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Sabina Sciubba

Comme Toujours

Sylvia Patterson talks to Sabina Sciubba about her journey from the seminal Meet Me In London of 1998 to her debut solo album Toujours set to release through Naim Audio Edge Records in March 2014.

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Sabina Sciubba, celebrated femme fatale, has a long-term connection to Naim Audio Label. In 1994, aged 19, the stunningly sultry vocalist was discovered in Hamburg by Naim Audio’s virtuoso guitarist Antonio Forcione. Their collaboration, Meet Me In London (1998), is an audiophile classic and the best-selling album in the label’s history. So began Sciubba’s singular career, soon living in New York fronting the Brazilian Girls (signed to US jazz label Verve in 2003), a sort of avant-garde electro-punk Scissor Sisters featuring one girl (Sciubba) and no Brazilians.

Sciubba was (and remains) both a vocal and visual enigma, singing in four languages (English, German, French and Italian), forever covering her eyes with conceptual hair and wearing outfits Lady Gaga would approve of (one billowing frock appeared to be a ventilation shaft, made of crepe). Today, after a move to Paris in 2009, a soon-to-end band hiatus and the birth of her two children, she finally comes home, back to Naim Audio Label with her debut solo album, Toujours, a compelling, intimate, narcotic dreamscape you might call The Parisienne Velvet Underground and Nico, with jokes. “I haven’t listened to the Velvet Underground enormously but it’s a good soundtrack for real life,” she says, in her low-slung, pan-European accent, a truly global citizen born in Rome and then raised in Munich and Nice. “I wanted something for a more contemplative audience. Sometimes with Brazilian Girls I think, ‘I want people to hear my voice but they’re dancing and screaming!’”

"Most record companies definitely vote for safety over taste. Personal taste even. It’s all to do with corporate structure: people who make decisions don’t even listen to music."

“I’m so extreme in my personality, I go very much all the way with what I like, until I overdose,” she notes, rather tantalisingly. Today she remains uncompromising, “too idealistic”, maintaining her originality in the face of a traumatised, risk-averse music industry. She came home to Naim for a reason: creative freedom. “Most record companies definitely vote for safety over taste, personal taste even,” she laments. “It’s to do with corporate structure: people who make decisions don’t even listen to music, they look at numbers and cross people off lists who don’t make money. But that’s true for everything.”

Toujours, written on guitars in Paris and overseen by Brazilian Girls’ producer Frederick Rubens, is New York new-wave carousing with Serge Gainsbourg, an art-punk, multi-lingual, Marlene Dietrich hypnotising the hobos in a Weimar Republic dive-bar. A lingering sideways glance at contemporary life, opening track ‘Cinema’ laments cultural decline, likening the fall of movies to “an old whore who has lost her charms”. On title track ‘Toujours’, meanwhile, she decides “we might as well be happy”, the song’s DIY, semi-animated video, a homage to Pythonesque surrealism, Sciubba on a donkey, playing a ukulele, a star around her head, wearing nothing but a goofy smile.

This is not what we expect from a femme fatale and is partly a rejection of the sexually aggressive, physically ‘perfect’ pop sirens of today. “Yes, because I find it all ridiculous,” she snorts. “I wanted no make-up and no photoshopping. Well, I did take a bit off my belly because I had just delivered a child – don’t tell anybody! – but I found it refreshing: ‘I don’t give a shit, this is how I look, boom, take it or leave it’.”

It took seven months of experimentation, “getting the donkey to walk took three weeks”, the original idea “a parody of an archetypal Messiah image”. To get to that point took a less theological image. “I photographed myself naked, sitting on a closet, like a French dresser,” she laughs. “The actual photos are ridiculous. My older son was looking at me like, ‘oh no, she’s lost it’.” Sciubba, 38, is an old-school maverick spirit, a lifelong musical obsessive who, as a child, wanted “to marry Michael Jackson”, before veering off into left-field jazz, Billie Holiday and global underground electro-pop.

On the brooding, gallows-funny ‘Fields Of Snow’ she opines, dramatically, “and now we have no money!” in a love story set against austerity. In France, she notes, government cuts are “painful”, taxes “hardcore”, while a creative generation struggles in our online world of ‘give us your art for free’. “It’s terrible,” she despairs. “In my circle of friends – and I live in an upper-end neighbourhood – everybody is broke. And they don’t admit it! I’m not starving but compared to five, eight years ago I definitely have much less money.” The internet, she adds, while good for artistic autonomy, is hopeless for reality.

“Personally, because of the way it affects our daily lives, I would just like to blow up the whole internet system,” she announces, becoming more radical by the second. “Everyone is always on their cellphones and computers and I find it absolutely horrible. People don’t even see each other anymore, it’s all on bloody Facebook.” It is, she hypothesises, a primal problem no-one could have foreseen: we’re hard-wired to instantly respond to bright lights. “The human reaction to movement and light is you look at it,” she notes. “The internet is the same: there’s no way people can not look, it’s so tempting. It’s made to be that way, not by evil spirits, by people who genuinely think it’s great but at the same time we should speak together, make music together, learn instruments.

My children, it’s impossible to keep them away from YouTube. I was considering terrorism!” In 2014, meanwhile, before the Brazilian Girls return, Sabina will take Toujours on the road, touring the great European capitals with a band. Can we expect a donkey appearance? “Touring with a donkey is unfortunately very expensive,” she smiles. “Maybe I’ll project one onto one of my bandmates!” That’s the spirit. Welcome home...

Toujours is available to download from Naim Audio Edge records now. Visit naimlabel.com.

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