Vegyn is your artist to keep eyes on this summer

Words by Will Brewster

The producer on Frank Ocean’s Blonde is getting bigger.

“It’s been six interviews in a row, so I’m trying my best,” Joe Thornalley says down the line from London.

The young producer is reaching the tail end of his debut album press cycle, a brutally monotonous task even for the most seasoned of shit talkers. Thornalley, however, is witty and calculated in his responses, and tries not to take anything too seriously. “It’s kind of great. It’s like living in solitude, then having everyone go ‘explain yourself!’”

Thornalley makes music under the moniker Vegyn, and while you mightn’t recognise his name, you surely would have heard his music. He’s contributed to almost half the tracks on Frank Ocean’s 2016 mixtape Endless and worked on several off his critically-acclaimed LP Blonde, including fan favourite ‘Nights’. He continues to maintain a close working relationship with the celebrated artist. Vegyn’s name can also be found in the liner notes as a co-producer for artists such as Travis Scott, Amine and JPEGMAFIA.

Yet Thornalley maintains his brevity when probed on his high-profile collaborations. “I just keep my ear to the ground and if I find something I like, I’ll just reach out and see what happens.” 

The fruits of Thornalley’s labours as a behind-the-scenes producer have been realised in Only Diamonds Cut Diamonds. The debut album from Vegyn arrived last week.

Interjecting oddball, stuttering samples with off-kilter grooves and brittle synthesisers, Vegyn’s music is as bizarre as it is enchanting. The album’s tracks are dizzyingly crafted and often quite challenging, yet incredibly rewarding and verbose.

Thornalley says the record came together naturally, over a period of experimental finesse.

“It all came about within two or three weeks, just generating ideas,” Thornalley explains. “And then, out of those three weeks, I condensed everything down into songs I thought were successful and spent the next seven to eight months doing what I’d call ‘polishing’, basically. Just trying out as many ideas as possible.”

When quizzed on his production process, Vegyn stays wary. “I feel like it’s best to leave some mystery as to what I use to produce specifically,” he says.

In our interview, Thornalley acknowledges he has a limited knowledge of music theory and lack of formal training, though notes this brings with it a certain freedom. He feels compelled to explore beyond the conventional musical grid in his works. “I feel like if you use stuff that everyone uses, but use it in the wrong way, you’ll probably make some interesting… things.”

Months prior to Only Diamonds Cut Diamonds, Vegyn released the headline-grabbing mixtape TEXT WHILE DRIVING IF YOU WANT TO MEET GOD!, a sprawling sketchpad of half-baked ideas and demos.

It’s a project which is intentionally bare and stream-of-consciousness – many of its 71 songs last no longer than 90 seconds – yet to Thornalley, it marks a decisive pivot within the context of his own solo career.

“They’re all unfinished ideas from the last few years. I was going to throw them all away, but I just figured ‘why not just release them?’,” Thornalley says, a tone of nonchalance thick in his voice. “I wanted to consider it as an exercise. I feel like it almost creates like a physical scroll space between my old music and my new music.”

A DIY artist in every sense of the term, Thornalley has also designed merchandise and artwork for a number of other projects, adopting a unique aesthetic based around faded colours and ironic catchphrases (“I just try to make people laugh, to be honest!”). He’s also the head of an independent label, PLZ Make It Ruins, releasing everything from screwed-up Memphis rap to wonky electro-pop. Thornalley professes to seeing little – or even wanting any – money from the label, instead using it to spotlight younger talents who might be overlooked for their lack of mainstream appeal.

“For me, the label was really just an opportunity to level the playing field for artists who were where I was three years ago,” Thornalley explains. “I’ve just been trying my best to put deals in front of kids that I would be comfortable signing or that are right for them. It’s not a passion project; they kind of serve a bit of ego.

“It’s really about creating a useful resource for people who I think are really talented, but not in a position to bargain – paying them properly and letting them own the majority of their masters. I don’t make money from it, I do it because I’m trying to make the change I want to see.” Thornalley pauses for a moment, then levels himself. “At least within my ability, you know.”

Even though Only Diamonds Cut Diamonds is a mere few days old, Vegyn’s work ethic seems as persistent as ever. He’s connected with Frank Ocean again as the co-host of his Apple Music Beats One radio show Blonded, and recently contributed to his first single of 2019, the woozy ‘DHL’. Next year already looks just as busy.

I’m quite a fair bit through my next record, so I’m trying to jump over that hurdle,” Thornalley reveals. “But the live show is something that’s always scared me, so that’s what we’ll try and do next. I feel like that’s what it’s all about – challenging oneself.”

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