In Conversation: Etta Bond – ‘Holiday Blues’
Photo credit: Rosie Matheson
“In Conversation” is born out of a love for documentary, a series intent on capturing artists at a juncture in their career. It’s an open conversation and a space to bridge the gap between artist and supporter. I hope you enjoy.
It was lunchtime, not quite one o’clock, and Etta Bond was bunkered down in her bedroom like a fox in a winter bolt hole. Her burrow was a neat, terraced five-bed deep in North London, where she rooms with friends and a docile kitten. Today she wears ashy grey trackies and the type of easy smile brought on by a fortnight sunning in the Jamaican seaside town of Negril.
This winter afternoon was only Etta’s second back home, and for a moment when she woke that morning, her thoughts remained buried in the streets and sands of the Jamaican coast; with the crickets in the long grass, in listless winding studio sessions and in local bars where she spent evenings with a few new friends. And then, when that moment passed, she was back in North London. There was an interview to hurdle at lunchtime, after she would travel across the Thames to Brixton to tape her bi-weekly radio show, the guests of which she still had yet to nail down.
But here she was, curled up on her bed with the drapes shut, the wind beating at her window and the faint murmur of the occasional passing car from the street below. Jamaica was a long way a way from here. And sometimes, on days like these, in the industry she has pitched her tent, with the following she has amassed, Etta feels like public property.
It’s not something that she’s afraid to admit, even to the writer that sits at the foot of her bed with one leg tucked under his thigh and a puffy green parka. “You’re the brand, you’re the product, you’re this, you’re that,” she said to him. “And I understand those things, but I’m just trying to be in control of my life as much as possible.”
Then she paused. Her kitten, a soft ball of moss-green fur, had mounted the bed and crested in a coil atop of the big black notebook the writer had been taking his cues from. They both laughed, then Etta turned to the kitten. “Get away!” she purred, and when he didn’t budge, she scooped him gently under her arm, jangled open her bedroom door with the other, and placed him in the hallway outside. They both laughed again. Then, she pushed the door shut and climbed back onto her bed. She pulled her knees right up to her chest, and for a moment, continued to think about Jamaica.
“I don’t know, just the head space of being away is so inspiring; I think I’m someone who shouldn’t be held in one place. I get a sense of freedom whenever I go away. Things that you’ve never seen before and felt before are exactly what create music.
I was born in Cambridge and then I went to boarding school in Hertfordshire when I was 13 and then moved to London when I was 16, so I kind of feel like I’ve always been on the move a little bit. I’ve been in London ten years now and I’m just starting to feel like I need some different forms of inspiration. So that [Jamaica] was really special. I was at the airport already looking for flights to come back.”
How did it feel coming back?
“I’ve cried a lot [laughs]. I’m not even going to lie. A sense of freedom is…that’s living to me. I feel captured sometimes over here. People act like you have no choice [but to stay] and I think it’s that sort of thing makes me to feel like, ‘Well why? Why can’t I go and be where I want to be? Why can’t I live life like that?’
I guess it’s responsibilities and all of that stuff, but at the same time I don’t like thinking it’s impossible; I definitely feel something like that is possible if I wanted to do that. Maybe it’s just cause I only just got back. I would love to go and write out there. I just think that would be really beneficial. It sounds crazy but it doesn’t make it impossible.”
Does music give you that freedom?
“It does. But I think it works hand in hand. Music gives me freedom, but at the same the more free I am the better it is. To create I like to feel as free as possible. And there’s a lot of things in this country, in this industry, in just being around here that does not make me feel free. I feel like a lot of the time I’m public property. I’m not fucking Adele, but I just think maybe because that’s not really my vibe I already feel like public property. I feel like what I do belongs to everyone else.”
Are you talking about your music?
“Everything. It’s not even about just music these days. It’s not just my music, like whatever you put out there is what people own now. And it’s difficult. Like if you’re using social media or whatever, I try to keep the focus on my music as much as possible. Most people nowadays, they’d rather just see what you look like in the morning. Part of me feels like this stuff isn’t for me but I just like sharing my music and that’s why I do it. I like sharing my music, what ever I had to go through to write that piece of music will help someone through a point.
That’s why I share my music because I feel like it would be selfish if I came to these conclusions myself and didn’t share them with someone; it’s like watching someone make a mistake. You can’t tell them not to do it, but I can say ‘I did this, this happened to me, this is how I felt and someone can learn from you. I figure things out by writing through them so I feel like it would be almost selfish of me to keep them to myself. That’s why I do it, all of the other stuff that comes with it makes me sick. Most of it makes me absolutely sick.”
What kind of stuff?
“Stuff that you have to almost cater too. I mean, you don’t have to, but I’ve built up a good social media following on my own and you kind of have to keep it going. And that’s the sort of thing where I’m like *sighs* I have to use this bloody Twitter. I don’t really have a choice to lock it off, I mean I could but would it be good for what I have to do? These are all reasons why I find myself sometimes feeling like a bit of a prisoner. And it sounds a bit ‘woe is me’ but I do sometimes feel like essentially that I can’t go off and…I can’t….I’m not free.
And I know, I keep trying to tell myself that I have to work on it, I have to start with the freedom of my mind. You’re not always going to be able to…if someone was in prison, if someone locked me up I would have no choice but to find pure freedom in my mind and nothing else. Because I can’t get on a plane, I can’t get on a bus. I wouldn’t be able to do that. You have to find freedom in your mind. But it’s that frustration knowing that I’m not in prison, I’m not locked up but I still, I feel like I can’t do all the time what I want to do. Know what I mean?”
Fresh experiences are so necessary throughout the creative process, you can get a bit stuck otherwise. Touching on the idea of music helping people through things. Do you find it difficult to put that personal stuff out into the ether though?
“I always say it’s the difference between writing a diary and publishing one. Because I’ve written a diary since I was seven and then I started writing (music) from an early age, maybe like 13, but didn’t start releasing that till I was 21. The difference is, if you’re writing at home it’s like having a conversation with yourself.
If you’re alone in the house and you start talking to yourself and talking through stuff, maybe something that’s bothering you, something that’s pissed you off, and you talk about it, you’ll say it in a way that you would not in front of anyone else. You call up your best friend and you still wouldn’t say it as honestly, maybe just for a split second, something would stop you saying it because you’re talking to someone else.
I think that’s the difference, you have to find a way to say the things that you would say on your own in a room with nobody else listening. It can be a little bit difficult sometimes. Back in the day I would just write and have no qualms because I wouldn’t even think people would hear it. But now when I’m writing my diary I’m like looking over my shoulder like shit people are going to listen to this. You have to try and x that out of your brain. I’ll try and x everyone out just so it can be as natural as possible.”
Does that awareness of your following have an impact?
“It definitely makes a difference but it’s just something you’ve got to work around. It’s just another challenge of being a creative person. As you progress you’re always going to come across different types of challenges, like before it was ‘how am I going to get people to hear my music?’
Before it was ‘I’m writing this song and nobody is here to listen to it.’ Then once you get to a certain point you’re thinking backwards, I’ve got to try and think and write like no one is listening so it comes out as honestly and as true as possible.”
It can be strange, almost uncomfortable to put your life out there like that. I’ve felt uneasy after doing it. How do you feel after?
“It’s because it’s like, you can feel people. I’m sure people straight away any fear that you had, straight away there were people knocking that off being like ‘Thank You for putting this out there. I’ve been waiting for someone to say this shit.’ And you can still feel a little bit weird about it. It’s like standing their naked in front of everyone. You kind of just have to get used to the idea of feeling naked within your thoughts. There’s still points where I definitely still feels a bit like eurgh.”
So what keeps you going?
“Maybe there’s someone that it hasn’t reached yet that really needs it right now. Maybe someone’s sitting in a house somewhere that really needs the words that I’ve written down in one song and that’s what makes me want to push my music because I feel for those few people.”
Your music has a feeling of honesty, how do you balance that with the extras of the music industry?
“I don’t know. I live with my friends, I live with Raf [Riley] who produces a lot of my work. Ashnikko is a rapper, she lives here. One of my best friends Steph is a dancer, she lives downstairs. I surround myself with free people; free-spirited people. I go on vibes.
I know a lot of people and I meet a lot of people and I party and people think ‘aah crazy party girl.’ But actually this is me, at home, not many people see this part when this is really who I am most of the time. I just keep myself around people that feed my soul that I can genuinely feel within myself. If I start to feel people aren’t doing that then I distance myself. If it’s not feeding my soul then I just distance myself from it. I think that’s how I manage to keep my balance. And I encourage everyone to be expressive, because everyone is expressive.”
Just not always tapped into it.
“I think people are scared that it has to be a certain way or it has to be with somebody else’s standard. Some quote I saw, it was like Picasso who said ‘we’re all artists when we’re children, the trick is staying an artist when you become an adult.’ When you’re a baby or whatever you see kids drawing about the place but they don’t care, they’re being expressive. That’s all, everyone is, expressive. I think a lot of people are too scared to be.”
People get weighed down by expectations. Which is what I think about social media, it can be a lot of pressure at times.
“To me it’s just a dangerous world, because the worse thing you can do is compare your self to someone else. You’re going in the wrong direction, as soon as you start comparing yourself to someone else. And that’s really what social media kind of encourages. You know, ‘rate someone.’ I know that’s the majority of people, not just girls. Boys and girls I’m pretty sure without even realising, instantly compare themselves to people and other people’s situations, other people’s lifestyles. That’s what social media has the danger of doing.
Unless you’re aware of these things it’s really difficult to control yourself from being affected by these things and even if you are aware and conscious, it can still be difficult to steer yourself away from the effect of it. Like I said, social media is a way for me being in touch with my followers or whatever but I’ve always just liked to document things. I just like documentation. That’s all it is. I would actually rather if I could cut off all the likes. I just want to put the fucking things up so I could scroll through and be like ‘hey look at my life’ and ‘ahh look at that.’ I don’t delete it because it’s all memories. That’s what all of my music is.”
I think that’s special in your music, the documentation aspect. The feeling of reading back or listening to something and thinking that at that time, at that month, at that moment I felt like that.
“It puts you back somewhere.”
I feel like I’m staring through your eyes when I listen.
“That’s cool because when you write something it can paint a picture that is so vivid to you, an exact picture. And sometimes I wonder, I wish I could see what it painted for other people because it painted something so specific for me.The songs I write are a photo or a page in my diary and can put me back into a moment.”
Saying that, ‘Seen and Never Heard’ seemed like a step away from a personal experience to a broader message.
“I think it was a bunch of things. I don’t really know where to start. You write the things you need to hear sometimes. Everyone was going about feminism and kept using the word ‘feminist’ and I was like ‘shit, I don’t really know much about feminism. I’m just writing from my perspective and I just happen to be a woman.’
It’s not an intentional thing. I didn’t go in with a plan of how it would be received or whatever. I wrote that not because I’m the strongest woman in the world, but because I needed strength at that point. I needed strength at that time. I really needed to hear those things, I really needed to hear myself say those things. People took it as the idea that I was trying to help others but I was actually trying to help myself, the fact that people supported it actually helped me.
I wrote that because I needed to hear it myself. It gave me strength, releasing that song, people’s energy back to me gave me strength. Certain songs take you into different realms. That song kind of took me into a different part. I was more aware of the effect music has on people. It just felt good.”
What were you looking for strength from?
“Well I mean, the chorus would sort of sum it up. ‘Would it be easier if I was seen and never heard?’ I guess it was just like. [pauses] I don’t know, I don’t know how to answer this. What did I need strength from? I guess just coming from a place where I felt like I had to be silent. I was in a position where I felt like I had to be silent and I just think I realised how much effect that had on me.
I was being silent and I just feel like I’m a person that my freedom has a massive effect on me. If I don’t feel free then I’m in a terrible place. I think that’s what it was. I didn’t feel free and I felt silenced. I just didn’t feel in a great place. That’s where it came from.”
Where do you think you are now?
“I wouldn’t say I’m old [laughs]. I’m not old yet, It’s not quite ten years in the game yet; there’s still people that don’t know me. But even just being in this a couple of years, now newer artists call me up when they’re talking to someone about a contract. It’s little things like that; I haven’t been in the game ages but I’ve signed a deal. I’ve done little things like that.
It’s nice to be that person that someone comes too. We all have something to offer each other. They offer me this fresh, new, almost naive view on the industry, before they’ve seen all the bullshit. It’s like a relationship. They’ve come into it, they still thinks it’s all wondrous and that’s a beautiful thing. Because if you hang around the people that have been in the industry a long time and that’s it, you’ll go around being like ‘fuck this shit’ [laughs].”
So what about going forward?
“I want to make a lot of music this year, I want to put out a lot of music. I wanna do more shows, I would love to do more sets with a band. I just want to open myself up to doing more things. I’m always going to make music, that’s always going to be my main form of expression, or my deepest form.
But there’s other things that I want to find time to do. I want to DJ. I’ll do acting. I just want to be living life, learning new things and just trying new things. I’m keeping an open mind.”
Find Etta on Twitter – @EttaBond
Interview by Aniefiok Ekpoudom