Kat Vinter has a one-on-one chat with fellow singer Sumera about writing your own music, introverted women in music and creating in Berlin.
Kat Vinter: We’re living in a music age where casting shows and Youtube stardom are having a big say in determining which artists get the most major record label support. Artists are often valued for how well they can sing the songs of others, rather than how they can put their own creative songwriting into practice. I understand you’ve had experience with the casting show format, but you really seem to have taken your music far beyond being a ‘good singer’ by developing your songwriting and becoming integral in the development of your own music style.
Sumera: I do consider myself a singer before anything else, I’ve loved it all my life…but then I took a different path, I went to University, and I didn’t really pursue music. I wasn’t part of a scene and I didn’t really know anyone in the industry. My boyfriend at the time signed me up for a talent show, so I took the opportunity. This is also when I realized that I get zero fulfilment from standing on stage singing other peoples songs, I felt empty and dead…and got sort of depressed. It was good to find out what I didn’t want at least. For the past 5 years, I’ve been writing and putting out music I’ve written, you can really hear that I’ve been trying to figure out where my niche is. I love pop and I love soul, but I also love indie and electronic music so I knew it would be somewhere in there. I’m actually still figuring it out… I’ve been co-writing, trying different producers, and some things have fit well and some things have felt really uncomfortable. I’ve also tried writing for other artists but right now I just can’t.
KV: Maybe its not right for you right now because you’re still putting a lot of energy into figuring out your own style. I got into writing for other artists between my own artist projects. I guess I felt a bit lost and so I just kept writing songs. I travelled, I wrote with a lot of different producers…I guess that helped me figure out what I wanted to do.
S. So when you write for other people, does it still feel personal?
KV: If I’m working with an artist the first thing I want to is get to know them and get them to trust me. I want to know what they honestly want to write about, and my role is really to help them translate that into a song. I also tell them a lot about myself so in a way it does end up being really personal.
S. I went to songwriting camp once, did you ever do that? Did you like it?
KV. Yeah I went to some I really liked and some I didn’t like at all. I went to one in Reykjavik this year that was really inspiring, and there wasn’t this pressure to write for specific briefs, so it ended up being a really creative experience. Other times songwriting camps can feel like a factory farm…for songs.
So I just wanted to say that I admire you because you went through this whole casting show process, but you didn’t just grab onto the remnants of opportunities that came after, you gave yourself time to develop into the artist you wanted to be.
S. I realized that it’s rare for casting show contestants to really gain artistic notoriety. They become stuck in this kind of D class celebrity life. Doing the weirdest stuff…. It’s good money, but I had to dig further than that. I mean I don’t even know how to pay my next rent but I wouldn’t swap places still.
KV. What matters though is that you’re proud of what you create. I haven’t done the casting show thing, but I have been signed to a major label, and what I learned is that it hurts to put out music I’m not really proud of, under pressure.
S. I was visiting my parents a couple weeks ago in Madrid and my father was like,
‘Sumera you’re going to be 31 and we’re really worried, and how long are you going to be doing this, you need to set yourself a deadline…’ I feel bad that he’s worried, but I just told him I could be doing this, on this level, for 20 years….I don’t care. The only issue is the financial aspect, so that’s the area where I need to focus on a bit more and see that I can at least survive. That’s my minimum goal.
KV. I’m living a parallel life to you right now… I’m on skype with my mum just worrying about the way things are right now in the songwriting world. I feel like I’m working for free…forever. On paper it looks like success to have all these cuts with artists, but it’s not reflecting in my finances. I don’t need to be rich, I don’t care that much about money, I just want to survive. That’s somewhat the life we’ve chosen though isn’t it.
S. For me it’s fine to just figure shit out until I die.
KV. I wanted to ask you about Dimitri Tivoli – I worked with him as well. Not on an ongoing basis, it was just a session passing through on a songwriting trip. I remembered him because he’s got such a good vibe, and such a cool resume, Charli XCX etc. How did this collaboration help you find your sound?
S. I contacted him after some research. After I sent him my demos, he invited me to come over and work. He really listened to what I wanted and helped me to make my demos much better. I felt like I could really be myself and I heard my vision in his production. I felt equal with him. I’ve had producers in the past that were very dominant but Dimitri listened to all my ideas and tried to translate them, it was very comfortable. I grew as a songwriter during that time.
KV. It’s amazing what a great collaboration can do for your songwriting and how you see yourself as a creative person. It really sounds like his production compliments your ideas. I’ve listened to ‘Wolf’ so many times. I love its moodiness… it resonates with me. Anyway I get the idea that you’ve been hiding away working on new Sumera material, you’re very mysterious and secretive but I always get the sense that something is bubbling away.
S. I actually did have an album ready but I scrapped the plan. I told my label that it doesn’t make sense to put out a whole album when nobody is waiting for it. The songs I wrote two years ago are not representative of me now. I wanted to keep writing and do something smaller like an EP. In September I want to put out what I’m working on now. I’m producing it myself with one of the guys in my band.
KV. Yeah I get that, EPs are easier to put out there, they are more Internet friendly, like a taste test.
S. I want to know why labels are so scared of just putting stuff out there, even if it’s not polished. That’s a way to evolve, to get better, to get feedback. I actually had an EP ready two years ago and my label talked me into writing a few more songs so I could release an album…so time goes by, time goes by, and then…it’s not relevant anymore. So…tomorrow I’m leaving to Poland to write for a week on my own. I’m really scared but I’m just going to do it.
KV. I’m jealous, I love the idea of going out into the wilderness to write. I’ve done it before with my producer, and co-writer in a cabin on the border of Sweden and Norway. There’s nothing there. It was beautiful, no phone, no internet or distractions for 3 weeks. Just cooking, reading, and writing.
S. It nice to get out of the routines of where you live, and the Internet…it’s a huge distraction. We’ll see how it goes. See if I come back.
KV. I just wanted to pick your brain about the shows we’re playing together. You approached me to play ‘A Pop Affair,’ seems like you’re trying to curate an experience. What can we offer audiences in Germany?
S. First the idea started from my desire to play live. I’ve spoken to bookers and I feel like my music is hard to position. It’s not super mainstream but its not super obscure and alternative. I wanted to play with artists in the same position. The show will be pop based but have an edge. I want it to be A-typical German live show. We could assume that my fans would enjoy your music and your fans would enjoy mine even though they will get a very different experience of our shows. We can support and help each other.
KV. I’ve had this conversation a few times. Berlin is great city, it’s easier to survive and it’s inspiring…. but I’ve also felt a lack of community for the particular music I make. There’s a lot of German rap and a lot of house music. It’s harder than I thought to find artists here to relate to. I also get the feeling that I fall between the cracks of pop and alternative music. The challenge for us is to make our own scene and to grow that. I think it’s cool you had this idea because it’s been on my mind…
There’s something else I wanted to ask you. I read an article recently on the Fader or something like that, about this new acceptance and wave of introverted women in music. Do you identify as being introvert?
S. I think I’m a very introverted flamboyant person. I’m not intentionally mysterious and secretive…but I think I can be very vague. I’m shy in a way, and that’s what makes me awkward. It’s a weird thing though because I want to be on stage, though I feel really uncomfortable on social media. I find it very hard and I’m still learning to be good at it. I don’t understand…why should I post something now?! Nobody gives a shit! Let me just work and put stuff out and we can talk about that. When I write music I give so much of myself, but I feel weird sharing myself on social media because I’m not sure if its necessary for my artistry to be so open about everything.
I do think there is an acceptance of introverted women in music but I personally haven’t really experienced this, like I have the problem that people think I’m very weird. In interviews or on TV people thought I was strange, they misinterpreted introversion and shyness for arrogance. I am confident though. It’s a strange combination, I’m being told all the time to be more outgoing. I don’t talk on stage. I don’t want to say some bullshit when I’m nervous. People want me to talk and connect… I’m trying to find a balance.
KV. I think we definitely get this pressure from a marketing perspective to be true to your ‘brand.’ I decided in the beginning of my Kat Vinter project that I wanted to be a little more mysterious, my music is very moody. I’ve been told loads of times to be funnier or goofier, and to use twitter, to post pictures of my pancakes. But that’s not my really my brand, so I’m not going to do that.
S. I was told to do ‘Mancrush Mondays’ on Facebook… So do you think there is acceptance for introverted women?
KV. I think sure there are some artists out there doing that, SIA, SHURA, FKA TWIGS, but it’s also not my experience in this industry either.
S. I have a tumblr blog and people tell me they don’t get it and I should be more out there… but I feel like I’m sharing so much!
KV. So why did you choose Berlin? Are you going to stay here?
S. I came here for a lot for reasons. My relationship ended I didn’t have anything left in Amsterdam. I realized Berlin was an inspirational city for me. I’d already been making music here before I moved. Amsterdam was not inspiring to me. It’s like a postcard, everything is beautiful and perfect, and everyone is happy. Berlin is dirty and sad and dark and cold, and somehow that is inspiring. Its a super isolating city as well, and I really like that because I can focus on what I want to do. But it does make everything feel even more melancholic. Berlin is really a city of free spirits, it’s dangerous because you have to be really ambitious to get ahead. Its cheap and free and you can get really comfortable.
KV. I’m a really restless person. I’ve been here for three years and I start to think about leaving again. I have to keep putting myself under the pressure of change to have things to write about.
S. I’m thinking about leaving as well, but I know I’m a runner and I don’t want to leave while I’m still building and figuring things out. I won’t stay here forever but I think it’s the most ideal metropolitan city in Europe. Space, air, you can be crazy if you want to… and you can isolate yourself.