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Taking a walk with BLUEM through her musical, experiential and artistic landscape.

Where are you based at the moment? What would you call home?

I’ve been in London for almost 9 years now, which is a long enough time to call it home. But I have the same feelings about London that I sometimes have about Sardinia. I grew up in Sardinia, I was there until I was 18 but when I go back there - even though it’s where my roots are, and it’s home - a lot of things don’t feel like they fit with me anymore. On the other hand, London is a space that I created in my adult life and there is a lot that I love about this city - but at the same time, part of who I am, my roots, is missing. That’s probably why I travel so much - to find that missing part. I’m learning that there is no perfect place.

You play with a number of overlapping genres in your music, there are elements of pop, hyperpop, reggaeton, electronic music - how would you define it?

When people ask me about my music, I always say the genre is ‘alternative pop’. People understand that term, it’s easily digestible, and there are pop elements in my music. But ‘alternative’ is my way of nodding to all the other things I include.

When I make music, I don’t think about genre, I try not to fit myself in a box like that. I find it fascinating when people do only one genre, and they do it really well, in their own way - it’s cool but it’s just never been the case for me. I’m so curious about all different types of music and I never find myself in just one musical space. I absorb a lot of sounds from lots of different places and it ends up in my music.

So presumably you can see quite a clear link between the music you listen to in a period and the music you then produce?

Definitely. My previous work was very different from my current project, for this reason. Although I hope that whatever I’m taking in, my work still has something that blends everything together somehow. A tone and feel that is consistently BLUEM.

At the moment I’ve been listening to more electronic music and music with very full arrangements, so whereas my previous project was very minimal and focussed on my voice, in my current work I’ve been more creative with producing and my arrangements - I’m having fun with it! An example of this is Piano Song, where I added elements of drum and bass - this song was a bit of a tribute to the UK music scene. It was a challenge for me, to try something new like that. I also wanted to meld it with something really different, so the hook veers into reggaeton. I really enjoy transitioning genres inside the same song like that.

How does the mixed nature of your music reflect your creative process? When you’re making songs do you have a set process, or does it vary from song to song?

It really depends on the song. Sometimes a hook will come to my mind that feels like a really strong idea. It happens at the most random times, like when I’m cleaning and on the tube. I record it or write it down as well as I can and I start to build from there - this is quite complicated though!

If I don’t have an idea yet, either I will start with a sample that I really like or a sound that interests me. Sometimes I will start with my guitar, which was my first instrument. I also recently bought a synth, because I suffer from looking at a screen all the time and wanted to find a way to create where I could avoid this. For a lot of my new album, I actually started from some vocals, even though by the end the vocals weren’t even in the song anymore - I do this a lot, finding a starting point and experimenting until it feels right.

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Top, Skirt and Belt - Paloma Wool

Let’s talk about your new album, nou. Can you tell us a bit about what experiences you had that fed into the album, and how you set about making it?

It grew out of stuff relating to my last album, NOTTE. I put a lot of energy into that album, I put a lot of myself into it, and a lot of very personal things. I finished producing it with a very close friend of mine and, when the album came out, I had the impression that no one wanted to accept the fact that it was my sound and not his. They thought that he had created it. It’s always like that - if there is a woman and a man working on a music project, people assume that most of the work is done by the man. 


My friend is actually the sweetest person and he never once tried to prevail on me - he even calls me ‘the dictator’ because I never really let other people’s ideas penetrate my music and I have such a clear vision for what I want to do. But anyway, it happened, and he started getting requests from people to produce their work - people who were passionate about my project went straight to him. It was something I initially almost found normal but then I started to realise how wrong, how toxic it was that not a single person came to me. 


This experience really stirred up my insecurities about being a woman in the industry. I’m quite shy and I’ve always felt like producing music was not something for women - although I was interested in production, when I was younger there was barely any representation or role models - especially in Sardinia! Even now at a point where I’m producing most of my work, and I’ve been doing it for a while, I still worry that I’m not good enough. I know I have the ideas and the practical skills, but it’s so hard to get rid of the voice in your mind telling you that you can’t do it as well as men do.


Because of all this, I initially wanted to work on nou on my own - I wanted to show people that I could do everything myself. I went to Sardinia, to a very isolated place where I go each summer. After a while though I started to get frustrated with myself and I realised how stupid it was to expect to grow and develop while staying isolated, just to prove a point to other people. I started opening up to collaboration again and used that in my favour. I tried to make a very balanced team of women and men working together, I wanted to demonstrate that it was possible to work together respectfully and without conflict.

How did these experiences inform the emotional landscape and themes of nou? And what other kind of material inspired the album?

Well, a lot of what I have just said is in the album. nou has a very strong connection to my femininity and the way I feel as a woman, in life and in the music industry more specifically. I ended up dedicating a lot of the songs to female characters, for example, the opening track is dedicated to Creusa of Corinth, who was killed by Medea in Greek tragedy. It’s about revenge, about women fighting with other women, about togetherness with women. I also weaved in Sardinian folk tales - there’s one in particular about the ‘Janas’, who are little women who come out at night in towns and punish people who try to steal their gold, but give it away freely to loving, kind people. I have always felt like this is a good example of how Sardinian women are, and Sardinians in general. We take time to trust people, but if you earn it we are very generous. If you betray us - watch out! The notion of revenge and lawlessness have strong roots in Sardinia.


So many of these stories that I reference from Greek mythology, or Sardinian folklore, are so beautiful. I love all the examples of women rebelling against the way they are expected to behave - I find it crazy because it’s all stuff that is thousands of years old, but it’s still so relevant. The feelings we feel now are the same feelings as thousands of years ago. Sardinian folklore, and Sardinia in general, always inspires me - it’s a wild place, which I tried to bring into the visuals of my album with the dark red artwork, the presence of the countryside, the way that everything happens in the dark hours - it’s how I remember where I come from. There are these ancient feelings that are so real to me right now, and in the past two years. The album is a mix of this, with my present reality and my personal experience - it’s all very much related to the experience of life, being a woman.


Greek mythology has some amazing stories and, more than that, it has some amazing female characters - especially the crazy and rebellious ones. They are almost always more interesting than the male characters and have a more interesting side of the story. Even in the tragic stories about women, there is always this beauty, which you don't find in male characters and in their stories.


Skirt and Belt - Paloma Wool

I wanted to ask about language, and your experience of being a bilingual artist. Do you find it very different singing in Italian and singing in English? Is the knowledge you feel you can convey markedly different?

For sure. Italian is the language I grew up with, so when I sing in Italian I tend to feel much more exposed. It's the language that people who grew up with me speak and there is no wall between me and them when I sing in Italian. It is a beautiful language, but it took me a while to be able to write songs in it. When I started, I was writing in English - I know English but it isn't my first language and at the beginning this actually made it easier to write, because I had fewer words in my mind. The smaller choice of words meant that lyrics came easier, it was like a small box that I could move around easily.


Italian is more fraught for me - what words should I use? Who am I when I sing in Italian? I eventually found a way to do it and it became really natural. Now I use both languages in my songs. Italian is really good in some circumstances, I find that there is something really romantic about some Italian words and so when I want to say something specific, Italian works best. English is more straightforward -  if you want to say something simple, it just sounds better in English. Sometimes I'm looking to talk about a concept but the Italian words are just too long to fit inside the song, so it's useful to have English to fit the sound. I'm really happy I can use both languages in my music because they have different uses inside songs.

Do you have an idea of where you want to go in the future - Italy or England? What are your plans for the future, in music and more generally?

Right now, I have no idea where I want to go - honestly, this is the toughest question for me. When I did my first project, which did really well in Italy, I had an opportunity to move back there. At that point, life in London was tough, because I was working full-time at a photographers gallery in Soho, alongside music and touring. Sometimes I would fly out to Italy to do a gig, fly back in the night, and head to work at the gallery in the morning - it was exhausting!


My experience of the Italian music industry is that it is very different from the way that I approach music. I could talk about this forever but I will try to explain - it's almost like, even the people who make music in Italy don't believe in it, partially because there is so little money and support. Everyone has good ideas, but everyone is frustrated at the same time, because they can't make a living out of it. I'm not saying that it's easier in England, but generally here the music industry is a bit more of a community. In Italy it's sometimes as if everyone is against one another, not on purpose but because everyone is trying to make a living and no one can get to the level they would like to be at. In Italy I have a great audience, and a lot of support, but also I found a lot of negativity. If I'd moved there I worry I'd be influenced by it.


Also it's worth saying that moving to Italy wouldn't feel like moving back home - I've never actually lived in mainland Italy. Sardinia is an island that is so culturally different. In Sardinia we don't really say that we are part of Italy, we talk about going to Italy as if we are 'going to the continent'. It feels very far away. Moving to Italy would feel like moving country again, so when the opportunity came up I didn't take it. 


I don't write music for an exclusively Italian audience, even though a lot of my music is in Italian. I chose the language because I can use it, but it was never my aim to make it in the Italian music industry. My hope is that my music overcomes the language barrier and that people can enjoy it and connect with it, no matter where they are. This is why I haven't left London and I'm still trying to figure things out. My ideal would be that my audience grows and my music reaches more people, not exploding in one country but just reaching more people in more places so that I am a bit more free. I would just like to make music, and make it without having pressure from one place or another.


Top, Skirt and Belt - Paloma Wool

You mentioned before that you were quite shy growing up. Do you find performing live difficult or is that something that is enjoyable?

It's very difficult for me! I have a lot of anxiety around it, especially before going on stage. Sometimes I feel like I'm actually going to throw up, I feel this pain in my whole body. When I don't fall victim to my own insecurities on stage, when I forget that I have to do everything right, that there is an audience in front of me, then I really love it. The sense of release that you have after a performance is amazing.


I try to create a performance that is not just about me and coming to listen to my album. It's more like storytelling - on my previous tour I used vocal recordings of people talking about life in Sardinia, I have visuals, I try to make it immersive - so when people come and see me they are entering this space that I have curated. I want it to be a whole unique experience. This helps relieve some of the pressure and it helps me relax. If I didn't have this I would be all frozen, and I know that would stop people feeling connected to what I sing and do.

You do seem to have a very strong sense of your visual world, as well as your musical world, so I can see how performances could be quite a complete experience for people.

Definitely. In high school I had to decide between doing music or doing photography, I was very passionate about both of them. Even now, I put them on the same level when I'm doing a project - visuals are such a useful tool to tell another part of the story, why would I not use them?


Working at the photography gallery helped me a lot, because I found out about so many incredible photographers who I eventually worked with. I saw how much goes into photography and how many different ways there are of expressing something with photos. It's a pleasure to involve photographers in my projects, especially because I always have a clear idea of what I want visually. When I'm working on an album, I start having an idea about visuals and those ideas then influence the sound - once I even took photographs for a project before finishing the music, and I noticed how the photographs affected the direction I went in musically. The visuals and the sound become one thing, one package to deliver to people.


Jumper and Bow - Paloma Wool 


Skirt- Seungyun Cho and Shoes - Pleiades

One final question - I know that you have started doing pole dancing, and I wondered if this had had an impact on your music? Do you feel more aware of the physicality of music?

Pole dancing definitely did change my perception of music. I actually now do a show for a radio in Milan which is about the connection between the body and music, and the way I feel this doing pole dancing. There is almost a 'pole' genre - songs which are made for movement, songs which make you want to move. This feeling really stuck with me and influenced the way I make music. 


It's funny, pole dancing is a way of expressing myself and feeling the music in a way that is very different from making music. I find it so hard to move naturally when I'm on stage but when I'm pole dancing I can really express myself through my body. It's so contradictory - sometimes other people's music allows me to set myself free and I can follow it with my body, whereas my own music can make me freeze!


Beyond that, I think pole dancing taught me a lesson about discipline because it's such a tough sport. It taught me how to be patient, to work hard to get something and also taught me to take risks. You can fall and hurt yourself badly, but you do it - because you have to.

Interview edited for length and clarity.


Dress- Seungyun Cho and Shoes - Pleiades

04 XPULENT | FEATURE, MAY 16, 2023


Photographs by Ben Bradish-Ellames
Creative Director by Naia Imaz
Styled By Mia Caplan
Interview by Inès Lefebvre du Prey
MUA: Azusa Matsumori
Hair by Raahat Peshwaria
Image Editing and Retouching: Elisabetta Esercizio
Shoot Location: London, UK

A Les Mirabilia Production

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