British singer Col3trane has had a restless year. But even after releasing two EPs and joining Dua Lipa on her arena tour, Col3trane, whose real name is Cole Basta, has no plans to stop. He even travelled from London to Kazakhstan to record the video for his song “Britney,” a journey he describes as “very strange, but really beautiful.”
At some point during all of this, Stormzy blocked him on Instagram. “There’s a video of him singing one of my songs,” Cole starts with amusement. “I don’t know where it was at, but it was my song ‘Language’… I have [the video] on my phone.” There’s no malice in his voice – more curiosity, almost an entertained bafflement. “I’m like, Yo, why am I blocked?”
Cole speaks with laid back candour, his mostly-London accent occasionally resonating with the sweet musicality recognisable by anyone familiar with his music. Any accent variance can be chalked up to his upbringing; his parents are American, and he’s spent much of his life splitting his time between the two countries.
“London [is] where all of my closest friends are, the guys I grew up with and my family,” explains Cole. “It’s easy to get distracted by stuff like that, but they also understand what I’m doing, and it’s very easy… to just lock [ourselves] into our studio and stay there and not leave for a while.” The U.S., he maintains, is a different animal – one that is growing on him. “When I go to L.A., there are so many distractions. There’s just so much shit going on all the time… I really like the fact that I end up going back and forth and spending three months here and three months there.”
As taxing as this perpetual back-and-forth can be, that exhaustion can sometimes inspire. Work on the most recent Col3trane project, the Heroine EP, began only a day after he handed in his mixtape to his label. “It was really stressful,” Cole admits. He tells a story of flying from the deserts of Kazakhstan to Los Angeles only to find upon arrival his accommodations had been cancelled. “Me and [producer J Moon] ended up staying at like six different Airbnbs in seven days trying to mix this project in different rooms and different spaces.”
When it was all over, Cole went right back into the studio and laid down the core of what became “Divine Intervention.” “It just felt like a weight was lifted,” he says. “Making ‘Divine Intervention’ was really a release.”
While Cole can credit most of this work ethic to his own ambition, he cites another source of inspiration for his present-day output: Dua Lipa, with whom he toured last year. “After the first show in Glasgow, I was in the dressing room and she had just come off-stage… We were talking and she was packing her bag, and I was like, ‘where are you going?’ After her Friday show, she had to get a plane from Glasgow down to London, shoot a video for eighteen hours the next day, fly back to Manchester and do a show that Sunday. Meanwhile, I’ve just had a day off, and I’m like, wow.”
Cole’s voice rings with true admiration. “It really put shit into perspective for me about how hard you have to work, and how important it is to be the boss of your own shit. You’ve got to work harder than everyone else around you.”
That internalised message drives Cole to spend countless hours in the studio with producer J Moon, whom he describes as a “fucking wizard”. To date, Cole’s most popular song is probably the J Moon-produced “Penelope” – an amazing feat considering the duo made it only a day after they met. “We really haven’t stopped working together since then,” says Cole. “He’s a genius.”
With song titles like “Penelope” and “Britney”, a quick look across Col3trane’s discography might make one think he’s a bit of a wandering romantic. Maybe so, but Cole insists that there’s a deeper meaning behind his occasional name-drops. Names in the world of Col3trane represent not people, but ideas. It’s one of the reasons why the name Britney can be heard across several of his tracks. “Britney to me is just… bad shit. What are those things out of Harry Potter with the no face? That’s what Britney looks like,” he laughs. “Britney is representative of a time and a place, not necessarily a person.”
Despite his trove of chart-friendly tracks, Cole cites his musical inspiration as stemming from another area entirely, one that should not be unexpected given his name: jazz. “My parents always used to listen to jazz growing up… they would really listen to everything. That’s one thing that was really good and formative for me. I was exposed to all different types of music from all different angles.”
Cole’s favourite artists of the day are equally eclectic. “Lucky Daye is amazing, I’ve been listening to him a lot. I’ve seen him in London live a couple of weeks ago, and he’s amazing… I’ve been listening to Lolo Zouaï, she’s super dope… Miraa May as well.”
At the moment, Cole has just wrapped up a small North American tour — his first headling shows stateside. Now he’ll head back to Europe, where he’ll spend time in the studio before setting off on a European tour. “Nowadays I’m being a bit more disciplined with myself and setting myself goals for how I’ll do what I want to do,” he says. “I’m still being free with the process and letting things come as they come naturally, but being a little bit more disciplined with myself as to how I make things.”
As far as the future is concerned, Cole has a plan – and from the sounds of it, it’s going well, even if Stormzy still has him blocked. “It’s been really good. I don’t know how to elaborate more on it now because I’m still figuring it all out, but it’s been very good.”
Col3trane will head on his own European Tour from November 2019. Get your tickets here.