Interview with Sionne Neely | photos by Mantse Aryeequaye + Abass Ismail for REDD Kat PicturesADA: During your set at IND!E FUSE 2012 you talked a bit about love. We can’t assume everyone defines it the same way. What are your thoughts on love?
T: You have encounters with love everyday – with friends, family, lovers. Love is one of the most important things. . I think I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic. I love love. It’s an extremely complex thing but do we make it complex with our mortal thoughts and ways? Is love an act or is it a feeling? Surely love is ever present – it’s there before we manifested into our physical bodies. It’s always there, innit? It definitely should feel good and not judge or discriminate. But we put our own thing on what love is and what it should be.
ADA: Love like music is this peculiar communication that creates a live vibrational frequency.
T: Yeah because sound is a manipulation of air, it’s a vibration. I’ll tell you, day before yesterday I was chilling in the garden listening to Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis and the birds started going crazy. I’m not even joking – biyirbiyirbiyirbiyirbiyir! – chirping real loud and they came to the porch and they freaked me out. I stopped the music and they stopped. I was like, wow! Wow! That album was on the same frequency as nature. It’s deep.
ADA: Does anything else capture you the way that music does?
T: No. I absolutely love music. I can’t see being into anything else. It’s the way I live, it’s how I express myself. I don’t take music lightly, you know? It’s everything. It just grabs me – like how you can listen to something over and over again and not get tired of it. It’s a proper beautiful thing. I love going to shows and watching people’s reactions and how much they’re loving the music. Everyone’s all on the same frequency…it’s beautiful, it’s powerful.
ADA: What has your musical journey been like? It seems like you are discovering your own capacity.
T: There’s so many layers to music and it’s exciting. There’s so much to do and discover. Writing is probably the best thing I could have ever done. I wrote my first song when I was 6 or 7. I remember singing it to the music teacher and she was like “This is great!” and they made the school choir sing it. This was my first experience having loads of people sing one of my songs.
For me, writing was a way of expressing myself freely. I’ve always found confrontational conversations sort of difficult so if someone’s pissing me off, I’ll write a song about it. It’s quite funny cuz a lot of people – my friends are kind of paranoid – are like, “Shit! Was that about me?!” [laughs] I definitely write my experiences through song.
ADA: Do you have to be in a certain mood to make music? Explain to me how it comes to you.
T: Sometimes I set a mood or environment where I just play. It’s almost like a form of meditation – you switch your phone off and get the lighting right. I can sit at the piano and play for hours and get little ideas – the process is really important to me.
When you’re signed to a label it’s interesting because they just put you with a ton of different writers that you’ve never met ever in life and you’re supposed to write a completely honest song in a couple of days. You have to be a particular kind of artist for that to work for you. Where for me writing is so personal, I find that process difficult if I don’t know you. Sometimes you meet someone and you just click but that’s kind of few and far between.
Some of my favorite songs came in ten minutes. “Every Step” was 10 minutes. “Don’t Know You Yet” was about ten minutes. It’s one of the best feelings when you’re like “Oh yeah! This is meant to be.” In the studio, I don’t like doing loads of takes. I kinda meant it the first time. And I don’t mind a bit of grit. If it’s emotion and I kinda trail off a note, I’m not mad at that. It’s human. I don’t like it too glossy.
ADA: So what’s your process when writing a song?
T: It changes from song to song. I’ll get a general concept first and then the melodies and then I flesh out the lyrics. I usually write on guitar or piano. You write different songs on different instruments. I’ve always worked with Jodi [Millner] and he really knows me. I don’t tell him what to do with production, he usually just gets it on.
I’m surrounded by amazing producers and musicians and sometimes it’s almost intimidating – because obviously my first instrument is voice and I write songs – I’ll let the guitarist play and I’ll let Jodi produce and I’ll write and I’ll sing. But more and more I’m just like on my own and I’ll play the guitar how I’ll play the guitar and I’ll produce how I produce. Embracing that’s been a really good process actually and I’ll still on the journey. Eventually, I want to do a whole self-produced project. That’s what I’m aiming towards. Definitely the third album, I reckon just fully produced by me.
ADA: What do you think of the Ghanaian music scene – here and out there?
T: Doing IND!E FUSE was really good for me because I got to meet some really cool artists – Lady Jay, Jojo [Abot], Paapa, FaintMedal – my dad was like, oh! He was totally shocked and loved it. There’s Sway doing his thing and he’s always supportive. We’re out here!
ADA: Does being Ghanaian affect your music or sense of identity? How does it matter to you?
T: Every time I come to Ghana for a holiday, I feel I should come out more often. I was born and raised in London but my parents are African, innit? Ghanaians have a certain ways of dealing with things and saying things and it’s just the same, it don’t change wherever they live. “Oh ho, m33ba!” Of course me coming from London, some people are like “oh but you’re not Ghanaian!” But I love Ghana and I definitely want to come out more often. It’s important to me to know where I’m from. I am a Ghanaian woman but I’m also a Londoner – I’m both.
ADA: Is there a predominant mood or texture that ties your sound together?
T: I’m influenced by a lot of different things. I’m kind of extreme in personality as well. You can meet me and I’m completely mellow and I’m chilling and you can meet me the next day and I’m hyper and I won’t stop talking and jumping up and down and you’re like, “Is this the same character I met yesterday?” It’s like when people see me super mellow and then I get onstage and they’re like “whoa!”
This is a future soul record. I’m influenced by 70’s psychedelic soul, I like music that will make you move a bit – so some kind of upbeat stuff. I’m an emotional person as well so there’s some deep shit. Some emotive shit. It’s a nice mixture, though. Hopefully it makes sense in one body of work. I want to create an album, it’s a journey you know?A lot of people want to create singles because singles sell. It’s like ITunes, you can buy the songs you want and leave the ones you don’t. So I think people are less inclined to make a whole album. People are buying the singles so I’ll just bang out 5 singles. But I love listening to albums. I love listening to things from beginning to end and feeling like I’ve been on a journey. So I really want to make an album instead of a couple of standout tracks.
ADA: Tell me about the new project out tomorrow.
T: I’m super excited about the mixtape – it’s called FREEdom Drop. It’s pretty literal…when I drop it, I’m gonna feel free. Some of the songs are a couple years old – some were sitting on my laptop that I really love. So, I thought why not share them? It’s got Wanlov [FOKN BOIS], Kweku Ananse [producer], Muhsinah, a rapper from London called Desert, a couple of covers, a song and footage from a live session. I can’t wait!
Grab your free copy of FREEdom Drop right here.