- Words Stella Marbles
Named as one of the emerging stars to watch in the UK scene, Cecil is proving that purpose-driven “off-pop” is on the rise with an anti-knife track, “Project Ceasefire”.
There are countless words used to describe a musician’s style: sultry, electric, alternative, edgy, but for emerging artist Cecil there’s one phrase that truly sums up her music: ‘off-pop’. It seems like an odd turn of phrase at first, pop that is off, but off what? Off-kilter, off-trend, off the beaten track. After one listen to Cecil’s newest track, ‘Ceasefire’, it starts to make more and more sense.
Her music pairs striking vocals with simmering, moody electronics in a manner that has been compared to the likes of Lana Del Rey and Lady Gaga. Beneath these familiar echoes is an emotional depth and sense of purpose that is entirely Cecil, and hard to find in the music dominating the charts these days.
Cecil is set out to change that. More than just a powerful ballad, ‘Project Ceasefire’ is the sonic spearhead of an anti-knife campaign that Cecil and Stormcraft Music set up to help raise awareness for the families who have been affected by knife crime in the UK. With the emotional track and the accompanying music video Cecil hoped to bring a different perspective towards knife crime and show that because everyone can be affected, everyone can help to solve the problem.
Seeing the success of the project, it is unsurprising that with this same dedication Cecil has taken her music to new heights in the past year. From landing in The Independent’s “Ones to Watch in 2019”, to performing on stage with Grace Jones, Cecil has proven that her unique brand of off-pop is on the rise.
We sat down with Cecil to talk about music as social activism, leaving behind old habits in 2019 and what the new year has in store…
Your campaign ‘Project Ceasefire’ received great feedback, both in the news and the charts. It must be very gratifying to know you’re bringing light to an important pandemic, has music always been a way for you to engage with social problems and discuss issues that are important to you?
Thank you very much! It was so rewarding to see national press getting behind the campaign. It’s actually the first time I’ve ever written a song about a social problem that I have tackled head-on and so directly. I guess there’s always a risk when tackling social issues because everyone has an opinion. But I feel very strongly about the current situation around youth violence, so I had to do something about it.
I wasn’t sure how it would be received, but working with the families and listening to their individual stories reminded me that it isn’t just important for me, but for everyone. Knife crime can affect anyone from any walk of life, and that’s the message of the track.
Do you think it’s important for your music to have a message?
Definitely, in anything I write there is always an underlying message or some sort of hidden subliminal message, you just sometimes may have to dig a little deeper to find it.
I think a lot of powerful music comes from people trying to get a new message across and encourage a change of thinking. Lennon, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, did this so well. In current times people like Dave when he did, “Question Time”, or Gaga when she did, “Born This Way”, showed music has the power to change opinion. I guess the difference today is that media is more accessible for people so there’s a chance to get your message heard.
Your sound has been compared to Kate Bush, Lana Del Rey, Lady Gaga – a flattering line-up to be included in – how would you describe your musical style?
Lana is a big inspiration to me and Gaga and Kate are such iconic females so it is an honour to be compared to them. I see my music style to be unique to me, it’s really an expression of who I am, that’s why I like to describe my music as “Off-pop”.
2019 was a transformative year for you, what have you learnt as an artist from the past year?
Project Ceasefire was a long road because we wanted to get it right – so I think that 2019 really taught me patience and not to rush things. It showed me that there’s always something new to learn or something you can be improving.
Warming up for Grace Jones was great because she is such a powerful iconic female on all levels. I think watching a career like hers, someone who did it just how she wanted, has given me the inspiration to carry on working the way that feels natural and having faith in who I am as an artist.
You’ve also played a lot of great festivals, along with your own sold-out show in London, what was it like to perform to a space full of people there to listen to your music? How does performing live impact your connection to the music?
It was an incredible feeling and experience, my heart felt so full! I do get nervous before performing live but once I’m on the stage and the music starts, I get lost in the sound. It’s the moment when you realise people are connecting with your music and you have a chance to connect back with them – all that hard work pays off.
It is great to see your management Stormcraft Music giving young people the opportunity to record demos and learn music production as part of Project Ceasefire. Along that line, what is some advice you would give to young aspiring musicians?
My advice would to always be true to yourself, write and play the music you want but also always have an open mind. Collaborate and network as much as you can.
Don’t be put off of what you’re doing musically if it isn’t the “trending” vibe currently. If you have faith in it, stick with it. It’s taken me a few years for people to come around to my style and I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’ve learnt that you should never be afraid of who you are or of expressing yourself.
What is one thing you are leaving behind in 2019?
I’m leaving behind the habit of not trusting myself or my instincts and giving my personal power away to others. It’s very easy to get side-tracked or allowing others to influence you too much, so I’m leaving all that behind and sticking to my guns with the music to come.
On the note of new years and new beginnings, what is in store for Cecil in 2020, what are your goals for the new year?
I’m already in the studio working on my new music. Project Ceasefire took up most of 2019 and 2018 and I was very busy on the live front, so I have a lot of half-written songs I’m very excited to finish and show to everyone. Time to knuckle down in the studio.
My goals are to finally put enough tracks together for an album or at least an EP. I always end up sticking out one track at a time with quite some space in between. I love live gigs, but I’ve been missing the music, so I’m excited to work towards an EP. I’m also making it a goal to enjoy my life and every moment of my music career and share that connection with other people, I hope you all come along for the ride!