We navigate multiple worlds on a daily basis. Through the updates beaming at us through our screens, the pages of the novel we’re consuming on our commute, the series we’re binge-watching on Netflix and the alternative realities being spun to us by the media. Some of these are positive, some are negative - it’s really all a matter of perspective.
Little Simz is doing her best to keep her head above water; chasing her white rabbit across parallel dimensions as she searches for inner-peace, not just for herself, but those around her too. ‘Stillness In Wonderland’: it’s the name of her second album, but to her, her Space Age family and their core fans, it’s so much more. Her contemporary reimagining of Lewis Carroll’s classic story, comes at a time in which escapism is perhaps more vital than ever before.
“Art is open for interpretation,” says the 22-year-old, taking a break from her heavy rehearsal schedule. “How ever anyone wants to look at the story of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is completely up to them. I feel like everyone is Alice, everyone has their White Rabbit and everyone is in their own little Wonderland - it’s a universal concept. And it was coinciding with the events that were happening in my life; this industry is a bit of a maze, [the lines are blurred] between what’s real and what’s not.”
Sonically, ’Stillness In Wonderland’, plunges the listener into a multitude of different settings: the feel good ambition of ‘Wide Awake’, the claustrophobic paranoia of ‘King Of Hearts’, the hopeless melodies of ‘Poison Ivy’. An organic and living environment packed with lush live instrumentation, it’s broad, ambitious and carries a message that transcends 15 audio files.
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There’s a lot of people that are like me, who feel like there’s no one they can relate to...
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Simz has built a whole world around the album; a Jeremy Cole-directed short film, a sold out comic book and even its own festival. “I want to be able to enjoy the work that I do,” Simz shrugs. “It’s fun to be able to piece together a comic with a really dope illustrator, and to be able to sit down and collaborate on a film with my long time director Jeremy Cole. It’s fun to be able to go back and forth between L.A. and London recording music. I don’t want it to feel like a job!”
Her goal is to create a fully immersive experience, one that represents her like-minded devotees, as much as herself. “There’s a lot of people that are like me, who feel like there’s no one they can relate to, no one that understands them,” she expresses. “I just want to let those people know, ‘I do get you, and this is our world’ as opposed to mine. I’m trying to build it for them.”
Perhaps the most ambitious aspect of this world is the live experience that she’s currently planning to engulf North London’s Roundhouse with in a few days. Following a model pioneered across the pond by artists like Drake, Tyler The Creator and Chance The Rapper, Simz is stepping up and putting on her own festival, the ‘Welcome To Wonderland: The Experience’.
“Stress” is the first word she uses to describe the venture so far, before conceding: “It’s been hard work, but I’ve got this image of the day in my head and I know its not going to be for nothing. I think it’s going to be an important show.” The Roundhouse has been entangled in Simz’ story since she was 16 years old. She remembers entering a competition in the 250 capacity small space and being unsuccessful. “I was gutted,” she admits. “I went back a couple of years later to perform in the same small place. To return down the line and headline the main space, 3000 people, is super cool for me.”
Between two stages - the Wonderland stage and the Rabbit Hole stage - ‘Welcome To Wonderland’ boasts a cherry-picked line-up of Simz’ favourite acts including Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins, Los Angeles soul singer Tiffany Gouché, London all-girl jazz collective Nérija and rising vocalist Sipprell. Simz will then finish the night with a performance of her latest LP from front-to-back. “I don’t think it’s an album you can just hear a couple of songs from and be satisfied,” she says. “I think for people to get really immersed in the whole experience it’s going to take for me to do all of the songs. This is the first time I’ll be playing it with a band so it’s going to be a completely different feel.”
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I’ve now reached a place where I’m focusing my energy on projecting good...
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Aside from the musical line-up, ‘Welcome To Wonderland’ will boast an art exhibition from collaborator McKay Felt and opportunities for her fans to buy merch, including ‘Stillness In Wonderland’ vinyl for the first time.
“I felt like it was too big to limit it to just music,” she says, explaining her decision to spread her ideas across other media. Simz’ sold out comic book has been a successful aspect of the album’s venture into other media. The first issue - a collaboration with manager Eddie ‘Versetti’ Smith (who she admits is a way bigger comic fan than her) and illustrator McKay Felt - sold out instantly online, which Simz humbly admits she wasn’t surprised about: “I think there was a lot of curiosity [around the comic book], I think people wanted to see what it was about.”
The comic depicts Simz in an alternate universe where she is one of the “Last Free Kings”, tearing herself from the machine to face off against a sinister, grinning corporate known as Cheshire in pursuit of her White Rabbit. As she steps through the portal into Wonderland she encounters a world of people glued to their phone screens, reliant on technology to guide them. “If I wasn’t a musician, I would probably have an Instagram with 30 followers and it would be mad turnt all the time - just banter,” she imagines. “I just know when I need to be on it for work purposes own whatever it is, and then take myself off it because I don’t like the idea of being in that world 24/7. That world has it’s way of eating you up.”
She admits that, while she’s enjoyed an overwhelming amount of success over the past few years, one of her main obstacles has been ridding her mind of other people’s opinions. Often slipping into the wrong side of the digital realm, at times Simz has found herself consumed by the sprinkling of negative comments that inevitably stick out from the vastly positive support. “[It’s important to] not let anyone’s ideas or opinions interfere with what I’m doing, my beliefs or how I feel,” she reflects. “Everyone’s always got something to say; she should be doing this, she should be doing that, she keeps going to America. I don’t have to look at that stuff, I don’t have to pay attention to it. That alone has been a bit of a challenge, but I’ve now reached a place where I’m focusing my energy on projecting good, that I’m not giving those distractions the time of day.”
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I think I’ve been in Wonderland since I was a kid to be honest, it’s only just hitting me now..
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Despite this, Simz maintains faith in technology, believing that it’s our own misuse that has lead us to a world of procrastination and interference. “I think with all of the stuff going on in the world today it’s low-key our way out,” she predicts. “We just need to know how to use it properly, and to our advantage as opposed to abusing it.”
Wonderland, in the context of both Lewis Carroll’s novel and Little Simz' album, leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Whether it’s a dream or a nightmare is really a matter of perspective. Simz’ personal Wonderland is a constantly evolving state of mind. “I think I’ve been in Wonderland since I was a kid to be honest, it’s only just hitting me now,” she considers. “Right now I’m in a really good place in Wonderland. I’m really happy and content.”
However, despite the moment of peace that she’s currently experiencing, she remains vigilant as her adventure down the rabbit hole continues, and the world around her begins to obscure. “I’m trying to remain in a place of solitude and sanity. I can feel people starting to act different. Things are beginning to look a bit abnormal, and I’m just trying not to make it so bait in my face. To remain calm and navigate my way through,” she admits, as our conversation draws to its conclusion.
“This is me realising that as much as I have a family, friends and a I have a team, I’m really out here on my own. I’m about to be 23 in a couple of days now, it’s another chapter in my life. I have more to learn and a long way to go. I've started working on new music, thinking about my next record. I'm trying to stay one step ahead.”
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Little Simz presents ‘Welcome To Wonderland: The Experience’ takes place this Sunday (February 12th) as part of Roundhouse Rising Festival. Book tickets HERE.
Words: Grant Brydon