the music that still inspires him today, in particular the soundtrack to an iconic PlayStation game.
“Playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 as a kid got me into artists like Gang Starr,” he explains. “Then through some research I started to listen to Jay-Z, Pharrell, Common and Nas, they bring a feel with them that’s hard to find in more modern music. It’s this feeling I want to evoke and build on with my sound”.
Like many artists nowadays, Piers’ upbringing and childhood also had a major impact on him becoming a musician. “My mum was really into Toots & The Maytals, Bob Marley and UB40, so it was played a lot growing up”, he explains. “From a young age I was immersed into all types of music though, not just reggae. My uncle was a DJ in the Ipswich area, and my cousins were singers. I’ve always been around creative people”.
“It’s easy nowadays to just follow what’s popular, but I wanna stand out with the music I create. It’s important to always stay true to yourself.”
Despite this early baptism into the world of music, it wasn’t until university that his career as an artist began. “My housemate at uni had the Logic Pro software and was really into spoken word and J Dilla, which encouraged me to want to explore and seek out the depths of more conscious music,” he says. “I started trying to recreate these old school vibes. I felt like I had a personal connection with this music, it was storytelling but in a way that suited me. So I started to share some of my sounds and it was getting a good reaction”.
Following the release of his 2020 project A Dying Breed, Pt. 1. and Mass Appeal earlier this year, Piers has today released his latest single Best Out Here — a homage to the women around him. “It’s sort of an ode to the women in my life, and an ode to many other women who don’t necessarily get the praise they deserve,” he explains of the lyrical theme. “The sound itself was me really wanting to create a nice summertime vibe, good energy track you know”.
The accompanying video encapsulates what Piers James is about. Created alongside the U.K. agency Aboveground, the pair wanted to create something a little different to the norm, visuals that would ensure Piers stood out from the crowd. “I had an initial concept for the video, but the guys from Aboveground took my idea and spun it to another level. If you come with creativity, I think it really shows and it’s natural like that,” he explains.
The Best Out Here video portrays an intense and passionate Queen & Slim-style relationship between Piers and a woman, which perfectly complements the track’s premise. Citing Andre 3000 as an inspiration for his visuals, Piers wanted more than just a stereotypical rap video and wanted to be more creative, stating there’s “enough cars and girls twerking” in music videos nowadays.
“There’s a vision and I think that’s so important for an artist. You can’t just be doing whatever anyone else is doing,” he says. “It’s easy nowadays to just follow what’s popular, but I wanna stand out with the music I create. It’s important to always stay true to yourself.”
As well as a career in music, Piers has also been working alongside British footwear label Clarks Originals, a brand that features in the video too. A self-proclaimed obsessive, Piers has been a fan of the heritage label from an early age and he believes that this link up — as well as his music career — is a sign.
“The first shoes I ever owned were Clarks Originals. I remember when my mum used to take me to get my feet sized-up when I was younger. The brand stands for something, they’re iconic. Whether it’s a Desert Boot or a Wallabee, they’ve always been a part of my life”.
“If there were two things I wanted to do before I started my career, it would be having the freedom to make the music I want to make, and working with a trailblazer of Caribbean and U.K. culture like Clarks Originals,” he continues. “To be able to do both so early in my career is a sign that I’m on the right track”.