A creator of evocative, cinematic dark-pop, Circe’s compelling electronic soundscapes fill the cells with a dazzling euphoria, whilst simultaneously dissecting personal and social norms with breath-taking grace. Since the release of her debut EP, She’s Made Of Saints, in 2020, I’ve been a huge fan of her charged, sultry tunes.
When I spoke to her via Zoom at the beginning of May, her vibrant energy and charm transcended the screen as we explored the themes and iconography behind her visuals, the inspiration for the tracks on her EP, and her inability to tell the difference between panpipes and the flute as a small child…
Hello Circe, how have you been? How have you been coping with lockdown and the pandemic over the last few months?
Covid-19 has been absolutely awful for the people who have been directly affected by it, but – and this might sound bad – I was one of the lucky ones during lockdown. At heart, I’m a nerd and I like to just be on my computer making music. So there was a moment of self acceptance where I though, “Oh, I’m just gonna make loads of music!” and the days went past and the whole EP came out of me while I was just set up in my bedroom.
I think I’m a natural loner. Without sounding completely wanky, I like living through music, living through movies and living in a world with those characters. It might be because I went to art school, but I like to create a whole world around me with each song, which is what I did with my first EP. I changed my bedroom to make it feel like a movie set.
That sounds really safe & wholesome! So where did it all start musically for you? Was there a specific artist or person who inspired you to start making music?
I have the cheesiest little answer for this. I remember this so well. I was 5-6 years old and we were walking into town with my Mum, and this man was playing the panpipes. I feel like way more people used to busk with panpipes back then? It was really beautiful and it made me cry my eyes out. My Mum was like “why are you crying?” and I didn’t know, I didn’t quite understand. I thought it just sounded really beautiful.
I don’t think my Mum had fully seen what was going on – she had four kids with her – but when we got home I was trying to explain the beautiful sound, but she couldn’t work out what I meant. I said I saw a man blowing into something and she said it was probably a flute. So for ages I thought the panpipes were a flute, so for years I was asking “can I have a flute? Can I have a flute?” When I was 13 my Mum rented me a flute, and obviously when I opened it “I was like, what the hell is this?” but I was still really excited to play it. So I played that classically for a really long time and did the whole classical thing, playing in orchestras and stuff. Then when I was 17 I got a guitar. But it all started with a flute and some panpipes…
That’s so sweet and you’re right, you never see people busking with panpipes anymore. It’s a lost art. Talk to me about your recent single ‘Going Down’. What were the influences for the sound and visuals?
When my Mum was moving house, I went and helped her pack up and sort through some stuff, and I found my teenage scrapbook that was kind of like a diary, and it was just so amazing to read it all back because it was so unbelievably passionate. There were loads of bits of poetry and stuff, and there was a piece that wasn’t exactly erotica, but I was definitely on the periphery of discovering my sexuality and what it means to be a woman, so I was writing these little stories about it as a teenager. I thought it was cool, so I kept it.
Then one day when I was on my way to my studio, I was I was listening to ’99 Problems’ by Jay-Z and I was so into the beat. I don’t play drums, but I make all my own beats, so when I got into the studio I was making a beat and I knew it would be a big bombastic song kind of like Jay-Z, and I thought, “can I put these erotic stories over this?” So I did, and then it just became this mad little song. It’s about teenage liberation and finding your sexuality.
Did you have fun making the video for it?
It was so fun. I guess it’s a bit like what I did with my teenage scrapbook, I just collected loads of pictures, poetry, stuff about cults, shots from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet and I fitted some Catholic Church stuff around it too. Then I filmed myself, and I tried to get that sort of innocence where, as a young woman, you know, you’re objectified all the time, you can’t walk down the god damn street without someone calling you a slut for absolutely no reason, so to come home and be like, “I’m gonna be really sexy and really into myself as a sexual being.” It’s all about that really, that’s what I’ve tried to convey.
The idea for my character in the video was kind of inspired by a character in Euphoria called Kate. She starts doing online webcam dancing and sex cam-ing and she’s just the most amazing character. It’s a much more complex storyline than just that, but she was a big influence.
That’s so great that you were just in your own space getting to fully enjoy that freedom of expression, whereas when you try and take that into the world, lots of people have an opinion about it – like you said. That’s such a lovely thing to be able to enjoy.
Something which we have to talk about is your contribution to the Dream Wife Megamix compilation album on bandcamp. It’s all of GIHE’s favourite musicians coming together to make music for a good cause (Rainbow Mind), tell us how you got involved…
I’ve known Alice from Dream Wife for a really long time, because I went to art school in Brighton at a similar time to her. She was on the first people to record my first ever demos. She really got me into it and she was like “you should do like production as well,” and that’s how I got into it. We kept in touch and we’ve done bits and pieces, but yeah, she contacted me and asked if she could use ‘Ten Girls’ for a project and I was like ‘Yeah!’ and then she said she was mixing it with a Sleigh Bells song, and I was like, ‘Yeah!’ Dream Wife are amazing. They do so much campaigning work for such amazing charities and they’ve always been a really good voice for change.
Let’s go back to your 2020 EP, She’s Made Of Saints, because it’s just it’s SO GOOD. It’s cinematic and mysterious, but it also tackles heavy themes like toxic masculinity, the policing of female sexuality (which we’ve already touched on) and even the manipulative behaviour of cult leaders. You explore these themes in such a poetic way, how do you take subjects like this and transform them into dark pop songs?
Thank you so, so much, that’s so so lovely! I know I’m a songwriter, but I think of myself as a writer in general, and I think with these themes I was writing a story, or a little movie and it all turned out to sound just like a soundtrack. It’s like I’m directing it as Circe. So maybe that’s my way of condensing the big stuff, but some of it does often come from something I’ve seen, or experienced too.
With ‘Ten Girls’, I can 100% remember it so well. I was watching The Handmaid’s Tale, and in one episode, one of the women that’s been kidnapped gets away, she gets in a car and just runs over this horrible guard and it’s obviously violent and mad, but it just, oh my god, it just made me bawl my eyes out. It had the most amazing piece of music behind it and I was just like – I’ve got an idea – and I wrote ‘Ten Girls’. It came out really quickly. I often write a song quite fast, I get an idea and then I just build from that. You need to still stay true to those first characters, those first stories, that first line you came up with, but then you can build around it.
I’ve seen The Handmaid’s Tale, so I know the exact scene you’re talking about! Whoever organises or selects the music for the show should get in touch with you, because you could easily write the whole score for it.
I feel like a lot of artists have goals to tour the world and stuff, which would be amazing, but my absolute golden dream is to soundtrack a TV show. I feel like that’s what I was built for!
Absolutely. On a side note, did Steve Harrington from Stranger Things ever get in touch to say he’d heard your track ‘Steve Harrington’?
It’s so funny, because I did an interview on Radio 1 with Jack Saunders and then the next day, Joe Keery who plays Steve Harrington was on talking about his own band and I was like, “Do I have the guts to say ‘hello, I wrote a song about you'” – but I didn’t. If it ever got to the Stranger Things people, I don’t know what I’d do. I’m quite shy with people, so my way of fan-girling is to write a song. I did go to see the music of Stranger Things live at Southbank Centre though, that was one of the best nights of my life.
As we’ve already mentioned, there are lots of cinematic influences on your sound & visuals – David Lynch, Baz Luhrmann, The Handmaid’s Tale, Stranger Things – but what is it about the style of these directors and shows that you like so much?
To sum it up, I think a lot of the time when I was growing up, I felt quite uncomfortable in my own skin. I’ve always been told I’m too emotional, that everything I do is just too much, so I took solace in things like Romeo & Juliet. I was like, “that’s quite a good level to live at; it’s bombastic, romantic, outrageous, cameras fucking everywhere, sped up then slowed down” – it made me feel so comfortable and happy! That’s the world that I live in, in my own head.
I think with all of these things – including Stranger Things and Twin Peaks – there’s a cosiness to them and they’re completely their own thing. They are outrageous and beautiful and I think I just feel comfortable at that level and in that world. It’s fantasy, but it’s grounded in human emotion, love and storytelling. I’m just absolutely not interested at all in living in the real world, you know? I have no connection to it. I have friends and people I know who are doing sensible things and getting married, and I’ve got probably about 10 wedding dresses in my wardrobe just because I love dressing up and inventing stories about brides running away…
I think your way of living sounds more fun and I love that you have 10 wedding dresses that you can throw on when you’re running away from reality.
I know live music is still on the backburner at the moment due to Covid-19, but do you have any plans to play live when things are safe again? Are you planning to release more music too?
Yes, there’s definitely more music to come this year. I think what I’m hopefully planning to do is play a Circe show. I’m not that interested in playing just a conventional gig, because to me, it just doesn’t feel quite right for Circe. So my plan is to build an installation piece with live elements to it. It will definitely feel more like an immersive kind of experience.
That sounds great, I’ll be there. Finally, are there any artists or bands that you recommend we listen to?
I’ve got two, and they’re both completely different to Circe.
One of them is called Amour, who is also called Megan. They’re so young and they’re just absolutely killing it. They make pop music that’s on the edge of Pale Waves, but even cooler. And then a duo I think you might know called ARXX. I absolutely love them, they’re so talented, if I had a label I would sign them in a millisecond. Fantastic song-writing. I can see them being absolutely massive. I have like no doubt, I think they will really take off.
Thanks to Circe for answering my questions.
Photo Credit: Rachel Povey