A Chinese-American singer hailing from New York, Siv Disa is currently based out of Iceland. The story of Siv’s debut album, Dreamhouse, began pre-pandemic in upstate New York, where, working with regular collaborator and producer, Sam And The Sea, Siv started working on the record. As Covid-hit the duo decamped to a studio in the wilderness and embracing the isolation completed the album. The results of those sessions is out into the world today with Dreamhouse’s release via Trapped Animals Records.
Dreamhouse opens with a bang, courtesy of recent single Whistle, which Siv describes as, “a gentle break-up song written in real-time”, set to a musical backing of lithe guitars, jazzy percussion and Siv’s rich vocal croon, which has a touch of Beth Gibbons about its spiders-web like blending of strength and delicacy. From there the EP slides into the soaring Paintedceiling, and Music In The Streets, a song that has an unlikely fusion of influences – Britney Spears and a log-cabin. The record’s centre-piece, Sorry, is also quite possibly its finest moment, a quiet meditation on the lives of others, as Siv looks out over a Manhattan morning and sees the people like ants going about their everyday lives as she, like all of us, struggles for empathy in the face of personal struggles. Another highlight arrives, just as you think there’s surely nothing left for Dreamhouse to give, with the sublime closing number, Inthehills, where a pattering drum-beat and languid slide guitar soundtrack a song Siv has described as, “more like a balm than an open wound”, for everyone, “who doesn’t have the power they deserve in the world”. Dreamhouse is a reminder that creativity is both something shared and something deeply personal, it feels like a melting pot of all its creators’ emotions, influences and ideas, a box of treasured objects, that Siv is kind enough to let us rummage around in, take the time and you’ll find something here to truly fall in love with.
FTR: For those who don’t know who is Siv Disa?
Siv Disa is my real first and middle name. I started going by Siv Disa at gigs to create a divide in google search results between my day job (teaching small children piano) and my night job (singing sad songs in bars). People sometimes think Disa is my last name now, which is funny.
I make avant-pop, written by me and produced or co-produced with my collaborator and friend Sam and the Sea. A lot of my harmonic choices are based on seeing the intervals in my head, which is a bonus to playing a keyboard instrument. Lyrically, I’m either giving myself psychotherapy or focusing on the rhythm of phrases and not their meaning. There’s not really an in between: it’s either confessional or escapism.
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
My first show was at a little bar in Boston, Massachusetts on a chilly weeknight, just me and the keyboard I had lugged from my bedroom. It was the sort of bar that had a built-in crowd of neighborhood day drinkers on the weekdays, who can be a capricious lot. One older guy in a at-one-time fancy coat came up to me to tell me I was god’s gift or something, tottering around with an empty glass. I think he was crying, so I think something else was also happening in his life. I had a couple of friends show up, which was a mercy.
Up until that show I had only done open mics and friend-curated showcases, so taking the next step was a bit daunting. I had put off ever taking the leap into shows and releasing music for years, for fear of losing connection to the one thing I truly cared for. But at some point, taking any step is a step. I had this feeling of needing to have the next five years planned out before I could play a gig, but in hindsight what was I waiting for? My advice to any musicians who might not know where to start would be to just bite the bullet and start at zero. It’s like those choose your own adventure books: any choice leads you to like three more choices.
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
I heard this interview once on The Working Songwriter (a great podcast with Joe Pug) in which he and his guest had a conversation about all art being a form of communication. The interviewee expressed that it had been a journey of trial and error with various mediums, like painting, before they had found a way to say what they meant via music. I really liked that, because it seemed more honest than the lines we draw around different practices. It also made me feel like the artistic experience I had in one field wasn’t a waste of time- it was all in pursuit of the same goal. Throughout school up until university I focused much more on visual art: photography and painting. Even in uni, I liked my ceramics classes more than I liked many of my music courses. My parents apparently thought I’d either be a photographer or a lawyer- musician was kind of a dark horse.
All this to say: I have a lot of artistic practices, but writing and recording music is the one that communicates what I want to communicate out into the world, and it’s taken trial and error to get there. It’s an incredible feeling to be able to distill an emotion into a sound, and then share it with anyone anywhere. You’re a mood alchemist to strangers. Music has always been a source of connection for me, as a listener, so I suppose its natural that its the way I connect with others.
FTR: What can people expect from the Siv Disa live show?
They can expect gut wrenching lyrics balanced out with psychedelic electronic arrangements.
I’m really excited about our upcoming live shows- the live set these days is me on synth, vocals, and occasionally drums, with my bandmate Sam, of ‘Sam and the sea’ on lead guitar, bass synth, and triggering beats/loops. We’re in rehearsal right now experimenting with patches and beats to layer, pulling fun samples off of the album & re-using them in different ways to create versions of the songs that are faithful to the album without being stale. I don’t think I could be a lead vocalist to a static backing track because I consider myself an arranger and keyboardist before I consider myself lead singer. I’m the lead singer by default more than by choice. Having a flow, and a motion to each song keeps it from feeling like karaoke.
FTR: What’s next for Siv Disa
Our first world tour! We have shows this fall and winter in Iceland, the UK,and New York, which will keep us busy while the record comes out and beyond. For tour date announcements, follow us on instagram or twitter! Album two is also already under-way as well. The production is quite different on album two actually. In some ways its less immediately experimental, but in other ways it feels like we’re taking bigger risks with the sound world that’s coming together. We learned so much finishing Dreamhouse that we couldn’t wait to apply our new skills to our yet-newer music. I’m also currently in my second year of grad school for music composition in Iceland, which culminates in a full length piece, so I’m also going a bit mad working on an opera for next year. So you know, definitely enough to do between now and 2023!
They Listen To…
Sam And The Sea – Little Lies
Anjali Rose – Lingering Loves
Djavan Jamie – Scent
MSEA – Flesh Tone
Neev – A Mother Knows