While the advent of a global pandemic is unlikely to ever be considered ‘good’ timing, the Covid-19 outbreak and quarantine has seen the cancellation of countless festivals, tours and musical releases, with many independent music venues grappling to be able to reopen having suffered serious financial blows, and emerging artists without the means to record or perform. All in all, it’s a fairly bleak time for the music industry.
For Denai Moore, however, the release of her third full-length album Modern Dreadhas never felt more timely. As the title suggests, the album confronts feelings of dread, boredom, anxiety, insecurity and power via a genre-free meld of tender vocals, future-pop guitar riffs and hypnotic synth vibrations.
Her piercing soul vocals first commanded attention on SBTRKT’s 2014 album Wonder Where We Land when she was just 21, and since then, the British-Jamaican artist has made waves with her solo releases. She started out with robust piano ballads on the Rodiadh McDonald-produced Elsewhere in 2015, before shifting into lighter, hazier textures on 2017’s We Used to Bloom, a celebratory record about self-acceptance that gained her critical acclaim.
Spending the last two years creating this album with Alex Robertshaw – guitarist and keyboardist in Everything Everything – there was no way of knowing the climate that this album would be released into. And yet, Moore’s maturing sound has developed into her most complex, personal and political work to date, expertly exploring themes of hopelessness and concern for the future. It speaks directly to the worries that many of us hold right now, and makes for one hell of a pop album with heart.
We chatted to the Margate-based singer-songwriter on the album release, her creative process in quarantine and how Black female artists can be supported in the music industry.
As I was writing the album, I felt these deep feelings. It’s about that, but also about the world – about global warming, and my place and significance in the world as a human being. So a lot of it is this heavy sense of dread.
Firstly, how has quarantine been for you?
I’ve found it really healing in a sense – before lockdown I was working a lot. it was nice to be forced to be at home for a period of time, and do things at a slower pace. I live by the sea in Margate, which is so connected to nature.
How, if at all, has the lockdown affected your creativity?
It’s been nice to make music at a slower pace at home and have to rely on myself to get an idea out. Normally I do a session with someone else, or if I want to demo a song I’d work with a producer or an engineer. So I’ve become a bit more self-sufficient.
Congratulations on the new single Motherless Child. I know you had revisited the song several times before its release – can you talk to me about that process?
Thank you! This song was written for my debut but never really fit on the record. It’s changed so much since the original as Alex and I started from scratch and it just felt so much fresher. It feels like it was meant to come out on this album, a lot of the times you write songs that aren’t right or you don’t ever get right, but years later it makes more sense. This was one of those.
While singling out one ‘favourite’ track from the album might be difficult, is there a song you’re most proud of?
I’m really proud of Hail because it also took quite a while to get right. There are so many versions of this song, and it was a difficult song to figure out, it was really satisfying to hear it because it’s so layered and dense.
The music videos for your recent singles and your album cover both are stunning. What is your process for visualising your music?
I start to visualise a world around a song as it’s coming together, especially with. the album cover. Nadira and I have been talking about it for years, and have been collecting some references and inspirations along the way.
The album title ‘Modern Dread’ feels apt during this time – is it important for you to highlight social and political issues in your music?
It would be inauthentic of me to not make anything that doesn’t highlight social and political issues. The ‘dread’ comes from not feeling in control of how we exist in the world – it can feel quite overwhelming, and we open social media platforms not knowing what we’ll see. Whether it’s someone being killed, or who’s the latest addition to the billionaire list, or what Trump has tweeted, or who’s cancelled today… then we go back to work. I’m writing new things now, and the pandemic has definitely affected my writing, I’m very fascinated to see the albums that are written at this time. Art is cathartic and often mirrors what we all internally feel in some ways, and that’s the way I write.
In light of recent #theshowmustbepaused online movement, what changes would you like to see take place in the music industry and how can the industry support BIPOC womxn?
We have to talk about the lack of support of black artists (especially women) in the UK. It does feel like time and time again so many artists failed, as well as allowing black artists to be themselves and define how their own sound. The number of times I’ve been ‘politely’ told that my music “isn’t black enough” is insane. What does that mean? I think A&R’s too often commodify artists instead of liberating them. The conversation we’re having now has to be matched by action for it to be meaningful. Diversifying the powerful rooms is the next step – the UK does feel behind America in that sense.
The number of times I’ve been ‘politely’ told that my music “isn’t black enough” is insane. What does that mean?
At BRICKS we like to share the love – who are some emerging creatives in your field who you think are killing it?
Moses Sumney’s newest record Græ is gorgeous, definitely one of my favourites this year. I’m also really here for what Noname has been doing with her platform, she’s such a talent and I’d love to collaborate with her one day.
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