Tara Rowse

Indie-pop’s one to watch Seraphina Simone – GIGSoup exclusive interview

Seraphina Simone is a beguiling mix. On the one hand, she’s a hard-working London nerd, who studied at Oxford and has done every crap job under the sun to support her music.

On the other, she is musical aristocracy, although the term makes her cringe. Her father is the musician Terence Trent D’Arby aka Sananda Maitreya. Holidays, when she was a girl, meant long trips through California, brushing shoulders with everyone from George Harrison to Billy Idol, or being babysat by Pamela Des Barres. Some artists might claim their ‘godparents’ were Prince, Miles Davis, Christie Hynde, Pete Townsend and Mary Greenwell. Seraphina’s actually were.  A childhood only takes you so far. From all these influences, from her deep-South pastor grandfather, and a heritage that is black, Greek, Irish and Cherokee, Seraphina Simone has created a sound that’s wholly her own. These are smart, sun-drenched tales of heartbreak and longing, queer sultry odes to the bad decisions you wished you hadn’t made and the ones you wished you had.

If you listen out for BANKS or Lana Del Ray or Bat for Lashes or Lorde, then you might hear traces, as well as the ghosts of Human League, Blondie, New Order and Cyndi Lauper. These are the songs of a young woman finding a path through an impossible 21st century. 

But she is also none of the above: wholly sui generis. In her hands the ordinary becomes uncanny.

Seraphina Simone is supported by PRS Foundations’ Women Make Music.

2020 has been a hard year for everyone in the music industry, how has the year been for you?

To be honest a lot of people have had it a lot worse. I didn’t have any gigs or tours booked, and I’ve been able to knuckle down and do a lot of songwriting so I’ve tried to find the positives. I miss sweaty dancefloors and clammy sticky-floored gigs. Honestly never thought I’d ever miss that dive venue scent of red bull, stale beer and urinals lol.

What’s the thing you look forward to returning most of all after the end of the pandemic?

Touching people. Recklessness. Packed parties and sweaty gigs.

You’ve released several songs this year, each with a poignant and personal message. Have you always found it accessible to be vulnerable in your songwriting?

Hell no. When I first started songwriting I’d hide my feelings in all these complex labyrinthine metaphors, and write lyrics that had so many hidden layers of meaning that only I knew what I was actually saying. I hated the idea of exposing myself or being vulnerable, the thought of it literally repulsed me. But then I grew up a bit and now just give less of a shit about what people think, and realise that it’s in each other’s vulnerabilities that we find empathy.

The newest release is ‘Skin’ and ‘Blue Devil’ as a double single. What’s the special relationship between these two songs?

They’re both about being out of control I guess. ‘Skin’ is about desiring someone you can’t have, and unboxing the pre-fab notions of how female desire manifests that have been constructed by men – taking control back of the shape desire takes and owning it; and ‘Blue Devil’ is about losing control of a relationship because the other person has become emotionally untethered from themselves.

On your Instagram, you shared that ‘Skin’ was inspired by the book Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro, what was it about this book that sparked the creative process?

I’m not religious at all, so I found the rigidity of the protagonist’s experience because of her devout beliefs fascinating – she married straight out of college to the first guy she slept with to atone for sinning and having sex before marriage, and it meant she wound up in something that wasn’t right, that was lacking in love, and that stifled her own understanding or acknowledgment of her desires. When she starts having an affair it’s like her life is suddenly illuminated, but it comes at the cost of the self-hatred that has been instilled in her for doing something that goes against her religion. I just find the idea of sin bizarre and fascinating at the same time – like obviously there’s certain moral absolutes, but the idea that sex is shameful unless you’re married just seems completely against our natural, primal instincts as a species.

From fiction to fact, ‘Blue Devil’ speaks of your experience of being in a relationship with someone with depression. Hearing your side of the story isn’t something we often encounter in music, so did you feel any hesitancy in sharing those thoughts and feelings?

Definitely. I wrote this song a few years ago so I’ve sat on it for a while, mainly because when I wrote it the whole thing was so raw that I needed to let it breathe for a bit before being ready to share it. I was so frustrated and hurt, which comes out in the lyrics, but really the whole thing is coming from a place of compassion and hopelessness – I absolutely hated that I couldn’t do anything to help him and that he was just drowning in this darkness.

How has the reception to your songs been so far? Were you surprised?

I think it’s impossible to predict how songs are gonna go down, but I’m really proud of them so when the reception is good it’s more like ‘OMG YAY YOU LIKE THEM TOO’.

Looking ahead, do you have plans to release new music in the near future?

Working on an EP for 2021 right now actually…. 🙂

You can find more information about Seraphina Simone at...

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