In the next instalment of our series on emerging talent, we speak to the budding new artist about her love for lyrics, that chance encounter and her forthcoming debut EP, Satellite Navigation System, out later this month (28 October).
Congrats on your latest single, ‘Frank’, how are you feeling about it being out?
I’m feeling good. It’s one of those weird things where actually releasing a single is slightly anticlimactic in today’s age, because it goes out and then it’s out, which is really nice, but nothing physical changes. But I know the symbolism of feeling like something’s out in the world is really nice.
And how long had you been working on this single? I presume sometimes that can be weird, when you work on something for a certain time then it comes out later…
I feel like we’ve been working on it forever. But I get told it’s been a very quick turnaround and that I need to adjust my realities because, obviously, this is only the second one we’ve released. We wrote it, maybe nine months ago. So it’s been born now.
It’s a baby, in that sense. It’s been a nice ascent for you so far, and you have your EP coming out soon. I understand you have a background in spoken word, but how did you get into music?
Music was kind of an accident, it was never a dead-set plan. I did a lot of spoken word when I was around 17. I performed and would consistently get feedback I was performing lyrics, but didn’t have the music behind them. People kept telling me to find a producer, or get a beat. Then throughout Uni, I shyly asked a couple of mates who were making beats whether I could borrow one and start experimenting and just, quite privately, I made these little demos with scraps of songs, and created a little bit of a bank of music that I didn’t really know what to do with; but it felt fulfilling and satisfying to meet me.
Then I took a master’s here in London, in Creative Writing. And I was at gig, and Fraser [T. Smith] was in the corner of the room. I knew who he was and clocked him, went up to him – something I wouldn’t usually do – and said, ‘Do you have any advice for someone who has some music, but doesn’t really know what to do with it?’ He said, ‘Here’s my email, send it to me and I’ll have a listen.’
I don’t know if he usually does that, but clearly the stars aligned that evening. The next day, he called me and said, ‘Could you come for dinner with me and my manager?’ I said for sure. Then we just got on really well and creatively connected and spent about three- or four-months texting beats and lyrics back and forth. Essentially, that’s how the EP was made.
Wow. I don’t know whether you believe in fate or not… Is that still a bit of a ‘pinch me’ moment, how that happened?
Totally. I’m very much here now because of that night; it’s a nice story that I tell myself in always going and saying something or asking the question or putting yourself out there a little bit because you don’t know what’s going to happen.
What was it about spoken word that drew you to it?
I’ve always been very interested, and invested, in speech and the affect of speech; how it can move people, and how you can convey emotion through speech. And I’ve always loved song as well. There’s something for me about the space in-between speech and song and where musicality enters speech that’s consistently fascinating. I think that’s where the music I’m making is coming from; it’s trying to figure out where the music in speech is, and where the speech in music is, and how those two things interact.
Interesting, because in your releases to date there are moments that are almost hypnotic. Is that an intention, you’re trying to almost hypnotise people with speech?
I think part of that love of language is the rhythm of language and the metre and the cadence. You can get very technical with it, but also you can remove all technicalities when you listen to it – you get drawn into that rhythm and into the spell of it. So it’s not necessarily consciously hypnotic, but I am maybe hypnotised by my own fascination with rhythm and I like getting caught up in those spells of words and how different letters put together, or different vowels put together, create a music of their own.
And how fast have you had to learn music, and musicality, to match that spoken word element you’re interested in?
It’s a weird thing because, in some ways, I’m trying not to learn too much about the music, to protect what’s going on in terms of the spoken word. I think there’s an element of me and Fraser that’s just working – it’s like, trust the process, if it works, don’t question it too much. But then I’m also really curious and I love to learn, so I’m trying to clue myself up a lot more with the elements of song-making.
What really works between me and Fraser is obviously he’s such a titan and pure talent – so he has the mode of expressing everything I need, musically. Then I go away and do that lyrically and when that comes together, that’s really special. I think I’ve just been really lucky to fall into such safe hands of someone who understands what I’m trying to express and can do that in a way that I don’t have the tools to.
You mentioned that he’s ‘a titan’ – and he’s got credits with the likes of Adele, Stormzy, Dave. How does that feel, is that a little bit daunting or surreal?
It’s terrifying. When he sent me the first beat, there was a real moment within me where I just thought either I’m gonna have to send this now, quickly, and just rip the plaster off or I’m never going to send it because barely anyone had ever heard my music and then suddenly it’s Fraser, and that’s a big deal.
But you’ve just got to try and put it out there. The fact he was willing to send me something and that he’s so responsive and encouraging of experimentation and of us trying to figure out the sound together… It can be really scary, but the way he’s been working with me is ultimately very generous, caring and patient. I have him to thank for making it not scary.
Absolutely, and it’s not all about him, it’s a credit to you as well. Have you performed live much yet?
Not at all. I’m a blank canvas in that respect. We’re waiting for the right moment to come out on stage, but I’m really excited for when it happens.
That’s certainly something you’d want to develop, I’d assume, because you did a lot of performing when you trained with the Royal Exchange in Manchester and The National Youth Theatre, is that right?
Yeah, and when I was younger, I really wanted to act. And I did some spoken word on stage, so I definitely was comfortable, or at least excited by it. But then since COVID, and since doing my degree, and one thing after another, I’ve had a bit of a hiatus. So we’re very set on creating something that is a bit of a moment, a bit of theatre or a bit of a show, and hopefully does something interesting in terms of subverting, slightly, some expectations – in a way that the music does.
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It seems like, to put it simply, there’s two roads that artists go down: they want to go down a more commercial side or want to hone an artistry. You definitely, it seems, fall into the latter and want to create in this world. Is that something you’re very conscious of?
Totally. I’m fundamentally, and at every level, involved in that. I love visually creating the person, I love the photography around the projects, I love the film, I love the music videos, I love the curation of light and colour. And it’s really so much fun to have the opportunity to create a world around the music. That’s huge and fundamental to what I’m doing, and will continue to be, I hope. It’s absolutely something which I’m all over.
And to turn to your EP, Satellite Navigation System. Why that title?
I think when I was writing the EP, I’d just moved to London, just left Uni, had moved away from pals; I felt like I was navigating a new space, a new place, a new mindset. I think it’s really easy to feel lost in those times and a lot of the music was a kind of catharsis of trying to find my way.
So Satellite Navigation System is this metaphor I landed on. At times when you’re feeling slightly like you don’t know what your co-ordinates are, or where you are, there are things you rely on externally like music, your friends, your family – things that make you who you are – that will inevitably guide you slightly in the right direction. And for me music and this EP was a big part of that headspace that helped give me a bit meaning in a time that is weird. It’s weird being in your 20s.
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Are you ambitious as an artist?
Absolutely. I’m ambitious but I’m also cautious about stating my ambition. Me and Fraser work incredibly quickly. And we have a big scale and big plans for everything. But I think we’re also aware that the way in which the music industry is changing so quickly, you can’t preempt the direction of things.
Part of that ambition is being able to respond to the environment, to what people might want to hear and to what we want to give them, and how we’re feeling at the time. So I’m ambitious and we just want to keep growing and making, but we’re also malleable.
In all honesty, me and Fraser are in the studio working on the next thing and that’s really exciting – that never stops. We’re constantly creating, and having those two things going at the same time is great.
It sounds like you have quite a hefty bank of music coming up…
We definitely do.