Delleile Ankrah, Ben Sharples, Kaine Ofoeme, and Michael Welch better known as the R&B group MiC LOWRY first formed in 2011 and have since gone on to achieve some noteworthy things. After winning a MOBO, headlining their own UK tour and host of appearences overseas (including The Wendy Williams Show), the group took a year off to write and redefine their sound.
Returning with a brand new single “Paradise” the boys sat down with us via zoom to discuss life in lockdown, their plans for new music, and more.
How did you guys all meet?
So, we all met a local youth centre that did singing workshops in a place called Toxteth in Liverpool. Some of us started as part of a Motown tribute act and then the others of us joined when they started running choirs. From there we bonded.
Being from Liverpool did you have any trouble breaking into the London scene?
In some ways yes. It’s difficult for a number of different reasons. Not being down there and being able to get to sessions and events was difficult because any time we did go down to London we would try and cram as much as we could into a couple of days. So we’d be doing a session and then rushing off to an interview and then another and then some sort of event and then rush back to try and catch the last train home. That was a bit tricky. But in terms of appealing to an audience, we’ve always had quite a good reception [in London]. Looking at our analytics London is our biggest city in terms of listeners, so we’ve always had a lot of support from the fans there.
For a lot of people, the last big boyband or male group to come out of the UK was One Direction. Why do you think we’ve struggled to produce one since then?
I think it’s easier for white boybands and groups. In general for Black artists in the UK, particularly within R&B, it’s just difficult to break. I think everything goes in cycles as well. Around the time that they were massive, you had The Wanted and few other groups. If you look, UK R&B is having a really big moment, but when we were trying to break through at that time it wasn’t a thing. Now it’s getting the props it deserves.
Picking up on what you said about UK R&B, what are your thoughts on the scene at the moment?
It’s popping! It seems to be getting its props and not just like through 1Xtra and Capital Xtra but you can hear it on mainstream radio now and you can’t really escape it. You’ve got people like Ella Mai who are doing it in the States as well, so it’s not just a local or domestic thing. It’s really having its moment right now.
There’s something you mentioned earlier about Black artists that I wanted to dive into. What do you think some of the biggest barriers to their career progression are?
Starting off, one of the biggest is being heard on mainstream channels, be it radio, television, even to the point of social media. With Black artists [in the media] it’s never just straightforward there’s also some kind of negative spin, a prime example being the likes of Stormzy. Also being from the North of England and making music as Black artists people don’t really understand it so there’s also a divide there. Everybody associates Liverpool with indie bands so for an R&B act it’s different.
When we were coming up one of the first singles we did when were signed was doing really well on Spotify. It was a pop record. I remember the label taking it to Radio 1 to try and get it playlisted and they said to us “You need to go through 1Xtra first before you get to Radio 1” and it’s like why? If we were an indie band we wouldn’t need to, but because we’re Black we’ve got to do the “urban” thing before we get to the mainstream. If we were white those rules wouldn’t apply which is frustrating. Slowly times are changing so hopefully, we can keep progressing.
One thing I don’t like is that as Black artists you need to be signed off by a white artist to be popular. As an artist, if you release a song and your audience likes and connects, and it ends there. But then if someone like Ed Sheeran tweets it suddenly you’re the biggest thing because you’ve been recognised by this artist rather than just our culture or community backing and taking it to that level. I feel like there’s a gate, and you can’t push past it until you’re signed off by these other people.
That’s exactly what happened with Tiana Major9. She’s been doing here thing but then Adele posted her song and then the next week we’re hearing her all over Radio 1.
As artists who have been making music for approximately 10 years now, you’ve seen the growth of streaming and social media amongst other things. How has that impacted your career?
For us, a starting point would be one of our most successful releases “Oh Lord” which got millions of streams. There was one point where we were getting 150,000 streams a day. The impact of that back then was weird because you’re seeing the people who listen to your music, but it didn’t resonate anywhere else.
I think that was because at the time streaming was quite new and people didn’t know what to equate a stream to and how that would affect things like the charts etc. At the time it was more about touring and selling CDs at HMV.
Now they look at the numbers of streams way more than they used to. It’s great for getting your music out there and its listener driven – if people like the music they’re going to stream it! But the money side of things is not fantastic so that’s something that needs to change, or it will get to a point where there won’t be as many artists making music simply because they can’t afford to.
What would you guys say is the key to your longevity?
Whew…patience! (Laughs) and continuing to make the music that we actually love. Longevity for any artist is difficult but as a group it’s almost twice as hard. As a solo artist, you go through ups and downs but as a group, you all go through those periods but at different times which can be tough. We took a break from each other last year and that time away made us realise how much we enjoy this and don’t want to be doing anything else.
What would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the last 10 years?
Hindsight is an amazing thing isn’t it? I wish we would have started writing together a lot earlier than we did. We got signed off the back of the covers we did on YouTube and all of sudden the label were like “make us some hits” but we had never written before. We found ourselves in this position with no track record or experience and we spent the time we were under a label just learning on the job. Now we’re at a stage where we’re a lot more experienced and know what want to do and looking back it’s like wow we didn’t have a clue. I’d say to anyone who was starting out your never going to become a master at something overnight but you’ve got to start somewhere. We started over 10 years ago, so it’s never too late.
What’s the best part of being independent?
Wow…there’s a lot of good things. There’s no stress. Everything that we do we’re in control of. We’re involved in everything and it feels like it’s our project now. I think that was a big thing that made us self-conscious and caused a lot of self-doubt. We’d make something that we were all really gassed about, take it to the label to show them, and then it had to go through so many people. By the time that’s all over, you’re left there doubting yourself.
Do you know how many bangers we’ve let slip away because of what someone else thought of it? The music that we make is R&B and the label we were under wanted us to make music that was a bit more pop. It messed with our heads and made us doubt ourselves, but I feel like now it’s so clear. We’re all on the same page with the sort tracks we want to make. If you like the stuff that you’re doing the chances are your fanbase are going to love it too.
I of course can’t let you go without speaking about your new music. Your latest track “Paradise” Is all about tackling homelessness. Tell me more about how it came together
It was a little bit random when it first started to be honest. I’d heard the Brandy and Ray J version of the song and thought it was sick and we started working on a cover for fun. Then we posted a clip of it on Instagram and got a really good response, so we decided to put it out officially.
We’ve always done covers but never released them officially and people wanted to be able to listen to them on the go and in their cars rather than through a youtube video. It was actually when we thought about shooting the video for it that we looked at the message and didn’t want that to get lost so we decided to make it a charity single and do some good. There’s this organisation in Liverpool called the White Chapel Centre who are a homeless and rehousing charity that do some amazing work so all the proceeds are going to be going towards them.
Finally, in regard to your plans for the remainder of 2021, what does that look like?
Bangers on bangers on bangers! To be fair it would be nice to say one release every month, but you know what indie life is like. There’ll definitely be new music every 2 to 3 months, we can commit to that. That was a big goal for us coming back. Our whole careers we haven’t been consistent with releasing and we felt bad for our fans who would sometimes have to wait almost a year to get a new MiC LOWRY tune, so that’s something that will definitely be different.