She grew up idolizing Lauryn Hill, and with a talent to match, it was inevitable for some of that L. Boogie soul to rub off and sink in. She’s Belgium’s own Selah Sue and she has some serious soul. Call it the Amy Winehouse effect because when Selah Sue sings, everything and everyone stops and all eyes and ears are on her.
With both a self-titled and a rarities album out so far, Selah Sue has been making her rounds performing live across Europe and North America. It’s no surprise the level of attention and acclaim she is gaining with her melancholy vocals topped with wise-beyond-her-years lyrics.
Despite an apparent and adorable Flemish accent layered over her English, Selah Sue speaks with a self-assured confidence that is striking, yet likable. Wearing her signature beehive hairdo, Selah Sue opens up about her speedy songwriting processes, the struggles that inspired her first album, and her humble goal to “live from the music.”
On international success
I never really thought about it because I’m not really a person who thinks about the future a lot [laughs]. I live in the day. And with the success, that’s something that doesn’t get to me very much. More my focus was that it would be cool if this could become my job and I can travel and can get my money from that. I was more thinking about that than the success, but of course it comes along with each other. It’s amazing. I live such a good life.
On the Rarities album
The [songs] on Rarities were also written in the time of the first album. I had too many songs. It wouldn’t fit and because my next album I want to have a different sound of course. I’ve grown older now. It’s already four years older since I wrote those first songs. I was like fifteen, sixteen. It was something I wanted to get out because it’s not nice if I didn’t use the songs, so I let them out through the Rarities.
On songs then and now
Back then I was really depressed. It was hard. I was struggling with myself and I had a hard time with myself. That’s something that’s a bit calmed down now because I have a good relationship, I have a good job. I have a goal of making albums. Back then I was like, “What do I want to do with my life?” The first song on my album is about self-acceptance and I still believe it’s the most important thing in life – to be at ease with yourself. I still believe everything that I say when I sing it now.
On the first North American performance
Oh wow, it was like beyond, like amazing – truly shocked. I never saw such an excited crowd. One woman went crazy when I sang and it felt amazing.
On favourite genres
It’s weird but you cannot say why something is your taste or not. I think you just grow up with it. Soul is something I just got drawn to. I’m really into bass, so I really love electro and dubstep and heavy basses. I really love soul for the vocals and hip hop for the beats. Bass and drums are such important instruments. I don’t know why, but I love it all.
My next album is going to be really eclectic. To make a song, it takes maximum an hour. If it takes longer than that, it might not be a good song. So it was really fast making my second album. It has to go fast otherwise it isn’t there. Recording is something else. It has to be good. For me, I can be so inspired, but it can go away fast so when I have it and it’s there, it’s finished. The recording, that’s something different. It’s not about me. It’s about the other musicians. The producing is about the producer so I cannot judge. The demos, the base, the lyrics and the melodies – that goes fast.
It’s something you learn. I’m not that nervous. I’ve never been that nervous actually, but I’m more nervous when it’s intimate, when they come close and I see them and they look me in the eyes. When it’s for thousands of people in the background I’m like okay, I just do my thing.
On other Belgium artists
Yeah, I feel like last year it went better. It’s still really hard to get across the borders for everybody. I feel really lucky. Me and Milow are the only big international artists at the moment, but everybody is trying. Sometimes I put something on my Facebook from a really good Belgium artist.
On the positives and negatives of the Internet
In this job, the negative is that you can get stuff for free and people don’t buy albums. The physical album, I really like it and it’s too bad it’s not being sold much anymore. The good thing of course is like when I ask why people are here, the public I mean, it’s all because of the Internet. Through MySpace or Facebook, that’s why people are here, so that’s the good thing about it.
On image on and off stage
Honestly, I should think it through better…or not, I don’t know. I wear my hair just as it is all the time, even when I’m out jogging. I wear mostly the same outfits in daily life and on stage, only maybe a little more chic on stage. There’s not a very big difference.
On multi-talented artists
For me, those are the people I respect. It’s hard for me to really look up to people who just sing songs of somebody else. It’s weird and I cannot imagine doing it because singing everyday a song that isn’t yours, it must feel empty. Sometimes like Beyoncé for example, she is an amazing performer. She can dance so she has that talent, but maybe not songwriting, but she also has a good voice. It’s always better to have the whole package.
On major goals
I really love to make albums in my life. I hope I can do this for the rest of my life and make music and live from that. I’m not searching to be world famous. I want to just live from the music.
On favourite Lauryn Hill
She has so many good songs. I love all of them. My favourite? Maybe the Unplugged album and let’s go with “I Find It Hard To Say (Rebel)”.