Mysie: heartbreak and lust in Ivor Novello-winner’s warming indie-pop

First the Ivors, next the world. The 25-year-old Londoner tells us about her intimate new EP, the power of Magic FM, and her grand plans to make music that "lives forever"

On her sixteenth birthday, Lizbet Sempa – known now as Mysie – got her heart broken and decided to write a song about it. “I’m usually okay with rejection but that pinched me. It made me go to my piano and start screaming,” the South East London artist says. “I didn’t stop writing about him for years.” Heartbreak, love and lust have fuelled Mysie’s music for almost a decade now: those impulsive, illogical feelings of desire and turmoil now translating into warm, sensual, and introspective tracks about the things that bind us as people.

“I’ve just always had a yearning for love and have been super interested in behaviour within that,” she says. “How even lust can just drive you to do the most strange, nonsensical things that you wouldn’t tolerate from another person. There are still so many things that I haven’t addressed before, toxic behaviour patterns I may have had before that I wouldn’t have admitted until now.” This reckoning comes to the fore on new EP ‘Undertones’, a smooth collection of songs fusing Mysie’s emotionally lucid lyrics and robust rhythms blending soul and pop, as much as indie and ‘80s nostalgia.

‘Undertones’ was partly written in the tender aftermath of a breakup around four years ago, and in the more balanced, content state of mind during the second lockdown last year. ‘Keep Up With Your Heart’, a melancholy ballad about betrayal, addresses the person who cheated on Mysie and lays everything on the table. ‘Seven Nights’ bottles the spontaneity of fast love, with its playful beat and seductive melodies. “‘Undertones’ is about the underlying feelings of fear, love, excitement, fast love, pain, cheating,” the artist says. “The biggest thing is realising the patterns that love can go in – then you actually start to learn. I had to learn from what I was singing about and take my own advice, instead of preaching it out!”

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She also learned a hell of a lot during the last two years spent working alongside Stormzy and Adele producer Fraser T Smith, who mentored Mysie during the Apple Rising Star mentorship programme and signed her to his 70Hz Recordings – after she won the inaugural Ivor Novello Rising Star Award. “We weren’t just talking about music, we were talking about mental health,” she remembers of their first conversations. “When it got to actually making music it was a very natural progression and felt like such a safe space. Right at the start of our mentorship, Fraser spoke about taking responsibility. It’s really easy to point the blame on other people when stuff isn’t happening, but it’s important to lead as a musician instead of being led.”

Mysie is determined to lead with her own voice, and to stay fluid. “It’s very easy to look at Black female artists, very specifically in the UK, and be like, ‘That’s R&B, that’s soul, that’s urban.’ It’s so important to be specific – it’s not just one brush,” she says. “If you’re hearing indie or rock influences, say it. For this EP, I wanted it to be intimate, I wanted elements of soul, pop, and indie as well. People will perceive it how they’ll perceive it, but just being mindful is really important. We’re constantly evolving.”

Her music reflects a vibrant upbringing in a house full of wildly different influences. To start, her grandfather was musician Israel Magembe Wamala, of jazz band Kampala City Six in the 1950s. She’s been playing the piano since she was seven, and still says the instrument “grabs the soul of the song” in her music. But then nobody in Mysie’s world wasn’t obsessed with music. Kids at school would be into indie – The Killers, Radiohead, The Kooks. Her siblings would listen to rap and hip-hop – Biggie, The Notorious B.I.G, 2PAC. But the richest source of inspiration? None other than Magic 105.4.

“Because my dad used to drop me off to school, every single day, that would be the first thing I’d hear,” she says. “That’s where I discovered bands like Duran Duran, 10cc, Lionel Richie. They just play such a huge range of artists that make timeless music that’s still so relevant today.” There’s one key word there: timeless. We keep returning to the ‘70s and ‘80s for a reason, and Mysie knows this. “I want to make timeless music,” she says. “I want my music to live forever.”

This widescreen ambition goes hand in hand with Mysie’s plans for the next step in her already meteoric rise. Tapping into the four years she spent at drama school, as well as her background as a dancer, she wants her work to appeal to all five senses, across genres, emotions and mediums. She nods to the constant reinvention of bold artists like Moses Sumney, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Connie Constance and more – but the future belongs only to Mysie. And she’s only just getting started. “I want my album visually, sonically and lyrically to be aligned. I want it to be like a movie – I want to make it grand.”

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Mysie’s ‘Undertones’ is released May 21

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