As a queer woman, something special happens when you sing along to a love song written by another queer woman. This warm feeling took over me as I pressed play on Devon-born, London-based ABISHA’s latest EP, Scorpio. Over danceable R&B productions, ABISHA, 25, delivers four sizable tracks in her own audio world. She details love and desire with a deft hand. She sounds comfortable in her own skin. Each note and trick of Scorpio feels polished and engaging. “I swear the clouds spell your name / Tell me you’re feeling the same,” ABISHA sings on the title track, “Scorpio.” The simplicity and imagery she laces into her work make each cut an immediate earworm.
“With the EP, it was the first time I was writing music with other producers,” ABISHA begins, “and I was in a place where the music I’d put out before this EP was... I was excited to put it out, but I didn’t listen to the songs and think, ‘Wow, this is me!’ Because I was writing the songs myself, there was always that element of being told to be careful and to hide. This was the first time I was like, ‘Fuck it!’ I’m gonna be as open as I can and sing about important things and standing up for who you are. It was a breakthrough.”
Too, the breakthrough of ABISHA’s career thus far is her standing in her own light. She is done hiding. She is proudly herself. “At the beginning, I was told by the people I was initially working with not to include pronouns [in my songs] and not to be explicitly singing about girls, which I obviously hated,” she explains. “I’m not gonna hide the fact that I’m singing about a girl. There [are] probably young women who, when they hear that one word, can relate and feel seen.”
With that, the highlight of Scorpio comes by way of the final track, “Real Life.” The song is awash in desire and ways it can control us. A self-possessed tune, “Real Life” features ABISHA’s most evocative and rich vocal performance. Notes on loving ghosts and needing touch interplay over a bounding and yearning instrumental. Vocal swells and nicely timed breaks make “Real Life” an experience unto itself. It is the heart of the Scorpio EP, and the writing of it provided ABISHA with endless catharsis.
“When you write about something, you relive the moment,” ABISHA tells me. “Writing about desire, for me, is the best feeling ever. I’m reliving it when I’m writing it, when I’m singing it. It’s releasing it, and writing about something is the best release.”
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: What album drove you to make music?
ABISHA: It was right about [age] 14, 15, and I got a CD player in my room for the first time. I would have Rihanna’s Loud album on repeat when I was getting ready for school, as well as Jessie J’s first album [Who You Are]. The Jessie J album was so raw, and it was different from any music I heard before. I related to her music because it was a bit out there. And, Rihanna’s album, I was obsessed with that. [I thought], “I wanna make music like this.”
What was your early sound like?
My mum bought me a guitar for either my 14th or 15th birthday, and I started to teach myself a few chords. I think, accidentally, it sounded like Taylor Swift, to be honest. They were the easiest songs to learn—her early songs. Then, when I started to write my own, they followed that same chord structure. When I first got into the studio, it took me a long time to discover my sound. I still don’t think I’ve discovered—I think I’ll be discovering it forever. I want it to be ever-evolving. [In] the beginning, it was never really pop. It was more alternative, and I don’t know in what way.
How do you go about finding your artistic voice and direction?
Honestly, it came with experience and confidence. It came with my ability to write songs. As I [became] a better songwriter, I could write the types of songs that… I just was more able to write better music. [In] the beginning, where it was alternative, it was quite experimental. You can tell with one of my singles, “Project X,” it was experimental, and I wanted to do something that wasn’t structured. That was a lot of the process at the beginning: playing around with what my sound could be. Once I improved the songwriting, and I got more confident in speaking up, that’s when my sound started to evolve.
The first producers I ever worked with, one of them had strong opinions on the kind of artist he wanted me to be. He previously worked with another artist that was quite rock, so he initially wanted to make me a rock chick. The first demos we recorded were quite rock-y, which was not my sound at all. It was all so new to me—[my] first time in a studio. I was young and probably a bit intimidated and very shy. I didn’t want to speak up and say, “This isn’t the sound I want to make.” I didn’t know whether it was my place to speak up. I was so grateful for being in the studio; I just went along with it.
When I got the confidence to show them songs and say, “I like this kind of sound,” [my sound] started to evolve.
What I love about your music is that you make love songs about women from a woman’s perspective. As a queer woman, it’s rewarding to sing along. Do you think about representation as you’re working?
Definitely! [In] the beginning, I was told by the people I was initially working with to not include pronouns [in my songs] and not to be explicitly singing about girls, which I obviously hated. I did it anyway. When I’m writing songs, the most important thing for me is that I’m being completely honest, and it’s real. If I’m being real, there’s gonna be people that can relate. I wouldn’t wanna hide who I’m writing about, or make it genderless for the sake of it being accessible to everyone, which is something I still get a lot in sessions. I wrote a song a couple of weeks ago, and they’re like, “Maybe, don’t say ‘girls,’ so everyone can sing along.”
I’m not gonna hide the fact that I’m singing about a girl. There [are] probably young women who, when they hear that one word, can relate and feel seen. I didn’t have that so much when I was growing up, and now it’s a lot more common—it’s becoming a bit less taboo. If I’m going to be writing music, it needs to be relatable. It’s so important to be somebody who’s speaking out for LGBTQ+ people. I wanna be someone where you can listen to my music and be like, “I love the fact she’s singing about a girl right now.”
How did you get to a place where you were done hiding?
It was a journey of accepting [my sexuality] myself and being like, “This is who I am, and I’m very proud of it, and I’m not gonna hide that.” Why should I? If one other person thinks they’re not gonna hide because I’ve not hidden, then my music has done something good.
On the new EP, Scorpio, you sound very comfortable in your skin. How has that journey to yourself gone?
I have a tattoo on my arm that says, “Own it,” and that’s just a reminder to me. I’m not the most confident person in the world, but I am sure of who I am in my sexuality. I couldn’t be more sure of that. When I’m feeling uncomfortable, [the tattoo] is a reminder: “You are who you are; you just have to ‘own it.”
With the EP, it was the first time I was writing music with other producers, and I was in a place where the music I’d put out before this EP was… I was excited to put it out, but I didn’t listen to the songs and think, “Wow, this is me!” Because I was writing the songs myself, there was always that element of being told to be careful and to hide. This was the first time I was like, “Fuck it!” I’m gonna be as open as I can and sing about important things and standing up for who you are. It was a breakthrough. I wanna make music, for the first time, that I’m excited to release. I was so happy recording those songs.
“Real Life” is an honest and self-possessed song about desire. What does exploring your desires in music do for you?
It’s excitement. When you write about something, you relive the moment. Writing about desire, for me, is the best feeling ever. I’m reliving it when I’m writing it, when I’m singing it. It’s releasing it, and writing about something is the best release. When it’s something like [desire], it’s so raw, and I know so many people can relate to and feel what I’m feeling as I’m expressing [desire] in the song.
Do you have any emotions you’re scared of touching on in your music?
There’s a lot of topics, not necessarily related to relationships. I’ve always wanted to write a song about—I talk about it quite a lot—where I’ve grown up. I talk a lot about being a mixed-race person and [feeling] so different and [like] a massive outsider. Coming to London, I felt like I finally fit in. The feeling of being different, a lot of people relate to that. I’d love to write a song about that, but I haven’t figured out how to write it. Maybe because I talk about it a lot, but I haven’t gone back and revisited those emotions yet.