Oliver Sim, best known for his work as a songwriter, bassist and vocalist for The xx, made his solo debut a few days ago with his first LP entitled hideous bastarda work that stands out not only for its neat production and for the distance it takes from the sound of the band with which it became known, but also for its theme.
The British musician says that this album is the culmination of two years of writing and recording, inspired by his love of horror movies but also by his own life experience as a person living with HIV since he was 17 years old.
Thus, the artist speaks for the first time in public about issues such as shame, fear and masculinity, as heard from songs like “Hideous”, in which he is accompanied by the voice of Jimmy Somerville, Bronski’s former vocalist Beat who Sim considers their lifelong hero and guardian angel.
“The first time I approached Jimmy it wasn’t even about working together. I only got his phone number and sent him a message as a fan, so for months our relationship was like that. He is a very special person for many reasons, not only because he has one of the most beautiful voices in the world, but because he represents a lot for queer people and for those who just feel a little more different or strange. So I am grateful that he has put his voice on that song and that he has recorded choirs for almost the entire album, ”he says in an interview with El Sol de México.
Listening to this album is striking how different it sounds from The xx. Was that a conscious decision or did it just work out that way?
I knew that I didn’t want to try again or recreate the sound of The xx, first because I don’t think I could have done it, since that only happens when we are the three members of the group. But I also have to say that when I was writing some of the songs I had a kind of identity crisis, precisely because I looked back and thought: Who am I if I’m not with Romy and Jamie (the other two members of the band), who are my two best friends?
Oliver confesses that he didn’t know what he wanted his first solo attempt to sound like, so he was trying various things, mostly options that he found fun:
“The first songs I did were terrible, they were very bad. I’ll never share them with the world… But I didn’t give up, and eventually I realized that I made a mistake that I kind of quite liked, you know? Kind of like a happy mistake… And then I made another mistake and things fell into place… I actually think that’s also how The xx’s music was created, out of mistakes and limitations, that’s how those records were made ”, he adds.
We also find it remarkable that given the theme of the album, it doesn’t sound too serious or nostalgic. In fact it sounds cheerful at various times.
Sure, because being an album about shame and fear maybe it’s expected to be a dark piece of work, but I didn’t want to do it that way… I decided to preempt that and make it a celebration, a celebration about shame and hiding or not. … I also feel like there’s a lot of joy at various points on this album.
Your bandmate Jamie xx, who has also recorded two solo albums, helped you with the production. What was the best advice he gave you in that process?
Well, a pretty good one was that we did a lot of samples, especially when it comes to samples that inspire you, not so much because of how they sound, but because of the emotions that a certain song contains, it’s something that happened to us twice with the Beach Boys in this album, since they are a band that for me has a lot to do with childhood, it is the music that my parents love and it is the music that Jamie and I were listening to at the time… That was something that worked very well for us and that Jamie really knows how to do.
Oliver assures that throughout the production of this album he was trying to find a balance between concepts such as dark and light, happy and sad or past and present, until he reached a point where he noticed that some songs could work even in opposite scenarios:
“There are songs here that you can dance to, but then if you take them home and really listen to them, they could probably make you cry, especially because of what the lyrics say. So it’s not just about thinking in black and white, but in my case, about taking the ideas and references that I had in my head into the future”, she adds.
You were talking about shame and fear, which I think are issues that can well inspire other men to reflect on the so-called new masculinities.
Yes, although I haven’t made this record to educate or point the finger at anyone, I just made it for myself… As you can see, I don’t have many answers, just a lot of questions. It’s actually like one question after another. Doubts of the type: What is a man like, what does it mean to be confident? And asking them questions has helped me a lot, although I still have fear and shame, but much less than before.
Oliver and the movies
The single “Hideous” was accompanied by a video clip directed by another of his personal heroes, who is the filmmaker Yann Gonzalez, and whose work for this song premiered in a short version during Critics’ Week at the Cannes festival.
The other source of inspiration for this album is horror movies, of which you are a fan.
Yeah, it’s something that I liked a lot since I was a little kid, although it wasn’t until later that I thought it made sense that I liked them, because I’m a pretty anxious and scared person, but not of ghosts and stuff, but of the horror of everyday life, relationships, loneliness and all that. Horror movies can be meaningful and funny at the same time, I think they have taught me to laugh at fear… But when it comes to this album, well, I was thinking about the monsters, those characters that are so complex and exciting.
What would be your favorite horror movie?
Oh… That’s so hard! I never know what to say but I know one of my all time favorites is carrieI just think it’s a perfect movie and a movie that scares me but not because of Carrie, not because of the blood or anything like that, but because of her mother, because of what she represents taking into account that our mothers are destined to take care of us and protect us… If you haven’t seen it, do it, it will scare you but you will also laugh.
You also have a song where you talk to the Oliver Sim from the past.
Yeah, well… Young Oliver and Old Oliver are very much alike… But I wrote “Fruit” to speak to myself when I was younger and because a lot of my feelings and drives as an adult come from a place as a child where I feel scared… I think I feel like a child when I’m hurt, in those moments I’m just a child again.