17 On The Frontline: Sipprell

“I’m much more into being subtle, letting the music speak and not overdoing things.”

It’s the kind of bright, January afternoon that makes summer feel just out of reach. An almost empty Crystal Palace pub is the setting for my first conversation with Sipprell. Settling in with a green tea in hand, we start from the top or rather from last December when the visuals for ‘Broken Ground’ (produced by Melo-Zed) were released and immediately made waves. South London’s Sipprell is a vocalist on the come up, typically DIY, she’s a musician that plays her own instrumentation – both strings and keys – has a background in production and records most of her music at home. “It can just be a melody or an idea that comes to me,” she says when I ask of her songwriting process.

Artists often speak of the impossibility of trying to predict a track’s success prior to it’s release and it’s something Sipprell can attest to, wanting people to simply hear the things she works on. Releasing tracks as individual sound bites, she’s been quietly but assuredly growing her audience, “I think it’s good to establish your sound just with audio. Later, when you’re better known you can worry about the visual aspect but at the beginning I think it’s good for people to just hear the music and have their own visions for it.”

‘Broken Ground’ was featured originally on Ralph Hardy’s 24 track NANG compilation ‘Growing Pains 2’“we had a mutual friend that introduced us”, she says of Hardy. The video starred dancer Bisola Olusanya, twisting and turning in and out of the atmospheric R’n’B melody, taking the audience right along with her. Sipprell herself remained unseen, instead choosing not to be front and centre of the video, “[It] doesn’t have me in it at all and I’m very comfortable with that!” she laughs, “I don’t think videos have to have the artist – it’s more about what you want the song to portray. It’s important to get that bit right.”

Christ The King Sixth Form College was the place where Sipprell laid the foundations of her music production knowledge, feeling her way around Cubase and programming projects. Studying music technology, she recalls her first taste of live performance, “yeah it was a sick time, at that stage people started finding out I was a singer, I remember times I would be in the corridor singing and a crowd of people would come and watch me sing.” Smiling at the memory she continues, “I grew up listening to Radiohead, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles when I was young. Until I got heavily into R’n’B – my brother got me a Mariah Carey CD called ‘Ones’ with all the hits on it and I remember that really influenced me because I’ve always had soft elements to my voice and I used to love that in Mariah Carey’s voice – it’s also what drew me to Aaliyah early on too. As well as loving her music, vocally, we were quite similar when I was younger I used to sing her songs in competitions and stuff like that. Also Brandy was a huge influence on me – ‘Full Moon’ just changed the game for me. Her tone and vocal arrangements especially, the different ways she used her voice.”

It’s clear Sipprell is an artist driven by instinct, happy to let an idea germinate and organically grow, “I’ll just be chilling, laying down, and I’ll just sing into it because it gives a much more relaxed, chilled vibe. Whereas when I’m in the studio, sometimes it’ll be one take, and then another and I’m in ‘recording mode’ and sometimes it’s not the most genuine performance. But the Apogee can cause issues with mixing because it’s not a clean vocal, so I’ve started doing it on a bigger mic now but I always get my best vocals in my room.”

In 2015, Sipprell released her debut EP ‘Letter D’ which featured ‘Curious’, produced by Ragz Originale. It was one of their first projects together, as Sipprell recalls, “I met Ragz a few years ago now, he was just on the come up at that point and hadn’t established himself as much as he has now. I did a session with him and I didn’t know what to expect, I’d [experienced] a lot of waste sessions as a lot of us do, but with this one it turned out, we ended up doing ‘Curious’ and another sick track the same day at this studio in Barnet. He said to freestyle a vocal riff so I did a few, then he picked one and made the beat and it’s amazing how he can just hear what bits to use. He’ll hear the whole vocal and know straight away what bits to chop and what are the best bits to use, he’s got a really good ear and vision for music.”

‘Curious’ was later picked up by BBC 1xtra, and Sipprell recalls her surprise when it happened, “I didn’t expect much of response really, I just loved the song and wanted to put it out, 1xtra ended up picking it up and I was like ‘wow’ because I didn’t think it was radio friendly at all but obviously they thought it just had a good vibe to it.”

‘Letter D’ is an EP filled with range, on the moody side of soul, Sipprell is happy to infuse her songwriting and production with bluesy influences. Like most independent musicians in the digital age she finds having access to every musical era and genre invigorating and the potential limitless. Eclectic and experimental Sipprell prefers home comforts when it comes to delving into her songwriting, “all my recordings I’ve done so far, I’ve done at home. Apart from that bit of ‘Curious’ we did in the studio, the others have been recorded on this Apogee One – which is just this small interface, it’s got a mic built in and most people can’t believe I record all my songs on there because it’s such a small little thing.”

We talk some more about her process and what it is exactly she defines as her ‘original’ sound, “it’s quite personal, and vulnerable but there’s always a dark edge.” Armed only with her guitar she recalls writing the riff to ‘King Confined’, “that was the first song I’d ever written on guitar. For ‘Essence’ and ‘Wild’ I worked with some guys called the Citrus Clouds. But ‘King Confined’, I did on my own. It’s the first full track I’ve written and produced – because it’s written about such a personal thing it’s one of my favourites. When I do that song live I get men coming up to tell me it’s their favourite of my set and it’s a song I never imagined would be for men, I’m always surprised by how things are received.”

November last year saw the release of ‘Journey’ another track that was drawn from personal experience, ‘Journey’ asked the question of what to do when you know it’s time to move on? Produced once again by long time collaborator Ragz Originale it was also a track brought to life by both Alaistair O’Donnell and Benjii Flow. Her next release is a track called ‘Trust Issues’, a last minute change from the intended release of a different single called ‘Suitcase’. Sipprell felt that gut feeling kick in again when things had looked set. “I’ve found myself in this position a few times where I’ve got a song, recorded it, got it mixed and in the mixing process I just have this instinct that it’s not the right song and I won’t be able to sleep. I’ll just be like ‘something’s not right’ I’ve done it a couple of times” she confesses before she goes on, “I wish I could work this out before I spend money, but for some reason I need to get through that process, just to hear it finished.”

Our time is nearly up, but before she leaves for her shoot I ask for her take on the current state of R’n’B in the UK – Ray BLK, NAO and Olivia Louise represent just the tip of a bigger R’n’B iceberg that is coming once again towards the light. 2017 promises a wealth of fresh voices and a return to real R’n’B and Soul music at a time when many considered it long gone, “the whole spectrum of R’n’B has changed,” she says to me having taken a moment to phrase her answer. “The Internet and Soundcloud has opened things up and you’re allowed to be much more experimental and alternative. Whereas before, there was a standard Rn’B sound which didn’t really make it in the UK, it was very American sounding, now it’s got a much more UK stamp on it – you can bring other elements.”

While we wait for Sipprell’s debut solo video release it’s safe to say she’s an artist that wants her music to resonate, content to build a connection with her listeners that puts the music first she’s enjoying developing as an independent musician, freed from label expectations and dated perceptions of what a female vocalist should and shouldn’t be doing she’s found a space and like minds that understand nothing happens overnight. Something she has learned is that often less is more. Very much her own woman, and confident in her sound, Sipprell has long stepped out of the shadows of her early idols, “it’s more focusing on the songs and what you’re trying to portray, rather than just riffing all over the place. It gets boring after a while, and it can ruin the message. I’m much more into being subtle, letting the music speak and not overdoing things.”