A Perfect Storm – Leila speaks up about Like Weather

Blow back the skunk haze from the mid ‘90s downtempo boom and you’re left with just a few shimmering jewels that have stood the test of time. Frankly, Leila’s Like Weather is too noisy, errant and full of vitality to be lumped in with de rigeur trip hop, but there’s a dusty, rolling funk to many of the grooves that places it somewhere orbiting that zone. Now it’s being reissued by the ever-excellent Modern Love.  

Like Weather arrived like a bolt from the blue in 1998 on Grant Wilson-Claridge and Richard D. James’ Rephlex label, confounding the label’s predominant aesthetic as a braindance compendium of acid, electro and playful wonk. Leila Arab’s songcraft twirled and twitched around the soulful vocal strikes of low-key singers Luca Santucci, Donna Paul and Roya Arab (Leila’s sister). Part soul record, part auteuristic sketchpad, 100% fresh and totally uncompromising, there’s no other album like it. Leila has remained steadfastly independent from trends ever since, releasing three more excellent albums Courtesy Of Choice (XL, 2000), Blood Looms And Blooms (Warp, 2008) and U&I (Warp, 2011), but Like Weather captures that devil-may-care spirit that embodies the best artists early in their careers. To be fair, Arab had already been busy touring with Björk’s live band for Debut and Post, and Like Weather was a pet project she finally decided to share with a little help from her smoking and gaming buddies. 22 years on, Rashad Becker has approached his remastering job with care, ensuring the grit and grain remains intact.

Having spoken to Leila in 2019 about her experience of releasing Like Weather on Rephlex, it’s a prime time to revisit that conversation and present the choicest cuts, unadulterated, for your reading pleasure.

“Richard [D. James] had been hired to do a support slot for Björk for an American tour in about ‘93 or ’94. I met him then and we got on really well, ‘cause we both liked breakbeats and shit. After I’d started doing a record, he used to come round my house and he would hear what I was doing and was like, ‘Look, if you want to put this out I’d really happily do it.’ In context, I like him as a person, but my history is not with that kind of music at all. Grant [Wilson-Claridge] knew about all Black music and his favourite artist was Prince, so when he heard the shit I was doing, for him it was like an extra, ‘Oh my god. I wasn’t expecting this.’

“To be honest, to give it to Rephlex was literally the most low maintenance version I could do, ‘cause they were really small and they were my mates. It’s just a ballache. You have to give a fuck. I understand we live in a world where you have to sell your wares, but the culmination of that is you’ve got cunts like 60-year-old Madonna with her fishnets and shit still singing out of tune. Being on Rephlex meant I didn’t have that pressure. It was an easy way to put a record out and get stoned with your mates… it was literally a laugh. I know that doesn’t sound like much of a career but…

“Is it Groucho Marx who said, ‘I wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that would have me’? For me the nightmare would be to be on a label with all the same stuff. The whole point of Like Weather, it’s a record written by a fan of music who ended up doing music… it’s like a greatest compilation but with no hits, and across every genre. It was Now That’s What I Call Music, but of my world, for an imaginary fucking universe and all made by one person.

“Now you’ve got more of my musical children coming out, who do any genre. No one did that [back then]. To be compared to shit like Massive Attack who did vague electronic instrumentals. For me the greatest thrill about [Like Weather] was the fact people that liked instrumentals would come up to me and say, ‘Oh, I like singing now’ and vice versa. Cos any other people that had singing and instrumentals, people like Massive Attack, their instrumentals are like dinner party music, and to be compared to people who did vague electronic instrumentals was really annoying. My instrumentals were fierce as well.

“A different friend who wanted to put Like Weather out, his whole thing was, ‘You’ve got two albums here, possibly a really commercial vocal record and then a really arty record,’ and I was like, ‘No, they have to be together because in my head that’s how music lives.’ It’s all the same. If it’s good, it’s good, if it’s bad, it’s bad. I don’t care. Instrumentation. Orchestration. Technological. Singing. Not singing. All that shit I don’t care about. It’s about whether it works and resonates. My obligation is to noise, not genre. From the beginning I understood that no one belongs anywhere, so that meant I’ve always been very free, in terms of, I have the right to do any music I want.

“In terms of the response, it was pretty out of hand. We had the Mercury Prize people calling up to ask us to submit the record, and I had to tell them I’m not even English so I can’t even be in this… hashtag nominated for a kiss my arse and shit. Who cares?”

The re-mastered reissue of Like Weather by Leila is out now on Modern Love. Cop it from Boomkat here.