Daydreamers rejoice! We caught up with Danish “garage pop” singer-songwriter Soleima who gets the spotlight at the release of her latest mini-album Bulldog out now.
Interview: IN Mag
Soleima photo credit: Nicolai-Levin & Dennis Morton
Isis Nicole [IN]: Can you start with an introduction to who you are?
Soleima [S]: Yeah, we’ll do it again. I am Sarah and my art project is called Soleima and I do music, write songs, and release them. My producer and I like to call our style “garage pop,” which is like this combination of electronic and organic music.
IN: What were some of your interests growing up – music and otherwise?
S: Yeah I always played music but I never learned chords or had a proper piano teacher and stuff. I grew up doing East African dance in an environment where we danced and played – the style is called bundle. So that’s where I learned a lot of my music… and also by playing music with other kids, with this very, like, anarchistic way of learning how to play which I think, for me at least, was very healthy. I also actually had a horse, which also meant a lot to me as a kid. It was on a farm and my friends and I would go there and ride, which was really fun and a big part of growing up – that and music.
IN: We know that your stage name is based on what Danish parents and fathers call their children when the child is maybe doing something that they shouldn’t be. Now, do your parents support your career choice, and support all that you’ve been able to accomplish?
S: It’s interesting because I’ve been here [in the US] writing for a month now, and I’ve been talking to many of the producers here and it seems that for them, choosing this career – a creative career – has been a much more difficult choice than for me and other people in Scandinavia. I think because we have the type of government and state where there’s always a sort of safety net, so it’s not frowned upon to choose what type of career. Of course, if I did this for some time and I wasn’t able to support myself, my parents may say, “So…maybe you should get an education.” I think parents would always want you to be able to support yourself, no matter where you are in the world – it’s just what they wish for you. But it is definitely another decision on our part of the world I think, and very supported.
IN: Did you grow up knowing English or was there a specific moment where you started making music in English?
S: We learned English in school, like many others. I started out writing in Danish, and then I kind of changed. First of all, it’s because I wanted this project to have a life outside of Denmark. But also I felt like I was able to say some things in English which I wasn’t able to in Danish… which is actually weird, but I think it’s because there’s a distance to the English language for me. At some point maybe I should try to write in Danish again, but I enjoy making music in English and I get to learn the language more and more every day. We Danish also tend to have a really (as you can hear) thick accent. It’s very there, but I embrace that.
IN: Can you talk about where you get your sense of style?
S: Oh yeah! I think something big for me when it comes to style is that it’s very important to be comfortable. Sometimes I actually like to wear a lot of big and oversized clothes. I feel a bit stronger in them somehow… a bit braver. I don’t know if that’s super weird to say. But yeah, I think to me that’s the most important, to feel really really good in what you’re wearing, and to get power from how you dress and look.
S: Yeah, precisely, and then we have a lot of really cool Danish brands who are making the most amazing clothes. Gianni, for example, and this girl called Astrid Andersen is really cool as well. And we have a brand called Wood Wood that’s amazing, too. And these all focus on a lot of what I enjoy – comfortable bigger stuff. Maybe it’s Scandinavian somehow – or at least these brands – that are going in that direction.
IN: What has been a moment that you had, you know as you’ve been doing this, where you’ve kind of wanted to pinch yourself? Something that’s humbled you, or where you’ve been like ‘I can’t believe that this is happening’?
S: I’m lucky enough to have had many of those. But first of all, a big thing for me in 2017 was releasing my first EP – it was my first time releasing music under my own name. So that was really important and something I was very proud of. Then I won a very nice prize in Denmark [Soleima won “Talent of the Year” at the major Danish award ceremony P3 Guld, and received a nomination for “Best Newcomer” at the Danish Music Awards], which was also really a pat on the shoulder again. Of course, it shouldn’t always be about awards, but it’s a nice indication that someone’s enjoying the things you’re doing and can relate to it, and feel something when they listen – all of which is very important for me. It has been a really big thing for me that so many people outside of Denmark have expressed interest to work the project and prioritize it, and that’s definitely something that makes me proud and humble.
IN: What do you daydream about?
S: A lot of things actually! I think mostly when I daydream, I tend to be a little escapist. And that’s what my first EP was very much about. I think it’s because of the way the world is these days – there’s this ambiguity between dreaming about getting away from it all while feeling guilty about feeling that because you were born in a certain place in the world – that’s something that’s on my mind very much. And, for some reason, that’s what all of the songs on the first EP ended up being about, which I hadn’t really noticed about all the songs I picked. It wasn’t until my label said, “Okay we need to do some pr/marketing on this – what is this about?” that I saw that all the songs I chose for the album somehow evolved around escapism. So I guess I’m daydreaming a lot about that.
IN: Is there anything during your experience that has changed your worldview – maybe as you’ve been recording in other places? Perhaps you’ve changed how you see the world, or what your perceptions were of certain people or places?
S: I think – and maybe this is kind of corny to say – but music is such a universal language somehow. So what actually surprises me, is that anywhere I go, it’s possible to write a song with a person that I’ve never met before; I’m able to connect with this person so quickly. I think it’s the gift of music somehow, that you’re actually able to speak this weird language together, which can be surprising. For me, it’s a new experience writing music with people I don’t know. I’ve only been doing it for a year, and in the beginning, I was always super scared, asking myself “What if I can’t?” And obviously you can be nervous about these things, but then you realize that you can actually do it. I think anywhere in the world there are no barriers in music, or at least the places I’ve been. That’s something that’s been a good surprise and led to some of my strongest music memories.
IN: On the other side, what’s something you’ve learned about yourself during this process?
S: I guess something new that has happened to me is that I have become more worried. I’ve been discussing this a lot with my friends actually. They say to me, “You worry too much, this is going so well” and “Take control of your worry, don’t be a worried person.” But I don’t think it’s always necessarily a bad thing to be worried because it means that you are doing something that really means something to you… something that is so important to you that you actually care enough to worry. It’s a big motivation to think, “In order to make this continue, I’m going to have to work hard, to learn, all that.” So sometimes when they say I shouldn’t worry, I actually think it’s lucky that I have something I care to worry about.
IN: How do you remain present with music trends, staying progressive, and looking towards the future? Do you change your sound at all as time goes by?
S: Yeah I do very much. I think right now in Copenhagen, there’s a very very strong music scene. We have some really interesting bands coming up, and the music scene is so small we all really inspire each other a lot, and make music with each other, and have this kind of big music family. I think that’s something that makes us all evolve in the right way – no one gets stuck because we get really inspired by each other. That’s something I think we’re really lucky with. You should check some of the Danish bands out – they’re really good.
IN: Do you have any favorite up and coming artists?
S: This artist called Vera, School of X, and there’s this band called Liss.
IN: Do you have a dream collaboration?
S: So many… but I think I would love to make a song with Mura Masa. I would also love to make a song with Benny Blanco. Who wouldn’t?
IN: What would you like to be remembered for – either musically or in general?
S: Oh god, that’s an insane question. I guess maybe to have made a change of some sort, even if only a small one. It’s important for me to try and do that I guess – both within music but also just by being a good person and maybe eventually doing more political work. That’s somewhere I’ll end up at some point, maybe within music or maybe some other way.
IN: What motivates you?
S: I think what really motivates me is the idea of – like we talked about being worried – the idea of being able to get a life that I want, which is somewhat where I’m going right now. I’m from a part of the world where you can do whatever you want – if you want to become a doctor, you become a doctor; if you want to become something else, you can become something else. So I think what comes with that for us is an obligation to not just sit around and be ‘meh’ when you’re from a place in the world where you can just chase that dream if you want it. That’s very motivational for me, and I want to value that opportunity and take advantage of that opportunity because not many people have that.
IN: What’s next for you?
S: My current single “Low Life” is off my new “Bulldog” mini album. This time around, I’ve tried to focus more on the writing process rather than getting lost in thinking about where all the songs will fit in the world, or what kind of life they will have once they’re done. It’s led to something I’m really happy with and that I think turned out really well!