Vinyl releases September 22nd, 2023.
“They say home is where the heart is,” explains Gareth Donkin, “and this album is where my heart has been for the last four years. I’ve lived in six different places in two different countries during that time, but through it all, I always kept coming back to these songs.”
It should come as little surprise, then, that Donkin has named his extraordinary debut Welcome Home. Written and recorded in a series of bedroom studios in England and France, the album showcases the London-based 23-year-old’s stunning mix of instrumental virtuosity and emotional intuition, blending highly sophisticated melodic and harmonic craftsmanship with deeply moving lyrical explorations of longing, desire, and determination. The songs here draw on soul, funk, pop, yacht rock, hip-hop, jazz, and even bossa nova, hinting at times to everything from Michael Jackson and Bill Evans to George Benson and Jamiroquai, and Donkin’s performances are nothing short of mesmerizing, layering up instrument after instrument in the best one-man-band tradition of Prince or Stevie Wonder. The result is a moving work that’s equal parts brain and brawn, a masterful coming-of-age self-portrait from a young artist discovering himself—and his sound—one song at a time.
“When I listen back to this album, I can hear how much I’ve grown and developed through the making of it,” says Donkin. “Each of these tracks is a snapshot of a moment in my evolution.”
Donkin was surrounded by music from an early age as he split his childhood between England and France. His parents discovered he had perfect pitch before he even began school, and by the time he was eleven, Donkin was studying both jazz piano and drums with a fanatical obsession.
“I just knew I had to perform no matter what,” he recalls. “I loved film and I acted in a lot of theater when I was younger, too, but music always had a special hold on me.”
In high school, Donkin began DJing and teaching himself to record and sample using Ableton, and by the time he headed to the Leeds College of Music to pursue a degree in production, he was already writing and recording his own material at home. His first single, “Catharsis,” would go on to rack up more than a million streams on Spotify, and a series of subsequent tracks would find similarly organic success and help bring Donkin to the attention of the burgeoning drink sum wtr label.
“I got really quiet when I started this project and just completely immersed myself in the work,” Donkin explains. “After putting out a bunch of singles, I wanted this album to be my first big, cohesive statement as an artist. I wanted it to introduce people to who I really am.”
For Donkin, that meant nearly four years of nonstop writing and recording everywhere and anywhere he could. He converted a series of university bedrooms around Leeds into makeshift studios and took over the basement for marathon recording sessions while returning home to visit his family. If he couldn’t sit down with an instrument, Donkin would compose parts in his head and draw them out one note at a time using MIDI software while on the train or in the car.
With Welcome Home, we get a glimpse of just what a dazzling place that is. Album opener “Till The End Of Time (Night Sky)” sets the stage, with lush, dreamy synthesizers and jazzy woodwind flourishes floating out above a muscular drum and conga groove. Donkin’s vocals are stacked in layers of dense harmony here as he meditates on the meaning of forever, and the combination of his airtight playing and unique falsetto is nothing short of intoxicating.
“There’s a lot of love in these songs,” says Donkin, who finds himself at the forefront of a new wave of funk and soul. “You can kind of chart the entire course of a relationship in the music, from the initial spark of infatuation to really falling for someone and surrendering yourself to them completely.”
The buoyant “Whenever” tips its cap to Quincy Jones as it revels in the possibility of a blossoming romance, while the slow and soulful “Nothing We Can’t Get Through” calls to mind Erykah Badu as it finds strength in commitment, and the effervescent “Falling For You” offers shades of Earth Wind & Fire in its embrace of ecstasy and total devotion. While the album’s not all so explicit in its lyrical meditations, even more abstract tunes like the hypnotic “Tell Me Something” and samba-inspired “De La Soul” manage to conjure up their own cinematic worlds full of physical sensuality and spiritual transcendence.
“I felt such a pure sense of joy and release in making this record,” Donkin reflects. “No matter how much I moved around, no matter how much the world changed around me, I could always come back to this music and just completely lose myself in it.”
Welcome home, indeed.