In conversation with Tyler Jones, Toronto singer STORRY reflects on her past to better understand her present, taking all the confusion and inner conversation as just the interlude before her real story begins.
When all you have is time alone, the mind begins to drift and sail. She’s trying to find the meaning of self and how one operates within it. It’s a journey that only ends when you allow it, and finding the words to translate those thoughts and experiences can be hard. Through music, the best of us can come out and express what the heart has been going through.
In the midst of COVID-19, artists haven’t been able to tour, promote their music traditionally, or even create normally. Quarantine had become the new normal with self-isolation and gatherings that couldn’t be more than five people at a time. The direct effect of this pandemic has led some artists to use the time to reflect and face the demons they have tried to keep at bay. While some may struggle, STORRY has decided to look them straight in the eye and converse with them.
On Interlude-19, her latest release, STORRY goes through the cycle of life and death so she can better understand who she is in the now. On the 10 tracks, she delivers vocals over soft production as her words take listeners through the thoughts and feelings she metaphorically unlocked during the literal lock down. I sat down with some water and spoke with her over ZOOM to discuss this latest project and how she got here.
Tyler: Interlude--19, so far I’ve heard a very meditative project. Personal yet relatable. When it comes to writing, it seems poetic.
STORRY: I do a lot of free-writing before I write songs. It’s really whatever comes out of my head. I really don’t try to structure it like a song. It’s where a lot of the poetry comes from. It’s very innate, very raw. It’s not really structural but I’m always thinking of beats and beats in my head when I write. But also, a lot of the songs come from me freestyling. I wanted to include the idea of this waiting, this limbo that we are seemingly in. Even though it’s a limbo, there is this change that’s happening under the surface.
Yeah it seems like the writing of this project is different from your last project [CH III: The Come Up]. Listening to that, it seemed more Amy Winehouse or old soul. This one seems to be like “meditative soul”. The production is moving along with your thoughts as you’re going through quarantine.
This whole thing changed my writing process in the sense but not how it innately comes. I usually do it with my buddy Tom [Yotam Baum, who co-wrote most of CH: III with STORRY]. Him and I produced the whole album as well. This new record was a compilation of collaborations with a bunch of musicians from all over. We couldn’t get into a studio and I couldn’t hire a bunch of musicians to take time and flesh out all the songs.
So how did it all come together?
My friends have this place called “collabo camp”, which is two and a half hours outside of Toronto and it’s on 100 acres of land. They gave us ten days. I went up there and wrote, recorded, and shot all the music videos for everything in those ten days.
Wow. Talk about a short time to get everything done.
There wasn’t a lot of time to go “Oh, let me rethink this” or “Let me recalibrate this”. It was very raw, very honest as it was meant to be. It was very simplistic. I wasn’t trying to make this grandiose production. I wanted it to be raw and to the point, if that makes sense?
It totally makes sense.
I mean I was very blessed because one of my collaborators, Junia-T, who did three tracks on the album, the more produced tracks, sent me the first beat. I said to him “Do you want me to send you a voice note of what I wrote before I record it? So you can approve it.” He goes “No fam. Everything you record is fire.” Honestly, it was the first time that a man in the industry had ever done that towards me. Usually, I would be mansplained or told something should be different. How it’s not good enough or how I need to do this or that. So it was really refreshing to just have somebody on my side. I mean Tom is on my side.
[We both laugh].
It was really nice. So after I got that confirmation from him, I just held that in my heart for the rest of the ten days. I’m just gonna trust myself. I’m not gonna ask anyone anything. I didn’t play it for anyone. People will be hearing it for the first time when it comes out on the 5th [of September, her birthday].
Outside of those three songs, did you produce the rest of the records?
A few of them I produced with Tom. “Live” was produced by me and Tom. “Death” as well. The vocal one was all me. One of my guitarists that played on CH: III but hadn’t written on that project wrote and helped produce “Don’t Wait.” I have another friend who lives in Ottawa but met in New York who helped co-produce “So.”
Pulled everyone together in 10 days. Talk about a hell of a short time to do it. But with that, I wanted to take time and look back on how you got here. Five years ago, in 2015, you go on a backpacking trip through India. Afterward, you come back home and start recording music again. Then you put out your debut single “Leave My Heart Behind” in May of last year before putting out your first album nine months later this past February, to now dropping this gem of an EP. Both so different but so you.
Honestly, I already have another record in the making that is also going to be very different as well to people. But to me, they are not different. I paint, do animation, direct, and I write. If I was to sum myself up in one word, it would be multi-dimensional. I think all human beings are but we all want to feel like we fit in somewhere. Like we have to define ourselves and fit in because it makes us feel comfortable. The fact is that we’re all multi-dimensional. That’s how I first saw myself in my music. It’s why I don’t really stick to a genre and I’ve seen a lot of, you know….what’s a word other than shit?
[We both laugh.] No go ahead, please. It’s okay. Don’t censor yourself. Speak your truth.
Well then, shit. “How do we market you?”, they’d ask. “What are people coming back to you for?” And I would say “People are coming back to me for an experience and they’re coming back to me for the fact I do so many different genres of music.” They can go through a journey with me. An A&R compared me to Prince but said you’d probably make it faster if you stuck to one thing saying that because Prince did everything, it took him six albums to blow. So I said, “I guess I’m gonna make six albums.”
And I agree. You’re extremely diverse. You can go from a rap/sung portion, into a smoother vocal, to belting out notes. On the opening record to Interlude-19, you begin with “Nami Nami”. A song that your mother sings to you growing up to transition to the song “Death”.
“Nami Nami” is eerie in the translation of it. It’s like let’s go to sleep and all the dark clouds that surround you will go away and the sun will shine in the morning. So it’s like let’s forget about our problems. Let’s sleep away our problems. And there’s a naivety to it as a kid but there’s a sadness to the lullaby as well. So I started it out with my mother singing to me and then I end [the album] with me singing a different rendition of it to show the circular nature of humans. And also, the circular nature of how culture gets passed down. She’s singing it to me and now I’m singing it but it’s changed. In the end, we have the piano that comes in. It’s more a classical, western instrument but it’s an Arabic lullaby. I’m taking people on this journey of thoughts and experiences. Whether they’re good or bad or however we deem them to be, at the end of the day we’re still human and have to go back [to reality] and wake up. It’s why I keep going back to circles in my head. History repeats itself. It can be beautiful but also….
Depressing too. Depends on what you make of it.
There’s no real right or wrong to this. There’s no black or white. It’s really both.
I agree. Towards the end of the album on “Telling”, you chant “we’re awake now” three times like a spell. Then going back to sleep on “Nami Nami Reprise” with the lullaby.
[laughs] Exactly. I have these little glimpses of clarity or revelation. I say “I’m gonna change my life” and then go to sleep and realize my problems are the same. I still need to eat. I still get annoyed with my mom about certain things. Life just sucks you in. And I don’t know if you notice but all the songs make a sentence.
I did! I was like “she’s really a poet”. Because it fit so perfectly. The sequencing was amazing. Did you work with anyone on that?
STORRY: No, I already wrote it down and planned what I was going to do with the songs and the order. I always choose the order. I already had the idea of “Death don’t wait for no one so,” but I actually added “So,” in. I didn’t have it in there before.
Yeah I wanted to add an extra song in and “A STORRY” was done last because at first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to tell a story or if I wanted it to just be a story and have people just create their own story. But it ended up just being vocals. That’s all me. It’s all STORRY. After all, music is storytelling. Like films, there is a lot we listen to because so much of it is sound. I had an idea and had to fill in the gaps.
You’re truly the executive producer of not only your music but your journey. Master of your own ship. The journey of these past five years and this year especially.
It was. Especially for my mental health. I was getting out of an abusive relationship and my boyfriend pimped me out for many years. I was a dancer and didn’t want to be but having to go back to that industry to fund my music was a hard decision for me and played on my mental health as well. I was going to codependence anonymous for some time and then I saw a therapist. So I’ve been growing and developing as a human being primarily. I nearly got an indie deal. Then a major label deal. Nearly signed with a couple of publishers. A lot of things that nearly happened but didn’t happen. People trying to tell me if I put something out myself that it wouldn’t get any traction. And essentially, they were right.
Without a big machine behind you, you’re not going to get a lot of traction. I do all my own marketing. I do all my own distribution by sending it to smaller ones. I don’t know a lot of people in the industry. I’m not in the playlist game. I pay my PR person. It’s not cheap. I live with my mom and make other sacrifices. They were right and I could’ve waited but I was tired of having my fate in others’ hands. And every time something would fall through, I would wait and wait to put out music because I’m waiting on something to happen. It would be 6 months, or a year, for it to happen. Back and forth with lawyers. Now I’m back to square one.
What were the people around you saying and how did you take it?
People have been telling me for years when I was first getting back into music when I was under a rock at the strip club that “you’re getting older” or “you need to hurry”. So I was like fuck, I need to hurry. I was getting more and more anxious each year. Then it was December 2018, I hit rock bottom again. All these producers were trying to sexualize me. I started thinking ‘am I calling this onto myself. What am I doing wrong?’ It was frustrating. Then I came back and did a silence meditation retreat. Can’t sing. Can’t talk. Just meditate for 10 hours a day. Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Do it all over again.
Afterward, I said I’m just gonna produce my own album. Spent Christmas with my family and then drove out to Montreal because that’s where Tom is. Hired three of my friends and record CH: III in three days in January 2019 once everything opened up. Me and Tom tinkered a bit and gave myself some time before going back in to finish all the vocals because it’s a vocally taxing project. You know, opposed to Interlude-19 that’s all soft singing. Needed a break.
Yet you still did your thing on CH: III because it was done extremely well with your vocal control.
Thank you. Once it was recorded, mixed, and mastered, I went to go pick up my car in LA because I thought I was moving there and stopped in New Orleans and shot “Leave My Heart Behind.” That’s why it was the first single. Shot the next one with Tom. And shot more along the way. Met the director for “Money Ain’t Free” and she was so inclined to do more story, narrative-based videos. Then we did “Nah Nah” with one of my best friends and got a videographer who did it for no pay, just film for his camera.
So you just met him and he did it out of the goodness of his heart? I think you’re great, please let me do it?
Yeah. My friend who directed it reached out to him. We just split the costs and had a bare-bones shoot. Created something beautiful and now she, Karimah Zakia Issa, shot all the videos at the camp. She’s not an editor or videographer but learning to do it all.
This was such an organic process with everyone that was involved. So much support from every person you got. And speaking of support, your mother seems to be your biggest supporter. A true rock.
We never had it super easy as a kid. Not super rough. Like we were never on the street and we always had food on our plate and my mother made sure of that. My mother and father had a tumultuous relationship so they split later on in our lives but my mother was always super selfless. Like if you were still hungry after your meal, she would pretend she wasn’t hungry so you could eat. She was that kinda person. During my time when I was hiding, we were fighting a lot because she could tell something was wrong.
That good ole motherly instinct.
I regret that time because I put her under a lot of stress. So when I finally came to her and told her everything, she was understanding and asked why I didn’t come to her earlier. My mother always instilled these values and its part of the culture. Always feed everyone. I love that about my mom. I live with her now and I might be moving soon. I’m gonna miss her.
Moving on up. That next level and proud of what you’ve done. It’s so honest and true. The last thing I wanted to ask you, with the amount of change and growth we’ve discussed, what was the biggest thing you learned during quarantine?
Enjoying the process rather than the result. I always kinda knew that but you can always know things in your head but not in your heart. You can imagine, my whole life leads up to releasing this project. My literal blood, sweat, and tears. Not even 30 days after releasing the project, the world shuts down. The morning I was supposed to fly out to the JUNOs, the country said we were in lockdown.
That’s right, you were nominated [for “Another Man”].
I had worked so hard and I don’t even get to experience this. I was so angry but I was laughing. I’ve had so many roadblocks that I kinda expected one. Just didn’t think it would be this. Haha universe, you got me. But then I took a second, counted my blessings, and spending time with the people I love the most, in my house (laughs). I realized the end result is not real. The only thing that is real is now. It’s what I’m experiencing now. It’s all those little interactions and sensations that we have in our lives. Don’t fall for the traps.
Because it won’t’ matter at the end of the day.
STORRY: So just live. Leave a legacy. Don’t do stuff for fame or money because there are so many ways to live. You don’t need them to do that. I couch surfed. I lived.
If I have learned anything about you, you’re a survivor.
Exactly. Because through it all, there is resilience.
*We followed up with STORRY after the interview and she wanted to be sure that a few people received some well-deserved recognition.
There are people I’d love to credit with their names. The director for Nah Nah was my friend Amber Goldfarb and the cinematographer who worked for free was Patrick Hodgson. The co-producer for Don’t Wait is Frank O’Sullivan and the co-producer for So, is Steve Bilodeau.