It seems rather serendipitous that international house/dance music artist Peyton’s new album Sinners Got Soul Too is being released today, on his birthday and less than a week before Valentine’s Day because the idea for this very personal and uplifting collection of songs was sparked by an unexpected, romantic request. A Los Angeles-based fan named Greg contacted Peyton’s manager and asked if he could commission the U.S. native, U.K. and Spain-based artist to write a love song he could give his wife, Jodi, as a special gift for her 50th birthday. He also asked if Peyton could perform the song as a surprise guest at her birthday party.
Peyton graciously accepted Greg’s request and passionately worked to deliver a song that would celebrate Greg and Jodi’s love story. Peyton felt like he was “sculpting” a song as he poured his passion into making something indelibly beautiful and hopefully, emotionally and lyrically representative of Greg and Jodi’s love for each other – though they had not yet met before Peyton flew to Los Angeles and performed the song at the party.
“The Way I Love You,” caused Peyton, who had dedicated himself to injecting positivity and light into his dance music tracks throughout his 16-year career, to dig deep and tap into a softer, emotional, and romantic side. The happiness the 2016 “X Factor UK” contender derived in crafting that song turned his heart and his creative energy in an entirely new and exciting direction. More tracks followed in a natural, organic progression, including a deeply personal ballad called “Be My Enough,” that he penned for his husband, Boris, which he sang on their wedding day.
Sinners Got Soul Too is brimming with hope, light, and love. Peyton recently opened up to AXS about the inspiration behind his first album in 12 years, his creative process, the praise its first two music videos have received (including the one for his anti-bullying anthem “When They Go Low” beating Taylor Swift out for a Eurovision fan-voted video award) and much more in the email interview below. He also gave AXS exclusive never-before-released footage of his “The Way I Love You” performance at Jodi’s birthday celebration, which you can watch above.
AXS: Sinners Got Soul Too is brilliant, congratulations! Making a musical departure like this had to be a daunting task at the outset. What drove you and inspired you during the creative process?
Peyton: Thank you so much! It has certainly been an enormous labor of love and a lot of hard work, so I'm beyond thrilled to finally be able to share this very personal album with the world. Daunting is quite a good word to describe how this whole process felt, and at times still feels because just when you think you've climbed a mountain and you're enjoying the view - it's only a matter of minutes before you're noticing the slightly taller mountain just ahead of you that you still must climb. However, I suppose the secret to achieving any hugely ambitious task that one sets for oneself is to avoid looking at all the mountains at once.
My dad used to tell me that when it feels impossible to take it even just one day at a time, then try to take it one hour at the time. And if that doesn't' work, take it one minute at a time. In the case of this album, I set out on a mission that originally really did seem overwhelmingly impossible, until I started looking at the creation of each track as if I was conquering one mountain at a time. Once I had climbed three or four, I started to feel more confident that I was on the right path.
The joy I was getting from just writing songs without the feeling that I had to create them within certain genre bounds was immense. It really reconnected me again with my love for music and for songwriting. This had started to wane over the last few years because dance music was becoming less about songwriting and vocals.
Barry Amphlett, my manager, deserves credit here as well because he could see I was becoming increasingly disenchanted and he started really pushing me to liberate myself musically and just write good songs. He has been an incredible source of motivation throughout this entire process.
AXS: What was the first song you wrote for the album and what was the last?
P: Well, bearing in mind there are a few songs from my house music back catalogue on this album that I've completely stripped down and reworked in a different style because I felt passionately that these songs deserved a kind of reincarnation. However, the song which really set in motion this whole shift for me was “The Way I Love You.”
Almost exactly three years ago my manager got a call from a man named Greg in Los Angeles who said that he and his family had been listening to and loving my music since my very first release in 2003, and he wanted to know if I would be interested in writing a song for his wife Jodi as a unique surprise birthday gift from him to her, which would celebrate their love story. As this was her 50th, a very big celebration was already planned. Greg wanted me to fly to LA and surprise Jodi on the night with a performance of this exclusive song.
It was a tall order of course, given that I had never met either of them and music is so personal. But, as Greg began to tell me more about his wife and how their love story began and what she meant to him, I decided to take on the challenge.
When I finally finished sculpting “The Way I Love You,” I was so completely in love with Jodi, Greg and the song that I'd labored over for them, that I knew something big was happening. I knew this was the beginning of a new chapter. I can't explain it, but I just knew this family had come into my life for a very special reason and none of this was a coincidence. Unsurprisingly, they are still very much a part of my life today and I consider them family.
AXS: What did you learn most about yourself while making this album? Were there any surprises?
P: I've learned so much, but I think the most powerful thing I've learned is to trust myself as an artist.
Every time I write what I feel to be a truly special song/poem, there is some part of me wondering if it will be my last. However, the process of making this album really forced me to face quite a few of my biggest fears and I came out the other side with a much better understanding of what it means to be an artist and be aware that just because somebody else may not think what you have in your hands is a piece of gold, that doesn't mean it isn't gold.
This was in fact a lesson I learned from the very beginning with “The Way I Love You” because by the time I had finished lovingly crafting that song for Greg and Jodi, I sent it off to Greg to listen to it for the first time knowing that it was highly unlikely he wouldn't love it, yet confident that if for any reason he didn't, it actually didn't matter insomuch as I knew it was a piece of gold.
Of course, it would have been disappointing not to have fulfilled his expectations, but I knew beyond any doubt that I had exceeded my own, so regardless of what anyone else might feel or say . . . I had produced something from deep inside me which not only did I feel was truly special, but more importantly, it was the very best of me. It was a product of me working at my own highest capacity. I'll never forget the moment I pushed send, hoping of course that he would love it as much as I did, but knowing deep down in my heart that even if he hated it, it wouldn't affect my own feelings about it in the slightest. I'm not sure I had ever experienced that level of trust in myself as an artist before.
AXS: Gospel music is a huge part of your background, growing up as a preacher’s son in Virginia. In what ways do you feel like you may have “moved a mountain” with this record?
P: I've often reflected on why so many people, even non-religious people, love the sound of gospel music so much. My theory is that gospel music sounds like hope. There is something in the sound that vibrates with optimism and connects us with that part of ourselves that whether we know it or will admit it, believes there is something out there bigger than us. I'd say most of my dance records have been created with this in mind. I've often referred to certain tracks of mine as 'gospel on steroids' even though the lyrical content has never been particularly religious.
I try to write and make music which takes people to that same place the gospel music I grew up on would often take me, but without the clutter of a message which propagates any religion or prescribed belief system. After achieving this through dance music for so many years, I suppose it became a sort of comfort zone. I think it's safe to say most of us get into a groove and stay there because it feels good to know that you've already done this before, and you're in familiar territory. I moved a few mountains making this record, but as the lyric goes in “All Ways Up” . . . “who am I to be here, climbing all my fears like they're nothing but a mountain with a view . . . like there's never been a dream I can't pursue? Well, who am I not to be . . . everything I ever wanted to be?”
AXS: You’ve released videos for “When They Go Low” and “Carry You” and you’ve received high praise for both. What does getting that kind of feedback mean to you?
P: Positive feedback always feels good. There's no denying that. However, with both projects, by the time we had crossed the finish line I knew we had created magic. The process of making both videos was particularly special because I was working closely with some of the most talented people I know, who just also happen to be very dear friends. Cathy Mac and Jason Gardiner from The Rabbit Hole Group have been two of my favorite people in the whole world for many years, so getting their amazing production company to come on board for creative direction was a no-brainer.
Phil Bearman is an animation designer based in Manchester who I'd worked with previously, and I just knew he would be the ideal person to help us fulfill our objective, which was to create truly unique pieces of art which could also pass as music videos!
I couldn't have been prouder or happier with the outcome of both. It was incredibly rewarding to have the video for “When They Go Low” chosen to represent the UK in the Eurovision fan club's annual music video contest with fourteen countries participating and actually win it! (Especially when one of them was an entry from Taylor Swift representing the USA!)
AXS: There are resounding, uplifting messages of hope in these tracks. What do you most want your listeners to take away from the album?
P: The song “Jericho” starts off saying, "Lay down your burdens . . . put away your sorrows . . . the world's gone crazy . . . still, there's tomorrow!"
I didn't write this album to preach at anyone, but I have created it with the deliberate intention of encouraging people not to curse the darkness, but rather to light a candle, or better yet BE a candle. I'm not trying to offer anyone the answers. I don't claim to have them. "Every time I think I've found the answer . . . the answer's only just another door." I wrote that line from “When They Go Low” to sum up exactly how I often feel because if there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that the more I learn, the more I realize just how little I actually know.
We seem to be living in a particularly divisive time when everyone is convinced they've got the answers and everyone else is wrong, so that there's no room for dialogue and no space for discussion. All this finger pointing and blaming just seems to be giving the forces of hatred the upper hand.
To quote Maya Angelou: “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world but has not solved one yet.” What I want more than anything is for this album to remind folks that we are connected in so many more ways than we are divided. I want it to give people hope who need encouragement and help us all to love a little more, even as we laugh in the face of a world that seems to have gone insane.
AXS: You’re a house music veteran and this album shows a deeper, more emotional side to you and your craft. In what ways do you feel this album a personal reflection of you and your artistry?
P: I'm tempted to say it reflects just how much I've grown up, but then, I'm not entirely convinced I've done so much growing up. But, this album is definitely a reflection of my personal development as a writer, as well as a singer. I never really noticed even just how much my voice has changed until I recently pulled out my first studio album from 2005 and listened to it in comparison.
I'm very proud of the dance music I've made throughout my entire career, and I'm not someone who thinks that music is somehow less frivolous just because it's acoustic. Some of the greatest songs ever written were written for the dance floor. But, we all know when we've arrived at a point in ourselves or in our work or even in our relationships when we've hit a plateau and we're no longer evolving. This album was me facing up to that and doing something about it, despite that voice in my head perpetually giving me all the reasons why I should just give up instead.
AXS: The album is being released on your birthday. Do you have any special plans to celebrate?
P: I'm heading up to Manchester to co-host the breakfast show on Gaydio radio from 7 - 10 a.m., and then I'll head back to London and perform a showcase for a private event in London. I can't think of any better way to celebrate my birthday than to spend it promoting the album.
AXS: Looking back on your journey and everything it took to bring you to this moment with the Sinners Got Soul Too release, what would you tell your younger self – the young Peyton with a dream?
P: I'd say, go a little easier on yourself. Don't spend so much time fretting about where you think you're supposed to have arrived at and take more pride in just how far you've come. Never stop pushing, climbing, or dreaming. But don't let your dreams of tomorrow cloud your vision of just how extraordinary the view is today. BE PRESENT!
AXS: What’s next for you? Will you tour to support the album?
P: I've already performed album showcases in Los Angeles, Ibiza, and three in London. Next week I’ll perform one more here in London (which I'm thrilled to say, like the previous ones, has sold out). Then I'm heading down under where I'll be performing a very special album showcase on Feb. 28 in Sydney, just a few days before the 40th anniversary of Mardi Gras. From there, only the gods can say but one thing I know for sure . . . it won't be boring!
Sinners Got Soul Too is available for purchase and streaming across all digital platforms. Click here to get a copy. Follow @Peytonsmusic on Twitter and Facebook and stay tuned to AXS for Peyton news and updates.