little simz on fame, trust and catching public transport
'The record is about situations I'm still trying to get my head around, and places where I'm still trying to figure out who to trust, or who not to trust.'
Little Simz is on the precipice of something. As a mainstay on ones-to-watch lists for a couple years now, we're all dutifully paying attention. Last year, i-D named her one of the world's most promising young musicians, while Pitchfork made comparisons to Lauryn Hill and Kendrick Lamar. In 2014, Simz was MOBO nominated for the best newcomer award, and swiftly upgraded the following year to a contender for best female act.
Attention intensified again last June when Kendrick Lamar claimed Simz "might be the illest doing it now." He even suggested he'd hop it the studio with her. The soundbite was incredibly valuable: the co-sign of a major American rapper has, in recent years, proved to be the assist UK talent need to make the famously difficult leap to the US.
A big question followed Kendrick's endorsement: is she the UK's next big export? Simz, a perceptive big-picture thinker, was conscious of the industry's renewed interest. "I have a lot more eyes and ears on me," she told us at the time. "It's not pressure, but I know that people are aware of me."
Today, Little Simz doesn't have to fight for anyone's attention: she's already got it. Instead, she just needs to deliver.
With that in mind, her new record, Stillness in Wonderland, might catch some people by surprise. It isn't something built to turn her into a star, nor is it a vehicle for singles primed to take advantage of American listener's thirst for another Shutdown. Those are two things a major label would've urged an artist in her position to do.
Of course, Little Simz doesn't have a major label. She's got her own (AGE 101 Music), so she was never going to move like that. She'd rather have you listen to Stillness in Wonderland from start to finish: to go down the rabbit hole with her, and come back out again. The album isn't a ploy for stardom, it's a way to come to grips with being famous in the first place.
To celebrate the release, we called up Simz in a rare spare moment.
Hi Simbi, how and where are you right now?
I'm swell. I'm in North London, in my hometown chilling.
Congratulation on Stillness in Wonderland — I like that you've done a concept album, it seems to encourages people to listen start to finish. Is that how you envisioned the record?
For sure! I think that's what albums are for. I like the idea of playing an album through start to finish while you're say, cooking. I mean, you can listen to a record however it makes sense to you. That's just what makes sense to me. But it's now in the hands of the people, and it's art. Art can be changed.
Let's talk about your own Wonderland, it feels like this very malleable idea of a space that's foreign.
It's definitely a metaphor — I don't have this secret garden under my bed that I can climb into. It's a mental thing. It's about situations I'm still trying to get my head around, and places where I'm still trying to figure out who to trust, or who not to trust. Sometimes Wonderland feels amazing, sometimes you want to leave. It's many different things.
It feels the music industry is a Wonderland for a new artist. Or, in a more abstract sense, fame itself is. Do you ever consider how much fame you could handle?
I don't think about it much, really. Right now, I can still get on public transport, I did the other day. The idea of fame certainly intrigues me, it did when I wrote A Curious Tale of Trails and Persons, and since then I've had a lot more exposure. But wanting fame? That feels kinda corny.
Does that new exposure exclude you from doing whatever most kids do in their twenties?
Sure, I was working on my birthday. I played a show. But I don't have a plan B, so I know have to do these things, I have to give [music] all I have. And I can, because I have that drive.
In 2015, i-D asked you a question: 'What was your big break?' You actually said it hadn't happened yet. Is that still true?
Definitely. I don't think I've had my big break. But it's subjective — what I class as a big break is different to you.
Sure. I've noticed you've talked about a few Australian artists, like Ta-Ku and Hiatus Kaiyote in the past. Seems like you have some ties to Australia.
I talk to Nai Palm quite a lot actually. She's someone who's there for me, who I can call whenever. I had been feeling really anxious about my album, and she could really calm me down. She has this very maternal energy that transcends all that, it just makes you feel so relaxed. I also love Sampa the Great. She's very cool, really lovely girl. And doing amazing things.
Since it's the end of the year, can you tell us favourite album of 2016?
I haven't listened to much music this year, apart from what I've been writing, but I would have to say [Anderson .Paak's] Malibu. That's my favourite album of the year. He's going to have an amazing year in 2017 — and he's already had an amazing year!
Little Simz will tour Australia January 2017, dates here:
Wellington on Friday 13th January 2017 @ San Fran
Auckland on Saturday 14th January 2017 @ Neck Of The Woods
Sydney on Tuesday 17th January 2017 @ Oxford Arts Factory
Perth on Wednesday 18th January 2017 @ Jack Rabbit Slim's
Brisbane on Thursday 19th January 2017 @ The Flying Cock
Melbourne on Saturday the 21st January 2017 @ Sugar Mountain Festival (details here)