Siren rising: In conversation with Freya Beer
By Sarah Taylor
Hailed as a “raw and thrilling new talent”, Freya Beer mixes poetic lyrics inspired by Allen Ginsberg and Charles Bukowski. With a distinct gothic sound influenced by Nick Cave and the films of David Lynch. With a string of stellar singles under her belt already, music critic John Hobbs predicts a Mercury Prize for Freya. Even during the ongoing pandemic, Freya has been able to build up a unique brand suited to her artistic vision.
Her latest single ‘Siren’ is a magical combination of lyrics rich with imagery, soaring guitars and enchanting vocals. With its catchy hook and mesmerising music video, Beer cements herself as one of the most exciting acts for 2021. Subsequently, her highly anticipated debut album ‘Beast’ will be released later this year. And Freya will embark on a major UK tour in November.
I caught up with Freya Beer to discuss her song-writing and inspirations which range from David Lynch to surrealist art. She also told me about her experience supporting John Cooper Clarke and setting up her own label Sisterhood Records.
On music videos and song-writing
Your latest single ‘Siren’ (released 26th February) is inspired by a J.W. Waterhouse painting. Tell me a little bit about what inspired the music video.
The video always had some sort of art element because that’s just naturally part of my music. In particular, it was inspired by the surrealism movement of the 1920s. We referenced a lot of Salvador Dali and Man Ray, and 1920s silent films.
Do you think the visual side of music is as important as the music and lyrics itself?
Definitely. I’m really into aesthetics. Most artists I like to listen to have their own aesthetic and create their own world. Even in my online presence, I’m very picky about what I post, with colours and editing. Visuals are definitely a big part of Freya Beer.
A lot of your work is influenced by art and literature. Do you prefer to write personal songs or do you find it easier to write songs from other perspectives?
A bit of both. I started writing songs when I was 10 and had zero life experience. So, I went to books to give me a starting point. This carried on throughout the years because I can find a story and then make it my own. More recently, I like my writing to reflect my life in my 20s. Being inspired by a story is good but I want to make sure its relatable to the listener.
In terms of song writing, do you find that the lyrics or the music come first?
Most of my songs are rooted from a poem. However, since the first lockdown, I’ve been using Logic on my laptop. I’ve found that working to a drumbeat has really helped my song writing and the guitar usually comes last. Every day I write a bit of poetry, or some words. It helps with the natural flow of song writing.
On influences, feminism and film
The lyrics are very poetic and art-inspired, and the instrumentation is very rock-inspired. Have you recently discovered any artists, books or films that have inspired you during lockdown?
Recently, I’ve been watching a lot of feminism documentaries. I found one on Sky Arts called The Glorias about Gloria Steinem. That sort of opened that topic for me, about empowerment. I’m all for females in rock music. Finding a different source of inspiration has been really helpful. Also, I love researching into films. I’ve been reading a lot of books by David Lynch. I’m really intrigued by his creative process, because his films are quite wacky. There are so many elements to them and they really make you think. With my songs, the lyrics aren’t just blunt. There’s a bit of fluidity to them. People might think ‘why is she talking about a rotten fruit?’. I love reading about masters of the arts.
Do you have a favourite work by David Lynch?
The first ever film I watched was Mulholland Drive, and I was really young and confused. That sort of opened the world of David Lynch for me. His visuals and colour palette has really inspired me. Even the soundtracks, particularly for Twin Peaks, with Angelo Badalamenti’s take on that world, has really influenced me lately.
Would you say that film music or scoring is something you would want to do in the future?
Definitely! When I started music I always loved film soundtracks. Like Thomas Newman, again Angelo Badalamenti, and Hans Zimmerman. The world of film music is so intriguing. In the future, I would love to work on a soundtrack. Or just working in film in general. I loved making videos with my flip camera when I was younger. I went through a phase of wanting to be a director. I’ve always had a huge love for film, so I definitely want to make it part of my future.
When making music videos, album artwork, and the overall package of your music, how much input do you have?
A lot. I’m a very picky person and a bit of a perfectionist. I know what I want. I worked with Say Goodnight Films on Dear Sweet Rosie and Siren. They’ve had a huge part in the visual side too. I really loved their concept for Siren! It was really interesting to hear their take on the songs and the ideas they came up with. One of the scenes in the music video is me painting. So for me, it sort of linked back to my self-made video ‘Six Months’. It really feels like a full circle moment.
On recording her album ‘Beast’
You’re releasing your debut album ‘Beast’ later this year. Is there a release date yet?
Probably around Summertime. We’re just finishing everything up now.
Is there a reason you’ve decided to call it ‘Beast’?
‘Beast’ is a track on the album. I also thought it was quite a strong word, because it can be interpreted in many ways. I like the fact that its just one word and straight to point. For me, ‘Beast’ also links to the artwork. Its very simple. I think when people see the album artwork and the title it will get them wondering what ‘Beast’ means. I can’t give away the artwork yet though.
You’ve recorded the album between Manchester and London. Is there a reason for this? Do you think either of these cities have influenced your sound?
The idea came from one of my managers, Phil Jones. He’s from Manchester. I also worked with Dave Fidler on some of the songs there. And Andy Hargreaves from I Am Kloot on drums, which was really great. His influence is definitely reflected in the album. The majority of the songs have been mixed and produced by Pete Hobbs from The Boy Least Likely To. He’s based in London. The inspiration has come more from the people I’m working with, rather than the cities themselves.
You launched your own label Sisterhood Records in 2019. Do you find this gives you more creative control?
Yeah definitely. Who would’ve thought we would be in a pandemic in 2019? It’s sort of been a blessing in disguise to have this record label. I have the freedom to put out whatever I want. I think it also looks more professional to put the music out under a name.
On touring with John Cooper Clarke
You’ve opened for John Cooper Clarke. How did you find this experience? Were there any memorable moments from this?
The whole experience was very surreal. The way I linked to him was through my university dissertation – on how 1970s punk has influenced modern day music. That was my excuse to do an interview with John Cooper Clarke. That’s also how I met my current manager, Phil Jones. I didn’t expect all that to take me to where I am today! Phil asked my sister, who was with me if I had any music online and he really took an interest.
From interviewing John Cooper Clarke to supporting him…I still can’t get my head around it! He was one of the first poets I came across. His poem ‘Psycle Sluts (Part Two)’ influenced one of my early singles ‘Bike Boy’. I keep having these full circle moments in my career which is really exciting. Supporting him alongside other poets like Claire Ferguson and sharing a stage with them has been surreal. A memorable moment would be meeting him backstage after the show. He remembered me and my sister from meeting him before!
How did you find the response from the audience? I imagine he has a very varied audience.
His audience ranges from teenagers to over-60s. It’s really good because it just goes to show how broad his work is. I was unsure at first, because people have come to see poetry. I wasn’t sure how people would take me opening on stage with loud guitars and drums. But a few people came up to me afterwards and said they really enjoyed it!
On plans for the future
You plan to tour the UK later this year. What are you most excited for about this?
Probably just the part of walking on stage. Having nerves beforehand. Although nerves aren’t really that great, it’s good to remember how you feel going on stage, and the moment after. The adrenaline you have. Once you finish the show, you feel like you’ve accomplished something. It’s a really good feeling, and you don’t experience it anywhere else except playing live. I’m really looking forward to being on stage. I feel like my music and voice have improved during the past year. I’m going to have a larger live band, because on the songs there’s a lot more instrumentation going on. Rather than just the basic drum and guitar. So there’s going to be a lot more freedom on stage.
Finally, if you could describe your sound in 3 words what would they be?
This probably makes no sense, but I will say: gothic, tribal, ritual.
Freya’s single ‘Siren’ is available to stream now on Spotify and her album ‘Beast’ will follow later this year.
Freya Beer Lives Dates 2021
Wednesday 10th November – The Lanes, Bristol
Friday 12th November – The Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham
Saturday 13th November – Jimmy’s, Liverpool
Tuesday 16th November – Paper Dress Vintage, London
Saturday 20th November – Headrow House, Leeds
Sunday 21st November – Night & Day Cafe, Manchester
Tuesday 23rd November – Bobiks, Newcastle
Wednesday 24th November – Hug & Pint, Glasgow
Thursday 25th November – Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh
Thursday 2nd December – Music Hall, Ramsgate
Friday 3rd December – Hope & Ruin, Brighton
Sunday 5th December – The 1865, Southampton