Connie Constance, a UK rising star, talks political music, R&B and Muhammad Ali
Mixing old-school indie-rock influences with soft R&B, Constance is unlike anyone else around right now.
Header photo by Lily Rose Thomas.
When going past 2018's most successful genres, it's hard to look past R&B. While its quicker-paced and typically harder-hitting sibling rap music has proved dominative (hip-hop officially overtook rock music to become the most popular genre worldwide earlier this year), R&B has soothly rose alongside it in the background, pushed forward by the radio-friendly croon of Khalid and Daniel Caesar, or the more sensual glide of acts such as Teyana Taylor, H.E.R., Kali Uchis and more. In the UK, similar is happening: amongst stand-out years from acts including Dave and Little Simz sits Jorja Smith, Nao and Tirzah, among others, who each add a slight, UK twang to sit in their own lane away from the US' dominance.
While she may not have the commercial acclaim as artists like Jorja Smith or a full record under her belt, like Nao or Tirzah, Connie Constance is an artist riding this wave. Unlike the rest, however, she's in her own lane: combining thick, nostalgic indie-rock influences with her trademark R&B, finding this distant meeting place through slightly off-kilter soul rich with poetic lyricism, expected more-so from an Alex Turner (Arctic Monkeys) type than a Cardi B. Her latest single, a sharp and witty take on being a musician in 2018, perhaps offers the most evidence of this cross-genre mish-mash of influences than anything else she's put out before. Above a crashing production thick with deep bass kicks, crisp snare and hazy synth melodies, Constance plays over the top. Her vocal isn't the soft, soulful slide that you'd expect from many lumped within her 'genre', instead, it's playful and dramarous, ranging from smooth glides to one-two-punches of almost-spoken word.
"I wanted us to be the materialism that the song is talking about," says Constance on the single's video clip, directed by Charlie Di Placido (Little Simz, Jungle, Kojey Radical), which takes Constance to the expensive, high-brow castles of the English royalty. "I want my friends and I to dress up Marie Antoinette style and be self-obsessed and enjoy every moment of it - I want us to create a universe where people of our backgrounds and skin colours would have lived in castles like Knebworth instead of being cut out of British history," she continues. "I want the image of us looking like punk royalty to reach every young girl or boy - and for them to think I can be a prince or princess like them. I want to show the world what the current English roses look like."
Following on from her 2017 EP Boring Connie and her "pillow-soft" previous single Yesterday earlier this year, Connie Constance is an artist on the rise, so get to know her, her sound, and a whole lot more below:
So Fast Cars and Yesterday – which came out a while ago – are the first singles since your Boring Connie release last year. Was there anything you learned in the making/release of Boring Connie that you’ve been able to implement into the two new singles – and what effect have they had, if any?
My team and I learned how to trust in doing everything by ourselves again. We picked three songs that we loved; I thought of a video idea for the single; and then we went out and told the world about what we loved. So that gave us all the energy we needed to only listen to our gut, and that takes a lot of energy when you haven’t been listening to yourself for a while. It’s super important to be the most obsessed with what you're about to give to the world, cause if you don’t love it, how can you expect anyone else to give a shit?
Fast Cars – the new single – is about being an artist in 2018, and it’s mentioned that it was inspired by Muhammad Ali. Can you tell us a little more about the single’s theme and how you tied Ali into it?
Ali was one of my biggest role models as a child he was on the walls of both my Grandad (Mum's Dad) and Dad's houses, so I guess he was one my biggest influences outside of my family for what is most important in life. One of the lyrics in fast cars is “you want fast cars and movie stars - but I wanna train in the deep end” and that’s in reference to Ali’s iconic underwater image - and what I mean by it is that the industry/social media etc., they often want the artist to be this superstar that’s wearing all the coolest clothes and is pictured at every event next to other cool people. But it takes a lot of energy to do these things, and i just want to go to places with my work that are incomparable and be the best human I can be. So, at one point hopefully, I can take my art further in a direction that no one has ever been. RIP ALI.
So the video puts a spin on the materialistic theme of the single, where you – and people of similar backgrounds – are the materialism; living in big mansions, dressing lavishly and so on. Can you tell us more about this and how the idea came about?
I’ve recently become quite obsessed with monarchies... and so I’ve become passionate about wanting to show England through a different lens. I think that in TV and Film, the Western World tends to believe that black people don’t exist before or after slavery. It’s as though we vanish from history. So if I can use my materialistic song to portray a universe where we get the opportunity to be privileged and royal, then I feel like I’ve put my first step forward in representation for younger people that look like myself or my friends.
It was worked on with Charlie Di Placido – who has done some great videos in the past with people like JUNGLE. What drew you to them as a director, and what was that experience like?
I’ve always wanted to work with Charlie. He’s fearless and classy. I could come up with the most mental idea and he would say yes and it will be all hands on deck running around Soho or wherever trying to get it together, but the end result will always be a picture of a place or feeling we all long for. Inclusivity, representation, location, colouring, styling, emotion, story; and whether he feels like it or not, to me, he’s someone that knows exactly what he’s here to do with his time on earth.
You grew up listening to stuff such as The Stone Roses and The Smiths – all these legendary, UK indie bands that have influenced your music over the years – but of course, you have that strong R&B/soul sound as well. What were your experiences with this sound growing up, and are there any particular artists in this realm that you believe has shaped you in the same way?
It’s just always gonna be jazz and indie rock/punk for me. Everything else I find too obvious. Ella Fitzgerald - Angel Eyes; I’ve listened to this song countless times and I still can’t follow the melody when I sing to it. I’m totally shaped by these two contrasting genres, and I want to grow intellectually with jazz and grow with the freedom of punk forever. If I ever get bored of Oasis and Nina Simone then it’s probably time for me to stop making music.
There’s a political shading to your music which becomes really fleshed out on songs such as Fast Cars. This is a loaded question, but where do you think politics stands in music?
I think that music has to be looked after - it’s a self expression and not something that has all the answers even though we can often find it healing. But I do think that speaking about what’s happening around us naturally unites and empowers the younger generation to have a voice.
Do you think that music needs to become more political – or do you think that over the last few years, with things such as Brexit, UKIP and of course, in America, Trump, that politics has become almost ingrained in music?
I’m probably not setting a good example by saying this, but politics is boring and always negative. So, as a music fan, I think we need the balance of escapism from the idiots the run our countries just as much as we need some punk and grime to remind us we aren’t alone in it all.
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