Interview: Seinabo Sey

We caught up with Seinabo Sey before her gig at London’s The Waiting Room earlier this month. The Swedish-Gambian singer has just been announced as one of Vevo DSCVR ‘Ones To Watch 2015’ and has recently got her face on a Swedish stamp…

And if your face is stamp worthy then I think that should instantly put you on the ‘cool’ list (like the ‘nice’ list at Christmas but with better parties and way more free booze). With the release of her EP ‘For Madeleine’ at the beginning of this week, and a debut album on the horizon, I’m pretty sure that Mystic Meg would predict a pretty mental 2015 for Seinabo Sey.

So, it’s been almost a year since you release Younger isn’t it?

Yeah, yeah.

How’s the last year been for you? It’s been pretty mad I assume?

Yeah it’s been a bit hectic, definitely. I would’ve finished my album but I haven’t found the time. But it’s been great.

And with your music, because you’ve got roots in both Sweden and Gambia, do you bring both cultures into your music? Or didn’t you learn different things from either country?

I think musically, I’m not so much inspired by African music. But more so the philosophy behind a lot of Gambian culture, and what they speak about. A lot of Gambian mentality and stuff like that I think I write about, sort of subconsciously.

A lot of really good pop songs are written by Swedes. Maybe hearing that type of music… and definitely people I work with, write a lot of pop music. I learnt a lot about song structures and stuff like that from people I collaborated with.

Your Father was a famous musician in Gambia. Because you were always around it, did you always know it was something you wanted to go into, or did it take you by surprise?

I kind of I grew up thinking I would do the opposite. Because I thought that it was a really hard job to succeed at. But I mean being around him all the time obviously taught me a lot about music. He never really, really taught me anything because he didn’t really want me to become a singer, he wanted me to become a lawyer or something.

Is that what you would be doing if you weren’t making music right now?

I thought so when I was a kid, but now I realise probably, I’d want to study art history and work at a very quiet, silent museum if I wasn’t making music.

A tad extreme from wanting to be a lawyer!

I think the lawyer thing was because I watched too much Gilmore Girls.

KLAR2_MG_3043

What sort of music did you listen to when you were growing up? What was your first record? 

My first record was, I think it was Ashanti, weirdly enough. But Alicia Keys, and Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé, everything that was on MTV really. That was what I was listening to. My parents played reggae around the house all the time.

And growing up, did you have a favourite type of music to sing along to? Or was it just what was on MTV… 

I definitely loved singing along to Destiny’s Child and Alicia Keys as well. I was a teeneger when I started listening to that.

Cool! Well moving on, Pistols At Dawn was released a couple of months ago now, which is from the new EP. Is this the type of stuff we should expect on ‘For Madeleine’?

Yeah, lyrically probably not so much, but production wise yeah. It’s definitely a bit moody and dark, that’s a way to describe Pistols At Dawn more so than anything else. But I think, my favourite record I’ve released is Hard Time, I like that song so much so it’s probably going to sound more like that than Pistols At Dawn.

How does it differ lyrically then?

Lyrically, that was the first song I wrote with somebody else, Pistols At Dawn is more describing. It describes thing in a more cinematic way. I think my other lyrics are a bit more philosophical and abstract. That’s the way I enjoy writing songs. Pistols At Dawn was fun thought, it was really good to try that style out.

You don’t believe in genres of music, why is that?

I just think we need new genres. All genres are made up. I just love music and I don’t think I have to believe in having a certain lifestyle to be able to play a certain type of music. I like being free and being able to incorporate any sound and energy that I hear and like without caring if it’s urban music and I’m a black person, or if it’s indie.

I think it’s funny sometimes when people describe my music as “folk pop”. Those are two of the biggest genres ever and you have to put them together to explain something. That should tell you that we don’t need genres, I mean it’s just ridiculous. So, I guess if I was more of a music nerd and knew about some more genres, then I could explain what genre I was but I’m not very good at that. It just gets very frustrating when people ask what genre I play.

You don’t really need to be defined by a genre.

No! I think that should be the goal at the least, to just have the music stand on it’s own. I don’t think anyone really needs to be defined. I just don’t really have an interest in being defined.

KLAR_MG_2801_resized

You seem to have gained quite a lot of momentum quite quickly over the last year. Have you had a chance to reflect? Any standout moments?

Generally no. There’s been pretty few of those, I think if I had finished my album before releasing my album it would have been a whole different thing. but now I’m constantly trying to finish my album.

You know what? I just got my own stamp in Sweden. That was a bit weird. I was like “oh okay, let me just sit down and understand that I’m actually going to be on a stamp”. It had to soak in.

That’s amazing!! So with the album, are you in the process of still writing or still recording?

Absolutely still writing and recording it. I’m going to continue doing that. I havent done it for about two months but I’m going back to the studio in a week and then I’m staying in the studio until its done. I think that could probably take me a month or two if I’m quick.

And what have you got planned for The Waiting Room tonight? Are you excited? (Seinabo’s sold out London gig was on November 11th). 

I’m very excited. I’m going to play the songs acoustically instead of having backtracks and stuff like that. I’m going to sound check in about two hours to get a couple of new songs in there that we haven’t rehearsed. But yeah, it’s going to be fun to meet people and get to sing live, because that’s really my favourite part.

Sounds like an absolute treat!

Words: Eliza Frost
Illustration: Jessica Procter