Strength And Stillness: Erika de Casier Interviewed

The future-leaning RnB star talks new album 'Still', songwriting for NewJeans and what not to ask a Dane....

When Dr. Dre released ‘Still D.R.E’ in 1999, he was asserting his status as a legend, ‘still the beat bangs, still I’m doing my thang’ he rapped. Both Monica and SWV released comeback albums titled ‘Still Standing’ and ‘Still’ respectively. As the title of Erika de Casier’s new album, the word ‘Still’ has a more tongue-in-cheek ring to it. “It’s funny because I haven’t actually been around that long,” says Erika, “but I’m still me. I’m still Jenny from the block!” she laughs. It certainly feels like a fitting title for an artist who named her debut ‘Essentials’.

CLASH catch up with Erika de Casier on a Friday morning to talk about her new album ‘Still’ (her best yet!), her unexpected turn as a K-Pop songwriter and the veil that is RnB stardom. Speaking from her flat in Copenhagen, Erika wears a hoodie with a large pair of headphones wrapped around her head while her cat snoozes next to the computer. Just like her music she is unhurried and open, taking her time to find the right words.

Erika de Casier’s star has risen slowly but surely over the past few years, claiming the title as your coolest friend’s favourite artist along the way. Her debut in 2019 showcased her pitch-perfect ear for the textures of 90s RnB – all smooth basslines, chimes and rimshots – which paired with her breathy vocals and slinky melodies, felt like an instant classic. Before she knew it, Dua Lipa was in her DMs and for her second album, ‘Sensational’, she signed with 4AD.  

But in the last year Erika de Casier has found herself at the centre of a global pop phenomenon. In 2022 she was invited to a studio session in Copenhagen to write for the buzzy K-Pop group NewJeans, along with friends, Norwegian pop-experimentalists Smerz. Erika co-wrote four of the six songs that ended up being the ‘Get Up’ EP which soared to number one on the Billboard charts last summer. Did she foresee being referred to as the secret weapon behind the hottest new act in K-Pop? “That’s crazy to me that you say that. No, no, no… When I was co-writing the songs, I didn’t know they would get picked and that the songwriting part would get so much attention. I didn’t think people would know it was me! It’s been surreal to see the songs reach their full potential with the music videos and everything. I love it.”

Photo Credit: Colin Solal Cardo

Erika’s sticky melodies were a perfect fit for the sugar-coated voices of Minji and co, and the throwback 2-step and liquid DnB was welcomed as a breath of fresh air in the K-Pop landscape. The EP has garnered over a billion streams and Erika was awarded Songwriter of the Year at the Danish Music Awards last year. Yet these accolades haven’t changed her approach to her own music. “I don’t Google my name before going into the studio.” Ahead of a release she is still struck by the same nerves, “but I’m feeling more comfortable in the fact that I am not always comfortable, if that makes sense?”

New album ‘Still’ is her most complete collection to date. The cornerstones of RnB and UK dance are still there, but the frame of reference has slightly shifted: think less Sade and more Timbaland. For example, the funky, exotic synth-line on ‘ooh’ could easily have been off the backend of ‘Miss E… So Addictive’. On ‘My Day Off’ there’s a bleepy-synth that Soulja Boy or Lil Wayne would have rocked with in ’08. As the Hype Williams-inspired album cover suggests, it sounds like an era when ‘futuristic’ was en vogue.  

The heftier sound comes from opening the studio to more collaborators. “I definitely think there was a need to work with others,” she states referring to the self-produced ‘Sensational’, which was written and recorded in the middle of lockdown. “Inviting people in naturally gives it something new,” says Erika before hastily adding, “I wasn’t in the studio with a bunch of writers and producers I didn’t know.” Along with her righthand man, producer Natal Zaks, she handpicked the right people to execute her vision. Jonathan Jull Ludvigsen and Carl Emil Johanssen contributed live instrumentation adding a new dimension to the track list, and Erika seems particularly happy with how Miami producer Nick León added punch to the drums on the Shygirl-assisted ‘Ex-Girlfriend‘.

Photo Credit: Colin Solal Cardo

‘Still’ is also Erika’s first album with features. Often these new voices play the masculine yin to her feminine yang: On ‘Ice’, the Florida rap-duo They Hate Change become the confused guys reacting to Erika’s ambivalence with lines like “what do you mean you don’t want me no more?” On ‘Twice’, Blood Orange (Dev Hynes) is cast as a ghostly former lover: “I pass your flat on the night bus” he sings, the pitter-patter of brushes on a snare drum sound like rain on a window in the early morning. 

Throughout ‘Still’ there’s tension between Erika’s confessional songwriting and the paparazzi-ducking RnB star on the cover. This role-play dynamic is something Erika has toyed with since her debut: “Sometimes I feel like I want to be a character. Sometimes I feel like I want to be my most honest, true self. It’s not that I can’t do that with the character, but it’s easier to tell the truth if you’re behind a safety net or behind a bit of a veil.”

For Erika the veil is not a binary à la Hanna Montana. The intimacy in Erika’s music lies in the slippage between the hyper-stylised and the mundane. Take ‘Do My Thing’ from her debut and how the DIY music video of her riding around on her bike (helmet strapped on tight) clashes with the uber-slick song. Or how ‘My Day Off’, which shows Erika at her most brash with dramatic strings and a booming 808, is literally about doing laundry. In the closing moments of ‘Toxic’, Erika lowers the veil when we hear her use her native tongue. “I wanted to argue with somebody on the phone and my initial reaction was just to say things in Danish,” she explains, “but it makes it feel like you’re in the room with me.”

Speaking of Danish, at this point in our conversation I couldn’t help but ask Erika about some Scandinavian quirks. Erika’s Danish, I’m Swedish, which means we both spend time explaining concepts such as “hygge” (cozy), “fika” (coffee break) or “the law of jante” (Scandi humbleness) to wide-eyed Brits. “I find myself mentioning these things like ´we have this thing called´ and then explaining the law of jante… it makes it seem as though it’s something we talk about all the time,” says Erika. “I get asked why I chose to live in Copenhagen which I think is funny. I like it here!” We add Max Martin and Scandi-design to the list, and before we know it our time is up. Next week Erika begins her tour which starts in Montreal and culminates in May with a show in London. Be sure to catch her on the road, but if you see her don’t ask her to explain what smørrebrød is.

‘Still’ is out now.

Words: Harry Thorfinn-George

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