UK Duo Edy Forey Have a Few Things to Say About ‘Culture Today’ on Debut Album

Opposites attract. Within music polar bonds are often the genesis of something dynamic, which was the case for Edy Forey, the UK duo of vocalist Edy Szewy and keyboardist Guilhem Forey. Born in Poland to a Polish mother and American father, Szewy was primed on American music, centered around &B and soul of Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, D’Angelo, Lauryn Hill, and more while Forey, a native of Nantes in Western France was a musical prodigy as a child, leaning on the classic renderings of Johann Sebastian Bach before more jazz piano, forming his first trio at 16.

Regardless of contrary musical scopes, both met somewhere in the middle in 2017 while studying in Edinburgh, Scotland and started crafting Edy Forey. “Edy’s pure artistry,” said Forey in a previous statement. “By far Forey was the best musician I knew in Edinburgh,” added Szewy.

Both worked on their debut, Culture Today in secrecy spontaneously crafting their urban-jazz fusion. “We have a very symbiotic creative bond,” said Szewy. “We complement each other’s style.” Forey added “We wanted to have a pure approach to it. We didn’t want to focus on perceived outcomes. We wanted to be faithful to our original inspiration that we feel comes from above.”

Videos by American Songwriter

An underpinning of personal discovery and cultural contemplations, Culture Today plunges into the real and surreal from the spellbinding, classically twisted “Intro” and the title track, beckoning a neo-soul sound that carries throughout their reflections on the detriments of celebrity worship on “The System” and mental scars of technology with “Take Your Time”: You will never keep up with your soul intact / This earth spins so fast you’re dazed out of your mind / Never underestimate your attention span / Technocrats will eat your body, soul, and mind.

“Your Soul” is a freeflowed love letter to “a child, a parent, a pet, a lover”—I like the person behind the skin / I know the heart that beats within / I know the mind and the thoughts it thinks / I like the presence and the ease it brings—a song they call an antidote to Ed Sheeran‘s 2017 hit “I’m In Love With Your Body.

Produced by Bob Power (The Roots, Erykah Badu), Culture Today was rounded out by a selection of guests including founding members of Snarky Puppy bassist Michael League and saxophonist Bob Reynolds, along with Ezra Collective’s Femi Koleoso and Sharay Reed of the Funk Apostles. 

Forey and Szewy spoke to American Songwriter on their interpretation of Culture Today, composing and writing together, and why they may just be the “Marie and Pierre Curie of music.”

American Songwriter: How many years was Culture Today in the making? Did it ultimately start gelling together during the pandemic or earlier?

Edy Forey: We started [in] 2017-2018 when we were still in uni [university]. “The System,” “Culture Today” and “Peace of Mind, Pt. 1” are the oldest and they lived as demos for a good few years.
The actual album recording process kicked off in 2020 when we realized that the lockdown was going to last a while and got 100 percent serious in January 2021 when Bob Power entered the picture. So the actual album was made across three years—2020 until 2023—while the demos are as old as seven years.

“The System,” “Culture Today” and “Peace of Mind, Pt. 1” are all a few years pre-pandemic, with “The System” being from before Forey and I met, although he then embellished it with jazz licks on synth and we added the sax solo. “Take Your Time,” and “Peace of Mind, Pt. 2” are late pandemic. “Intro” is the final track we’ve put together in late 2023. 

For the rest, we had a degree of sketches saved on our laptops from anywhere in between. Putting them on the album was sometimes about writing melodies and lyrics or adding bridges and B-parts in various degrees. 

AS: Why did you land on Culture Today as the title?

EF: It’s a two-fold landing. First, it’s one of the tracks on the album. In it, we’re zooming in on how social media resculpt the scope of our society. People’s perception of reality can be manipulated simply by promoting certain ideas or behaviors over others. We call it algorithmic black magic. We’ve narrowed it down to the most prominent matter on social media which is the celebration of vanity. Vanity is said to be our greatest human weakness, yet in this new virtual world, vanity is currency. The more shamelessly one promotes their self – particularly their external appearance – the more they ascend in that economy. The era of influencers is really quite bizarre.  

The second lead to the title is that we thought. “Culture” is what we’ve got, and what we’re building on. It’s a vast heritage that all the contemporary people and those who came before made it to be. By adding “Today,” we’re making our own declaration on what direction we would like culture to take from now on.

AS: From “Eerie Feary” to “The System,” and “Agape”—and the remainder of Culture Today—what did these songs start revealing as you spent more time with them?

EF: It’s hard to say to what extent the ranty but love-lettery quality of the album was an accident or an actual concept. The songs are the result of hundreds of hours of the kind of conversations we have. We’re quite consumed by the profound matters of life, from human nature, spirituality, and theology to current affairs, especially things that have an impact on our generation. We know most people aren’t happy because our peers aren’t happy.

We weren’t happy, either. Before we met, we went through some lonesome, trying times. We just couldn’t buy into the BS we were sold. When you get down to it, the current recipe to get ahead is a combo of egoism, materialism, and hedonism. To a degree, we bought into it for a time but quickly realized it was vapor. All this is the underlying thread that unifies the songs. 

AS: After making your way through Culture Today, everything closes on “Peace of Mind” (Parts I and II). Were these intentionally set?

Edy Szewy: “Peace of Mind, Pt. 1” came four years before “Part 2” in 2018. Forey was messing around on a plastic Casio piano someone gave me for free. I recorded a WhatsApp voice note from it, and sang on top of it later. The lyrics were freestyle, looking back it was a magic moment. It’s a song of realization that happiness was an idol that I, as many do, dreamed of and worshipped. I had a sort of egocentric, materialistic life vision. It was all about me. It was like being totally unhappy while hustling to acquire A, B, C, D, E, F, [and] G to be happy. Thus I realized peace of mind is the ultimate state of being and has nothing to do with circumstance. It’s about landing on a solid ground through Christianity which came after a long stretch of nihilist atheism. Forey and I connect on this because we both went through a similar path. 

Four years later, “Part 2” came in the usual way: Forey messing around with a cool riff, me recording it, and suggesting we fuse both into one song. “Part 2” is an ode to that new state of mind where you let go and let God. 

Edy Forey’s Guilhem Forey (l) and Edy Szewy (Photo: Dave MacKinnon)

Sonically, what did you want to capture on this album, and how did Bob Power help with his mixing/mastering?

EF: Bob Power came into the picture after we properly recorded our first song, “Culture Today,” and we sought to get it mixed by a professional. We didn’t expect to hear back from him—he’s one of the greatest. But he replied saying “It kills. Cool as hell.” So after that, we thought “Woah, let’s do the best album in the world.” He did a few drops and added some production touches like the gunshot snare on “Culture [Today],’ or the EQ fade on the vocals on “The System” bridge but not many more things. If we wanted him to produce he’d have to charge a lot more. We were happy to produce on our own, though. It makes it more us.

AS: Jazz is where you both meet in the center, and along with other similar musical interests, culturally you both come from two different countries and backgrounds. How has this impacted the music you make together?

ES: When we met I said to Forey “We should be Marie and Pierre Curie of music.” He thought it was funny. I grew up around a lot of American influence while being brought up in Poland. My parents had a broken marriage and I was raised by a grandmother who died quite early. I gravitated towards hip-hop, the music of struggle. Forey’s French and his family life was complete with a set of parents that formed a rock-solid unit. He grew up around classical music. These differences make that urban jazz sound. 

There are overlaps between the Polish and French cultures. On the higher level, both value the pursuit of intellect and seek to override basic human nature with a perfected moral nature. In a more practical sense, I’d say the Polish are resilient and politically conscious and the French are melancholic and philosophical. There’s a bit of all this on this record. Plus, now we’ve lived in Edinburgh for many years which infused us with reserved politeness, while the record itself is fully informed by Black American music. So it is quite a mix. 

AS: Is songwriting fairly collaborative between the two of you? How did songs typically come together for Culture Today?

ES: The most typical scenario: Forey is improvising on the keys, just vibing, and having fun. He has so many ideas and sometimes he doesn’t know they’re good until I capture them. I record it on a voice note, sometimes chop it up on my laptop, and say “Hey, I think we could do this like that. I’ll sing this and then we can think of having a bridge here.”And we go back and forth.

It’s a completely symbiotic process because even the lyrics—though I write them—have everything to do with Forey’s spirit because we iron things out in countless debates. So we’re both equally responsible for the final sonics and message.

Photo: Self portrait by Edy Forey

Seymour Duncan Antiquity Texas Hot Pickups

Seymour Duncan Antiquity Texas Hot Pickups Review: Hot Vintage Strat Tones from SD