After spending time as a musician in bands like [ingenting], Sleepyhead, Sibille Attar’s debut solo album, felt like a breakout moment for a new star. Pop with personality, it bagged her nominations for a P3 Guld award and a Gaffa award, and seemed to be the first step of a new art-pop auteur. But after the album’s release, Attar went quiet, sick of the industry she found around her. It’s only now in 2018 that she’s coming back with the follow-up. Attar’s new EP Paloma’s Hand was released in April, and is in some ways a continuation, in some ways a break with where she was before. The EP is packed with sparkling melodies, but also a darkness in places, like night drawing in. It’s Attar’s artistic expression taken to another level, a creative rebirth for her in a different form. We caught up with her to talk about it.
We’ll start at the beginning of this EP cycle. So Sleepyhead came out in 2013, and then there were no releases with Sibille Attar since then. What was behind the delay? You talked about becoming disillusioned with the musical climate you were in around the release of Sleepyhead.
Yes, I felt kind of disconnected from it. As if my musical competence was secondary when it came to the interest of people around me. I guess life just happened too. And I needed to take a break, and redefine what I was doing and why, sort of. It was kind of a shock to all of a sudden be the centre of attention. Before I was just a musician in band, and toured all over, but I never had to deal with anything. I just kind of toured all over, did the shows, got drunk and had a good time. But all of the responsibilities that come with being the centre of something [were new]. But it wasn’t like I made a plan [to take a break], it just kind of happened, because I needed it. And now I’m here.
Because Sleepyhead was a big success as well, there was a lot of attention and focus and hype around that album.
The thing is I never felt that. I felt shittier every day, instead of the opposite, which I guess would have been more natural or normal. This time it feels different and better.
When you’ve had a pause like that for five years, and you’ve felt a bit disillusioned after Sleepyhead, how did it feel to come back and step into the music industry machine again?
I hesitated a little bit. But I feel really different. I have a much bigger ‘fuck you’ feeling, like I don’t owe anybody anything, like I don’t owe anybody any expectations. The people around me aren’t my bosses, I guess I’m the boss [now]. That realisation turned it around for me, that I was in charge of the situation and not anybody else. So coming back I hesitated, but I decided to just think ‘fuck it’, and it feels so much better. I feel way more in the now of the situation.
I was thinking about it a bit, and I Don’t Have To isn’t just a song in this, it also feels a bit like that’s your attitude in this now.
Yeah, it’s exactly like that. That was a big realisation. You can be in a situation where lots of things are controlling you, like economic factors, social factors, or whatever. But I’m [now] in a privileged situation where I can do this. It’s not like I’m making any money [laughs]. You can’t pay your rent with thankfulness, but I can grasp it and feel in control of the situation. I never felt that I was in charge of anything back then. I do now.
When you’ve had those problems before, and you’re coming back with a new release now, it must be important to find a label and collaborators you can trust. So how did you end up linking up with PNKSLM?
Well, Luke [Reilly, PNKSLM founder] worked with me on the last album, and he was like the only one that I could really trust in that big machine. So we were just friends, and we kept on hanging out and drinking beers and stuff. And I had all these songs that I had been working on. And I didn’t feel confident about going back into the machine, like you put it. But I kind of wanted to get rid of the songs, because they were just moving around in my system. And I wanted to make new ones, but I couldn’t move on from these ones. And they were kind of draining my vibe as well, of everything being kind of shitty. So I said to Luke one night when we were having beers ‘why don’t you just like release them, so I can get rid of them and start anew?’. And I thought we were just drunkenly joking, but then they came back, him and Johan [Alm of PNKSLM] and they were like ‘let’s do it’. Luke I knew and trusted so much, so it felt really natural, and it’s turned out to be amazing.
You talked there about these songs being heavy and draining.
Well, they were part of a system cleanse that I had to do. And my vision of cleansing the system kind of turned out the other way, I had to go deep down and do this cleanse, but I ended up just getting stuck in it, so that’s why it was just good to get them out of the way. And I was surprised that everybody liked them so much. I thought that everybody was just gonna have anxiety attacks [laughs].
Well that’s what fed into my question a little bit. When I was thinking of the differences between this record and Sleepyhead, there were two main ones I thought about. The first one is that the mood on this record is much darker and heavier than Sleepyhead. So did you feel like this was a record where you were getting rid of those feelings, putting it out and expelling…
I understand what you mean, but to me with the exception of Come Night, I don’t feel that the mood of the lyrics is less dark on Sleepyhead. It’s just more naïve and from a different person. For that album, I wrote the songs as demos and then practised them with two musicians, so it became kind of organic because we were three people involved in the structuring of the songs. But this time around, I didn’t work with anybody at all in the beginning. I just made pre-productions, and the pre-productions and the actual songs sound almost exactly the same. It all came from my brain, and I guess this is how it sounds then. But I always play with the balance between something silly and something heavy.
I was talking more about the music, not just the lyrics. It is immediately darker when you think about the music.
I think that’s a big thing. Because musically when I worked on it, I put almost all the instruments except the drums on. I got people to redo a lot of them, because I’m not an amazing musician, but it sounds almost the same. Most of the melodies are mine. Whereas on the first album, the melodies are mine too but I worked on them with those two musicians. But yeah, I’m moody. Aren’t we all? [laughs].
Where did the writing start for this EP? What were the first couple of songs to come into shape for this project?
It comes from two different places. The two first songs I wrote were RUN and Paloma.
When I was thinking about it, I thought Paloma was the one that sounded like the first song, If I had to guess.
So this is the story. When we were at By:Larm in Oslo on the last tour, I bought that instrument [a Paloma Bulbul Tarang]. I went into this music store with my former bass player, and we both saw this instrument and were wowed by it. We couldn’t stop looking at it and touching it, but neither of us had the money to buy it. We figured out we could share it, so we bought it and each paid half, so I when I was waiting for a car in the lobby [of their hotel], I started playing that riff [from Paloma]. That stuck in my head, though I didn’t do anything with it. But months, even a year after, I remembered that riff, and played it again and then I wrote Paloma. And the other story is that somewhere along the line I decided I had to move out of my digital portable studio, which was a really shitty one, you couldn’t even connect it to a computer, you had to burn CD-Rs from it, that’s how shitty it was. So I decided I had to learn Logic 9, so I bought Logic 9. I had some money from a tax refund or something, so I went to Los Angeles, because everybody fucking goes to Los Angeles to do music, and I thought ‘why not just try it out?’. It was terrible! I rented this house that was full of dog fleas, so I couldn’t be in the house to learn Logic anyway. But when I came back I learned Logic, and during that learning experience I recorded my friend Sarah playing the violin. And I was listening a lot to hip-hop at the time. And I wanted to do this trap hi-hat thing, which is not on the song anymore. So then Sarah put all the violins on, and I was just sitting there cutting it together. Learning Logic basically, while writing that song. So that’s how it started I guess.
So it’s those two, one that comes from the discovery of an instrument, one that comes from the discovery of Logic. And that’s what kicked off Paloma’s Hand?
Yeah! I mean it sounds really sterile, and I guess obviously there was mental and logical and emotional work going on at the same time. But to me I kind of connect better when I go through practical problems. Because if I think too much about something, nothing really happens. But I have this practical problem I have to overcome, then all of the other stuff just happens automatically. So now I’m trying to find a new instrument to spark my brain off.
Back into the writing of the EP. I wanted to talk about the lyrics a little bit. I know you prefer not to explain the songs, and for people to pull out their own interpretations, so we won’t focus on any specific song. But I felt with the general style of the lyrics across the record, and comparing to Sleepyhead, they were more kind of realist in their style of writing. Sleepyhead used a lot of metaphoric and free lyrics. But on this straight out on this one, RUN starts off with ‘You’ve been drinking all day I can tell’. I Don’t Have To starts with ‘Every night, I wake up, hear you leaving the house’. These are real realist, kitchen-sink, diary-style lyrics. So did you want to go more for that writing style on this record?
I didn’t think about it like that, but I realised two things. On Sleepyhead, I wasn’t working on the lyrics as much. In my head, they weren’t so metaphorical, but I let more stuff go on Sleepyhead, as that was the first album I ever made. That was a big experiment to see if I could even do it. So I had so much stuff to think about. This time, it was easier for me to separate stuff. And I decided I wanted to work on the lyrics more, as on Sleepyhead I would let things go, even when I knew they were grammatically shitty. And I made a conscious decision that I wanted the lyrics to be worked on [on this EP]. And I found out I had to finish the lyrics the second I recorded the demos, because usually I would just use the demo vocals because I can’t redo the vocals, I can’t get the same spark. So I had to work much harder on the lyrics this time. Which I guess turned out like that. But there wasn’t a plan to make them more realistic – to me they’re equally realistic [on both albums]. Some Home on Sleepyhead is like a diary entry too, that’s like an actual story about me and my friend breaking and entering to steal cigarettes. But they were more worked-through, and I thought about them a lot more. Because on the other album, I was ashamed of some of the lyrics. Because I knew better.
So you felt you were more able to give an accurate representation of yourself on this record?
Yeah. And take myself more seriously in a way. Because I’m not really a serious person, so I can be serious since I’m not that serious, if you get what I’m saying. Nobody’s going to look at me and think that I’m pretentious, because I’m not that person, so I can really be pretentious on the songs. I really like good lyrics, so why shouldn’t I try writing some?
You’re constantly so enthusiastic about your live show, both about your band, I’ve seen you talk about how good they are multiple times, and the audiences and the shows themselves. So does it feel like the live shows have really been the rebirth of Sibille Attar as a musical project?
I have a much bigger fuck-everything attitude about everything now. I’m less scared of doing something wrong, because you always do something wrong anyway. So trying to prepare for it is just being too hard on yourself. All you can hope for is that the mistakes you make are not going to be noticed by too many people. Because you’re going to make mistakes. So that kind of attitude has just opened up more space to go all-in. I’ve always liked doing live shows, but now I feel I only represent myself and nobody else, and I don’t care about anyone else’s opinion. So I’m just going to do it and have some fun, and if I can’t have fun then I shouldn’t do it! So I guess that reflects on the shows – I’m just going to have fun. I’ve never understood about artists complaining about live shows. If you don’t like them, don’t fucking do them! I like doing them, I really like doing them. My last band was really great too, I just like being in bands. It’s a really big thing to share a show with another human being, especially if you don’t know them. My last band contained my oldest friend and my boyfriend and another friend. This band is people who are now my friends obviously, but from the beginning they weren’t. I hired them. So sharing that with someone you don’t really know is really beautiful, and kind of intimate and weird. The first time we practised I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. It’s like going on a first date – ‘this person is fantastic, but if I show it too much they’re gonna freak out cos they’ll think I’m weird’. That’s how it was. Then the first show, everybody was in love with each other. That’s how I think it should be.
Sibille Attar’s EP Paloma’s Hand is out now on PNKSLM. She plays at Trädgården Live Sessions with BOYS and Shitkid on July 18.
Main Photo: Linda Hedström