“This is quite an emotional release for me,” says Peter Xan of his debut EP God Save The King. “It’s the first time I’ve felt truly myself as an artist.”
The Nigerian-British artist had been making music for several years but it wasn’t until 2020 – when the whole world suddenly had some more thinking time on their hands – that he began to re-think his trajectory. “Lockdown made me reflect on who I am and what I want to be spending my time doing,” he says. “When you’re growing up you often get this homogenised culture where you listen to certain types of music just to fit in but that leads to making stuff that you just don’t really believe in.”
So instead, Xan delved back into the indie music that he truly loved – but had to hide – when growing up, which re-energised and rejuvenated him to create something that was a purer representation of himself. “I always liked songs that weren’t really characterised with my demographic,” he says. “In school you give into peer pressure but now I’m at a stage where I do what I love and listen to what I like unapologetically.”
While Xan may have been connecting with a distinctly British style of guitar music growing up, he was also deeply absorbing the music, culture and language (Yoruba) linked to his own Nigerian heritage. “When I went to school it was London, when I got home it was Lagos,” he reflects. “From sounds to smells I remember my grandma playing a lot of African music and my mum would play Magic FM in the car on the way to school. This musical blend happened early on in my life and it gave me a connection to a heritage I wasn’t born in.”
Xan’s approach to honesty and artistic integrity is clearly working. Just on the basis of his new demos, he was fielding publishing and record deal offers, found himself playing to tens of thousands of people at Wembley Arena supporting Anne-Marie, as well as collaborating with Rudimental on the slick groove “Glow in the Dark” from 2022. “There’s a lot of anticipation up to this point,” he offers. “But I want to exceed my own expectations of where this could go.”
A pretty clear indication of where this could go, and has already gone, can be heard on the 6 track EP. It’s one bursting with razor-sharp hooks, glistening melodies, fervent energy and a spirit that evokes a lineage of British guitar music spanning 1970s punk to 2000s indie.
Although, it’s not some retro pastiche throwback by any means. Instead, Xan has taken the essence of the music he loved growing up and given it a distinctly contemporary and boundary-crossing twist – his versatile voice, and how it shifts from impassioned and defiant rage to soulful and melodic croon, being just one example of this hybrid approach. “I’m not focused on the rules of what is pure rock or pure indie,” he says. “This is my take on it.”
It’s clear from the opening “Idols” that Xan has crafted his own distinct tweak on the genre. Sparse yet punchy drums collide with a subtle yet infectious synth melody as his voice glides from tender singing to impassioned growl, as he hits home: “God save the King / I’ll make him kiss my ring. God save the King / will he bow down for me?”. “When I made “Idols” it firmly set the theme in stone,” he says. “I felt like history was repeating itself and this especially resonated with the King’s coronation.”
Also factor in the recent passing of Vivienne Westwood and Xan couldn’t help but draw contemporary parallels to punk’s golden age. “I studied a lot of the Sex Pistols stuff and early UK punk rock,” he says. “So, I gave the EP the title of God Save The King as an ode to the past but also reflecting a modern shift and a changing of the cycle. That’s kind of the theme of the project – old but new.”
On “Pressure”, a kinetic burst of energy wrapped up in a wildly contagious 3-minute adrenalin-pumping indie hit, Xan worked with producer Dan Carey (Wet Leg, Squid, Fontaines DC, Black Midi). “It was like going to Hogwarts,” Xan laughs of the experience. “It was a dream come true because I used to listen to Franz Ferdinand back in the day and he’s had a hand in a lot of the albums that I’ve grown up listening to. He really made me understand the intricacy of what I’m doing and how I can get deeper into it.” On “Rejection Anthem” Xan found himself collaborating with Fontaines DC man Grian Chatten, who stepped in to produce the track.
Elsewhere, the unshakably catchy and propulsive “Fifa” seems destined to soundtrack the game itself, while “Hostage” adds a touch of auto-tune and production glitz to an otherwise classic piece of wiry indie-rock – once again hitting home Xan’s hybrid approach to genre.
All of this culminates in a fertile period for Xan in which he’s looking to dismantle the deeply embedded norms, traditions and prejudices that continue to exist in modern music. “People might say, oh you’re doing white music, but that’s completely absurd,” he says. “Music is music, whether you’re black, white or whatever. I can be African and still do rock. There’s nothing wrong with that. I want to be free from this stereotype.”
No more so has this been clear than in Xan’s decision to go out to collaborate with people in Ghana where he’s been shooting music videos. “I felt at home in Ghana,” he says. “I felt very connected to the culture and the history of its lands and its waters. Something special is happening in youth culture in West Africa, so to bring my music over there and shoot it with those people…it was astonishing.”
God Save The King is the end product of a period of profound artistic change and evolution for Xan, who has crafted a truly singular EP in the process. “I think now is the moment of truth,” he says. “I’m redefining what it means to be an indie-rock act in 2023.”