Ahead Of Bestival, Craig David Opens Up About Success, Failure, Philosophy And Pool Parties

Craig David bounds into his manager’s office wearing a sleek black tracksuit and trainers covered in shiny zips. His teeth are Tipp-ex white and his biceps bulge beneath his t-shirt. On his wrist is his now-customary watch, its face simply adorned with the word ‘Now’. We talk for an hour and he grins through every second of it, even when remembering the “epiphany” he had when his red Ferrari wouldn’t start outside a restaurant in Miami, where he’s lived since 2010.

Ahead of this weekend’s Bestival appearance, we talk about every stage of the 34-year-old’s career, beginning with new project TS5, which sees him DJ, MC, sing and use a live band.

How did TS5 start?

“It started off in my home in Miami. TS5 is the number of my house. In 2012 I started throwing pre-parties for friends before going clubbing. From 10 people messing around with iTunes playlists, it got to the point where there were too many people trying to play different stuff, so I had to rein it in. So I got a little DJ set up and put it on top of my piano, then people said you gotta grab a mic and host it. So I got a mic and it turned into proper parties, I was going back to my roots as a DJ and MC. We had to get a guestlist and security…”

You had bouncers at your house?

“I didn’t want it to go that way but it was getting…I don’t wanna be watching people. The parties run between 10:30pm and 1am, perfect timing before people get smashed out of their minds and wanna wreck your home.”

Has that happened?

“The odd glass gets spilled here, or smashed there, but it wasn’t an open house party where anyone could knock on the door. People would catch word of it, but we filtered out any… whenever there’s a party in Miami everyone wants to come, but I had to make clear this was my home and not a nightclub. The vibe was nice. A nice group of people who came to enjoy the original feel of a house party. That’s all I wanna do before I go out. Then it got picked up by Kiss FM and now Capital Extra and I’ve been doing shows for about a year and a half.”

What about house party prep?

“Most of my prep is to do with how it sounds, buying extra speakers and making sure it thumps when they play. I’ve got amazing housekeepers who know the drill. Everything in the apartment is pretty much white, so it’s just obvious stuff, moving certain things, giving people plastic glasses, not having red wine all over the place.”

So do people roam all over your house?

“Oh no, no, bedrooms are locked off. There’s the hallway, the main area and the terrace, hence why I have security, one on the door and one filtering in and out. It doesn’t get rowdy. I’m more concerned with people having a good time, I want to hype everyone up on the mic, I love that people can feel like a rock star when they’re in my home. The club scene in Miami can be too VIP focused… I’m like ‘This is a wooden table my friend, with a bottle on it! Don’t take it to seriously.’ I’d rather be out there, the person the other side of the red rope is having a great time. That’s what I wanted to create, come through the door, treat my home like it’s your own, don’t take the piss and you’ll have a good time. We don’t search people but if you get caught doing drugs you’ll find yourself going right back out the door again real quick. Then, just when people wanna go a bit more crazy, it finishes and my amazing housekeepers clean up and it feels like there’s been no party. I love that.”

How was the first UK TS5 show in London?

“We did it at Oslo, I could have played China Whites or whatever. Bestival is next, I’m excited about it. I love going out performing, I can play other people’s songs, I can sing my own, I can bring an acoustic guitarist out, have my band play as well, its not just a DJ-based thing. In London I know from experience that you’ve gotta get in amongst it to be seen as real, I’m experimenting and jumping into a vulnerable unknown place. When I was MCing back in the day you needed crowd participation, I want to bridge the gap between DJ and performer, there’s gotta be another thing. Let me go out there and do something different. To mix two songs together you don’t have to be a rocket scientist but to jump on the mic and flip out of the song and sing and pull that off… Either you’re a DJ or a singer or an artist, but I want to do all of it, beast mode has kicked in.”

So is TS5 separate to your solo albums?

“I’m not trying to make TS5 a separate entity. That’s when it gets a bit weird. I am TS5, I’m that. I’m whatever it is that you see, DJing, singing… I’m back into music and not talking about the past and questions like ‘How many records have sold?’ That doesn’t mean anything. What are you doing right now? That does [mean something]. I can live off stories, you can see the NME cover up there [points to framed NME cover on the wall] but all I know is what’s going on on that microphone right now. Music wasn’t serious when I started, I had passion and I loved it and I’ve got that hunger again. I’m not proving anything to anyone else, just for myself.”

Will TS5 change the narrative of your career? From the outside it looks as if things have dwindled since you moved to Miami five years ago?

“You hit it on the head. I wanted people to hear my music when I came out of the box at 17, then got to a place where ‘Rewind’ got to number two, ‘Fill Me In’ went to number one, ‘7 Days’ was number one, the album’s coming out… You start to buy into the syndrome of chart positions and record sales. After selling seven million with ‘Born To Do It’, we got to the second album and it did 3.5 million. At the time it was like, ‘Ah it didn’t really hit the mark’. I sit here now and think ‘THREE AND A HALF MILLION ALBUMS!’ I’m seeing albums going in at number one now that sell a few thousand, what was I on? Progressively going down the scale [with my other records] even if you sell 500,000 that’s still a lot today. I was lost in having to always excel above what I’d done before, that’s the slippery slide when you start to lose your awareness of what you love, which is making music. I genuinely feel that all those things were necessary and almost a blessing in disguise, having those moments where you’re in a rut. I remember Sinatra, before ‘New York New York’, his albums weren’t doing too well. What’s the saying, ‘fight or flight?’ At your lowest the door opens up and you ask yourself do you wanna take it or keep plummeting down lower and lower? I needed to have time off; I’d been doing this since I was 17. You need to experience life, you need to live. I’d moved to Miami because I loved being in the sun. All of a sudden your apartment turns into a little party and now I’m sitting here having a conversation about something I threw as a party because it felt good. That’s the metaphor for anything you do in life, if you love what you do it can’t help but connect. As soon as you start to take it seriously it’s the start of the demise.”

Were you unhappy in Miami then? Judging by your Instagram your life looks quite nice there…

“There’s no complaints there, trust me. If I’m being absolutely honest, I definitely wasn’t on a downer in Miami. How could you be? You’ve got palm trees, a beautiful apartment, the club scene. The first year or two of being there I was going to all the big EDM clubs. I was getting swept away, pool parties here, pool parties there. I burnt the candle at both ends. It was that breather I needed at that point where I was trying to push music, as opposed to naturally letting it happen. So I was just living, going out, enjoying life, taking it all in.”

Sounds like it was a relief to get away from it all?

“I was loving no one saying ‘we need an album from you’. When you sign up they don’t add that most mornings you’ll be getting up at 6 to do the live vocal on whatever breakfast show it is, then the radio station, then the press junket, then you’ve got to go and perform again, then you’re flying to another place. When you’ve done that for 14 years you’ll enjoy a couple years just like ‘Yo, let me see the sun shining, life is good…’. It made me think, do you remember that game Outrun? The arcade racing game? I used to play it and I’d always drive as the red Ferrari. Throughout my career, all the money I’d made, I’d never bought a sports car. Moving to Miami four or five years ago was the time.

So you bought one? Is it outside?

“No no, I came in a taxi, old school. But moving to Miami was the moment, the place to get a sports car with a roof that comes down. I bought a red Ferrari F430. I remember taking a girlfriend to dinner at this really nice restaurant called Prime 112. I parked the car outside and I was that guy like ‘yeaah coool’. We met a couple of friends and had a nice meal, came out and the car wouldn’t start. That wasn’t really the look I was going for. I told the others to go on to the club. At this point people were pouring out of the restaurant so I called the car dealer, he told me to reset the ignition by turning the key 20 times and opening the door 20 times. I was like ‘My man, is Ashton Kuthcer gonna jump in the passenger seat and do a Punk’d sketch on me?

Did it work?

“No! I ended up ordering a tow truck, but it didn’t come for an hour and a half. That was the whole night messed up. I’m sitting in the car sweating my arse off with no air conditioning and then it starts to rain. I’m pissed off, thinking ‘What’s going on here?’ I guess what we could call an epiphany of some sort happened at that point. I looked at the black horse on the yellow emblem on the steering wheel and I was like ‘Man, I am actually sitting in the car I used to dream of as a kid putting pound coins in the arcade machine. I actually own one, I’m in it, I live in Miami and let’s not forget the career we could throw into the mix’. I sat there looking at shit like the stitching, like a little kid again. It was a moment of clarity, if I can’t be grateful for the things I have now I never will be. I’ve got dreams beyond dreams. No one could even paint this. It shifted my whole consciousness, changed my life.”

How?

“Now I cherish the moments with friends and family and working with new people. Another thing I found that was so, so important is, and we all tend to do this without realising it, not to reduce people to a means to an end. We’re here right now for whatever reason, you’ve come to do an interview I’ve come to give you the answers, there are no coincidences in life, but ultimately when you meet someone you can’t use them. People think ‘Ok what can I get from you? and use people in the same way you’d make a table from a piece of wood. When you start to look at people and say, ‘You’re a human being, you’re here and regardless of what goes on in the interview you’re a human being, you’re sitting here I can’t use you to get the next thing’. When I stopped doing that in life I started to meet really good people, opportunities started to open up and I stopped taking things seriously and cut through the shit.”

Did that extend to music too?

“Yeah, what made me love all this stuff in the first place? Music! Why did I fall out of love with it? Because I took it seriously. I started to believe the hype, I was living off the hype. When you do that you’re like a phantom. I see some artists who disown songs they love when they don’t chart well. Would you do that to your children? Trust me, children ain’t gonna do all the right things, so are you gonna disown them or embrace them and say ‘No, you’re still my child, you didn’t go out and do the right thing but I’ll still love you in the same way’? That’s how I feel about music. Every song that didn’t hit it touched somebody’s life. Take anything seriously in life and you set yourself up for peril, trust me.”

What you’re saying seems to fit in with some of your more phliosophical Instagram posts

“[Laughs] You know what, it’s funny you mention that! I laugh, sometimes it can be perceived that I take it really seriously. Again, if you take spirituality seriously, you turn it into your new thing, so you’ve gotta run around doing the zen thing and meditate. Instagram again, don’t take it to seriously. Don’t take social media seriously. Don’t buy into the hype. I try to balance the things I put out, I don’t want to preach to people. I don’t wanna take a selfie and do some nonsense, yeah I’ll show you some of my music and also here’s some thoughts I’m having, share them or don’t share them. Spirituality is not a thing, you just do it. If it starts to turn into a thing you’ve missed all of what spirituality is about. It’s what I was doing when I was a young kid. Following my intuition, being passionate and going with it. Not overthinking it. Intuition is now, you’re doing it, it’s not ‘oh now im being intuitive’.

Have you always felt this way?

“I had these thoughts without the wisdom of knowing I had them before. Now I can see that it was intuition at that time when my friends were calling me out on the balcony to come get smashed at the weekend and I said no to concentrate on music. I had something telling me to say no even as a teenager, and I wasn’t a geeky teenager trust me, I’d go out and get smashed as much as I wanted to, but it was driving me and I know that’s something you can’t talk about, you do it. I’ve experienced everything any aspiring artist could ever want. Millions of albums sold all around the world, everyone wanting to lick your arse, but now I’m back in that teenage mindset again.”

Which brings us neatly round to festivals, did you go to many as a teenager?

“Nah, I haven’t been to that many, saying that though, I did a few back in the day. I don’t know if I’ll camp for the whole thing. Playing Shy FX’s stage will be wicked I grew up on ‘Wolf’ and ‘Chopper’ and all that stuff. I remember whenever he played a jungle record people would MC on and on, it’s gonna be weird to be on his stage. I love it, and it’s because I’m enthusiastic about it again. And it’s good being so close to Southampton too. From what I hear, it’ll go off.”

Will you dress up?

“I haven’t 100% got the memo on the dress sense so I’ll probably be rocking up in my normal attire – whatever normal is – but it may fall in line with the theme. It’s summer of love? Anything that makes things fun is cool, but if it messes up your flow, that could be a problem.”

For more info on tickets and line-up check out bestival.net