Caught in the middle of dying her hair, Connie Constance answers the phone to NME with an apologetic laugh as she scrambles around mopping up the specks of pink that have just showered her room. This light-hearted candour is refreshing and compelling, much like the unapologetic honesty that defines the poetic narratives found in her songs.
Growing up in suburban Watford as the only mixed-race member of a white household, Constance was aware of her differences from a young age. Drawn to the freedom of performance, she took up songwriting as a means of expression, navigating questions of identity and belonging through music. “Reflecting on my identity is just an ongoing process,” she says. As a result, her songs are rooted in an intense self-reflection, arming her with a powerful voice and clear-minded delivery that commands attention.
“It often gets said that I’m maybe a political writer, but I guess when I first started writing I literally was documenting my experience. However, my experiences, when vocalised, become political conversations.” This can be heard on such tracks as ‘Bloody British Me’ and ‘English Rose’ as Constance uses her voice to assert herself in places she might not otherwise have been seen.
Intentional or not, by unpacking her experiences in this way Constance crafts something that is genuine, unfiltered and essential at a time when self-awareness and responsibility are not only desired but encouraged. “I genuinely just write because I have a story I want to tell,” she confesses. “When I look back, I guess people haven’t seen or heard someone that looks like me say that, and maybe that means something more than just me writing a story.”
Growing up, Constance was influenced by a variety of sounds and musical cultures that she says created “a clash of music from the get-go”. Looking back, she reflects on how “the Britpop people are the people that stand out, while my step-dad would play Paul Weller music all the time. I actually hated it when I was really young, then at 14 I was asking to borrow CDs.”
The result is a soundscape anchored as much in the jazz melodies of Billie Holiday and Nina Simone as it is in the sharp riffs and pulsating percussion of Oasis and Arctic Monkeys. “Musically, I feel like I’ve found myself now. I feel comfortable with where I’m at.”
Starting out, however, her eclectic tastes did not make it easy for Constance to find her footing. “I definitely had confusion in the early days of working out what I wanted my sound to be like,” she reflects. “I’d grown up on punk and indie-rock and that’s what I love, but everyone keeps wanting me to do R&B. I don’t really understand R&B as much as I do Britpop and indie-rock.”
Even as she landed a deal with record deal and started to gain a better sense of what she wanted to sound like, Constance struggled to get her voice heard. “I don’t want to blame it on [it] being a race thing, but it feels like: I don’t look the part, therefore I’m not the part of an indie singer,” Constance explains. “Every time I was giving [the label] a tune they just didn’t seem to get it. I was just like: ‘But it’s indie-rock – what’s there to get?’
Frustrated by this response from her label, Constance began to feel discouraged and out of place. “I felt like I was just going to get this lack of energy every time I came [out] with these tunes that I know I love,” she continues. “I couldn’t spend another day, week, month being in a place where I can’t just make music and release it. It should just be that simple.”
“I’d grown up on punk and indie-rock and that’s what I love. But everyone wanted me to make R&B”
In her refusal to conform, Constance was able to break out of her contract and set up her own label, the aptly named Jump The Fence. “Now I’ve got all these tunes, and we can literally just put them out.” Her excitement is palpable. “It’s just so annoying when you can’t feel the freedom and the love for it. That lack of energy is draining. It shouldn’t be about how good or bad something is, you should just love making a song and then put it out.”
Having created a space that is all about taking risks and following your gut, Jump The Fence embodies the punk spirit that breathes life into her music. Much like her previous single ‘Monty Python’, Constance’s latest cut ‘James’ is firmly rooted in the indie-rock she grew up loving and offers a clearer and more cohesive sound than last year’s debut. “The indie stuff is fun. It’s where I get to still write a story that happened or I feel like is important to tell, but I can have fun with it and it doesn’t feel as serious when people are listening.”
Recorded and produced with long-time collaborator Vasser, ‘James’ is a self-described “anti-drug drug song”. Written after a heavy night out, it is a dark and evocative account of Constance’s experience with drugs and the subsequent realisation that she has no right to abuse her body in this way when others do not have the choice.
“The song starts with lyrics that were taken directly from a text message I sent to a friend, only for them to reply with similar symptoms,” she explains. “However, in contrast with my recreational use, their drug experience is a result of a lifelong health battle which I will never know the full extent of.”
Struck by the recklessness and self-destructive reality of her actions, penning ‘James’ became a form of catharsis. “I wrote out the story as it was to hopefully deliver the same epiphany to anyone who listens, or even just so they might feel comfort in not being alone in those times of emotional warfare,” she says. It has also turned her off the idea of drug-fuelled fun: “I literally haven’t done anything since that point because, when a moment changes you, that’s when I most want to write about it.”
Insightful and affecting, Constance is not afraid to confront the harsh realities that face her: “People know that they can come to me and I’m going to be real”. Artists like her might just be the key to achieving some much-needed clarity and reassurance at a time of such division and uncertainty.
Connie Constance’s new single ‘James’ is out now