“I feel really good, but I also feel weird and anxious because it’s like, ‘I didn’t poop all the way’.” Sudan Archives is using bowel analogies to describe how she feels about her debut album Athena dropping (sorry) this month. “Until it’s out, I’m not going to be fully relieved,” she adds, giggling. “There’s nothing I can do right now. I can’t take a laxative.”
At least Sudan can take some comfort in knowing that Athena is worth the wait. It hears the 25-year-old Cincinnati native (real name Brittney Parks) retain her violin-meets-drum machine creations, but flesh them out with grander orchestral sonics. If her 2017 debut self-titled EP and its 2018 follow-up, Sink were the bones of her oft soulful, experimental violin music, then Athena is the meat.
This has arisen partly by working with others for the first time. Sudan, who’s lived in LA for the last five years, says the main goal for her debut album was for everything to sound “bigger”. She enlisted producers, including Washed Out and Rodaidh McDonald (The xx, Adele) and set about crafting a record that would allow for new ideas to surface.
“I think sonically [Athena] has more depth,” Sudan says over the phone. “I wanted to make sure the album has the cool texture that the EPs have, but to be really full. One time, when I was at the studio, there were like 10 cleaning ladies there and I asked them all to come in and clap. I was just trying to get a bigger sound. This album is more of a representation of all of my musical influences.”
“The key message is that you have to embrace the light and the darkness within you. It’s how it is with superheroes, goddesses, influential people.”
McDonald, in particular, imbued Sudan with a more classical violin-playing style. He would ask her to play melodies on her instrument “for a long, long time” to help develop “a crazy arrangement” that she may not have thought of – especially for album track, ‘Down On Me’. “It felt really good to collaborate,” Sudan says, “because doing stuff alone gets boring. It’s great to be like, ‘Oh, I have all these people that are part of the vision.’ And if it sucks, just blame it on them,” she says, laughing.
‘Down On Me’ is also the song that introduces more open and autobiographical stories. It’s in stark contrast with Sudan’s often oblique lyricism. On the track, she sings about a real-life situation in which a man only became romantically interested in her once he’d learnt that she was an artist. “All I’ve ever sung about is love, but just very vaguely about it,” Sudan says. “Maybe just how I feel and how I love and how love makes me react. But on the album, I’m speaking about how others perceive me – how they love me.”
She continues to explain that this lover had originally “bluntly” told her that he didn’t like to date black girls. “But he felt a connection with me,” she says. “It’s weird because he’s black too. I felt like I had something to prove, like I had to, like, reinforce some values in him. The song is almost me as a praying mantis; I wanted to reel him in and then bite his head off.”
Song lyricist, James McCall encouraged her to write about the experience in ‘Down On Me’. While Sudan admits it’s actually her least favourite song on Athena (because of the music’s “romantic Disneyland vibe”), she appreciates that it’s “kinda badass” because “I had that twist to it lyrically mapped.”
In truth, she prefers to come up with “a crazy concept and code everything” to make her songs open to interpretation. “But here I’m bringing up issues about colourism and stuff that I normally wouldn’t want to talk about. I feel like ‘Down On Me’ probably was a situation where – if I wasn’t working with other people – that wouldn’t have happened.”
Beyond that song, what is the album’s overarching theme? “The key message is that you have to embrace the light and the darkness within you. It’s how it is with superheroes, goddesses, influential people. That’s probably what it takes to really make something of yourself: to be able to just embrace all parts of yourself, have it there on the frontline instead of trying to hide one part or the other.”
It’s no wonder, then, that Sudan is both excited and apprehensive about Athena’s release. She’s exposed more sides of herself than before. Surely, it’s for the better.
Photo by Alex Black.