Arusa Qureshi chats to Kerris Duffy about her new double single and future plans under her Dahlia moniker
Armed with what she describes as a fusion of “witch house and melancholic pop”, Dahlia is a unique and multifaceted new talent, whose progression within Scotland’s growing and vibrant pop scene seems inevitable. As well as being equipped with a beguiling set of vocals that drift seamlessly around a trip hop backdrop, the content of her lyrics combines honesty and vulnerability with a much-needed element of hope.
Following the release of her utterly haunting cover of Britney Spears’ ‘Every Time’ and the accompanying music video by drummer Jamie Clapton, Dahlia is back with a debut double single ‘Clarity’. The track speaks of her experience watching loved ones struggle with their mental health, while the second song ‘Slip Slowly’ takes an introspective look at her own challenges with mental illness. With an EP due to be released in early 2021, we catch up with Dahlia to find out more about the up-and-coming artist, her debut single and how she plans to celebrate when things are slightly more normal.
On her start in music and early inspirations
I went to the Gaelic school in Edinburgh so growing up music was as big a part of our learning as maths and English. I was a part of the choir from the age of six and competed in the MOD and I think that’s had a subtle but significant influence on the music I make now. But other than that I’d say my biggest musical inspiration, as cliche as it sounds, are my Mum and Dad. They are huge music fans and no music was off limits to me growing up. We’d go on these long road trips to visit family in Ireland and the soundtrack would be everything from Cyprus Hill to Kate Bush – very eclectic! They also made a point of introducing me to as many female artists as possible; Blondie, Portishead, Billie Holiday and so many others.
I’m just useless at playing instruments so for a long time I thought I’d never be able to write songs. Then I discovered FKA Twigs and she made me realise that I didn’t have to be able to play an instrument. I learned that I had to just be able to fumble enough on a computer to get the sounds I wanted and then things started to click. I was able to communicate what I wanted more and find like-minded people who were able to bring these ideas to life for me.
On her approach to songwriting and discussions of mental health in her music
I work closely with a producer (Jordan Stanley) and he’ll usually send me instrumental ideas and then I’ll write over the top of them. I usually start with melody or sometimes I’ll get a rhythmic idea and I’ll just loop it and play around with it until it’s developed into a verse or chorus or something. Lyrically I draw a lot of inspiration from my own mental health issues but also how I’ve processed other peoples’ growing up.
I think discussing mental illness is an inherently political topic. Many of the mental health issues people face are linked to gender, race, sexuality, socio-economic factors and generational trauma all of which have been politicised. So in that respect yeah I am inspired by politics and the general state of the world. Usually when I’m writing though I don’t have a specific topic in mind I just improvise and see what comes out. If I connect with it, it stays and if I don’t, I rewrite it later. But I can almost always guarantee I’ll end up writing about mental illness.
On how she arrived at her current sound and where it’s headed next
I got serious about songwriting when I moved to London and started dabbling in production but it was when I moved back to Edinburgh and started working with Jordan, my producer, that it really came together. Whether he likes it or not he indulges my obsession with making everything sound dark and dramatic so it works.
I would say the sound is definitely still evolving but not in an unsure-of-itself way, just in a ‘we love trying new things and playing around with new sounds, textures and structures’ sort of way. The next few things we have lined up are still very much the Dahlia sound of these songs but hopefully you’ll also be able to hear a development.
On her debut double single Clarity and Slip Slowly
These songs are like looking at mental illness from all angles. ‘Clarity’ is a mixture of both society’s view on mental illness but also from the perspective of someone witnessing the struggles of a loved one. Whereas ‘Slip Slowly’ is a lot more personal and introspective.
On potential projects and new works on the horizon
At the moment I’m focusing a lot on just releasing music. My drummer (Jamie Clapton) and I are working on a video for ‘Clarity’ which has been put on hold slightly due to the current situation. But I’m also working on the release of a couple more singles in the new year as well as an EP during 2021 as well.
On dealing with lockdown and looking ahead
I think like everyone there have been moments where I’ve been grateful for a chance to have time to stop and just put all my attention into making music – which is an enormous privilege on so many levels. But then there have been a lot of moments of feeling stressed and a bit directionless. All of which I think are very valid emotions given the current state of things.
It’s definitely been a year of at times excruciating growth on a personal and global scale but I think it’s also been a year of learning how to hold both grief and hope at the same time. I think like every musician I’ve spoken to I’m most looking forward to going to gigs and performing again. There’s also been so much amazing music released during this time and none of us have had the joy of hearing ‘WAP’ in a club yet so that’s something to look forward to!
Dahlia’s ‘Clarity / Slip Slowly’ is out now and available to stream