When I planned to meet the South African Pop musician Sulene last September in New York, she was on tour at the west coast, so we needed to cancel the interview. But fortunately a friend of mine went to the city that never sleeps in June, so she did the interview for the Redekiste. Nele met the hardcore vegeterian (she said it by herself) in the morning in her very own studio for a chat about musical diversion, touring with several artists and many other things. Nele, thank you for doing this!
I hope you are going to enjoy the interview!
For the people who doesn’t know who you are, who is Sulene?
Ha ha! I am an artist, a producer, a film scorer, so I do a bunch of different things! So depending on which day you catch me on, I could be doing something totally different. But over all I’m just a creator of music.
Right now, we are in Gotham, better known as New York City!
There is no better time for a question like that:
Batman or Spider-Man?
‘Cause he can fly around and attach himself to buildings (laughs out)!
Let’s talk about your music!
In 2014 you released your Holding Words Back-EP, which disappeared from Apple Music …
And last year in March you did release your actual Strange-EP, followed by the Strange (Reimagined)-EP in December.
The first one you did, was more pop-rock, maybe pop-punk, you know, like blink-182, stuff like that. With the following EP you clearly changed into pop music. Why did that happen?
So that happened because, I mean as time goes on your taste changes just as a person and as a musician. And for a large portion of my life I was performing pop-punk a lot, so I was touring as pop-punk bands and I was even like in a blink-182 tribute band. So that style of music is still very much ingrained in me and actually, when I write now I can still hear that and other people say they can also hear that. But I think what happenend was, a huge influence of mine was the artist Nate Ruess, who I started touring with. He is the singer from the band fun., so that introduced me to this whole other world of pop music. I started playing for Betty Who, I started writing a lot more and I think I … I guess saying ‘growing out of it’, gives it a negative connotation.
I don’t really think I grew out of pop-punk, I just think, that my interest shifted as a writer.
I still really love playing it, but I think they were broader avenues for me to explore as a writer. A huge thing that happened is, actually I’m sitting next to it right now, that I bought a synthesizer. I mean you can see, there a ton of guitars in this room and there is one synthesizer. So for a long time I just played guitars and I wrote music centered around that. And that’s kind of how the rock thing happens. Yeah, I just started exploring other kinds of music and even still today, I always try to dig deeper and deeper and ask like: ‘What do I actually sound like?’ So that’s basically what happened. And the only reason I took down that EP is because, the first EP Holding Words Back, is because, it felt it really wasn’t in line with the new direction that I taken. And it is actually pretty common for artists to do that. So when I brought out the EP, I was advised to promote the second EP as kind of my debut, which actually worked very well! So I took their advice on that!
Source: YouTube, BalconyTV
You played the EP-opener, What We Had, for Balcony TV.
In this song you are asking: ‘Can we go back?’
But sad to say, we can’t go back, that is the hard truth to deal with in life.
How does it help to sing these words, even if you know, you can’t go back?
I know, I thought about that all through writing this nostalgic, sad song hahaha. What it does is help me remember the good times, it’s a homage to a really happy time in my life, written about a band I was in in college. Not about a love relationship… which most people think it’s about.
Source: YouTube, SuleneVEVO
I think that the second track on your EP, called Haunting, could have even worked in the style of your first EP. Have you ever thought about something like Reimagined 2.0?
Oh, to do it in a pop-punk style?
Yeah, I could and it would be fun, but again, I think I wouldn’t do that. Only because of the kind of new direction that things have taken. And to be honest, I just wanna be very true to who I am in the moment when I make things. For my own artistry I will not make something that doesn’t interest me. So for instance, the Reimagined-EP came about, because at the time, about a year ago, I had no interest in remixes and everyone made an EP and then they get it remixed and it was like a brilliant way to keep music coming out. And I commend people for doing that, ’cause I think it’s really cool, but the end of the day, like, if my heart’s not in an idea, I won’t do it. I can totally hear, how Haunting could be a pop-punk song, I think you could make any song that I write a pop-punk song. I still think they could live in that world! But it just doesn’t make my heart sing.
René met you in 2015 when you were touring with Nate Ruess, like you told actually, in Hamburg. To be on tour with the singer of fun. must be great, I mean, you played in places all around the world! What was the highlight of this touring? Maybe meeting former President Obama?
Ha ha! I mean that definitely was a highlight. That was very inspiring. When that gig at the White House was, I came out of very interesting points in my life. Because the touring with Nate was starting to wane down, I was starting to write the Strange-EP. And writing the Strange-EP was really hard, because I was in a weird spot. Because I’ve been on the road for a long time and I was like dropped off, back in New York and didn’t know what to do with myself. And then we were like, okay, we get hit up for another gig and they say it’s in DC and they don’t say it’s the White House. And we were like, yeah, we are in, whatever! And then when you see the location is the east room of the White House. I mean, I’m not even American. I’m an immigrant. So that’s crazy for me. And then to play for a president like that, you know, right before … I just felt so lucky in so many ways! So that definitely was a highlight. But honestly the biggest that I got out of playing with Nate Ruess and the band Romantic is the relationships with the people. Because even now we meet up maybe once a month to do a show and it really feels like a family reunion. I mean, it’s been years and years and People have gotten married and had children, it’s really wild. Everyone is working on different projects and are very supportive. It’s cool for someone like me, I’m really far away from my family, to have that kind of connection with a group of people. The first time we played for like 15.000 people, I remember thinking: ‘Whoah, that’s a lot of people.’ I stepped on stage and didn’t even know the show was that big. But I wouldn’t even say, that that was the highlight for me. It’s more like the little things, like the memories you have with people, like, I just played with them in Las Vegas! It was so special, Nates son was there. Just getting to know his new child, to me, that’s really special. That’s like a behind the scenes of playing in a band.
In September 2017 you played in LPX and hit the road with HAIM.
What was the difference to be on tour with them?
There are a lot of similarities! I get along super well with all the LPX people and the Nate Ruess band. I guess the LPX/Haim tour was different in that LPX’s music is very rocking and intense on stage and we wear jumpsuits and go crazy every night haha. It’s also different being a headliner on tour, like with Nate, versus opening on tour, like with LPX and Haim. You get a shorter soundcheck and shorter set length.
One last throwback to crappy punk-rock! You played in a blink-182 tribute band called Dude Ranch And The Girl At The Rock Show.
Does blink-182 still matter to you, even after Tom quit again?
Oh, man! I mean, Yeah, their music definitely still matters to me. It’s so funny ’cause I posted a picture on Instagram last night on my story as I was wearing a blink-182 shirt and René responded to me with a picture of him wearing a blink-182 shirt, so that’s like, Yeah, they are still relevant in my life! So, Dude Ranch And The Girl At The Rock Show is now just The Dude Ranch, because there is no more girl at the rock show, ’cause I left. I don’t play for them anymore. But for as far as the new stuff concern. To be honest, I’m not interested, now, that Tom is not there. I’m sure that it’s still great and very exciting, but I never saw them live with Tom and now I don’t think, I will ever see them live. It’s like when John Frusciante left the Red Hot Chili Peppers, from then on I was not interested anymore.
Three short questions before we come to the last question:
To appear in Rock Band is … ?
Yeah, I did a motion-capture for a charakter in Rock Band-VR. There is a female guitarist and bassist-charakter in Rock Band-Virtual Reality. I went down to Boston, that was like two or three years ago, they put you in a suit with all the sensors and stuff and have you play a bunch of songs and headbang and jump around. So if you play Rock Band-VR, that charakter is essentially moving as I would on stage.
Your favourite place in New York is …?
Honestly I would say the Williamsburg Bridge. I run the bridge almost every morning, trying to take care of myself (laughs). I absolutely hate exercising, so to get myself to do it every morning I run over this beautiful bridge and run into Manhattan and run back. It’s like the only time that I feel close to the water at all. I’m from South Africa, so I grew up on a beach. So I think what that means to me, what that represents now is very special to me, so that’s like my favorite part of the day.
If you would not do music, you … ?
Oh, man, I don’t know! I have always been a musician! I was very interested in soccer growing up, I have a soccer game tomorrow. But I used to play for Western Province in South Africa, when I was in high school. And I would say, that was honestly the only other thing I was interested in.
So you would be a famous soccer player (laughs).
Yeah, but that’s like a bullshit-answer. I remember saying to my parents in high school, they weren’t too stoked on the music thing. And I was like: ‘Well, it’s gonna be musician or soccer player.’ You know what I mean? A more realistic answer I guess, I could being a writer. I really love writing.
I write a blog and I do find joy in that similarity to write a song. Something with words. I don’t know, I have never even thought about that before, so, here I am.
Here we go for the last question!
Two EP’s, tours with several artists, what are your plans for the future?
The plans are to write as much music as possible. Right now we are sitting in my studio, which I got in February. That was a dream of mine for the last few years. I’ve worked towards having a quiet, soundproof space in New York City, which is suprisingly hard to find without paying an arm and a leg. I can just be here and create things. So, a very broad answer is to dig deeper and discover new sounds and write better music all the time. But on the day today I have very much shifted from touring with people to composing, I have been writing for movies and for commercials a lot. I’m producing other people, I want creativity to be a part of every day and I am working on a new record. I take a very long time, ’cause I write so many songs and in the end of most days, I’m like: ‘This isn’t good enough. I need to keep working.’ But for some people it is just that way. The Strange-EP is something, I’m very, very proud of and I took about two years to write it, you know. And in the end of the day just picked four songs. I think, it just takes me a while and I wouldn’t put out something, I couldn’t live with. So now, I’m having two songs so far, that will come out probably next year.
Text & Interview: Nele Ritscher/René Biernath
Photographs: Nele Ritscher
For the cover picture I used the ‘Instants’-app to create a Polaroid.