US-born, Berlin-based singer/songwriter Emina Sonnad has released five solo singles in 2021 thus far. Her sixth, and her first release on At Swim Music, is ‘Psychopath’.
‘Psychopath’ is available exclusively on Bandcamp from the 1st October, and will go on general release on the 29th October.
Hi Emina! How’s it going?
“Hi! I’m currently eating a frozen pizza in bed and finally responding to all of my unread emails, so I’d say it’s going pretty great.”
You’re from the US, but currently live in Berlin. What drew you to Europe?
“I like to say I came for the music scene and stayed for the healthcare. But really, I had only heard good things about this place before moving here. I initially came to take part in a software development bootcamp, and by the time the 3 months were over I had fallen hopelessly in love with the city. Now it’s been 3 years and I can’t imagine myself living anywhere else.”
Are you from a musical family?
“Yes, my parents both sing and my dad was teaching me Grateful Dead songs before I could really form sentences. He taught my sister and I how to play the ukulele, and we ended up starting a band together when we were in high school. It was pretty cute, and we even made it to the House of Blues my senior year. A lot of my songs still contain lyrics written by my sister. She’s basically a more talented version of me.”
Your song ‘Psychopath’ is coming out in a couple of months, and you’ve been releasing singles consistently for a few months now. That’s a lot of work! How do you stay so productive?
“It is a lot of work, and I’m not sure I fully comprehended the amount when I started. I think in the beginning I was just trying to prove something. I was going through a hard time and my emotions were driving me to work as hard as humanly possible. It probably wasn’t the healthiest lifestyle. I was working 40 hours a week as a software developer and then using all of my free time on weekends and evenings to practice, write, record, promote myself, shoot videos, all of that. It helped that my project also served as my social life, as I assembled a team of friends who were interested in becoming part of the process. That definitely saved some time. But still, I was barely sleeping and I didn’t really take a day off for about 6 months. That kind of superhuman productivity is not sustainable long term, so now I’m focusing more on getting rest, learning to delegate, and making my mental and physical health a priority. Apart from self care, my biggest productivity tip is to celebrate your small achievements. I was proud of myself when I finished recording the “Psychopath” demo. I was excited when I reached out to an actor who agreed to be in a music video. I was so happy when I got featured on my first music blog. Hey, I’m even proud of myself when I respond to all my emails at the end of the day and remember to pay my utility bills. If you turn the little moments into celebrations, it keeps all the good chemicals in your brain for long enough to get to the next victory.”
What is ‘Psychopath’ about?
“The short answer is that it’s about how trauma can make us feel numb to our emotions. Sometimes we lie to ourselves about the pain and anger we have been carrying in our relationships, and this song takes us on a bit of a chaotic journey to reclaim those feelings. It’s technically a breakup song but it’s less about grieving the loss of a person and more about grieving the parts of us that the person took away.”
Are all of your songs about things that have happened in your life?
“Definitely not. I’m careful not to lean too heavily on my own experiences when I write, because I don’t want to fall into the trap of seeking drama just to gain some inspiration. I’ve also learned that it can be really draining to constantly revisit your darkest and most intimate moments while performing. I try to keep a healthy balance between autobiography and fiction, which is fun because it gives me a lot of freedom.”
Who are your songwriting heroes?
“My favorite songwriter in the world is Regina Spektor. She creates entire universes in her lyrics and I admire the way she’s never afraid to do something strange or unconventional. Another hero is K.Flay, who was basically the angsty fast paced soundtrack to my early 20s. I love how her words are so hard but vulnerable. There’s a rawness to it that I definitely try to emulate in my own writing.”
You always seem to have a strong idea for the images and video for each song. Do these come to you together, or does one follow the other?
“In general, I wouldn’t say that the images come to me naturally the way that the music does. What usually happens is my team and I will plan out a vague concept then try shooting a lot of different things. When something works, we do more of it. Sometimes I think having such a small budget works to our advantage here, because we have no choice but to be extra creative. The “Psychopath” video is a special case though as I was lucky enough to work with director Laura Martinova, who thought up the entire concept and had every shot planned out before the camera started rolling. It was definitely inspirational to work with someone who had such a clear cinematic vision.”
Are you looking forward to performing live again?
“Of course! I spent a lot of 2020 and 2021 building community by sharing my music on the internet, and that was really rewarding, but playing live is one of the best feelings in the world. Bars are opening up in Berlin and I’ve already had the chance to perform a few of my new songs, so it’s just a matter of time until I’m doing full shows again and playing with a band.”
If you could play at any festival, which one would you choose?
“Primavera Sound, for sure.”
If you could play a duet with any musician, living or dead, who would that be? And what song would you play?
“No offence to any living or dead musicians out there, but my duet partner of choice will always be my sister Phoebe. Our song of the year is “Seabird” by the Alessi Brothers, so let’s go with that.”
Last question: Whose rocket would you trust? Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk?
“Elon Musk, without a doubt. That rocket is the only one making it all the way to Mars.”
© At Swim Ltd. Creative Arts 2021
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