When one thinks about male groups in the UK, they are few that spring to mind. However, in our current musical landscape, where it seems like they are few and far between, a mere handful is still thriving and doing their thing.
And one of those groups that come to mind is WSTRN. The three-piece collective consists of three West London-born members Akelle, Haile and Louis, who have been holding the flag for representing one of the most prominent British male groups. From the release of their debut single In2 back in 2015 up until now, the evolution and growth have been something to see.
With each member bringing a dynamic element to the group, whether it be singing, productions or just the general vibe, they are one of the most active artists out in the UK. Their sound is not that tied to one specific genre and has evolved massively from when they first got together to where they down, bringing together everything from hip-hop, R&B, dancehall, Afrobeats, and UK Rap and giving sounds that have the force that they are.
After releasing two mixtapes and an album, they are back with the next chapter of the WSTRN story with WSTRN Season 3, probably their most dynamic album yet. Whilst still staying true to the familiarities we’ve gotten to know from them before, it also brings them to a new level with the sounds and essence of the album.
Catching up with Akelle, Haile and Louis, I spoke with the group about everything from how they came together, staying on top of their game, the album, the WSTRN legacy and everything in between.
So, first of all, congratulations on releasing your album WSTRN Season 3 and getting to this point as a group; how has that journey been?
Louis: Yeah, no journey’s been like a roller coaster. It’s been an exciting story; we started music as a collective in 2015 officially. The first record, In2, we released, and that was like the beginning of the WSTRN story where we were making loads of music. Then, we also dropped a mixtapes WSTRN Season 1 and 2 DOU3LE 3AK. So, this is more like a new chapter because we are artists from the UK that acquire an international sound of music. So, this was our first time doing the international thing properly, you know, going into those territories spending time, then working on the records, so it’s pretty exciting.
How did you form the group and start making music together?
Haile: Yes, so we’re all from the same area of West London. Akelle is family, and I met Louis through Akelle Kelle, who was working on a mixtape at the time, and I was doing a lot of production on the mixtape. So, Louis was featured on one of the songs on the mixtape, and that’s how I met Louis. And we were all, you know, just friends from the neighbourhood, and I guess we all decided to go to the studio one day. So, long story short, and that’s when In2 was created. And from then the group was formed, and since then we’ve just been making music together.
How has the relationship between the three of you changed since you started this journey?
Louis: I think musically, we’ve always done it all. We’ve been blessed. I’ll be honest with you; that’s the easiest way. We’ve been blessed in terms of being able to make songs, which comes very naturally to us. I guess over time, just like anything, we’ve understood each other a bit more, what works for some people, how each person may like to record and just different things that work for us. So I guess with time, it’s made us stronger and closer, really and truly. So yeah, that’s kind of what’s happened over time. And I feel that’s evident in our standing the test of time because only quality and authenticity last in this life.
Akelle: We are multidimensional, for sure, and even in the things we’ve all done outside of the group, I think we all agree that it all brings traffic back to WSTRN anyway. There will always be people who don’t understand what it is. But as long as we understand internally that this is a unit, this is a family, and it doesn’t matter.
Haile: It is just like having siblings, to be fair, and these two are my brothers, so we’re going to argue, we’re going have disagreements. We’re going to disagree. So it’s always going to be like that, but it is always loves at the end of the day, and we know. That we’re better together than apart
Akelle: And also it’s like we’ve experienced things together that only us three understand the feeling. Certain things bond you for life, and you can’t escape that. So when you’re with certain people, it’s like unspoken energy that we know because only three of us experienced it.
With the ever-changing music landscape, how have you stayed on top of your game and continued what you’ve been doing?
Haile: As long as you’re consistent with your music, you will always have a strong, solid fan base that will continue to support what you do, no matter what. Things have changed regarding how people perceive music and switch on and off quite quickly. The whole COVID situation changed a lot, too. So I feel like, as an artist, you want to build that core fan base that will support you through no matter what situation, and as long as you have them, whatever obstacles come in the way, It will be pretty easy to manoeuvre because you’ve built that solid foundation. And I feel like from 2015 to now; we have had WSTRN supporters supporting us since then and are still here now, so it’s been an easy run for us; it hasn’t been too difficult.
You just released your latest project WSTRN Season 3, this past week. So, where did the project begin for you guys?
Haile: In terms of the, you know, the music process, you know, the creative process that’s quite natural to us, like Louis said. We went away for a while, the three of us and our manager, and we were with a bunch of producers rotating and making loads of material and demos. And once we got the skeleton together, we returned to London and developed the music and, you know, added new tunes and stuff like that. So yeah, with the music stuff that’s quite easy to make music and create new vibes because I feel like the sound we got is very different. So yeah, the music process is relatively quick, and we’ve got back loads and loads and loads of music there. So that’s something that we could promise our audience that we will deliver more consistently now as well.
Louis: Usually, with each project, we pick a destination. For one of them, we went to Jamaica, and for one of them, we were in LA. So we pick up place, and we go there specifically block in a couple of weeks, and we say we’re going to begin working on this next project or whatever it is we’re working on. So here, we went to Bournemouth, the house that looked out onto the sea. And yeah, we just locked in for about two weeks, and as Haile said, we built a skeleton of different songs and kind of just like a bass to manoeuvre. And we intentionally tried to figure out how to mesh the other sounds. So, for instance, the R&B melodies with the dancehall drums, with the Afrobeats in there nicely and just built a whole bunch of different stuff.
How does WSTRN Season 3 differ compared to your previous material?
Akelle: I think that if you listen to all discography and our journey, you can hear the growth in terms of music and craftsmanship in terms of production, little nuances. We’ve grown a lot. And I guess with this new album, I feel like this is the most fine-tuned we’ve been in production and actually making the album. In terms of mixing different genres, the basement, the dancehall, the Afrobeat, their elements of the rap, the R&B melodies, we’ve got the hip hop flows like it’s an amalgamation of everything. And I think this is probably the best we’ve done so far in terms of putting it all together.
Louis: There’s growth. We always try to operate a story to our taps. So there’s a message behind them if you listen to them. We incorporate things like interludes; they all complement each other and create this picture. WSTRN Season 3 is a whole new chapter. So, there will always be so many new things you didn’t discover with WSTRN that you will now acknowledge. And I feel like, with this mixtape, they will be satisfied with a new story and, you know, new music growth, and just new energy and enjoyment and good vibes, and that’s what was given to them on this project.
What does this project say about where you are now as a group?
Akelle: For me, this project separates us from everybody else. It gives us an international identity as opposed to just being those artists from the UK. When you listen to this tape, I feel like you may not be able to pinpoint where we come from, whether that’s the UK, the Caribbean, Canada, or anywhere. I think this is very versatile and I’ve displayed a lot more singing, a new thing for me I don’t sing as much. I’ve seen I’ve sung a little more on this tape, and I feel like it’s just a new level for all of us. We’ve unlocked a new level, if that’s even possible.
Louis: Yeah, and as I was saying, I look at our projects like a series of seasons, and every season explains what’s currently happening in the last WSTRN. And I feel like this third season right now is integral because it is like the bridge to taking the route to a bigger international space, just what we’re trying to do. Everything is intentional from the sounds we pick, the genres, and the concepts. With people that listen to WSTRN, you know that the narrative is coming from a real place. But, still, knowing how to find the light of any situation and for anyone that could that’s been to that place or is currently in that place by listening to Western music, it brings you that happiness and that escape room the place.
Do you have a specific plan or future goal for the group or is it a case of just seeing how things unfold and go with the flow?
Louis: Right now, we’re in a place where people come to WSTRN to enjoy, have a good time, feel good, and celebrate. And I think that’s something concrete we will continue to deliver and evolve to our fans. And In terms of where WSTRN can be in the future, it will be an evolution. We are a collective, so some in the group will go on their journeys, but at the end of the day, as we said, that will all make WSTRN bigger anyway. So we’re just going to continue delivering and creating good music. A member might want to start acting, or another might want to plot their projects, or it could be anything, but it would just be a sprout of WSTRN that will involve evolving and building up our brand.
Akelle: I do believe WSTRN will go down in history just for its cultural relevance, and I think the fact that it doesn’t make us pick a particular song, I think when you look back at the greats, just like the greats, who we aspire to be like, they all had a pivotal moment where they just found this new sound. It just wasn’t expected at the time. It was a bit different. And I feel like that’s kind of the journey we’re on, and I’d like to believe that we will be remembered for that, and for being WSTRN and being who we are and changing things.
What have been some of the biggest lessons you have learnt on your journey, personally or professionally? And what have been some of the highlights?
Haile: I can confirm that teamwork makes the dream work. I feel like as long as everyone has the same objective, everyone’s on the same page, and we are all working towards whatever that is, it’s only going to come to success. If you got more than one person working on the same thing, then it’s just going to do what you do in a quicker and better way. I would say one of my highlights was going to Africa. Visiting countries like Kenya and going to places where people over there show us love and make us so welcome, shooting music videos, just having a good time embracing the culture and understanding that culture out there that’s something that I will never forget.
Akelle: Yeah, I’m going to second that in terms of the travelling, most definitely, and just getting to meet different people from around the world. And then I’d say that one of the biggest lessons has been the journey of understanding oneself better. I feel like time is a revealer of most things. And I think also never to be still and keep moving, even if you’re moving at a snail’s pace. As long as you move daily, you’re in a different place from yesterday. So I think that the most important thing is to keep moving, and don’t stop, and never give up.
Louis: I agree with what both these guys have said, and I think it’s about growing every day and, you know, seeing where we go next
WSTRN Season 3 is out now, follow WSTRN via @wstrnmusic
Interview Seneo Mwamba
Photography Keaton Richardson