SVRCINA interview: “I’ve learned a ton in this album cycle and I feel more energized than ever”

SVRCINA (Sur-Cee-Nah) is one of the most prolific young talents to emerge from Nashville, Tennessee in recent years. Signing her first major songwriting deal at the tender age of thirteen- one of the youngest to do so- and amassing millions of streams for her collection of dynamic pop anthems, SVRCINA can easily be cited as one of the most intriguing and promising talents in music today.

With the release of her powerful new single ‘Precious’ and with her debut full-length due out in September, CelebMix decided to have a chat with SVRCINA about her enticing career so far as well as her goals for the future.

We wanted to start by saying thank you for joining us today. It’s a pleasure to be able to speak with you. How has your day been?

Sweet heavens, thank you for speaking with me! Today has been so sweet. I’m a mentor this morning, and I’m getting ready for a single release! I hope you’re having a great week as well.

We wondered if you could take us back to the beginning. How did it feel entering the industry at such a young age? And what was the biggest obstacle that you had to overcome?

This is a great question! I started singing at fairs and festivals and in bars when I was 10; started taking writing trips back and forth to Nashville at twelve; signed a publishing deal at thirteen; and moved from Michigan to Nashville at fourteen. Actually, this month marks ten years living in this city! It’s been a really incredible adventure with a lot of highs and many lows— a lot of disappointment and confusion, internal wrestling, and a million glorious opportunities to be stretched way outside of my comfort zone. I’ve been doing things that never even crossed my mind as possibilities. 

I think because I started so young, I’ve had a lot of internal wrestling with a clear sense of identity. I’ve been moving from relying on my gifts and performance for identity to knowing there’s a larger purpose for being an artist and truly embracing it, without attaching myself to preconceived ideas of what I think things are supposed to look like. I’ve had to overcome a lot of fear and an excessive amount of introspection, in order to see the bigger picture and allow myself to be stripped of motivations that are self-centric. A beautiful apple with a rotten core, as delicious as it may look, is still not good for consumption. I definitely am in a constant state of learning, and each season and opportunity to be stretched has made room for new growth! 

Nashville is known as ‘Music City’ all over the world and is one of the toughest music scenes to achieve success in. Did you ever think that you would become a Nashville success story?

I must confess, I’ve never thought about my journey being a Nashville success story. I do feel a great sense of joy and a bit of soberness in being a part of the community here, working with the team I get to work with, and feeling a fresh wave of creativity! Nashville has an eclectic, unique identity as ‘Music City’, and it’s constantly evolving and expanding. Honestly, I’m extremely amped about it. The personality of the community is largely one where creatives are championing one another, and I’m such a strong believer in what’s happening here in music, and in the arts, in general! I’ve learned so much by being immersed in this community. People come and people leave, but even the integration with other major music cities here in the US and abroad is so important. It’s exciting to see it shape its thumbprint!

In celebration of your single ‘Selfish’, you gave fans the opportunity to phone you for a chat by posting your number on social media. How did this idea come about? And what was your favourite conversation that you had? And you can only pick one…

In the process of planning for the single and my album as a whole, Pinterest has been a treasure chest of inspiration. I was pulling some aesthetic references with colors and brainstorming some symbols that matched the content of the song, so we could create some graphics. The message of “Selfish” is describing a long-distance relationship and hungering for connection. While I was brainstorming different symbols that would match, I found a few delightful pictures of retro telephones and had a burst of inspiration that it could be absolutely splendid to have a toll free number to call and actually connect with people, as a way to celebrate the release. COVID- 19 was also definitely not a factor in our release schedule, but the message and timeline of our release ended up being very timely, and the phone line was a great way to share meaningful conversation with others, in a somewhat traditional way. My very dear friend helped me set up the number, and on release day, it was genuinely such a beautiful way to interact with people who’ve been listening to my music. Getting to hear their voices and know each person a little bit— to hear how they were navigating this strange season, and be able to encourage each other, brought more joy than I can describe! 

That said, it’s very challenging for me to pick one favourite conversation because I truly loved every single one, and each call was special for different reasons! I had a super cool conversation with an Instagram friend from Kuwait! He’s an engineer, but loves music and plays the piano. He’s shared some of his piano pieces with me in the past and made some really great suggestions on the phone, with an idea that I do a mashup of my songs “Runaway with You” and “Flowers,” which I love so much! He shared with me a little about how he and his family are navigating through COVID- 19, and I felt so honoured that he was my first international caller!

Even though you have been releasing music for a number of years now with a lot of success, you are only now gearing up to release your debut full-length. Could you tell us what made you bide your time?

It’s been a really interesting journey. A lot up to this point has really been experimenting and getting to know what my strengths are and developing enough content to have a frame of reference for what I connect to, how can I authentically connect to others, what’s working and what’s not, etc. 

It’s mostly just me working with my manager, Wendy, and our team and just trying different collaborations. I released a project last summer that felt like the most cohesive piece and helped me most clearly define the sonic and visual aesthetic. So in preparation for this album, I’ve been more able to articulate creative direction. For the first time, starting in spring of last year, I had the totality of an album in mind from the very beginning. I do truly believe in being intentional with the art that I’m creating- from song themes, to visuals and every aspect in between. I had time to sit down and brainstorm direction and message, and I was inspired to create a project planning sheet with major themes to hit on, an aesthetic word bank, and songs on our team’s radar that we already loved. That sheet has served as a helpful tool to walk into writing sessions with intention, though my heart is always totally open and excited for my collaborators’ interpretation. It’s mostly meant to serve as a creative trampoline for content to naturally take shape. 

The deeper our team got into the process, and the more we were collecting really fresh, cohesive songs, we felt like it was timely and important to offer a more complete story and share more material when compiling individual singles as a project release. I’ve learned a ton in this album cycle, and I feel more energized than ever by the creative process and different unconventional methods of collecting content.

Not only do you release music as a solo artist, but you have also written many popular songs for other acts. When did this first come about and what changes do you have to make to your approach, if any?

I would say most songs that I’ve written for other artists have been in collaboration format. In many cases, I’m still the one singing vocals and bringing a sense of my artistry to the table. However, in the case of writing for another artist altogether, it’s been an awesome and challenging exercise to dive into the heart and character of another person or perspective, and use my creative strengths to support their vision and message. 

The first collaboration opportunity for another artist project was for an incredible producer/artist, Built By Titan. He asked me if I would write a song with him and sing for his project, and we wrote a song together called “The Darkness.” That collaboration was maybe the most fundamental shift for me, artistically, and because of that collaboration, Fred Williams (Built By Titan) encouraged me to go by my true last name, SVRCINA. I also met my manager Wendy Duffy through him and his team. I’ve told Fred many times, but his reaching out to me was actually a massive lifeline personally, too. I was very close to quitting music altogether, and felt really lost, as I had just graduated high school and felt like I hit a dead end. Words will never express how grateful I am to him for his kindness to reach out and invite me into his artistry, and for his belief in my potential, too. The entire process awakened a desire for collaboration and creative exploration in a much greater way.  

Having already accomplished so much at such a young age, what are some of the things that are still on your to-do list?

The last 2 years, especially, have felt like our team has had some awesome breakthroughs in hitting a sonic stride and creating content that’s artistically cohesive to having a steady flow of releases. I understand that our world is changing in so many ways. So, in pivoting with the landscape of our world, at some point, with any opportunity to tour, I would so love to. I’d also love to collaborate and expand more with the global music community and try writing and performing in other languages. It’s kind of  random, but I would love to eventually do some more classical vocal training. My entire spirit gets very excited about cultural celebration, and music is such a glorious way to bring people together and lift each other’s spirits!  

And putting your career aside, what life goals have you set yourself?

My heart is open for learning, but I certainly would love to be a positive contributor to society. I want to be someone who brings people together in creative ways and encourages others to reach their full capacity with their unique identities to be creative solutionaries! Being an artist has served and is serving as a great foundation for that, and my heart and hands are open to however it may take shape and expand in the future. I would love to build a family with an extremely delightful husband and collaborate with him and support his dreams and purpose, as well.

On a personal level, I would genuinely love to do a deep dive into my family’s history and heritage, and travel to those places I would consider my ‘roots’. I’d love to learn other languages, starting with German, and I’m slowly working my way toward running a marathon. I think I’d also like to work towards having triceps that are not so squishy. Haha!

You have just dropped your latest track ‘Pleasure’. What can you tell us about how this song came to fruition?

I took a writing trip to Los Angeles in August 2019 for a week to write for the album we’re releasing in September. I remember my manager, Wendy, texted me before I got on the plane, and encouraged me to be as vulnerable as possible. Last year my family was going through some really challenging circumstances. Being vulnerable does take courage, and sometimes that’s hard for me. I knew my manager was totally right, and I’ve found over and over, every time I’ve been vulnerable in a writing session, it not only opens meaningful conversation with my collaborators, it always produces some of the most purposeful and beautiful creativity.

Earlier in the summer, I was definitely wrestling with frustration over family circumstances, but I was also disappointed with myself that I was frustrated. There was a part of me I knew was being selfish, and wanted to run away from the reality that was unfolding, instead of facing them head on. My mom and I are super close, and we went for a lot of walks in our neighbourhood last summer, processing a lot of what was happening. I remember on one of our walks, my internal dialogue was particularly salty and sour. I love my mom more than words can describe, and she needed me to be present, but in the process of our family undergoing such intense pressure, it was also pulling out some characteristics in me that were self-serving. What I was sour over at that moment was extremely juvenile, and as I was feeling a sense of internal tension, I knew that it was totally irrational. It was such a simple thing, but in the quietness of my thoughts, I was just praying and asking God to help me, and cause my mom to become precious in my eyes. The title/language came from this moment, and collectively, my co-writers and I used aspects of our own stories to shape the theme of the song itself. Ultimately, the song highlights a deep sense of  regret for not valuing what should have been treasured most, and sometimes you don’t have that revelation until something is completely stripped away.

Thank you for chatting with us today, we have had a blast. To finish things off, what advice would you give to aspiring musicians?

Thank you so much for your great questions and chatting with me, too! I think my biggest piece of advice is to approach art and creativity with intention and internal conviction— letting that be a guiding compass. However, all along your journey, you need to keep your heart open for things to go in different directions you weren’t expecting and be willing to let go of things looking a certain way. Setting goals is important, but in letting go of predetermined outcomes, being flexible will help maintain a sense of joy and wonder when things do take a twirl. Even in the midst of disappointment, holding the bigger picture in perspective will help you not give up or become bitter.

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Written by Alister

I am a journalism student at Robert Gordon University. Follow me on Twitter @ross_alister