Connie Constance on Soul Music, Activism and Why the Suburbs Are Home

Connie Constance on Soul Music, Activism and Why the Suburbs Are Home

By Thea Gajic

I'm lying on Connie Constance's bed as she tidies up her room. She's sorting through clothes and deciding which she'll keep and which will go to her Mum's charity shop in Watford — her hometown. Directly opposite the bed, written on the wall, is a message that reads: "Use time wisely. Art is life. You R awesome." There's an arrow pointing from the "You" to a sketch of what looks like Connie's head — symbolized by her wonderful curly fro.

We're listening to something alternative on YouTube and both get excited when it shuffles to a song we've never heard before. "This is sick!" Connie exclaims, as we gather around the laptop in awe of the visuals to "Locket" by Crumb. The iconic "Choose Life" speech from Danny Boyle's 1996 Trainspotting leans against a wall. "I love that speech, my Dad had it up in his kitchen," I say. She laughs and tells me she always wants to read it really fast.

Her walls are further adorned with posters of Muhammad Ali, The Arctic Monkeys and cut-outs from her favorite magazines: selected pages, pictures and quotes that collate into a sort of Connie Constance mood board above her bed. Her bookshelf gems range from Angela Davis' Women, Race & Class to John Ronson's The Psychopath Test (a personal favorite of mine). She plays me her new single "Yesterday" and I feel as though I've got my head out of my best friend's car window as we cruise along a sunset washed road in California. (Specific, I know.)

But if you're familiar with Connie's music, then you'll understand how effortlessly she's able to transport the listener to some better version of their current reality.

Dress: Ryan Lo, Neck Ribbon and Earrings: Dior, Shoes: Eudon Choi, Cuffs: Merola

"Yesterday" is your new song that's coming out and you're currently vetting some treatments for the video.

I'm trying to get the right visuals for the song.

What draws you to a treatment that you like?

I just want the visuals to encapsulate freedom and possibly a suburban lifestyle as well because that's where I grew up. Watford — it's more suburban and escapist. Usually I have more of a focused idea when I've written a song of what I want the video to be, but this one I just wanted it to feel good.

Have you ever just sent a song out and seen if anyone's immediate response matches yours?

I probably should — I think I'm just a bit of a control freak. I think that'd be cool to do. But then at the same time, that's one of my favorite parts, making the song come to life.

So you'd say you carry your art from the beginning to video stage?

Yeah. This is the most letting go I've ever done.

Letting go of what? Control?

Yeah. I've been like, "What do you guys think? You guys make an idea out of this feeling."

Do you feel more free in Watford?

Not really, to be fair. I feel more free when I'm out of this country, but in Watford, at least when you're growing up there's so much space and you look up and you can see so much sky.

Can you still see stars out there?

Yes! When I came back after a show it was really late, like 2am, and I looked up and I thought, "Oh my god I'm so happy that I've come back here, after all of that mayhem I've come back here and there's all these stars and the air smells good." But then I'll be there for two days and I start thinking, "Fuck, I need to get back, I need to meet people, I need to talk about ideas." It's like that London disease! But I was in Essex the other day and I could see the stars and when you look at them, it's like, "Oh, I'm just this human, animal thing."

Jacket, Jumper and Trousers: Eudon Choi, Hat: Emma Brewin, Shoes: Nike Air Force, Bag: MCM

Dress: Alistair James, Earrings and Necklaces: Merola

I guess it's similar to the ocean.

Yeah! It's like when you're high up and you look down and you think, "Oh, I don't know who any of these people are…and they can't even see me." We're all just kind of invisible when you get to a certain perspective.

Does that feeling scare you?

No because it means that having no importance is sometimes quite relaxing. Everything that I think might mean something in the bigger scheme of things doesn't really mean anything, but I can choose to give it purpose.

It's always a grounding feeling to realize that. You spoke before about wanting an element of escapism in your video. I know you dance as well – what do you think channels your escapism best?

Writing songs. Because even though I usually write about stuff that's super personal to me, it feels as though I'm just in my own bubble and in my own head. Also traveling. Dance used to but I don't think I connect to it as much. But writing and traveling, that feels really freeing. To have an objective that's completely different to what is always my objective.

In doing that, do you ever find a new objective that you bring back?

I think the main thing that always comes back with me is not to put so much pressure on myself. There's just this whole world. I definitely feel the more you meet people, the more you go on little journeys, your brain gets a lot wider. I feel refreshed.

Dress: Ong Oaj Pairam, Earrings: Merola

Does traveling influence your writing?

I think so, now. Because I think I want to create that energy in some of my songs. Like with "Yesterday" I wanted it to feel like you're at a festival or just with your mates down the park larkin' about. Just that kind of feeling. So the more I travel the more I'm going to see stuff and be like, "Ah, I want to feel like that again!" I need to create a song or a sound or something that can make me feel like that. That's a lot different to my previous work, which has been quite forward and personal and very descriptive of one situation.

Do you practice writing or do you just use that need that you feel?

Both. The best comes from when I actually get that feeling and it's like "Ah shit I need to get this out my head." Also I find it healthy as an artist to work with different people and be pushed in a way you haven't been before. Or even going into a session and they know the sounds aren't really what I'm into but I'm like "Let me see if I can write a song with this," and whether or not I like the song by the end of it, I've just made something and I've tested myself.

I always struggled with choruses for ages unless they came naturally. So I'd listen to loads of Amy's tracks or Adele's tracks which do the pop-soul so perfectly and emotionally. So I'd try and work out their 'code' – they've probably done it naturally – but what natural code is in their subconscious that makes them make those choices? How many syllables are in each line? So I do that for a bit to try and get that coding in my brain.

Did you find a pattern or a code?

Yeah there are sometimes patterns I can see... or a line's really straight, so it only goes up in melody twice, or there's one that's really rhythmic and there's two words and then a straight line again. So sometimes you can work out a little pattern like that. It's good to just learn.

Top: Isabel Marant, Skirt: Zimmerman, Shoes: Saint Laurent, Earrings and Beads: Chanel (Vintage)

Jacket: Feng Chen Wang x Levis, Coat: Huishan Zhang, Skirt: Ryan Lo

Yeah definitely — especially if you didn't do the 'traditional' education side, practicing your craft is so important.

Yeah... did you study script writing?


[Laughing] You're just dropping these bombs on us.

We're both just out here! Follow your heart people! Have you always been open to trying things out?

I was at the start, trying out all of these styles. Some that were way too R&B for me, or super poppy, or super electronic and too weird for me. But I was just doing it all and then I was like, "Nah, I don't want to make anymore R&B music, I'm not into it." So I cut off a lot of stuff and I cut off most electronic producers who don't use guitars and pianos. That was great for me because it made my sound more aligned, but now I've gone back the other way and I want to try everything! I guess you'll have those moments throughout your career and each time it'll get more constructed and in the end you'll have more of your own uniqueness.

Yeah, it'll be more definitive. So in regards to your openness — I was watching the video for "Lose My Mind" and you're in the bath and it's all beautiful and stereotypically feminine, and then we immediately see a shot of a man's Dr. Martens and in that moment I just thought those images really sum you up. You don't define femininity in one way and you don't seem to worry about trying to present just one image of yourself. Were you raised with that freedom, or did you have to teach yourself as you grew up?

My mum raised me. There were a lot of boys around me so that's one thing that may be different. I guess when I was younger I was already a bit of an anomaly because there was no one... there was one Asian girl.

Dress: Ong Oaj Pairam, Earrings: Merola

I remember you telling me in McDonalds about the racism you experienced.

Yeah it was like really weird racism... not in your face, not something that you could be like, "Hey, fuck you" to. It was more, "Oh, you think I'm different." So I guess because I've been an anomaly for so long I'm used to it, even though I'm not one now. I've never had any constraints because I've been so out of them for half of my upbringing. I've been this way for so long that's it's too far gone. I have a great mum, she really supports me so I've never felt bullied or weird, I just knew that maybe I don't look the same.

Shoutout Mum! You have this poster on your wall: "Any artist that is not an activist is a dead artist" by Ai Wei Wei. What would you say you are an activist of?

I can only say my activism is through my music. I don't think I make any movements that are strong enough outside of my music to call myself an activist. I think the freedom to write truthfully and honestly about the things I experience and not feel any constraints about how I want my music to sound is a way of it being activism. It's allowing young people or anyone else if they hear it to be like, "Oh, I experienced that, I can talk about that, I can make whatever the fuck I wanna make and I can look like this and it doesn't really matter."

One of my favorite lyrics of yours is the triple lace one.

Ah! Tying my laces three times.

Yeah! And I think there's so much imagery in that line. I instantly saw childhood. It's so simple and effective. I know when I write, I sometimes feel I don't have the right words so I go and do thesaurus stuff and try to find a synonym. But then there's a danger of trying too hard. Do you check yourself and feel as though sometimes things aren't good enough?

Sometimes I write something, as raw as it is and then get to certain lines and know that could be way more intelligent. There's nothing necessarily interesting about it being stripped back. Whereas with other lines, they're just forward and that's what it is and people have probably said that or been told that so it should stay like that. But yeah, I say 'like' and all these shit words all the time and sometimes I need to be taught.

Coat: Norma Kamali, Earrings: Merola, Hat: Emma Brewin

Do you think you actively learn about yourself or is it more through the decisions you make?

Yeah decisions and experimenting. If there's an opportunity in front of me I like to just go for it even if it's not something I'm into in the end, because then I can tick it off my list and know I'm not that kind of person.

So "Yesterday" is a single from your new album. Has it got a name or are you not allowed to say?

I'm not allowing me to say. No-one is not allowing me to say because I'm an independent woman! [laughing]

Do you know when it's due?

It's going to come out next year, in Capricorn season.

Oh! Now I want to ask you about horoscopes. [We discuss natal birth charts for 4 minutes] Are you releasing anymore singles?

Yeah! Three this year.

Is there anything else you'd want to delve into creatively?

Directing my own videos. That's what I want to be able to do.

That's why you want control!

Literally. I just want to learn some shit. I need to give some time to learning about lighting and cameras and framing and then I think I could be good to go. I just want to be able to make my music and make my videos.

You can come on set with me.

Yeah that would be sick! I'm going to hold you to that.

Cool so... Director Connie En Route.

En Route!

Photography: Rio Romaine
Styling: Jay Hines (OSAL Studios)
Styling Assistant: Grandy K
Hair: Renda Attia (The HideOut London)
Makeup: Philippe Miletto
Movement Director: Jamie Neale