Vengeance with a French touch – An Interview with Sierra
As a relatively new player in the game, Sierra earned her place amongst the Lazerdiscs Records roster thanks to her freshly acquired yet efficient chops in electronic music production with Strange Valley. Staying close to her French roots, the young talent has shown a knack
As a relatively new player in the game, Sierra earned her place amongst the Lazerdiscs Records roster thanks to her freshly acquired yet efficient chops in electronic music production with Strange Valley. Staying close to her French roots, the young talent has shown a knack for hard-hitting beats and oppressive atmospheres reminiscent of Gesaffelstein’s trademark sound. With the release of her second EP, the Parisian producer marks a new step in her blossoming oeuvre with a moodier, more personal approach, moving further away from Synthwave musical tropes to establish a musical territory of her own. A few days prior to her live show at the Retro Synth Fury festival, we caught up with Sierra for a formal introduction with the rising artist.
First, off, what’ve you been jamming lately?
Honestly, I’m a pretty obsessive person. I don’t keep up with new releases, I just listen to the same Spotify Playlists over and over. I can’t even name some of the stuff that I listen to. Right now I’m into Owlvision, old stuff like Aglory, Swarm, Social Kid, the new Gesaffelstein album… I’ve been listening to the same playlists for a month straight, I need to mix it up. I don’t keep up to date, music-wise. It’s actually pretty time-consuming. I also have a hard time finding stuff that I really enjoy and connect with.
So who is Sierra, to you? Does it refer to you? the artist? A specific character in your music?
I identify Sierra as a part of me. To me, Sierra is my angry side, my moody side, that part of me that wants to express the stronger parts of my personality, my violent side. When I’m Sierra, I’m in “warrior-mode”. It’s a part of me but I’m not always like that. With this project, I’ve got some pretty violent, heavy sounds but also some calmer passages, so there’s that side to it as well.
How was this project born? This isn’t your first musical project, is it?
I’ve had loads of different projects before this one. At first, I used to play folk music with a guitar, harmonica and a ukulele. I played acoustic music for a couple of years and I played a few live shows with some Loopstations in Barcelona and Paris. I started Sierra a couple of years ago. There was this music contest held by Seat and curated by The Avener where you had to submit a three-minute track. I was selected along with another French artist and I got sent to the finals in Berlin. The event was really awesome and so I basically made the decision to scrap everything, take a few lessons in electronic music production and go all in, down this new path.
You hadn’t taken any lessons before?
Only a couple, but I was mostly self-taught. I mostly played acoustic music, but I was still using some sequencers to record my stuff and add some synth parts. It was really after this event in Berlin that I decided to go all in. It’s been three years now. I took some lessons for eight months and I’ve been working on Sierra for two solid years.
Where does the name come from?
It comes from a couple of things. The word refers to mountain ranges since I’ve lived in Barcelona for two years and six months in Mexico. Secondly, there’s also the fact that I’ve spent a huge part of my childhood playing video games, like, for instance, Maniac Mansion. Sierra also comes from the game developer of the same name. I used to play TIM (The Incredible Machine) a lot. I used to play a lot of Sierra On-Line games, so the name reminds me of my childhood years.
You’ll be playing the Retro Synth Fury event in a few days. Where do you place yourself, regarding the local “Synth-music” scene?
I’m into it. I’ve attended practically every Retro Synth Fury event. I attended the first edition at the Batofar, a couple of years ago. That’s how I met Absolute Valentine and how I eventually signed to Lazerdiscs Records. After the first RSF, I must’ve made an Instagram post tagging Absolute Valentine, Sung and all the other artists. Absolute Valentine hit me up and asked me for a demo. He must’ve snooped around my Facebook or Soundcloud page. I sent him the demos for Strange Valley and that’s basically how I got signed.
Is that how you got booked for this latest Retro Synth Fury event?
I was actually already in touch with Anthony [The booker for RSF]. We met up a few months ago at a Lazerdiscs event with Shredder 1984 and Introspect and I hit him up, later on, to tell him I had a new EP on the way and to ask him if he’d like to book me for a show.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about this new EP, Gone. I understand both of your current releases revolve around a specific concept. Are both EPs related, concept-wise?
To me, Gone and Strange Valley are totally separate, concept-wise and musically. I’ve had the concept for Strange Valley brewing in my mind for five or six years. I was picturing this Mad Max-like journey through this desert, with weird things happening. I had the title Strange Valley on my mind for years, way before I had any music in mind. So when I started writing my first electronic music tracks, I figured I should use this concept I had. I visualised the concept as a fantasy film. At the time, I was very much influenced by the whole Synthwave scene, the Blade Runner aesthetic and those sorts of moods. Gone isn’t so much inspired by Synthwave or the retro aesthetic. Gone is actually more about a state of mind than a clear storyline. It’s about anger, revenge. ‘Gone’ deals with being broken, whilst ‘Unbroken’ is about refusing to be broken. ’A Matter of Time’ deals with building yourself back up with time and ‘Leftover’ is about the aftermath, what’s left of what happened, though what exactly happened is not specified. There’s a progression but no clear narrative.
Was there a difference in your writing approach compared to Strange Valley?
I wrote Strange Valley in six months because I was also learning the ropes at the same time. My sounds kept changing and I was learning about EQs, compressors and whatnot. I was learning and so it took me a while to also find what I wanted to do, too. For Gone, I actually hadn’t written any music for several months. I honestly didn’t really know what to write at first and I didn’t know in which direction I wanted to go, until one day I woke up and basically wrote most of the EP in a couple of days. I guess I had something to say, something needed to come out.
What is the starting point for your music? Does it always stem from a conceptual idea?
It’s more about the feeling. I wanted to create something violent. I really like being at a party and hearing that one track that hits you, that makes you want to fight someone *laughs*. I want to bring out these deep emotions. That was my starting point, my inspiration. For ‘Gone’ and ‘Unbroken’, I started with the beat. When you start on the beat before melody, it brings out a punchier side in the music.
Were there any keywords or concepts you wanted to implement, shifting from Strange Valley to Gone?
I wanted the songs to be less ‘busy’. Strange Valley was very track-heavy. I work on Ableton, and I have a tendency to add way too many tracks, which isn’t great when it comes to mixing or playing live. I didn’t consider the live aspect Strange Valley at all: the EP has loads of intros and breaks. On the other hand, I wrote Gone with the live show in mind. I also wanted to add more vocals on the second EP.
What is your approach to live shows, as opposed to composing?
I try to mix it all up. It’s not always easy, because some people want the music to keep going all throughout. The thing about my music is that it sometimes goes in hard and settles down with a big break before starting back up again. Some people might be into it and others not so much. Some people might want it to hit hard all throughout. I like to tell a story through my music, and so I like to go through different phases in my live show.
When I got to a techno rave, I get pretty tired of only hearing kicks, snares and whatnot. I like having breaks. That’s what I try to implement at my shows.
More of a “concert” gig than a “club” thing.
Yeah, somewhere in between the two, really. It’s not always easy but that’s what I’m trying to do. Then again, these are my first shows, so I might end up changing my mind down the line *laughs*. I don’t know.
What is the best context to listen to Gone?
First off, I’d say it’s more of a nighttime listen. It doesn’t work as well during the day. Having a good sound system always helps *laughs*. When the music has some big snares and kicks, it’s always good to have some decent speakers to listen to it properly. I’d say the best way to listen to it is live. Or at night, on your way back home from a party, around 4 or 5 a.m., when you’ve had a drink and you’re on your way to the Subway. I think it might work well for these moments.
Last question: can you name one of your favourite albums, movies and books?
One of each? It’s hard to pick only one.
Jurassic Park. I’m a huge fan of Jurassic Park. Or 12 Monkeys. That film really left an impression on me when I was little. I’ll go with Jurassic Park though because I have a poster in my room right over my synthesiser.
What did you think of the last few films?
I was actually really happy to see the first one. I don’t mind the fact that they decided to add more sequels. I could’ve been an angry fan and said “What?? They’re making more? Are you mad? Leave it be!” But I’m actually really glad they made more because even if they’re not amazing, I’m really happy to go to the movies to see dinosaurs *laughs*. But yeah, the first Jurassic World wasn’t great, but it was already. I enjoyed the second one though. It wasn’t bad at all. The fact that the first Jurassic World was in an amusement park on an island again was redundant. We get it! Amusement parks don’t work! Stop it! *Laughs*. On the other hand, they went down a new route, and I enjoyed it.
In terms of albums, I’m going to go with the first Gesaffelstein album Aleph. That album left a mark on me. There are a few artists that made me want to make electronic music. There’s also Vitalic with OK Cowboy and The Toxic Avenger with his first album. These are my three go-to albums. I listen to them all the time. When I say I’m an obsessive person I mean that I can keep listening to these albums over and over.
You said earlier that you’ve been listening to the new Gesaffelstein record a lot lately. What’s your perspective on it? It hasn’t been very well received, I must say.
It took some time to digest because when you think of Gesaffelstein your first thought goes to the music from his first album, which was amazing. It was heavy, but it also shifted from heavy to soft, and that’s what I like. I love these versatile artists that manage to keep a consistent feel between softer and heavier sounds. We were expecting him to come back with the super dark sound he’s become known for, so to have him come back with a more “commercial” approach is obviously bound to let people’s expectations down. It took some time to digest. At first, I was also pretty bummed, but I gave it another few listens and found it to be really well done. I don’t enjoy it nearly as much as the first album but there are a couple of tracks that I do really enjoy.
Book-wise, I read very little. I studied literature in High School and I used to read a lot but after that, I just stopped. I got sick of it. With that said, there was a time when I used to read a lot of crime novels, like those by Jean-Christophe Grangé, like Blood Red Rivers… I also read through the first three Millenium books in a couple of days. Those books really left an impression on me.
Special Thanks to Remy and to Sierra.
Be sure to check out Sierra on her social media platforms