Show more of your own sensuality, vulnerability and humor –says Petra Tool
When I first saw his charismatic performance on Youtube, I knew I would paint Relax’ front man Llewy one day. (scroll to the end of the article to see Petra’s full sized image: “Black Birds, White Birds”)
I just had to find out what it was that connected him to his audience.
A few years later I saw my chance, when Relax performed in my hometown.
The conversation took place at one of the strangest places a young hip-hop vocalist could be living: an almost deserted nursing home.
Llewy and his guitarist Bart have all the space they need to live and make music.
In return, they assist the nightshift, taking care of the few patients still living here.
Off the Beaten Path
Llewy has frequently done the unexpected – could this be a part of his magic?
He went to choir school, singing the Ave Maria and St. Matthew’s Passion.
At age 15 he discovered dreadlocks and rock-n-roll.
Just two weeks before exams, he dropped out of school to follow his dream: becoming a professional rapper and singer.
His parents objected, but eventually agreed upon a trial period.
Another part of the magic must be his ability to not be defined by others’ expectations.
Llewy says, “I hate clichés. When you’re black, you’re expected to do well at sports and rap. The moment I realized I was good at both – it was during an athletics competition – I lost the game on purpose and quit permanently.”
When he founded Relax in 1998, he continued to go off the path.
Their creative mix of rap, song, reggae and folk uses all kinds of “not so hip hop” instruments – like accordion.
They are sometimes faulted by critics, but the audience loves it.
Llewy: “In Hungary, at Europe’s largest pop festival, about 20,000 people went out of their minds. The festival director showed me the dance floor, the next day. It was danced to pieces. He shook my hand and said: I want you back in two years.”
So How Does Llewy Catch a Crowd?
I want you to hear the answer to this question in Llewy’s own words:
“When you sing a catchy phrase, just ask your audience to sing along or clap their hands. It really works, you know… When everyone is dancing, except for two people, I stop the music and ask if something’s wrong, whether I can get them a drink or something. Like a stand-up comedian, I react with a witty remark to whatever is happening in the crowd.”
Presentation is also key for Llewy – he feels strongly that at concerts fans should not be merely watching a CD.
“At my shows, there is always a bit of theatre happening on or near the stage. At my last show, Pirates among Puppets, I even had a pirate ship with cannons on stage! And in my recent show, Lucifer’s Circus, my audio man is walking around, dressed as a clown. But the way we do this, doesn’t suit every band”.
Llewy knows his audience wants to be involved, amazed and entertained.
The Point of Connection
Over the years I’ve witnessed vocalists flirting candidly with someone in the audience, sharing intimate stories about inspiration in between songs, making fun of their own on-stage mistakes and surprising a talented fan by asking her to join in a duet… Sure beats putting on a cd!
Yes, it demands some degree of creativity, flexibility and guts to add planned and unplanned surprises to your performance.
As long as you stay close to who you really are, you needn’t be afraid that it will turn into an ‘act’.
Just show a bit more of your own sensuality, vulnerability or humor.
Your audience will appreciate you for it.
Petra Tool is a Dutch artist and artistic coach. A gifted portrait artist, she explores the personalities of gifted performers, interviewing them about their talent, passions, the problems they face, their insecurities and the secrets of their success. You can find more information on her website www.petratool.nl
Black Birds, White Birds, 80×100 cm, watercolour, by Petra Tool: