Interview: Seasoul

Photo by Rebecca Ryan, Oamaru

Ask for a postcard from Seasoul, also known as Berlin-based firecracker, Vanessa Sonnenfroh, and heaven knows where it will come from. The German singer-songwriter is soon to offer a shiny new, as of yet untitled, EP, which certainly doesn’t shy away from her seemingly unrelenting wanderlust.

Dash Majesty: For those who don’t know, please introduce yourself.

Vanessa: Hi, my name is Vanessa, and my favourite thing to do is write songs. I live in Berlin right now, studying music production, playing gigs and dreaming a lot. Thanks for doing this interview!

DM: Although you’re a native German speaker, your songs are all written in English. Why is this?

V: At the very start, I wrote in English to hide my honest lyrics behind a different language. Years later, when I travelled in New Zealand and Europe and performed English-written songs, it was a big advantage that people understood what I was singing about, ‘cause my songs are stories which should be understood at least a little. I also like the soft sound of English, I feel it fits to my music and, in general, I like writing songs and stories in English.

DM: Tell us a little about your upcoming EP.

V: When I lived on boats, in forests and on the road with artists and hippies in New Zealand, I wrote and painted like a maniac. A year ago I returned from there – the most inspiring place I have ever been to. I created so much art in that time that I had to send home seven different notebooks. Back home I started putting these words and ideas together as songs, it was like a breakup with a time period, and the whole EP is a homage to the wild times and inspiring creatures I’ve met at Rainbow gatherings, in mountains, forests, at beaches and around bonfires. I fell in love with life, and wrote about it. It will be very nostalgic but also hopeful, inspired by barefooted poets, soulmates and sun children.

© Rebecca Ryan, Oamaru
© Rebecca Ryan

DM: Your track Scum & Circles has a fairly poignant undertone. Could you explain the meaning behind this piece?

V: I met a brother and friend on the road, which fascinated and inspired me endlessly. He tattooed a circle on my wrist in a forest, for me to remember the feeling of being complete, to be one with myself and with the earth I’m walking on. He made himself a tattoo on his arm saying “scum”, to remember the dark sides of human existence and that we have to change things and be the ones who move things. I had a few very interesting conversations with that person, and one time, when we met again, months later, during winter on this side of the world, I wrote down the lyrics to Scum & Circles. I believe that the only way to reach happiness or truth or whatever else we may want to accomplish in this life, or whatever trace we want to leave on this earth, is, to search for light and a sense of completion in everything. Gold in Ruins. There lies beauty in destruction, and there is darkness to find in every light too, which we have to accept.

DM: From personal experience as a woman working in the music industry, I’ve found out the hard way that it can sometimes be pretty difficult to be taken seriously. Do you find your femininity acts as a hindrance,  or have you been fortunate enough not to have your gender affect you in this way?

V: I guess from a young age I needed to work very hard for many things on my own, which made me strong. I don’t let people treat me as a “little girl”, and I guess people stop doing this when they realize how serious I take my music, life, everything. I try to see everyone on the same level as myself, and I expect the same from others. I of course have a lot of respect for people with skills, but I want to radiate the attitude that it doesn’t matter what you are, who you are, where you’re from, if you’re male or female, gay, straight, or something else – this does not affect my opinion about anyone.

I try to take this personal being-on-the-same-wavelength attitude into my professional work, and I’m still learning. I see what you mean though, as I said, I study music production, with a main focus on vocals, so I combine two stereotypes. I’m one of three girls in our semester with around fifteen guys. It’s a lot about the attitude and your own will and how you let people treat you, like in every other aspect of life involving teachers, parents, bosses etc. In the end we live in a changing world, and we are the ones who create the change.

DM: Sunchild is lyrically, in my opinion, one of your richest songs. Can you tell us a little about the inspiration behind this piece?

V: Oh thank you, that’s nice. I was in love at the end of my travels, but I was constantly hurt by the freedom that person lived. I had to find out what I wanted from life and what this big word “love” even means. That was a very intense story I left behind, which made me write many mournful and angry songs. I think everybody we meet is a gift and teaches us something. This person, with all his perfect violin-playing, passion, chaos and pain you could constantly see shining through, was one of the biggest lessons and “road signs” on my way. Sunchild is about him. I wrote it down after waking up from a nightmare back in Germany in the winter.

DM: Is the Kerouacian/Ginsberg-esque tone to your writing an accident or do you actively draw inspiration from them? Are there any other poets and authors who influence you, or musicians too?

V: I love Jack Kerouac. A guy from Oregon wrote me a list of books to read in New Zealand, and working myself through the lists, I started with The Dharma Bums, one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read. I agree with the attitude and life of the poets and characters of the beat generation on so many levels, and these books of Kerouac, Ginsberg and co are like How-to-live-Bibles to me. I think reading as many books from them as I do and living the same roaming-under-the-stars-nowhere-to-go-nothing-to-be-lifestyle as I did affected my music a little bit. I mean, after only listening to Bob Dylan for a while I started writing guitar songs with more cryptic lyrics, and I believe it’s important to get inspired and to have heroes. I recommend to everybody to read Howl from Ginsberg, to go through the poems and books of Ginsberg and Burroughs and to watch Kill Your Darlings, especially if you’re a searching soul, these masters have the answers to everything!

© Adam Dega Photography
© Adam Dega Photography

DM: Your work doesn’t strike me as particularly political, but given the current circumstances and the fairly dismal four years that most probably lie ahead, do you think the situation will change your songwriting process? Do you have something more to say about it?

V: Big topic. I use music as a personal space to work through whatever moves me. I’ve always been politically active and interested in what’s going on. Times are tough and as a German person, I have all the benefits of our western world and have never done anything for it. I was born into peace. I joined jam sessions with refugees in Hamburg, played during election events hosted by the Green Youth in Stuttgart and always try to combine music and political stuff. I have never written much about politics, except for a few unpublished pieces regarding the LGBTQ community. I want to change things with music on many levels. Anything can happen and I’m definitely open to politically-themed songs. I love Dylan’s way of combining poetry and politics. He finds the perfect compromise between the two and that’s one of the reasons why he’s my biggest role model.

DM: Travel seems to play a major role in the music you create. How are you finding living in Berlin at the moment and how does it compare, from an artistic perspective, to the other places you’ve been?

V: Well I was constantly inspired when I used to be woken up by a community of artists from all over the world, playing songs and singing, falling asleep with the sound of drums and voices and earning money through busking and playing music in bars. Now that I study and lead an organised everyday life, I have to “do music” all day long, but on a completely different level. We work professionally in studios, I have to practice a lot and take exams – in fact, I don’t write as much as I did during those wild times. I need to create this different kind of mindset for myself to get on that particular wavelength of creativity and find inspiration. I also must say that I’m having a very beautiful, happy private life at the moment, which is more inspiring than heartbreak and misery. But there also has to be time to play gigs, work on songs, start new projects, record what you’ve written and start creating your artistic surrounding in such a big city.

Everything is as it should be.

You can try and keep up with Seasoul on Facebook, SoundCloud and YouTube.