Culturist: Selah Sue | Singer
Selah Sue by Dawan Alford

Culturist: Selah Sue | Singer

Selah Sue by Dawan Alford
Images by Dawan Alford
Interview by Ashley P Williams

Somewhere below the small, soft exterior of this Belgian boheme lays the heavy, earth-shaking kind of soul that those powerhouse belters your grandmother used to listen to had. You’re not sure where it comes from, or how it makes sense. All you know is that it does – and you want more. Selah Sue’s beautiful icy blue eyes and easy smile (…not to mention all those folksy pictures you’ve seen of her picking a guitar) may lead you think that she’s some sweet, unaffected singer. And she is. But there is so much more beneath her cool, laid-back surface. Selah can render a Lauryn Hill cover that will make your head knock and force you to give her her propers. And that’s just the beginning. Find out why we’re all talking about Selah Sue…

What’s your AMMO?
Strong emotions – like when something is happening with love or family or relationships. I get a lot of inspiration from things that are happening outside of me. It’s a big cliché but it’s really true: if you’re really happy, it’s harder to write music. But also, my love for music inspires me. I need music everyday. I love it. It’s my passion. It’s beautiful for me to wake up everyday and do this job.

There is realness – rawness – to your music. But it is also lively and forward. How would you describe your sound?
This is only my first album. I want to do a lot of things. I am as much into electronica music as I am into hip-hop and soul. My vocals are soulful but are mixed with hip-hop beats and a bit of ragga. I think my music is energetic.

Your sound – the hip-hop, reggae, soul and electronica – is so unique. But it is also kind of folksy and really organic. Who inspires you?
I believe I am really good at hearing [music]. I just absorbed all the things that I’ve been listening to since the day I first started listening music. In the beginning, it was Erykah Badu, when it came to soul music – and Lauryn Hill And I listen to hip-hop as well, like The Roots and The Fugees, and as well to ragga music like Damien Marley and Capleton. I think I just absorbed everything and these sounds just came out or something.

Selah Sue by Dawan Alford
You’ve already worked with, or along side, big names like Ceelo, Meshell N’degeocello and Prince. And the remix for your first single “Raggamuffin” features J. Cole. What is it like as a new artist to work with some of the industry’s most revered names? Who would you most like to work with in the future?
It’s a big honor. It’s always so nice to work with somebody’s who’s just really good. It can be magical, you know? I’m really down to earth. It’s not that I go crazy or start floating in the air or something. I have my feet on the ground, but I’m really thankful for every chance that I got, and I think I just made the right decisions in terms of the people I have working around me. I’m also lucky that the good ones discovered me. It’s been amazing. In the future, I want to work with some of the really talented people back home in Belgium. It’s not all about the big names. It would be really incredible to work with (producer) Flying Lotus one day. I absolutely love his sound.

You got your start from fan support on MySpace. Tell us a little bit about crossing over to the US market from the European market and how your background and path have influenced your work?
It was actually never my ambition to become professional. I started studying psychology when I was 18. But I had three years of classical training in guitar, and a hard puberty, so I [expressed] myself in songs. I started with a few songs, and an artist named Mylo discovered me in Belgium. He’s really big now in Europe. He took me on tour and he really pushed me to put things on the internet, to write more songs, to focus more on music. So, he was really my musical mentor. I put two songs on MySpace. And [from that], my French label discovered me, and I got signed. I have a lot of footage on YouTube because I did a lot of live shows in Belgium and throughout Europe, and Columbia [Records] saw that and now I am signed with them, and that’s amazing.

Selah Sue by Dawan Alford
How would you describe this album (Selah Sue)?
The melodies and my voice are pretty soulful – because I listen a lot to soul music – with ragga influences and a lot of fat hip hop beats – which I’m very happy about. I think you can describe it as that with a little bit of electronic.

What do you like to do when you’re not singing, songwriting or playing guitar?
The usual. The basics of life: eating, cooking, dinners with friends and family. My sister has a little boy who is one year old. I want to see him grow up. I want to be there as much as I can. And, I love to watch TV with my boyfriend in the evening and laugh and lay in bed for the whole day – you know, the usual things.

Which of your songs are you the proudest of thus far, from a creative standpoint?
The song I still love to play the most is “Break.” The lyrics are the deepest, the melody is the most beautiful and I learned guitar picking on that record. It’s a good picking song. I’m really proud of that song.

Where do you feel most comfortable – in the studio secluded but discerning; or on stage engaged but exposed?
It changes. I haven’t been in the studio a lot because I only have one album out. Sometimes I like to just be creating alone in my bed. It’s magical if something comes out – it’s a really a personal experience. Being on stage you share with lots of people. It can be intense, but when everything works – the energy is right, the crowd is nice, the sound is good – that can be magical as well. So each experience brings something.

What’s next for Selah Sue?
I have a big tour in Europe in July. Then my album will be released here in the US in August. Then, I’ll be doing promotional shows in the US for the album.

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