Finding Perspective In Letting Go: Suki Waterhouse Interviewed

“I have felt like a bit of a voyeur in my own life…”

All her life, Suki Waterhouse has been attempting to fulfil a role – a model, an actress, her life in the spotlight has witnessed her wearing a multitude of masks. Please allow her to re-introduce herself…

Finding Perspective In Letting Go: Suki Waterhouse Interviewed

“I’m not in the most particularly chic look,” a voice emerges from my laptop. The black Zoom call flickers and Suki Waterhouse appears, perched in a hotel bed. It’s midday on the last Thursday in April. She’s in the final week of filming Daisy Jones And The Six, the TV adaptation of a book about a (fictional) band. In just over a week, the world will finally see a side to her she’s been longing to share when she releases her debut album, ‘I Can’t Let Go’. 

‘I Can’t Let Go’ is the culmination of Waterhouse’s 20s. The body of work is a kaleidoscope of emotions—from yearning and shame to taking ownership and making peace with one’s past. After years of portraying characters and modelling for brands, the album is a re-introduction of sorts. “​​It feels like an evolution of where I’ve been and where I’m going,” she explains. “This has been the only thing I’ve really ever had in my life where I got to work on it completely privately without any prying eyes.” 

Finding Perspective In Letting Go: Suki Waterhouse Interviewed

Music might not be the first thing people associate with Suki Waterhouse. Until now, her introduction to the world was through embodying other forms. As an actress, she’s used to morphing into a character. As a model, brands would use her as a vessel for concepts and products. Being “Suki Waterhouse” meant to conform to something else for someone’s vision. For the first time, the final product isn’t a role on-screen or seeing her face in a glossy magazine. Now, with the release of ‘I Can’t Let Go’, it’s all her. 

Although ‘I Can’t Let Go’ might be her debut album, it isn’t Waterhouse’s first attempt. “I had an album ready a few years ago after being inspired by Karen O’s ‘Crush Songs’ album. I was really moved by her whispery songs that feel raw and unfinished. A lot of my demos were first written in a way that is similar to a voice-note — breathless poems to friends that were overly detailed,” she laughs. “I would write something and instantly feel like I couldn’t move past that idea until I nailed it.”

Finding Perspective In Letting Go: Suki Waterhouse Interviewed

The earliest song one can find on her Spotify is 2016’s ‘Brutally’, a track that Suki Waterhouse describes as “a scrappy, DIY, throw-some-stuff together” creation. It was a taste of what would eventually come — something a lot of Waterhouse’s fans have been waiting patiently for the singer-songwriter’s full-length project. It’s those early listeners that Waterhouse says gave her the confidence to release something, finding peace in knowing that at least someone would listen to it. 

In January of this year, Suki turned 30. It’s an age she doesn’t exactly agree with – “It actually should be two years ago still because of this fucking pandemic!” – but it’s a number that has caused her to reflect on a career that spans half her life. “I’ve been so insecure about things, wondering whether I would even be allowed to do this. I lived with a lot of fear, constantly questioning myself if I was ever going to do this thing that I’ve always wanted to do. Every year that would pass and I didn’t make this record would be frustrating. I just had to jump towards the thing that felt good, and that was music.”

Finding Perspective In Letting Go: Suki Waterhouse Interviewed

And jump she did — right onto the front step of Grammy-nominated producer and songwriter Brad Cook. “It was a purely instinctual thing,” Suki laughs when I remind her of the story. “I knew what I needed to get my foot in the door, like putting money in a savings account. What was really important to me was finding the right producer, and I found that in Brad.” The Grammy-nominated producer and songwriter has previously worked with the likes of Bon Iver and Snail Mail, the latter of which Waterhouse describes as a “top favourite.” Without meeting prior, Waterhouse flew to Cook’s house in North Carolina after a friend connected them. “It was like going to see an old friend. I don’t often show up to stranger’s homes but if I had to, he’s the best person.”

Maybe it was the post-pandemic need to immerse oneself in a room with strangers, but the aforementioned spontaneous visit to see a stranger-turned-friend wasn’t the only experience Waterhouse had with new unknown beings. “This sounds like a dangerous trend, but I’m very random with meeting people all of the time — I just think ‘fuck it.’”

Finding Perspective In Letting Go: Suki Waterhouse Interviewed

That mentality would eventually bring her from a movie set in Winnipeg to a chef’s place in Montreal. At a time where she was miserable and experiencing overwhelming feelings, she would always find that the best remedy was what she described as drunken wailing at a mic in front of people she didn’t know. “During that time, I felt out of my body. I cried a lot and couldn’t find myself. It was an old feeling that just wouldn’t shake. I asked a friend if she knew anyone with a studio that I could hang out with. I was just desperate to make music. That’s how I ended up in Montreal writing music with a chef named Beaver Sheppard.”

After only really being informed of who she is just based on the roles she plays or what the media is reporting on, there is something about ‘I Can’t Let Go’ that makes the listener feel like they are peering through binoculars to learn more about Suki. It’s an experience she, herself, relates to. “I have felt like a bit of a voyeur in my own life,” she ponders. “I always wanted to be a musician when I was younger, but my life sped up in different ways. I’m really glad for the way things happened because I was uprooted which was something I craved in my early 20s. I got to be a witness to a lot of life to the point where it sometimes felt like I was out of my own body.” 

Growing up online while simultaneously being heralded as an “It Girl” has brought its own unique set of challenges. From being plastered across outlets like The Daily Mail and getting torn apart in comment sections, nit-picking whether she’s the ‘right’ person for who she is dating, Waterhouse has experienced enough trolling and toxicity to last a lifetime. ‘Bullshit On The Internet’ is Waterhouse’s response to how she feels about that aspect of our society. “You know when you’ve just woken up and you see something online and it feels like you can’t breathe? It’s a song about that,” Waterhouse explains. 

Finding Perspective In Letting Go: Suki Waterhouse Interviewed

It’s not new to say the world hasn’t been particularly kind to women in the public sphere, but that doesn’t make what women like Waterhouse have experienced any less awful. The mix of having a job in an industry that lifts women up just as quickly as they tear them down along with being tabloid fodder created a space where toxicity can thrive online.

“There are things that shouldn’t even be on my radar—things that I’ve been reading and consuming about myself since I was young—that aren’t even news,” she describes, almost still in disbelief. “Yet, there are thousands of comments scrutinising whatever is going on in my life. A few years ago I didn’t have the perspective that I do on it now. I see it as this tide that moves; I don’t have an interest in giving it the time of day.” 

Perspective is the crux of ‘I Can’t Let Go’. It’s the sonic equivalent to a coming-of-age memoir; an exploration of the different memories and moments Suki Waterhouse has been carrying with her but didn’t have the right way to make what she was experiencing tangible. Much like an acting and model face, she is familiar with putting up a front to pretend in order to show the world you’ve let go and moved on. “It’s quite alienating. You can only talk to your friends about what happened to you for a certain amount of time until you feel like you should get over it. Making this album made my perspective widen; I started having a distance from the things that were hurting me even if I wasn’t totally healed.” 

Finding Perspective In Letting Go: Suki Waterhouse Interviewed

The title of the album summarises her inability to simply get over things; she is the antithesis of being a ‘cool, chill’ girl. “I’ve been frustrated with myself for taking so long, wondering if I would ever feel like there was a way forward. I didn’t know a new path that didn’t just feel like a tattered blanket,” she pauses. “I’ve been needling at myself to the point where I now see outside of who I am. I have an empathy towards who I used to be.” 

Being able to approach her younger self and use music as a tool for healing has been a therapeutic process. “I didn’t even realise the amount of shame I was carrying for things I thought was my fault,” she explains. “Then you get a little bit older and you look back and things become so clear that it’s not your fucking fault. I was a 20-something girl plopped in the middle of all this bullshit. Writing songs has given me the chance to look at experiences in a bigger picture view. I own every part of my story — I don’t have to be ashamed of anything because I lived in. Even the parts that were difficult have brought me light to help me move onto the next chapter,” she smiles. 

There is a moment on ‘Blessed’, the album’s final track, where Suki repeats the phrase “I could be something.” It’s a profound statement to close this debut body of work — and for Waterhouse’s next era — even if the song started from a phone call with her parents in the midst of the pandemic. “I was having a conversation with them about everything going on and I had this sudden realisation, it was almost like I was seeing them clearly for the first time. I was thinking about everything they gave to me and how sometimes you have those silly moments where you think they are so deeply responsible for what I’m trying to work out within myself in so many ways. It’s a song that doesn’t follow a structure and after we made it I knew it was going to be the last song on the album. There’s just something about it…” 

Finding Perspective In Letting Go: Suki Waterhouse Interviewed

Now that the record is out, Suki Waterhouse is preparing for something else that’s new to her: touring. By the time this is published, she will have played shows in LA, New York, and London, giving fans a taste of what they can expect later this year when she supports her Sub Pop labelmate Father John Misty. “I’ve never done anything like this before, so spending two months on a bus is going to be great. I want to get as theatrical as possible because everything is my decision. I’ve taken on a lot of responsibility. Styling, set design, creative direction is all me. I might even stop at vintage stores along the way as a way to freshen our style — like pick up some cowboy boots in Dallas. It’s insane to think that, for the first time ever, I’m in charge of everything.”

For what might be the first time in her career, Suki Waterhouse feels like she really is letting go and moving on. “Having a lot of time to figure out what you want to say and how you want to say it is a gift,” she says. “Even if I regretted the years that would pass without releasing an album, not having anyone watching over me or pressuring me to make something is actually pretty rare. I can’t really believe that I actually wrote an album. The thing I wanted to do for so long is real. Since making this record, it feels like I’m savouring life in a different way. Music did that for me.” 

Finding Perspective In Letting Go: Suki Waterhouse Interviewed

Words: Kelsey Barnes
Photography: John P Heyes
Fashion: Hannah Elwell
Creative Direction: Rob Meyers

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