There's a moment on Kwamie Liv's new album when everything coalesces, when the varied influences, sounds, and splendours in her work come together.
It's a sign of her tethered songwriting that she can conjure this, and it's also a sign of the huge variety of styles - from R&B to indie, pop and more - that she can call her own.
Out now, 'Lovers That Come And Go' was constructed across two years, a process that took this inviterate traveller from Denmark to the deep South of the United States and back.
Kwamie says the album "is my embodiment of the last few years: a reflection of things lost or left behind, things held onto and moments I have dreamt of or imagined. Much of this album was written between midnight and dawn, in the quiet hours- for me it lives there somehow..."
Settling down in an East London cafe, Clash listened as Kwamie Liv spoke eloquently about her wanderlust, her search for meaning in music, and why she's a creature of the night...
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Copenhagen is such a creative city, does that inspire you?
For sure. I think every city has its own artistic pulse. Copenhagen is a really cool mix of a strong electronic scene, as well as a really good jazz scene, as well as a really strong alternative scene. You have different pockets that you can dip in to. There’s also a singer-songwriter scene.
And I think, that said, I spend a lot of time in the studio minding my own business, so the inspiration of more from afar, rather than running around and checking out everything all the time. But the environment is palpable.
You’ve also travelled quite extensively, where does that wanderlust come from?
The root of it was because my mother worked with the United Nations, so I born into that life – every three or four years we’d pack our bags because she would get a new post. I don’t really know anything else. It’s the only life I know. It’s definitely bled into other areas of my life. Even with my work, there’s a lot of travel involved which suits me really well. Any chance I get to go somewhere new or see somewhere new I often take it because I’m curious.
All those musical elements are present in your work, do you think you’re drawn towards that mosaic, that blend from having that background in travelling and experiencing other cultures?
Yes. It’s funny because I’ve never thought of it like that, but people have been saying it a lot to me lately. I think maybe also off the back of this album which is coming out. It makes sense when people say it even though it wasn’t necessarily a choice. I think my approach to music and the projects I create is that they need to have no rules, they need to be free, I don’t want to ever be bound by one thing.
That said, if I end up doing that then that’s because it happens naturally. I really walk into it feeling that anything can happen. Of course, it has to work as a body of work, and I hope that the red thread is me, and my songwriting, and my voice. But for sure, it’s my desire to not be tied down… somehow!
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It’s the only life I know. It’s definitely bled into other areas...
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When you enter the studio, then, is that an intense, quite focussed environment?
Very much so. The past couple of years I’ve spent maybe 85% of my time in the studio. Easily. Often very late nights and early mornings. I think I needed that, in order to create this. I gravitate towards being in a bubble where I have the space and time to disappear into my work completely. That’s where my heart took me.
What was it you were chasing?
It took me two years to make this project, and the project before took less than half that. It’s a huge difference! I think you can make a great album in two weeks, and you can make a great album in 10 years – for me, the thing that is always my criteria is that I’m satisfied with it, and it feels done to me. And this time it took me that long to get to that feeling, where I felt this was what I was trying to do.
And of course you create a lot of different songs, different expressions, and it’s a kind of kill-your-darlings approach to create this body. But I knew I wanted to make an album but I also have never had a desire to force things. So it wasn’t at all costs –the criteria was that I had to, at minimum, be satisfied.
Were you working from scratch, or did some ideas get re-worked?
A mixture of both. Some songs were taken off the album and put back on. It doesn’t mean that I won’t release them in the future or that I don’t love those songs, for me it’s a journey from start to finish. And not every song that I’ve finished in the past two years has matched that journey.
Did you enter this process with a clear idea of what you wanted?
A lot of this project was made from dusk ‘til dawn, really. It lives in the night, for me. And I have always written a lot at night – whether I’m writing fiction, or poems, or drawing cartoons. A lot of my creative space is night-bound. So I suppose the music reflects that in some way – both intentionally and unintentionally.
I also wanted something to drive to – that’s an image that came to mind. I work a lot in images, and that’s something that I saw a lot; this open road, and a car. It had to be a soundtrack to that. You need to be able to drive to it, and make love to it. Hopefully not at the same time! Sensual and soft, but also with a movement to it.
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My aim isn’t to create something universal, my aim is to create something that’s true to me...
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Did you ever drive while listening to the demos?
Actually no! In Copenhagen we bike everywhere!
Driving is such a contradiction between the wide-open spaces of the landscape, and that intimate, closed environment of the driver.
It is. But my aim isn’t to create something universal, my aim is to create something that’s true to me. So if that happens resonate… I would hope for that, but it’s never been a driving force in my songwriting for me. It’s such a deeply personal thing. I think if I was to focus on how it was supposed to connect on how it reacts outside my own experience it would distract from me creating something that was true to me.
At the same time, once it’s done it’s a different thing – then it’s no longer mine, it’s not about me at all. Just like other people’s music is about my relation to it. I like the freedom of that relationship.
The songwriting process sounds so involved, is there a song on the album that you had to stick with in order to finally get right?
That’s a good question! It’s almost like giving birth: once the baby is out you forget all about the process! As an example, ‘Follow My Heart’ I created with one of my co-producers on the project, and it came to us surprisingly fast. We’d been working so much, and all of a sudden this song flew into our window. We produced it and within two weeks we were happy with it. It was really fast.
Whereas there are other songs on there… For example ‘Did’ was more or less done but then I went into the mixing studio and we were listening to it, and then we started to tweak it… and that was six months after the song was done. It’s always open where I’ve added different musicians to different tracks after the fact. Because I’ve had time to sit with the songs and let them breathe a little bit.
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Real freedom – no constraints, you want to be able to reach your hands as far and wide as you want...
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‘For My Heart’ is a real highlight, and in the press note you say it’s inspired by your friends, and living life at 100 miles per hour. What did you mean by that?
It reflects this time when I did a road trip from New York to SXSW in Texas with a couple of my friends, and it was definitely a really wild trip. It was definitely a free trip, and I had never seen the United States in that way before. I had never seen The South. It was such an incredibly free time, and such an incredibly independent time.
At the same time it was a connected time – meeting all sorts of artists and musicians, people doing all sorts of interesting and inspiring projects. Then we went into this residential studio that was open 24 hours a day, so it was non-stop! But not in a messy way, in a liberating way.
In general, one of the things that I’m always trying to balance is this need that I have for security, and for freedom. Real freedom – no constraints, you want to be able to reach your hands as far and wide as you want. At the same time wanting to have some sense of being able to land, and I guess that was just a flying period!
How does that sense of freedom intermingle with your own intensity as an artist?
I mean, for me feeling free doesn’t mean you can’t have a plan or a structure, it just means that I prefer to be in charge of that. I really appreciate having a team around me who have a huge say in a lot of things. It’s not so much in that way, but I definitely enjoy life where I am my own boss. I started the label a few years ago, I’ve done different partnerships, but I love that sense of starting something from the ground up, and learning so much along the way.
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'Lovers That Come And Go' is out now.
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