19-year-old singer, songwriter and producer Uzoechi Osisioma Emenike is everywhere. Having spent the last 12 - 18 months featuring on a number of chart topping singles and writing for the likes of The Saturdays, Misha B, Little Mix and Kylie Minogue, 2014 marks the start of MNEK - the solo artist. His unique fusion of 90's pop, R&B, soul and dance combined with silky smooth R&B vocals have seen him travel the length and breadth of the country performing at various summer festivals in recent weeks and just two weeks ago, he had his first ever headline show in London. Even today when we chat, he's coming from a co-presenting gig at a popular radio station not too far from his east London studio.

MNEK signed his first publishing deal at the age of 13 and by the age of 16, he had already earned his first top 10 single in the form of the Saturdays' 'All Fired Up', which debuted at number 3 back in 2011. That same year, after joining forced with indie label Moshi Moshi, he got his first taste of solo stardom by releasing buzz single 'If Truth Be Told.' Since then he's racked up studio time with Rudimental (whom he now shares a studio with) Clean Bandit, Gorgon City and Kylie Minogue, who included the tropical-tingled 'Feels So Good' (originally titled Indiana and released by singer/songwriter Tom Aspaul in 2013) on her 12th studio album Kiss Me Once.

His popularity is bigger than ever and MNEK seems to be having a whale of a time. Amongst his various plaques of production achievements and Grammy nomination medal, he has a rare moment to reflect on his brief but illustrious past while anticipating and preparing for what will no doubt be an incredibly bright future. We discuss his highly anticipated debut album (due in early 2015) transitioning from feature artist to solo artist and what it's like being in the studio with MNEK.


I want to talk a little bit about life "pre-MNEK the artist." I know previously you've said that you weren't very fond of school.

No. I think I was probably really awkward at school. You know how everyone at school has a clique of people that they are always with, I never had that. I'd say hi to different people and everyone knew who I was but... I found comfort in music. So when I was 9, I started writing and producing and that's how I found a place of comfort.

Apart from music, was there anything else that you were good at?

I'm a vegetable outside of music, that's all I know. It's definitely a big part of my worth and the reason why I'm here. I feel like everything I do circulates around me growing up with music, listening to music, studying music, performing music... being a fan of music!

So you wouldn't have done anything else?

Nah!

I guess you were lucky in your case, getting a publishing deal at such a young age...

I was thankful for that. I think if I had a 9-5, it would have been a complete mess. I can't even do self-checkout, so imagine me trying to do retail... like. Self-checkout is a struggle for me so just imagine me trying to serve people in Sainsbury's or something; it would just be me there for five minutes trying to put things into a bag.

Prior to your features and all the solo stuff you have now, you had a single in 2011 which you've since said you're not a fan of. Obviously you've grown a lot since then, is there anything that's carried over from back then to the new album?

It's all new stuff. But I think there's some songs... I've just grown. I've gotten a bit more knowledgeable about what i want to do because that song you speak of, I wrote when i was 13, it came out when I was 16 and I wasn't entirely comfortable putting it out. When it did come out I was like "Well, this sucks. This kind of sucks!" But it's happened and it's a lessoned learned and I know now that whatever I put out I can now be really happy with because it's coming from an album that I'm really happy with.

MNEK
Photo by Laura Lewis.

We'd spoken before about you getting signed prior to singing on the dotted line with Virgin EMI Records. What prompted your decision to sign with them in the end and how long was the process from you picking them to signing?

It all happened really quickly. It was probably a window of two weeks. [laughs] So we had meetings and two weeks later I'd signed the deal. When we had meetings and we sat down with Virgin, it was very clear and very easy. They're such a tight-knit team. There was art direction, they were amazing at what they did, there was online, press... everyone on that train was working their job. They got the music and they understood what I wanted to come in with because I went into the label with the songs, with the look, with everything I wanted to showcase. So they weren't just signing me as a vocalist or a recording artist, it was an artist and what I wanted to showcase visually and sonically. Virgin just seemed like the perfect fit.

The love is there, I'm very thankful that they do have my back and they're spending the time on what I'm doing because some labels can shelve artists and don't make them a priority. It's good that I'm with a label that's has my back and are willing to in as much work as I am.

'Every Little Word' was released earlier this year as the "warm up single" to your official debut single which is 'Wrote A Song About You' (out August 31st). I know previously you were against doing a warm up single so what changed your mind?

Initially I was against it; I'm not going to lie. I wanted to go straight in with the first single but I think it was best I came in with something like 'Every Little Word' and I think it definitely helped. I think it was good that I could put out something from the album. 'Every Little Word' is such a statement track and when that came out it did open a lot of people's eyes. Now that 'Wrote A Song about You' is out, it's an evolution from that.

It was interesting to see you at Lovebox because that was the first time I'd seen you interacting with fans. How have you found the transition from being in the studio to now performing and meeting people?

In the past six months it's gotten really intense and I find that I'm really awkward when people come up to me like "OH MY GOD, YOU'RE MNEK!" I get really introverted; it's something I still need to get used to it. It's not like I'm saying "Why is this happening?" I'm thankful, obviously it means something is going right and it's what I want to happen. I want people to know who MNEK is. I want people to know what my music is and be familiar with it, become fans, come to the shows, buy the music... all of that! These are all things that come with that.

And what about transitioning from feature artist to solo artist?

That was the least of my worries. I think the main transition I was worried about was from producer to artist because that's the biggest hurdle I still have to cope with all the time. People still think he's just a producer & a writer. I mean, obviously I am but even when I'm trying to get my music out there, they'd still say "writer/producer MNEK has put out a song..." I'm an artist, I'm the face of what I do, I'm sing my songs so I want to be showcased as all three of those things: singer/songwriter/producer. That transition is a weird one. There are some people that think "He's not a star", and I think that's down to interpretation. I'm an artist who loves what I do, I know I've got something different to offer so that's my thing. Whether I'm a star is subjective. That's down to the public.

Let's talk a little bit about the album. Is it finished yet?

It's finished as far as writing and production goes.

MNEK
Photo by Laura Lewis.

Have you worked with any other producers or is it solely just you?

Snakehips have done a song called 'In Your Clouds', but everything else was produced by me. Even when I was working with other writers I'd go with them into their studio and go back to mine and do it the way I wanted to do it and I'm thankful that the writers I did work with really gave me that freedom. I worked with Tre-Jean Marie, Jimmy Napes worked on two tracks on the album... That's kind of it. I'd have bits from here and there but it was mostly me in the studio.

Moko is the only person who features on the album. Why did you pick her over anyone else you could have worked with?

When Tre and I had written 'Judgement Day', I had always wanted to do a duet with a female vocalist, a big female vocal. I'd seen Moko live a few times and we'd met a few times. I felt like if I'd hung out with her I'd be really good friends with her and that's exactly what happened! When she came to the studio to record the vocal, we instantly clicked like that. She's a south girl, she's of West African decent, she gets it! She's like my big sister now. I'm so happy that she's the one... like, if there's any one feature, I don't think I could have picked a better person.

You've been fortunate to receive a lot of support from radio, from your own singles, to features, to stuff you've produced. It's a heavy talking point amongst the music industry at the moment. What are your thoughts on the current playlists and how people get onto them?

I don't know... I think it's about making the best song you can; something you know you want people to hear and the mainstream to listen to. I don't make my music for radio though, I definitely don't, I just happen to like commercial music. I know I like a hook in my music. I'm not trying to be deep with hookless music. I like hooks and I love pop music. So I'm thankful I do that and that the people at BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra have taken note that I do that via my won stuff, features, stuff I've co-written, stuff I've produced. It's good to have a relationship with radio, beyond just your music but moreso about having the connection with DJ's and being grateful for playing your stuff because they are the route to your music. MistaJam, I have a long-time love for him, he's like my radio dad because he's always show so much love and he's always there for me. It's good to have people championing you. Annie Mac, Zane Lowe - both of them have been great and I think everyone has been a great part of showing me love. Hopefully that continues with my album.

The Party: MNEK was your first headline show in London. What promoted your decision to turn it on its head and into a party? Did you come up with it?

It was an idea that my booking agent came up with, I agreed with him in the sense that everyone does their first headline shows in places like XOYO, Hoxton Bar & Grill and that's great for me because that's local to me. I can be in the studio making a song, walk there, do a soundcheck and be ready to go! But at the same time I know that for my first London headline I had to go with something different. I had to make a statement and I had to really go out there with it. I think The Party: MNEK was the best way I could've done it. It was a great night, I was able to perform songs from the album and people loved it; everyone loved the free drinks and the after party at The Nest was bomb so... yeah! I had a great time!

MNEK
Photo by Laura Lewis.

How does it work with you when you go into sessions with artists? Do you come with songs prepared or do you always start from scratch?

I start from scratch. I have to get a sense of the person. I can't have a beat ready for someone; I have to chill with them for a good 20 minutes to get their sense and listen to some of the music they have already or just get them to tlel me what they want. When I did 'Home Run' with Misha B a few years ago, that was literally me and her in the studio, we started from scratch. I asked her what she wanted to do, she said "Ok, go to this performance I did on The X Factor." I think it was her doing 'Rolling In the Deep'. She said "When you watch that, what energy do you get from that? What vibe do you get from that?" I instantly got it and we did 'Home Run' like that. It's so important. It's the same when I worked with Becky [Hill], when I did her music I had to just chill with her for a day and be like "So who are you? What can I grasp from you?" We wrote her single that's coming in November ['Losing'] and other songs on her album. She became one of my best friends because we just hung out all the time, for the past two years. It's about getting to know the person at hand.

Is there anyone who you've had to turn down or you felt it just wouldn't be right to work with that person?

There have been a few people. There's some people where it just doesn't work out. There's even some people who are your really good friends but they're such good friends to the point where you know you can't work with them because you know you're just going to crack jokes in the studio all day. I have loads of people like that, where I know I can't get into the studio with them because we'll get no work done. We'll crack jokes, watch YouTube videos and get no work done. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It can't be perfect all the time otherwise it gets boring.

You were quite keen to have 'Wrote A Song About You' as your first single for a very long time. Have you had any thought into what will come after this?

We don't know. It depends on what this single does. There's two options on what the next single is going to be. We've got good options for singles, man, we've got a good six singles in us, it's just about the right ones coming at the right time and them being a representation of the album at large. That is so important.

What do you hope to achieve for the rest of the year?

I'd love 'Wrote A Song About You' to really resonate with everyone and be a big hit. I want to do more live shows, perform a bit more, grow more in that sense and release more songs from the album. Next year have the ready album to put out and promote that. I'd love to go around the world with that.

You can visit MNEK over at his Official Website.