Interview
Image courtesy of Lucille Slade.

Lucille Slade talks to us about being an independent artist, cross-genre-music and her current projects.

Lucille Slade Isn't Trying to Stay In One Lane—She's Coming For It All

The rising South African artist speaks to us about wanting to make cross-genre music, her current projects and the challenges that come with being an independent act on the come up.

Lucille Slade is an up-and-coming South African singer who burst onto the scene three years ago after putting out a cover of Cassper Nyovest's track "Tito Mboweni".

Slade capitalized on the buzz around her now viral cover of the song by dropping her debut album Scratch the Surface the following year. The 10-track project was released under her then label Boom Studio. Since then, she's shared a number of gems including "Velvet" and "Khuluma Nami" having worked on the latter with Grammy-nominated producer, Evoke.

While the music she's put out has been R&B and pop-leaning, Slade pushes against attempts to box her into a singular genre, opting instead for free reign to create any kind of music she feels led to make.

She also featured on Stogie T's last two projects Honey and Pain (2018) and The Empire of Sheep (2019). Naturally, her unmatched work ethic and continued showcasing of her immense talent landed her on our 15 South African Artists to Watch in 2019 list and in 2020, Slade shows no signs of slowing down.

Currently working on her latest EP Love Me Slowly and set to collaborate with some of the biggest names in the game, we caught up with Slade to talk more about her music, what the grind looks like for an independent artist on the come up and her parallel career as a budding actress

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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How would you describe the kind of music that you make and who would you say you're making music for?

Right now my EP sounds like R&B pop because that's my genre influence. And predominantly for girls. It's predominantly for girls in relationships, trying to figure out each different phase of it. And I feel like there's a song for each different phase, like when you're in it, when you're over it, when you're ready to move on to something else—just like situational.

From your first single "Velvet" to "What You Think About That" and more recently "Khuluma Nami," how would you describe the continuity?

I think it's all sort of tied together by theme, like "What You Think About That" is about a relationship and asking questions. "Velvet" was more of a statement to me. It wasn't necessarily supposed to be about a relationship. My friend just said, "Hey, I need you to write something, it has to have the word Velvet in it." I was like, "Are you saying literally?" Yeah, so we just quickly freestyled something that made sense and expanded it to a full song. "Khuluma Nami" was a proper situation. It was just a very rough point in a relationship where you're not together, but you're figuring out if you still want to be together. That one moved really quickly. In less than 30 minutes it was done.

Would you say your process in general is like that?

It's different every time. Sometimes I might need to leave and come back because I can't figure out what to write or how to write it. Sometimes it just comes really quickly. That's why I admire artists who will book studio time for a specific amount of time because they know they're going to get it done within a certain time. I feel like that makes sense if you're in a team of writers. But if you're doing it alone, it depends.

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What projects are you currently working on?

For now, it's just that EP [Love Me Slowly]. We just shot the video with Stogie, which is cool. And then the song with Zinhle comes out soon. My EP is my focus for now.. There's other collaborations that people are calling me for and it's the weirdest time of my life. It's unexpected because I've been trying to do this since 2016, actively. And now is 2020, that's fast forward to four years. I did the covers two, three years ago, and I've had this EP music for the past two years, I just never felt like it was the right time. I'm getting calls from people, I am like, "Huh? They even know my name? That's weird." It feels like someone is about to pinch me and be like, "This is a lie." Just because it's been a long time coming.

You're not just a musician. You're also acting on 7de Laan. Which is the greater love, music or acting?

I'll be honest, they're both very different. And I think when you get to play in the soapie space, you realize the amount of work that it takes and it's just different. You're fixing different artistic muscles. So I'd say, I think music was always the first love, but there's a deep profound respect for acting and what the craft requires that I really enjoy but never had the full-on confidence to do it. I always say I didn't have the full confidence to do it before. And last year I was just like, "You know what? I think I'm ready to do it." It happened that things worked out in my favor but not by way of a lack of struggling. It was two years before I found the agency that I'm with now. For me, I didn't care if I didn't get anything. It was to say, "I want to do it regardless of the rejection, I'm willing to stand in the line."

Do you think the collaborations you've done so far bear testament to how cross-genre you want to be as an artist?

Yeah. And I didn't realize that because everything's happened so close to each other. So for me, it's great placement. So you can hear me on this, but you can give me on that as well. So if I put out my project you're like, "Okay well, she's versatile." I was saying on Twitter that I like Doja Cat. She does what she wants to do. I respect people who really like staying in what we like to call "lanes" but I don't think you have a lane. I think you could have multiple interests in the art world. And if you decide to go into say, technology, go into it but obviously have the understanding. I think we're lacking that in the country right now.

"[My music is] predominantly for girls... for girls in relationships, trying to figure out each different phase of it...I feel like there's a song for each different phase."

What are some of the collaborations that you would want to do in the future?

I'd say more girl songs. It always changes. Now I want a full on girl anthem. Even if it's just with Elaine, Ayanda Jiya and Shekhinah. I see the hip-hop guys doing it and it's so great when they can all come together. I'm like, "Why are we slacking, what is it?" Because no one occupies the same space in my mind. Like all these voices I named are so different. But imagine one crazy bumping track where the video looks like each individual, where girls see these girls together. That feels the way in which we need to go.

How would you describe stability in terms of a label and a place within the music industry right now?

There's no place for me at a label right now. And the reason why I say that is because I need to build what I'm building, or else I can't go into a conversation and don't have any leverage. It would not be in my best interest to do to any label in any capacity because I need to do what I need to do now. And what I've done is try to build a bit of a system. So I have like a business partner I work with. We don't even have the funds for it but they used to work at YFM so they knew the radio plugin systems. We just have a good rapport, so we work together and then we have someone who helps us with the admin. I want it that small right now cause that makes sense. Maybe when the time is right to have a bigger conversation if i want to occupy the bigger territories. But those can still be done independently.

Would you rather stay an independent artist?

I want to do a good three years of independence. And I say three years that things could move so quickly. Also know some of the systems that you can bypass. Even in terms of the playlisting, you could get a meeting with someone at Apple and not necessarily have to do it through the label where you feel completely stifled and hindered—there are different ways to do it.

But obviously I always will say with independence, the problem is capital. You want to shoot the great quality video, you need the money. It's nothing less than R20,000 and even when I say nothing less than R20,000, we're still playing it safe in South Africa. When I speak to people who are playing the worldly game in Africa, they're like, "You guys are so cheap with your videos." They're like, theirs is $100,000 if you're trying to play in the African market, obviously global. I feel like we need to start looking at it like that. It can't just be, "Oh, we have a hot song let's do a video." We're looking at Tiwa Savage, Wizkid, you know?

"We need to talk about the fact that just because you're an up-and-coming pop singer, or it seems like you're about to "pop", doesn't mean that your financials look like that or they can accommodate that. Reality versus perception kicks us in the ass."

What have been some of the challenges you've encountered as an independent artist?

Someone called me about possibly managing me and is like cool but I've always had an issue with that. In figuring out your team, you need to find people who are best suited to your personality. And nothing wrong with being like, "This is how I like things." Find people who can help you execute how you like things.

I think independence is that financial structure—hard. Because you still need to live. And then you're paying for styling, for makeup, for transport, for your band. It's a lot. And then people expect you to look a certain way. But there are ways to figure it out. I think these conversations are really important to have. Not enough people have it. It almost seems like we just want to put like the glossy picture on, "I'm so cool." I still take taxis. I'm on 7de Laan for two weeks and I'm still taking taxis. There's nothing wrong with it. I need to get from point A to point B.

What is your big goal for this year?

With this EP, I feel like I wanted to vision visually look right, sonically come together. I want to create a world for people to come into. So that goes all the way into the videos, what we do on stage. For me, it's just about figuring out what that looks like. Going into the studio, working with a choreographer because I want it to be routine, I want it to be that tight. I guess I'm just sort of creating what I look like and feel like as an artist on stage. Everything else that comes on will be the cherry on top but I think that would be a by-product of everyone seeing this vision executed.

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Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images.

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