Q&A // Robyn Sherwell

by AdamTait
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on 23 March 2016 in Features

Featured on the Suffragette soundtrack and swiftly building an immense online following, Robyn Sherwell is quickly becoming a name to know. Her wonderfully interwoven compositions and remarkable voice make for a twinkling gem of originality among a music scene saturated with singer-songwriters convinced they’re doing something different. Her music is a striking embodiment of its creator’s personality, but the stories remain touchingly accessible and familiar.

We had a chat with Robyn about where her songs come from, how she puts them together and the experience of releasing a debut album.

Firstly, could you tell us a little bit about the album's genesis? Was it something that grew out of the preceding EPs, or has it been brewing for longer than that? Where were its beginnings?

It’s been brewing for a good while. Some of the songs were written before I had any label support, others came later. The EPs have helped introduce people to what I’m doing and develop the foundation for an album, but I was always working with a full-length in mind.

The compositions all seem to fit together rather intricately. Could you tell us a bit about your writing process and how songs develop?

I have different writing experiences with different songs – some come quite quickly, both in terms of the melody and lyrics, as well as production ideas. That’s usually the case if I’m writing using beats or loops in Logic - those elements tend to set up a vibe from the outset. And then other songs might initially be a piano-voice demo, which go through various iterations whilst I experiment with the production. I think the fact that I worked with one producer for the whole record contributed to creating the intricacy mentioned.

A lot of these songs seem to be about quite personal experiences. Is it difficult putting things like that out into such a public forum? Or cathartic?

The public end point couldn’t really be further from my mind when I’m writing my songs. At least that’s been the case with this album. The writing process can be cathartic, and I enjoy it for its own sake. The public release process is something else though; it feels separate. I think while a song may be inspired by personal experience, in time it becomes a thing in its own right – people read their own stories into it, relate to it in their own way.

What impact has your upbringing in Guernsey had on your music?

The physicality of the island influences my writing sometimes – certain oceanic metaphors, and in particular my song “Islander” which is directly inspired by the history of the island, by my experience growing up there and the notions of home and belonging that go with that.

David Kosten produced the record, what impact did his involvement have?

David brought a sense of fun to the recording process. It was really creatively rewarding working with him. A couple of my songs he really transformed from the demos I had, with specific ideas that he suggested. But then with some of my demos I thought we would want to re-record everything, he would insist they had a charm already, and just sought to enhance them. He really helped bring the sound together across the whole album.

What were your greatest worries and biggest thrills about releasing a debut album?

It’s not a worry as such – but I’ve lived with some of these songs a long time, and I’m probably not the exact same person I was when I wrote them, or at least I’m not in the same place in my life. That’s a little odd, when the general public are hearing the material for the very first time. Like some kind of bizarre jet-lag. On the thrill-side - people are hearing it for the very first time! That’s pretty thrilling. And I get to go on tour and play the album live in places I’ve never played, which is another new experience.

A lot of people will have first come across you via your string of YouTube covers. Was it important to you to use these as a way of showcasing your influences?

I’d like to say yes, but it wasn’t anywhere near as well thought out as that. I was just doing what I felt like doing creatively and enjoying the process of making things and collaborating. I didn’t have any management or label at that time, I just did what felt right. And in my experience so far, following that instinct can be much more powerful than end-gaming or trying to showcase a particular thing. It means what you share is just genuine, in-the-moment stuff. And if that stuff gets a positive reaction, great – it’s what you were doing anyway.

Do you have a favourite cover by another artist?

Not an all-time favourite. I do adore Donny Hathaway’s live cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’. And literally just this week I heard a cover of Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ by Kina Grannis which gave me chills. I’m massively late to the party on that one, I think it’s from 2014! But it reminded me how great that song is, that it could work so well through such a different portrayal.

Your cover of 'Landslide' found its way onto the Suffragette soundtrack. What was your initial reaction to the song being picked up for the film? Was there any trepidation?

I was totally thrilled. I was quite floored by how well it fitted; the trailer moved me to tears.

What should fans expect from your live shows?

For this tour I’m playing really intimate venues. I think that makes sense for showcasing the album I’ve made – it is quite a personal record, so I’m going to be putting the songs themselves and my voice at the centre of things. I can’t wait to just get out and play.

Robyn's self-titled debut album is out 25th March on Birdland Records


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