An immigration lawyer by day and mastermind behind Seattle ambient rock collective somesurprises by night, Natasha El-Sergany – born in Ireland, raised partly in the UK, and has lived throughout the U.S. – is not your average Seattle rocker.
The music of somesurprises is a unique combination of sounds from her various homes: the German rock and Brit-pop soundtracking her childhood in England; bands she loved while in high school in Florida, like Radiohead and Elliott Smith; the narrative songwriting and twang native to the American South where she lived in in her twenties; the DIY ethos she’s devoured while living in Seattle for the last 12 years.
All of El-Sergany’s moving around—and the connection between the bandmembers—impacts the distinctive, drone-heavy amalgamated sound of somesurprises. They’re first on the bill at Ronette’s Psychedlic Sock Hop this Saturday, November 5th, followed by Purest Feeling from New York City, American Culture from Denver, and Tomten.
Somesurprises, which includes El-Sergany on vocals, guitar, and organ, Josh Medina on guitar and synth, Nico Sophiea on drums, and Laura Seniow on bass, began as a solo project of El-Sergany, who is self-taught on her instruments and wrote her first song at the age of 14.
“I [started] on the keyboard and and then I started playing guitar because I visited my cousin… and she had a guitar,” says El-Sergany. “She taught me some chords and I learned, like, Coldplay songs. And I was always really into the experience of listening to recorded music when I was growing up. I remember having a cassette player in England – I had this like ’60s compilation that had some Beatles songs on it. Just listened to it on repeat all the time.”
For El-Sergany, songwriting and playing music has been a constant since early childhood, though she didn’t study it in college. Instead, she studied creative writing and pre-med and then shifted to law, which is what she does now.
Nine years ago, after graduating college in Florida and living briefly in the Carolinas, Virginia, and Georgia, El-Sergany fixed her eyes on Seattle — both because it had work opportunities in law and because it had a buzzing DIY music scene.
“When I came to Seattle, I… quickly formed a noise trio with a couple of musicians in the noise scene. And then decided I wanted to focus more on writing songs. I wanted to just like work by myself for a while,” says El-Sergany. “That’s when Josh [Medina] and I met and formed the ambient duo.”
They called their duo somesurprises, and put out a tape called serious dreams in 2017, which showcases music that resembles the current incarnation of somesurprises, but more stripped down. From there, El-Sergany and Medina decided to bring in a bassist and drummer to round out their sound.
“What we’ve become together as a band is a combined intensity,” says El-Sergany. “None of us is like, depending on music for income or anything; it’s all just something that we devote time to out of love and wanting to make sounds that we want to hear.”
Those sounds include intense drones, ambient keyboard flourishes, and blurry, shoegaze-inspired vocals, which lean on a raw rock ‘n’ roll backbone. “We’re all into ’70s German rock bands, like Neu! and Harmonia, English psych-noise bands like Spacemen 3, and [artists like] Mazzy Star,” adds El-Sergany.
Though she writes many of the lyrics and early melody ideas, El-Sergany says somesurprises’ overall sound is the result of the combined vision and drive of the four members, who all happen to be August-born Leos.
“That’s something we joke about a lot,” she says. “Leos are supposed to be creative showmen, and also kind of shy at the same. I think that our strength is that we’re all leaders… that makes for an interesting dynamic [with] everyone really taking ownership of their parts [but] serving the whole.”
El-Sergany adds the band uses the music to process and explore certain emotional states, too, and that the often repetitious, drone-heavy nature of somesurprises’ sound comes from El-Sergany’s belief in “staying with” a challenging emotion until it can pass through you. It also comes from her obsession with certain fragments of songs and desire to hear them repeated—just like with that cassette tape from her childhood.
“Listening to, you know, more traditional pop and rock music and things like that I would always really love like… just a fragment of a song or like, I’d really be listening to one part of a song, in particular, and just like wanting to hear that over and over again,” says El-Sergany. “I guess it’s also… about holding on to a mood for long enough that it actually is identifiable.”
The mood of their most recent release, 2019’s eponymously named LP, is deep introspection. On songs like the eerie, orchestral “Sometimes,” El-Sergany sings, “Sometimes I only feel shame/But not always, not always.” Meanwhile, the more stripped down ballad, “Empty Threat,” touches on the relatable notion of wanting what’s not good for you.
“A lot of the songs are meditations on things that you’re not really supposed to say out loud, but once you do, you can look at [the emotion] and decide if that’s your[s] or if that’s someone else’s. [Do you] need to hold on to it anymore?” explains El-Sergany.
At Ronette’s Psychedelic Sock Hop in Fremont on Saturday, they’ll play some new tracks off a yet-unreleased record they recently recorded with Paurl Walsh and are shopping around to labels.
“I was working on a lot of this stuff totally isolated, and then brought it to the band… it continues to have the same spirit as our last LP [but] we’ve paid more attention to bringing the best out of each player,” says El-Sergany, adding that she hopes the record will come out in 2023.
Follow somesurprises on Instagram for ongoing updates.