"I'm starting to get excited. I don't get excited about much, but I am now." Greentea Peng definitely should be excited – she’s got a whole lot going on.
The South East London singer, songwriter has been gaining plaudits since last year’s critically acclaimed EP ‘SENSI’ – pairing woozy production and hazy harmonies with her instantly recognisable intonation and vocals – and has just dropped the follow-up, ‘RISING’.
The new project further pushes forward Greentea’s strong sense of spirituality, chronicling and contrasting the bustle of inner city life and the central power of the song’s subject – the sun – as well as other cosmic themes. Her honest lyrics – tracing through desire, anxiety and break ups – peel back her outer layers to expose a world-weary spirit at her core.
Lead track ‘Mr. Sun (miss da sun)’ is a hazy, languid ode to warmer times and warmer energy – something of a theme in her life as well as her art – all smoky beats and twinkling electronic production woven between jazzy sax lines and birdsong. To celebrate the release of ‘RISING’, Peng has announced a headline show at Brixton’s Hootananny this month, and it’s something she can’t wait to share with a live audience – especially in South London, a home she feels deeply connected to.
But she hasn’t always been this settled. Greentea Peng has lived in many, very different places - London, Hastings, Mexico - how's that affected her approach to music? "I think it's all contributed to a bit of a mix up, I'm a bit confused,” she says. “Everything's mash up and integrated. It's kind of fun. It's obviously not a conscious thing you do, going off like that, but looking back it's effected my style and music. I've taken a bit from everywhere and made it my own."
She says it’s because of this natural absorbing of her surroundings that means she tries not to listen to too much new music right now: "It sounds mad doesn’t it? Obviously I rate everyone, but it's too easy to be influenced."
In terms of sounds she might have drawn from other places, Greentea says it’s something more practical that she’s taken from elsewhere. "I don't know man, it's all been a process. Obviously a lot of RnB and hip-hop's in there, but a lot of reggae and dub,” she reflects. “In Mexico, musically I was listening to a lot of bands and live music – and that woke me up in a sense. I’d always worked with DJs and producers – like Earbuds [longtime producer], he's a G, he's my boy - but while I was out there seeing all this live music I thought, 'Ah fuck, I really want a band.'"
Before when she was younger, her process was more digitally-led, with producers and on programmes like Garage Band and Logic, but being in Mexico opened her eyes to a broader range and potential. "It's when I fell in love with the live element. I've always loved being on stage, but being on stage with a band is completely different,” explains Peng. "There's more vibes, the energy's higher. Obviously if you're not bare confident it makes a difference too - I've got a lot more confident now, but l if your band are your boys - I love them, we have so much fun - it doesn’t feel like such a big deal to be up there. It’s like you're just jamming and sharing it with all the people. It's sick."
She says that this collaborative approach has shaped everything – her band make their own sound, and she’s been lucky enough to work with producers that are a natural fit with her voice and her vibe from the very beginning.
“We're making our own thing. It's always such a mix when people try to describe the sound, and even for me when I try and describe it," she says. "I've always had a really deep voice, ever since I was a kid, and I've got a really deep speaking voice - as you can hear. I smoked a lot of weed from the age of 13, so that probably adds to the deepness and shit.” The atmosphere of the music perfectly matches her timbre - was that intentional? "Nah, that's the thing,” she laughs. “That's why it's so magic. Earbuds sent me the 'Moonchild' beat - it was called 'Pins' - and it just really complemented it. You just know it's meant to be when it's like that - there's no resistance. The path of least resistance always works. It's a really nice dynamic."
This semi-spiritual outlook seems mirrored in her lyrical themes - even song titles like ‘Mr Sun’, ‘Moonchild’, ‘Saturn’ – the notion of reaching to a higher power, or at least to one outside the human realm – and of the universe, the sun, the moon, the planets, looming large in her music.
"They just intrigue me I guess, The mystery excites me,” Greentee reflects. “I’m obsessed with the sun, and have been from a young age - I'm very sun orientated. I get very depressed in the winter. The moon drives me mad, so I sing about her a lot. 'Saturn' is a trip - I wrote it on mushrooms in Mexico, on the beach. So that song is literally a trip."
As well as looking beyond herself and our mortal realm, Greentea Peng looks beyond the human too – she often sees the natural world as making more sense than the human, like we're a sort of disconnect on earth. "I feel closer to trees and nature and animals – I wish i could feel closer to humans,” she says. “I go through stages of being very withdrawn and distant from humans." Is that why she looks outward? "Yeah, and I have a mad inner space, so it's good to look out sometimes. Putting things into perspective, the mundane shit."
Nature figures so much in her work and her outlook, that it seems like it might be hard to marry that up with her love of the city and – a deep connection with nature but also with the energy of the urban, the collective experience, the creativity of people. "It's exciting isn’t it, being from a city,” Peng explains.
“Aat the end of the day it's about balance. I've been away for years at a time, and always something pulls me back to London. The people, the vibrations, the music, the parties, the culture. I think it's because I have a mission here to do something. Even when I lived in Mexico and was on a beach every day staring out to the ocean, I missed the hustle and bustle of London.
"I'm lucky I live in South [London] - it's green, full of trees, I have a garden - so every morning I sit and look at the trees and chat to the birds chilling on my roof. Even when I did't I’d find that balance, go walk in a park, and I'm lucky - my parents live in Hastings so I can always go there and look at the sea. I know I'm lucky and it's not that easy for everyone, I feel blessed."
Maybe it makes sense then, her jumping around from place to place, yet feeling rooted in a pocket of London - keeping that balance. And part of that is making sure not to be isolated, keeping up creative connections and energies, with those she makes music with. "I love having a family, a team you can rely on and grow with creatively and mentally, Greentea smiles. “And musically - the more instruments the better."
She’s spoken in the past about carrying a weight around with her, a certain heaviness - has this lifted as her creative journey has progressed? "It doesn't get lighter it just gets easier to carry,” she reflects. “But it's all cycles man, I'm just getting to know my cycles. And winter is a mad, mad time for me, I get very solemn. We need the sun, some more than others, I'm a completely different person with the sun."
Maybe the 'RISING' title reflects this - the power that rises in the sky each day, and means so much to her? "I feel more like it's about rising into myself, for this next EP,” she says. “'SENSI' was very vulnerable, putting myself out there and going 'Wagwan'?! This is more like I know what I'm doing - I know I want to do this and I know it’s worth the energy. So maybe it is like a rising sun, rising into myself. I'm still getting used to being this busy - it's been a real challenge for me, since I put out 'Moonchild' really - but it's all blessings."
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Greentea Peng launches 'RISING' at Brixton's Hootananny on Friday 8th November. Buy tickets here.
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