Craig David: The last year was amazing... I hit the ground running and didn't stop
Once a laughing stock, Craig David has re-established himself as a credible artist. He tells Roisin O'Connor about trying to write songs that stand the test of time
Craig David is in a good mood. And why wouldn't he be? Barely a year since the release of his number one album, Following My Intuition, he's preparing to release a follow-up, The Time Is Now, in January. His club night, TS5, is now a juggernaut of an event and there's a unanimous sense that he's reinstated himself back into the mainstream.
"The last year has been amazing," he says. "Some of the things going on ... and then to think that the last album only came out a year ago. I think it was because I was in a really creative place. I still am.
"Off the back of the album dropping, the arena tour… I hit the ground running and didn't stop. I was in the studio and carried on through Christmas, New Year's, and all of a sudden I had all these songs.
"I thought, 'You know what? We could actually release another album with this'. Times have changed from people waiting for a certain period of time. If you've got it and you're not rushing it, then go for it."
On Following My Intuition there were plenty of nods to the old-school garage music that David helped to pioneer with his debut, Born To Do It, in 2000.
On The Time Is Now there's a clear progression of his sound, which maintains the best elements of garage and brings in UK R&B, electronic and grime music with a smorgasbord of guests, from AJ Tracey to GoldLink and Bastille to Kaytranada.
Some songs, like the catchy, optimistic first single Heartline, have that same uplifting feel as many of the tracks on Following My Intuition. Others, like Live In The Moment, featuring US rapper GoldLink, have a harder, sexier tone. If you were sceptical about David's comeback before, you won't be when The Time Is Now drops next year.
Making another album after Following My Intuition felt "really organic", he says, and would have happened regardless of whether he'd made it to number one in the album charts. And the features on this record happened almost in spite of that.
While David probably had his pick of artists wanting to feature on The Time Is Now, he chose to work with artists who are still growing - who still have a buzz around them.
On Get Involved he switches up the dynamic of the record entirely with JP Cooper, where he sings a steely warning about a girl who's "not quite right". David says it reminds him of the vibe of Eminem's Guilty Conscience.
"I feel like a lot of these artists on the album are already stars in their own right, just give them time, and I'm so grateful to be a part of what they're doing," he explains.
So David will become one of a few artists who are championing an album of collaborations with exciting new stars, rather than those who are already established, placing The Time Is Now alongside records such as Mura Masa's self-titled debut, Kaytranada's 99.9%, and Calvin Harris's Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1.
"On this latest record, Calvin could have done a fall-the-floor EDM record," David nods. "But he was like, 'You know what? I'm gonna do Slide'. Frank Ocean. Completely curveball and still smash it. That's someone who lives this, it's not a hobby for him. And I think that's kind of the way I live this music. From Rewind to all the way now."
He's touched at the thought that he's re-established himself as a credible artist following one or two bumps in the road - no mean feat in an industry that's forgotten the next big thing by the middle of next week.
It's slightly depressing to think about how a man with a rubber mask (Leigh Francis of Bo Selecta fame) managed to obscure an artist who, in 2000, had just released one of the most exceptional debut albums of the year.
Yet David, who is naturally positive, does not appear to resent how hard he's had to work to get to where he is now.
"What I love is that I know what's going on behind the scenes. The TS5 house parties… building that for three or four years to where you're standing in front of a Glastonbury crowd like it's a rave, doing a 25-minute show and thinking how far this has come," he says.
"I think this music has given me the chance to not only have a journey with people who have grown up with my music, but also have a whole new generation who have discovered it.
"For me that's so exciting, to see people who are gonna hear UK R&B and having young kids saying, 'This is different'. Most of the younger generation have only heard my dance stuff."
David's TS5 sets are undeniably thrilling. At Hackney club Shapes in 2015, when the music industry and his fans were buzzing at hints of a comeback, he played his classic tracks, hinted at new ones and reworked hits by other artists to a capacity venue, with a superb understanding of his audience's craving for nostalgia and the new.
"It does feel TS5 gave me such a new lease of life," he says. "I'd play Music Sounds Better With You over Wild Thoughts, do a freestyle and the crowds…" He stops, smiling at the memory.
"The one I was doing in Ibiza, the age range is like 18 to 35. So when you're seeing 18-year-olds going mad for the Stardust thing… cool guys giving it something, girls with their friends. But Music Sounds Better is Nineties… so it's the same mindset that I was in when I was doing Rewind - I was testing songs.
"Seeing someone's face light up, or if they're not really into it, you need that, because otherwise you're out of touch with what people are feeling."
The single Heartline is out now. The album The Time Is Now will be released on January 26