Is there anything quite as excruciating as the suspended silence that follows when your favourite band or artist decide to pull the breaks? It’s that brief moment of uncertainty when you don’t know if it’s the end of a career that’ve had a major impact on your life or if it’s just a year off to recharge the batteries.
Nicole Sabouné was at her peak in 2015 after two successful albums in two years and was about to be launched in Germany, thus opening the door for a European tour. However, as many artists in the modern music industry are faced with, the collapse of the recording forces artists to be “always on, constantly gigging, recording, and making appearances”; touring now seems closer to a survival exercise than a good time. For most artist it’s a delicate matter to balance periods of intense touring and being off stage living a normal life. And for many people being emotionally torn apart by the “on and off stage” syndrome, Nicole pulled the breaks and went on an indefinite hiatus – until a really good friend brought her down to his studio and restarted what many fans have waited for.
When Nicole Sabouné made a stopover in Gothenburg on her five-date long mini-tour, we caught up with her and chat about the reason for her absence, growing as an artist over the last eight years and her new cinematic sound on the “Come My Love” EP.
Ready for Europe after a break
It’s great to see you being back again. You’ve had a break for nearly four years and started to study at the university during the break, but in October last year you returned to the scene with the ”Come My Love” EP and just recently you released a cover of Titiyo’s “Come Along”.
It was great to get a chance to release the Titiyo song because I never planned to do it, it was just something I did live, but we did a demo in the studio and it just sounded great. It’s an amazing song, and I love to interpret my favorite songs and don’t make too much of a fuzz about it. I’m just happy to have the opportunity to release music if I want to, that’s a sense of freedom for me.
Is this a definite return where you’ll put all your effort into restarting your career, or is it a return with a more relaxed attitude to music and a career in music?
I am a very serious person and whatever I do I put lots of effort in doing it seriously (laugh). What became very obvious to me after the break was how much I’ve missed working with music, especially to sing, that’s when I’m in my purest state. I’ve had that feeling after the shows at this mini-tour.
Being back in this context again is also special to me because it didn’t pan out well the last time and I was going through a rough time, for many reasons, not only because of music. But today it means so much to me to be back again doing what I love most.
Wasn’t it also the reason for having a break as well? You released two albums in two years and toured relentlessly at the back of those albums.
I did a lot of shows, but touring that much isn’t really who I am as a person because I love to be at home and have my routines (laugh).
However, today I’m very happy to have pulled off those two or three amazing years and all the shows connected to it because it gave me a huge confidence boost, and I were able to take control of how I want things to be and how I don’t want it to be. That’s something I put great value on today. But the break was really necessary, there’s no doubt about that.
Touring life must be very different from a normal work week where most days look the same.
Absolutely! I’ve always felt balanced when I have routines in life, I’ve been like that since I was a child, and when those routines don’t work out or they’re being interrupted I don’t feel well. For me it was very hard to find my way back to the routines when I was off stage, I never got back to a normal life when I wasn’t touring.
Today, as a full-time student, it feels like I have something specific to return to when I’m not touring. But I’ve also grown as a person and I’ve learned to be more flexible, that’s something I worked hard to achieve. It’s everything from being too much of a control freak to how I build my life after routines, I’m trying to be more relaxed about it.
But let’s say that you release your third album, which I’m quite sure will be a success when you consider your fans’ expectations, and it opens up for a massive tour. How would you go about that and to make it work out with how you live your life today?
There will be a third record, I can promise you that (laughs).
It’s already a bit of a clash at the moment. Being on tour every weekend while doing full-time university studies can be quite frustrating because I have lots of exams and mandatory seminars to attend, that’s a maze of things to navigate through. At the moment I push myself quite hard to be able to do both, but I have to stay vigilant and not push too hard.
But if someone would offer me a European tour I would go for it for sure (laugh).
Wasn’t there a campaign launched in Germany right after you released your second album, ”Miman”? I remember you played Wave Gotik Treffen.
Yeah, there was a German label doing some sort of campaign back then, but that year is kind of blurred to me (laugh).
And the show at WGT; that’s probably one of the worst shows I ever did experience-wise. Nothing worked out, the monitors didn’t work out and I couldn’t hear anything, but apparently people liked the show which I find quite amazing from my position in that chaos on stage (laugh). But just to play at WGT was a great experience, it’s an awesome festival.
If you allow yourself to be a bit retrospective; you have a unique position as an artist because you’ve experienced both sides of the industry, one that build an artist as a brand by following some sort of commercial model, via The Voice, and then you left for a career in the independent scene.
We’ve met a few artists in Germany with similar experiences and a recurring subject for our conversations has been how little artistic freedom and control you have when being branded by someone else. Music, clothes, performances – it’s all decided by someone else. How has your artistic freedom changed if you allow yourself to compare the start of your career to where you’ve ended up today?
Ola [Salo] and Nico [Niklas Stenemo] cared for me a lot from the beginning, and Ola gave me the freedom to be the artist I wanted to be already when he was my mentor in The Voice, he gave me that space to develop and create what was me.
But I’m also ruthless (laugh). I own my vision, I’m the creator and the explorer and I won’t let anyone jeopardize that. It may be that the process needs more time when I make all decisions but that’s how it is. It’s not that I’m always right when I work with people in music, what I say isn’t “the law”, but when it’s all done and you bring it into a wider context of the industry, I’ll stand by vision to 110%.
What would you say is the biggest change today when you consider how many years you’ve worked in music?
I’ve changed label three times and that had a major impact on me because I had to find my own way and work with people I like and people that inspire me, but also find people who believe in me even when I decide to have a four-year long break; people who are still there when I return to the scene.
My management has always been there for me whatever decision I’ve ever made, and they still believe in what I do. That’s one of the most important changes or lessons I’ve learned, who will be there whatever I do and who will not. I’ve learned who I want to have close to me.
People turned their backs when you went on a hiatus?
Yes, but I can also understand it because that’s how they work, but I don’t work like that. But it’s not wrong what they do. It’s all about finding people who want to work like yourself. You always pick people you get along with, and people where there’s chemistry, a lot of chemistry (laugh).
Inspired by soundtracks
After a four-year long hiatus Nicole Sabouné returned to the scene with new EP “Come My Love” last year. As Nicole has evolved as a songwriter over the last eight years, so has her music. Gone are the poppy indie beats and instead the listener is introduced to a cinematic sonic landscape building on similar soundscapes as Sigur Rós and one of Nicole’s favourite artists Ólafur Arnalds which put focus on her. But wouldn’t it be for one of her best friends, she may still be on a break.
Your new EP “Come My Love” brings the listener into a new sonic landscape. You’ve always progressed and the sound changed quite much between your first and second album, but today it’s very close to being soundtrack music. I also know that you have developed a lot as a songwriter and have more control of the writing process today. Does it mean that the sound of “Come My Love” is how you always wanted Nicole Sabouné to sound like?
I’ve always wanted to be the kind of artist, and a person, that continuously develop and push the boundaries. Where it will end up I don’t know, that’s something I have to figure out while getting there. That’s a bit spaced-out, I know (laugh)!
I sing in a special way and my voice have evolved a lot the last eight years, and at the same time I have improved my song-writing skills because I’ve spent time reflecting on who I am as a song-writer and how I want a song to sound. My voice is my main instrument, that’s what I can work with on my own. But I rarely reflect on the sound, it’s never like “I want it to sound just like this”. That process develops organically in the studio or when you reflect on what harmonies work out with my voice.
But I do envy the first album at times because it had a simplicity that is really difficult to get back to or recreate today. It happens that I’m like “How did we do it? Why does it sound like that? Who was I back then?”, and it’s great to be able to reflect on it like that today.
I read somewhere that your first album was a learning period for you as a songwriter.
Totally! I wasn’t in a key position back then, Nico was fundamental to the writing process at “Must Exist”, but I learned a lot from working with him. When we started writing the second album I really wanted to explore who I was and what type of song-writer I am, and that transition between the first and the second album was good for me.
Let’s talk your cinematic sound on the EP. It sounds like an eerie science fiction soundtrack mixed with Sigur Rós and Ólafur Arnalds.
That’s so nice of you to say that because Ólafur Arnalds is one of my favourite artists, and the EP is inspired of that kind of artists. I’ve listened a lot to soundtracks and instrumental music lately just to explore what sonic landscape works out best with my idea of a song.
On the last EP I worked with Emil Nilsson, one of my best friends. We share the same taste in soundtrack music and have similar ideas about stuff, and all that together means that we approach music the same way. It’s been great to work with him because he’s awesome on what he’s doing.
We just found each other directly when working on the EP; I was like “This is what I listen to at the moment” and he told me to come down to the studio to work it out. I told him I was inspired by AIR’s “Virgin Suicides” soundtrack and that I love what Ólafur Arnalds does, and music by Nils Frahm and Hildur Guðnadóttir. He just said “I get it” (laugh).
It was Emil who got me back to the studio and it’s all because of him that the new EP happened.
I guess it would be a dream come true to work with those artists?
Absolutely! I wouldn’t hesitate for a second! Ólafur Arnalds or Nils frahm, or Sigur Rós – they’re all great bands.
You’ve soon finished this mini-tour, what will happen the rest of 2020? Is there a new single or an EP, or maybe a full album in the works at the moment?
I think I’m going back to a writing process when I’m back from the tour, but I don’t think it’s going to be music that follows the same path as on the last EP. I’ve never worked like that before, I’ve always started in a concept for every new writing process whatever that may be.
The reason I only released an EP in October was that I had this feeling that it was enough (laugh), I didn’t find it interesting to continue on the concept anymore. Now I have fresh ideas to explore, which will lead me in another direction.
Does it also involve a complete change of sound?
I’m not sure, let’s wait and see. The point is that I’ve started to listen to music from other cultures like Tinariwen and Mariem Hassam, a West Sahara artist who’s one of my favourite artists at the moment. It’s something completely different but I will mix it with soundtrack music and we’ll have to wait and see what comes out of it (laugh).
Nicole Sabouné pages