‘I go crazy when I go to gigs’: Rina Sawayama on her proud foundations and duetting with Elton John – The Guardian

Posted: November 25, 2021 at 12:11 pm

Such a big part of my creativity involves going to gigs to feel the raw energy, the sweat, says Brit-nominated singer-songwriter Rina Sawayama. Even how people move to certain beats can be inspiring in terms of writing ... I go crazy when I go to gigs. It really removes you from being in your own head.

Given the pandemic and all it has entailed, gigs have taken something of a back seat in the 31-year-olds life. That hasnt stopped her enjoying a huge 18 months, career-wise. She released her debut studio album, Sawayama, to critical fanfare in April 2020, gave a riotous performance in the US on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, walked the Balmain runway during Paris fashion week and also, unexpectedly, became friends with Elton John, who hopped on a remix of her song Chosen Family. Rather poetically, the first gig Sawayama was at after a rollercoaster yet reclusive couple of years was her own.

We connect to discuss the formative memories that shaped her into the artist she is today, as she marks her collaboration with Grey Goose Vodka, a musical and culinary duet with Michelin star chef Luke Selby where guests at an exclusive dining event enjoy a twist on the dirty martini cocktail, Sawayamas favourite. Im inspired by what happens at the intersection of different influences and perspectives, she says. From travel to food to music, collaborating with Elton, Luke or Grey Goose, Im always amazed what happens when great things come together. Plus, Lukes food is incredible, you can barely ever get a table at his restaurant.

Naturally, the conversation drifts to the brands prevalence in her clubbing memories; nightlife has played a key role in her artistry. Her 2020 dancefloor-ready banger Commes Des Garcons is inspired by the 00s music that made her feel as if she owned the dance floor, calling on influences from Kylie Minogue, and Madonnas Confessions on a Dancefloor era. Guitar-led songs such as XS reflect years where she was watching gigs in Camden by night and attending a Church of England school by day. I used to follow the Bravery around, and I was obsessed with the Strokes, she adds. Music was a means of escape from personal angst she took her parents separation quite hard.

It was around this time she developed her first signature look: very white and very skinny jeans, white Converse and, to her regret, waistcoats. To keep this look pristine on the dancefloor she only drank vodka and soda. Its still my drink of choice before I go on stage, but the vodka has to be good quality. So Grey Goose has always been on my radar.

For the most part, her formative years in the 00s mirror those of her agemates: spending hours searching for new acts on Myspace and in the pages of NME (where she once posted an ad for members to join her band), hearing new tunes at house parties and later downloading them on LimeWire and burning them on to CDs to use in DJ practice with her friends. She eventually curated stacks of pirated sounds, from Womack & Womack and Justice to Britney Spears and Limp Bizkit. I think I grew up in an era where pop was really very varied. Evanescence and tATu were on the charts alongside the Neptunes. There was a lot of experimentation, she says. And I was obsessed with music.

As well as being a means of escape and hedonism, music has helped Sawayama find community. At times, shed found it hard to fit in as a queer woman of colour, such as when at Cambridge University, a far cry from her previously diverse schooling. Id never seen so many chinos, I just didnt understand what was going on, she says. Her discovery of a gay night led her to a dancefloor awash with the sounds of Lady Gaga and 00s girl bands, and gifted her the queer, creative chosen family she would later sing about with Elton John.

It took a while to get to where she is now artistically. After university, she worked allocating government startup funds to creative companies, dabbled with modelling, served soft scoops at an ice-cream shop and worked in retail on Regent Street all while fine-tuning her sound. My creativity wasnt touched by financial need, I could do whatever I wanted which was really great.

Finding the confidence to commit to music full time wasnt easy though, and she admits to often having a crisis of confidence about her own songs, which she still worries are not good enough. But, during a Saturday shift as a nail technician in 2017, a customer asked, as Sawayama painted their toes: Werent you on the Dazed 100 [an annual round up of people shaping global youth culture]? This was the moment she thought it might be best to pursue her passion as her day job.

For the past few months its been all systems go as Sawayama juggles studio recording and prep for her stellar live tour. Its overwhelming doing both like its completely different parts of my brain, she laughs. But with a clutch of genres in her wheelhouse and an eclectic journey to the top, shell no doubt re-emerge as a completely different artist.

The first martini Sawayama ever enjoyed was a dirty martini, typically a dry martini with a splash of olive brine. Weve elevated this classic with herbaceous thyme notes and a more complex olive flavour with infused sherry.

40ml Grey Goose Vodka15ml Thyme infused Martini Bianco (200ml bianco with 10 sprigs of thyme leave to infuse overnight)15ml Kalamata olive fino sherry (150ml Tio Pepe with two drops kalamata flavour note or muddle an olive instead)

Fill a mixing glass full of ice, then add all the ingredients and stir vigorously to chill. Strain and pour the drink into a martini glass. Garnish with a kalamata olive. You can serve the cocktail up in a martini glass or on ice in a rocks glass.

Bring a taste of Rina Sawayama and Luke Selbys duet collaboration home, with a limited edition Grey Goose Duet martini cocktail kit, available from TheDrinksDrop.com for 80

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'I go crazy when I go to gigs': Rina Sawayama on her proud foundations and duetting with Elton John - The Guardian

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