Her name, in itself, reveals that she is unlike the rest. And then you press play to any one of her heartfelt, impassioned songs, and you’re completely whisked away. There’s the breathtaking allure of her voice, which births those heavenly melodies and vivid storytelling. The lyrics that are more than just words and phrases—they are an expression of a heartbeat, raw emotions and genuine honesty. Then there’s the music itself. Liberated, eclectic, and piercing, it tells a story of it’s own, without overpowering the other elements of the song, as the final piece to her matchless creations. Szjerdene is a rare treasure.
Her latest release, Patchwork: The EP (available now), is yet another invitation to Szjerdene’s boundless world of truth, ingenuity and artistic bliss. To celebrate this next chapter in her journey, we had the privilege of speaking with the spirited songbird about everything from her unique introduction to music, her endless admiration for Mariah Carey, and of course, her stunning EP. With a personality just as beautiful as her awe-striking talents, there are no doubts that she will join the ranks of the famously celebrated, single-name acts that have conquered before her.
Szjerdene, we just have to say, your voice is so incredibly stunning. We heard it and both thought, ‘Who is this girl, we need to talk to her and know everything about her!’ You really are a songbird. How did you develop as a vocalist?
I started singing, just kind of casually—and then I stopped, because I didn’t really think it was for me. Then at the age of nine, I started to play the french horn, so I studied that for about 10 years. Then I don’t know what happened really, but Mariah Carey is like my biggest inspiration in life, I used to always listen to her stuff and sing along. So I guess I started singing at a young age, but really professionally or semi-professionally when I was about 16. I was never thinking like, ‘yeah I’m going to be world famous!’ or even anything like this. It’s just evolved. I was born with the ability to hear melodies and be able to copy, so you know, I’m not complacent about that, it definitely is a gift. But yeah, I haven’t made the decision to develop myself as a vocalist strategically, but it’s just something that I really enjoy doing.
Your music is so full of quality and melodic tones. From what’s been released so far, there’s been a progression in your sound. From soulful to electronic, you’ve already showed a bit of versatility as an artist. Is this reflected on your EP, Patchwork?
Yeah, definitely.The EP is four tracks, and three out of the four are electronic. Not just in the sense that it was made on a computer, but it features sounds that you couldn’t achieve from real instruments. I was doing acoustic shows around London for a couple of years, and you get like ‘hmm, I’ve been doing this for a bit and I’m not really seeing any innovation in it.’ It’s nice music, but technically, it’s not challenging because you want to compete with something, and if I can’t compete with myself, than have it be the backing track, the production, the instruments. I wasn’t developing myself. So I felt like, as I move into the next era, there are so many things and sounds that I can try and copy with my voice. So I’m definitely growing as an artist, and that’s why I think the electronic phase is lasting and progressing for me.
That’s such a great thing because I think the downfall with many artists is that they don’t explore their individuality, so that’s exciting to hear that you actually want to challenge yourself, and think outside of the box.
Yeah, but obviously you have people that like you for what you do, so you still want to please those fans. I don’t even really like to call them fans—I don’t really feel that established. I haven’t shed that skin to pastures new, I’m still doing everything that I like to do, but slowly expanding. I don’t think I would ever fully pull away from the live sound because performance is what I’m really about. I will be a recording artist because I will put out CDs, but performing is my forte, that’s when I’m in my element.
So you’ve collaborated with various producers. Though the outcome has been great, have there been any challenges with combining your artistic vision with others?
Yeah, there’s been a lot of challenges over the years. Even with musicians that play stuff because you have your initial ideas and once you share them, it’s kind of open for interpretation, and I guess that’s the first challenge, the first boundary. You have to be very clear about what you want, you have to decide if there is room for a lot of external ideas, and you just have to make your point and stick to that.Generally, as a person, I’m easy going. I can be serious, I can be fun, and I can just talk to someone that I’ve never met before. So I think that cuts down a lot of the friction and stuff. But at the end of the day, if you don’t know what you want, then you’re going to have the most confusion. If it’s going to be a collaboration, they’re allowed to express their side.
Undoubtedly, you’ve received support from your native UK, but also here in the States. We’ve seen you on many American-based blogs. How does it feel to have your work so well-received around the world?
It’s fantastic. Obviously, you don’t think that–I’m like writing these songs in my bed, I’m like ‘Mom! Listen to this!’ You know? It’s amazing, and honestly, it’s hard to tell how well-received it is. I can see on blogs, and that makes me happy, but general word of mouth, I can’t see how well they’re doing, so it’s just nice when blogs like yourself reach out and connect with me. It’s more than nice; it’s amazing! I never thought that I would be speaking to people in America, and getting different parts of my music recorded in different countries and sent back to me. It’s an amazing process, and I’m just humbled that people can share and accept my music for what it is. I mean, there’s good critique, and there’s bad critique but people are talking about me. And that’s the thing about being an artist, even when they’re saying bad things, it’s publicity.
I think the next great thing to do would be so live shows in the States, network a bit more, step out of my little English bubble and just travel a bit. Just meet the people behind the writing. Especially the people that are listening. I think it’s crazy, but in a good way, that my music has traveled so far. I’m so excited to keep expanding, meeting and networking with people, musicians and creatives, artists, anyone in the world. I want to meet everyone (laughs). It makes me happy, and it creates this 360 thing. I put the music out there, with all of the team that helped me, you know from PR, marketing, the label, and then it reaches the audience, then the audience are bloggers, then I come back so I can talk about it. It’s like a big wheel, it’s fulfilling.
So for those that may be unfamiliar with your music, how would you describe your music?
Hmm, that’s always a hard one. When people are writing, I see soul, I see R&B, I see electronic…I mean, I think I crossover a lot of genres, and it’s going to be harder to define the new style. I don’t know! I would prefer people to define it, and I can just smile…(laughs)
Well, it’s a good thing for it not to be so easy to define–that’s a great thing. Some artists are over-ambitious in how they describe their sound, and the end product may not measure up . If you leave it open to interpretation, then there are no expectations to fulfill.
Yeah, I’ve controlled it so much at this point that when it’s out there, it’s up to everyone else how they take it, and where they want to store it.I don’t want to make it seem like I’m making music to be technically hard or unclassified, just so I can’t be put in a box. I don’t claim to be making anything that is unheard, but it’s such a crossover that you can’t put one stamp on it. If you put it next to a Sade record, is it still soul? Hmm, I don’t know. It takes a bit of a left turn from soul, into indie, into electronica, it’s just a hybrid. It’s just 2012, you know?
Now you’ve spoken a little about performing live–do you find that to be incredibly nerve-racking or liberating?
It’s a mix of both. I love performing live, like I said, I’m not a caged animal, I can’t sit in a dark box and just sing into a microphone with no type of response, a part from hearing myself…that’s kind of boring, you know? With performing, it’s a time for everyone to come together, for this one reason, and sometimes, it’s just because of you. People have left their houses and spent their hard-owned money just to see you. And for that moment, we come together, and may never see each other again in our lives. I think that’s really amazing.
How do you deal with any anxiety that you may have?
I always get nervous, I think the day that I stop feeling nervous, is the day when I have become a bit complacent, and maybe I shouldn’t be doing it anymore.You might as well go to work or go make some cupcakes or something (laughs).It’s the most amazing thing to do. I would rather record less and perform more, and perform for the rest of my life and never record again. Nothing comes over performing; not even songwriting. I don’t even need to be singing words, I can just sing notes and still get the same reaction. The highlight of being an artist is performing live.
You mentioned Mariah Carey, and we’ve read about how much you cite her as your main influence. Tell us more about her impact on you musically.
Honestly, I have only bought Mariah Carey CDs, everything else is a digital download. I purchase all of my music, but I’ve got the whole collection of Mariah CDs. To me, she is the most amazing singer in the mainstream; from a gospel influence and pop twist, I think she is the BEST, ever! I think in the way of decorating, and things like that, I’ve learned everything from her. My vocal riffs, and gymnastics that I do have all come through training from Mariah Carey. And then the power that I sometimes sing with—you know, you might not always hear it in the recordings—but live, I really go for it, and it’s all learned from Mariah Carey. I’ve never had a vocal teacher in my life ever, but honestly, she’s just the best teacher. That’s how I learned to sing.
What other artist have inspired you creatively?
Other musicians, definitely Amy Winehouse, she very much inspired me to talk about things with a bit more depth. Everyone would kinda just sing about love, but Amy Winehouse would sing about seeking the truth. What is a relationship based on? Not just love the topic, but the ups and downs, the ends and out of friendships and love. What she was able to give to us, just in that short amount of time, was more than enough for me as an artist. She just showed the world what the UK can bring. Also Corinne Bailey Rae, with the softness. She shows that you don’t have to attack everything. We can have the pounding music in the background, but you can still be a soft singer, you don’t have to compete with your own sound, compliment it more than anything.
Now you mentioned Amy Winehouse, and it’s always interesting to explore how artists balance life because the music industry is a business, and it creates such a fast-paced environment. How do you maintain being who you are with such a life?
I guess there’s no formula. A lot of my friends are musicians, and there’s times where I’m like, ‘okay, I need to go spend some alone time or go talk to someone who doesn’t know about me.’ For me, I have to separate myself from them. Sometimes, I don’t even listen to music. I have an iPod, and half of the time I can’t even find it! There are times when it just becomes noise, especially listening to my own stuff when I record. Sometimes, I just want to get away, and be a normal person who doesn’t do music. I can’t let it consume me. Sometimes, it’s hard because you can’t listen to music for music’s sake. You’re always analyzing, and then you need a cut-off. I don’t eat/sleep/breathe it; that would be boring! Like would you eat pasta everyday? No, you would get tired of it. It works for some people, and good luck to them, but personally, that’s how I balance it. I’m just a 23-year-old girl, you know? I do this on passion. If I want to do it, I’ll do it.
So your songs like “Think It Through”,” Leila’s Tale,” “If Six Were Eight”–there all so distinctive. Is there a story behind them?
I tend to write songs, and not really know what they are about (laughs). I don’t know how I do it. I do a lot of writing, I keep a diary, so in my head, words are always flowing, and I just capture them on paper. I’m not one of those conscious writers. I do know that a common theme is loss. There not always as literal as “you left me!” but it’s just about the phases in life, people being there for different seasons and some people making a brief visit to your life..so I think that it’s something that has affected me, and I have learned how to deal with it through maturing.
Your method clearly works, because they are absolutely beautiful songs. So when can we expect the debut album?
Thank you!An album is a big commitment; the EP is a mix of what I can do, and I think I would want an album to be more specific. I know it will happen, but I can’t say when. I wouldn’t want to jinx it either. An album is not really a priority, but I love the fact that people are asking about it because it means someone cares. I want to see how well the EP does and try to get some shows based on that, purely, and build a set from there. I just want to give the EP a chance to be tested, and be accepted. I just need to keep living, and growing as a person. With the album, I will start when my brain allows me to (laughs).
[DOWNLOAD] Patchwork: The EP
Thank you, Szjerdene!