Singer/songwriter Elisa Imperilee and Srigala, a producer/vocalist, first met as children at the 1 O’Clock club in Brixton. In the 20-year interlude between then and now they’ve shared many hazy South London summers, drinking on the same street corners and hanging out in the same parks.
It’s not too surprising, then, that their debut EP, ‘1 O’Clock Club’, is seeped in nostalgia – a heady blend of melodic, neo-soul vocals with a hip-hop heritage. It’s a homage to the city that raised them, but also on a more personal level it’s a tribute to three friends, including Elisa’s then boyfriend, who were killed in a bus crash in Thailand in 2011.
Talking to the duo, the thing that strikes me is their complete lack of ego and even shyness when it comes to releasing their music. Although ‘1 O’Clock Club’ is their debut EP, they have been working together for five years and the different tracks, recorded from Srigala’s bedroom, are like chapters chronicling the raw emotions of love, loss and learning about yourself.
Viper sat down with the duo in Elisa’s kitchen in Brixton to discuss their influences, their love for South London and where they want to go in the future.
What have been your biggest influences?
E: I guess growing up in Brixton, it’s such a creative area. You always hear all the stalls along Atlantic Road playing music and there’s this backdrop of music from all around the world. I think, as well, we’ve both got quite creative parents. My mum is a photographer and my parents used to squat this house in the 80s and 90s, and eventually the council just let them stay here. I think quite a few places around here are like that.
S: Yeah Brixton, but also South London generally and all the talented people we know, that’s what’s shaped us, I guess.
What are some of the themes that run through the EP?
E: There’s lots of things going on in it. Even though the tracks are all new some of the lyrics are a bit older, and it’s definitely reflective and looking at the last 4-5 years of our lives. Some of the lyrics from the first song were written just after we lost the boys, then other songs are looking at a longer period of time and how feelings have evolved and how everything that happened has shaped us and our friendship group. Another song is about home, there’s a lyric that says ‘grey skies ripple red’ and if you look up – even this evening we’ve seen it – those red sunsets over London are so iconic and you get those ripples along the road. Things like that basically. I can’t tell you how many tracks that didn’t make it onto the EP, we’ve made a lot of music. Srig’s got thousands and thousands of beats on his laptop.
S: The tracks that made it onto the EP are all the ones we feel have the most meaning, because you’ll hear when something has been written with real emotion behind it.
What did you listen to growing up, and how has that shaped your music?
S: Through making beats is how I found my love for hip-hop. In secondary school I was making grime beats with these horrible stock sounds and I was trying to work out how they get these weird sounds that sound so real and found out it was sampling, and from there it just grew into what it is.
E: I think we all went through a bit of an indie faze, so Bombay Bicycle Club, the Maccabees and Adele back when she used to sing with a London accent – but also stuff like Common and recently Eryn Allen Kane and more soulful singers. Vocal wise, I’ve been influenced by people I’ve listened to, like 90s RnB – Aaliyah and Destiny’s Child – that kind of thing but also neo-soul, like Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill. That’s all kind of gone through my ears and come out of my mouth.
What’s your process when putting together a track?
S: If we’re making the track from scratch, I’ll make a quick beat, a loop, and send it over to her and see if she wants to use it or not and from there she’ll write something and we’ll build it up from there. Sometimes I’ll use organic sounds, in films – horror movies and stuff – when people break bones or get their skull smashed or something, they’ll record the sound of someone breaking a chicken bone or might even use celery or carrots. Just going by that method you can come up with some quite cool sounds.
E: I try and write something everyday, I find that, sometimes, you won’t even realise you’re thinking about something but when you force yourself to write, it just comes out. Writing everyday means you have this kind of library of lyrics about how you’re feeling and different emotions and senses and stuff which I can use when it comes to writing a track.
How would you describe your sound?
E: I used to go to CYM (Centre for Young Musicians) so I guess I just started singing what I was taught and you don’t know if it’s even your real voice or what you’ve been trained to sing. It’s taken me a while to work out what my sound is, because you want it to capture your character and the way you talk. It’s taken a while but I think I’ve kind of got there now. If you’d told me 10 years ago that my first big project would be with a hip-hop producer I wouldn’t have thought it was necessarily the direction I’d go in, but I think it works really well.
S: The sound definitely has soul in it, I try to keep the grooves interesting and it’s got elements from everything we listen to. It’s quite jazzy sometimes, kind of funky sometimes, and it depends on the track and the day.
Now that you’ve released your first EP, what have you got planned for the future?
S: When it comes to working with people, I like the idea that I work with my friends. I’m always open to working with new people but I don’t think music should be the incentive to hold a relationship with someone. I think it’s better you do it with friends because you can just be yourself. There’s so many talented people in South London and there’s just always people at your fingertips, so I’d like to just carry on doing that and see what happens.
E: I’m getting a lot better at not being so terrified of performing. It’s gotten a lot easier, I’m definitely finding my feet now and starting to like it a lot more. The goal for this EP is to see where it takes us, who we meet and see what people think of it. We’ve got an amazing team around us already but we’d like to strengthen that and grow it.
The duo’s ‘1 O’Clock Club’ EP is out now.
Interview by Tarn Rodgers Johns.