The music star talks new beginnings and crazy career paths
Obviously you’ve got your One Directions and your Olly Murs, but most X Factor nearly-rans seem to disappear without a trace even by the time Dermot O’Leary gets his final-show suit back from the dry cleaners. After elimination, they crash back down to earth, only to join an ever-growing list of pub quiz answers and ‘what are Diva Fever doing now’ Google searches.
Soulful crooner Peyton is managing to avoid that fate, but then again, he wasn’t your average contestant when he appeared on the show back in 2016. For the previous 15 years, he’d established himself as one of the go-to vocalists in dance music, lending his powerful voice to collaborations with some of the biggest record labels in the industry.
His upcoming record ‘Sinners Got Soul Too’ is a departure of sorts, moving away from the dance floor filling beats by which he made his name to re-visit the gospel roots of his Virginia childhood as the son of a preacher man. We caught up with Peyton on one of his rare stops in London to discuss this new direction and his time on the X Factor.
Hey Peyton! How long are you in London for?
Well, I’ve re-located back to London for the time being while I’m promoting the new album. My base for the past five years has been Ibiza and I’ve still got a flat and a husband out there. I still love it here though. I’ve got a lot of very good friends here and even the weather doesn’t bother me. After having relentless sunshine for months, I don’t mind a bit of cold now. You feel less guilty staying at home and binge-watching Netflix!
So the new record is markedly different from your previous work. What brought about this change in direction?
I had decided that I wanted to change musical style because the trends in dance music have started changing so drastically. When A Higher Place came out in 2003, it had three verses, a bridge, and four choruses. it was a bit like a hymn. However, for quite some time now, they no longer want songs or lyrics, or if they want vocals, it’s just one thing repeated over and over again. And I just got a little…bored. I had to choose between finding a new job or just up my game and find a new genre. My manager and me had talked about moving my music away from the dance floor, so I started writing songs without these parameters and we realised pretty quickly that we had something special. We shopped it around to all the majors and they said they’re great, but at my age and at this stage of my career, they wouldn’t take me on. So we had to start looking at different avenues.
Well, I’m a singer so everybody’s always going ‘why don’t you do X Factor?’. I’d never really considered it before, because I’m not a big fan of the format, but then my manager said ‘Peyton, what do you really have to lose?’. What, apart from my dignity, my reputation?! In the end, I thought it would really help with where I wanted to go. I didn’t really go on there with a dream, as it was a very calculated step to raise my profile. We are now in the next stage of that mission!
Sharon Osbourne controversially chose Honey G ahead of you to perform on the live shows. Do you harbour any resentment with how it went?
No, not really! I came out at just the right time, in a blaze of glory in a way! People were so angry that the veil of credibility had been lifted from the X Factor that I didn’t need to be angry myself. I was able to leave with millions of people knowing who I am. I get stopped in the street all the time and people say how annoyed they were that I didn’t get through. I went into it right from the beginning with my eyes wide open, knowing that it’s ultimately a TV show, and not a straight-up talent show. There was even an element of relief when I left.
You didn’t consider asking Honey G to feature on the record?
P to the E to the Y to the T to the O to the N! As much as I love the idea, I don’t think that would have been fair for either of us.
If you’d gone further, do you think you would have been able to make the album you’re about to release?
Absolutely not! They knew that as well. At the time I went out, I was the bookies’ favourite to win. I don’t think they wanted a winner of my age, which is fair enough, as they have a demographic they want to appeal to. They also want an artist they can shape and mould, which I think they knew I wouldn’t be. They made the right decision for their brand and the right decision for me, so it was win-win really. I’m glad I conquered some of my fears I had beforehand along the way as well.
Yeah, I’m not competing with a kick drum! It’s nice to be just singing with a piano again, as I’ve been in clubs pulling 5,000 people out of their k-holes for the past two decades! I’m having to re-train my voice now, so I can have the power but without the force. Before, when I was singing with bad sound systems and DJs in competition behind you, it always felt like giving birth with my mouth!
Is this your first release that feels like a proper Peyton release?
This record feels more mine than anything I’ve ever done before. Although, some of the songs are from my dance music catalogue that I wanted to recreate in an acoustic way, as I still feel so strongly about them. Doing A Higher Place again and stripping it back, it feels like the original, despite it being released in 2003! It always had its roots in gospel, but now it really sounds like an original.
You can hear a lot of gospel influences on the album, especially on Be My Enough…
I wrote that and sang it at my wedding! It was a surprise; hardly anyone knew that I was going to be doing it. I had some really talented names from the dance music industry in a choir behind me, like Rebecca Brown and Katherine Ellis. After we did it, they recorded their parts again and sent them back to me, so on the record, the choir’s still made up of my friends who did it as a wedding gift, which is really cool.
Your Dad was a preacher, was there a deliberate intention to revisit your past?
Yeah, for me, the sound of gospel is the sound of home. It’s not about religion or Jesus, but more about using sound and lyrics to say something. So many of my dance records are influenced by gospel. Nightclubs are a lot like churches; that’s where we go to let go and find a release. I wanted to create music that when you heard it on the dance floor, it sounded like a spiritual experience.
How old were you when you started singing gospel?
I started singing in church as a little boy, when I was about 6. My godmother directed the church’s children choir and she took me under her wing. Churches were really safe spaces for me as a child, because whenever I did anything involved with the arts in school, I’d get bullied for it. Being a boy in the choir was a bit like Glee really, but in church I was really able to explore my love for music.
What’s your relationship with America now? Will your family listen to this new record?
My family love the new album! My brother, in particular. He’s been really supportive, but he’s really into rock and would never listen to my old house stuff in his car. However, he really loves this new one. It’s music that could be more accessible; some of these songs could become radio hits in America as more ‘grown-up’ pop. It’s nice in a way that my family can now share it with their friends. My Dad was always going ‘why is there always three minutes of beats at the start of all your songs? Why do they take so long to start?!’ I’ve given up trying to explain about DJs and mixing.
And what other plans have you got for this year?
World domination! I’m heading to Sydney at the end of February, just before Mardi Gras, for an album launch there. I’m going to focus all my energy on getting the album out. It’s been three years, or even fifteen years, in the making, so I want to get it right. Although, at some point, I should probably go back to Ibiza and see my husband as well!
Sinners Got Soul Too is out on Peyton Music on February 9th and you can catch him performing it live on February 16th at Crazy Coqs, 20 Sherwood St, W1F 7ED