Brooklyn-based independent electro-pop artist born and raised in South Africa sulene sat down with Variance’s Ethan Ijumba to discuss her work as a composer for television and film, refreshing and well-received covers of the ’90s pop classics she recently released, from the times she has toured as the guitarist of Nate Ruess, his favorite movies and more. On Sulene’s new single, âWe Go Hard,â she explores a fascinating, underground / industrial side of her experimental art, which she calls âgothic-disco party musicâ – a sound that incorporates alternative, rock, pop and music. dance elements.
After releasing three respective extended plays, Slene continues to push the boundaries and expand an already impressive resume – placing her unmistakably in the category of artist to watch. For more on this exciting emerging artist, be sure to read the full Q + A interview below, and also don’t miss the visuals for âWe Go Hardâ below.
Ethan Ijubma: I’ve read that some of your notable influences are artists like Sky Ferreria and Nine Inch Nails – who else has inspired you to pursue a musical career in any meaningful way?
Sulene: Jon Brion is probably the musician who most inspired me to make a career in music. Ever since I saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and heard its score, I have been interested in composing film music. Other than that I’m super inspired by David Lynch, the filmmaker who made Twin Peaks etc, and Mike Judge, director / artist who made king of the hill, Beavis and Butthead, etc. I take inspiration from all kinds of artists and not just musicians because I think it’s really exciting to see people express themselves through art.
IE : How did the transition from South Africa to New York go?
Sulene: I guess the biggest transition was snow hahaha. I couldn’t believe how cold it was. Other than that, culturally it was certainly different in some ways. Musically, it was a shock to be surrounded by so many incredibly talented musicians when I first arrived at Berklee in Boston (where I went to college).
IE : Previously you’ve covered artists like Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” and Spice Girls’ “Say You’ll Be There”, are you a die-hard fan of both bands?
Sulene: Yes!! I used to create dance routines to songs from Destiny’s Child and songs from Spice Girls and have watched Spice World many times with my friends. When I was probably around 11, I performed a dance routine for “Survivor” in my modern dance group. I totally botched it all, I sucked as a dancer.
IE : As for the artists you admire, how did you bond with Fun.? Do you see yourself as a guitarist first and foremost?
Sulene: Yes, I consider myself primarily a guitarist but that’s probably just because it’s the instrument I chose when I started at Berklee. I joined Nate Ruess from Fun. because a friend of mine was working with him and recommended that I audition to be his guitarist.
IE : In order for the majority of your work to be recorded from your home in Brooklyn, do you find that the city influences you musically and helps your overall vision and creativity?
Sulene: I do! Much of my new music is quite chaotic, loud and dancing, and I think it’s coming from the strong vibes of the industrial warehouse all around me in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
IE : Strange, Fire Escapeing, and he â¢ don â¢ ic all feature different themes and explore different variations of pop music that intertwine with other genres. Is it easier or harder to diversify your sound with each subsequent job?
Sulene: I think it’s pretty easy. I try not to think about it too much and just write from the heart. So each record is a timestamp of how I feel at that point in my life. And the production is generally influenced by what turns me on at the time.
IE : Having contributed to television and film projects for Nike, Dior and others. How did these opportunities present themselves? And assuming you’re a fan of the media, what are your favorite movies or TV shows?
Sulene: Favorite movies are Lost highway, Eternal sun, SLC Punk, I could go on … favorite TV shows are Twin peaks, Black mirror, Development stopped, king of the hill. Most of my early television writing was work for which I did âextra musicâ for another larger composer who serves in this role. My writing for commercials and more recently for television comes from the various music companies I write for. It is therefore like the âagencyâ that pitches my compositions. For the cinema, these relationships are usually made through friends or random encounters at parties or on the Internet. Sometimes I meet someone who does cool stuff and they think your stuff is cool and it’s a dream collaboration.
IE : Would you consider scoring an entire movie down the line? Or even bigger, like working on a Broadway production?
Sulene: I scored a feature film called “Hold Fast, Good Luck”, it was a super special experience. Hard work, but I really enjoyed it. I would love to score more feature films, that’s for sure! I don’t have a lot of knowledge about Broadway, but I’m so determined to make art that’s right for me.
IE : That being said, how throughout your career has it shaped (or revised) your perception of how you listen to music now, as a fan?
Sulene: Damn, that’s a very real question haha. Uh, honestly, it’s harder to listen to music. I spend all day making music and listening to everything so intently and sometimes I just want to watch a movie or read a book or hang out with friends afterwards. Or don’t hear any sound haha. As we speak, I’m in Portland on a writing retreat and reconnecting with listening to music which has been wonderful. It takes some work, strangely, to take the time to enjoy listening to music againâ¦ I never want to completely lose that.
IE : What brought on the darker, punchier elements we hear on your new single, “We Go Hard?” “
Sulene: I think that’s just the kind of music and sounds I’ve been into lately. I enjoyed the darker synth sounds and the weirder harmonies haha.
IE : When writing, do you intentionally put yourself in a specific headspace or mindset to help you understand the themes of your next project?
Sulene: There are two parts – a lot of my song concepts, whether it’s melody or lyrics, jump in my head out of the blue like in the shower or right before I fall asleep. Then I wrote them down or recorded a voice memo. But yeah, to get myself in the free space to sit in the studio and flesh out the song, I usually brew a strong, cool mug, lower the blinds, and get the nice, vibrant lighting haha. I’m a morning writer, so I usually write early in the morning.
IE : Are there any South African bands or artists that you think deserve to be recognized?
Sulene: Yes! I just did a fun feature with artist QUERIDO, I think Diamond Thug does some cool stuff.
IE : Are there any specific projects that your fans and new listeners can expect from you?
Sulene: More songs, more videos, more collaborations! And idk maybe weird shorts, you never know!