Scottish singer-songwriter Josephine Sillars makes a solo comeback with her new EP Desperate Characters, set for release on March 26th. With successful singles ‘Enemy’ and ‘California’ getting great reviews and plenty of plays on streaming platforms, the EP is sure to do equally as well. Sillars sat down with us to discuss her writing process, how she found recording from home during a pandemic, and how she came up with the EP’s unique style.
I really liked how different this project was from what you’d done before. You described it as experimental: can you go into more detail about that? What are you experimenting with?
Yeah, it was an interesting project to work on. I guess when I say experimental, I meant for the kind of music I usually do, I’m experimenting with the style and genre. There is much more of an electronic vibe to this EP than to my previous music. Recording from home and learning to record on my own was something I experimented with too.
Do you think you would record from home in future or are you missing the studio vibe?
I’m not sure. I didn’t have much choice this time round when it comes to recording. A bit of both, to be honest, but I’d definitely record from home again. There are songs that would suit a studio vibe more, especially the songs that are written and performed on piano.
Topics like climate change and the current political landscape are present throughout the songs, and you introduce them in such a clever way, using clips and speech from interviews. Why did you choose this approach and how did you source the samples?
The samples were from interviews I conducted during this time, which discussed how people view the political landscape. Each song was written about themes that were found in the interviews. ‘Enemy’ is a song about fear and anxiety that came through when I was interviewing the person.
In a way it was easier to write this way during lockdown, as I was basing my writing on others and their thoughts. I gave myself a challenge and it got my mind off everything going on in the world. But of course, some of my personal views made it into the songs as well. It’s hard as a songwriter not to have that happen.
How do you think this mix of styles you have chosen will go down with audiences? I’ve been a fan of yours for a while and I like that you took a different route with this EP.
I don’t know, to be honest. That’s the thought with any new piece of new music: you’re always going to wonder about what an audience will think. The first half is more electronic and the other half is like a singer-songwriter style, so it’s hard to tell, but I hope there’s something for everyone.
What was the creative process like for this EP, while dealing with everything else? I can’t imagine it was the easiest thing in the world to find the headspace and energy for, while there’s so much happening.
Yeah, it was a good distraction and a good focus point for me. [In a way] I almost wrote a brief for myself for this project, planned it out a lot more than usual. It gave me a creative outlet. I don’t think I could do it this time around; I think it was something that I had to do at the beginning of the pandemic.
Yes, I can see that. I think everyone is getting a bit fed up and it’s harder to focus on things at this point.
That’s so true. I am just glad that I managed to be creative.
As a Scottish artist living in Leeds, do you think that this experience is reflected in your music?
I feel cheated in a way. I only moved to Leeds a few months before the pandemic hit, and all my gigs were cancelled. So it was difficult to get a proper grasp on the music scene down here. I did manage to get a couple of gigs in, though!
‘Enemy’ is a great first single, in my opinion, and I love the contrast with the second single from the EP, ‘California’. You and I were chatting before about that and you felt a bit worried about the style difference between the songs. How do you decide on the singles?
Haha, yes. I think it’s because ‘Enemy’ is so different from what I have done before and I was worried about how people who have followed my music would react. These are the songs I feel really highlight the EP the best, as they are the perfect songs to describe the two main styles that go through it.
I will say ‘Enemy’ was always going to be the first single. It was nerve wracking because I wasn’t sure how people would react to the song, but the reactions exceeded my expectations. I think it has more of a shock factor as it’s different from what I’ve done before. ‘California’ has also done rather well, which I’m pleased about. This will be the first time I have released singles for a project, so it was a somewhat new adventure for me.
You have been selected as one of the new BBC Music Introducing artists for West Yorkshire. Firstly, congrats on that! What is that process like? How does an artist get involved with that?
I’m really new to it, in all honesty. It wasn’t a thing in Scotland until recently. And it only became a thing when I was on a break from releasing music. What’s interesting is that there is only one show for Scotland and there are region-to-region shows for England. I am of course excited. I think as long as you’re frequently releasing and the music is of good quality and radio-friendly you should be eligible.
As we see the world slowly but surely get somewhat back to normal, what do you hope to see for Scottish musicians as we come out of this time?
Oh, that’s an interesting question. For Scottish musicians over lockdown I’ve seen that there’s been a rise in online events and creative spaces for performers. I’m involved with one called Pop Girlz. I’ve noticed some exposure of the inequalities in music faced by artists, with this coming to light during the pandemic. I hope this all continues and more artists are better protected and know their rights. I hope the scene goes forward and not backward, remembering the lessons that were learned during this time.
With real-life live gigs out of the picture for a while, would you consider doing streaming shows?
Yes, I have done a couple with some band mates and I don’t mind those. It is nice to do them from time to time. I think doing an online tour would be a lot of work, but a pre-recorded show in a live venue is something I would love to do.
Do you have a favourite gig of your own?
Oh wow…I have been able to gig in such incredible places and venues over the years. But there are a couple. The festivals we played at were some of the highlights. Kelburn Garden Party, where we performed at midnight, was amazing and such a great experience. And we played Belladrum on the Hot House stage. It was really lovely to play there as I come from the Highlands originally, so it’s my local festival. We also got to play a show overseas in Sweden.
Is there any venue that you haven’t had a chance to play yet that you hope to once we get back to some sort of normality? I know for me, when I saw you at the Blue Arrow in Glasgow, I felt that it was such a good venue for your music and a great night all over.
I loved the Blue Arrow! It was such a fun gig as well. I think there are so many to choose but I want to play at the Hug and Pint in Glasgow again. I really love and miss that venue a lot.
Do you have any advice to those wanting to break into the music scene?
I think especially as we’re digital just now, if someone is starting out I recommend reaching out to online spaces and events, get involved. People will be fairer with artists and I hope that people will be kinder. Come in and make friends, make connections. Also, I recommend checking for local opportunities. Online open mics have been a big thing over lockdown and a great way to get your name out there. Doing research on the local scene is always a great place to start.
Are there any other independent artists you think we should be listening to?
I would recommend Hinata, who are really great and are based in Leeds. And, as always, Conor Heafy, who is brilliant and worth checking out.