You were classically trained?
I was–but I don’t know if I’d quite call it that. I went through a pretty standard music education and literacy because I wanted to study composition originally. I wanted to study properly and understand how to write because I’d always been writing as a child and as a teenager. I’ve never really been able to do the classical side of it.
What made you decide that you wanted to do your own project?
Well, I had a few commissions as a composer, and I pretty much got quite tired of the formality of the concert hall life and being a young female–in English classical music there are not that many women. I found the whole thing a little bit off-putting, and decided I wanted to do something a bit more exciting. The performances that I went to just weren’t really giving me much. We did a few improvised shows and it was quite jazzy and experimental. After that I started to think about more ideas, about what I wanted artistically as well as musically; I just wanted to do my own thing. I wanted to make a project that had quite a strong visual side as well as a musical side, in terms of making performances more enjoyable for me, and for audiences, but also just to really get a sense of performing, which is something I have been out of touch with for a long time, because when you’re composing you don’t end up performing at all. That’s something I missed quite a lot.
How important is the visual element to who you are as an artist, as well as your look?
I’d say it’s as important as the music, really, although I think music is perhaps more direct, and harder to get a sense of or to pin down. Sometimes imagery can be a little bit limiting–people easily make associations with things they’ve seen or trends. When I started, before Gazelle Twin was a thing, I did performances a bit with some similar music. I did it all without any visual style, dressed as myself, had a band with a few guys, it was all very normal. I found that quite problematic because it’s music–for me it has a certain intensity that really demands a bit more from live performance. I felt a performance needed so much more than just a group of people with synthesizers. It fits having a little bit more theatricality to it. Also, I don’t like having to do banter onstage. A lot of people are very good at it, but I’m not, I’m incredibly shy. I tend to be self-deprecating and a bit apologetic. If I talk it’s between songs, it completely destroys the atmosphere. So I found I needed something to sort of almost make some sort of an excuse to not speak and not to be seen as myself and not to really think about the fashion side. It’s very hard to perform without having a fashion sense, and I like fashion, but I didn’t want that choice to be limiting for me, I wanted to remove the fashion side of it altogether, so capturing the visual side sort of helps me to extend that the feeling of the music and the mood of the music outward. It’s really lucky that I’m able to do it without too big a budget.
What part does the mystery and the cryptic nature of your performances and music have in who you are as an artist?
I don’t think of myself as a big ‘artist’. I think I like to think about how artists work, and when things end up a certain way it is just a result of a residual mindset, it doesn’t come completely out of the blue. I don’t really think about it as I’m doing it, it just sort of happens. Your music has the potential to reveal a lot about yourself and reveal your physical appearance, your emotional appearance, your emotional background, and in a sense I’m still doing that, but I’m fitting it through a different voice, a different, more creative angle–so in a sense I’m trying to remove myself from who I really am. At the same time I’m guarding myself from not only the world, but maybe it’s all a little too much, and sometimes when you don’t give it away it can say something else about you. It can offer people a different kind of experience. It’s partly to do with trends and expectations and television, but sometimes just being a bit kind of, a bit sort of weird about it as well because that’s what I’m kind of drawn to. I’m always drawn to the darker things and darker imagery.
Do you think it’s more important what you reveal than what you don’t reveal or vice versa?
I don’t know. I mean, people see different things and it’s a strange thing for me to have written some of these songs because I still don’t really know. I’m still discovering what a lot of the songs are about really and a lot of the markings are personal and they also have meaning. I really don’t know what people see, I think it’s always going to be different how people see it, so it’s hard to say.
People say The Entire City is about a falling civilization or a dystopian society. Is that what you were going for–something you wanted to link into our society today?
It started a bit early with the title. Before I could really finish the album the title was there. I was pretty fascinated with civilization, and a lot of it was because I read a lot of catastrophic projections of the future. The setting for the album is not necessarily the apocalypse, but the city is in the future where nature has taken over or where humans have had to adjust biologically or socially. I’m really interested in that and the reason that literature about that subject exists is because we are fascinated with our own demise. A lot of the songs are an exploration of that. I hope there’s nothing there that is less specific to looking beyond human life and looking into nature.
The cover of your album looks as though it could be an ancient civilization, but at the same time it looks like what we could imagine as the end of days, nature finally conquering us.
I hope it does. I know it sounds awful, but I hope it does. I think that piece of work that I’ve chosen for the album is with an interesting piece of work by an artist in the UK, and she’s done a whole series of these collages. It’s all photography, it’s like an incredibly huge collage. I think it was Cuba, she took a photo of the city, all bits of Cuba like the buildings there and basically collaged it—it’s an amazing effect. And one of the books I was reading at the time I was writing the album was J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World. It’s about a point in the future where the climate of the earth has changed so much that prehistoric reptile life returned–this American city was flooded and there are all these tropical giant plants and things. When I first saw these collages, it was like a visualization of his novel.
Are you interested in acts of ritual?
Well, I think I’ve always been interested in religion for the ritualistic purpose really. I think in all religions there is something that, like a habitual kind of repetitive motion that I think for some reason it’s always drawn me in. I’m an Atheist, I became an Atheist eventually, but I grew up being sort of a Christian and found really that all I was drawn to was the visual of the music and other rituals. As I’ve gotten older I’ve just been learning about other cultures and I’ve always been fascinated reading about tribes and practices that are just straying from our own. I was lucky to live in Europe while there is still actually quite a lot of ritualistic things occurring whether it’s in Catholicism or Christianity or Paganism. The start of “Men Like Gods” was derived from the something I encountered while in Siberia: An ancient Pagan ritual that happens a few times a year with the roasting of many animals and people singing a lot of ballads. It’s just all there in this one tiny little place, it’s very weird.