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The guitar hidden under the bed


Ilinca Bernea, An interview with Sukie Smith

01.10.2016
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Sukie Smith is an English musician that intrigues in a fascinating way and fascinates in an intriguing way. She never stopped reinventing herself and searching new shapes, artistic expressions and ideas. She is a complex artist with a training in theater and with a consistent acting experience. She is also a very keen and gifted guitar player. Besides, she has an incredible voice, trained to erupt from whisper tones and to explode into strong sonic effusions, full of emotional tension. Her interpretation is very nuanced though intense and quite hard to frame. Her band, which is quite known in London's bohemian aria, is named simply Madam. In 2006 the band released on Stolen Recordings the Compilation Call America. In Case of Emergency has been released through Reveal Records, universally and brilliantly reviewed and supported by national radio, hugely.


She collaborated with artists, musicians and DJs like Hollow Blue or Silent Strike, scored films and made international tours for more than 10 years now.
Her appearance is colorful and spicy. She has a sparkling personality and she is a charming and bright person although her music is full of shadows and related to the trip-hop and down tempo genres savoured with some influences from those post-punk bands from the early 80s considered to belong to the dark-wave.
When I listened for the first time to her album
Someone in Love I told myself: she is a species of Bjork (because of the strangeness of the musical ambiance), but with a much warmer and also more dramatic sound.


Ilinca Bernea: Where does the idea of your band's name - Madam - come from?
Sukie Smith: I wanted a name that was specifically female, that wasn't connected to me as an actress and I like all the different interpretations of the word, all the female facets it implies and if someone calls me madam in a shop, etc, it is my secret joy, they are not aware that they are referencing my band name.

I.B.: If you would be to pick up three words that define your style, as an artist, which ones would they be?
S.S.: Unclassifiable / uneasy / uncompromising.


I.B.: First of all I want to know how is to be an indie musician in London in 2016. Things changed dramatically in the area for the last decades.
S.S.: I have only positive things to say about the climate within which I experience music making. I have been making music for about a decade and have released on a good indie label, been sponsored by a huge speaker company and also released on my own label, all of which were very different but all powerful ways of connecting with a new audience... a label is such an excellent way of starting, having a secure, experienced label manager and contemporaries who contextualize you as an artist was the perfect way to start in the industry... likewise, when Bowers and Wilkins chose us as one of their genre busting artists and offered to fund the recording of an album (at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios) all to be completed in a mind bending week, was such a brilliant break for us. As musicians, we worked in a completely different way to normal, having to play / record as live as possible with time restraints and huge limits on the amount of takes possible etc which was a brilliant discipline and for me as the producer, I don't think my mind has ever worked so intensely, making massive artistic decisions. We all lived in the mill house that is connected to the studio and I had completed a long day / evening of mixing, at 3am I suddenly knew how a vocal had to go, the engineer was so cool, we slept walked into the studio and in 2 takes it was done, radio-wise that has been our most successful track, so some kind of cleverness going on there!
Releasing through my own label has been a huge learning curve and the amount of support has been phenomenal, artist helping artists, a team of professionals helping with PR and then a massive amount of good will, interband creative work, people acknowledging I am trying to bring something good into the world and just helping, helping, helping. If I thought about it too long I would cry my face off with deep gratitude, but I don't, I just keep pushing things on!!

I.B.: How did you get to have your own audience and to pierce through the curtain of models promoted by the actual pop music industry?
S.S.: Yes this is a good question, it's sort of everything really... presuming you have made something good you have to play / play / play / play / play... the industry models are still there and are extremely effective for certain artists and the formulas work for generating awareness of a song / artist, but if you are hoping people will spend some time with your art / music then it's mainly irrelevant, I love it though, when a beautiful melancholic song grips the heart of the world, its undeniable and wonderful to acknowledge the humanness of our culture. I believe audiences are unpredictable!

I.B.: How much has your style evolved since you started with the band?
S.S.: Just braver sonically and as a songwriter, less shy...

I.B.: How many instruments do you play in fact?
S.S.: I will make sound out of anything if I have a vision for it when we record! For example, I was playing trombone drones for murder park one day, I have never played a brass instrument before, to write though I always go back to the nylon string guitar I found under a sofa about a million years ago...

I.B.: How connected do you feel with punk music and period?
S.S.: I remember being aware of David Bowie and then the flashiest parts of punk when I was a child, it was incredibly exciting, I felt a kinship with the otherness of it... aspects of the short punk movement are deep, deep, deep in my core... the ability to make something from nothing, to create without anyone asking you to, to be your own movement, I think that's its lasting legacy and a deep love of eyeliner...

I.B.: Tell me when you started playing guitar and how did you realize you wanted to be a musician?
S.S.: I grew up in a family of musicians, even though my parents were not professional, they were always making music, my father was a jazz drummer and my mother sang / played the piano and they listened to music all day, everyday... music was a huge source of joy for us as a family, so I have always believed I could make music, I studied music for a little while, played flute in an orchestra, all while I was a young adult, but played big concerts and recitals etc what changed was realizing I liked writing poems / lyrics, confessing my thoughts to myself in a slightly coded way... I moved to London, studied to be an actress, always writing / reading poetry... started working successfully as an actress... but was always drawn to music to read about or go to gigs, always hung out with musicians, always talked about music, until it dawned on me I need to write songs and make a band myself! I wrote my first song on bass and then I found this nylon string guitar under a sofa in the shared house I was living in and me and it write everything I have recorded.

I.B.: Are you a feminist?
S.S.: Of course.

I.B.: Do you think it is more difficult for a women, even in the western world, to be acknowledged as being great artist?
S.S.: Yes it's so fucking ridiculous I can barely write about it, prejudice is so heartstoppingly disgusting. I have to ignore the fact that so many people just accept it as normal and do all I can to fight it with pro active choices like being as supportive other women artists as I can and living a brave life and not accepting sexist bollocks.

I.B.: Who are the musicians that influenced you the most?
S.S.: Now I would say people like Soap and Skin, Ana Brun, Fever Ray, there realm of dark beauty they create and work within is inspiring to me.

I.B.: What do you like to read?
S.S.: I read a huge amount of poetry.

I.B.: What happiness is to you?
S.S.: A dog wagging its tail, telepathy between musicians, a coincidence so mind bending it has to be significant...

I.B.: Do you ever get bored?
S.S.: No...

I.B.: What do you find the most annoying and unpleasant in the present British society?
S.S.: Ha... I feel sad that people have fallen prey to the scare mongering and hate inducing media campaigns resulting in a rise of racism and intolerance, but where there is an obvious enemy there will be positive residence, London voted Sadiq Kahn in as its mayor despite a hugely racist campaign against him from the Conservative candidate... Britain is contrary and sometimes that is so excellent and sometimes it is shocking, but I think there is a heart here,which some decent reasoning can get too...

I.B.: If you'd chose to live somewhere else, where would that place be?
S.S.: Mountains in Italy or maybe Kerela, Mumbai in India. I would like to see a whole lot more of the world before I answer that.

I.B.: If you would have the chance to change something in your past, what would be that thing?
S.S.: My father would still be alive.

I.B.: I would like to know some more about your videos too.
S.S.: I am making videos in response to every song on the album, they are less music promos and more films developing the ideas exploded in the songs.

I.B.: Your videos are very expressive and epic: each one has a new tale to tell. You're playing different characters in your videos. It is obvious that you are a talented and experienced actress. Tell me, please, about the concept that lies behind the videos.
S.S.: The videos are a response to the songs rather than a music promo as such, so the story of the song continues to be explored rather than just illustrated. I just started to ask my director friends and film makers to help me pull together ideas and things happened very, very easily... brilliant coincidences and massive friend support meant that I just keep making them, we have other 3 in production at the moment... The idea of me "acting" in them is interesting because the songs are so, so, so personal. The way I am experiencing performing in the promos is different to filming someone else's story, where I would be playing a character. In these films I am myself in a very, very, specific moment, the moment of the song and so it's more "recall" rather than of "acting", more just truly placing myself back into the situation I was exploring when I wrote the song, which is mostly some uneasy revelation. It is very joyous making the films, as the songs are so very visual when I write them...


I.B.: Tell me, please, about your experience as an actress. When did you start?
S.S.: I thought of acting / plays / theatre / films as a brilliant rebellion and escape from a future which initially seemed quite shut down from my experience of being brought up in a smallish town... I was very lucky to have massively supportive parents who believed in the importance of creativity and helped facilitate those dreams practically with drama classes and music lessons etc. I left home to go to Central School of Speech and Drama in London which is a revolutionary school in the way it focuses on the voice. It was a huge, huge life changing experience.

I.B.: What did you play?
S.S.: At college we worked on classic texts and plays since leaving I have worked with people like Mike Leigh, Nic Rogue, independent British movies, at the Royal Court / Hampstead / Soho Theatre etc on new writing and lots of British TV. More recently, I have been involved in some cross discipline performances, where the performers need to have equal skills in music making and acting... this is very interesting to me at the moment!

I.B.: You've been in Romania once to make a movie. How was shooting with Romanian actors like?
S.S.: I was cast from a bad photocopy of my headshot for a movie called Nostradamus, it was a French production with an international cast and an English director, filming in Romania... When I arrived the director realized I was utterly wrong for the part so I hung out in this huge old hotel in Bucharest and on set and got to know the cast... The Romanian actors were phenomenal, most of them were connected to the National Theatre there, they were all smart, intense, clever, brilliant actors, but there was initially a hierarchy where Romanian actors were separated from the rest of the cast, made to stand to eat and had no shelter from the sun on location, the lead actor, a French guy called Tcheky Karyo, and the rest of us went on strike until everyone was integrated... which made for a feisty atmosphere between actors and producers, but it was of course utterly the right thing to do...

I.B.: Which is your favorite theater character?
S.S.: Any protagonist who has cha-cha-cha spirit!

I.B.: Name three of your favorite movies.
S.S.: La Dolce Vita, My life as a Dog, The Red Shoes.

I.B.: If you had the chance to be a time traveler, what period would you chose to visit and why?
S.S.: I am happy here, but I would go right back to the start and observe the primordial swamps.

You can discover more about Sukie Smith at: facebook/madammusic // twitter/madammadammadam // instagram/madammadammadam
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