Name: Freya Roy
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer
Recent release: Freya Roy's new EP For Who I Have Become is out via FCR Music. Order vinyl at Freya's personal webstore.
Recommendations: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid; Q-Tip - Kamaal The Abstract
If you enjoyed this interview with Freya Roy and would like to find out more about her work, visit her official website. She is also on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started playing guitar when I was about 9 and became completely hooked. I was guitar obsessed! At this age there was always music playing around the house - Miles Davis, Pink Floyd, and John Martyn to name but a few. My dad used to subscribe to Uncut Magazine, and I used to fall asleep in bed listening to the free CD compilations on my Walkman. It was something about the gliding guitar melodies and dense textures that fascinated my ears.
I started producing a few years later at 13/14. I got into making tunes out of looping, which gave me space to explore improvisation and vocal harmonisation. I think all of this too contributed to my attraction towards textures and layers and has definitely shown in my music moving forwards.
Although I never really considered myself a vocalist to begin with, I slowly began to find more of a voice within songwriting and I was gigging from around 14 in Norwich. It was a great place to start as there were tonnes of venues and promoters putting on events every night and for a number of years I did at least a few gigs a week.
I am surprised to think I had so much confidence back then to put myself out there, ringing up venues left right and centre, I was so hungry for it and it really set me up for what was to come later down the line.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
When I listen to music that I love, I experience a feeling of euphoria. I think that’s the best way I can describe it. Something in my chest that vibrates and makes me feel amazing.
I think I’m always searching for this feeling when I’m creating and writing, and when I do find it, I know I’m on the right path to making something I really connect with.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
One of the biggest challenges I have faced throughout my career in music is my health. I suffer from a joint condition that has dictated the way I live for many years, from being unable to sometimes carry out simple tasks such a cooking, to having to cancel live shows, and give up playing certain instruments.
Although a hinderance, having to spend periods of time not playing has forced me to change the way I use and think about music. I first experienced a significant injury to my wrist around 8 years ago, and I had to give up playing classical guitar and classical piano. This period of time felt really dark and I was unable to listen to music because it made me feel too sad.
Since then, I have continued to face similar struggles, but I have grown to use music and sound as something that heals me, rather than thinking of it as something that I compete with. It has been a difficult journey and I am still learning - learning not to compare myself to more able musicians and think of the things I cannot do.
This is definitely where production and mixing comes in as a saving grace, providing that place where I can get lost in music with fewer limits.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I identify strongly with being queer which influences so much of my writing. It gives me space to freely talk about my experience, which is not something I often speak about, so it’s a bit of an emotional release for me. It’s helped me be more open with my sexuality too - the very obvious use of pronouns and talking about sexual experiences in some of my tunes - knowing that listeners are hearing this word for word has made me feel more acceptance.
I was quite nervous to put out my single ‘Naked’ which is on my new EP, for this exact reason, but I would rather show more honesty through lyrics than hide behind something else in the music. I look for things I can read into when I listen to music myself with lyrics, something that will keep me thinking afterwards ‘what did they actually mean by that?’. I like music that can be slightly cryptic and you have to crack the code.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Melody, rhythm and texture are the big 3 for me. Although I might start a tune with a small chord progression and then a beat, it is the melody and layering that guides me throughout a production, and the same things attract me to what I listen to. I think that’s why I love people like Theon Cross and Moses Boyd - the way they both combine live percussive elements with beats and layered horn sections within electronic approaches to the production.
My approach to producing has always been completely unpredictable and sometimes the processes that I have used to create some of my own tunes, that I am really proud of, don’t always work every time - I just have to trust myself and come back to something if it’s not working.
With lyrics, I make it my mission to always be as honest as I possibly can: I have naturally done this with my new EP For Who I Have Become - the project explores heartbreak but at the same time it’s a release that falls at quite a significant point in my life. I’ve noticed a change in how people interact with my music since I have made this move, and for me, the feeling I’ve been getting from slowly releasing with projection since winter 2020, has been so fulfilling and special for me.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
This is a difficult question to answer for sure! I think it’s hard to say what is what these days with genres and production styles coming round in full circle. I’ve never thought of what “music of the future” could be, and I think it can be really hard to pull off something that gives a strong nod towards “continuing a tradition”. Lady Wray is a strong example of someone really nailing this!
What ticks for me is having a combination of traditional elements mixed with something contrasting and more modern. People like Cleo Sol and Sault, El Michels Affair, Theon Cross, and Ezra Collective are people leading these examples.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
I think if I was left with just my guitar, my small Korg Minilogue Synth, and my laptop, I could probably continue to make exactly the music I want, forever.
When I first got my synth, so many doors opened for me. I have always had a real attraction towards electronic music and I was able to fully start exploring this when I could play with a polyphonic synth in front of me. I think there are so many limits to discover with a single instrument - re-routing something completely differently - for example putting my synth through all my guitar pedals and fender amp creates something that I probably wouldn’t find without buying a new synth plugin.
When I first started making music I was too conscious of what was the ‘right’ way or the ‘right’ sound, when really it just doesn’t matter. All that matters is that it sounds good to me. If the £50 plug-in sounds better than the £150 plug-in from a more established brand, then the £50 one just sounds better! I’ve learned to let go and always just go with my ear and what feels good.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
I love the peacefulness that early mornings bring, and I would love to say that I’m a super early riser. However, my many years of bar work has robbed me of this. (laughs) If it’s a day to create, I like a relatively slow morning coffee in the sun (if she’s about) and then I just get going.
I have a home studio so everything that I need is around me. I am always juggling multiple tracks at once, so it’s normally just what I’m feeling on the day - whether that’s getting into a mix of something, working on someone else’s track, or starting something from scratch. Sometimes I like to just enjoy the daytime by going out for coffee and a walk, and then start creating early evening and into the night.
I find comfort in creating on Friday and Saturday evenings. I think it’s knowing that people are out and about and that I’m at home in the peace and quiet. It always feels good to make myself and my surroundings comfortable - nice lighting, a candle maybe, a nice herbal tea, comfy clothes.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
My new EP For Who I Have Become has marked quite a special moment for me.
I first began the project at the end of 2019, and I spent until the end of 2021 perfecting every little bit. There came a point in 2020 when I thought the project was finished, and after a month of giving my ears a breather, I returned to every single track to spend another whole 12 months working on them. During the pandemic I was fortunate to have so much time to focus and develop. I could hear myself moving towards sounds that I had been trying to reach for years and to now have a whole project that I feel fully represents me feels really special.
For Who I Have Become is about finding new love and breaking up my relationship. A lot of the songwriting came naturally and provided a way for me to deal with what was going on. Some of the instrumentals grew separately and then the songs naturally found each other. I explored the beat making a lot on this project, combining live drum elements with programmed drums.
I naturally put less focus on the guitar in this project. Although it’s my main instrument, I discovered more parts to the music by giving more space for other sounds. It was almost more freeing putting down something I have been quite attached to, or something I have perhaps hidden behind in music without knowing.
The whole of the EP was put together throughout lockdowns, so some parts were pieced together from instrumentalists recording from their own home and sending tracks over to me bit by bit, so it was a very solitary process as a whole. I worked pretty much every evening with my headphones on, on my own and into the night. It was the only way I was finding comfort and a space to get lost in a dark time of the pandemic outbreak.
Now releasing this in 2022, with many battles along the way, it feels like an achievement to have made this project and released it exactly the way I wanted.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
Due to my health, making music has been more of a solitary experience for me. This is mostly down to always having a feeling of wanting to catch up with myself or make up for time that I’ve lost, which isn’t always the best way to think about it. Or it’s down to finding comfort in getting lost on my own, when I am feeling fully capable.
I have found it easier to collaborate in the last few years and it’s definitely something I am working on. I mostly collaborate in a producer / instrumental role (guitar), but I’m beginning to branch out with mixing which I’m absolutely loving!
Amazing things can happen when you find a great team dynamic. I’ve found that working with people like Maya Law and Leo Lore, both of whom are great writers and vocalists, has helped me find where I stand and they have showed me that what I can do is something worth sharing.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
I think music is shared emotions, and when my music connects with someone and it makes them feel something then that is what it’s all about, right?
Other than food, I think music is the most important way of bringing people together, a way of healing us, and a way of expressing ourselves. If my music can play any one of those roles, which I hope it does, then that is a victory for me.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Music and writing has been a way of me understanding myself and the situations I have been in throughout my life - all of the above topics being something I have written about. It’s also a way of understanding ourselves – I will write a tune and not fully understand it until months or even years later.
Writing is a way of talking about something that you might not want to actually physically speak about, a way of expressing yourself without people necessarily answering back, however troubling the topic has been for you. It’s almost free therapy.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
When I think about this, I think about how music can heal, and the sonic capabilities of vibration. Humming massages your vagus nerve which is connected to your vocal cords, and stimulating this calms your nervous system and can have so many health benefits. I think there is so much for us to discover with sound for our own benefits as individuals.
I am not always as committed to vocal warmups as I should be, but giving time to even just hum for 5 mins before a practice, is enough to connect me more.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
There is absolutely nothing I can compare to the feeling of getting off stage or writing a really good tune.
I sometimes ask myself ‘what the hell am I doing, continuing to grind in this absolute minefield of an industry?’. But when you shut out the noise, I remember why I am, and that’s because music brings a feeling that I can’t find anywhere else.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
I think that as humans, we naturally gravitate towards vibrations. Even the hum of the fridge is comforting and a space can feel so empty when you suddenly take something like that away.
For me, I feel that music creates something that you cant really articulate or explain.