Photographer Anthony Hilliard’s photo series, styled by Lauren Ferreira, features Nigeria-born London-based musician Chi Virgo. Hilliard has made a name for himself taking photos of Future, A$AP Rocky and Drake, and Ferreira met Hilliard through her work assisting Drake’s stylist Mellany Sanchez. Below they share their collaboration with Virgo, and the singer-songwriter discusses her upbringing, songwriting, star signs and new music. Having gone from going to school and working at Amazon, to being a self-directed artist with a new EP underway - she also shares how life doesn’t always have to be all about getting good grades, going to uni and working in an office.
Can you give me a bit more of your background?
I was actually born in Nigeria, and moved to England when I was about five or six years old. I grew up in a little town on the edge of the Cotswolds, called Cheltenham. It's such a cute little place - I had the best experience growing up there. I moved to London after I graduated from uni in Loughborough because I'd secured a job working for Amazon! I've been living in London for nearly two years now. I've always loved music and singing since I can remember, but I didn't really start thinking about it as a career until maybe my second year of uni. I don't think I was particularly passionate about my course, and the idea of doing something related to it when I graduated was freaking me out a little bit! I knew my childhood dream was to be a musician, but I just really didn't know how to even begin to start. Coming from such a small town, you don't really hear much about people doing that sort of thing - it was always: get good grades, go to uni, get a solid degree and go on to work in some sort of office. I think at first I was trying to convince myself that would be great, but deep down I knew it wasn't what I wanted to do. So, I started trying to write songs in my 2nd year of uni, and when I finally got to London I started reaching out to producers and getting studio time. The more time I spent in the studio, the more I became obsessed with creating music. Eventually I quit my job in August of 2018, and never looked back! It was around that same time I found the modelling agency I'm working with now too - Brother. They've definitely been a massive part of my journey too - couldn't thank them enough for the support they've given me along the way.
How do you think living in London influences your music?
There's so much variety here in London, and I'm always discovering new artists and sounds. I don't think I could pick a favourite genre of music personally. I think that definitely shows in the things I create - I like to think my songs never sound the same, or stick to one specific genre.
Are there any topics you tend to focus on in your music?
I'll literally write about anything, all depends on my mood or what I've experienced that week, but if I had to choose one, I’d say mainly love. I'm such a hopeless romantic. I've had an amazing yet terrible love life, and it's a topic I've never been too shy to talk about. I feel like everyone can relate to it as well. Love can be so difficult to deal with, and if any of my songs can help at least one person deal with a sticky situation, or a situation related to it, then I've done what I've set out to do!
I love your song ‘Thinking’. The lyrics are pretty universally relatable. I read you wrote it after a night out at uni. You had said, that night, a friend had asked you to keep her away from a guy who she knew was bad news - but you were unsuccessful in the end. What was the writing process like for this track?
I actually wrote the hook that same evening after I got back home. I was so waved, and my room was spinning - so much I couldn't sleep! I whacked on a random instrumental on Soundcloud, and came up with the hook pretty much on the spot. Honestly I didn't think too much of it at first, but the following year when I was working full time, I revisited it when I was in the office and ended up finishing it to procrastinate from sending emails or something. I had one of those screen protectors, so no one could see what I was doing while I was at my desk!
What’s one of your earliest musical memories?
When I still lived in Nigeria, I remember every time my mum had friends over I alwaysinsisted on singing for them. I must have been about three or four when I started doing this, but I literally thought I was Beyoncé.
What was your first concert?
The first person I'd ever seen perform live was actually Billie Eilish - back when I first moved to London. That was more of a gig, but either way - she was insane, so much energy, so good to watch! Nothing really happens in Cheltenham, so I’d never go to gigs or concerts when I was younger. My first proper concert was Drake back in April - that was wicked. I don't think I've ever seen so many people in a room at one time - mad how he can work a crowd that big so well!
You’re self-directed. Where do you draw influences from for your direction?
Most of the time I focus on how the song makes me feel. With my second release, ‘Too Good’, I had instant Vice City vibes when I'd listen to it - that's why I wanted to do the whole Grand Theft Auto animation thing. I usually come up with video ideas when I'm making the song in the studio. I don't really know why or how, it just sort of comes to me. I just like my whole creative process to be fun and authentic to me.
What are some people, places or things you find inspiring in creating music?
A lot of the time I get inspired when I'm on nights out. I find myself writing lyrics over beats that come on when I'm out. The vibe is always good, and I'm in a good mood with all my mates, so it's literally just the best time for me to come up with stuff that's more authentic. I love house and drum and bass music, and I find those beats are always really fun to write over, so when I'm out I'll voice note myself singing over the top of a beat, and just store them for when I actually want to sit down and write. Those are usually my best songs - I just come up with more interesting melodies because I don't overthink or take myself too seriously.
You shot for Drake’s brand OVO. What was it like shooting for OVO with photographer Anthony Hilliard and stylist Lauren Ferreria - as well as doing this photo series with them?
That was such a fun shoot. Anthony and Lauren made me feel so comfortable - just a really chilled vibe, which was really nice. All the shots just came really effortlessly - which is just a reflection of Ant and Lauren. They're so talented, it's crazy.
What are you working on now? Is there an album underway?
Right now I'm working on my EP - which is so very nearly done. I'm so excited to release it because this EP will be a collection of all the very first songs I made, so it will show me kind of trying out different things and just experimenting, which is fun! Really hope people can vibe to it!
As a new artist with your first two releases having only come out just this year, what’s something you people to know about you?
I've got love in my heart and I'm here to share it!
courtesy Chi Virgo
words AUDRY HIAOUI
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