XSARA is a singer songwriter and lead vocalist of the band 'XSARA', a fusion of jazz pop and funk that is made into a vision of colour. She is a talent that has much to give and is ready to explode on to the musical scene, catch XSARA on tour and be prepared for her next release. She is elegant with razor sharp wit, she also likes tattoos, what more can you ask for in a lady?
We caught up with her at her local tattoo parlour and whilst debating on whether my right arse cheek would look better with a unicorn or a pony, we asked her some questions….
Thank you XSARA for taking part in this interview, please tell the readers of musicmuso a little about you? My name is XSARA (pronounced (ex-sar-ruh) I’m a singer-songwriter with my own band and we currently play a mixture of jazz inspired pop, funky rhythms with a few ballads thrown in.
Where did you find the rest of the band? And were there other names you contemplated for the band name? I found them down a dark alley standing suspiciously with their instruments in precarious positions and said, “Hey you guys there! How about joining my band instead?” - haha. Some members have been with me since day one, some came on board later. It’s been a long journey. Many have their own bands or are involved in separate projects. There is Ed Kontargyris on drums, Anna Rawlings on Trumpet, Ben Donnelly on bassoon and saxes and Si Paton on bass.
I had a 9 piece band at one point but financially and practically it got out of hand drove me round the bend. I remember an accordionist being involved in the past at one point… I’ll be adding a new guitarist to the band soon.
I was performing under my first name of XSARA before the band formed and as I write all the songs and fund everything it just made sense. The band members and I co-arrange parts, I am fortunate to have such talented band members and they’re great.
You spent some of your childhood in Mississippi, what musical influences did you pick up with your time there? The Blues definitely, you can hear it on the first E.P a lot more than the current album. I have fond memories of listening to the Blues in the truck on the way to go fishing in Mississippi when I was a child with the sun shining. Happy times.
‘Are There Dragons In Your Heart?’ was released in August 2013, how did you choose where to record this? I recorded the album at Offtape studios by Ran Steiner who also recorded the live version of the first E.P, it was mastered by Karen Thompson at Exchange studios and mixed by João Simões in Portugal who also mixed the first E.P.
The next release is going to be recorded in the countryside amongst fields so there’s no distraction for myself, it feels right to do it this way this time. I’m taking longer with the next release and there’s going to be a genre shift. I’m having much more of a creative production input this time and will be incorporating some of my electronic material as well as staying true to what I do now.
I’m your animal is a strong track, is there a story behind this song? I don't like to say who inspire my songs, I prefer the listener to enjoy and make what they will of my songs.
Which song do you wish you had written? Every song that has ever hit no. 1 so I can reap the royalties and live off it as my pension haha.… Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, I’d feel quite proud of myself if I had written that. Saying that, sometimes it’s the most simplest of songs that can evoke powerful emotions.
If you could read any musicians diary alive or dead who would it be and why? Betty Davis. She was clearly surrounded by a male dominated environment in the funk world, her lyrics express that. I would want to know why she quit music after two albums. Why quieten her raw, uncompromising voice? Did she find being sexually expressive and opinionated gathered too much negativity? What was it like being with Miles Davis? Apparently she got very religious and disappeared from the music world, a real shame.
Dmitri Shostakovich. What was it like composing the war symphonies during such an oppressive time? If he hadn’t of been able to compose what would he have done without such release? Writing music as a form of resistance against Nazi totalitarianism is a serious thing!
Beethoven. Total legend, who wouldn’t want to read that guy’s diary?
If you could have three guests at dinner alive, dead or fictional, who would they be? The same three artists above but with Prince, Janis Joplin and Michael Jackson gatecrashing for dessert.
You have a few tattoos, what are the stories behind them and who did you go to? I have a Phoenix on my right arm, it was done by Rob Sutherland in Greenwich, an artist who developed his own sepia colour ink, I respect his talents so got him to do this. The Phoenix was done after surviving an arson attack when asleep. The fire alarm never triggered - it melted, there was no double glazing, I lived alone, I was lucky. An experience hard to explain in words. It truly made me ask what regrets I’d have if I had gone, for me it was not being completely devoted to my music. I knew after that experience I could overcome any setback life threw at me. It woke me up in every possible way.
I have 3 stars on my upper right arm which are a cover up of an awful tattoo I had done on my 14th birthday by some random taxi driver for £2 haha There is still scarring left from it, the guy was not an artist but no one else would tattoo me at that age! The stars were done years later when I was in a metal band by a friend’s brother who did art on motorcycles and motorcycle helmets. I have a small star on my right wrist which will get covered.
On my lower left arm I have an anchor being pulled by a swallow with a rope in its beak with the words ‘Commit to the pull’ below it. It’s a name of a song that’s on the next release. It was done by artist Ballsy at Factotum in Norfolk. This was a matching tattoo that my last partne had but I altered the design to suit my tastes. The quote’s from Bill Kazmaier in relation to the deadlift. He meant it in the terms of when walking up to the bar the lift is already complete as the decision that the weight won’t be dropped come hell or high water has already been made. However this person was unable to apply this approach to romantic relationships and ran way from anything that required any commitment or honesty. I don’t really want to say anything more but it reminds me of the strength and integrity of my own character if anything with trying to handle an impossible situation caused by this person.
I really want a tattoo done by J Becerra at Immortal Ink but he’s fully booked for 2014, such phenomenal work! Total wish list.
Having Swedish and Egyptian blood in you, is there influences of that scene in your music? No not really, I’m proud of my roots and my ethnic background but if anything the Egyptian influence has caused me more of a headache than anything else being a female performer. Women are not allowed to do the call to prayer so if you’re singing strong opinions, standing up as a woman about your identity, sexuality and emotions outside of a religious framework you get hassle. My genetic Egyptian father doesn’t want to know me anymore because I kissed an actor on the lips in my last video. Pave your own path, don’t please others.
It’s that kind of mentality where people will listen to pop music throughout their day but if you’re their sister, daughter or wife parading on stage it’s not approved. Um Kalthum is a great Egyptian singer. It would be great to see more young Egyptian female singers come to the forefront.
If anything growing up in Mississippi with my stepdad had far more of an influence on my music with the Blues. I would like to get more involved with the Swedish scene…
Who would you love to write a song and play live with? The same people I would invite to dinner in the past question but with the addition of a Dizzee Rascal collaboration, PJ Harvey, Tori Amos, Fiona Apple and an Eminem collaboration.
What was the moment you realised music is going to be your life? Sounds clichéd but it’s the light during dark times, it can lift you up, make you smile, make you cry and is a universal language, it dissolves barriers everywhere. It was there for me during some tough times growing up and is my constant. It would be like ripping off my own arm not having music in my life, it’s a part of me. When did I realise it was going to be my life? When every bit of money earned kept going into it while others got mortgages and babies haha
Best advice you ever received and who was it by? “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” - Rumi
What excites you? The simplest of things in life. Just being alive, looking up to the stars and sky, Space Raider Crisps, walks in the countryside, hanging out in the sun with a loved one, hugs, animals, adventure, the possibility that the world is your oyster, being pampered, extreme sports, scuba diving, sky diving, surfing, fantasy, imagination, possibilities, surprises, presents, enjoying a finished painting or music release I’ve completed and of course being a huge fan of videogames they seriously make me super happy.
What makes you laugh? Silliness, pure random goofball antics, dry sarcastic humour, putting elements together that should not be together.
2014 what is to be expected from XSARA? I’m so excited about the next release, it’s going to sound so different and I’m excited about having more of a creative production input. I’ve taken a few months off touring to song write but we’ll be back on stage and recording in the studio very soon. I’ll no longer be behind a piano and live performances will be different. Expect a new direction and sound!
In ten words what does music mean to you? Sacrifice, money, responsibility, freedom, expression, voice, release, fulfilment, emotions, purpose
Whilst we were waiting for the ink to dry on my new 'butt tattoo', we decided to hit Xsara with some quick fire questions….
Coffee or Tea? Coffee first thing in the morning until 5pm, love it. Post 5pm I don’t drink coffee so it’s Rose Yogi Tea- I drink a few pots daily to chill me out, huge fan of it.
Coke or Pepsi? Diet Coke- addicted!
Holidays/Vacations – Beach or ski-ing? I don’t holiday much mainly because my life is devoted to my music, any money earnt goes straight into my budget for future releases, travel to gigs, my band or promo materials etc
However I go to Alabama to see my family annually and also go away for a week twice a year to solo surf, clear my head reassess life and write lyrics. I love surfing, I suck at it though haha! I love all extreme sports, Jeb Corliss is a total legend and inspiration.
Meat or Vegetables? Vegetables definitely. I’ve become vegan recently after many years as a vegetarian. No regrets so far.
CD or Vinyl? Vinyl! I remember having this Star Wars Album vinyl that I loved and loads of 70’s funk and disco ones given to me when I was a child, wish I never got rid of them now.
Car or Motorbike? Day to day it would be a Bentley continental convertible, if going classic a 1951 Chevvy deluxe. What, you thought I would say a Citroen Xsara? No way haha! However a motorbike wins hands down for travelling around the world though! So many people have done it and I keep meeting more and more of them every month, so envious! Definitely something I aim to do in my life.
Cat or Dog? I love all animals but cats as I tend to bond with them well. Huskies are just absolutely stunning though.
Acoustic or Electric? Acoustic, play anywhere and everywhere on the go.
Cooked Breakfast (bacon/eggs/mushrooms/toast etc) or Cereal? I don’t eat cereal, bread, eggs or bacon! So mushrooms I guess?? Haha. I usually have coffee for breakfast but I’d say a cooked brekkie and would eat it for brunch instead!