Flown The Whole Blue Sky: Finding Connie Constance
Connie Constance has always wanted to do her own thing.
Growing up around music, her life has been soundtracked by reggae, trip hop, pop, rap, indie and so much more, ranging from all-time classics to the latest underground cut.
So when she decided to piece together her debut album Connie's problem wasn't a lack of material, it was where precisely to draw the line.
Clash caught Watford's own Connie Constance performing at ad hoc Shoreditch venue the Treehouse a few days ago, and she spoke about the processes behind her record.
Performing a few tracks from debut LP 'English Rose', the stylistic variations were held together by a common purpose, and an overwhelmingly soulful kind of honesty.
A few hours before the show Clash caught up with Connie Constance, to discuss the making of her debut album.
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So, how are you?
I’m good! Just doing some last minute organising for my launch party.
In a treehouse, no less!
Yeah! Apparently… this is what I’ve told – I’ve seen pictures!
Congratulations on the album, it’s a wonderfully broad experience.
I think when I first started making it I was just experimenting, really, with music, and then I had to start deciding what sounds I wanted to represent me. And then I was like, well, I don’t want anything that’s too Americanised, or doesn’t sound British. If I’m going to make one thing then all the sounds, all the genres, all the roots have to be UK as that’s what I grew up on. The UK is the root.
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The title track is a Paul Weller cover, which is a very daring thing to take on.
I was just excited to do it when I first got into the studio. When everyone was down to release it I thought, oh man this could go horribly wrong! Paul Weller’s fans might have it! It was a bit daunting when it came to actually releasing it.
And everyone loved it!
I was surprised! People were actually down. I made it different so people didn’t feel like I was trying to rip off his thing, I was creating my own version.
In the press note you talk about reinventing the concept of the English Rose – the country has changed so much since Paul Weller wrote that song.
It’s so different. All the music that is coming out the UK has this fusion feel, this fusion of genres, because we have to… otherwise we’re just rehashing something that’s already been done.
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That’s evident in your choice of collaborators, too – Mura Masa, Alfa Mist, Dave Okumu…
Yes! I wanted the freedom to play with anything I wanted to, and then when I was working with Jim Abiss we really fine-tuned the sound together, and found how it needed to sound as a whole. I like that way of working because it means I can go in to sessions and not feel as though I can’t try something new each time.
So the writing sessions were completely open?
Pretty much! At the beginning, at least. Once I knew I was making an album I started thinking about what I would need. Sometimes I would go into sessions and think, well what I want is to talk about this subject, because I haven’t spoken about it yet and I want this topic to be on this album.
It took really, truly three years to make this. The first year I wasn’t thinking too tough, I was just making as much music as possible. Then probably the following year that’s when I started to put a project together, realising what I wanted my first album to be about and what I wanted to stand for.
Producer Jim Abiss’s involvement seems to be more of a refining process, is that right?
Yeah. He even helped with my demos, picking which ones were the strongest. I really owe so much to him because he put confidence in my own choices, he made me feel I could say when I knew the way I wanted things to be. That was probably the first person I’ve worked with who valued the fact that I had an ear for what I wanted the sound to be.
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Dave Okumu helped on this record, and he’s got enormous experience…
Oh mate! Basically, he sent me this track that had two guitars on it, and it was all these different chord changes, key changes… and I thought: how the fuck am I going to write to this? But it sounded so good! And from then on I’ve written some of my favourite songs with Dave Okumu. He just sets the base for you to do something that’s difficult in an enjoyable way. That’s the only way I can explain it!
For someone who loves writing songs he creates the best tasks – you want to write to it because you know it’s going to come off well, you know the way he’s structured it is exciting, and the melodies you’re going to find will open up a nice song. He’s so meticulous because he’s just trying to fine-tune a certain sound. He’s literally the uncle you’ve needed all your life! The music uncle. He will sit down with you, make a cup of tea, and be like: right Connie… what’s going on?
Mura Masa has been so successful in his field, it must have been a real joy to work with him.
Mura Masa and I made three songs together, and he’s just brilliant – it’s like creating your character in sound. When we started working I would hear things that I had never thought to use before, like trap sounds, or electronic hip-hop sounds. If I did it was a bit more psychedelic, if I’d ever used it before. The way he used it just opened me up. He’s a really good producer, but he’s just really good with artists, and you can hear that in the stuff he does with other people, as well.
It’s such a broad palette to draw from, was there a moment when those ideas collided and you realise what the album was going to be?
We dived right in and picked whatever song felt closest to both of us and then starting working on it. Sometimes we’d time out, and just leave the song alone for a little bit, and then work on another tune.
I remember on ‘Bloody British Me’ we had some mad breakthrough. There was a part where I wasn’t keen on the drums, Jim wasn’t keen on the direction it was going, and we didn’t know what to do. It was one of my favourite tunes, but then Harry from Peace was there, and he is just insane on the guitar, so he started doing this little riff for the chorus, and then from there we decided to trip it out, and go into this other space on the tune.
We took that moment and used it a lot on other songs. Any time we got stuck we’d do something really experimental, just to see what happens. That was probably a turning point for us, and we started to get excited for the breakthrough then.
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‘Fast Cars’ made a big impression, what prompted it?
‘Fast Cars’ is one of them songs where the lyrics on paper didn’t change. I literally wrote it down and recorded it within 20 minutes. It’s one of them songs that was just natural, like it was meant to be written. I love that tune – it’s so cheeky!
Did many of the songs come naturally, or did some need a bit more work?
Sometimes I think a song needs to brew a little bit. I have that writing style where if I know what I want to talk about then it flows out of me quite naturally because I’m just being harsh with it, I know exactly what I want to say. When it comes to the production side, I’m happy to let something sit until I decide what direction I want to take it in. I don’t feel the need to rush a tune to be finished.
‘Let Go’ was one of the first songs that I wrote after being signed, and we left it without any drums… and about 18 months later we put full drums on and it completely changed the song.
It must have been very beneficial to have that space to work with.
I feel like it means I will always look back on this record as the beginning of everything. In the sense of it’s the beginning of me finding out what I want to do with music. I’m happy, and I want to continue to have that space in my work but also to have a more stable grounding of what I want to do musically, and to explore from.
Do you feel like you’ve found Connie Constance on this record?
Oh yeah! This is the record! But I don’t know what my second record will be like… I’ve started to demo it. But this – it just sums me up to a tee. It might be harder for people to break down and understand, but I’m really proud of it. It’s what I wanted to make.
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Photography: Sophie Jones
'English Rose' is out now.
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