Red Flag

6 October 2022

Photography Jade Danielle Smith
Fashion Nathan Henry
Interview Hitanshi Kamdar
Grooming Ciara DeRoiste
Fashion Assistant Katya Vistiak

Red Flag is cool. I could wax poetic about the singer-songwriter’s signature blend of heady beats and poignant lyrics but as the young singer’s karate kicks swipe through the air for Jade Danielle Smith’s camera, he exemplifies cool. Battling the pollen on a sunny day in London’s grassy Hackney Downs, you would almost be forgiven for assuming Red Flag isn’t a bonafide star. Almost.

It’s difficult to believe Red Flag is all but 19 when we sit down to discuss his music, his sensitive insights quickly guiding the conversation to topics of mental health and responsibility in the age of social media. Labelling himself a ‘wannabe rockstar’, Red Flag is emphatic about how intrinsically music is woven into every aspect of his life, “I guess I view music as a little padding to stuff into the cracks in my day”.

For the American-born, London-raised artist, humility is key as he traverses fame and its accompanying pitfalls. As Red Flag unfolds the story of a young ambitious musician, the dialogue is peppered with mentions of the technicalities of music, the personal meanings attached to lyrics, the joy of performing, and above all, a career grounded in pure passion. Some are cliched terms, some are identity badges, but they’re all steeped in sincerity and wisdom.

Capturing Red Flag's ubiquitous youthful energy with a sprinkle of maturity, stylist Nathan Henry paints him as the ever-alluring off-duty rockstar: unassuming jumpers and short suits elevated with pearls, chunky metal, and the ever-iconic McQueen boots. The casual ease of the ensemble coupled with Red Flag’s comfortable movements before the camera creates a visual of a star on the rise you would love to spark a friendship with. Peek behind the moving melodies, and you’ll find that Red Flag is so much more than the young kid on the block.

Jump into Red Flag's world with his new demo. Out now.

What are the different parts that make up Red Flag?
So, there's Red Flag, the person - who is me, my experiences, my life, my interests. There’s my songwriter persona, which is the one that takes the practical step of translating my daily experiences and interests into something people can enjoy listening to. Then there's Red Flag, the musician and producer, who focuses on visualising the audio inside my mind and how the thematic ideas in the song play into the sound choices. The final bit of that equation is Red Flag, the rock star. Well, the wannabe rock star, who tries to think about the live performances. How can I bring the energy? How can I create something that is going to move people? So, I guess you've got these four different elements, from the relatively mundane things that I think about on an everyday basis to thinking how can we make a song feel cinematic and ready for the biggest stage?

Because you've got these different parts of yourself, when you're performing, is there a ritual that you have to follow to get into that mode of Red Flag, the rock star?
I think that in a way, Red Flag the rock star doesn't really exist. As much as I just said that it was a part of my identity, I feel very normal onstage. For me, the stage is like a home away from home. In many senses, me on stage is my most genuine, natural, unfiltered self. I just go out there and enjoy the moment, enjoy the music. The closest thing I have to a ritual is that I have lucky underwear - not one bit of underwear, it’s a type of underwear. That's the one thing that I do need, I've got to have the right brand.

What is the last thing that you think about at night before you fall asleep?
I have a very active mind before I go to sleep. I often find myself thinking my most creative and my most self-critical thoughts at night. It could be anything - maybe I have an idea for a song title or concept or maybe I'll start thinking about something that's happened in the past and what I might have done differently. Sometimes I'll think about the future, imagine things that I want to happen, or my brain starts to imagine things that I don't want to happen and then I want to stop imagining that and just go to bed.

Where do you feel most alive?
When I’m onstage and the audience is feeling the energy - singing along to the words and we're all caught up in one special moment in time that everyone is a part of. The other moment when I feel alive is when I'm creating music and have this little eureka moment that could be an hour into the session or even a few days later where I’m excited about realising the track’s full potential. Those are the two moments where I feel most alive.

What does your happy place look like?
My happy place is, again, very music related. I think it's when I'm surrounded by people who share similar goals, attitudes and values. It's one where, when we're on the road together playing shows every night and you have this little community that you've bonded with. And I think that knowing that I'm going to be playing a show, feeling that energy that night with people that I really love and care about, that’s my happy place.

Talking about being on the road, you've opened for Little Mix, which is amazing. Can you tell me a little bit more about what that experience was like for you, personally?
It was a brilliant experience. It was very surreal at times. I think it took me a long time to really process that it was actually happening.

Have you actually processed it yet?
Uh… Somewhat. [laughs] I know that I really didn't until I got on stage for the first time in Belfast. Once I was on the road, I started to get into a bit of a rhythm. I do think that for a variety of reasons, part of which was the pause that was inflicted by COVID on all live music, I was especially feeling gratitude and excitement and was trying to really savour every moment of the tour.

You've been into music all your life. Is there a moment that you can pinpoint that led you to it?
It has definitely been all my life really. Since I can remember I've always been playing music. One of the most formative moments was when I was about seven or eight years old. I got a cracked version of a programme called FL Studio on my computer which is basically production software where you can make beats and songs. That opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me. That was when it clicked for me that I could not only write my own music but literally create my own sounds and ideas. From that point onwards, I never stopped writing.

When did you first start writing your own songs?
I didn't write a song until I was probably 10 or 11 with vocals. I was a little kid and life happened. I thought I was all heartbroken and wanted to write music about it.

Was heartbreak the defining point for you as a songwriter?
I call it heartbreak, it wasn't really heartbreak. I don’t think you can really get heartbroken at the age I was. I was just probably feeling some sort of emotion and thought, ‘Ah! This should be a song!’. I think now, the big motivation for me is probably mental health. I don't love that term because it can be sometimes a bit too technical for what I write. But it's really just about writing introspective, honest music about my thoughts in general and the different things that I experience.

So would you say you exclusively only draw from personal experiences for your music?
I do draw a lot from that. Although the majority of the songs that I put out are quite personal, occasionally I will take influence from something completely random like a movie scene or book I read. I do take inspiration from quite random places. The narrative events that transpire during my songs may be fictional but I think that the overall idea and the meaning that it holds for me is generally quite personal at the end of the day.

You've grown up in New Jersey and London, do your dual nationalities influence your music?
I think so. Sometimes it’s hard to define what makes a song American or British, as music is so universal now and genres start to fade out. But I think that there is definitely some hint of Americanism in my music. The music that I listened to growing up was American rock artists, American rappers, and the different sounds that my parents used to play me as a kid on car rides. I think that subconsciously seeped in there. But I also think that possibly the most fundamental way it's affected me is there’s just an openness and a willingness to take from different styles and genres because I have a side of me that's British and a side of me that's American. I feel happy to dip into either world really and hold the bits that speak to me.

You also briefly studied at the Royal College of Music. Could you tell me a little more about that experience and how that has influenced your process?
It was a very special time. While it is a place which is very classical-oriented and the music I create now is obviously not very classical, I think they did a really good job of not only teaching me how music works but also encouraging me to find my own sound. Even when I was composing there, while the things that I would write sounded nothing like my songs now, they were quite experimental sounds and techniques. I think they really taught me the value of trying something new and not being afraid to stand out which is what I ended up doing - being a pop singer at a classical school.

You’ve supported the tours of a lot of artists. What do you feel like you've learned from these artists that have been in the industry for a while?
I think I've learned so many lessons. There's the general professionalism and dedication to the show. Putting in lots of time, mental energy and focus to make sure that everything works. I think one of the big things I've learned is that nothing's perfect. I've seen all of the little challenges and issues that can go wrong behind the scenes and seeing how people react to it, quickly working around it and not letting it affect your mentality for the show is something which I’ve tried to take on board. There’s also just a sense of humility. So many of the people I've toured with, I look up to immensely. And to see people who are achieving the things that they achieve still be humble and happy to chat to anyone is special.

How would you define your personal music taste?
My personal taste is very eclectic. It's very diverse. I listen to everything - rock, pop, punk, hip hop, modern pop music. More than anything else I listen to very recent music - alternative pop, anti-pop, just the new wave of sounds by young and emerging artists. I probably listen to hundreds of tracks every week just to stay on top of what's coming out. But then again, my saved songs in my Spotify playlist are all over the place.

If I went through your Spotify playlist, what are the top artists that I’d find?
At the moment, I reckon you'd find Renforshort, Conan Gray, Jeremy Zucker, and Sadnightdynamite.

You listen to a lot of music every week, is there a particular time in the day that you have set aside for that?
I guess I view music as a little padding to stuff into the cracks in my day. So if I'm on a journey somewhere, that's an opportunity for me to listen to something. If I'm at home getting ready for bed and just have a little moment to myself, that's when I'll stick on some tracks. I fit it in where I can but it is quite organic.

I know Narcissist came out recently, but I’d love to talk about Healing The Process. The track itself is a little more intense than your previous pieces. What brought about that transformation?
It was the song that really drove it for me. It started out with just these simple guitar chords that you can hear at the beginning. The idea for the lyrics actually came up a few months earlier, I just wrote it on my notes app and was waiting for the right opportunity. When I heard those chords, I thought it was time to bring this idea to the front. As it started to move into the chorus, I felt that it needed to have a very immense punch to it, a very serious impact. So that was essentially the brief on the sound, the production, and the style. From there it just got bigger and bigger with heavy chords and distortion. That's what led to it sounding as it does now.

So, it's about the pressures of social media. How do you personally deal with social media as a young singer in the public eye?
Not amazingly, I would say. Although not badly, either. I think I deal with it pretty well but there is room for improvement, I'm just not always sure what that entails. When I think about my social media presence and my social media responsibility, there are so many different factors that are weighing up. There’s the brand side of it, the style side - who I am as an artist and what I want to put across. There’s also the responsibility I have to my fans of having a feed which feels genuine and natural and doesn't contribute to the vicious cycle of fake social media posting. I do think that social media use affects my mental health. At the end of the day, it's kind of an ever-changing balance, it's quite a variable thing. But for the most part, I think it's one of those things that most people in my position and generation in general just have to live with.

I know a lot of people go on social media detox days; I personally love the idea. Do you ever feel the need to do that, especially as an artist when you're under constant pressure to create more content?
I don't generally take social media detoxes, but I see certain circumstances in which I do think would be very beneficial and important. I think I'm too committed to doing everything I can to keep growing and keep building. I think if I took too much of a detox, it wouldn't be relaxing. I’d start being concerned that I'm not doing enough. I do take certain mini detoxes where I'll turn my phone off. But yeah, I probably would benefit from a detox. Maybe I'll do that at some point in the future.

Oh definitely give it a shot. Moving on to Narcissist, can you tell me a little bit about what the track is about?
Narcissist is about noticing attributes of yourself in someone else and being attracted to that. That's basically what I noticed I would do. If I was spending time with someone, either on a date, with a friend or someone I was just getting to know, the more we had in common, the more interested I was. Whether it's an interest, a mannerism, or a way of looking at something that we share, there's a little boost of excitement there. I thought that was an interesting phenomenon and I think most people do a similar thing. So I thought, why not write a song about it and try and capture that sensation and record it.

Does Narcissist also have a grittier sound like Healing The Process?
It has elements of it but it's not as gritty. It’s a little bit more clean. It still has a very front-and-centre guitar part as the real driving force of the song. The song is very malleable to what it is that I'm trying to convey at various points. What that means basically, is the production moves along with the lyrics - it starts quite consistent, then it goes into some big walls of synthesisers coming through before falling back into the guitar. And then there's a little woozy trap section that comes at the end. It moves through these various little worlds as it goes along.

Would you say a big part of why Healing The Process was so gritty was because we were just coming out of the pandemic - did that affect your mindset when you were creating it?
Yes, definitely. A lot of the writing process was done during the pandemic and a lot of the production process was done as we were coming out. There was that excitement and intensity of life starting to kick back in and wanting to take every opportunity and seize every moment combined with trying to capture the complex emotions, frustrations, and uncertainty of the pandemic. I think all of these different ideas ended up manifesting themselves in that very intense, heavy sound.

How do you feel the lockdown and all that time in isolation affected you as an artist?
Oh, it's given me a much clearer view. I had a lot of time to reflect on who I am, who I want to be, and what sort of sounds I want to create. The pandemic was a forced pause and I think it allowed me to be that extra bit introspective and figure out what it is that I wanted to be doing. At the same time, it gave rise to a whole new series of topics and issues to write about things with songs like Healing The Process.

Have you been giving a lot of thought to the kind of stage performer you will be when you're headlining? Do you think there'll be a difference in the way you conduct the show?
Definitely. I think from a purely practical standpoint, one thing I'm going to have to change is my ridiculous energy. When I'm opening for a show, I'm pretty much at 110% the whole way through, because it's only 15-20 minutes. If I'm doing an hour and a half long set, there are going to be more clearly defined peaks and troughs in the energy. But in terms of my general performance, style, and attitude, I think it's going to be pretty much the same, just hopefully better.

As a musician in the public eye, how does excessive fan attention make you feel?
I think the main way that it manifests itself is just an increased sense of responsibility. When I had less of a reach and I could really connect with every one of my fans, some of the conversations I had were deeply personal. And I think that as someone who has the reach to connect to people, I want to be making the best choices and helping my fans in any way possible. If people are going through certain challenges, and there's a way that I can address that in my music and help give a voice to that, then I want to be doing that. It just means that in everything I do, I take that extra second to think about how it’s going to affect people. Is it the right choice? Or is there something I should be doing better?

Does this sense of responsibility ever restrict your creative freedom?
In some ways, it has almost been a gift for my creativity. I think that having this responsibility, more than necessarily restricting me or holding me back, encourages me to talk about issues which are important to my generation. I can create songs that people can listen to when they're feeling down. I think it's a blessing more than a curse.

You've essentially grown up in the industry. What advice would you have for someone who's just starting out?
I would say there are two sides to the industry. It is a business and there are going to be lots of people along the way who place higher importance on that part. There were a lot of times when I would know the least about the industry of anyone in the room and sometimes that's a great opportunity to learn but sometimes people may use that to try and work out a good deal for themselves. So, I think trying to understand that it functions as an industry and have that business mindset is a good way to protect yourself. But at the same time, the most important thing is to just focus on the music and on being true to yourself. That's easier said than done. It takes a lot of time to figure out who we are as human beings, I have a long way to go to figure out who I am. But I think there’s a lot of pressure with people influencing you to go in a certain direction and it's really important that you feel satisfied and excited about the direction that you're headed in. Otherwise, it can sometimes lose a bit of the magic.

What is the hardest element of your life as a musician?
The consistent creativity. I take a very hands-on approach to my work - from songs and videos to photoshoots and social media. I always have to be questioning everything I do as an artist. Sometimes I get writer’s block and the ideas just don’t come. Sometimes that process can take a couple of hours before anything really jumps out. I think the greatest challenge is having that consistently creative mindset.

When it does get too much, how do you unwind? What do you do to take a break?
More music? [laughs] Honestly, I’m such a music nerd. If I have some time off, I might go and make a beat or write something. But I think one of the biggest things I'm very grateful for is my network of friends and the people close to me. I really appreciate them because when I'm away on tour I don’t get to see them. When I have time at home to make memories, that's something I really value. I also enjoy reading, watching films, learning random skills or taking a class.

We’ve had a couple of rocky years. Are there any particular things that you do to take care of yourself?
One thing which I find very important but don't do enough is doing nothing - to just take a moment of silence, calm down and give myself a second to think is so important. There's always something distracting me so I think it's important to have certain quiet times in our lives, whether it's through meditation or literally just sitting with your thoughts.

What do you imagine your future is going to look like?
I think I will hopefully continue in a similar direction. I hope that the music I'm making is far better and more important and interesting. I think it's important to have consistency, but at the same time, I'd never want to be pigeonholed into just one sound or style forever. I hope that I continue to evolve, change and just keep growing.

Do you have any future dream collaborations?
I would love to collaborate with an artist I briefly mentioned before called Renforshort, who I think is super talented. I love her sound and style. I would love to collaborate with Kanye West. It's a very strange stylistic collab. But I love his approach to music and I feel like there's so much that I could learn from just even sitting in a room and watching that creative process.

Since you mentioned Kanye who is very much a multifaceted artist at this point, do you see yourself evolving beyond a musician?
I do. I think being a musician is very key to who I am and what I want to do, but I could see that leading into various different roles, and I could see myself getting involved in fashion down the line. I could potentially be a part of the business side of the industry, maybe starting my own label and helping bring up a new generation of talent. I always am going to be involved in music, but I could see myself branching out into different spheres within that world.

Tell me a little bit more about the fashion aspect. Have you always been interested in fashion?
I wouldn't say I've always been interested in fashion and I honestly wouldn't consider myself a huge expert by any means. But in recent months I’ve gotten to work with incredible stylists such as Nathan who styled the shoot today. Just watching their creative process is fascinating. There are so many overlaps between fashion and music as well. I feel like as time goes on, and I learn more, I could definitely see myself getting involved in that.

What does being a musician mean to you?
It means living, which may be a bit melodramatic but it's such a big part of my life. It’s my work, my hobby, it’s something that is very important for my mental health and general wellbeing. Music gives me a meaning, a purpose. And the benefits reach far beyond just the music, they reach my fans and help me impact others around me positively. So essentially, it's everything to me.


Above Left: Red Flag wears full look by ALEXANDER MCQUEEN
Above Right: Red Flag wears Jacket and Shorts by ERDEM, T-shirt by CHARLES JEFFREY LOVERBOY, Jewellery by VIVIENNE WESTWOOD

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Above: Red Flag wears jacket by ARMAND BASI, Top by VIVIENNE WESTWOOD, Trousers by EMPORIO ARMANI, Shoes by VIVIENNE WESTWOOD


Above Left: outfit as before
Above Right: Red Flag wears Jacket and Shorts by HUGO x BAPE, Jumper by AGR KNIT, Shoes by VIVIENNE WESTWOOD and pearls by HATTON LABS

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Above Left: Red Flag wears suit by SANDRO, Knit Polo by 8 BY YOOX
Above Right: outfit as before

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Above Left: Red Flag wears Jumper by DSQUARED2 and Vest by ERDEM
Above Right: Red Flag wears Jacket and Shorts by ERDEM, T-shirt by CHARLES JEFFREY LOVERBOY, Jewellery and shoes by VIVIENNE WESTWOOD

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