EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Five Minutes With… Speech Debelle

Multi-talented Speech Debelle won the 2009 Mercury Prize for debut album Speech Therapy, and has subsequently been involved in a range of artistic pursuits, including appearances on Masterchef and curating art exhibitions. Her UK tour will also kick off at the end of May.

Latest album tantil before i breathe. is a welcome return from the songwriter, presenting 10 tracks that work cleverly and emotively with the themes of breathing, healing and reflection. “Sometimes you’re broken/So the light can get in” Debelle sings on opening track “Ode 11 September”, the vocals soaring over strings swells and synth stabs, while ‘Strange Ways’ pairs a stream-of-consciousness rhyming narrative with a plaintive folktronica melody.

We caught up with Speech Debelle to chat about tantil before i breathe., which has been released along with a digital cookbook and memoir.

It’s a bit of an unusual combination – releasing an album and a cookbook at the same time. Want to tell us a little about how it came about?

It’s an e-cookbook of the same title. Three songs from each of my three albums – songs that tell stories of what was happening at the time – inspire a recipe. So the track “Blaze Up A Fire” that was inspired by the uprisings in 2012 has the dish “jerk chicken” attached to it.

Besides cooking, are there any other major sources of inspiration for your music that lie outside the music world?

I think everything outside of music inspires music. The sound of the train in motion on the way back from my 9-5 years ago was always inspiring.

Fill us in on the album’s title… ?

I had to learn to stand still, and I have to learn to breathe.

You’ve been involved in some interesting collaborations so far in your career, such as an exhibition of prisoner art in 2013. How important are new challenges and fresh opportunities to collaborate to you as an artist?

Stagnation is dangerous. It can happen once you set up camp in the comfort zone. Or once fear immobilises you. I try to keep the energy flowing by taking leaps. I’m interested in working with people like that.

If you could wave a magic wand and fix one thing about the music industry, what would it be and why?

That’s difficult, as I don’t see myself in the music industry anymore. I still have a key, and use it when I need to, but I don’t live there. Stormzy has just had a number one and Little Simz does world tours now. Perhaps it’s already changing.

How are you feeling about 2017? How do you think musicians will be affected by the uncertainty and upheaval the world is experiencing right now?

The planet is a spinning rock through the universe, by default our lives are uncertain. We don’t even know why we’re here. I think artists will do just fine.

Finally… In a perfect world, what are you up to at this time next year?

Having a holiday. I travel all the time but I hardly take holidays. Ten days without my phone on a island. That would be a challenge I need.

Speech Debelle On Tour, May 2017:
23rd – Bristol – The Fleece – with Akua Naru
24th – London – Oslo
25th – Norwich – Arts Centre – with The Mouse Outfit
26th – Leeds – Hi Fi
27th – Edinburgh – Voodoo Rooms

Tickets available here.

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