Emerging from the depths of lockdown, Oxford-based singer LZYBY (George Cobb) has made light work of spelling ‘Lazy Boy’, and even lighter work of establishing a name for himself. Not only did his debut single, ‘When the Rain Stops’, land him an interview on BBC Oxford, ‘Frustration’ has featured on articles with slightly more relevance than this one, and he’s got a six-track EP, Lazy &Waiting, dropping later this month.
As we sit down for a chat over a beer in my Cowley-based kitchen, he tells me that LZYBY encapsulates how he’s not “an overly serious person”. As to why he wanted a stage name? “George Cobb is quite dull as names go. It’s just two syllables: George. Cobb.” I can’t argue with that.
For transparency and Covid’s sake, I have to admit that my kitchen is also his kitchen. He may be Oxford’s hottest new Singer/Producer, but he’s also my housemate and, I suppose, quite a good friend. But don’t you worry: while I value our friendship, I value my integrity as a student journalist far more. What follows is a completely unrehearsed, authentic interview between an up-and-coming artist and his up-and-coming friend.
I get the ball rolling with a few icebreakers. Slightly surprised to see him take this seriously, I follow suit, asking how this all came about. Was LZYBY born in lockdown, or bred by it?
“I’d say [lockdown] gave me the time and space to pursue it. I mean, everything’s that’s being going on this year has been…” he proceeds with caution, “…pretty dreadful. But as a silver lining, it did suddenly give heaps of time. I’d always wondered, what if I taught myself to produce music? […] But it was one of those things I thought I’d never actually pursue.”
I ask how, as a self-taught producer, his creative process has developed since those early lockdown days.
“Wow that’s a good question.”I nod in agreement, impressed by his perception.
“I think that I have simplified things more. When I first started, I went quite over the top with it […] but it got very complicated and it made it sound worse. […] I ’d keep thinking I’ve got to use entirely new instruments otherwise people will notice, and it would be less original. But actually, finding your sound and binding all your songs together is having those similar building blocks, but using them in different ways.”
We both murmur a knowing “less is more”.
LZYBY’s soon-to-be released songs feature powerful and intricately layered violin arrangements. They are coming to shape LZYBY’s sound, bringing an atmospheric moodiness that’s beautiful, yet at times melancholic.
“Basically, I’m a huge fan of Kelsey Lu. She performs live with her cello and I always thought that was so cool. Then I thought, hang on, I play the violin. […] It’s nice to be able to record a live instrument. You can get that similar degree of emotion and sort of rawness playing an instrument live as you can singing live.”
We talk about his upcoming gig at the Moustache Barin Dalston this November. While he’s not sure it will definitely go ahead, he says it’s an exciting starting point. I’m reminded of the constant uncertainty we’re facing at the moment, and ask what are the biggest challenges that he’s faced starting out as an artist in a pandemic.
“Performing is one of the big things. [University] would’ve been a really great way to ease myself in and get comfortable performing. I could have performed at student-run societies and small venues in Oxford where all of my friends could’ve come […] Whereas right now it’s as if I’m doing this all on my own, almost in secret in my bedroom. Then one day suddenly it’s like, oh god, now I’ve got to perform it all.”
I probe him as to whether he felt anxiety in putting his songs out there for everyone to hear. Was there anything that nearly held him back from releasing that first song, ‘When the Rain Stops’?
“Well I hadn’t sung for a while because I’d had a vocal injury when I was eighteen. I didn’t actually sing until my third year at university.”
“Nodes?” I exclaim incredulously, thinking Pitch-Perfect had made it up.
“Mmm, correct. I lost a lot of my confidence. […] My friends at university were aware that I sang but had never heard me sing, so there was definitely that anticipation of throwing a blinder on everyone. [‘When the Rain Stops’] is also written about someone, quite, you know, um, a very, like, special person; I was aware he would hear it and it might be quite strange for him. But, at the end of the day, I was really proud of the song. I put a lot of work into it, and I wanted people to hear it. That took priority in the end.”
The conversation moves on to his upcoming EP and the inspiration behind it.
“It was all written when I was 21, that time of your life where most people are becoming adults […] When you’re crossing that line, you’re faced with all these questions of, like, What do I want to do? What do I want to be? Who do I want to be?”
He adds there’s definitely an uplifting side to it. “I learnt a lot about myself through writing this EP. I discovered so many personal quirks that I had either not been aware of before or had been embarrassed about. I think I learnt to embrace them and express those qualities.”
I ask about the role that queerness plays in his music, knowing George to be openly gay since I met him. “I definitely want to embrace a lot of queer culture into my music. It’s something that I’m trying to embrace more into me as a person. Again, it’s one of those things that I almost feel l turned a blind eye to.”
I express surprise at this since he’s always seemed, at least to me, completely confident in his sexuality. I remember how he made the whole process of coming out at university much easier for me in our first year.
He explains that while he felt assured enough to come out to his parents at the age of eleven, and to his friends at sixteen, “I was at an age where people weren’t as accepting as they are now. I still had a good time of it and didn’t get bullied, well pretty much, and I still had really strong friendships. But, I almost think part of the reason for that is I subconsciously buried some of those elements of my personality to make myself more palatable to the society I was growing up in. […] There are probably so many more parts of me that would want to engage with [queer] culture way more than I have thus far.”
We discuss how coming out early brings with it with a different kind of cost. “There’s a small print: you can come out and it can be fine, but don’t be too gay”,he adds jokingly. But I realise that LZYBY clearly means something far more to George than just the music: it’s an unashamed exploration and celebration of all aspects of his identity.
As to his plans for after we graduate next year? “Fully commit to music. I love my degree and my university, but I’m excited to start the next stage of my life.”
I end by asking how we can support up-and-coming artists like LZYBY during an ongoing pandemic.
“To be honest, there’s more of an issue right now with the wider music industry in general, especially the live industry. […] So if you can, donate to your local live venues. There are various charities that have been set up to gain funds for them. Or, write to your MP and encourage them to get the government to put together some sort of a grant to look after these businesses that are probably going to be the last ones to come out of this.”
On such a poignant note I stop recording, thanking him for his time. He laughs and suggests we have another beer and watch some Schitt’s Creek.