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Svetlana Opens Up About Life As An Artist Ahead Of The Release Of New Single ‘London’

Svetlana is a woman of many talents. Driven by her passion for writing and social change, she is an author of poetry, stories and articles – and the founder of educational platform Not Actually Radical. In the music world, she is proclaimed as ‘The Romantic Rockstar’ – her ability to create timeless yet relatable songs sets her up to become a leading light in music.

From her soulful vocals and melodies to her authentic lyricism, the London-born artist creates tunes that are reminiscent of adored music icons of the past. Her recent single, Tally Man, reflects on the strains of everyday life and her strong desire for freedom. It made its way to radio stations such as BBC Radio London, No Signal and The Pit London.

Now, Svetlana is gearing up to release her new single from her debut EP. London, which will be released on 5th November, captures the singer-songwriter’s reality in a busy city as she and those around her work to make a living, leaving no time in-between to create moments with loved ones – an all too familiar feeling that most city dwellers are accustomed to.

In light of her upcoming release, New Wave caught up with Svetlana to talk about London and delve deeper into who she is as an artist.

Photo: Latoya Okuneye

- It’s clear through your lyrics, and through your other outlets, for instance, you’re also a writer - that your creativity comes from your personal experiences. When did you realise that music was a particularly strong way for you to express yourself?

S: I think when I was a child. My parents didn’t play a lot of music but my dad played a lot of Igbo highlife from Nigeria and Bob Marley, so I was listening to a lot of Bob Marley and a lot of this stuff and I was feeling like… I like writing, but music is another way that I can just explore how I feel. It feels more creative in a different way, and I think I got obsessed with doing music as well. So it’s definitely the music influence I heard my dad playing, and then just trying it out myself and seeing that actually, I can do this.

- Are there any people, musicians, that you are particularly inspired by?

S: Definitely Bob Marley, he changed my life. He was definitely the artist that made me realise that music isn’t just about love and all that stuff, you can make music that’s powerful and that can help the world and help bring people together. Rage Against The Machine, I really like rock and how they use anger and aggression and rage to get through the message of the system and capitalism. I love Billie Holiday, and jazz, and Etta James back in the day; because I really really liked how they wrote about love, as something that you would die for and that you need to survive kind of thing. It’s so dramatic and I really relate to how love can feel like that, so I love music like that.

- And I guess unless you’re in the industry, it’s hard to envision what life as an artist is really like. What does a typical day for you look like when you’re in that process of creating music and bringing it to life?

S: When I go to the studio or when I’m writing at home, it’s just a lot of playing on my guitar, because I need to have the music before I actually write the lyrics. So, it’s a lot of trying to find chords that go together, and that “okay, this goes together, now what comes to me?”. I don’t really work [in a way that] I’m like “okay, I wanna write about this today”, most of the time I play guitar and it just comes out of nowhere. Like “Oh okay, maybe this was meant to be” kind of thing. So it’s mostly just grabbing the guitar, playing some chords, writing to it and then sending it to my friend like “is this good?”

- So it just comes naturally for you?

S: Yeah. It's surprising to me sometimes because I didn’t grow up with music and no one in my family does music, and I’ve never studied it. So sometimes, it’s really strange to feel how natural it is even though it doesn’t really make sense if I’ve never been in that environment. So that’s why I like it and feel like maybe I’m supposed to do this.

- Definitely, and that’s a gift!

S: Thank you!

- Often, we hear about musicians who lack creative control or have little say over the direction of their music. Do you feel that personally, you can be truly authentic through your work?

S: Yeah, I think definitely because I don’t have a record deal or something like that. So I am in control and I think that’s a big part of who I want to be as an artist, like 'Svetlana' – "I’m in control, I make the rules” kind of thing. If someone tells me what to do then my music is gonna be inauthentic, so I think even if one day I do sign a deal, I won’t ever accept boundaries to it. Music is to express, so I would never let someone tell me how to express my music. But I feel like right now I have as much control as possible, which is good.

- Your debut EP is coming soon. What made you choose 'London' as the EP’s first release? What does the song mean to you?

S: The theme of the EP is just this idea of, I was in a period of my life where I wanted to find myself in other people, so through love or through the wrong friendships. I think we direct a lot of negative things from doing that because you’re lost trying to find yourself in other people that are lost. I think that 'London' was the first song that marks that chapter in my life because it’s like, you’re in the city, you’re doing what you feel you’re supposed to be doing, and you’re always ‘busy’; but you’re so lonely and all you want is love. It’s the first song in the EP that carries the whole theme, and it’s one of my favourite songs I’ve written I think, especially playing it live now after lockdown and seeing the reception. Even if you’re from New York or Tokyo or wherever, you can relate to how a city can feel so lonely, and that’s what I like about the song.

- When you realised the busyness of your life and the lives of those around you, were you able to work on it and find a healthy balance?

S: I would say no. I think I find it really hard because this life is so busy and you sort of want to become more than it, like "if I work really hard and get really successful, then I can manipulate my life and I don’t have to be busy because I have money to relax sometimes"; and then it never feels enough. So I think it’s really hard for me to accept the idea of ‘rest’ when I’m also trying to be successful. I’ve also grown up with parents who are immigrants, that came here and were on survival mode all the time. So I think I’m like that as well, and I don’t really understand how rest works with trying to gain, basically, so I’m finding it hard.

- Definitely, a lot of people can relate to that and that’s what makes the song so powerful.

S: Thank you!

- You performed at Creative Con in September, where members of the New Wave team and New Wave readers got to see you perform. You also performed your upcoming single ‘London’. How does it usually feel going in front of a live audience and opening yourself up to a crowd, as opposed to being in a studio, alone or with a just small team? Is it something you find intimidating, or exciting, or both?

S: Both, but I think I prefer playing live. I like going to the studio but I think sometimes it’s a bit boring, so, playing live is the only time where you feel, “this is why I’m doing it” rather than “I’m in the studio with other people that do music so we’re just talking about music”. But when you’re playing live, and you’re around people that don’t do music and love other things and they still connect to it, you feel like “okay, this is why I’m doing it”; I don’t think the experience of playing live can ever compare to anything else. I’m not really an open person, I’m quite shy sometimes. But when I’m on stage, it’s the only time I can sing about anything I’m going through and I don’t care, because someone’s gonna be like “okay I feel that way too”. So I think that’s the only time I really open myself up; which is why I love playing live.

- What, to you, is the most rewarding part about being an artist?

S: I think connecting to people and putting words to people’s experiences, and just feeling like people are pouring into you by listening to you and watching you live, and you’re pouring into them by singing. That’s the main thing I love the most, that human connection kind of thing.

- Outside of music, what else are you passionate about?

S: I’m really passionate about writing and social change, I have platform called Not Actually Radical. It’s about how important education is to creating social change. I’m really passionate about giving people the resources to understand their life, and understand the system they’re in, and how we can do these things for free – because everything costs money, but education should be free. So I’m really interested in that, and writing poetry and stories, I love writing stories, just all of that stuff I love.

- So writing is your thing!

S: Yeah. That’s the first thing I ever did in my life, writing. Before I knew I could do music was that.

- Where do you see yourself, or hope to see yourself, five years from now? Particularly as an artist, but also more generally.

S: In five years, I definitely want to have an album by that time. I really want to win an Ivor Norvello [award] for songwriting, and to do a tour, like a lot of tours. I want to be gigging all the time around the world, that’s what I really want to do. Outside of music, I really want to just have my own space, with a garden and two cats, and just feel like the work I do outside of music like writing and the platform is impacting people. So that’s what I wanna do in five years.


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