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Siala: Drowned Surface

In celebration of her debut EP, Siala talks us through the motions behind her latest project—finding comfortability in self-hatred, and empathy birthed from adversity.

Siala is an artist offering an exciting display of immersion and creativity, giving a new name to the rose that grew from concrete. With the release of her debut EP Drowned Surface, Siala is exploding into the Australian music scene unapologetically and is embracing her transcendence as a vice to deliver the messages that she needed to hear when she was younger. 

With Meanjin producer, rapper and songwriter Nerve behind the production, Drowned Surface unravels a raw and moving layering of Siala’s melodic musings, inviting us to enter the different dimensions of Siala’s mind while reminding us to not only confront but celebrate the struggle.

Displayed throughout the EP is Siala’s impressive songwriting range weaving in and out of her distinctive vocal style to effortless raps, and while Siala is still young, it’s clear she has lived a thousand lives.

To celebrate the release of Drowned Surface, we had a chat with Siala about embracing vulnerability, finding comfortability in self-hatred, and the pinnacle moment that led her to create music.

Congratulations on your debut EP release. How are you feeling about it?
I’m feeling super excited to release it. I feel like the body of art has been waiting there for a while. I’ve been marinating it and sitting on it, so it feels good to actually be in the process of releasing it.  

The title of your EP is Drowned Surface – and throughout the EP I noticed there are recurring themes of drowning. Can you talk about what this represents for you?
Drowned Surface is like you’re drowning but looking as if you’re surface level. It looks like you’re fine, but you’re actually drowned out. No one can see it, especially because depression and anxiety can be so internal and people think you’re fine, but you’re actually drowning.

On that, there is this sultry, gloomy, sexy, darkness throughout your EP that feels like a celebration of struggle. Personally, when I listened to it, I felt like I could digest my own pain in a way that I could control it.
Yeah, it’s like grabbing [pain] by the throat. Making this EP was healing for me. I felt like it helped me express my femininity and discover myself more with being able to just let go and be like ‘yeah that is fucked, but I’m not going to mourn on it so let’s just take the piss out of it and make a fucking awesome track’.

How do you convert those feelings over to music and use your experiences of struggle to create art?
I feel like I wouldn’t have empathy and the emotions that I do [without these experiences]. You know, you do get numb at times, but you wouldn’t have all these amazing traits. I swear we just push [struggle] down and feel like ‘I’m fucked’. But [in reality] you’re so sensitive. Like, be grateful that you are a sensitive human, and you can feel empathy. That’s one thing that I’ve always had to tell myself. Making this and being so front on with myself was so intimidating and scared the fuck out of me but I was like, ‘this is beautiful. I’m so grateful that I can actually feel’. It’s so amazing

What do you want people to experience when they are listening to your EP?
I want them to experience comfortability within self-hatred. I feel like when you’re going through [struggle] you’re just hating on yourself like ‘I’m a shit cunt, I fucking hate this’. But it’s all about having gratitude. Not many people get to see the things you see, good or bad. But you get to see them. And you get to pick up and internalise however you look at things in such a different way that no one else can. It’s like a super-power.  

100%. It’s like embracing that vulnerability.
Yeah, even though for me still embracing [vulnerability] is so fucking hard. But it’s awesome that you can make other people feel comfortable because they’re on the same wave as you. If I had someone [sharing these messages with me] when I was younger, I would be like ‘sweet, I don’t want to jump off a cliff’ type of thing, so it feels good. 

I want to talk about the fourth track on your EP – ‘Bleeding / Focus’. There’s a really beautiful intro that feels very personal. Can you talk us through that and share whose voice it is?
That’s my mother’s voice. When I was younger, I was protecting my mother and I had like this saviour complex where I thought if someone was hurt, I had to do something. That [intro] is actually something I wrote to my first ever girlfriend. She was going through suicidal things and really mentally unwell from a lot of younger shit and I heard this message when I left her, like ‘I just want to watch you bloom’ kind of thing, ‘no matter what I’ll always try and water you. I just wanna see you do good. Even though you’re fucking killing me I can see through it, but I have to leave you and move on and focus’. So that’s kind of where that stemmed from. And I thought how powerful would it be if I got the person who I tried to protect and who tried to protect me to say that to me [on the EP].

The song following that – ‘Blood On Your Lips’ is such a powerful track too. Your vocal range on that track is unmatched. You know the part I’m talking about? I got chills.
Yeah, I remember when I first hit that, Nerve was like ‘Bro what the fuck is going on?’. When I was singing it, I felt like it was shamanic. I felt like I was channelling something else because it just happened, and I didn’t think about it. I was just doing a freestyle trying to find the melodies and then it happened, and I was like ‘We need to drop the beat and let this play out and just let it roll’. 

Making that, we were literally in [Nerve’s] room and we’d had like a big night. You know, we were thinking about issues you have with girls and stuff, you’re in the club and they do whack shit and so we just started thinking about it singing ‘I can taste blood on your lips’.

I know Nerve was behind the production of your EP but what was it like to sing with him on this track and have that different relationship?
It was dope, even when I first got in and we had our first session and made ‘Blackout’.

We kind of dived in the whole melodic trippy shit during our second studio time and then I ended up moving in with him and we made the whole EP together. We were just in his room even making coffee just sitting there. He was like ‘Do you want a black coffee?’ and I was like ‘Let’s write a song called Black Coffee!’ and it just happened like that. 

We really meshed our minds together during the time we were living together, and spiritually we felt it. It was so nice and cleansing and we both were going through the same period of emotion and feeling, and it worked so well. You know when you find those people that are on the same energy level and it’s so coincidental that they’re feeling that same way?

What have you learnt about yourself creating the EP?
I’ve learnt to love myself for being so sensitive. You know, when you’re going through anxiety and you can’t leave the house and things are running through your mind and you feel so empathic and it’s so fucked, you feel like you’re too much.

I learned how to contain my energy and not give it out to many people. I realised how deeply I feel these things and how others can affect me so deeply. You’ve got to contain your energy the right way and give it out to the right people and I really learnt that throughout making it. 

If you could describe yourself as a landscape or environment, what would it be?
It would be in the desert, with like crows and cow heads. That’s what I picture. It’s so fucking weird but like blood falling from the sky and I’m just walking through it, and I’m not phased. I always picture little things just trippy stuff, [laughs] blood falling from sky into the dirt and seeping into it. I always picture stuff like that, and I feel like it goes back to my roots.

Where’s that?
Papua New Guinea.

You’re a powerful storyteller and your wordplay is so interesting. You mentioned you and Nerve were living together and finding inspiration from random things to write about. Is this generally what your songwriting process is like?
It depends on what the producer is feeling. If they are feeling some type of emotion and I can feel it, I might translate it unconsciously and then when I look back at it after I’m like ‘oh so that’s what that means’ [laughs]. It helps me because it is so internal. It’s like going to a therapy session. 

I know you’ve had some pretty challenging experiences. What feels like home for you?
Home feels within. I don’t feel like home is a place. If you feel comfortable within yourself then you can really be anywhere. I’m not going to look at a wooden house and be like ‘that’s my home’ because it doesn’t make sense to me. You can walk the whole fucking world if you feel comfortable within yourself. If you’re dealing with shit you can grasp onto an object and experience the illusion of safety, but it’s really not. Anything can go down – it’s just a house. 

I read that after watching The Weeknd perform in Brisbane you knew that music was for you. What was it about that performance that led you here?
Yeah, it was wild. I was chilling at my Nan’s and my cousin surprised me and said I’m taking you to a concert. I didn’t listen to The Weeknd that much, but I was grateful, so I was like hell yeah. At the concert, everyone else was jumping and this low vibrational sound came on and I just like froze. That sound really resonated with me. Just that one sound. And then it fucking made me cry. I stood there in awe like ‘Whatever he is doing, and how he is impacting some of these people is fucking crazy’. It was so dark and low and creepy, I was like ‘I fuck with that’.

What are you manifesting for this year?
I’m manifesting a lot of music and creative people who are willing to step out from themselves and get weird. I want to be around so many of those people so I can keep levelling up. I want to find my people who are whack and keep on expressing what the world needs to hear without being sheltered and bullshitted. I just want to be real and not give one fuck.

What is your wildest dream?
My wildest dream is to perform in front of millions of people in silence and darkness and just have stillness when I do it and have this moment that is so special that makes me want to cry. I want to experience that moment where I’m like ‘Holy fuck, I’m transcending right now’. 

Or just to look at Doja Cat in person and be like ‘Yo, what’s up?’

Follow Siala here for more and stream her debut EP Drowned Surface here.

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