Interview with Dakota Simpson

Its effects have been felt by the masses and on a wide-ranging scale, yet for up-and-coming artists the past year’s pause on the live music industry has been particularly damaging. Not only do local grassroots gigs play a crucial role in building a new artist’s fanbase, they provide a valuable platform for their own personal development. And so, as the snow slowly begins to melt around lockdown, and visions of a social life begin to peep through, there is a palpable excitement building amongst the local music scene. Thanks to the new step-down in restrictions, I had the pleasure of meeting with Swindon-based singer-songwriter, Dakota Simpson. With the great outdoors being our only option and erratic on/off hailstorm notwithstanding,  I spoke with Dakota over coffee upon Marlborough town’s green and pleasant land. Translating in this case to: a park behind a care home, on a rock, under the shelter of a tree. They don’t lie when they speak of the glamour of the music industry. 

Our meeting comes four months after the release of Dakota and her band’s latest single ‘Flâneur’; a short but sweet glimpse into the mind of an escapist and an invitation to explore the world through their eyes. Its amalgamation of bedroom pop and folk lends itself perfectly to the subject, as the soft, psychedelic tones transport us from our the confines of our bedroom to wandering at leisure through city streets. The lyrical inspiration came from Dakota’s recent dissertation project at the BIMM Institute in Bristol, where she studied Charles Baudelaire’s roaming literary figure, the flâneur: “Since the focus of my study was the female flâneur, I spent a lot of time walking around Bristol or Swindon, just being an observer and taking in things going on around me. It became a sort of ritual for me as well as a great source of lyrical inspiration. So as soon as I heard the guitar part that had been laid down I knew I wanted to do something with it – and do it properly. ”

If the music world has learned anything from the past year, it’s that making a song ‘properly’ no longer cries out for fancy studios and expensive recording equipment. For Dakota and her band, it even sounded strange when they did: “After we went to the studio and I recorded my vocals, something just didn’t sit right. They sounded too clean, too refined and it just didn’t blend with the sound we were trying to create.” As a result, what we hear on ‘Flâneur’ is in fact the first vocal demo, recorded in Dakota’s bedroom. Not only does this offer an accessible intimacy to Dakota’s delicate lyrics, but also compliments the hazy, dreamy quality of the music they float upon. Fun inside knowledge: the police siren heard in the opening phrase was accidentally captured in Dakota’s demo recording; a beautiful coincidence that we can all agree is the perfect addition to the urban vista being painted in the song. 

Upon its release ‘Flâneur’ received a wealth of support from local radio stations, with interviews on Swindon 105.5 and BBC Wiltshire (via the BBC Introducing in the West platform). Yet despite the excitement around the burgeoning success of the single, the release week was a bittersweet experience for Dakota. Three days prior to the launch Dakota’s grandma sadly passed away, throwing her into a swell of conflicting emotions: “The track was doing so well – of course I wanted to celebrate that and enjoy the moment, and my family were very supportive. But even when we were sat having a glass of champagne to celebrate, it still felt wrong. I felt guilty for being happy when I had just lost someone so close.” For many artists, channeling their emotions into lyrics and making music is the ultimate coping mechanism. It explains why so much great art comes from pain (Kanye West’s words not mine), and why the vast majority of the songs we consume sing of heartbreak or frustration. However for Dakota it felt like the worst time to be making music. “I had to step away from music for a while. Everything felt kind of pointless and I wasn’t in the right headspace to write anything, especially when I couldn’t make sense of my own feelings. I needed to take some time to focus on myself and my own mental health.” 

Speaking to Dakota four months on, her honest and emotional maturity indicated to me a regain in confidence, as well as a remarkable assurance in what was next for her musically. With each of the band members progressing in different directions after leaving Bristol, Dakota admitted that she was ready to find her own sound: “I’m looking forward to the independence of being a solo artist. There’s definitely a great energy that comes with being part of a band, particularly when you get to perform together, but I’m excited to explore my own sound and what feels authentic to me personally.” A musical flâneur one might say? With demos already in the works, Dakota plans to release another single and subsequent EP this Summer before embarking on an MA in songwriting. Adhering to her own lyrics, this is certainly an artist ready to walk her own path.

Stream Dakota’s single ‘Flâneur’ on Spotify and Apple Music.

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