Selah Sue: An unorthodox musical talent
The Flemish singer Selah Sue is an unlikely star. She calls herself lazy, has never completed a music degree, turned down a contract with one of the world’s top producers and her first album criss crosses the musical genres. Despite Selah’s eclectic qualities, her debut album sold over a million copies worldwide. Now, four years later, she has finally released its successor: Reason.
Following a two and a half year world tour for her self-titled debut, Selah Sue, 25, went back to her home town in Leuven, Belgium to work on the next album. After four months of writing, her songs were ready, but she couldn’t get them recorded for another year. “That was incredibly difficult. I had to wait a year and a half for my producers. So during that time, I was just sitting on my hands, waiting,” she says. “They are both unique, incredibly talented and amazing guys, but they were famous in their own right so they had different priorities.” The producers she chose to work with were Robin Hannibal (Kendrick Lamar) and Ludwig Göransson (Childish Gambino, Haim). The two are as talented as they are busy, and it turned out to be a mission to sync their agendas to work on Selah’s new songs. She found this long wait to the hardest part about the album. “That’s why I called the album Reason. Had I only listened to my inner feelings then I wouldn’t have coped, I would have ended up crying, screaming and probably would have quit. Thanks to my sense of reason, my rationale, I managed to steer it into the right direction. In the end, I did manage to get a great record out of it, but it wasn’t easy.”
After her critically acclaimed debut, writing another hit record was of course a challenge, but Selah is very realistic about it. “The first record sold a million copies. I think the chance is pretty slim that this will also happen with the second album,” she says. “I have a very good feeling about this record, just like my first, it really is my baby, it’s 100 per cent what I wanted. I feel like I haven’t made any concessions, so it will be impossible to have regrets.” Knowing what she wants, and what she doesn’t want, when it comes to her music and not making concessions has certainly marked her career. When Grammy nominated, Los Angeles-based producer Dr. Luke (who has worked with Katy Perry, P!nk, Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears) offered her a contract for her first album, she turned it down. “He suggested music to me that didn’t quite feel right, so I didn’t want to fall in that trap. In the end I am very happy I didn’t do it,” she explains. “I can be really insecure and I need a lot of reassurance from people around me that I respect and trust. But I also know very well what I
Advice from Prince
This reassurance also came from an unexpected angle, when she once played as an opening act for Prince in 2010. Selah never intended to become a singer and having studied psychology at the University of Leuven, she felt like she missed the foundation of a music degree. “My boyfriend and everyone in my band have done a degree in music,” she says. “They tell me that I should be happy that I haven’t done one and that everything is spontaneous and from the heart, and that I’m not indoctrinated by a degree. But I sometimes wish I knew more about chords, I have to do everything on hearing.” When she asked Prince for advice after the show, he told her not to take any lessons. “I still think back to that, that I don’t need to do it. I am quite lazy, so this feeds me in my laziness that I can continue to do nothing and just feel the music.” She adds: “Sometimes I think my lyrics would be better if I read more English books, but now that I have a friend who is incredibly good at writing in English, now I don’t have to do that either!” She laughs.
The new record, released last month, is once again an eclectic mix of styles with a strong undercurrent of pop sounds. It has elements of electronic music and funk combined with Selah’s soulful voice. “Some songs are very intimate, others are old school soul, others more hip-hop or funky, it goes into all directions,” she says. With four years’ worth of new experiences, a successful debut and sold out shows, Selah says she has definitely become wiser, but also admits some things haven’t changed. “Now that I know what it’s like to be successful, surely everything should be just fine, but in a way it isn’t. My new record is again about self-acceptance and finding your way and trying to create happiness,” she says. “The one theme that is new on this album is love, my love for a person. Her relationship has also given her more security in her life, compared to the time of her first album. She says: “I still have extreme emotions, but I am better at giving them a place. Personally I have more stability, I have a really good relationship, I have structure in my life and I am simply happier.”
A family tribute
One song on her new album that stands out is Daddy, an intimate and intense tri
bute to Selah’s father. “Writing it went really quick. I had a lot to say to my dad,” she says. At the end of the song you can hear her father speaking over the music. “I think this is maybe one of my favourite bits of the record. I secretly recorded him because every time I return home after a tour I get the same reaction from him. He’s always hugely proud and euphoric. He goes like ‘my dearest, my little song stress, I’m so proud of you’. I put that on the record and I think that’s really cool.” With a song entitled Mommy on her first album, we asked if any more family members will get a mention. “It’s always been my plan to do this,” she reveals. “I also have a brother and a sister, and now they, too, expect a song. So I guess I need to write at least two more albums!” But Selah doesn’t want to look too far into the future and is not going to make any predictions about further records. “After my first album, I’ve said so many things about the next one, it would be a dubstep album or an electronic album or something else; it changed every day. I’m not going to say anything this time because I know it won’t be true. The one thing I know for sure is that I won’t ever work with two producers again, just one, that makes things ten times easier and faster. I’ve learned my lesson well.”
A full agenda
After doing so many concerts with only a limited repertoire of 12 songs, Selah is certainly excited to go on tour again with new material. “I can’t be naive, of course I will have to play Raggamuffin and This World for the rest of my life, but that’s alright because that’s what the audience wants so I wouldn’t want to deny them that. With this small amount of old songs and an entire bag of new ones, I’m really looking forward to playing them.” Over the next few months, Selah is already scheduled to play throughout Europe including France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Poland and of course Belgium. But she is especially keen to see how the German audiences will receive her music. “France was a huge success but we did not do many gigs in Germany,” she recounts from her first world tour. “If both the neighbouring countries work well, then I don’t always have to fly for 24 hours before a show! I’m thinking in practical terms here. It would be quite useful if Germany also goes well, so I’m curious about that and looking forward to it.”
Selah Sue’s second studio album ‘Reason’ was released on 30 March and is on sale now.
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