Suki Waterhouse has signed to Sub Pop and shared her first two songs under the label with ‘Moves’ and ‘My Mind’. Listen to them below, and check out NME’s interview with the British actor and musician.
Waterhouse has been releasing her own music since 2016, when she put out her debut single ‘Brutally’. Over the last five years, she’s shared a further four tracks that marry ‘60s girl group influences with dreamy, melancholy-tinged pop, each showcasing a knack for writing evocative lyrics and songs that linger with you long after they’re over.
“I’ve always been comfortable making music and playing it and even having the life of a musician, but I’ve always been so scared of actually putting out records,” she told NME over Zoom from Los Angeles last week. “The ones I’ve done before it’s been one song a year and I’ve really been trying to push myself to do that.”
Although it’s been a long time coming, Waterhouse’s debut album will finally arrive next year via the legendary Sub Pop. “It really was a surprise,” the musician explained of inking the deal. “I made the album by myself and then was sending it to some labels. I sent it to Sub Pop and didn’t get a response for months, and then nudged them again.” When the label’s team listened to the record, they came on board and snapped up the album.
‘Moves’, the first fruits of her relationship with the historic imprint, shows why. It is a timeless piece of pop that beautifully straddles romanticism and sadness, Waterhouse’s voice a gorgeous anchor as she shares small details from her life.
“That song is like a collection of diary entries put into one idea from over 10 years,” she explained. “Years ago, someone said to me that I looked like Suzi Quatro when I was out one night. I remember I didn’t know who she was at first, but I was like, ‘I think that’s a cool thing, I’m gonna try and keep being like this person’ and then going home and looking her up and hearing the Chris Norman version of her and him doing ‘Stumbling In’ and going down a total Suzi love hole.”
‘Moves’ was also inspired by feminist film classic Thelma & Louise, with Waterhouse imagining “the kind of song they’d be listening to when they drove off the cliff”. “‘Moves’ came from a place of strength, but also feeling a sense of abandon,” she added. “I was listening to a lot of Shangri-Las at the time and ‘60s girl band songs, which had a seduction to them but also a [sense of a] last chance and something desperate. My songwriting all comes from my places of helplessness, even if there’s a powerfulness [to it].”
While ‘Moves’ is a song Waterhouse has had in her back pocket for a couple of years, ‘My Mind’ came together last year. “I thought all my neighbours had gone away and it felt like there wasn’t much to do apart from stay up really late and drink,” she said. “‘My Mind’ came from being a screaming drunk girl with the amps turned up really loud and playing electric guitar. I loved what came from that and I didn’t get any complaints, which is good.”
The song embodies the feeling of being “really trapped”, the singer softly repeating the line “Nothing left to lose, only my mind”. For Waterhouse herself, she was stuck inside her head with her reservations about sharing her music with the world. “Being trapped in your own head for so long is actually what made me go, ‘OK, I know what I think I want this to sound like, I think I know who I can do it with’,” she explained.
She decided she wanted to work with Brad Cook, who has produced records for the likes of Bon Iver and Waxahatchee, and plays bass with Hiss Golden Messenger. “I’d listened to the Hiss Golden Messenger song ‘Cat’s Eye Blue’ a billion times,” she said of what inspired her to get Cook involved.
Waterhouse flew to North Carolina to start recording with him, with original plans to make her album in a “really old, beautiful church”. “And then someone came in and said, ‘We’ve booked this’ so we had to pack up and move,” she said. “We ended up making the record in a bridesmaid’s makeup room in a wedding hall. Where I sat listening to everything and singing all the vocals was literally a bridesmaid’s dressing room with a pillow that said ‘Live, Laugh, Love’.”
Making an album was something Waterhouse had been wanting “for so long” and reasoned she had pushed herself now, at 29, because she “had all these things I’ve never spoken about that I felt like I had to tie up before I go into my thirties”.
“[Music] is the only way that I really know how to express certain things, so it definitely felt like, ‘I’ve got to get this format’.”
With an album ready to go, the musician can now turn her attention to performing live. She made her first festival appearance at BottleRock Napa in California last month, having “barely done a show” at all before. “I definitely had that feeling where it feels like your teeth are going to be sick,” she said. “But as soon as I walked on, I was really happy to be there and just really comfortable.”
Now, Waterhouse is keen to ramp up that side of her life as an artist. “I really like the exhaustion and going around everywhere and not stopping,” she laughed. “That was always what I wanted for my life.”
Until she’s able to tour, she’ll be finding that creative satisfaction and happiness in being able to share her music. “There’s nothing that’s ever given me more joy than when I put out my first song ‘Brutally’,” she said. “It came from such a place of necessity – I did that whole song crying my eyes out and I was in such a desolate, hopeless place. But the fact that people listened to it and it’s been their song and being able to share something with them, it feels like something great came out of this darker time in my life and it made everything make sense.”
Her hope for ‘Moves’ and ‘My Mind’ – and, beyond that, her album – are similar: “I just hope that I can share them and I can mark the moments that created them with other people and then move on.”