12 Dec 2013

Up close with Name UL

6:00 am on 12 December 2013

For a 17-year-old who has just finished high school, Emanuel Psathas is brimming with confidence when we meet at his house on a dreary Wellington morning.

“Yeah, I am confident,” he says, sipping water at the table on which he writes all his raps, sitting beneath portraits of his family, including his composer father, John Psathas.

“That’s not to say it in a cocky way, but I’m confident that I actually am all right at what I do and that I’m not going to get up and embarrass myself and ask for people’s approval.”

And that confidence has paid off for this teen, who goes by the stage name Name UL, who has just released his first EP, Summit, and is already working on his second.

Fluently and fully aware, he tells how he persevered in contacting promoters for any gig going, which he got as a 16-year-old in a Wellington bar.

Within a year he was opening for acts like The Shocking and Stunning, Homebrew, Six 60 and The Pharcyde.

Sifting through his father’s record collection at a young age led him to fall in love with hip hop.

He started writing his own music at about age 11, where he toyed with several names before eventually settling on Name UL.

 “There’s nothing deep about Name UL,” he says. ”It’s just a play on my real name. I had like five different rap names – I was real indecisive and then I just chose Name UL for some reason.

“It fits real well for me because it’s so neutral and it doesn’t come with any preconceived ideas. When you hear other artists' names you get this idea of what it would look like, where as Name UL just feels neutral.”

And he says that philosophy behind his name is also reflected in his lyrics.

He doesn’t follow any particular style, he just writes what he wants to write about – be that politics, education, or anything really.

“Before I write songs I sit down and write a story. But when I read through the story, I feel like the lyrics were already in me. Everything is just organic.

“I want to make things that are about how I fit in the wider context of society and all that kind of thing. What I’m trying to achieve is something that makes a statement, not something that will be cool for a couple of weeks and then dip back down.”

The Wireless caught up with Emanuel and spoke to him about his music, his confidence and what it’s like to headline gigs in bars as a teenager.

Directed/edited: Lena Hesselgrave
Additional footage: Mark Redmond