Rising Synthpop Artist Sulene Unveils New Song 'Diamond': Exclusive

Bao Ngo


In her first music video, Sulene might be dancing on her own, but "Diamond" is no breakup anthem.

Smitten with a new crush, the Brooklyn-by-way-of-South Africa artist frolics through some of her favorite spots in her adopted hometown -- indie venues like Elsewhere and Arlene's Grocery -- to the beat of the gleaming single. She sums it up in the chorus: "Can't kick it/ you're the best bad habit/ pull me close or just let me go."

"Diamond" is the lead track from Fire Escaping, Sulene's sophomore EP following 2017's Strange (release date and further details coming soon). It's an impressive jump from her already-memorable debut -- glossy electropop livened up with a bedroom studio feel alongside Sulene's mixed bag of touring experience (she's played guitar for artists ranging from Betty Who to Nate Ruess to Candy Hearts). 

"Diamond" hits streaming services tomorrow, but you can check out the video exclusively below, followed by our recent chat with Sulene covering what she's been up to in recent months: crafting Fire Escaping, creating and perroming amidst her newfound sobriety, being influenced by Sky Ferreria and Nine Inch Nails, and much more. 

Get a first look at the video for "Diamond" below, and check out our Q&A after the jump.

What was making the "Diamond" video like?

The “Diamond” video captures that feeling of having a crush on someone and everywhere you go you’re sort of in a trance. Instead of just singing the lyrics in several different environments, I wanted to do a choreographed dance, just for fun. I had to learn the song and the dance at twice the speed, which was actually pretty tricky, and practiced it for two weeks. The idea was that when we cut between the different scenes the performance would look seamless. We got to film in some of my favorite spots -- Arlene’s Grocery, The Loft at Elsewhere, and an overpass on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (which is one of my favorite movie-esque spots in Brooklyn). Working with Ian Fursa, the director and Valentine Edwards, the assistant, was awesome, too. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience making my first video.

You named the EP Fire Escaping -- what did you want to escape from? 

The name Fire Escaping came from the chorus in the title track. I was feeling really stifled in February two winters ago in New York, on my grind all the time and barely being outside for months. At the time I was renting a window-less studio space near my apartment to write a film score, and I’d basically go between my bedroom and this studio all day, every day. One day I was working in my bedroom and staring out at my fire escape and I fantasized about wanting to climb out onto it and fly away back to the beaches in South Africa [Laughs]. The song itself is a dreamy, surreal story: “we’re stuck in a movie, take the Staten Island Ferry to Camps Bay.” Camps Bay [in South Africa] is the town where I grew up. I wanted to escape from the monotony of repeating a pattern and feeling stuck and uninspired in the same cold city for several months. The end result was writing a record that kept me excited about life.

What were some of your musical reference points in working on this EP?

True Blue by Madonna was a big influence on the ‘80s-sounding drum and synth parts, and it challenged me to keep the arrangements minimal on tracks like “Kiss Harder.” Nine Inch Nails is always a huge influence on the drum sounds and weird guitar tones -- I’m endlessly inspired by the sounds that come out of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ heads. For the synth and guitar layers as well as the industrial percussion, Night Time, My Time by Sky Ferreira was a big influence, I absolutely love that record. The Twin Peaks score in general always inspires me; it definitely ends up playing a part in the bass VI and baritone guitar sounds, as well the the warbly analog synth sounds. Though I’m pretty sure the Twin Peaks score inspired every indie musician in Brooklyn [Laughs].

What made you want to get sober? Does it feel different to create and perform from a place of sobriety? 

I wanted to get sober because alcohol was no longer playing a positive role in my life. Or it may never have…hard to say. A lot of incredible things had started happening in my career in the last year which I’m so grateful for, and I was honestly starting to mess it all up by drinking away my anxiety. It feels so different creating and performing sober. At first it was really scary and I felt like I’d lost my comedic edge and not-giving-any-fucks vibe on stage. But then I had the thought that I wanted to prove that those things didn’t come from the alcohol -- that they came from me organically -- and I worked hard to harness that side of myself again by performing sober for half a year now.

Anything else in the pipeline?

Touring, hopefully! We’ll see what this little EP can do. Then I’ll probably release my first EP with my instrumental side project, Liefie. I’m super excited to wrap on composing that one. I’m writing the next Sulene EP as we speak, as well. I’m also producing a very special comedy show and record with some comedians from Upright Citizens Brigade, Zack Willis and Molly Gaebe as well as the songwriter Mori Einsidler. That’ll debut in 2020; keep your eyes peeled. It’s been ridiculously fun to make. Other than that, I write a lot of music every month for TV and ads and co-write often with other musicians in New York.


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