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Get Comfortable with the Honesty of Erika Severyns – Interview

Erika Severyns

Erika Severyns is the first to admit she’s a “massive oversharer.” She apologizes as she divulges into anecdotes about her family history during our Zoom conversation but it’s these divergent details that Severyns loves. It’s the same energy she reflects in her songs; intimate tales of the beauty and heartbreak in panoramas of spilling curry on her jeans. In conversation she’s bubbly and passionate about her work, her perspective and her newfound art comrades in Berlin. 

Severyns’ newest track, “River Water,” is another of her emotionally bare treatise that celebrates the magic in the small moments often missed. Her classically trained vocals pierce through skeletal folk and sharpen her lyrics to a rare degree found in the delicate tweedlings of solo singer-songwriters. “River Water” details her struggle with identifying herself after a break-up. “When I wrote the song, things spilled out and I wondered if they were issues I’ve been thinking about subconsciously.”

Severyns is commonly compared to folk giant Joni Mitchell. Though she’s flattered she admits she doesn’t quite see the similarities. She holds Cat Power and Florence + The Machine as more influential figures and their reach can be heard on her EP Dust. Severyns says that because of her powerful voice she’s often described as anti-folk. “People want to have a box to fit you in. It’s a shame.” She’d prefer to find herself than have others define her. 

At only 21 years old she boasts an envy-inducing passport. She’s lived in Russia, Belgium, London and currently Berlin as well as having traveled throughout the majority of Western Europe. This need to explore fuels her laissez-faire attitude. “The best decisions I make are always last minute,” she says. Severyns turns to music and writing to help make sense of her racing mind. “It’s always there. It’s my diary. Everything I write is just random bits and pieces of everything that’s happened. Nothing particularly special has to happen for me to write a song about it.” 

A solo trip across Europe when she was 17 fed an unquenchable wanderlust. The young singer moved into a London hostel for a year on a complete whim. “I went to London on a trip and ended up dropping out of university. I didn’t wanna go back home. It could’ve been any city, at that time I just wanted to get away.” Sadly the expensive London lifestyle curtailed the time she could develop her music skills. She spent too much time working to practice music, enjoy her hobbies, or even have a moment to breathe.

A heartbreak in London brought about the concept for “River Water.” “When it ended I felt lost in all senses of the word. You’re often defined by the person you’re with. I didn’t know who I was really and was figuring that out. I moved back to Belgium with my parents.” Severyns continued to search for her own identity, later moving to Berlin and joining a community of like-minded artists who pushed her to practice more. “In the last six months I’ve progressed a lot because I’ve been sitting down several times a week and trying to learn new stuff. I feel that’s impossible to do in London unless you’ve got rich parents or a loan or something.”

While her music is often the way she makes sense of her experiences (“writing it down it makes things clear. Half of the time you miss all of the stuff you’re thinking by not paying attention”) her blog is how she uses what she’s learned to help others. “I’m torn between being two separate people. There’s one who calls me stupid and questions everything I do, and another who encourages me to bridge outwards.” The latter comes out through her musings about topics like morning pages, journaling, and visualizing. It’s not self-help; Severyns adapts her struggles into guidance. “I see my songs as self-help for me, like something has gone badly, let’s see what went wrong and why. My blog is more about knowing where I went wrong and writing about it so that friends in similar situations can feel comforted in some way.” By recounting her experiences she hopes others can find solace. 

With this perspective it’s no surprise she describes “River Water” as “uncomfortably honest.” To Severyns that’s the only way. “Everything is interesting and relatable to people. I think you can romanticize everything. I have an issue with lyrics that are abstract and dramatic and bombastic. I don’t think they are relatable. Even when I’m in love with someone what gets me is how loud they snore at night or something. That’s the stuff I want to hear about.” On her website she writes: “I prefer writing songs about speed-walking to a concert while eating noodles, about frantically trying to rub off a curry stain off my new jeans on my way to a party, or about fumbling with someone’s leather belt in the dark.”

There’s an innocence to Severyns owing to mistakes and rash decisions, but on her blog she she professes experience and reflection. She summarizes this dichotomy in her approach to songwriting; “Everything is important and nothing is important.” A bolt of optimism underlies her songs of identity. Severyns is a bastion of an artist finding her place in real time through the silent spaces of self-reflection.

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Colin Dempsey
the authorColin Dempsey
Colin Dempsey is a Toronto-based writer who covers music, dabbles in fiction, and spends too much time calculating his macronutrient intake. More of his work can be found at colinhdempsey.ca

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