Sometimes an album comes out of nowhere and blows your mind. Such was the impact of Erika de Casier’s self-released Essentials, a mix of dreamy 90s nostalgia and refreshingly self-assured pop that sounded more like a greatest hits comp than a debut project. Now, two years and a whole-ass pandemic later, de Casier is back with her follow-up record Sensational, out now on the legendary label 4AD.
A couple days before the album release, I caught up with the Copenhagen-based artist over Zoom to discuss 2Pac, alter-egos, touring Japan and more.
Let’s start with 2Pac! You reference him in “Polite”, and I noticed in the “Do My Thing” video that you have a 2Pac poster. What does his music mean to you?
My brother used to listen to 2Pac a lot, so it started with that. I like the strength in it, his honesty, he’s lyrically amazing… everything about his art.
I feel like he’s underrated even as a songwriter, the emotion in a song like “Unconditional Love” or “Smile” with Scarface.
So powerful, and very ahead of its time. And the way he can express anger and still say how he feels with such a high vocabulary.
And you’ve mentioned before your love of 90s/2000s pop/R&B artists like Destiny’s Child and Craig David. As a kid were you always into that sound?
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t. When I started watching MTV I found pop/R&B.
For me I think music and memory are so strongly connected. I still have strong childhood memories of Missy Elliott and whatever was on NOW! That’s What I Call Music –
I can hear those connections in your music and that’s part of what really draws me to it. Your new album Sensational is your first release with 4AD. I love Cocteau Twins and the label in general, so when I found out you signed with them it was like a dream come true. How did you connect with the label?
I met my current A&R at a small festival here in Denmark and after that she contacted me saying we should have lunch. I thought “oh my god, it’s 4AD!”
With Essentials, nobody was interested in releasing that at all. It was like “We’ll see how it goes…” so I released it myself. I talked to a lot of labels for the past one-and-a-half/two years. Once 4AD gave me an offer I was so [excited]. I’m a Cocteau Twins fan, [the label] is so legendary and it’s independent. They’re not trying to make me something I’m not.
It doesn’t seem like they’ve been super controlling or anything.
No, not at all.
Do you feel like the process of making Sensational was very different from Essentials?
Not really, the label told me “we signed you because we like you”. Of course I think they would say something if they thought the music was off *laughs*. The one thing that changed was the expectations. Now people expect something, but I try my best not to think about that *laughs*.
As far as the process goes, do you focus more on the production first or the lyrics?
It changes, but my go-to is I make a beat so I have the mood. Then I start writing, and the melody and the text come together. Sometimes I have a part of a song and the rest is like mumbling. Other times I have a kind of poem that I put to melody. Usually I start with the instrumental, it can just be a loop or some synth pads, then I form it, I circle back to the lyrics, the beat, mix a little…
Do the lyrics come to you in English?
Yeah, they do! I’ve written one song in Danish, and in high school I wrote a Danish song, but vocabulary in English is so much bigger than Danish. Also, because I listen to so much English-language music, that comes naturally. It is kind of weird when you think about it, because when I speak English I have this kind of [difficulty], it’s not my mother tongue. In music, I feel it’s my language.
It’s great for me, I can sing along and know what I’m singing!
So you have this alter-ego, Bianka, who has appeared in your newest videos. What inspired this persona?
It’s been really fun, I love taking out that wig! I wanted to do something different, I bought all these different wigs online from this like, party shop. I tried them on and then all of a sudden got all these new ideas of this character and what I wanted her to be like. For “Drama”, I wanted her to be this mysterious housewife… it just gave me a new persona to work with, like, “Can I see myself in this? Is this me? Is this Bianka? Would Bianka do that?”
It gives me freedom, and also confidence. You know, like at theme parties, when you dress up you feel like you can do more, or act out more. It’s fun, I like the wig!
It seems like a good outlet for your sense of humor. The “Busy” video is so fun and funny. You said Clarissa Connelly did the photos. I like that you and your friends support each other’s music. There’s so much talent in your country – does it feel like when you’re hanging out with her or Smerz is it just hanging out or is there a musical scene?
There’s definitely a musical scene, but I hang out with them all the time. Like every other day. When we go away for a while to their parents’ house we make music, there it’s like a musical collective. We don’t make music together but we still show each other what we make and give feedback. In our daily life though, it’s just like, go to a café, hang out, listen to music, it’s very chill. I can see from the outside how it seems like a musical scene.
Do you ever want to sing with other artists? Sometimes I think about how I’d love to hear you on a track with someone else. “Someone to Chill With” makes me think of Kehlani, for instance. I know it’s a different country and sound, but I feel like you could sing with her.
Really? Whoa. I would sing with other people, I’ve been kind of shy to ask up to now. I just asked people to do remixes for Sensational, which was a big thing. I’m from a very small town in Denmark, I’ve always lived in places that are very low-key before Copenhagen. When I get asked about international artists I would work with, I almost don’t dare to dream about it, it’s weird! But I would love to.
Well, you did a remix for Dua Lipa, you must have been totally mind-blown when that happened.
I was, I was. I woke up one day, looked at my phone, and so many people were messaging me freaking out, like “Dua Lipa reposted your track!” I was confused, like did she really? Is it her real profile? *laughs*
So I wrote her like “Hey, thanks! Have a nice day,” not even expecting her to answer. She was just super chill, like “my manager will get in touch with you!” It was cute, it didn’t seem like a superstar was writing me, she was very humble and sweet.
Yeah, she is a real person.
Yeah she is, you would expect it to be some kind of machine [running the account]. I think she really wanted to show support to smaller artists.
Can you tell me about going to Japan and playing shows there? It was your first time, right?
Yes, and that was amazing. I was there only four days because I had other dates after and before, which I hated because I really wanted to be there a long time! I was in Tokyo and Osaka. I opened for this Japanese band called D.A.N. – they’re huge in Japan and just asked me, like “Hey would you want to support us on this gig?” *laughs* Sure, why not!
Osaka was so weird because it reminded me of Aarhus, the town I’m from in Denmark. It really reminded me of it, the community there. I was in a little record store and they have this passion for music, they just wanna hear new music.
In Tokyo, it was like you could hear a pin drop between tracks, they were so quiet! There was even a bar, nobody’s even talking at the bar – total silence. You could talk without a microphone and 1000 people would hear you! We were planning to go back, but, y’know.
Lovely people, so kind. There was a calmness to the experience. The people are so attentive and also very on time. You know how if a concert is set for 8 it will be 8:30 or 9? In Japan, you have to be ready to walk on stage the minute your time starts. And you have to leave when the concert ends. So professional!
You have some European dates coming up?
Yes, from August to November.
I’m guessing you haven’t played any shows in a year.
Yeah, last show was February 2020, right before Lockdown 1. So weird, because I was playing quite a lot at the time. And I had an interrail pass for Europe so I could just get on a train to the next place, I was having a good time!
Well, I’m super excited that you have the new album coming out! I think it’s great, I really like “Secretly” – I’m drawn to these emotional tracks like “Puppy Love” or “Secretly”.
I love that you love “Secretly”, nobody has said that yet – it’s kind of a forgotten track. I’m super proud of what I make. *laughs*
You should be! To me, there’s no ceiling for you as an artist. Sky’s the limit!
I’m glad you think so, let’s see where the album takes me… I can only take one day at a time! *laughs* Thank you, that’s so kind of you.