Lip gloss, sketchers and rimless shades of Y2K nostalgia are imbued in Erika de Casier’s earworm of a debut – Essentials – that is both as innovative as it is a throwback. Through DIY determination and melody-crafting flair, Erika embraces her not-so-guilty pleasures by wearing them clearly on her sleeve. Out now on de Casier’s own label, Independent Jeep Music, Essentials demonstrates her love of ‘90s RnB in an effortlessly pure and concise selection of songs that are befitting of the present.
Cutting her teeth with Saint Cava (a duo with Andreas Vasegaard), who garnered enough attention to play Roskilde (2015) without having released so much as an EP, Erika went on to pursue her earliest pleasures out on her own. Whilst this meant venturing into the sonic hallmarks of RnB and pop-tropes of the early 2000s MTV era, there’s nothing passé about Essentials. Instead, de Casier recasts these influences for a more ethereal, airy production that succinctly fuses with her warm vocal performances – combined with splashes of bossa nova and breakbeat.

Elsewhere, delivering memorable videos for tracks like the G-funk infused Do My Thing, filmed by Catharina Stoltenberg of Smerz, has only served to raise the profile of the Aarhus-raised, Copenhagen-based artist. Assisted with co-production from brothers El Trick (aka Central) and DJ Sports of Aarhus’ Regelbau Crew, Essentials sees de Casier “coming real with it” (Story of My Life) as she captures the realities of modern life – like ubiquitous phone use – in amongst timeless topics including the delicate sides of relationships.

This year, alongside upcoming tour dates across the US and Australia – now postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak –, Erika returns to Roskilde as a solo artist with a much deeper back catalogue that’s full of acclaim; Essentials made numerous best-of-year lists (Crack Magazine, The Guardian, and Fact to name a few) and even best-of-the-decade (Gorilla Vs. Bear). With endearing humour and poise, Erika discusses her takes on astrology, media misconceptions and owning your musical references.
Erika, I hear you’re currently studying for your master’s at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen, so it must be good to take a break!
Yes, very good actually.
On that, I was wondering what valuable things you’ve learnt from this master’s course in Music Creation? As, of course, you’re already quite a prolific and acclaimed musician.
Thank you! For me, it’s about having somewhere to go in my daily life, so it’s not all about going to the studio and then going home – it can get really lonely. I did that for years, and to have a space where you can go with other people and have lunch, and where you can listen to music that you wouldn’t necessarily put on yourself – there’s a lot of jazz and stuff – is great.
I see. So there’s more exposure to different musical forms and greater structure to your day?
Exactly. So, one of the most important things I’ve learned, for example, is to give constructive criticism. It’s great because you’re met with a lot of things that you don’t necessarily like, but you have to give constructive comments as you can’t just be, ‘I don’t like it’, you know?
And it also makes you a lot more open to different genres and styles because you have to be…
…willing to be open to different ways of approaching music?
Exactly. And having access to these rooms is a super privilege. If I need a room or a space to rehearse with the guy that plays the drums in my live setup, I can just book a room. I don’t have to ask a venue or something similar.
Or ask for favours. Instead, the space is already there.
Yeah, that’s why it’s such a privilege – I’m done in June, and I’m so sad because to have it is just so great. But I keep myself busy. I go to a choir, soccer practice and other stuff. I like having a routine. I like going to the studio at night as well, not because I’m up at 6 and home at 5, but I like having different things to do [in the day].
Night-time access?
Yes, 24 hours, it’s fantastic. I’m also exposed to a lot of music communities. For example, I go to this choir with a bunch of different kinds of people, which gives me a lot. You’d imagine something rhythmic or ‘RnBish’ but it’s a classical choir, so it’s nice to do something different. Or like the soccer I just started! Like, what the hell, I’ve never played soccer in my life. So it’s just nice [to have the chance to experience new things]!
I’ve also heard it’s healthy to have different options. For example, if you have all your eggs in one basket, you put all your worth in one thing. So I do music; that’s what I do, that’s what people know me for, that’s what I’m meant to do. And say something happens and you’re not able to do that anymore. Then your whole life falls apart.
Variety is the spice of life! (Laughs)
(Laughs) Yes, exactly.
Speaking of this, do you have any patterns to your day?
Hmm yes. I get up in the morning – I like to take my time; I’d rather wake up a little earlier than have to rush out the door so I can sleep more. I bike to school, always listening to music, which is a really good start to the day – moving and listening. When I get to the studio, I start what I’m doing – or if I was working the day before, it depends. Like everybody else, I guess!
Yeah, I suppose it’s a similar routine for a lot of your university friends?
Yeah! Except I don’t have a lot of band practice, practice my instrument, or book a room and play the flute for hours (laughs). A different way of working.
A bit different as a solo artist. You previously spoke about how you liked the idea of Daft Punk covering their faces so they can keep making music in their forties with their personal lives intact.
Wow, it’s been a long time since that happened.
A good five years.
Ahhh! Damn, you’ve done your research.
Oh, of course (laughs). But since then, you’ve gone solo with your name and image at the front and centre. With a critically acclaimed debut last year, and being quite a private person, what’s it felt like being one of the breakout stars of 2019? Do you get recognised more in less obscure places than Føtex [a supermarket chain]?
I don’t know. In Denmark, I don’t feel like I do. If I’m out, it happens sometimes because you’re more likely to be with people that like music and are…
…that sort of crowd.
Yeah. So, in that case, yes. But we have the Jante Law [a code of conduct in Nordic countries where non-conformity is inappropriate with emphasis on collectivism], so it’s so rare that someone will say, ‘are you this person?’ Because people leave you alone. Even if they recognise you, they act as if they don’t because they don’t want to bother anyone.
That can be the same in Britain. What made you decide to break out as a solo artist from Saint Cava?
I guess it was quite natural. The friend I was with in Saint Cava was in a school that was three hours away and he was busy with that. I was just me, working in a kindergarten and wondering what was going to happen next. Even in Saint Cava I produced, and I was producing before that, so it was just a matter of going into that seriously. It wasn’t planned or in my mind, you know? When I got home from work, I just sat down and did whatever I thought was fun. The only priority or the only thing that mattered for me was that I was having fun with it.
It was a hobby-outlet first.
It’s something that gave me something. Then I applied for this school and I got in, and it gave me a lot of time to do what I really wanted. So… Sorry, what was your question again? (Laughs)
(Laughs) I think you answered it well but, what made you breakaway as a solo artist?
Oh, yeah! Well, it wasn’t like, ‘I don’t need this shit; I’m going to do something else’ – not at all. Even when I was doing this project, I was also doing Saint Cava, so I didn’t quit. Now, Andreas, who was in the project as well, has also gone into other things and he’s into a lot of graphic design. So it was very natural.
Very amicable.
Yeah. And all of a sudden, I got busy.
Speaking of that, you released Essentials on your own label – Independent Jeep Music. Given your first release with Saint Cava was with Forbandet Ungdom, and you discussed releasing Essentials on Olea, I was wondering how it differs to run a label and releasing your music yourself?
It’s so different! When we signed as Saint Cava, we didn’t know what we were getting into – Fordandet Ungdom is a sub-label to Sony. So, you get an advance, and all of a sudden, you have this budget to make videos and other stuff. And then you realise that you have to pay it back.
So it’s like a loan.
It’s like a loan, and so – I found out that if I am ever going to sign again it’s going to be with a label that I really identify myself with and that I know really understand my project for what it is – And doesn’t try to mould me into something else. Because I sometimes felt I was being moulded into something – not like there was this ‘Big label boss’ who was a mean person or anything, I just felt like I was being moulded into something more commercial. That doesn’t give you a lot of freedom in the studio because then you’re always thinking, ‘we have to make something the label will like’. If you’re with a label that likes you for who you are and your artistry, they won’t try and shape it because they already like it, you know?
We made this one hit called Forget and then they wanted more and more just like that. We want to evolve as well – you can’t make the same song twice. So, I have enough experience to release it myself, and also, I got in contact with this distribution company called Awal – they’re very nice and it’s just easy with them.
A lot more freedom then.
Yes. I asked some of my friends how to make a label, and they explained to me that you just say you have one. You don’t need to write it up or meet any lawyer; you have one if you say do! So that was easy (laughs).
Moving on, you’ve said you’re not a huge fan of social media, stating that it makes you feel stressed seeing people constantly spit out content. Is this a misconception?
I think it is. I was reflecting on the fact that I’m living in these times when social media means so much, and I was wondering if this is good for us or not. I don’t hate it because I’m on social media – I have Instagram, Facebook, etc. Also, for example, I receive several opportunities through Instagram, like people sending proposals of things to do. So I am critical about it if people get lost in it, when people are with their phones all the time… You just have to find a balance; too much of anything is too much.
I completely agree, there’s a balance to everything. Do you feel pressure to have an online presence as your status grows bigger? Or is that not in your natural interest?
I guess I do, but I try to stop myself from getting stressed out. For example, with re-posting. If someone posts about me, I instantly I think I should re-post it, but thinking it more, I start wondering if I should do it. And then I keep thinking, ‘I hope they don’t mind I didn’t repost that’. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to, I’m bad at structuring my content (laughs). I like it when I just find a picture that I think is cool and post it – for example, with my tour poster. So only when it’s natural. When it becomes more of a stress factor, then I honestly just give up.
Just for the fun of it.
Yeah. And I think it comes much easier to 16 and 17-year-olds that have been doing it all the time. In that instance, I don’t think it’s actually that unhealthy – as you’ve grown up with it, maybe you don’t relate the same stress to it.
Your 21st birthday is on the 21st of this month, so you’re an Aries. Is that why you’re asking about a Gemini on Puppy Love? 100% compatibility I’ve heard! (Laughs)
(Laughing) I guess!
But, are you into astrology?
No. I have a couple of friends who have this astrology podcast here in Denmark. I got into it a lot at some point where I thought it was very interesting because it reminded me of reading magazines where you could read your horoscope in the back.
Oh, yeah!
I loved that! But I don’t know if I truly believe it in my core.
There’s a lot to it.
Yeah. I do like the thought that we are somehow more than ‘we are born and then there’s nothing’ – nothing spiritual at all. I like the thought of something else existing. But astrology is also fun to categorise people in a way – ‘Oh you’re such an Aries’, ‘Ah, that’s why you do those things’, ‘This makes sense’. And when I listen to people talk about astrology, I take what I like and I don’t take what I don’t like.
We all take the positive bits.
Yeah. Anyway, I’m not a spiritual person at all, but I think it’s fun.
I agree! I’m sceptical but it’s all good fun. Previously, you were terrified about writing clichés but now you’ve got comfortable with your own ability. As well, your latest album has quite a positive outlook lyrically and sonically compared to more melancholic releases including Saint Cava. Do you have any particular routines or processes that brought about this?
I guess it was because I had this one rule that I wanted it to be fun. I don’t want to be critical of myself and ask, ‘is this deep enough? Is this artsy enough?’ I think it came naturally with that. I also used to feel bad and think that life sucks, that it was never going to be better, and I think I just became more mature – everyone gets there I guess; I hope (laughs). It wasn’t, ‘I want to write a happy song because I’m happy’; it came with the sounds I was using. Even songs like Space, which was written in a fairly sad state of mind, is not so Doom Day-ish (laughs).
Whilst you’ve said you listen to a variety of different genres (house, techno, etc.), your current sound is largely centred on ‘90s RnB and G-Funk, with some tracks having elements of bossa nova and breakbeat. Given you’re still emerging as an artist, do you see yourself going down other routes for your future projects? Or is this the core sound you feel at home in?
I don’t make a song with a genre in mind. We all have references, and I was talking to this guy the other day who was saying, ‘Why do we need references? Why do we need the ‘it reminds me or this or that’?’ But we are our references! As humans also, we are what we have experienced, so why should music be any different. I think when people talk about references – like your music reminds me of this –, they are afraid of it meaning they are not original. And that’s not true because it’s even more original to know and own your references and evolve from them. That’s where the new appears.
I completely agree. You’ve got to take what you know and change it up.
Yeah. So, when I make music, I start with a sound and I go from there; I don’t start with a genre. The only thing I was afraid of with Essentials was that people would put me in this ‘90s RnB box. Oh my God, I hope that I can release other things after it that are not in that genre without having people say, ‘Oh, you should have kept doing this’.
Most people will understand.
I hope so. Also, I feel very flattered that people are going, ‘Is this going to be the same as Essentials?’ Because then it must mean it was good. But I’m not closed up to any other styles at all. 
Was the unreleased track you played in London related to Essentials? Was it an off-cut from the album? It felt like a similar style overall.
No, I had actually made it two weeks prior to that. It was just a live test and I’m actually finishing it up today I think. So no, it wasn’t, but I’m glad you say that because I thought it was a little bit different…
When you’re going to the club to ‘do your thing’, what’s the sort of club night you are after?
The perfect night out? Starting out at one of my friends’ houses. Deciding what to wear and stuff like that. Talk. And then going out to either a private party or club night with nice DJs playing, where the vibe is right – like everybody!
You’re always asked about your RnB loves. What emerging artists are you listening to right now? Who’s on your playlists?
These days, I’ve been listening to Tama Gucci, Shygirl, Oklou, Clairo, Sassy009… Many!
If someone’s visiting Aarhus, what should they do and where should they go?
They should definitely go down to a record store that the Regelbau crew opened; it’s called Mix and it’s next to a place called Tape. If you go a little bit out – because it’s a dock city, by the sea –, up to Risskov, you can go to the beach, which is very nice, called Den Permanente. It’s a very cosy city, you can walk everywhere. Any place is maximum a 45-minute-walk, and if you walk that much, you’re ‘outside’ the city already. When I go back to Aarhus, I’m always surprised because I don’t need the bike, it’s not necessary.
Not ‘essential’ (laughs).
(Laughs) Yeah, exactly! I have no idea how Aarhus is for a foreigner as I bet it can look a little bit boring if you don’t know where to go because it’s so small. There’s a really nice museum called ARoS – which is more for modern art, which is very cool.
That’s a great guide to the city. Finally, given you’ve made Essentials and graduation is on the horizon, what’s the plan for the next year or so?
Well, my project – my exam – is to make an album. I’m making an album right now but I don’t know if I’m going to release it or if I’m going to make an EP and release some singles or what…
If it’s an official release or not kind-of-thing.
Exactly, but I think I’m definitely going to use some of the stuff that I’ve made.
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