French electro/rap outfit St.Lô recently brought their eclectic sound to the UK on a mini tour that really captured the imagination. With their new EP Whatnots also being released, it was the perfect time to catch up with militant poetess/MC Hanifah Walidah to chat about their eclectic sound, the human experience and the power of social media.
I’ve read that you met the other members of the band in a hotel in France. How did decide that you wanted to start making music together?
It was a bit, perhaps a lot, of serendipity. It was 2007 and MySpace was still the spot online for bands. I was preparing for a tour with another band and thought to do something a little different: pop-up studios. I’m very introverted, when not on stage, so going to bars is not my go-to when needing to kill time on the road. So I reached out to bands who I liked and lived near the stops on my next tour in France. Memory is blurry about who reached out to whom first. Doc Mau says he reached out to me, on some Sha-Key fan shit, but I remember finding his band La Magnetique flipping through the MySpace search. But either way, we started talking about music and my idea of doing pop-up studios in my hotel rooms. I did just that with several people that tour but it was different with these cats. The vibe was right and the music we made together stuck to the ribs. We connected next summer and made our first EP. From there a local arts organization in Lorient called MAPL caught wind, took us under their wing and supported our growth as a band over the next few years. We wouldn’t have made it to Trans Musicales 2012 or become St.Lo without them.
Your new EP Whatnots is coming out this month. What can we expect from it?
Expect a capsulation of the creative process in all its assured awkwardness! The Whatnots is a nervous release for us. It captures a bit of our vulnerability while working on the next LP. We wanted to release something that was honest about that stage of making music.
It’s only been a year since your album Room 415 came out. What encouraged you to put together this mini-album so soon after its release?
Funny, some think we took too long to release something else. The independent game is just as confused as the mainstream music industry. I don’t think anybody knows what the fuck to do anymore. I think artists have to get back to the gut industry. Release music whenever and however (LP, EP, Single) and use each opportunity to not just reach people, but create a culture around (your) music that impacts the world in some way.
You’ve called your sound “digital urban blues” and it certainly sounds as eclectic and inclusive of different genres as that description suggests. What encouraged you as a band to embrace this range of styles? Is it something that goes back to your musical influences?
This band, like any other band, sounds like the life experience of the four people in it. When asked, we’ve tried to describe our sound as best we could. The latest three word descriptions have been Electronic Blues Concentrate or Brooktagne Classical Music (the last one was ridiculous but I thought it crazy enough to mention). Bottom line is we are all affected by the music we were raised on as children and the music we sought out as young adults. We are affected by the world around us and the internal one we create. Musical styles have been canonized by the industry but at the end of the day it is all a continuum of the artist’s experience through our exploration of melody.
You’ve been working as an MC and singer for about 20 years now. In that time, has the focus of your lyrics and themes changed at all? In the past you’ve been very vocal about issues affecting the LGBT community and African-Americans, so are these still themes that you address?
Yep, still talking about being black and queer, which means I talk about the human experience because both colour my day to day. They are not just topics to talk about but moments to share. I also write about love because I’m a sucker for it and the lessons in tow.
I read a recent really interesting LinkedIn post by you about using social media to help promote St. Lô outside of France that other bands could use as well. How important has using social media become to promoting yourselves outside of France?
It’s the linchpin in how music is marketed today. In our case it’s about reaching the fans directly who don’t know us from a hole in a wall but they know their favourite venue. Venues often have larger followings than a lot of press. So if you are touring you can coordinate your social media to talk directly with folks who go to the venue you are performing at. Social media is how you develop trust when there was none. Social media gives bands a better perspective on the momentum surrounding their music. It can blow and burst your bubble at the same time.
What I mean by that is artists still have similar trajectories about how their careers should pan out. We are guilty of this as well. We are supposed to do this, then that and then this should happen. We’ve been conditioned to value ourselves in quantity of sales not quality of experiences. The fact that some artists are still tripping over the free access to music 15 years after it was common place is missing the point. An artist’s job is not to sell records. An artist’s job is to create culture and community that can have a direct effect on the world around us and your wallet. That is where both the money and peace of mind lies. We initially neglected our social media but now find it makes us more creative and is in better harmony with your lifestyle and genuine interests as a band. I’m blogging about it on Medium and instagram @hanifahwalidah with #wearestlo because I know not just bands but creative organisations can get overwhelmed by social media.
An artist’s job is not to sell records. An artist’s job is to create culture and community that can have a direct effect on the world
As a social media strategist off the road, what’s the one thing that you think a band should do to help promote themselves on social media platforms?
I think strategies can be very different for each band, which is a good thing. But the one thing I hear from artists is that they don’t know which platform to choose and that in itself is paralyzing. I think the first thing you should do is re-evaluate who you are as a band (of people).
List what the creative outlets of each band member (outside of the band) that they enjoy and takes no effort.
Brainstorm about what kind of content (photos, videos, tweets, posts, etc) you can make collectively, consistently and become personally invested in.
See which platform best supports those interests.
Experiment just in that platform. Don’t stress. Just try different things but follow how each is being received. See what kind of content attracts the most interest and then do a deep dive.
This will be St. Lô’s first time touring the UK. What are you expecting from the tour?
As the English speaker and songwriter in the band I hope to reach the audience in ways I haven’t been able to in France. It’s very freeing to look from the stage and know everyone in the audience understands all the layers of the lyrics. So essentially we expect to reach the people and make dust of the stage.
After this mini-tour of the UK, what are you planning to do as a band?
Make a proper record.
This interview was originally conducted for NARC. Magazine Online.