Following the prestigious achievement of being named the winner of the Ivor Novello Rising Star Award in 2020, south London’s Mysie has released Undertones, a record that presents a deeply personal portrait of the artist, enhanced by sparse production that keeps her front and centre.
Now collaborating with Fraser T. Smith - the Grammy-award winning songwriter/producer who has worked with the likes of Adele, Stormzy and Dave – Mysie’s exploration of identity, love and loss on the record is both inviting and highly affecting. Smith and Mysie have refined the record so that no aspect of what you hear in Undertones is without purpose and intent.
In our discussion, we delve into how the last year has impacted her, giving her clarity in how she sees herself as an artist and the kind of music she wants to create. We also explore the impact that winning the Ivor has had on her career and the experience of working with Smith.
Read on to discover more.
'I’ve always wanted to search for love and look for this completeness, but I’ve slowly realised that it’s all within me. It’s not actually an external thing.'
How’re you feeling in the build up to the EP release?
I’m so excited to get this out there into the world and get my statement out. It’s been a long time coming, we’ve been working on it for a while, but I’m very excited to let people into my world and let people get to know me.
The EP is a very personal record, with a great deal of your personality in it. As a listener, it feels like a very personal relationship between yourself the performer. Was that something you aimed for with this EP?
Absolutely. That was an early conversation that I had with Fraser (T. Smith) when we started making the record. I really wanted to create something that’s intimate and speaks directly to the listener. We wanted it to feel like a conversation.
This album is totally, totally me. I’ve been so obsessed with the idea of love and lust, and that plays a huge part in my personality. I’ve always wanted to search for love and look for this completeness, but I’ve slowly realised that it’s all within me. It’s not actually an external thing.
How has the EP been affected by the coronavirus and the restrictions we’ve been living under over the last fourteen months?
Well, half of the EP was recorded at my house. The other half was then recorded at Fraser’s. It must have been the second or third lockdown. We had a very clear idea of where we wanted the EP to go, sonically and in terms of narrative. I did have to get used to engineering at home and recording my own voice, which I hadn’t done much of before. I got some good pointers from Fraser. It was really insightful. I loved that process. I learned so much from it. It was such a different experience. We could’ve waited and done the whole thing in a studio, but we made the decision to crack on as we were and do it remotely.
With such a personal album, do you feel as though the process of recording at home has benefitted the album? It sounds as though you’re speaking to the listener directly from a very personal space.
I think it absolutely benefited the record. Especially the song Don’t Take it Personal, which we recorded entirely from home. Recording the vocal take you hear, I don’t know what triggered it, but I cried before that performance, which is why my vocals are quite raspy, quite tired actually. I thought the take was perfect for it as the track is about wanting to be alone and being exhausted, tired of my partner taking things so personally and me just wanting space from it all. It was kind of like method acting, in a weird way.
Speaking of method acting, you trained in acting at drama school for four years, before that you were dancing. Do you find these experiences have influenced you as an artist and performer?
Dance was such a huge part in me getting into the music industry. Although I did play classical music and I did do choir, there was a very specific genre of music I found through dancing. I was exposed to J Dilla, Thundercat, Flying Lotus and that music actually got me into dedicating my time to writing my own music. I used to write to beats, but it didn’t feel like it was mine, so I started composing on the piano. It was all a very natural progression and I do like to intertwine and take in everything I’ve learned from my music and from my acting into my work.
'My main thing is progression, not putting limits on myself and what I can do, especially being a Black female artist. I think it’s really important to experiment.'
It sounds like it’s had quite a sizeable impact on the music you make then?
Absolutely. I completely agree. With drama school, I may not agree with all the things they teach – especially the idea of stripping away to build you up again – when I look back at that, I’m not too sure about it as an idea. Everything is all within, it’s all about enhancing it. This is all we have. I do feel as though acting did help me understand who I am and who I was, as a person.
In terms of how I look at my music, as I change as a person, my music changes along with me. That’s very clear from my last EP to this EP and my next EP. It’s a constant changing, evolving and shifting that I’ve really learnt through acting and dance. I feel very in touch with my emotions and my inner self.
In a recent interview, you mentioned that working under a pseudonym allows you to be whoever you want to be. However, your music is often very personal. How do you marry these two aspects of your work?
Something that I’ve realised, even from that interview, is that things are constantly changing and shifting for me. As well as learning, I’m also unlearning a lot of stuff. 2020, and so far 2021, has been a life changing time for all of us. For me, I’ve learnt to not put those limits on myself. When I was writing as Lizbet Sempa, there was definitely this whole thing of identifying with something.
When I think about the musical icons, they’re always shifting and changing, you never know what to expect next. That’s what I really love. You’ve got the Lady Gagas, the Beyoncés, they are forever doing something new and creating something new. With Mysie, I’m doing that too. There’s no limits at all. My main thing is progression, not putting limits on myself and what I can do, especially being a Black female artist. I think it’s really important to experiment.
In terms of the production of the record, particularly the arrangements, you speak about the idea of ‘stripping things back’. Everything sounds intentional and there isn’t extra instrumentation when there doesn’t really need to be. Is this something you discussed prior to the recording?
Me and Fraser had hours and hours of conversation about, sonically, where we saw the EP going. I knew from my last EP to this one the direction I wanted to head in. I wanted my vocals to be forefront, the message of the album. The ‘soil’ of the song, for me, is super important. I didn’t want anything to distract what was going on with the vibe of it. We spoke about this a great deal.
Writing-wise, with every single line in this EP we questioned 'why?' Purpose and intention is really important to me. I really wanted to open myself up to the listener and show who I am as a person.
It sounds like you’ve met a real kindred spirit in Fraser. How did you find the experience of working with him with this EP?
I’ve never felt more myself than when I’m working with Fraser. Since the mentorship programme, I really feel like I’ve come into myself. As an artist, I feel like there’s a lot of stuff that I didn’t question before. When I speak about changing and shifting, I feel like before I kind of wanted to stick in the same place with the same, person doing the same thing. I’ve realised now that’s not how in works. We need to change and do different things in order to open up. Working with Fraser, one of the greatest things is getting to know him as not only a mentor but also as a human being, as a friend. He offers ideas and is very open and honest, never limiting. He’s all about enhancing. There’s no ego involved at all, it’s about working with what the artist already has. Fraser always does what’s best for the music. We speak every week, but it’s not just music we’re talking about. We’re talking about mental health, other aspects of things that influences the music. It’s been a real blessing working with him.
'I’m so chuffed that I’ve been recognised for my songwriting because I never would have imagined that at all. Honestly, I’m still in awe at it all.'
How has receiving the inaugural Rising Star Award from the Ivors Academy affected you as an artist?
At first, when I got nominated, it felt so early in my career to get nominated for such a prestigious award. Of course it’s a confidence boost, but it’s also an addition to what I’m already doing. It means that I’m going the right way, in terms of my song writing ability. I’m so chuffed that I’ve been recognised for my songwriting because I never would have imagined that at all. Honestly, I’m still in awe at it all. I don’t feel scared because it’s my music that’s the important thing, the progression of myself as an artist. All of this other stuff is really an addition and a bonus to everything else.
What can we expect in terms of plans for the future and new releases?
I’ve got a show on the 30 June at Omeara in London which is sold out. I’m sure there’s more to come soon! I’m working on my next project already too. I really can’t wait to perform live again. I can’t wait to perform the new music from this EP too. That’s really something I’ve craved. It’s a feeling that you can’t recreate that live feeling. I miss being at live shows watching artists too, connecting with real people, seeing people dance, seeing people vibe. I can’t wait. I really can’t wait.
Stream Mysie's new EP Undertones on Spotify.