A shared experience: How Mac Lloyd is using music to heal trauma

With the recent release of his new ‘Melancholic Soul Club’ EP, we joined Top Up graduate Rob McLeod aka Mac Lloyd to discuss how his emotive and honest songwriting has helped not only him but others to address and overcome trauma.

It’s release day for Rob, and we join him just as he’s just settled down after a morning run. The day has already been busy with him sending out emails and answering the many DMs with accolades for his new EP ‘Melancholic Soul Club’ - and there’s much more to get through.

Though he’s often dubbed a hip-hop artist, Rob’s work as Mac Lloyd is much more nuanced and broad and no one genre can really encapsulate his work. This eclecticism traces back to his family and their varying tastes shaped Rob from an early age. Though the genres were many Rob gravitated towards blues and soul for their energy and expression.

“With soul music, the reason that it's always been around as much as it has with blues, is that both styles, when done right, can bleed raw emotion, and I just wanted to have some music that encapsulates that in my own style.”

Progressing from secondary school into college, Rob was introduced to yet more styles of music through his friends, but it was a module on hip-hop that laid the foundation for his genre-blending style as Mac Lloyd.

Mac Lloyd Portrait - A shared experience - How Mac Lloyd is using music to heal trauma“I didn't think that hip-hop was going to be the thing that I gravitated to, but in my first year at college I had a module on sampling and I had to make everything using samples. When I was shown an MPC I realised I could chop up my favourite blues and soul records from when I was a kid and turn them into something new that I still really liked.

“The other reason that I latched onto hip-hop and why I wanted to preserve my music in that form is because at the time there wasn't a specific style that you had to like. I was introduced to loads of Eastern-influenced hip-hop instrumentals, and then I was shown artists like Action Bronson, Mac Miller, A$AP Rocky and Danny Brown shortly afterwards; and all of those artists are so vastly different in their presentation.

[Photo credit: Jacob Crow]

“Because I could see so many varying genres and they were sampling so many different areas that I already loved, I already had an affinity for the music that they respected, so I wanted to incorporate those two styles; the rawness of the flow and the soul music incorporated with the freeness and openness and expressionism of hip-hop music.”

With that, his sonic signature was formed and in his time with us here at dBs, he perfected his skills as a producer so that he could bring his songs to life.

The birth of Mac Lloyd

After graduating from dBs, Rob spent several years embedding himself in the South West hip-hop scene producing beats under the alias Apollo Phox for Beat Bandit Recordings; an independent instrumental label that he co-founded.

Then in 2018, Mac Lloyd finally arrived on the scene. An early freestyle performance on Dom Q’s YouTube channel would foster a great relationship between the two.

“I did my first music video for ‘Trapped’ with Dom and I think due to taste and creative likeness we just really, really got on. Over the years and the videos that we have worked on, we've both been quite open to experimenting because we both operate within mainly a hip-hop scene. I think that we enjoyed collaborating because I was very jazz and soul inspired and that gave us a different edge to experiment with.”

As his profile as Mac Lloyd continued to grow, so too did his family, and Rob made the decision to leave Bristol and move to the countryside in anticipation of the arrival of his son. Though, as fate would have it, his moving day came with an unexpected surprise.

Mac Lloyd and the Green Brick crew out in Bristol - A shared experience - How Mac Lloyd is using music to heal trauma

[Photo credit: Jacob Crow]

“On the last day when I was packing my house up to move into the house with my partner to expect my first son, Dom was like, ‘let's go and meet Res [co-founder of Green Brick Records], he wants to talk to you about your music. Very similar to Dom, we just clicked instantly in terms of what we wanted to achieve and our tastes. Our creative drives were very similar.

“Res was very welcoming and made me feel comfortable. He had no desire to steer me in any direction and seemed very confident in what I was already doing, and wanted to see where I would go from there. My relationship through Dom created the relationship with Res and I'm very grateful to both of them for how they've been able to motivate me to achieve what I have in the last few years.”

Melancholic Soul Club

Several fantastic releases later and we find ourselves back where we started with the release of ‘Melancholic Soul Club’. For his fans, this is a much-anticipated release - his first major release since 2020s ‘Hindsight Hotel’ alongside Res One. For Rob though, the EP represents something much more personal.

Melancholic Soul Club EP Artwork - A shared experience - How Mac Lloyd is using music to heal trauma“It's strange because these songs are quite old. Other than ‘Man of Faith’, which is the fifth and final song on the EP, all of them were written around two and a half/three years ago. A few of the songs were written just before I was expecting my son and then a couple of the songs were written when I was looking back on past situations, whilst I was expecting my son, and then ‘Man of Faith’ was written relatively recently.

“They're really personal songs that I've been familiar with for quite a long time, so to see them out in the world now and for them to be getting praise is kind of crazy, because it was anxiety that was holding me back from releasing them because they were such open topics that I had not really come to terms with myself and I needed to overcome that before putting these songs out.

“It's quite therapeutic to know that people are enjoying it. I'm really proud of these songs, and while I’d love for them to be heard by as many people as possible, I've had some really personal conversations with people that have listened that have been quite moving. For people to be responding to it in a very personal manner, and to be picking the songs apart and relating to specific lyrics, that opens up another conversation with someone that I might not have known was suffering with a particular issue or having a particular problem and that's a much greater connection to have.

“That openness and that connection to someone goes so much further, in terms of helping them and helping you. It's a very beautiful thing to be able to experience those situations and speak to people about things like that, off the back of being able to release music.”

Channeling emotion through music

That raw and emotive edge underpins every release that Rob’s put out under the Mac Lloyd moniker. With so much honesty imbued in his music, we asked if that willingness to address those feelings head on had always been with him.

A shared experience - How Mac Lloyd is using music to heal trauma

[Photo credit: Jacob Crow]

“I've always had very open conversations, particularly with my mother and I think a lot of it spawns from that. I was quite a sensitive child in some respects, so there was a lot of trial and error when I was a teenager in how I was expressing myself. I was never a massive asshole to anyone, but there were definitely times where I was erratic and acting up, but I was always very open about how I was feeling about things.

“But I think the reason I'm so open about it now is because I experienced quite a few really rough personal situations in the year that I was studying at dBs. I think it's incredibly important to note that I was given access to 6 free counselling sessions through the university, which at the time truly helped me keep my head above the water.

"The sessions really helped me reprioritise everything when I felt at my absolute lowest. I looked forward to the sessions; to getting into a judgement-free zone and I was honestly really sad to see them end. Whilst the path toward the end of uni (and after) was certainly rocky for its own reasons, I look back on those sessions as something that kept me going - it's a life-saving resource. I'm incredibly happy to be proof of that!

"I think that whether it's in a musical context, or in a personable context, I just try to be as open and as honest as possible, because I'm not gaining anything from not doing that.

“Making music that’s so raw and emotive and personable, I think that naturally brings it out of the listener as well. Sometimes with bands that I listened to when I was a kid, the raw emotion in particular songs I listened to was so captivating that it was literally like the rest of the world ceased to exist for that 3-4 minutes. If I can give that someone and give them comfort and that's the best thing in the universe.”

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