[INTERVIEW] POPPY AJUDHA
The UK has always been acknowledged for having a diverse music scene and breeding a lot of talented artists. I believe we are currently at the peak of musical diversity and extraordinary talent right now. There is a new energy coming out from the London music scene and it is transpiring across the whole country and the world. I recently had the incredible opportunity to speak to one of the rapidly blossoming newcomers Poppy Ajudha. Jazz inspired singer/songwriter/musician Poppy Ajudha ticks all the boxes of a great artist. Her latest project ”Femme” which dropped in February 2018 gives us a small showcase of Poppy’s tranquil vocals and profound lyrical ability. I had an in-depth chat with Poppy about where she is in her career right now, her creative processes and a deeper look at some of the songs from her EP ”Femme.”
Where is your name from?
It’s from St Lucian heritage, half my family is Indian and the other are black Carribean but they’re all from St Lucia. I think the surname originates from India although we don’t have any contact with anyone in India since that side of the family is all St Lucian. It’s actually not how its spelt but I tried to spell it more phonetically because no one could ever say it. But still, no one can say it…so…it was fruitless…ahaha.
Is there a reason behind you using your actual name rather than a stage name?
Not Really, I was like 16 when I decided I wanted to do that and put it out and stuff. It just kind of became a thing and then you kind of can’t change it then, I never really thought about having an alias although it would be cool but …I’m not that cool.
You dictate whether your cool or not…you can’t tell me your not that cool. I’ve seen your colors Berlin, I’ve seen your videos…your cool!
Ahaha! Ok, so I wasn’t that cool when I was 16.
Speaking of your Colors Berlin, how was that experience and how did things move from there?
Yh it was really good. It was like one of the bigger sessions that I’ve done, and it was really cool to do a high-quality video that was really simple and was about the music. There’s nothing really else going other than you singing in a room. The team there are really nice and I think that was my first time in Berlin as well so it was cool to visit Germany for that reason. Since then I’ve been to Germany a lot of times, I think its probably the country I’ve visited most for music. Yeah..it was really fun! And we did a shoot and yeah it was cool, it was really great to do that for that single when it came out and it is a thing I think most people have seen…I think?
Yeah, think its got over six hundred thousand views on youtube which is pretty sick! So you’re a singer-songwriter? How do you go about writing and do you produce it all?
I write usually on the guitar or the piano, mostly guitar but sometimes on the piano. So I write the chords and then I develop the song from there really, it depends. I’ve recently started co-producing so like my EP is co-produced by me and then some of the songs that I’m going to be releasing now since the EP I’ve kinda started producing myself. At the moment I’m not at the stage where I can completely produce on my own. I really like working with other people on that side of things but I find first when I develop it on my own its always a lot better because otherwise it just ends up being not very me. I think influence is helpful but you don’t want your music to be taken over by other peoples ideas of what your music should sound like, that’s why like…I don’t know, people who don’t [write] their own music it tends to not feel very in-depth or I don’t know, hard to explain because they haven’t put themselves into the music and you can tell. You can feel that. You can tell when something has not been written by one person.
Yeah, I understand. It doesn’t feel genuine sometimes.
Yeah exactly! I was actually talking about this yesterday with a producer I was working with on a new tune and he was kinda saying do you ever let people write your chords? And it just doesn’t really feel like my song if someone else writes the chords because the chords that I write influence so much [on] the words that come out of my mouth once I’ve written those chords. If someone else writes the chords it’s like not about anything I’ve felt, ever, if you know what I mean. It’s really important to me to kinda be at the forefront of every process, obviously writing the lyrics and lyrics are the most important for me. Melodies and chords, people might influence the chords or like bring to the band and help me develop the song a bit more, because I know that I don’t know the most about music. But I like to always have a say and then might co-produce an Ep or make a demo first of production so I know what kind of drums I want, what kind of guitar sound, whatever beforehand so people actually know what I want. Yeah, I just try and be part of every process, I help mix, just everything. I just wanna be there. Yeah, it’s really good, I’ve kinda been present for all of the mixing of all of my tunes, now my ears are just so much more in tune. Sometimes I work with producers and I’m like how can you not hear whats going on right now? Producers who don’t mix…I don’t know its crazy? They just make beats or whatever and that’s their thing, I just wanna be able to in some respects be a jack of all trades I guess.
Yeah, I understand. You just want to master the craft completely. I remember hearing an interview with a producer saying that there are two different kinds of people who make beats, there’s a producer and there’s a beat maker. And they’re completely different.
Yh I think I agree.
Producers kind of do everything. They can make the beat but they’re more like composers and they actually organise and structure everything.
Yeah definitely! I’ve really experienced that. Beatmakers are cool but then I need to take that and develop it. Because a beat can only go so far whereas my music I want to have some instrumentation in it and like a lot of live sounding stuff. I think when you work with a producer they know how to work with live instruments and that’s really important for my music but other people might not need [that], but I have to develop in that way.
Yeah, that was even something I was gonna say, the producer will work around you whereas the beat maker will be like here’s a beat and do something on it.
Yeah exactly! They don’t know how to. Yeah often, I get that.
So, your latest project ”Femme”? Did you mean to use the word femme in the British or French sense?
Either, I guess it goes through lots of different meanings. In French means wife, In English, it relates feminine and masculine or it can be like a lesbian who looks feminine or whatever but that’s like butch and femme. So it’s just like there are loads of descriptions for femme. For me it means a lot of things and it kind of encompasses, I guess the way I view feminism in general and what it means to be a woman, and that being dynamic and complex and that having a multitude of meanings. It can mean so many things, it is…I don’t know how to explain it now…I think what I talk about a lot on stage is there not being one way to be a woman. I guess it’s also like a celebration of womanhood and there are loads of things that can be associated with being a woman that can be seen as negative and it’s just celebrating if you want to use them or not. You don’t have to apply them to your body because there isn’t one way to be a woman and it’s not feminine or masculine it can be whichever. Yeah, it’s just celebrating that instead of demonising it I think. Things that can be associated with being femme can be things like being or soft. It’s kind of breaking those elements, in some respect I guess.
Tracks that I kept going back to on the project was the track with Kojey Radical and Tepid soul. Tepid soul, that was pretty deep, can you speak to me about those two tracks? How was it working with Kojey Radical and after that can you speak about Tepid Soul a bit?
Err so Kojey first, I mean that was cool. Now we’re kinda good friends, can’t remember back before but I guess we had just been talking a bit online. Then I wrote this song on guitar and I dunno, when you write certain songs you just know that they’re gonna be a good one and I had this feeling when I wrote ‘spilling into you’ and I just felt really strongly about it. It’s kind of a love a song, but its a very dark love song. I think I was in a place where I was doing gender studies at uni and I felt really confused about feminism, my body, who I was and what I represented in the world, and how people viewed me. I think that led into my relationship at the time and the song kind of reflects on that. The complexness of relationships and what it is to be a woman in a relationship and how you’re perceived. What is love when woman are so kind of objectified and kinda seen as sexual objects in the naturalised way? How do I view love and how does a man view love – when how they’re are perceiving me is completely different to how I perceive myself. Generally speaking it was kind of about that, and exploring the darkness of knowing that and understanding that but also really loving someone and kind of being confused by that. I don’t know when I did the tune I just felt like Kojey would be perfect. The sound of the song and the way its produced by Ben Haze. It felt like I could just hear his voice on it so I just hit him up straight away and was like would you be down to record on this? And I sent it to him and then he was down straight away and we got him into the studio. He loved the beat and was like yeah he’d definitely come down. We got him in the studio, and I kinda just sat down with him and explained to him what the song meant to me from a female’s perspective, because I was like obviously your a man on this beat. I was a bit worried if he’d get it because obviously, I didn’t know him that well but I felt like he was in tune with those kinds of things from what I did know about him. So I just kind of explained to him what the song meant to me and what it was about and he really took it on straight away and then he wrote some bars in about 10 minutes and then just did it in like one take…I think.
Wow! That’s ridiculous.
Aha yeah, it took like an hour or something to do like the whole thing.He’s sick. See that was ”Spilling into you” and I was really excited because that was the first song that I finished for the EP and I was feeling really good about it and I’m kinda going in a new direction, more sense, more electronics. Yeah, it was kind of a beginning, ”Spilling into you” of my journey of what feels like an independent musician where I’m doing what I want and how I want, experimenting and trying new things.
Were you not Independent beforehand?
Yeah, but I felt like I depended on a lot of people, for help, for advice. I wasn’t sure about what I wanted, how I wanted to sound, what I wanted my sound to be. And I mean I think you’re always developing but I think the beginning of this whole EP was such a journey for me learning who I wanted to be as a musician and how I wanted to represent myself and what I wanted to talk about. And ”Spilling into you” was kind of the beginning of that.
And ”Tepid Soul”?
So Tepid Soul…Ugh, I’m trying to think…I wrote the chorus of that song when I was cycling to uni.
Where did you go to uni by the way?
SOAS. School of Oriental and African studies
And what did you study?
Social anthropology and music. It’s a very non-eurocentric university, so it focuses on African and Asian studies. It doesn’t centre its studies and philosophies on only European theorists. So like I did a year focusing on West African studies and like the music studies I did were from different parts of Africa, East, West, Central Africa. I just did lots of things, I studied Tabla (drums, the backbone of Indian classical music) for a bit. Yeah, just kind of decolonising the way that we study I guess. SOAS was a big part of a lot of the ways they teach there. So it’s like a really political uni. But yeah anyway I was cycling to uni and cycling through Waterloo listening to Gil Scott Heron and he said the word tepid in his song. It was a poem and he was talking and he said the word tepid and it just like conjured so many things in my head. The whole of the chorus for ”Tepid Soul” came into my head at that moment and I had to like stop at the traffic lights and try write it down really quick before the lights changed green. I just had it and I was like I need to write it down quick “Soak your hands in my tepid soul, you grabbing pieces then you let me go”. I just felt really inspired by that and that [was] written in my phone in my notes for a while. And then I just developed it from there really, wrote the chords. I think the first thing I did was take it to my band and I had like a list of things I wanted to go on, I wanted the drums to go like this, I wanted this certain thing and kinda wanted to have Carribean roots coming through in places. Just like different influences musically that complimented the lyrics. I spent a couple hours in rehearsal then recorded that with the producer Matt, who’s a really good friend of mine. And we kind of just developed it together and then I developed it a bit further with some other friends of mine, we added strings to the chorus and just like different layers. It seems to be the song most people like and it surprised me because I didn’t see it as one that was catchy or that people would be drawn to so much. I felt kind of…I guess nervous about releasing it because it is a quite political song and I hadn’t talked about those things before. I’ve never really talked about being mixed race and feelings I had and in general, I hadn’t really talked about a lot of political views publicly until this EP. About feminism, about sexuality, or about race so it was a new thing. I was a bit nervous about it but I’m really glad I did it and I always enjoy sharing that with the audience when I do it live and talking to them about it. A really big part of my music for me is telling people what the song is about because I think those kinds of songs you can listen to and they just sound nice, its just like oh she’s got a nice soft voice blah blah but actually, I have a lot to say within the lyrics.
Yeah, that’s what gripped me about the song, the depth. It was not a surface level song, you can’t really listen to that song and understand first time everything that’s happening or everything you’re speaking about. I had to listen to it a few times to understand everything you were speaking about because you were touching on some really serious topics and in a sophisticated way as well. It wasn’t hard to understand, it was just written really well.
Thank you. The way I wrote Tepid Soul I remembered as I was writing, I was also influenced by reading James Baldwin poems as well and I often write my lyrics as poems. So I wrote tepid soul as like a long poem and then it became a song later when I wrote the chords. My lyrics are always a little bit cryptic. I don’t know, there never super straightforward so I think you do have to listen a couple times to maybe gather what I’m talking about.
Yeah, music that has substance and really touches you, music that can really change your life, a gem or something else is revealed to you every time you listen and I think that’s really powerful! Who are you listening to on a daily basis, like what artists would you listen to on a daily basis?
A lot of mostly lyric-based music and soul singers. I’ve actually just been trying to compile a playlist on Spotify because my influences as a kid have been a lot of older music, reggae, reg groves, that kind of stuff and afrobeat and different things like that. Old from like the 70s, 80s or whenever…now I guess like in my every day I listen to like a lot. More kind of produced music so I guess that’s why it’s coming through. Frank Ocean I really like, SZA I really like, the internet I love. But also like Kumasi Washington, I love and that’s obviously way more jazz-based. It’s always kind of been a tug of war between older music and newer music because I’ve always grown up listening to a lot of older music and I love that sound and the kind of raw element of it. But then at the same time as a kid I also always listened to India Arie and Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and stuff which is similar to people like Ari Lennox who I’m listening to now or Andria Simone. I like Ravyn Lenae.
Who are you listening to, and supporting in the underground British scene?
Well, lots of my peers,.I love what they do. People like Nubya Garcia her music is very Jazz and she’s doing really well. Connie Constance, she’s doing loads of stuff which is sick. Obviously, Jorja Smith is making waves, Yusuf Kamaal, loads of people just everyone is doing so much. I do listen to a lot of American music is what I realise when I look at my playlists. But there is just so much going on and it’s just amazing. It’s really nice to be surrounded by other musicians, I feel like we’re all at a similar place doing well. Like King Krule ‘ Archie’ is sick, I love his music I’m such a big supporter of his stuff. Got obviously Kojey [on the] underground scene smashing it, Loyle Carner he’s smashing it. Yeah, there’s so many people.
I think this generation of artists is making a huge wave and black music in the UK is going to thrive more than it ever has. I believe mainstream music is going to diversify and the whole ideology of ‘if you’re not sounding like this we’re not rating it’ is going to vanish. There is so much quality in this diversity of artists coming through, people will have to appreciate the music. I think that’s what’s really positive about the UK scene right now and you guys are a big part of it. So keep going and thank you!
Poppy is performing her 2nd headline show on the 21st of May at Omeara. Tickets and more information below.