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4 need-to-know emerging musicians on making music during lockdown

From finding new inspirations to performing for a virtual audience, four of the most exciting musicians of the moment share their experiences of 2020. As told to KATIE BERRINGTON and OLIVE WAKEFIELD

Lifestyle
Sisters Jessica (left) and Ivana Nwokike, who together create the smooth, soulful sound of VanJess

VanJess

Contemporary, smooth and sultry R&B duo VanJess – Nigerian-American sisters Ivana and Jessica Nwokike – released their latest single, Slow Down, in November.

On how the pandemic has impacted their writing

Jessica: “At the start, we were facing the ups and downs, worrying about our family’s health, how we were going to carry on in our careers, and what it meant for the world. All of that weighed on us at the beginning, just like everyone else. [But] we kind of went back to basics, to what we did early in our career: posting covers, using social media, recording at home again. It made us more grounded [and] I think the music became a lot more inspired.”

Ivana: “There’s inspiration in everything, especially in this time [of] solitude; having more moments to listen to yourself, you can really find inspiration in what you’re thinking. I’ve had a lot of time going outside and just taking in the air, taking in what’s around me and digging where we stand.”

On the role that music plays in times of crisis

Ivana: “Music is the soundtrack to our lives. Every memory you’ve experienced has a song attached to it. We’re going to look back at this time and everyone’s gonna have a different song that they were hearing.”

Jessica: “Music creates the atmosphere; it can really just give people the boost they need to get through wherever they are and to create their energy for the day. It’s a propeller and also a support system.”

On how people are engaging with music at the moment

Ivana: “I feel like people are definitely listening to music differently right now, especially because we’re all looking to find connection [and] positivity. Jess and I have always created our music around good energy, so I think, if anything, it will resonate even more than it already has. I think we all need a good escape right now. That’s why music is so important – as a healer, a teacher, so many things.”

On the music that might come out of 2020

Ivana: “As artists, our music is essentially our own self-journey, so it’s like every artist right now is writing the next segment of culture. We’re about to tell a story of what’s going on, through our own experiences – whether that’s being positive or completely distraught.”

Jessica: “Everyone is in a different space, so some people could still be in a situation where they are feeling distraught and they want the world to know, and it’s their prerogative to do that. But also, there are artists like us who, rather than putting a spotlight on that, are like, ‘Let’s put a spotlight on something else.’”

VanJess

Blu DeTiger

New York singer-songwriter and bassist Blu DeTiger released her singles, Figure It Out and Cotton Candy Lemonade, this year, with her EP due out in early 2021.

On how 2020 has changed the way she works

“Connecting with fans online was a totally new thing. When I got home, all my plans had been cancelled and I was really down in the dumps. TikTok saved me. I would wake up, get dressed and make three TikTok videos; it became part of my routine. I found my niche on there. Every day I would wake up with 100,000 more followers. It was insane, but it felt really productive, like I was moving forward and reconnecting with my instrument and why I love playing. I learned all these new techniques and found different ways to showcase my skills. It wouldn’t have happened this way if it weren’t for quarantine.”

On what she’s been missing most

“Performing live is my favorite thing in the world. I miss dancing and those endorphins. Before quarantine, I was getting so much inspiration from DJing and all the characters I would meet. A lot of the music I’ve been listening to are memories of the dance floor…”

On the culture she’s been soaking up this year

“I’ve found myself going back to all my original musical influences, like Prince and Blondie; old funk, like Isaac Hayes and Bernard Wright, as well as jazz and soul. I also love Tom Tom Club and E.S.G. To unwind, I love the escapism of TV. I always watch the top 10 on Netflix because I like to stay on top of the cultural wave. I recently binged The Queen’s Gambit. My whole life is music, so it’s nice to give your mind a rest.”

On assessing her aims as an artist

“One of my goals as an artist is to empower and inspire people – girls especially. When I was growing up, I never really had those role models. I had to dig hard to find them. When Figure It Out was released, I saw all these young girls buying bass guitars, learning the bass line in the song and tagging me in their videos. It felt incredible.”

On the impact of 2020 on music

“I think a lot of good music is going to come out in 2021, because so many artists have been writing and reflecting. It’s forced a lot of artists to think creatively about how to put out their material. In some ways it’s sad that it all has to be online, but it’s also made music so accessible. I think isolation has fostered a new-found connection to live music.”

On the best advice she’s been given during this time

“Live your truth: you can’t please everyone, so stick to what’s true to you. If you do what makes you happy, other people will gravitate towards that.”

On how music is helping this year

“Music is therapy. It helps people get through those feelings of confusion and frustration. I want people to feel good and have a sense of hopefulness; that everything is going to be alright. The world goes on and we’ll dance again soon.”

Blu DeTiger

TikTok has kept Blu DeTiger going during lockdown: “I saw all these young girls buying bass guitars, learning the bass line in the song and tagging me in their videos”
Introspection and retrospection have, in turn, provided Arlo Parks with plenty of inspiration for her debut album

Arlo Parks

British singer-songwriter and poet Arlo Parks has written her debut album, Collapsed In Sunbeams (scheduled to be released in January 2021), during lockdown.

On writing her album in lockdown

“I was glad to feel inspired in that way. The crux of the record was nostalgia and the experiences that have shaped you. A lot of it came from reading old journals and getting inspired by the past.”

On how her sources of inspiration have shifted

“Most of what inspires me is people – conversations, parties, arguments, loss – and that hasn’t really changed, but I’ve had to look for inspiration in different places, especially in lockdown. I was watching a lot of films, taking visual inspiration, and reading lots of novels (Virginia Woolf, James Baldwin and so on). It was so inspiring to have those other forms of art to pull from.”

On the music she is making right now

“The music I’ve been creating is introspective, sensitive, quite fluid – everything from disco to hip hop to soul. And there’s a sense of warmth to it. It’s really an exercise in empathy when I write – putting myself in other people’s shoes.”

On adapting to new forms of audience interaction

“The live element of music is irreplaceable in terms of everybody being in a room together experiencing something, but over lockdown especially, I’ve been sharing a lot more poetry and reflections and doing live streams and listening parties. It’s been one positive thing, that artists have had to be quite creative in the ways they keep fans feeling engaged.”

On how the music industry is suffering

“For people who work mainly in the live sector, it’s been pretty catastrophic. I’ve been fortunate as an artist, but it’s really made me step back and realize how many people are working behind the scenes to make live music happen. When we get over all this, I hope there are more measures put in place to protect and support people.”

On what music will come out of 2020

“There are probably going to be quite a lot of emotional records coming out of 2020, and probably some very experimental records, too. I think isolation can breed some pretty pioneering ideas – there are going to be some amazing records and pieces of art coming out in the next year.”

On her best advice for fellow artists

“I think being patient with yourself is such a key piece of advice. We are going through an unprecedented, very strange and difficult thing. So, I think if you’re not feeling productive, then not forcing yourself to write, allowing yourself to have days where you sit in front of the TV and hang out with your family, are important. Being an artist is also knowing when to take breaks.”

Arlo Parks