Popping Up: Seinabo Sey
Popping Up is our recurring look at new artists making noise on the music landscape. Because, hey — Madonna and Britney were once unknown, too.
Over the past few decades, Sweden has become well-known for being an overflowing mecca for talented pop artists (Ace of Base, Robyn, Lykke Li, Tove Lo, etc.). The country’s latest musician who is steadily gaining stride in the industry is Seinabo Sey. The 24-year-old singer caught the attention of many back in 2013, thanks to her debut single “Younger.”
Since then, the broodingly soulful chanteuse has dropped her For Madeleine EP on October 21 — which features tunes like “Hard Time” and “Pistols At Dawn” — and picked up a record deal at Virgin. Now, Sey is working hard in the studio to finish her debut album that will be tentatively released in March 2015.
Read on after the jump to see why this singer should be on your radar!
NAME: Seinabo Sey (pronounced Say-na-bo Sea)
WHERE SHE WAS BORN: Stockholm, Sweden. But she lived in Gambia until the age of four.
HOW YOU MIGHT KNOW HER: Norwegian producer-of-the-moment Kygo remixed her debut single, “Younger,” last December. His version then went to number one on the Norway Singles chart.
DID YOU LIKE KYGO’S REMIX TO YOUR SONG?: “I loved that he kept the song and the lyrics in its entirety, because most people just chop the song up. I guess it’s a good thing that he made it more danceable, and it’s really nice that it reached an audience that my music normally wouldn’t have.”
ON THE NEW (AND AWESOME) WAVE OF THE SCANDINAVIAN POP INVASION: “I think it’s really fun because the music is good, more than anything! I also like that there’s a lot of girls. It’s brilliant, and everyone is really nice. Zhala is really good too; she’s signed to Robyn‘s record label. If you like ‘River,’ then you’ll like her sound. It’s ridiculous.”
ON HER MUSICAL INSPIRATIONS: “I grew up listening to reggae music, since my parents played that a lot. I really loved it as a kid. When I started listening to music on my own, I listened to Alicia Keys, Beyonce and Destiny’s Child. I remember finding The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill CD in a sales section and just listening to it for a long period of time. So stuff like that, I love neo-soul and early 2000’s R&B.”
WHAT SHE WAS UP TO PRIOR TO STRIKING IT BIG: “I started going to a music school when I was 10, then I moved to Stockholm when I was 15 and continued there. After graduating, I had odd jobs that I always got fired from because I was always writing song lyrics instead of actually working.”
ANY ADVICE FROM YOUR FATHER, WHO WAS A BIG MUSICIAN IN GAMBIA?: “I think he tried, and every advice that he gave me was wrong! I think a lot of musicians have this thought that record labels are the enemy and you have to have lawyers. In my case, I’m really lucky to work with people that I really like so I can’t see it that way. I think it depends on the kind of choices you make early on [in your career]. But my dad gave me more life advice. He never sat me down and tried to teach me how to sing or play an instrument.”
ON THE CONCEPT BEHIND HER “PISTOLS AT DAWN” VIDEO: “The director Christian Larson is a genius! I didn’t have a clear idea of what the story would be, but I had pictures of how I wanted it to look with the red [gown] and all the black. He really understood the aesthetic of it and came back with that whole storyline.”
MY FAVORITE SONG OFF THE EP IS “RIVER.” WHAT IS YOURS?: “I like ‘You,’ that’s my favorite song. It’s different from other songs that I’ve written, it’s very personal and vulnerable all the way through. I like singing low like that.”
HER LYRICS ARE VERY RELATABLE: “My inspiration comes from mostly everything. I don’t sit down and go, ‘Okay, this is my topic for today.’ It’s very abstract, I can’t really control it that well. When I try, it turns out a bit cheesy. So just everyday life, definitely, and speaking to people and trying to get to the core of the problem. I like observing people.”
SHE HAS A FEW DREAM COLLABORATIONS: “I’d like to sing with Kwabs, he’s a British singer. Also Cee-lo [Green] and Mos Def.
BUT NEW PRODUCERS ARE NOT ON HER RADAR: “I like the guy who I’m working with now [Magnus Lidehäll] We have the same interests and tastes in music, since we both grew up on hip-hop. The big pop songs that he’s done (Sky Ferreira‘s ‘One,’ Britney Spears‘ ‘How I Roll,’ Katy Perry‘s ‘Love Me.’) are kind of one-off; that’s not his main focus. But it’s been wonderful! That’s why I can’t imagine any of the other producers that I want to work with because we have 100 percent communication. If I can’t communicate with you about music, then it’s not going to work anyway. It’s all about chemistry.”
WHAT SOUND CAN WE EXPECT FROM THE DEBUT LP?: “My favorite song off the EP is ‘Hard Time,’ so I’m going to try to make it sound like that one! Something like that, a bit dark and eerie. I have this one song that I open my set with that’s a piano ballad called ‘Poetic.’ I like those lyrics. It’s not as production-y as the other songs, just very instrumental and straightforward. It’s going to be fun to record.”
ON HER FAVORITE TOUR HIGHLIGHT: “The most fun I’ve had was at Santos Party House [in October]. Normally when people hear new songs, they just stand. If they like it, they’ll smile and stand still. But there, people danced and listened! They did everything, which was really nice. People were really responsive, and it was a good vibe. But touring kind of gets mundane. You try to sleep as much as you can, get up and go to soundcheck.”
MOS DEF IS THE MOST LISTENED TO ARTIST IN HER ITUNES: “I love that kind of lyricism, and Mos Def is definitely one of my favorites.”
WHO ELSE ARE YOU LISTENING TO?: “The last artist who I started listening to that I really love is Hozier. He’s wonderful. I listened to Ariana Grande‘s new album for a whole week! Her music has that old-school Mariah feel, I like that. It’s like a holding your comb and dancing in the mirror type thing.”
SHE WAS A BIG SPICE GIRL FAN IN THE ’90S: “I thought I was a Spice Girl! I wanted to be Scary Spice, she looked really cool. She was the only one who was really exotic. But all of their roles in that group were terribly sexist. But ‘Viva Forever’! [laughs]”
Grab a copy of the For Madeleine EP on iTunes here.
Get an eyeful of even more pop music coverage, from artist interviews to exclusive performances, on Idolator’s YouTube channel.