“Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, you beautiful human beings.” Whether through his music, spoken word poetry or his motivational Instagram posts, Inja is a beacon of positivity. Wrapping up his own personal experiences and insights into clever wordplay, poetry and bouncy productions, he has consistently caught the attention of the drum and bass community since his signing to Hospital in 2017.
Almost four years and a global pandemic on from this, he is now ready to present his second full-length solo album on the label. The expansive, talent-oozing Smile & Wave contains an impressive 16 tracks of 100% Whiney productions – a vocal/production linkup that has proven itself time after time with tunes like Flashlight and Mission reliably ripping through dancefloors (when they could).
From the cheeky bop of the title track, the slowed-down halftime swagger of Explode, to the hopeful spoken word of Smile More; the album fortifies both Inja and Whiney’s sheer breadth of talent in one start-to-finish listen. The album also features a long list of collaborators, all of whom Inja explains hold value to him as close friends and musical family.
You can expect vocal work from Charlotte Haining, Eva Lazarus, Cleveland Watkiss, Singing Fats, DRS and Fox, and even some signature scratching from the only other artist in D&B to match Inja’s smile – DJ Marky. With UK lockdown restrictions having just been delayed and the collective mind of music fans feeling temporarily adrift, the album and its title feels ever more appropriate right now.
We had a long overdue catch up with Inja, discussing everything from his current Australia & New Zealand Tour, how he’s coped with the last year and a half, and of course, everything Smile & Wave.
Hello! How’s everything in New Zealand?
It’s mad. It’s an open country, so it’s a massive reminder of what life is like. No, a massive reminder of what life can be like.
I can imagine! How long have you been out there now?
I think six or seven weeks… I’ve lost count. I don’t want to count it because with a count up there’s always a count down.
Were there tears at the first rave back?
The tears didn’t come at the first one, they turned up at the third one. It was the first time trying out a new show that I’ve been developing where I’m just playing all my own tunes. That’s where it got really emotional. People were singing and responding back to songs they’ve never heard and singing along to the ones that they do know.
Have you had the chance to play out most the album on tour then?
Yeah! I’ve definitely been giving it a good test run and it’s been a great response.
When did the idea for the album first come about?
Before we even start talking about the idea, we’ve got to take a moment and big up Whiney, he is an absolute don. We have been friends for a while now, and we just always thought that it would be wicked to do this at some point because of how we clicked when we first met. Bearing in mind we’ve only been in the same room together four or five times through this project though… it’s mad. It shows how things can be made and developed these days and how quickly they can come together. The idea came from a long time ago, but it’s just been about timing and also both finding ourselves in the right space to actually set off and do it.
It must feel great to finally get that full album out after lots of individual tunes together then. It’s what the people wanted…
Yeah, and I think more than anything I got to express myself 100% how I wanted to. I can’t speak for him, but I hope he got to express himself 100% how he wanted as well.
It’s been a few years since your Blank Pages album on Hospital with Pete Cannon and the rest of the gang. Do you feel like you’ve learnt a lot from that album heading into this one?
I think I’ve definitely learned; every day is a learning curve. If I don’t feel like I’m evolving in any way, shape or form then I’m stagnating, and I don’t like stagnation. I’ve grown and learnt a lot more about myself and life, and that gives me the impetus and drive to create again. That’s how we come with Smile & Wave. I’m so happy with it, I love it and I love everyone’s contributions to it. If people feel like I have evolved and moved forward, then I’m happy.
One of my current favourite tracks from the album is Hands Lights Flames Phones with DRS and Fox. It’s an amazing link up of vocal talent and just one of many on the album. How much does working with vocalists like this inspire you?
Listen man, everyone that I worked with on here is GANG. Straight up gang, fam shit! I’m so inspired by them. They’re my peers. They’re my friends. They’re my confidants. We don’t get to see each other as much, well… not anymore. But before ‘anymore’ turned up, we didn’t get to see each other as much as we may have liked to. It’s bare gratitude though, it’s all people that I love on it.
What’s the idea or concept behind Smile & Wave?
Everything is subjective, and you can find whatever you want in it. For me, I find myself smiling and waving all over the place. Me and my daughter also love Madagascar haha – ‘smile and wave boys’. After that track got made, that just had to be the title for the album. It reflects myself, it reflects what Whiney has contributed, and it reflects the vibe.
The album beams positivity throughout, something which feels like a huge part of your identity both musically and in day-to-day life.
I’ve always wanted to push positivity in music, regardless of what places I’ve been in. Personally, I believe that we make our own destiny. We can conjure up our own happiness. We are our own alchemists. If we can find that inside of us, then the happiness is always there no matter what is going on. Everything you need to know is inside you, everything that you need to find and believe is inside you. Once that starts clicking and you realise that you can make yourself happy, then that’s a beautiful thing! I think that with the way that life is, lots of us forget this. I had to start reminding myself, and on reminding myself I thought well why not just share that?
How has the last year and half been for you?
For the first few months, I slept… I haven’t rested up in a while so man rested up good bredrin! Then my brain started getting active and I started contributing to various little things. As long as you can find it inside you, you can always be productive. From when the right frequencies land, I’m on it. Obviously, there’s peaks and troughs because this was a long case.
Are there any steps you’ve taken to help this?
Many times, during lockdown I’ve done multiple weeks of just doing my own personal silent retreat at home which was lovely. Seven days of no talking, no noise, no phone calls, no TV, no music… just silence. I got to become at one with my surroundings and locate every frequency in the building that I live in. I’ve done that multiple times, and to be honest I kind of like being on my own. What was taken away was our ability to go and see people and do what we like when we like, but apart from that I was actually alright with it! It wasn’t that bad apart from missing people, I missed loads of people. Missed all my friends, missed all my family, missed all my family, missed all my friends. Missed seeing random people smile on the street, missed seeing all the beautiful ravers. For me though, I chose my gaff, I chose all the stuff that’s in my gaff, and if I was unhappy with that then that’s down on me.
Definitely, got to spin it into a positive for yourself. I was happy to hear some more of your spoken word bits on the album. Is this something you’ve been doing a lot of over this period?
Do you know what, I’ve probably been doing less of that because I haven’t been seeing as much life as I normally would have! On the poetry side, life really inspires me to write, and there was hardly no life. Man could spin bare lines about sitting on my windowsill, but I like depth, I like layers.
How about writing music while you’ve been on tour?
In the quarantine I wrote loads of stuff. I can’t call it quarantine really, got to spend two weeks in a five-star hotel getting three meals a day. That was a writer’s retreat for me. I’ve been doing bits and bobs while I’ve been about as well. If the frequencies are hit, then it works.
Can’t force it, when the time is right it comes!
Don’t force nothing bredrin. I don’t have any ideas before I get given any of the music, the music tells me what to write. There are no concepts. If the music hits, then the music tells me the words. I deliver the words the music tells me. That’s the process.
The album is Smile & Wave and the album ends with Smile More. What’s making you smile more right now?
Talking to you because I’ve got an interview on UKF! You can see the ting bruv, I’m smiling now. What else is making me smile? Being able to perform and play my songs. What’s making me smile is that out of necessity I started playing and singing my own songs all at once. I’ve now learnt how to blend them. Make it loud and clear however – I’m not a DJ, I’m never going to be a DJ, I’m not trying to be a DJ. I didn’t really realise how many songs I’ve got though! I’ve done a lot of shows over here and I still haven’t even got through my whole D&B selection of my own. I’m filling up an hour set real nice, so that’s making me smile. Man’s pulling out tunes from years ago and the people are just instantly on it, they’re feeling the frequencies, and the frequencies have a ripple effect. It’s beautiful to see. That is a big thing that’s been making me smile. Big up all the producers who have laced me with amazing music. Big them up, because without them I don’t have the music. I could just do acapella for an hour, but I don’t think that would go down well haha!
Was there anyone else on the album you particularly enjoyed working with? There’s DJ Marky, Eva Lazarus, Charlotte Haining to name a few.
That one right there! DJ Marky bruv… that was a thing. Getting Marky to put scratches on a drum and bass record, how often does that happen? It’s just a few little cuts here and there. He was like ‘is this all you want Inja?’ and I’m like yeah bruv that’s cool! A little sprinkle of Marky.
Everyone needs a little sprinkle of Marky.
Everyone does. Marky is a soul, Marky is a light. Marky is an amazing human being. Not just him though. Charlotte Haining, I’ve known her for a hot minute, and I’ve always wanted to do something with her. DRS and Fox… gang! We go way back, DRS even says it on the track, “me and Inja we go that far back”. It’s the same with Eva Lazarus, that’s some serious family ties there. Cleveland Watkiss as well, to get Mr. flipping soul, jazz extraordinaire, reggae singer, MBE up on that ting. Come on! Man like him and Singing Fats, that’s like the original vocal foundation, some Blue Note shit right there! All the stuff that none of us could go to because people weren’t born or weren’t old enough. That’s mad, even just talking about it. Everyone blessed me so beautifully.
Do you have any other memories from making the album that you want to share?
The writing sessions are just fun. It’s all about timing, you can’t time timing. There’s always ups and downs, but the special thing for me is the vibes between me and Whiney. It’s beautiful, the way that we work together so easily when it comes to music. It’s a joy to behold and it’s a joy to be a part of. It’s a joy to have someone like that that I can trust on a journey like this and fully have my back sonically in multiple ways and allow me to help with arrangement. If there’s certain frequencies that I’m either into or not into, he doesn’t mind me contributing. It’s a pleasure man, and he’s a fucking beautiful person. He’s a lovely guy and an amazing producer.
We’re in the final stretch now in the UK before we can dance again. Are there any changes that you want to see when events do open back up?
There has been a rise of people that are just doing it for love and are showing that they’re really good and creative with it. They’re starting to be given chances in places where they wouldn’t necessarily have been given chances before. I would like that to continue, I would like that to pick up momentum. The scene is built from the ground up, and the underground aspect is always the foundation. From when the underground is thriving, that then has a ripple effect on everything. The momentum that people have been building up, the amazing music that’s been coming out, the new discoveries on vocalists, MCs, DJs, producers – it needs to keep up and everyone needs to be given their chance and their space to shine and see if they really want it. I had to fight for all my chances, and I’m not saying that people still shouldn’t have to fight for it, but it would be nice if there was a way where it’s just a tiny bit easier for them to get that chance.
It’s definitely a great time to make yourself heard.
Well, you can give it a try! You might try it and you might not like it. You might try it and you might love it, but at least you can have a try.
You’ve got the album launch party on 12th of August at Colours in Hoxton. What can we expect from that evening?
I just want people to come through and have some fun and enjoy the frequencies! I have zero expectations. All I would like is for people to come through and enjoy themselves, and if they appreciate the music then to show some love. That’s the minimum requirement. If I end up in a room and it’s just me and Whiney then we’ll still have a laugh playing our songs and hearing it on a loud sound system.
Any final thoughts?
I just hope people enjoy the album. If it helps them smile more then I’m a very happy man.