PREMIERE: Siv Disa Evokes Unsettling Familiarity with “Fear” Video

NYC-based singer, songwriter, and pianist Siv Disa’s musical style is unmistakable; minor chords and dissonant sounds give her songs a haunting feel, while her warm, soft voice invites the listener into even the darkest of stories. Her latest single, “Fear,” released by Irish singer-songwriter Maija Sofia’s record label Trapped Animal Records, is an embodiment of this distinct sound she’s mastered.

Disa’s delicate vocals, conversational lyrical style, and synths in the song are reminiscent of indie pop bands like The Blow, while the instrumentals and subject matter conjure up gloomier acts like Orion Rigel Dommisse. The video follows the latter thread, showing Disa wandering through an abandoned road, a dark wooden house, and a winter forest as she sings, “I’m a little bit in love with everyone I’ve ever touched/Come a little bit undone then disconnect before it comes to much.”

It seems fitting that the song was conceived while Disa was walking between New York City subway platforms. “I’d just left someone’s place who I was seeing at the time,” she remembers. “It was so blisteringly meaningless. I remember floating out of my body and watching both of us so politely pretending that we cared more about one another than we did because that’s just what everyone does. Seeing someone else carry out the same delusion broke the spell of my own. I worried that even if I could give someone the room to actually matter to me, it wouldn’t grant me the ability to feel connected to another human being.”

Disa describes the end of the chorus — “I don’t really like to think about that too much/There are an awful lot of doors that I keep shut” — as an expression of her “life philosophy” at the time the song was written. “Staying in motion has always been the method of self-preservation I revert to, but it makes you a bit divorced from reality,” she says. “It tricks you into thinking you’re the puppet master of not just your own life, but your entire world.”

Disa says she was more involved in the production of this song than her earlier projects. She and her producer Sam Palmer made their own vocoder, and the spoken lines in the beginning are a crossfade of Palmer’s voice into her own. “From the first second of the song, we wanted to create a sound world that felt familiar, but somehow off,” she says.

She’s directed many of her own videos, including this one, which was recorded at a country farmhouse on an old Kodak Easyshare camera. “Since the budget of this video was about zero dollars, I wanted the DIY aesthetic to feel intentional,” she explains. “Working with that constraint was a fun challenge. I think art that is low-budget is always more effective when it stays self-aware of that.”

She crafted the storyline with the aesthetic of ’70s B-movies and homemade horror in mind, aiming to give off the appearance of “a video that someone might find on a camcorder in their attic, something that enhanced the feeling of the song being both familiar and unsettling,” she explains. “I wanted the viewer to be able to step into the role of monster, victim, and voyeuristic witness as they transitioned from scene to scene.”

Disa is currently halfway through recording a full-length album, making do with the limits on her activity by recording at home on a Tascam 8 track, and is working on videos for some of the album’s songs.

Lately, she’s been learning to take the same experimental approach to songwriting and production as she has to video-making. “Women and nonbinary people are much more likely to wait to release something until they’re as prepared as they can be, whereas men learn as they go and share the products of that process with the outside world proudly,” she says. “I’m always finding new ways to get out of my own way, because I live in a world that asks women to get in their own way.”

Follow Siv Disa on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Maija Sofia “Elizabeth”

Irish singer-songwriter Maija Sofia‘s debut album Bath Time (Nov 22) is a lesson in history — particularly in history’s forgotten women. Its first single, “The Glitter,” centers on Caribbean novelist Jean Rhys and the displacement and misrepresentation she faced after coming to England at age 16. Another of the tracks, “Elizabeth,” is about Elizabeth Siddal, a 19th-century English artist, poet, and art model, and the ways she was mistreated and erased from history.

Hailing from the countryside of western Ireland, Sofia has been writing music since she was a teen and recorded an EP before her label Trapped Animal connected with her last year. We spoke to her about her album and how it ties to issues faced by women in both the past and present.

AF: What would you say is the overall theme of your album?

MS: When I was writing this album, it didn’t feel that there was a theme. But looking back now that I’ve put it together, so much of it is kind of about forgotten stories and women’s voices that have bee misrepresented throughout history. I’ve got different characters that I’ve written about, like Bridget Cleary, a woman whose husband said she’d been possessed by a fairy. It was in the 1890s, and it was a ritual exorcism, and she was murdered, but her husband got away with it because he said he was banishing the fairies. That was a real thing that actually happened, and he never got sent to prison or anything because he’d been convinced that he wasn’t actually murdering his wife but was killing a fairy. It was really awful.

AF: What was significant about that to you?

MS: It struck me that it was only 120 years ago — it’s not that long ago that that could be taken seriously. And she was an independent seamstress. She had her own income, and that was unusual in rural Ireland at the time, and it’s kind of like this woman who was powerful — her life was just taken completely by her husband, and it was a murder, but it didn’t seem like that at the time.

AF: Which other historical women feature prominently on the album?

MS: Edie Sedgwick, who was Andy Warhol’s muse, who was never thought about in her own right. She also went out with Bob Dylan, so he has all these songs about her, but her own voice has never been remembered. She’s just her image, and men have been inspired by her, but we don’t remember her as a person. She’s just a face.

And Elizabeth Siddal was a muse to these painters in Victorian London, and again, she’s always kind of remembered as a muse rather than an artist or a writer in her own right. She was a muse to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in London. She’s just like a character in history that fascinated me, and I always loved those paintings. When I was a teenager, I was really fascinated by the Pre-Raphaelite paintings, and I started reading about the women in the paintings, and she’s the one that struck me as interesting.

She was a poet as well and an artist, and Rossetti, the painter, was really in love with her, but he would never marry her because she was lower-class. She had tuberculosis, and after she died, Rossetti decided he was in love with her all along, and he had his manuscript of poems buried in her coffin. But several years later, he was bankrupt, so he had her grave dug up in the middle of the night, and he tried to get his poems back, and he published the poems. He disrespected her in life but also in death. He disrespected her so much that he did his offering and then had her dug up to get his poems back. It’s another weird real-life strange historical tale.

AF: The lyrics to “Elizabeth” read to me like a love song. Whose perspective is it from?

MS: The song is from the perspective of Rossetti, the painter. I was kind of poking at the fact that she’s only ever been represented through his perspective. It’s kind of like a satire.

AF: Do you see this erasure of women’s voices happening today?

MS: Less obviously so, and women are being given space to tell their own stories now, and I feel very grateful that I am of a generation that I can do this. But I do think that the male gaze is still  such a prevalent thing in cinema and in art and photography and the fashion industry and everything. I wasn’t intentionally writing about this theme repeatedly. It was only after the songs were written that it was like, “Oh, I’m obviously interested in this.”

AF: I read that your album was inspired by the repeal of the 8th Amendment, which banned abortion in Ireland. How did that factor into it?

MS: I was really involved in protest and activism to get a referendum to get that law repealed, and part of that meant I was constantly around women giving testimonies around their abortions and the traumatic experiences of having to sneak across to the UK or order pills online and all the risks that come with that. It was a really intense time for Irish women because most of us were really active in trying to get this law changed, and it was successful. But I think that constantly hearing women’s stories and hearing about women’s struggles definitely impacted the writing.

AF: What are your next plans?

MS: I’m doing a project with another artist called Rachael Lavelle. That’s my next plan after the album’s released, and then I don’t know after that. She’s a composer, and I’m more interested in writing lyrics, so probably, she’ll be doing more of the music side, and I’ll be doing more of the writing side. We’ll be looking at themes of witchcraft and folklore, so we’re still in the early stages. I don’t know what form it’ll take, but I’m excited about it. She’s an amazing artist.


Maija Sofia’s debut album Bath Time is out November 22 via Trapped Animal Records & Cargo Records. Follow her on Facebook for ongoing updates.