Exclusive Interview: Purple Ferdinand – Tattoos, Ukuleles and Dragonfly EP
Grant Brydon talks Tattoos, Ukuleles and her Dragonfly EP with Purple Ferdinand...
We first featured Purple Ferdinand, back when she was still going by her government name Vanessa, way back in 2012 with a run down of 12 artists to watch that year. While she continued to slowly build her profile online, with a lot of live sessions and video content, the ukelele-playing songstress took a couple of years out to grow before finally releasing her debut Dragonfly EP earlier this week.
We caught up with her from LA, where she is currently working on new material with a variety of producers – including Illangelo (exectutive producer of The Weeknd’s mixtape trilogy) – to talk about her hiatus, the ukelele, visual art and her newly released Dragonfly EP…
We’ve been fans of your music for a while now, but this is your first official release. How does it feel to finally have an EP out?
It’s quite a relief actually, I haven’t been waiting too long to get this one out actually, but it just feels great to have something – the first thing.
For all this time it’s just been uploads on Youtube and live sessions, why did you choose to keep your music on those formats?
Well in the beginning when I first started putting stuff up, it was just coming from myself, there was no plan, I wasn’t trying to make music to put out, it was just there. And then when I met my manager at the time we had put up the first video I made, for Beautiful Anomaly, still I was on a bit of hold. We were still figuring it out because I personally had never planned to do all of this.
Since then what have you been doing music-wise? Do you feel like there has been a lot of growth?
Yeah for sure, I’ve been on a few trips to the States writing with different producers and different people just trying to hear different sounds and styles. It’s been interesting because even though I’ve worked with a number of different people there’s something that I’m pretty sure is my thing, which has been exciting. So within the growth I like to think I’ve found my niche. It’s still open but it’s almost as if we’ve just been dusting it away and it’s been there the whole time.
What do you think that niche is then?
It’s yet to be named, but I’m pretty sure it’s there. It’s still very soulful.
So going back a little, at what point did you fist start playing the ukelele?
I got my first ukelele in 2010. I think it was just one Christmas, for a laugh a bit. I think I’ve got five or six more since then.
And at what point did you start taking it seriously?
Honestly I didn’t really take it seriously, it was more just something to please myself – because I really enjoyed the sound. So when I did start writing with it, and people would ask me about it, it would be something that I would almost laugh about, because it was never intentionally supposed to be for the purpose that it is now.
When you’ve been working with new producers and stuff over in the States, are you still incorporating your ukelele into the music?
I do have some songs that will have a little ukelele incorporated and then I have some that have none at all, and I will of course have a few acoustic songs. It’s nice for me personally to have a mixture, I like to have options and variety, because that’s what I enjoy. I like to try and have a little bit in what I can give without it being solely ukelele based.
Your new Dragonfly EP is all ukelele based, how did you go about choosing the three songs that ended up on there?
Well when this EP was coming together and we planned for it to be an acoustic one, I knew that I wanted Birds to be on there just because I had a really great connection with that song when I wrote it. It was really easy to write and originally it was not an acoustic track, so we made an acoustic version. I knew that this acoustic project was coming and that was one that had to be on there. Speak True is one of the only ones I’ve written and recorded myself recently. A lot of the other songs I’ve been working on have been with my producers, so that was something that I wanted to put up of my own, because I played and wrote that one. And Wasn’t Taught To Love was one of the first songs I wrote, that was one of my really early ones, so I wanted to have a little bit of variety for my self again. Those are just three strong songs that I thought acoustically would represent myself.
And why did you decide to make your first release all acoustic?
Just because I had bits and bobs around the Internet, and a lot of it was just me and my ukelele, apart from some of the online sessions when I had guitarists. And so it felt like if the first produced EP was to come out it might be a little bit, not full on, but I personally would like to have more ukelele music. So it’s just a gentle EP, and mostly just because I wanted to give away something.
So is the plan to follow up later in the year with a more electronic project?
Yeah, just more of a fusion of the ukelele and the live element with the more electronic production. So for me it made more sense to have the acoustic out first. I had done a few shows last Summer with a band, and there were a few people who had seen some of my music so they’d asked me where my ukelele was. The few people that seen me in the beginning are happy that I’m now back with my ukelele. So it’s a great feeling that they know that and that they love it.
What made you choose to call the EP, Dragonfly?
Mostly it was the imagery that I had when I thought about this EP, just because I wanted it to be pretty natural and bold I guess. And there are parts of Dragonflies not only used in artwork like art nouveau and stuff like that, but it’s got a lot of cultural significance all over the world and it has British folklore and European folklore that talk of it negatively, and then in Navajo Indian and Japanese symbolism it’s kind of more for happiness and strength and courage. I liked that in different parts of the world it was confused and idolised or it was beautiful, and it’s a prehistoric insect. Something really raw but beautiful it just made sense to me.
Are you still active as a tattoo artist?
I haven’t tattooed for maybe a year and a half, since I started getting into music properly.
What did you get into first, was it music or visual art?
I guess they’ve always been hand in hand when I was younger. I guess because of school and extra-curricular activities and stuff like that. But visual art would always be in the forefront because I would probably never share my music with anyone, unless I was singing in a choir, which I would always do when I was younger.
And does visual art still inform your music now?
That’s a very strong part of writing for me, visualising what I want or what I’m trying to achieve. And not necessarily an object but sometimes I’ll visualise colours or shape or just even a tone of an emotion. Visually that’s kind of what drives a lot of the writing part for me.
How would you describe your writing process?
Well I guess at the moment there are two that I play with. I do like to have my words down foist so I can see them, and I can see the shape of how I’ve written them, because I know that I write in a certain style, and I can see that each syllable is counted to have a certain pattern so I know that when I put it to music it will have a certain flow. Otherwise I’ll freestyle melodies, and go back to it and fit the words in, because the melodies will be a bit more free because you weren’t thinking so much about the words. But then it’s like putting a puzzle back together! So those are the two things I’m playing with at the moment.
What should we expect to hear for the rest of the year?
An album is being worked on, it’s in the very early stages, but another EP will be on the way that I’m very excited about. I just want to get out as much music as I can really, so I suppose another EP after Dragonfly and then the single should be on its way! And the album will be being churned out the entire time.
Dragonfly is available for free download at purpleferdinand.com