If London-born Amsterdam-dweller Szjerdene’s voice had blessed your ears you’d know it. Her music makes you feel something. It’s no surprise then that she was the voice of Bonobo’s North Borders tour for two years and that her sultry collaboration with Lapalux on January’s ‘Closure’ brought praise from every direction.
Her newly released EP, Paragon is an immersion into her world. You’ll be transfixed as you journey through five tracks of storytelling and reflection, held together with the thread of her devastatingly beautiful vocals. Ahead of her show at East London’s Birthdays, Szjerdene talks touring, feeling blue and making her statement to the world.
You’ve been doing this since you are seventeen. Has it been what you expected?
I didn’t really have any expectations. I had an idea of my initial path and set out on my own journey. I’ve changed course so many times as opportunities unfolded so there’s a lot of flexibility in my plans now. I learn something new every day and am constantly surprised by the possibilities available to me.
In as many words as you need, describe your sound using colours.
Five shades of blue. I feel that my music follows a light spectrum rather than one of colours. It spans a range of tones and shades from light and dark, transparent to opaque, but always blue.
You’re a London transplant. What attracted you to Amsterdam?
Love. I fell in love with Amsterdam the first time I was booked for a gig there. I said, “one day I’ll call it home”. When I set my mind to something it usually finds a way of becoming an actuality. The pace of Amsterdam living gives me a peace of mind as well as the opportunity to look at my life from a new vantage point.
London can be quite intense and Amsterdam is thought of as a chilled city. Do you think Paragon would have sounded different to if you were based in London?
Perhaps. It’s hard to tell. The stories are based on my experiences in the past year or so. But at the core, wherever I am, I’m still me. I worked with producers from London, New York and Amsterdam so it would have had that global influence either way. I like to think that I’m a product of my environment, but that the values behind my projects will always remain the same no matter their place of creation.
The EP has elements of self-awareness and self-reflection. How did you get to this point and what did you find?
I got here because life brought me here. Through learning, experiencing and observing things around me I’ve been able to explore who I am, what I stand for and what I want from life! As I evolve as a person and an artist, I gain insight. This insight allows me to take control of my position and develop a sense of ownership to my craft. My findings are all in the lyrics.
It feels like we’re learning about you, without you saying “here is every detail of my life.” Do you feel like it’s autobiographical?
For sure. I’m a very emotional person and have learnt a lot about expressing my thoughts and feelings through songwriting. Not every song is my personal story though. Some are my interpretations of situations I’ve witnessed or even me imagining what I would do if I were them. I just feel that your story is all you truly have in life. Why not show it off? It’s important to me to share my experiences as I’ve been so influenced by other people’s perceptions and journeys.
Abode begins with a melody that becomes deeply entwined with the music, disguising where the music ends and you begin. Does that come naturally or has it developed as you’ve worked with different sounds?
The opening sounds of Abode are all samples of my vocal. I wrote the demo and sent it to Lapalux who built the production around it so it was really cool to hear elements of my original composition left in. In general I like to let everything find its place within the music. For me, the only must-have in production value is that there is space for my vocal to explore. I think it’s something that has developed over time – understanding that every sound has its purpose, place and role in achieving the perfect balance in a song.
You toured with Bonobo for two years, which is a long time in terms of an artist’s development and career. How did that experience affect who you are musically and personally?
It completely changed my perspective on life. I matured a lot and learned how to better prioritise my values and investments. I was able to test my knowledge and ability as a vocalist, filling gaps for missing information and cementing certainties. I wouldn’t change the experience for anything. Truly the most challenging, fulfilling and exciting way to learn more about myself and the industry. Plus what better way see the world and cross paths with amazing people on the way.
Who are you listening to right now?
Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Classical Indian Vocalists, the Invisible and Sade.
Outside of music what inspires you?
Reading essays, listening to specialists talk about their techniques, painting and decoration….but in general, new experiences. Being in situations that I’ve not encountered before and having to find my feet. I think it forces me to develop my character and equally opens up the avenue for inspiration.
If your music was a statement to the world, what would it say?
GET IN TOUCH WITH SZJERDENE: Szjerdene
For more info on Szjerdene’s show at Birthdays on 19th December see here!
Interview : Grace Shutti
Photo: Stefan Foster
Illustration: James Wilson