Under the Radar is Highsnobiety’s celebration of upcoming talent. Each week, we’re spotlighting a rising artist who is bringing something new to the world of music and is capturing our hearts and minds (and ears). This week we’re featuring Kwamie Liv, a singer-songwriter from Copenhagen with potential that glows in the dark of night.
Getting matters of the heart off one’s chest comes naturally to Kwamie Liv. All the way out in Copenhagen, the Cancerian singer-songwriter has been pouring every piece of herself into the body of work that would become her debut album, Lovers That Come and Go. The release has been a long time coming, but it certainly turned out to be worth the wait for fans that have been following her lead since the beginning.
Liv had a steady stride going back in 2014 when her Lost in the Girl EP quickly gained attention from a handful of indie music blogs that praised her distinct blend of alternative R&B and pop, comparing it to the likes of Lana Del Rey. From there, more interest built as she trickled out one-off tracks like “Higher,” “Perfect Grace,” and the Angel Haze-assisted single “Pleasure This Pain.” Though after 2016, she quietly faded from the spotlight without a warning or explanation.
The two years that Liv spent toiling away at the full-length project weren’t completely in the dark though—she maintained an active online presence by sharing an assortment of hand-drawn illustrations and stunning photographs in beautiful outdoor locations. During this period, she collaborated with Angelo Badalamenti on the song “Remember Me in Every Cloud of Gold” for the film Gold Coast and allowed herself to fully explore different areas of songwriting while working alongside other musicians.
“I took a bit of a step back even though I was still doing things of course, but I felt like I really wanted to dedicate my time to creating a body of work which would then become this album,” she said. “I didn’t have at the time a deadline for that. I was like ‘OK, I feel this urge. I have to create this, let me follow that.'”
Rather than bend to the pressure of pushing out new material, Liv took her time and waited until she felt ready for everything to come out. Now that the record is finally here, she’s ready to move on to the next cycle that life throws her into.
“I think the hardest thing for a lot of artists, and certainly for myself, is finding that satisfaction, being satisfied with your work,” she adds. “I feel satisfied with this album. That’s not about perfection, it’s just about knowing that you’ve put everything you could into something and it’s true to you.”
Scroll down and dive into our in-depth discussion with Liv.
Can you remember your earliest memory of music, whether it was something you remember hearing growing up or maybe the first time that you played something?
I mean, I grew up in a family where when we gathered, it wasn’t uncommon that my aunt, uncle, and mother, they’d pull out a guitar and they would sing and play songs from when they were younger. That was pretty normal for me and that’s probably my introduction to music. It’s also one of the ways I used to spend time with my mother. She’d sit in front of me – she’s not a musician – but she’d just sit in front of me and she’d play guitar and sing, and we’d sing songs together. I think that’s probably the first thing that comes to mind when I think about how music came into my life as something tangible.
You’ve lived in so many different places from Denmark, Zambia, Turkey, Sweden, Kenya, the list goes on and on. This is something I think about a lot, even as someone who hasn’t lived in as many places as you, but what does the concept of home mean to you?
As cliché as it sounds, I would say home is where the heart is, really. When I look back at my life and all the places I’ve lived, and a lot of them are places that I’ll probably never step foot in again… When I say “home is where the heart is,” it’s both the kind of heart that travels emotionally – the people that you love – but also just really where you are.
Wherever my heart is, is my home. I see myself in wherever I go as being able to create a home pretty much anywhere. I think home is more… It’s not a very concrete notion to me. I think the feelings of home can come and go. There are times I feel more at home than other times, but for sure, it’s not something that I link to a physical space. That said, of course when I come home to my apartment I’m like “This is my home,” but that may change. I’m totally prepared for that and used to it.
Let’s dive right into Lovers That Come and Go. I wanna hear about the album, the journey that you’re really capturing in this record, and the title itself.
I create a lot of work at night and this album is very much from late night, dusk until dawn. I wanted to create something that you could drive to [and] make love to. Something sensual and unforced, but at the same time, not something bound to one genre. For me, it’s always about what’s best for each individual song [and] that means that of course there are some songs that don’t make it on the project. In the end, I do think of this as a body of work and I do want it to flow even if it’s not all in one genre. It was important for me that each song landed where it was best, and then really just piecing it together to create something that I felt.
As far as the title, it’s funny, I was talking to someone about this the other day, Lovers That Come and Go. They were asking me if it was a specific thing, but for me it’s more of a state as opposed to specific lovers that came and went. Of course, that’s in there deeply, but it’s that kind of feeling. When I write, I’ll often take point of departure in mood. When people ask me to describe what exactly it’s about, that’s not really how I write. I’m approaching it like a feeling and then the words paint the feeling. It’s not so much that exact story, “She went there, and they fell in love, and this is what happened.” It’s more like “I have this mood, these words will piece together, and the music around it will piece together too to make a moment.” It can be interpreted in different ways. Does that make sense?
I’ve always really admired the way that you approach love, or at least the way it kind of comes off to me. There’s always this really great balance of… There can be so much pleasure and joy from this, but at the same time, there’s so much pain there as well. Love hurts, it stings, it does things to you…
Thank you. Where there is pleasure there’s pain and it’s always like that. In a way, it’s also the nature of life. It’s just a circle, in a way. We’re really talking about circles in this conversation. It’s true, right? The more vulnerable you are, the more space there is for you to be hurt. In a way, I feel that one of our great purposes on this earth is to allow ourselves to love and be loved, and allow ourselves to be vulnerable even though that’s not always easy. If you wanna feel the great things, you also have to allow yourself to open, and within that to accept that there is always a possibility for pain and that’s okay. For me as an artist, it’s great because it gives me a lot of material.
That’s something big that I’ve been learning recently. It reminds me of when I was a kid—and I still do this sometimes—whenever someone would try to touch me and I would always kind of flinch or scream. My mom was always like, “You’re always so afraid of pain and getting hurt before something even happens to you.” As I’ve even tried to delve into relationships, sometimes I’ll be like “Let me just call this off before anything even gets too deep” when things haven’t even gone there yet.
That’s actually a really interesting observation and extremely symbolic. In a way, we also kind of think that you just fall in love, it just happens, but I believe it’s also a choice and it’s something that you allow. Of course, there are certain things that either are there and that are not there that you cannot force in any way, and should not, but after those things are there, it’s a choice. Love is something you choose just as much as it’s something that is natural and that happens organically. You choose it and you allow it… I think there’s a balance. We’re all different, and I think the most important thing is that we respect our boundaries, but don’t fear them. We can still set boundaries with love and not fear. I think if we do that, we’re all right. I also really believe it’s really important to trust your gut, it’s always right.
I love this one line from the song “Look At What I’ve Done” when you say, “I light up the dark.” I find it to be so empowering, constantly just reminding yourself that you have good energy and that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel… Also, the light is in yourself. It’s so simple, and yet I feel like I have to constantly remind my friends of that a lot, but I just really love that line.
I think it kind of goes back to this idea that if you can’t make a home of yourself, you can’t make a home anywhere. It’s kind of the same with love. I think that in a way, maybe even your reflex to not let other people touch you … The journey that actually needs to happen is one where you allow yourself to touch yourself. Then, once you do that, and once you open that door, and you look at yourself and accept that you are perfect as you are. Someone said this to me recently, and it really resonated, regarding the best way to love each other, and they said something like, “You are good enough just as you are, and you can be better.” I think that’s a good way to both look at yourself, but also the people you love. Accept people for who they are, love them for who they are, but also understand the physical journey is about growing, and that’s okay. That’s kind of the beauty.
Something else that I wanted to talk to you about is your illustrations, because I enjoy them so much as well. One of my personal favorites is the one where it’s this man and woman, and they’re sitting in bed, and the woman has a glass of wine and a cigarette, and he says “My ego could really use a massage.” I remember the first time I saw that I was dying laughing and I sent it to all my friends. They were like, “Oh, my God. I felt that. I’m shook.” It’s so true.
For me, the cartoon is actually something that I started doing in the last year. I was in the studio working on the album, and I lost my voice, and I just picked up a pen and paper, and just started drawing. It’s a different voice, it’s kind of … I think the things that I saw through the drawings are things that I want to say, but that I don’t necessarily know how to say for example in my music. It’s a different expression, and ultimately for me, the thing that drives me is the storytelling, and I need to get it out somehow.
Those women that I ended up drawing, and characters that I ended up drawing were a way for me to get something else inside me out that gives me a different type of satisfaction than the music. Not more or less, but it’s definitely something that I love to do. It also means that a lot of the time now it’s hard for me to have conversations with people. If someone says something that I find funny or along those lines, I’ll write it down and try to see if it can become something. Even if it doesn’t at all connect with what they said, I find myself inspired in different ways when I think about the drawings.
I think you should definitely publish a little book of them someday, I would definitely buy it.
Thanks, I’m on it! I really want to actually. It’s definitely on my to-do list, I think it would be a lot of fun to have a little book like that. I’m happy that you enjoy them, that makes me happy for sure.
What do you always hope or want people to takeaway from your music when they listen to it?
For me, my part of it is to create my best work in that moment. That is my job and that is where my cup is filled. After that point, when you release it and it leaves your hands, I really believe in letting go. I really believe that I’m no longer the center of the process, it’s now a relationship between whoever chooses to listen to it, and the songs. Whatever that person creates, just as I have with so many songs in my life, whatever relationship that is, it’s theirs. However way they want to interpret and experience the music, it belongs entirely to them.
I really believe that it’s such a free thing, and really that’s why I love writing and I creating music because it’s the most free space I have. There’s no limit to what you create. There’s no limit to what stories you can tell. You can sit on your couch and go to the moon if you want to, it’s your writing and I love that. But that also goes for when you experience music, it’s completely yours. That’s why people have these different memories, and experience these different songs. It’s all dependent on where you hear that song for the first time, how you view the song, and other songs that you listen to at a certain point in your life.
No matter what the song is about, you’ll always feel a connection to it, and to that moment, and it takes you right back. I really have a desire to not intrude too much on people’s experiences of whatever I create. Of course, I can explain where things come from for me, but I prefer to just let it be. And when I let go, truly let go with the hope that whoever could enjoy the music gets to hear it. That’s probably what my hope is, but it’s not that they understand music in the same way that I do or that it has a specific meaning that needs to be hammered in. It’s very important to me.
At the end of the day, for me anyway, it’s always about storytelling. I love when I actually can come across artists that truly, deeply care about that and talk about that process, because it’s like we’re all doing it on different ends in different ways. Like you were saying, it’s all circles.
It’s all circles.
Everything goes back to a circle.
Yeah, hopefully a growing one.
Growth is so important to me on a personal level. If you’re not growing, it’s hard when you feel stunted. It’s not a good time.
It’s true, but I think the nature of life is that even when you feel stunted, you’re also growing. There’s no other way. Forward, growing always.
In case you missed last week’s Under the Radar, dive into the world of Manchester’s Mason Collective right here.