When it comes to music, the producer plays something of an unsung hero. Of course, there are those who have made it their business to ensure that others know what they do and who they are, but on a wider scale, producers tend to keep in the background, letting the music ultimately do the talking. The last few years has seen the birth and development of the so-called "bedroom producer" - one that doesn't have the perks, glitz and glamour of a £1m studio (and all its trappings) but instead a more simplistic approach; sometimes merely just a MacBook with some production software and a good quality microphone.

19-year-old Staffordshire based producer, DJ and songwriter Sunil Heera - better known as XO - could be placed in the category of bedroom producer; his reworkings have earned him a considerable following on Soundcloud as well as strong support from a number of tastemakers ahead of the release of his debut EP at the end of 2014; his first collection of all original material. "I'd put a couple of tunes online and I was building a body of work."

The EP in question, Through The Night, while only three tracks, turned into something of a labour of love when it was reworked after some consideration. "The EP that's out now is completely different to what I originally had. It was three different tunes but we had to stop for a minute, sit back and re-evaluate everything and what I wanted to do in the long term because... well, I suppose I had tunnel vision for a bit before I became wise and put this EP together over a few months."

This new version of the EP, Heera believes, acts as a better representation of who he is as a musician on a wider scale. "The idea was to portray me in a slightly different light because I don't think people were aware that I also write the songs with the feature vocalist or whoever it may be. We wanted to bring that songwriter aspect forward and generally start a really tight sound. Dabbling in a different world but at the same time make it all cohesive and establish a sound at this point. I think we did that well! The sound I'm making now is a nice progression so it was a good starting point and a good way to get our first official release out and add some substance to the project rather than just putting stuff online and hoping for some plays."

It's a cold January afternoon in West London when we meet to discuss all things music. With his trusty manager Emma by his side (Heera still lives in Stoke-On-Trent and is largely unfamiliar with the area) we take refuge in The Electric Cinema where Heera details his first comical experiences of having fan girls discover his music on Twitter: "I wouldn't say I make music that involves 'fan girls' really. I'm not exactly One Direction or anything like that. It is strange; I didn't really think I had the potential to have 'fans'. It's weird." He seems rather oblivious and short-sighted to ever really becoming a "superstar DJ" but is very much aware that over time, more people are going to know who he is. "I think with producers, we're a bit more faceless, I guess. But it is weird... once you get to a certain point, people are going to start recognising you but I haven't really thought about it to be honest but it is quite a scary thought being recognised in the street and stuff. I guess I'll just take each day as it comes and if it happens, it happens."

Originally a keen footballer at school, music became something of a second choice. Heera was intending to follow the football path before music took control after a nasty injury. "I was decent at football, I trialled at professional clubs and I generally thought it was going to go that way because it was good and I enjoyed it. But then I got a bad injury... the same old 'bad injury, career ruined, let's find something else' story."

Despite being only 19 years old, it was the rawness, authenticity and aggression of grime music that he fell in love with first. "Back then, grime and dubstep was coming through and I was really into that UK rave scene. That's the kind of music I was listening to when I started producing. From that point it's always been music." But it wasn't until he met with his manager that he really believed that music could become a real career. "We met a couple of years back and I wasn't expecting it. I was a little naive back then, I was like 'What's going on? You manage people? Ok.' We just kept in contact. At first it was very much just development but now we're at a stage where we're very acting and pushing forward with the project in general. It's good. I'm enjoying it!"


Musically, his influences run far and wide. J Dilla probably being his biggest inspiration. Of course Grime music, but also everything in between from R&B and Hip-Hop to Garage and Soul. Most recently, Frank Ocean became his biggest inspiration: "I've been listening to a lot of Frank Ocean because he's such a great songwriter. I don't know anyone else who can write like that. In terms of songwriting, Frank Ocean has been my go-to guy. It's as if he's made rules for songwriters but the rules are that there are no rules. You can pen anything about anything and just make it sound amazing." Fellow rising musician TĀLĀ also comes up ("I love how she incorporates her heritage into her music. I think she's sick") and New York producer/singer duo Ahbi//Dijon.

Through The Night

At only three tracks, Through The Night is a concentrated and concise debut effort, featuring vocals from Georgia based singer-songwriter RobLaw (whom he discovered through Soundcloud), and rising British talent Leo Kalyan (who was introduced to him by a mutual friend). "That was just me on a Soundcloud stalk. I found [RobLaw's] Soundcloud and he just had a few covers. He plays the piano and guitar, and had just one original song, but I was so amazed because he was so good and had such a small following; maybe like 400 followers at the time. I just hit him up and said 'I love your stuff, maybe we should talk and get something going.' It happened a lot quicker than I'd thought. We started chatting on Facebook and I had this demo idea that I'd recorded with a rough beat. I sent him it over and he really loved it straight away. I did that in about two days."

With Leo Kalyan, the pair met through whizz-kid multifaceted musician MNEK with the original idea of 'Pulling Me Under' born following an appearance on the Introducing stage at BBC Radio 1's Big Weekend in Glasgow. "I had this idea when I was coming back, humming to myself on my phone to get a reference for what I wanted to do, got in, started writing the chords for it and it was a chilled, dance-y number at first. I started writing the vocal for it, penning a few ideas before I got in touch with Leo because I thought his voice could just glide over it and... It did!"

Discovery and Sound

Heera is thankful for what the internet has done for him as it's allowed him to work with and find talent without ever really having to leave his room. "The internet is so important now. I couldn't imagine this industry without it. You can get in touch with anyone and start making music with someone who is halfway across the world which is quite special. It's a bit strange when you think about it!"

Unlike some of his peers, Heera is keep to remain behind the scenes as much as possible and doesn't have any plans to follow in MNEK's footsteps and become an artist in his own right. I wondered if he can sing ("He's not completely deaf!" his manager perks up) and while he admits he can, he simply chooses not to: "I think you have to be a certain type of character to do that. You've got to have that natural performance trait in you and I don't think I've got that. I'd much rather be the guy behind it and just continue to write and produce songs. I would never say no to sampling my own voice. I've done that already. The third track on the EP is me but we haven't really made anything of it so no one isn't really going to assume it's me. I've done backing vocals on the tracks though."

The Future

But there's still some hope in hearing his voice at some point in the near future. Heera wants to ensure he isn't able to be boxed into one single type of musician. "People like to categorise things whereas we just want to do a little bit of everything. We know where we're going with it but there's no harm in dabbling in everything. I don't want to be just one thing." Writing for and with other musicians is amongst his future goals too but that also comes with a few concerns. "It depends on who it is and if I enjoy the music. I don't think I'd want to be a part of a writing camp for example. It has to be a lot more personal if I'm going to write with or for someone, As long as it was true to me and I like the music, I'd love to do it."

While the prospect of a full length LP fills him with worry ("God, I hate the world 'album' really! That much music...!") Heera is already looking to release his second project, which is likely to be in the form of another EP and is already working on new material. "We've got two tracks that are 80% finished; we've got a clear direction on where I want to go with it, and what I want to portray. It's a nice progression from this first EP." There's also some more remix work that's expected to be released this year (his reworking of MNEK's new single will be released in March as part of a remix package) as well as more live sets (in fact, he had just secured himself a live agent the day of our interview).

With the first EP nerves out of the way, Heera is ready and raring to go with a follow-up project. "When you're a new artist, you need to be consistent. I was a bit scared when I was uploading the first tune because I hadn't uploaded a tune publicly on Soundcloud in ages; it was almost alien to me! It was really nice to upload something publicly. Now it's more a case of... I'm raring to go! I'm really excited and I couldn't care less what people think about it! I was a bit apprehensive before but now I'm over it!" The sound won't drastically change from its predecessor. The same influences will be there but he believes it will be a more refined sound. "My next release is still in the dance world but I've slowed it down a bit and made it more soulful. It's a lot more true to me, I guess. I've also been listening to a lot of US sounds, which is what I was originally listening to when I was younger so it's like going back to what I first started listening to."

He's also in no rush to join a record label. Heera thinks it's important to use the time he has now to hone in and perfect his craft while he can. "A lot of people, especially in the dance world just jump at the chance to be signed and sometimes it's just not the right time. Maybe from their point of view they're thinking short term but the outside you can see what's happening. Sometimes it's too early to go and get signed. I think people should want to do their own thing a bit more, that's certainly what I want to do - just be my own person for a couple of years, who knows how long." He's certainly not completely against the idea either, knowing it can be helpful, but is happy to stick with the indie route for the time being. "No disrespect to major labels - I've got friends who are signed to majors and that's fine. That's an outlet for you and it does really help your career but I think for me, independent is slightly more authentic. For me, I think it's a better look but that's my opinion. I might even get signed to a major one day, who knows?! I guess it's down to preference and the type of music you make."

Ultimately, XO's goal is to be remembered as something of a musician. One more than just a house producer or a house DJ, but someone with the ability to do and try everything that comes with it, without having to force any labels onto it. "I'd like to be remembered for my quality of songwriter. For your music to do well, you've got to connect with people. I'm not saying I make music for people but generally I write stuff from my personal experiences which a lot of people may have come across in their own lives. I want to write concepts that are a little out there. For example I wrote a tune that's about being possessed but it's not just 'I'm possessed, I'm weird.' There's a meaning to it. I was quite good at English at High School so it helps a lot to write good songs I think."

XO's Through The Night EP is available now on iTunes.