PDBY recently spoke to the amazing performer, Senna-Marie. We spoke about her life, her inspiration, her journey in music,
her writing process, and her upcoming projects. PDBY presents Senna-Marie.
For those who do not know you, who are you on and off stage?
Who am I? Gosh, that’s a big question, I don’t know where to begin. I suppose when I’m performing, I’m so vulnerable already, you know? In front of people, awkwardly worrying about whether I’m standing on my guitar cable or if I should play sitting instead or some other irrelevant consideration. Anyway, somehow within this, I find it easy to relinquish some of the social conditioning I usually feel. I become strangely comfortable in my discomfort: It’s like I have permission to be nervous, like it’s finally appropriate: I feel present, and authentically witnessed. Hopefully that says a little about who I am some of the time.
Did your upbringing play a role in your love for music?
Aw yes, it really did. A typical bedtime scenario in my home involved my dad strategically finding the middle point between each of our three bedrooms (I have two older brothers) so that when he played the songs he wrote (He’s been writing incredible songs all my life) we could all hear the lyrics. It was really adorable, we would call out requests from our beds until we fell asleep.
When did you start writing songs and playing string instruments?
I was probably about seven when I actually put pen to paper. My brothers began music classes, and they would jam together in the afternoons. I couldn’t play anything at the time – and I became so jealous. My dad had an old Learn Guitar book that he picked up at a second hand store, it had those Sunday-bangers like “Amazing Grace”, and “Blowing in the Wind”. I learnt three open chords, and wrote my first song. My brother became a songwriter too, Marvin Francis, and now we play together whenever we can.
What is the first song you wrote?
So, the one I’m about to share wasn’t my first first song okay, but my first song was a little boring if I’m honest – it was called “Rain is Pouring” and I think the whole song is right there in the title. But, my friend and I wrote a ridiculous little song together soon after, we were probably eight or so, and the other day, (blessed to still be friends) we recalled all the lyrics. It went: “Darkness through the eye / Sometimes you cannot see it / Often it makes you cry / Owoah – O”, “There’s a cat on wall / Waiting to fall / But it don’t”
Many artists went through a phase before they could find their calling. Was playing guitar your first love?
I’d like to think a calling is something that can manifest through many mediums. So to me the guitar, and more so song-writing, was a kind of arbitrary choice. I think it was one of the most immediate forms for me to use to express myself – especially for my more impatient emotions. It has to do with what I was exposed to, but I also like to draw and think in other forms. I studied Fine Arts, and so in some ways, that was a phase prior to this one. I haven’t quite learned to bridge the two succinctly, but I think the tension between them troubles me in a way that’s become quite productive. Still, I do seem to keep returning to song-writing.
A theme of nostalgia could be sensed and heard in your song, ‘Golden’, what is your song writing process? Hmm, it’s tough to define. In many ways I reject the idea that creative moments just “arrive” in manic bursts of inspiration, but at the same time, it is rare for me to sit down with the conscious intention of writing a full song. I don’t recommend or expect this of myself anymore. I think for me it’s about building my practice to a point where I can overcome a certain creative threshold – that’s when I write something meaningful to me. Sometimes I’m in a heightened emotional state, and other times I’ve collected enough small attempts at disciplined writing; but either way somehow, eventually, without my knowing precisely when, words come to mind in a way that feels urgent and I follow them as far [as] they go.
Until I’m left with an initial artefact, usually a verse or two and some other adlibs. I don’t criticise it too quickly though, I just enjoy it for a while. Even if I discard it eventually, there’s still such fondness for the new song, and I just want to play it over and over. After a day or two, I return and begin to craft it – this part hurts a little. I reconsider the lyric and chord changes. I begin playing it to a few close people. Sometimes if they like it, I get lazy, and if they don’t I get despondent. There’s no winning really, but eventually I return to it…again and again, if it lets me. These are the really early moments of my process though, but it goes beyond this and that’s where it’s getting really exciting: moving into collaborative spaces, seeing how other people can add and shape my initial contribution.
What does art mean to you?
Art is like a bad smell, that I keep leaning towards. Ah ya, I think art is an absolute nuisance, it’s always bothering my conceptions of reality – sitting between compartments. Troubling my frames, reminding me of what’s left out, I love it – I really do. Most artists keep their personal life and career from affecting each other. Your song, ‘Ordinary Man’, sounds personal. Do you sometimes write songs about your life experience? I do, embarrassingly so sometimes. Sometimes I look back and
cringe at how honest I was in a song. I’ve written songs about people close to me and I feel this urge to explain that even though it’s about them, it’s not about them. There’s [an] uncanny resemblance to them, but it’s still wrapped in my imagination. The songs I write often come out unfiltered, and conversational. I end up singing about the things I specifically chose not to say to someone. I guess in song, I can reimagine a context within which I feel the words can enter reality precisely because they don’t have to co-operate socially to be heard. Ordinary Man, however, was actually one of my more general songs. I wrote it as a kind of ode to the ordinary, a defensive peace-making with ordinariness. I don’t feel the same way I did when I wrote it, but that’s part of the song-writing process.
Who inspired your journey in music?
Ah, so many people, my father, Tracey Chapman, my grade three teacher, but Dumama and Alice Phoebe Lou, are two South African artists that have me so inspired at the moment!
What is your long goal in music?
My long goal [is] quite simple right now – I just want to play to more people, with more people, more [often] .
What can we expect from you in upcoming times?
I’ve been really lucky this year – a friend of mine, Ryan Schultze joined me to compose, produce, feature in, and record my debut
Ep: Fence Sitter. He’s a pianist, singer, chronic instrument buyer, composer, and all round talented human being. We put together a four-track album (Recorded at Phantom Ship Studio), and it’s being mastered right now. It’s due to come out early next year on all the usual streaming platforms. We worked so hard on it and I really think it came together – So, I just can’t wait to share it.