The Wales-based, South Africa-raised musician makes electronic pop with an elemental feel – watch her come to life in the stunning video for her LA Priest-produced ‘Chief of Tin’
In the video for “Chief of Tin”, Xenoula sleeps in a spherical pod in the middle of a forest. Slowly a dark, tar-like substance starts to pollute the previously milky white liquid that she was bathing in, and she emerges from her home covered in muddy oil. She then explores the forest, where she discovers a box that lets her see into time.
Romy Xeno describes the video as “the story of Xenoula and how she ended up on Earth”, but the musician’s real life origins are somewhat more terrestrial in nature. Raised in South Africa, Xeno grew up inspired by the tranquil rhythms of nature and the traditional songs she’d hear from nearby rural villages. But at 16 she moved to the UK, where the culture shock of its sprawling cities inspired her to make music in response.
Now based in north Wales, Xeno writes beautiful pop songs that capture a more earthy and organic side of electronic instrumentation. Her voice is what shines; it’s a calming, almost-whispered, lullaby-like vocal that’s far from the glossy sounds that come from major label studios. Perhaps this shouldn’t be a huge surprise given “Chief of Tin” comes produced by Sam Dust aka LA Priest, whose 2015 album Inji – as well as his Soft Hair project with Connan Mockasin last year – had a similarly elemental quality to it.
Watch the video for “Chief of Tin” below and read on for a short Q&A with Xenoula about it and her inspirations.
What can you tell us about ‘Chief of Tin’?
Xenoula: ‘Chief of Tin’ is about a leader who is more interested in money than the people they lead. The song is from the point of view of one of these people who feels they need to stand up and say something about it while at the same time inspiring more people with the same opinions to come together.
What happens in its video?
Xenoula: The video is actually the story of Xenoula and how she ended up on Earth. It’s her exploring the forest after emerging from her pod and finding weird things she has never seen before – including a box that lets her see into time.
“The (‘Chief of Tin’) video is actually the story of Xenoula and how she ended up on Earth” – Xenoula
I looked up the name ‘Xenoula’ before this interview and found a website that says ‘You have a serious desire to understand the heart and mind of everyone.’ Is that a fair assessment?
Xenoula: I have not read that. No, I don’t think so – I would find it way too overloading and distressing knowing the heart and mind of everyone.
You follow Nunatsiaq News, the eastern Arctic’s oldest newspaper, on Twitter. Have you ever been there?
Xenoula: I’ve never been to the Arctic. I find it fascinating though – so untouched and quiet. The landscape is vast and inspiring. I would love to write a record there.
Are there any musicians who consistently inspire you?
Xenoula: I find any musician inspiring who will create a unique sound or story with their music. I don’t think any musician I know of does it every time. I like to hear courage in music, which is rare.
“I find performing in front of people weird and it makes me uncomfortable... I’d like to create a new sort of live show that changes the traditional role of performer and audience around” – Xenoula
How long have you been working with LA Priest? What’s your working relationship like?
Xenoula: I visited his studio in Wales while he was recording Inji. We talked about making a record with the kind of sounds that we hadn’t found opportunities to use before. He is great to work with – so open to ideas, and he makes you feel easy about having fun. Anything can happen in a song when you’re working with him.
Will you be performing in front of an audience any time soon?
Xenoula: I want to. I’ve been writing music for so long, but I find performing in front of people weird and it makes me uncomfortable. I get very anxious in crowds. I’d like to create a new sort of live show that changes the traditional role of performer and audience around a bit, because I think this aspect of traditional live performances isn’t very natural for me.