Transitions: Sasha Keable Interviewed

Transitions: Sasha Keable Interviewed

"I just want the listeners to feel how honest I've been..."

There aren’t many singers who can sing like Sasha Keable. Since her reboot in 2018 with ‘That’s The Shit’ and the tinted retro soul of ‘Treat Me Like Yours’ that followed a year later, Keable has patiently refined a sound that centres her grainy, acrobatic voice, making the most mundane sentiments reverberate with emotional impact.

New EP ‘Intermission’ finds Keable at her most brooding; an intense, evocative rapture in and out of love. Abounding in brassy girl group splendour, Keable motions through the stages of a relationship breakdown. From the heart-tugging vulnerability on ‘My Mind’ where Keable stands under the glaring spotlight of self-scrutiny, to the Spanish guitar-inflected ‘Killing Me’ with Jorja Smith segueing to the jazzier, defiant overtures of ‘Never Knew Love’, self-love and preservation ultimately prevail.

Sasha Keable opened up to Clash about battling through pandemic angst, the catharsis that came with writing ‘Intermission’ and the ongoing pursuit of equilibrium.

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Let’s start with your new single ‘Killing Me’ with Jorja Smith, a seductive piece of heartbreak melodrama evoking classic female duets of past. What was that experience like bringing Jorja into your world?

Me and Jorja are friends who really respect each other as artists. We wrote the song in about four hours in one studio session, it was so quick! It was one of those really rare, lovely moments in the studio where everything just comes together. We didn’t overthink it. We were both in really similar mental states, Jorja had just gone through a breakup and I was going through a breakup and it just made sense. We worked with Benjamin (Totten) who is such an amazing person to collaborate with, he's a proper friend to both of us. The song is quite dark and dramatic but the session itself was light and fun.

You kicked off the new era with ‘Exception’ earlier this year, a big power ballad. Together with ‘Killing Me’, these are big vocal moments. Vocally who influenced you growing up but also during the recording of this album?

Donny Hathaway is my biggest vocal influence; I find the way he sings really inspiring. Also, his daughter Lalah Hathaway. They're two of my biggest vocal influences. A more contemporary influence would be Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon, the tonality of her voice is so unique. I guess a subconscious part of myself channels Donny Hathaway but vocally I try and do my own thing.

You’re gearing up to release your EP ‘Intermission’. It’s a coherent body of work, very adult contemporary in sound and feel. Is it a natural reflection of where you are in your life now?

I feel very grown right now. Very much so. My childhood and my teen years feels like a million years ago. It’s all a natural progression. It’s been great to hear it myself as I listen back to the songs, see the development and the progression within my writing, the subjects I’m writing about. It’s life, it follows the ebb and flow of life and life has definitely humbled me down into a pulp. But you know what? I’m okay.

If writing is a form of therapy, what did you need to expound and get off your chest this time round?

I was going through a breakup for most of the EP, so ‘Intermission’ is definitely a breakup EP, as cliché as that sounds. There's still some positive and uplifting messages throughout. There are self-affirming songs on there like ‘Don't Get Lost’ and ‘Never Knew Love’. They're quite weirdly positive, actually. I don't generally write those kinds of positive songs; it doesn't come naturally to me but I think I was in quite a big transition period. I just needed that boost; I needed those songs more than anything else.

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What's striking about this EP is even though heartbreak is the core, it's offset at times by quite buoyant production. There’s balance between light and dark…

It's really interesting to hear that, to hear what other people think of it because I’ve been living with these songs for so long. I think you’re right; it definitely has that kind of juxtaposition of light and dark. It shows my mental space at the time and these songs definitely feel like intimate diary entries into a period of my life.

One of my favourite songs from the EP is ‘Never Knew Love’…

Originally that was going to be the first single!

It’s special! It gives me Jill Scott vibes. What's the story behind ‘Never Knew Love’?

The song was recorded before the breakup happened but I knew that something was off. I needed to tell myself that I loved myself because I wasn't getting that from the relationship. I needed to affirm myself and perform self-love. If you can't love yourself how can you love somebody else? I needed that song in my life at that moment. I find a lot of romance and poetry in sad situations and not happy situations but this song was that rare moment of lightness. Also, it’s grounded in live instrumentation. I actually performed the track at my Village Underground show and I got the whole crowd to sing the middle eight. It’s my feel-good song.

As it’s such a sentimental project derived from deeply personal experiences, are some tracks harder to relive?

Oh absolutely! I’m an emotional person, I feel things strongly. I've cried to ‘My Mind’ so many times! I've literally got drunk, sat and listened to that song – it’s the ultimate breakup song.

‘Intermission’ is doused in live instrumentation. When you're recording are you thinking how these songs will translate when you perform them? Does that factor into it into your writing process?

I think it’s a much simpler process for me. I've had songs in the past where it hasn't translated live so I don’t adopt that way of working. I only work with piano and that's how the song lives before I even get in the studio with the band. I find it the easiest to write like that, for the song to be great when stripped back when you just have the bare bones of a song. I think this project actually benefits from that simplicity.

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It’s been quite the journey for you as an artist. Right now, would you say you're at your strongest artistically? Do you feel secure in your artistry?

I poured so much of myself into these songs, from writing down to the melodies and vocal production, which wasn't the case on the last EP. This project showcases my growth and confidence as a writer and I don't necessarily need someone to bounce off. It's definitely been a process of self-acceptance. If you'd have asked me that question last year just before lockdown, I would've said I'm at my strongest now and it's only going to get better. I think that lockdown made everyone take a step back a little bit. It’s very easy to feel out of practice but I'm just trying to centre my mental health. That said, I do feel I’m evolving and the next thing I do will definitely be bigger and better.

I don’t think it’s gets discussed enough; the psychological toll the last year has had on everyone let alone in a creative sense…

I'm trying to be as kind to myself as possible. I can't even get out of bed some days let alone go and record. I'm trying to find the right balance and focus on keeping myself content. I’ve suffered from severe bouts of depression in the past, so I’m focusing on the small things that bring me stability.

Which artists have you relied on the last year? Which artists have given you aural pleasure?

Amaarae is one I’ve been listening to on repeat. Her song ‘Sad Girlz Love Money’ is so good, it such a celebration. Pa Salieu’s project is still the one. Also, I’ve been digging Kali Uchis’ Spanish album.

In the context of your career thus far, what do you want this EP to say?

I just want the listeners to feel how honest I've been and how I really haven't held back this time. I’m quite a candid person anyway in my day to day life but I feel like for the first time it’s coming through in my work. It’s very raw and introspective. I listen to these songs and feel different emotions every time, I can’t wait for people to identify themselves within these songs.

This project has crossover potential. Are you an artist looking for chart success this time round?

Success is success and of course the more people I can reach the better but I’ve never been an artist striving for a number one. A lot of the time you don’t necessarily have any control over that, especially now. If it connects with people, it connects with people. That's the bottom line. All I want is to play decent live shows around the world and connect with people that way.

What’s next for you. Are you recording an album? Or this very much your focus for now?

We don't really know what the next project is going be. I'm not putting too much pressure on myself, that the next thing has to be an album. It’s more about getting back in the studio and writing as much as I can as it’s such an instrumental and healing part of my life. 

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Sasha Keable's new EP 'Intermission' is incoming.

Words: Shahzaib Hussain
Photography: @Sophographylondon
MUA: @emilywoodmakeup
Hair: @Laurainebailey

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