GARAGE Fusions: Robyn x Samara Scott
The pop singer Robyn and the artist Samara Scott are both interested in exploring their feelings, and in the process, uncovering the very things that make us human. Photographer: Luke Gilford. Fashion Editor: Dogukan Nesanir
Part of the genius of Robyn’s sold-out Honey tour is the beauty of its set design, conceived by the musician and London-based visual artist Samara Scott. Concertgoers are ushered into a space that has the intimacy of a bedroom, thanks to the sheet-like drapes festooned on the stage, calling to mind the lo-fi, relaxed “bedroom pop” of Kathleen Hanna. Scott typically works with found materials to create site-specific installations, but she also designed sartorial embodiments of her work to serve as Robyn’s outfits for the tour. On stage, the art-infused clothes make Robyn look like exactly what she is: the Platonic ideal of a pop singer.
Robyn’s eighth studio album, Honey, has been a hit by every conceivable metric, while still connected with listeners in a way that suggests it was written for them alone. Scott’s large-scale works feels similarly intimate, especially when you encounter them in conjunction with Robyn’s wistful yet infinitely danceable sound. Together, Robyn and Scott have knit their signature views of the world into singular experience. And they want nothing more than for you to take it all in.
Robyn: When I was making Honey, one of the things that I was really interested in was my ability to heal myself with finding this kind of restful and peaceful place in my emotions. I was interested in the substance honey, the word “honey,” because of the double meaning, because of it being something that animals make. It’s kind of disgusting and really amazing and sweet and beautiful at the same time. It’s also this word that we use to call our lover, and it’s an everyday kind of word. I like the contrast in between that big mysterious perspective and the everyday perspective—that you can go in between these points quite easily if you learn how to do it. And I guess that’s what I was learning how to do: to be fluid and to be comfortable. So the word “honey” seemed to embody that for me, and I was also relating it to, like, rhythm and dancing and moving and trance-like states.
Hannah Turnbull-Walter, who works with me at Konichiwa Records, showed me your work, and I felt like I understood it right away. And then [you and I] started talking and we clicked, and it made sense to me that I understood it, because you were talking about your work in a way that made me feel like I could relate.
Samara Scott: I have a loose memory of the first time I became aware of your music. I don’t have a specific time where it punctuated like a slap. I think your music is all about atmosphere, emotion. I think of “teenager, club, sweets, alcohols,” and just that, like, euphoric tragic teenage optimism of a sadness that you haven’t tasted yet, but you know it’s there. Your music still does that to me. It still gives me that feeling of a kind of unknown.
R: One thing that keeps coming back in my music is my body. I don’t know how to relate to anything if it doesn’t go through my body. We can imagine what other people feel, or we can imagine what it’s like for someone else, and that’s a really good ability, but I don’t think that that’s really how we do it. I think that it’s physically impossible for people to not interpret the world through their own perspective. Your work feels very easy for me to absorb, because the way you create these visual experiences, the way that they stimulate me, reminds me of what it feels like to make music. I don’t feel that way very easily. Visual art can be quite complicated to understand.
SS: I think I’m interested in desire in the same way that you are. I’m interested in its lusts and its neurosis and its hysteria and its narcissism and its craving for pleasure and intensity. I think that’s what all my work is about really. It’s the subject matter of it. And I feel like that’s the subject matter of your music as well. And I also think about how your song and your lyrics, the way you work is…it’s intimacy alongside contamination. And it’s intimacy and tenderness and optimism alongside poison.
I’ve got these slogans that I use to talk about my work, and I feel like they kind of relate to your work. There’s “toxic positivity,” and the other is “confessional impressionism,” because it’s this kind of impressionistic, atmospheric, dappled-like kind of pop music. Like, it’s related to abstract expressionism, that whole painting-music of rubbing your body on a canvas or slashing paint—mark-making. It feels like your music is connected to this impulsive way. It’s expressionistic and confessional, too, in the same way that your music is. I was just in Venice, and I was looking at these paintings filled with all these very explicit things like dusty swamps at dusk, and, like, different beasts getting their throats slit by swans with metal, sci-fi silver drapery landscapes. But then you would go around to the back of these paintings made 70 years ago, and they were just so scarred. They had these amazing marks and stretches and bruises, and I don’t know, that galaxy of stain just moved me. So I’ve been thinking about those works by Alberto Burri or Lucio Fontana, those, like, absolutely aggressive, violent stains of scratching. Scratching your name into a tree—it’s so, so teenage. I was thinking about that kind of pure mark-making, and that’s really in these latex pieces.
"I don’t know how to relate to anything if it doesn’t go through my body." - ROBYN
R: Wearing your clothes, they feel like the way they look, which is very you. They look messy, but they’re not. They feel very structured and very logical. They’re fragile in a way. I really love wearing latex. I don’t wear it that much, and I think it’s because wearing it also is quite annoying. It makes you sweat and it makes you lose a lot of fluids, and I actually don’t like that. I mean, I like sweating, but I don’t like to feel like the fabric is taking energy from me, which I think it does, because you sweat no matter what you do when you wear latex. But there’s this magical moment also when the latex is the temperature of your own body and you don’t really feel that it’s there.
SS: You’ve worn the latex pieces, you’ve touched them, you sweat underneath them, you suffer. People talk about latex being a second skin, but I don’t think it is a second skin. For me it’s another skin. It’s like someone else’s skin—when you’re next to someone and you sweat because you’ve got this other heat on you that touches you, the level of sensuality. When people talk about latex, they always think about sex and it’s very fetishistic way that. They actually think latex is about a fear of the thing that is sexy about a skin. A skin that smells and sweats and breathes and has this porosity—that’s what I think the sexy thing about skin is. It’s disgusting and beautiful. It bleeds and sweats and smells. I’m not interested in it sealing all of those things off. When you first put it on, it can be really, really cold and icy in this terrifying way. It’s so uncomfortable and clammy, like another body can be. Like how sometimes when another person gets into bed with you, and they can be freezing cold, or they can just overheat you in this amazing sensual way. The way that I interpret the sensuality of latex is just purely probably about my desire for intimacy with another body.
R: The actual physical quality of the way you work with materials, but also that you’re dipping into these frequencies, is something I feel I can mirror myself in. I think performance-wise, that’s what happens in a good show. You create. You hold space for the audience to have an experience and to put their own and to mirror themselves in you or me and have their own relationship to what’s going on. I think in that sense, performance has definitely informed me in how I make music. I think it’s how I arrived at this new, at least for me, way of making or thinking about my music in that I want it to be about the mood and the groove actually more than the nostalgia or the very intense emotion. Although, of course, I love intense emotions; I find them also quite silly.
SS: I’m terrified of performance. I’m actually really quite a shy and private person, and I don’t like openings. I don’t really read my reviews. I think there’s this real neediness for an audience—without an audience, nothing exists. And I really want to think about who it is I’m speaking to. I really hope to make people feel things. And even though I’m a private person, I have this really strong desire to communicate with other people. I think that about the clothes I’ve made as well. It’s like I’m not excited about them until there’s a body in them, until there’s a skin underneath them, and they need that. They need to be perverted, and they need to be absorbed, and they need to cling to someone.
R: I actually read my reviews. I don’t know why—it’s not so dramatic to me. There’s something really interesting thinking about other people’s perspective on what I do. I’ve learned to separate a space where I allow other people to have opinions about me and my own process. I still feel very private and very conscious of how I share my own feelings about what I do, but I think that there is this common space with any experience, whether it is with music or with visual art or with books you’ve read, that there’s the space where the consumer, the person that’s viewing it, is having their own experience that I don’t really have much to say about.
SS: Something that both our work circulates around is a throbbing cliché and the capacity to experience cliché in real time. Kind of what I was talking about by being a teenager and hearing these kinds of lyrics talking about these quite cliché things to do with love. But you feel it so strong nonetheless. It’s pounding and saturated and turbulent and real. And there’s no other way to talk about them other than cliché, and loads of people do cliché, but somehow it’s not powerful. It doesn’t meet the words that you can use to talk about this huge subject matter, like desire and love. And that’s what I want my work to do. I want my work to be accessible in the same way that your music is. You make pop music, and I try to use materials that I hope that people can access. You’re also making from this vulnerable place and talking about a universal nostalgia, but in a way that’s so intimate and so personal. That’s something that I try to do.
"I think there’s this real neediness for an audience—without an audience, nothing exists." - SAMARA SCOTT
R: The kind of passion you have for your work is something I respect but also love, because I feel like that’s how I work as well. It’s very freeing and comforting when you meet other people who feel the same kind of intense interest and sincerity about making things that feel good. So when we decided to go into the work of creating this world for the set design of the tour, the way you were thinking was working so perfectly with these ideas I had about being inside of a disco ball or, you know, enhancing the feeling of being on a really wonderful dance floor. I wanted to work with wind, I wanted it to breathe and feel alive, and without even having to go into that so much, you just got that right away. I wanted it to be a show that helps people to find this rhythm within themselves, this hopefully trance-like state where you’re surfing the wave or whatever. You’re finding your frequency and you’re okay with things changing and things being fluid and that that becomes a stability, a kind of healing process for people while they’re there.