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Get To Know: Xzavier Stone

Get acquainted with Xzavier Stone, the Zurich-based producer and performer whose new album, ‘GREYSCALE’, develops his otherworldly take on R&B, and utilises minimalism to maximum effect

Since his earliest releases in 2017, the Zurich-based producer and performer Xzavier Stone’s sound has been in a constant state of change. His 2022 album ‘I DARE YOU’, for instance, was dense and intense, even a bit foreboding, while his follow-up EP, last year’s ‘WHATZ UP’, featured three cuts of skewed club- ready pop. His latest, the seven-track ‘GREYSCALE’, takes yet another turn, one that utilises restrained minimalism to maximum effect. But there’s a common thread that runs throughout his music, both via his solo projects and his collaborations with friends like his fellow Swiss producer Modulaw, and that’s R&B — not the kind of R&B that fills arenas and scores a billion streams, perhaps, but instead, one that trades in intimacy and otherworldly mystique.

“With ‘I DARE YOU,’ obviously I really like the project, but I think I was trying a bit too hard,” Stone says from his hometown of Zurich. “It’s almost like my thesis, because it’s so overproduced. I think ‘GREYSCALE’ is the first project where I was able to nail the thing of ‘Hey, this is my vision of what R&B music could be.’”

That vision, which makes extensive use of vocals — on ‘GREYSCALE’, his own and those of a list of collaborators that includes the NYC-based Lucille Gotti and Texas rapper Wasteey Monroe — is the result of years of trial and error. “When I started with music about 15 years ago,” he recalls, “I didn’t really know what I was doing. And as I got more into production, and especially in the past two years, I got more into music theory — but I’m still trying to be a bit of an idiot about it. I think being naive works in my favour. I use the music theory more as a tool, to get to a specific point, and just if it’s necessary. Other than that, I’m just sticking to this childlike curiosity of experimenting.”

‘GREYSCALE’, both through its lyrics and through its general vibe of misty optimism, deals with themes of leaving old ways behind and beginning again. “I can only speak for myself, but I just turned 32 and I now realise there were a lot of moments in my life where I was being vague about things,” Stone explains. “And I know being vague doesn’t help anybody. It ends up controlling you to some degree — so I got to a point where I want stuff to be either black or white, very polarised. So what ‘GREYSCALE’ is, is me saying goodbye to all of the things that are grey, and wanting to deal with what’s either white or black, or just one thing or the other.”

The cover art, by frequent collaborator Babybrush, illustrates the theme with an airbrushed, idealised illustration of a monochromatic serpent, scales shimmering in the light. “That symbolised me shedding my skin, and sort of letting go of these old patterns or these old relationships,” Stone says. “It’s me preparing myself for what’s to come.” A series of precisely crafted videos of the EP’s tracks, created by the London artist Esai Asiaw, puts further emphasis on the project’s visual aspect.

Attention to presentation has always played a large role in Stone’s work. “I think the idea of seeing more than just the music was always there,” he says. “Even when I was 14, just recording shitty rap songs at home, I was making the artworks on a Photoshop rip-off, trying to have a kind of US rap mixtape aesthetic, but not having an idea of what to do.”

And he takes presentation further than most. “With ‘I DARE YOU’, I created an ambient scent, something like a room spray.” [“Composed of golden-white resin tears from the frankincense tree,” it’s available on Bandcamp if you’re curious.] 

“For the live performances that I did for ‘I DARE YOU’, I had a scent diffusion machine that distributed the scent throughout the space, and it ended up being an immersive live performance, which was really great. I think it’s sort of rare to have something that goes beyond the visual and the ears. It’s all part of my approach to world-building.”

Stone has certainly got ambition, with a thirst for discovering where his music can take him. This past winter, it even took him to the stage of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, where he performed with the orchestra’s violinist, Yukari Aotani. “I was very overwhelmed,” he says. It was really beautiful.”

But really, Stone’s music stands on its own, whether it’s accompanied by immersive aromas or grand stages. He’s already putting together the songs for his next release, building a world that’s his alone. 

Want more? Read Xzavier Stone collaborator LAVURN's Recognise interview, and listen to his mix, here

Bruce Tantum is DJ Mag’s North America editor. Follow him on X @BruceTantum