“I think the stronger your roots and your sense of identity are, the safer you will feel to step away from them” Chiara Floris, also known as BLUEM, tells us as we discuss her latest album nou. The record marks a new approach for the artist in terms of working collaboratively, stepping outside of her comfort zone, and learning to trust others creatively. BLUEM looks back at her strong Sardinian roots in order to move forward confidently, resulting in this latest record upon which Floris bears her soul and tells stories that are both personal and that women everywhere can relate to.
Could you please start by introducing yourself and what it is that you do?
Hi, my name is Chiara Floris, my artist name is BLUEM. I am a London-based Sardinian creative who works mainly with music.
I love the way your music interweaves and reproduces traditional Sardinian sounds and lyrical themes of folklore via contemporary production, both ensuring the preservation of and spotlighting the evolution of the island’s culture. How do you work to ensure important traditional aspects are preserved whilst also creating a fresh new sound?
I actually use very little traditional sounds, or I recall them by reproducing them with a synth, which is something I find quite fun to do. When I’m using original sounds from my homeland, I make sure my source is a good one. I also spend a lot of time questioning what I want to do with them and what I am representing as Sardinian traditions is something you need to be very careful with. When I use the stories, though, I feel more free as I always choose characters that I feel very represented by and it’s easier to blend them with my personal experiences. In both cases, I take a risk. I do it also when I use traditional elements in the visual parts of my project. I own them, I feel represented by them, and I present them to others in my new personal way, certainly hoping that they will get interested in Sardinian culture through me, but I don’t consider myself a spokeswoman of Sardinian tradition. I always say a part of my creative work is channelling the culture I grew up in obviously, but I do not wish to teach anything to anyone or to base everything I do around that.
Following on from this, you have spoken before about how important it is to remember where you come from, to maintain a strong sense of identity when moving forward into the unknown. In what ways do you ensure a sense of balance is maintained between the two actions?
Sardinia is a place that gives you very strong, unique roots. It might sound obvious, as any place has its own characteristics, but we have a way of attaching to costumes and rituals that have been existing for thousands of years that, for example, you don’t find easily in other parts of Italy. We’ve also always been isolated in every sense possible, so we consider ourselves very different from the rest of the country and this isolation surely helped us preserve the unique identity we have. I’m saying this because for me it’s easy to explore and grow in different directions having such strong roots underneath me. I know where I begin and everything I do from that starting point represents what I had the opportunity to know and explore after leaving my homeland. I think the stronger your roots and your sense of identity are, the safer you will feel to step away from them. They will always give you a sense of stability. I think my personal balance comes from the fact of being in the middle between that and the fact that I am not afraid of taking risks.
Your latest record nou was just released on 12th May! You said that you chose the name, the Sardinian word for new, even before you started working on the project. In what sense was this album new for you in terms of the kind of music you make and how you make it?
This project has brought new things to my way of working surely for what concerns collaboration. I’ve always been quite a loner and have never really trusted people to intervene in my creative process. I still preserve that habit a little bit because, for example, to this day I still haven’t done an in person session with any of the artists I’ve worked with. I do most of the work on my own, with a very minimal home setup and just hours of experimenting and trying to find the right formula for the songs I want to create. This time, though, I really wanted to make every song a challenge for myself, blending different genres and just creating freely, nou really did become a mantra for me since I chose it as the title of the album. Experimenting meant also stepping out of my comfort zone and collaborating with people I had admiration for. I ping-ponged some of the songs with them and, in the process, I’ve also learnt to trust someone else’s idea, which was a big progress for me, but also to set apart my insecurity of working with male producers. I’ve always been very defensive before, thinking any male producer would try to overpower me, but the ones I’ve worked with have actually been very respectful of my vision and of me as a female producer from the beginning, and that’s also what allowed me to let go and trust them with some things.
Your personal experiences are another fundamental aspect of the record’s storytelling. Could you talk a bit about the role of vulnerability within your creative process?
Vulnerability to me is key, especially in the songwriting part of what I do and in the words I choose. Sometimes I will randomly have a whole song coming to my mind, with melody and lyrics, while I’m doing something else. When it happens, I take a moment to record it and write it down, and, even if it’s so personal that I feel a little shame from it, I accept that it arrived for a reason and it’s probably going to be something that people will relate to easily. It happened in this album with AM, which talks about the toxic relationship I’ve had with male figures for years, and it happened also with dear, which talks about my experience of witnessing the death of a female deer in the Sardinian countryside. When songs arrive to me like that, I am put in a very vulnerable spot but it’s also I think the most genuine way of being creative. Being able to channel difficult emotions through a form of art can be very hard but it’s also really magical in a sense.
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The individualism of your identity also comes through in the fusion of your singing in both English and your mother tongue of Italian. Why did you choose to feature both languages on the album?
I’ve always been using both languages in my songwriting. I actually started by writing in English only, then I did a project, NOTTE, which was almost entirely in Italian, and now I got to nou, which has a good balance of both languages. Italian is obviously my mother tongue so it’s a language that I know very well and that allows me to express, I would say, with more sentiment some of the concepts I bring to songs and the atmospheres I want to create. I’ve also been living the past nine years of my life in London though, so English is a big part of me and it just comes naturally to use it in my songs sometimes. It’s not really something that I choose consciously, but I do feel very privileged to be able to do it. They are two very different languages that have a different use for me in my creative process. I feel like when I need to express something very simple and want it to sound good, English is a great choice. When I am telling a story and being descriptive, I often find the right words to do it in Italian.
The record really pushes the female experience, the world through a female lens, to the forefront particularly regarding topics such as death and love. What led you to making that choice?
In the years before I started working on nou, I had become really frustrated with the male figures in my life. I had done a project, NOTTE, which completely represented myself and my sound and it was actually my first project where I was a hundred percent involved as a producer, and the vision behind it was so personal. Because I did some of the post-production with a male friend of mine, though, people just assumed he was the producer and the mind behind it. He had no guilt in this and has always been a great presence in my life, but that is just what people assume when they see a man participating in a woman’s project in some way. He got opportunities to work as a producer after the project was released, when nobody came to me. For me, it was very discouraging, also because NOTTE was a project about the hurt and suffering that came from being manipulated by a toxic man in my personal life. Releasing it to me meant letting go of those negative feelings, but unfortunately it just moved them somewhere else. When I got to making nou I had very little trust in men and had so much to process. I decided to make it about femininity because I really had to look inside myself and my experience as a woman in the past years and get my feelings out in a way, I needed to exorcise all this negativity and find new hope.
The feminine experience, whilst being something that millions can identify with, is also entirely different for each person. Could you talk a bit about the specific aspects of the female experience that the album expresses?
Obviously nou has a very personal take on femininity. It’s based on my experience and the characters and stories that I relate to, and that I hope some other people will relate to through my music, but I completely understand is one way of living and analysing femininity compared to millions of other ways a lot of people might be experiencing it. The album starts with a track dedicated to a conversation between Medea and Creusa of Corinth (from the Greek tragedy of Medea by Euripides, translated by Franz Grillparzer). Creusa was going to marry Medea’s partner and father of her children, Giasone, and they have this deeply touching woman to woman conversation where Medea praises Creusa and asks her how she manages to walk through life so purely while all of them are trying to set themselves free from the mud. Later on, Medea will brutally kill Creusa out of jealousy. The story is much more complex, but to me, this passage in particular, has always been so fascinating in the way it represents the contrast in the relationships between women, especially when a man is involved. In another song, moonlight, I tell the story of the Janas, little Sardinian fairies who used to live in houses carved into the rock, weaving gold during the day and going out in the nearest town at night to meet humans and bless them if they were honest to them, or curse them if they tried to steal from them. A legend that I think represents Sardinian women in particular. Another representation of the women I grew up with is in the closing track of the album, Sula, dedicated to a rebellious female character of the book Passavamo Sulla Terra Leggeri by Sardinian author Sergio Atzeni. In AM I go through the insecurities that grew in me as a woman after being deluded multiple times by male figures, so much that it made me want to seek independence and aggressively defend my own space even when finally being in a healthy relationship with a man. All the consequences that the toxic relationship with masculinity can have on a woman’s mind are not to be ignored and need a long time for processing. A good male figure after hundreds of negative experiences is not enough to get over what you’ve been through, and I think we should be addressing that more to allow us to not damage a good relationship when it comes.
How has it been hearing the responses of others to the album?
For now, it’s been very positive. I know I took risks with this album, but people seem to be appreciating it and ultimately I am proud of what I’ve done regardless. I did not want to repeat myself and in fact I didn’t do it. A conscious step forward for me is always a win.
Nou is also being accompanied by a visual project, on which you worked with Sardinian artist Valeria Cherchi and Danish artist Ida Lissner. What did you learn from working with these other wonderful creatives?
Both Valeria and Ida have such a unique, strong vision of what they do creatively. I feel like the biggest challenge has been to communicate my idea and trust the fact that I was putting it in the hands of two incredible artists. I normally want to lead everything and have a lot of control on what happens in every little aspect of my project. With them, though, it was necessary to trust and let go, and it was the right thing to do. They are just absolutely amazing and I feel so honoured to have been able to include them in my project.
Your recent residency on Radio Raheem in Milan (Musica Per Il Corpo) focused heavily on the creative disciplines of pole and tarot. What is your relationship with each of these crafts like and how do they align with your creative visions?
Pole dancing has been very important for me since I’ve started doing it. It really changed my mindset in general, as it forces you to take risks every day and to be in uncomfortable positions for a creative purpose. It’s all about being creative with movement, and to have the tools to do it in a certain way you really need a lot of discipline and dedication. It changed my relationship with my body massively. I love doing my MPC music selection for Radio Raheem every month because I create a sonic space for people to just feel the music and experiment with movement if they want. Tarot is something that I did a lot when I did my previous project, NOTTE. I was introduced to them by a friend who learnt to read them from her father. Just as pole dancing, I find them a really effective and creative way of giving a therapeutic treatment to yourself. I think if people approached tarot reading with a sense of magic and ritual, but also as a moment to look at your life and yourself through the images that are offered to you and what they represent, they would understand it better.
Finally, what else have you got coming up this year for us to look forward to?
Well, I am working on some interesting collaborations to follow up the album, and mostly I am preparing a live show that includes music and visuals that I hope to bring to as many places as possible. I played The Great Escape in Brighton at the beginning of the month and I will be playing some incredible Italian music festivals in the next few months. I also hope I will be able to bring the show to London and some other places in Europe very soon!
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