► The last two videos you uploaded before this interview were with your husband, Jesse aka Imaginary Future. That hasn’t happened a lot and it hasn’t happened in a long time. Were these new collaborations spontaneous or had you been planning them for a while?
Oh, how did these come about? Good question. I guess the Vance Joy one was one he was playing around with one day after we came back from the tour in Australia, where the song was huge. He was messing around, I started singing harmonies, and we realised, hey, we could do that. It was actually the last cover we were planning on doing for a bit, until sometime last week he was working on the Superstition track for fun in the studio downstairs when I walked in and just really liked it. So I asked him, “Can I do this one please? Can I hop on?” He was very kind to let me in on it.
► So there we have that quick turnaround you mentioned before. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but getting that kind of quality in such a short time can’t be easy.
I have also been very lucky to have found some great people to work with. Most of my videos in the last year have been shot by my friend Lars Lindstrom. My first video with him was Royals, the first collaboration I did with Fresh Big Mouf. He’s just so nice and talented and so easy to work with. And so quick. (snaps her finger) He’ll just pop over for a day, shoot a bunch, then ask me when I need it by. Two days? Tomorrow? It’ll be done. He’s amazing.
► That video is something else. How do you know him Fresh Big Mouf?
Let me see. I think he had just signed to a new network called Fullscreen, and I think they knew my manager? Someone had reached out. They showed me some of his unreleased videos and I just thought it was so cool. It seemed so fun. It seemed like a very fitting collaboration to do.
► There have been two collaborations between you and him, Royals and Happy. Both stunning covers. Are we going to see more?
Yep! We are working on a version of my song The Fire at the moment. (note: this video has since been released – you can find it in the sidebar)
► Is trying not to get boring the reason why you don’t always go for the sonic perfection, the pure studio sound? In these two videos, for example, you hear background noise. Is this ‘imperfection’ on purpose, to keep things fresh?
I’d say part of it is where I came from. For my first many years of YouTube I was just sitting in front of a computer – super raw. Which is something I personally also respond to when I see other artists doing it. It feels more real than a super produced song with no sound in the room. Occasionally I try to do a video with the mic really close, but then the audio sounds too clean for my taste. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful sound. That’s how you want albums to sound. But when I do a video in which the viewers can see me sitting in a room, I want them to feel like they are sitting in that room with me.
► Most of the videos we’re talking about here are covers. There are different schools of thought on this: Some refuse to do covers, some love them, some see it as a means to an end. Where do you stand on this?
I’m in the middle. I played covers for two months when I learned playing the guitar, so I would have something to play. I’d lock myself in my room, look up tabs, and that would help me learn chords. Once I had chords, I was pretty done with covers and started writing my own music.
With or without YouTube, I’d be out on the street, playing my songs.
When I started YouTube and wanted to do more content, I realised I couldn’t just do original songs – there just weren’t enough to last me forever. I needed to mix things up. And of course there is the added benefit that covers help spread your music. So I started doing covers again then and I have since come to – sometimes – love the process, either when it’s a challenge or of course when it is a song I really love. But the thing is, there is also a certain stigma to it. You come from a place where you want to be seen as an artist. With or without YouTube, I’d be out on the street, playing my songs. But I don’t have a major label pumping tons of money into getting me radio and promotion. And I’m not a cool enough indie artist to live all over the indie blogs. The only way I can get my music to people is through me, through YouTube, and through people stumbling upon it. It is what you have to do. But it certainly has been something I’ve been struggling with. I guess that is part of the reason why I don’t sell my covers for the most part, because I don’t want someone to go to iTunes and just see a hundred cover songs. Because, to be honest, I don’t want to be seen as a cover artist, although clearly I do a ton of them. I tend to see myself as an artist who writes original music and in the meantime I entertain my supporters by giving them these little treats along the way in the form of covers.
► And you entertain with live shows. You’ve been touring a lot this year When this issue comes out, you’re actually on tour again. And yet, people keep requesting for you to come to this town or that, no matter how small. Is that just flattering or does it ever become annoying?
Well, there are two annoying things, but that’s not it. When someone wants me to come to their small town, somewhere in India, that is just amazing. I’d never find that annoying. The hard things are, a) when someone wants me to come to their town but it’s only one hour away from a show I already have. I can’t come to every little town. But when I am in a bigger town near you, you could come there. Right? And then b) I can’t tell you how often people go, “I wish you’d play a show in blank” and I have to go, “I did! I was there yesterday! I’ve been posting about it every day!” That’s when it can get frustrating. But it’s not the people’s fault. There is just such a disconnect. Twitter and Facebook especially have become so much less impactful than they used to be. It actually has become harder to sell tickets all of a sudden, because I keep telling people about touring but no one is seeing the messages. It is noticeably harder. Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, it seems to me that in these past five months the amount of people responding to things have become a lot less. And I don’t know why. Maybe over-saturation? It’s tough.
► Can you quantify how much time you spend on this part of your career?
It’s honestly most of my time. Unless I am in new-album-mode I don’t have time for writing anymore. The only times I play music is when I’m practising for tour, when I’m on tour or when I rehearse and shoot a video. Outside of those there isn’t time for music, because that is taken up by trying to keep things moving – keeping people engaged and trying to come up with new ways of doing it that are effective, so that ultimately I can keep making music.
► And yet I feel I know the answer to this question: Would you even consider an offer from a label now?
You know, when we re-released Stairwells and when we released Elements, we had meetings with major labels. Of course they have money – a lot of it – they have resources and they are very enticing. And you know that, when they do it right, it works and it works well. But I think there are so many risks. The biggest one being that they either say “You do it our way or we won’t release your album” or that I make this album I’m really proud of but they don’t like it and won’t release it. And then you’re stuck. The other issue is that I’ve found that after coming up in the way I did – having a hand in everything, having such direct access to my fans, having complete control over when I tour and when I make and release albums … well, the idea of letting someone else dictate everything I have to do is just not fun. As much as a part of me has always felt that if the right situation came along, if the right label was there, if they understood what I do, that together we could do greater things, I just don’t think that’s my path. Now I feel the way for me is to do my own thing and hope we can keep making it work. That way I can be happy with what I do and be proud of it. :x:
This interview first appeared in issue no.1 of XCENTS.
photo credit featured image: Yoni Goldberg
Interview by Ewan McGee.