Romy tells Korean musician Cifika about her plans for The xx
The Seoul artist just covered 'Lifetime', Romy's first solo single. Here, the duo talk finding inspiration and making happy-sad music for the club.
Romy’s intimate vocals and the deeply personal lyrics help make The xx the beloved British band they are. Branching out this past year, the Londoner released her much-anticipated debut solo single “Lifetime”, a euphoric track crying out for a return to the dancefloor. Following in the footsteps of HAAi, Planningtorock, Jayda G and Anz — all of whom have remixed the track — Cifika, one of Korea's coolest musicians, has just released her own version too.
You see, as well as serving up a constant stream of original productions, Cifika is building up quite the reputation for her reinterpretations of songs by everyone from legendary K-pop star Kim Chang-wan to, well, Romy. And while she’s a familiar face in the Seoul music scene, she’s also picking up steam internationally.
Though the two artists have had very different trajectories, and make music on opposite sides of the world, they’re actually pretty similar. Despite having careers rooted in other genres, both have ultimately found themselves most fully formed creatively in the world of electronic music.
After Cifika performed her version of Romy’s “Lifetime” for i-D Korea’s latest i-N SESSION, we thought it’d be fun to introduce the duo online. Read on for the result: an insightful conversation spanning their mutual appreciation for one another, dealing with nerves and their feelings about the return of nightlife.
Cifika: How are you?
Romy: I'm good. I'm good. I just did my first DJ set since before COVID. It was really sweet being on a stage and being in a crowd again.
Wow, how many people were there?
At the whole festival it was like 40,000 people, I think? And I was like, is this happening? Is this real life? Everyone was still being quite careful. But it was just an amazing feeling to see people connecting to music again. I forgot that feeling of us playing something and then seeing, ‘Oh, they're into it!’ or ‘They're not into it!’ or, or any interaction outside of my own head. It was quite nice.
That must have been so awesome.
It was really cool.
I have two shows coming up. But both of them are online streaming shows. Not actually interacting with the crowds, so it's different.
That's exciting. I loved your your Boiler Room rooftop set.
Ah, thank you.
That was so cool. When I was watching it, it looked like it was like dawn, and I was imagining you on the rooftops at sunrise. It was really a beautiful set.
Thank you so much.
So, how have you been finding making music recently?
Since the pandemic happened? I was actually in Texas, prepping for my show at SXSW when the pandemic happened. So it got cancelled in the middle of building the set and everything, and I had to come back. That was really sad.
Oh my god. So have you still you still got all those ideas that were there before? And you're just waiting for the right time to show it?
Yes, but maybe it will happen this winter! Hopefully!
I hope so. I'd love to see.
I'm so jealous that you felt that that energy from the crowd because I haven't felt that for a long time.
Right? I hadn't realised how much I missed that feeling and how important it was. You know, with The xx, we would play things live and see if people liked it before it would go on the album. So it's just a way of gauging from the audience if they're into it. Not having that while making music has been quite different. I played some new songs at the weekend and I was trying see what people thought. It felt so cool to do that. And I got to play “Lifetime” for the first time!
But it which was quite weird, because I realised I was just standing there, kind of dancing, with my voice playing on the speakers. But just to see people react and to have that connection with the crowd… it's been almost a year since that song came out and that was the first time! It was amazing.
That's kind of sad and happy at the same time.
Yeah, happy-sad! When I was making “Lifetime”, I was. It was in lockdown. My girlfriend was outside the room and she was like, ‘What's this song? It sounds happy-sad!’ And I guess that kind of sums up that bittersweet feeling of not being able to be together.
You know, that feeling from your song kind of got me starting on my version with minor chords, because it was really happy and sad.
I think that hearing your version with the minor chords, and really going to that deeper emotion with it was so cool, because I've never heard it like that. I've done a lot of stuff that's more minor, so I was kind of challenging myself to like, make something with more major chords. But then, you know, lyrically and the melody are a little bit sad.
Your song “Waterfall” is one of my favourite songs. I really want to play that. I want to I want to hear that in a club. It's so great.
Oh, thank you so much!
What were you inspired by, making that?
I just love the image of water. It could be drinking water, sea water, dirty water, pond water or a river. I was watching this movie called Holy Motors. Do you know that movie?
No, I haven't seen it.
I think it's an experimental French movie, and they have a scene where this green guy is walking around the city. And I think my song “Waterfall” would really fit into that movie. So I was kind of imagining it. I visualise all my songs before I actually produce them, and I did the same with your “Lifetime”.
Oh, cool. So do you find visuals externally? Or do you have it in your head?
Sometimes I reference images that I find. I have this folder of inspiration. And I just archive all the images online and put it there secretly. But with your song, I was thinking that it really sounded like a Japanese animation… but an English version.
Did you notice that I included some Korean lyrics in it?
Yeah! I was gonna ask you about that.
Yes, so that part is dystopian… Corona happened, everyone's away, but in your dream, your loved one comes to you and whispers to you, really close to your side.
And so I was imagining that, kind of in slow motion, as a soundtrack for an animated version of “Lifetime”.
I'd love to see an animation of that! It's such a nice exchange to make a song and then to hear it reinterpreted; hear what it means to you and your version of it. So thank you so much for doing that.
Of course, I was a big, big fan of you before. Before you knew me, I think. Because I grew up listening to The xx with my friends in college.
Well I’ve really loved listening to your music and discovering your live show, the way you do things. It's really inspiring to me. I just wondered, how did you get into producing? And how do you approach it?
I first started learning by YouTube. I majored in graphic design, so didn't really learn music and the proper process. I just did it on my own. I kind of started DIY, with my iPhone headphones, recording my voice with the cheapest audio interface. And then I really got into producing with Ableton. Eventually I started uploading some songs on SoundCloud and started gaining followers, so I decided that maybe I could really become a musician.
That's amazing. And here you are. That's so cool how you just kept learning things from YouTube and building your skills. It’s so inspiring that you taught yourself.
How about you?
I really wanted to get better at being able to produce for myself, to get the ideas that are in my head out. Because, you know, a lot of the time I've relied on Jamie [XX] and my band. I’d give him an idea and then he evolved it. The guitar is my first instrument, but I didn't want to always write songs on the acoustic guitar, you know? It's like, in my head I could hear trance and club.
Yeah, I'm really into trance. I just wanted to learn more, so I've been teaching myself Logic and it's been a fun journey. Then I’ll be able to articulate my ideas better when I make music with The xx again; like bringing more ideas to the table as well as just trying to explain how I want it to sound. So that's kind of the way I'm approaching my solo project, to learn a lot and then bring that back to The xx.
Me too. I love learning. You sound so nerdy though.
I think you have to get nerdy to make exciting stuff. Like with DJing, I spent the whole week really practicing and really being quite nerdy. I'm really relieved that I did it. It helped my nerves, because I was really nervous!
Nervous to DJ?
Yeah! Singing and playing the guitar is what I’ve done loads of in my musical career. And DJing, I've done it since I was 17, but always just bits here and there. I love it but I want to take it seriously and I want to get better at it. So you know, I put pressure on myself to practice, and then it becomes more fun because I don't feel as nervous!
Well, that's an awesome attitude.
Do you ever DJ?
I used to but I figured that I was spending too much time finding good music and practising. So I don't really DJ these days, just producing and singing.
That's cool. Well, you're doing amazingly with that!