Say She She. From left: Malik, Cunningham and Brown (Photo illustration by Johansen Peralta)
Nov 20, 2023
Meet the discodelic divas of Say She She
The trio's dance floor-friendly grooves and stealth political messaging have propelled them through a very big year
Say She She is coming off a big, big year. The trio of discodelic sirens released their double album “Silver” late September, just shy of a year after their debut “Prism,” both on on Karma Chief Records, a division of Colemine Records.
They had their national TV debut on “CBS Saturday Morning” and played Glastonbury and the Hollywood Bowl, in addition to about 100 other shows, on the strength of their dance floor-friendly sound and incredible, almost operatic three-part harmonies. The threesome — their name is an homage to Nile Rogers and Chic — cites as influences everyone from Rotary Connection to Minnie Riperton, Asha Puthli, Liquid Liquid, Grace Jones and Tom Tom Club.
And this week, the ladies of Say She She — Piya Malik, Nya Gazelle Brown and Sabrina Cunningham — have taken time out of their hectic schedule to be my guests on “Brooklyn Magazine: The Podcast.” All three have deep roots and strong ties to the New York and Brooklyn music scenes. Malik has collaborated with the great El Michaels and Chicano Batman. Both she and Brown have worked with another Brooklyn-based discodelic outfit, 79.5. For their own band, they work with musicians from Orgone, Antibalas, the Frightnrs, Durand Jones & the Indications and more.
Their music, as Studio 54 friendly as it gets, is hardly fluff, though. Their lyrics are as deft as their melodies and don’t shy away from the realities of being women — and women of color — in 2023. Their songs tackle everything from abortion rights to equity in the art world to the environment to gun control.
“For us, there isn’t a choice to be political,” says Malik. “It’s a choice to just express ourselves.”
Here we discuss all of the above — and what’s coming next.
The following is a transcript of our conversation, which airs as an episode of “Brooklyn Magazine: The Podcast,” edited for clarity. Listen in the player above or wherever you get your podcasts.
I’m going to go around the three of you and maybe we’ll go alphabetically just in my interest of fairness. Go around and say what the highlight for each one individually of the last year was. Let’s start with Nya, I guess would be alphabetically first.
Nya Brown: It’s really hard because there’s so many that are kind of competing against one another, but the first one that came to mind was Glastonbury. That was something I had never quite imagined being at. And once the seed was kind of planted or the thought was kind of put into the air by Piya, who is from the U.K., she had been a few times. The excitement of it all kind of took over. And the fact that when we got the word, I didn’t know how to react because it’s just like, oh my God, I had heard so many things about this awesome place. This festival that’s larger than life and that has so many underground situations happening. And what, we get to perform? And yet, we have four things that we’re doing there? It was definitely a thing that I will never forget, the ups and downs.
Was Glastonbury the place where you guys were almost crushed by the crowd?
Brown: Yes, we were about to record for the BBC Live. And we couldn’t get our equipment across the grounds because Lana Del Rey and Fatboy Slim, their crowds were just super massive and dense. We couldn’t get any cars moving past there. So eventually the girls and some of the guys just basically ran out into the crowd, and maneuvered their way, and took the instruments and brought them on their backs basically to the stage. So it was an adventure and I’ll never forget it.
Lana Del Rey, who actually got her start here in Brooklyn in the south end of Park Slope at a little bar called Bar 4. She would perform as Lizzie Grant at open mic nights a million years ago.
Piya Malik: She’s such a lovely person and she’s worked with El Michels Affair, who we’ve worked with before for a long time. And she’s recorded at Diamond Mine too, which is great studio down there. But everyone has nice things to say about her in those early days.
I’m glad you mentioned El Michaels Affair because I’m a huge fan. I was in Montclair, New Jersey, over the weekend at a record store and there was a used vinyl copy of “Yeti Season.”
Which came out last year [with you featured on it], Piya. You’ve had a very busy year. A fantastic, weird, cinematic, groovy record. Love it.
Malik: He’s the best. He’s just so talented. Anything that he touches is just magic in your ears. So it was a total honor to be on that record with him and working with him on music in general. But while I was talking I was like, “Oh, I love the idea of a concept that your crowd crush,” because you were like, “Did you get crowd crushed?” But what if the crowd is just your favorite crush? And it’s like, Glastonbury, yes, you may have crushed us, but we’re crushing on you too. You are our crowd crush.
This can be on your next record. We’re still going alphabetically though. So Sabrina, what’s your highlight of the past year?
Sabrina Cunningham: I will say another sort of adventure story. Getting to the Hollywood Bowl was probably in and of itself quite a moment for us. The Hollywood Bowl, which was scheduled for, it was the last show of this run that we were on, which included a bunch of fun festivals and club shows. We did Pickathon.
Anyway, we were coming from Portland down back to LA the day before Hollywood Bowl and the van fully breaks down. And it was like the craziest mad rush. Basically we had a 14-hour drive still ahead of us. The van was absolutely not leaving this random, weird mechanic on the side of the road in Nowheresville, Oregon. We had to get ourselves to the Bowl by two o’clock the next day.
So anyway, long story short, we ended up convincing this lovely Uber driver who was driving us to the U-Haul place to drive half of us while the other half drove in the U-Haul, down to the Bowl basically. So just this tale of this very friendly stranger who just decided to help us out. And we made it and then the show itself was of course incredible. We had been looking forward to it so much. Opening for Chicano Batman and Portugal. The Man was incredible. And we got to jump on stage with Chicano Batman as well and sing a few of their old and new songs with them. And our families were there and it was just a really sweet highlight.
All right. Piya, your highlight?
Malik: When the van broke down, I’ll never forget Sabrina just being like, “Right, action.” Let’s go into problem-solving mode and calling every single car rental place. Obviously the highlights, of course those two go without saying. But Jools Holland. Especially being from England, growing up watching Jools, but also being kind of one of those weirdos that actually used to go to all the jazz clubs where he was the patron hoping to catch a glimpse of him one day.
Did you ever?
Malik: Yeah, I did at the Boisdale Club. He came and he was the patron there. And it was one of my first gigs. I was sitting in for a band called the Soul Immigrants. My friend Emrys Baird, who’s just an incredible musician. And he actually gave Say She She our first show at Ronnie Scott’s.
These people are such good friends and mentors. And I was very young and I didn’t really know how to even put a band together. And they were like, “Right, we’re going to teach you.” And it was my first proper paid gig. And I remember I got 50 quid for singing with them, and that was a lot of money for a musician to get paid on a one night just for sitting in for a couple of songs. And I was so happy.
And Jools Holland turned up, could you believe? He didn’t remember that obviously. I didn’t bring it up, but I did say to him, which I was very happy about, “Thank you, Jools. Thank you Mr. Holland, for not only giving us childhood dreams here to being on your show, but also thank you for the greatest gift you could ever give anyone, which is parental approval.” Because of course my Indian parents have never been too impressed that I’ve just been trying to do music for so long and whatever. We’re all struggling. And they would much rather I’d been a dentist or a lawyer or something.
It’s the classic immigrant parent story.
Malik: Exactly. But then of course when you’re on Jools Holland, “Oh, you’re on Jools Holland! Oh, keep going then. Can’t be doing too bad.” So he laughed at that.
“Prism,” your first album came out essentially last September, sort of out of the blue, at least for me. I know that Piya, you’ve collaborated, as we said, with El Michaels and Chicano Batman. Both you and Nya have performed with 79.5 — shout out to Sister Kate. What’s the Say She origin story? Piya, you’re from London. Nya from D.C., right? And then Sabrina, New York. How do you guys all find each other?
Malik: It’s the classic New York tale, isn’t it?
Cunningham: Well, I guess I got tapped into their world and Piya’s world because of just where we were living. I was in this little studio apartment, which I found through my friend of a friend in the Lower East Side. And it ended up being this old tenement building. I think I had been living there for a couple years at that point. And maybe it was just a year. And then Piya and her best mate, Sean, moved into the apartment directly above me. So we realized later that we did have some mutual friends in the ether, but it really was just by proximity in this old building and hearing each other live and sing.
This was in Manhattan, Lower East Side?
Cunningham: Yup, on Orchard and Broom Street.
Malik: Let’s face it, she was pretty annoyed at first because I would clomp around in my big, giant boots. Being a London girl, you got to wear heels.
And then what, you start just singing together, writing songs, collaborating? How does that work?
Cunningham: We just became friends first. And I would go and see Piya and Nya perform together. I’d go and see Nya and this other band that she was in called Nymph. The girls would come and see me perform with a couple other bands that I was singing with. This guy Denny Love and I were singing with another band called Oracle Room. And it was more just friends supporting friends, really.
I was always looking for my people to really start writing music with. I had my own little duo a few years before that. But at one point Piya was like, “Let’s just write some songs. Let’s start a band.” And she really was the one who pushed me into it. And then from there, all I needed was somebody to plant that seed and that was something that I’ve always wanted. So I just hit the ground running from there really.
I always tell the story, but she booked our first show without us really even having any songs written yet. That sort of blind confidence was just really inspiring to me. And I just knew that we were friends and we got along, and we’d be great business partners. And it just seemed like a no-brainer. So that’s kind of how it started on my side. We just haven’t looked back since really.
And it’s amazing that you guys sort of came out with an original sound out the gate. Were you guys doing covers at first or were you writing from the beginning? I guess Nya, how do you fit into this too?
Cunningham: I was just going to say, I think everybody’s been writing for a long time. Nya and Piya were writing in 79.5. And Nya joined Say She She a bit later. We all wanted to be at the forefront of the writing process and at the helm of the creativity of this output. I think our first cover, it was called Sister Funk. But it was usually just one or two worked into the set, but always, always originals. The songwriting has definitely improved over the years.
Malik: Can I just tell you about our first gig?
Malik: It was Valentine’s Day, and it was at this amazing little place called Barbès.
Love Barbès. One of my favorite bars in the whole borough.
Malik: There you go. I like you even more now. If you don’t know Barbès — I mean I’m giving away the secret — but really it is a musician’s haunt for musicians. But that doesn’t mean every single person who doesn’t go there doesn’t get the most amazing experience of being in that world. And it’s got such a special, magical, tiny little room that you don’t really even need a PA in there because it’s just something goes on in that room.
You’ve got to be pretty established to get a gig there though. So we sort of wormed our way in. And I don’t think they were too happy when we first showed up. They were like, “Hang on a minute. This is our friend Derek’s birthday party and he’s invited you. We didn’t really book you.” Derek was a sweetheart and believed in me, and believed in the project or whatever. And obviously we didn’t even have any songs when he booked us, but he just knew we could pull it out of the bag or at least thought we could.
So there we are. It’s Valentine’s Day and we’ve got a bunch of roses. And Nya, even though she hadn’t quite joined the band yet, she’s still our best mate. She’s still supporting. She shows up at the gig. Guess who else showed up and stood right next to her? Robert Plant!
Malik: Because of course he was not there to see us. He was there to see the band after us, which was, I think, Slavic Soul Party! He was in town. I just remember my bass player, Nikhil Yerawadekar, who used to play in Antibalas and he knows everybody, starts kicking me. And I’m going, “I know it’s Robert Plant! I’m British, all right? Stop kicking me in the middle of this set.” And of course Robert was quite taken with Nya, I think. She doesn’t like me saying that, but he definitely was staring at her more than us. And it was such a sweet day and we’ve given out the roses. And we’re like, “OK, if Robert Plant shows up at your first gig, even if it’s by chance, there’s someone sending us a message to keep going.”
Were you Say She She out the gate? And I’m kicking myself because it wasn’t until last week that I caught on that it was sort of a homonym for the French “C’est chichi.” I don’t know why I didn’t catch onto that.
Malik: I think it was like one day or one week where we were like, “Why don’t we go for sushi?” And I think I was sitting having lunch with my friend Marco who plays guitar in Khruangbin, Mark Speer.
Oh, wow. That’s a nice name-drop, subtly.
Malik: He’s actually a really good friend. When I toured as a backing singer with Chicano Batman and they were co-headlining. So you live on a bus for three months. And I was all excited to tell him about this new project because he’d been sitting there in the back of the bus doing nothing for three months. But actually you’re thinking of ideas. Laura and him are such good sounding boards, and mentors, and DJ too, but certainly sitting in London in a pub.
And I’m like, “Right, look, got this new band name She She.” He’s looking down at his phone and I’m like, “Marco, are you paying attention?” Like, “Ugh, just on your phone?” And he’s like, “No, Piya, I’m Googling the fact that there’s three other bands called She She. Did you not think to even give it a quick Google before you start telling people about your new band name?”
I was very embarrassed, but then Seb and I got on the phone, we’re brainstorming. And then we’re like, “OK, who are the people that we pay homage to? Who are all the great artists that we love?” And of course Chic and Nile Rodgers himself is such an inspiration because of the prolific nature of his writing. And we always try to do writing and naming things with intent. What better homage to give than for him? And Say She She, also the word play. And I lived in France for a long time, that’s my second language. So I remember going back to Marco and going, “Say She She.” And he goes, “That’s a lot better.” And that was it. You got Marco’s stamp of approval, you’re good.
You do sort of wear your influences on your sleeve. It’s on your site. It’s in your name. And they couldn’t be cooler influences between Chic and Tom Tom Club, Asha Puthli and the list goes on and on. Have there been any moments where you were in the studio or you’re writing, and your eclectic tastes just didn’t mesh well? You’re all shaking your head “No.” Was there an aha moment? “You got your chocolate in my peanut butter,” and it was amazing and who knew?
Malik: That sandwich, you need loads of different ingredients. And who wants to eat the same sandwich every day? It’s like the experimentation of what comes up between all of us throwing in our different ingredients is what I think makes the re-serving of meals more interesting for people and for us in the creative process.
I love it when sometimes Nya might do a funny little voice just to be silly and make us laugh. And then Sabrina will be like, “Hang on a minute, that’s actually really good. And if it’s making us laugh, it’s going to bring joy to others.” Or Sabrina will be like, “Hey, let’s get the tempo up,” because I’ll write a sad song. And she’s like, “That’s good melody, but let’s speed it up.” And we’re all kind of pulling each other and pushing each other in different directions always. And I think that’s the growth spurt I’ve always wanted in collaboration. You want to learn and feed off each other. And you want to be able to feed and be a feeder too. And there’s so much joy in both those actions. And I think we pass the parcel a lot.
What are the strengths each individually that you bring to the table? Where do you bring an asset that may be unique to you individually? You can either answer that for yourself or answer that for the other people.
Malik: No, not for ourselves. We can’t do that. That’s too cringe. I won’t partake in that. But I will say about the other two, I think I just gave two lovely examples. I think Nya has this amazing, innate, natural ability to channel a character that can take you outside of the typical line or whatever that was happening. And just, it’s so interesting, it’s so unique. And so I love those character voices.
And Sabrina is so good at arranging and she hears harmonies instantly. She often has to sing the line to me five times before I get it because I couldn’t hear that harmony naturally. Her brain is just wired for the arranging. She’s very good at that. I rely on her a lot to be a better arranger because that’s not one of my strengths.
Nya, can we hear one of those funny voices?
Cunningham: Ooh, yeah.
Brown: You heard it in “Bleeding Heart.” You hear it and “Forget Me Not.” I mean, there are different ones of course, but no, I can’t! I have to be inspired.
How would you answer that question then? The strengths that the other two bring to the table?
Brown: Piya definitely is a wordsmith. Those verses come really quick to Piya. I would definitely say that Sabrina, her melodies and her ability to take something, the melodic sense, kind of off the nose which makes song kind of interesting and gives it depth I think is really wonderful. And her sense of classical voice. And how she’s always stretching her range and the things that we put into a song where she’ll inspire me. Then she’ll come up with a high interesting note, then I’ll come in and harmonize with her. And we kind of go off each other like that, which is really cool. I would say the combination is really fun. That would be my take on those two lovely ladies.
It’s fun for the listener. Sabrina, you’re up.
Cunningham: It’s so fun. Obviously somewhat similar, but I just feel like it’s this really fun puzzle at the start of every writing session that we just get to figure out as the session progresses. So it’s like somebody comes up with a cool line and then we’ll add onto it.
Or like Nya said, Piya, she just has a love for language in general. She speaks fluently in four different languages. Her knowledge of the ins and outs of puns, and the word plays, and the literature references. There’s all sorts of things that come into it. You can always learn something new in every session, I think in that sense from her. And Nya also is just the queen of the highs and these gorgeous melodies. She just burps them out. There’re insane, and so cool and interesting
Malik: And whistle tones! She can do whistle tones.
Brown: I feel like Sabrina does too. She just lets me do them.
Cunningham: No, I definitely cannot. It’s really cool because Nya will think of certain things that I feel like nobody else in the room is hearing. It’s just unique. I think everybody brings a different perspective, and it’s just so cool to have them all come together in the way that they do.
What’s a whistle tone for people who may not know?
Brown: Of course, you know Minnie Riperton and her “Lovin’ You”. And then she does that very high, those whistles.
Malik: But all the way up there. It’s in your head. It’s like a head voice, isn’t it? Is that right?
Brown: I don’t know. I wouldn’t say it’s in the head.
Cunningham: I feel like it’s a flip of the cords.
Brown: I feel like for me it’s in here [points to face].
In your nose?
Brown: You’re showing me something new. What’s going on? I might have to try whatever you’re talking about.
Cunningham: Well maybe I’m just doing it wrong.
Brown: Obviously there are different ways of doing things.
Malik: Nya, when you said it’s in here, just for the listeners, where is here?
Brown: I would say a nasal cavity in the back, behind the nasal cavity. It’s definitely up and in the back. I don’t know.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you had time, you had a few years, maybe some pandemic time, whatever, to sort of leisurely collaborate on Prism. And then Silver comes out a year after Prism comes out. How different was working on this second album? I know there’s some of the material that carries over, but you definitely had less time. It still feels fully baked despite coming together in less time. How did that process change after Prism? Like, “All right, we’re going to do another one,” and you did it quickly.
Cunningham: The biggest point of difference as far as the writing is concerned is that we were writing with a rhythm and bass section, and our band essentially. Instead of sitting around a keyboard crafting a song and then bringing it to the band to sort of flesh out their parts, it was conceived sort of all together in the room.
That’s interesting because I was going to ask about the band. I was going to ask how you worked together because there’s the three of you, you’re the front women, but there’s a team of killer musicians that you work with. The folks who work or play in Orgone or Antibalas, you mentioned them. Durand Jones’ band. Neil Frances, you mentioned him. Do the band members rotate depending on availability, or do you have a core house band now?
Malik: It was different for different records and different stages of what Say She She was. And of course in the beginning, especially being in New York, your friends are coming through for gigs. But when your friends are on the road, we played with Steve Okonski, that was from our first very show at Barbès for a year. But then he got the gig with Durand Jones, and their band blew up and it was so great. And you have to say goodbye to loads of talented musicians in New York. Not goodbye forever but, “Good luck on your tour and off you go.” And you’re still trying to craft your stuff and make it happen and make it pop.
And the greatest gift to us has been meeting the Orgone guys and realizing that not only are the people that we can record with are also the people that we can play out with. Them being so dedicated to come out on the road with us, we don’t take that for granted at all. And we’re so lucky that we have them. When they’ve had to stay behind for other things, there’s still this extended family. Two guys from the Mestizo Beat crew who are this great collective who are really close with the Orgone guys as well. They play with us too. And we’re a family.
And the amazing feeling that you get when you get to write a song a day is something that I learned from the, oh, El Michels Affair crew or the Dap-Kings guys. They go in and you catch a groove, and you keep working at it, and you come away, and you cut the tracks live to tape three or four times. And everyone’s a killer musician and you pick the best take. You very rarely need to splice things in. But people don’t even play to a click, but you could still splice it because that’s how on everyone is. It’s so in the pocket.
And to me that’s the most fun is working within the limitations, the limitations of the time constraints of the day and setting ourselves that objective to pull out all your creativity. Come on, that we’re all here, we can do this. Let’s set that task for the day. And then living and breathing through all the imperfections, accepting them and also the limitations of tape. The tape reel will run out. We’ve got so many takes to go and…
That’s right, you guys are doing this all analog.
Malik: Yeah, not just endlessly procrastinating, too, as well. Forcing yourself to say, “Hey, if we’re still procrastinating and it’s not hitting, let’s just move on to another idea and finish another song that’s going to come out of us.”
First of all, shout out to Orgone because those guys are amazing on their own. That is just a killer band. I love “Silver.” Let’s talk about that. That came out late September. Even before I listened to it, I was looking at the track listing and you have tunes on there with titles that evoke actual specific songs like “C’est Si Bon.” I was like, is this going to be an Eartha Kitt cover? You’ve got “Forget Me Not,” which made me think of Patrice Rushen. Is that deliberate at all, or was it just like, “this is what we’re going to call the song.”
Malik: They have those references to other people, but they also have other personal references to us. “C’est Si Bon” is actually the name of my godmother’s shop growing up. It was a French boutique. My dad had a bodega down the road. And my godmother had this French boutique and I would spend all summers long, running between the two. And the glamour of that boutique. And there’s a lot of class system in England that I feel like you don’t even understand what it does to you until you leave and you live in America where there is of course class system here, but it’s a slightly different thing. It’s based on money.
Money and race. I mean, there’s racial problems where there are class problems.
Malik: Well, race is a poverty issue here, so let’s not get it twisted. But I remember thinking that that boutique was something that represented this kind of aspiration of my godparents who came to England as immigrants as well. They wanted to make something. And the boutique was like this window to this other world of being chic. It wasn’t like you had to be born into it. It was about taste and it was something that you can access from the outside as an outsider. You can access that, you can develop your own taste and then that’s your social capital. Just like being inspired by that.
And I think also, we all go to Paris together. We’ve gone, played shows there. Nya has this amazing innate ear, so her French, although she’s not actually speaking the right words, if I can just teach her the vocabulary over time, her accent is so perfect that her fake French could fool anyone. Could fool prime ministers, I’m telling you.
We don’t need to do a whole track by track breakdown, but there are certain songs that are super interesting. I love “C’est Si Bon,” but my favorite one, it’s a double album, is probably “Astral Plane.” It’s like this fantasy cosmic ride. And one of the reasons I like it’s because it reminds me at least thematically, vibe wise, a bit of my favorite Marvin Gaye song, which is “A Funky Space Reincarnation.” I don’t know if you know that song. It’s from “Here, My Dear,” which is a whole concept album, divorce album. And he has to give the proceeds to his wife. But anyway, he envisions a time in the far distant future where he’s traveling through space, and he meets his ex-wife reincarnated and they fall in love again. It’s a crazy, bonkers song.
Malik: Trying to soften her up for the deal.
Cunningham: Hell yeah.
Tell me about “Astral Plane.”
Brown: We came into the writing session that day and I think we were taking a moment. And I was going through my old diary notes and came across the lyrics for the hook basically. It was like, “What do you guys think about these lyrics?” And you’re like, “Oh, that’s nice.” That’s not exactly what they said. But they loved it and then we came up with the melody. It’s about meeting somebody on another plane and somebody that you’re not able to be within that moment, and just kind of escaping there. That was the original intent. I wrote it from a space of longing.
Has your longing been realized, or … ?
Brown: No, gosh darn it!
Malik: It’s been realized by your platonic love for your band and your friends.
Yeah, and you wrote a great song.
Brown: Oh, goodness. That was a super, super fun song to write. And I think Piya came up with the melody and the verses and some of the lyrics there. And I was like, “Ooh, that’s interesting.” I really liked how we kind of dipped down low in the verse. We didn’t have any songs like that, I would say. It was really fun song to write, I think.
What have you got to add there, Sabrina?
Cunningham: That low singing in the verse, I just remember it was a Minnie Riperton song actually that these women do that. It was just so inspiring. But there’s so many different references that were pulled for that. And just again, most of the songs on “Silver,” it really just came together really quickly and just felt really good as it kind of came out of us. But of course there’s the element that like space travel, “Send me to the sky one-way ticket on the dream line.” I love that line so much.
Brown: It’s a really great lyric.
Cunningham: It takes you to space and that’s what we wanted with that song, I think.
Malik: We always say if we ever managed to get our own tour van or whatever, not just a van, we’d love a bloody bus, wouldn’t we? But if we did get it, we would call it the Dream Line.
And you guys also wear your politics on your sleeve quite a bit through this album. On “Forget Me Not,” it’s dedicated to the Guerrilla Girls. These ’80s art activists. I have one of their magnets on my fridge. “Echo In The Chamber” is about gun control. “Norma,” about abortion rights. Are you overtly political people? Was the attempt to get political here or was it just we live in political times and these are the things that keep popping up?
Brown: I would say both.
Malik: The thing is people will say, “Are you overtly political?” We’re political by just being who we are. We are women of different ethnicities and cultures, and we are of a certain time and era and space where there is so much going on in and around us that we are reacting to. And therefore, that is being political. Just being involved, being part of the polity as it were. Being active, being engaged. To me, that’s like the most basic existential search and interpretation of what it means to be political is just being engaged.
As artists, if we don’t reflect the times around us, maybe it won’t age well. I don’t know. I think certainly comedy doesn’t age that well. Maybe music is more timeless. Maybe being political in music isn’t considered to be a good thing nowadays. A lot of people look at us like, “Ooh.” I’ve had even really close friends say, “Yeah, we went through this phase of should we say anything and we just decided not to. And it didn’t hurt us.” But the thing is, it would hurt me to not be able to speak out and say it. It would hurt Nya not to be able to stand up and say the things that matter. It would hurt Sabrina. For us, there isn’t a choice to be political. It’s a choice to just express ourselves.
Beautifully put. We don’t have to go song by song, but I think the listeners could probably guess where you land on abortion rights, and gun control, and the environment.
Malik: By the way, “Entry Level,” that’s a song about mansplaining. Maybe that should be political.
Wait, did I do something wrong?
Malik: No, not you. No, definitely not you. You’re wonderful. With your Guerrilla Girls magnet on your fridge, you’re the best.
I wasn’t fishing for compliments, just want to make sure I didn’t mansplain anything here. You guys have all been so busy. No pressure, but what’s next? What’s coming in 2024? Do you guys have solo projects? Are you collaborating with other people individually? Any hints as to what we can look forward to?
Cunningham: Definitely more shows on the horizon. We’ve got some fun stuff on the books for 2024 already that we’re excited about. I think we might be releasing a cover at some point. We’ve got a couple things. I don’t know actually what we can say or not say, but there’s a couple fun things for the rest of this year.
Are you going to drop a Christmas single or a holiday single?
Cunningham: That’s not one of them. Maybe one day we’ll write a Christmas song but not this year.
Malik: Hey, listen, maybe people can wait for a Christmas miracle. There’s a clue.
Tantalizing. I’ve had a few musicians on this podcast just within the past few months. You guys, Eli “Paperboy” Reed, Kendra Morris. All Brooklyn based and all working with Colemine Records or a subsidiary, which is based out of Ohio.
Malik: Shout out to Colemine.
I don’t know if that says something about Brooklyn or Colemine or me, but I thought I would make note of it. Shout out to Colemine. What would you say about working with Colemine?
Malik: Well firstly, they are based in a place called Loveland. Now, I annoy them to death, all my beautiful bandmates every day, because I truly believe in nominative determinism.
Malik: There you go, my friend. My geeky word friend. I really think that your name has a bearing on your soul, your profession, who you are, what you do. I just think Terry [Cole] is such a great lover of music, and has come into our scene in the Brooklyn community and has just like fostered, mentored, helped flourish, kept people working and also inspired us. And he’s definitely matchmakered us with Sergio Rios, our producer for “Silver” who is also of Orgone who put us together with the rest of the crew in those sessions-
He’s worked with Alicia Keys, right? No slouch.
Malik: Yeah, CeeLo [Green], Alicia Keys, Neil Francis. He’s one of those guys who’s just so down-to-earth, salt-of-the-earth. And he will treat you the same if you’re Alicia Keys or if you’re Sabrina from Say She She. And he’s very good listener. At his core, he’s great feminist in that respect. He never treated us as if we didn’t know anything. He treated us with the utmost respect as if we were equal writers from day one. And not a lot of people do that to female singers. They write you off. “You’re not a musician.” In fact, all the guys really respected our musicianship and our guidance. And let us be the leaders. And have such good ears and are such good team players. And I’m forever grateful to them for that, for the way that they’ve worked with us.
Wouldn’t you say guys, that that was such an incredible experience?
Brown: One hundred percent. Sergio and the other guys, Dan Hastie [keys], Dale Jennings [bass], Sam Halterman [drums], they all created this safe space there in North Hollywood at Killian Sound in writing the songs for Silver. And that was evident the first time we met them, which was when we wrote “Forget Me Not.” It was a chemistry that we couldn’t deny, and a feeling that we wanted to explore and take to wherever it was going to take us. Here we are on this journey. I’m definitely looking forward to see where it leads.
All right. You’re all based in Brooklyn still, more or less. Typical day in Brooklyn when you’re not touring or recording, shout out some Brooklyn spots. What is a day like? How do you spend your time? You have a day off.
Malik: Win Son! I’m going to Win Son for breakfast. I have to get my egg raclette bun. It’s the best. And all the the sauces and the condiments are so good.
Cunningham: Oh, it’s heavenly.
Malik: And I can get my glass of bubbles early in the morning. And it’s called brunch, darling, every day of the week.
Malik: Exactly. And then I’ll ride my bike. Maybe I’ll go down and see Sabrina, do a little listening. We might go to the record shop in Brooklyn. There’s a bunch near my house, Rebel Rouser. My friends Josh and Ivy, they run that little spot. It’s a small, little hole in the wall, but it is amazing the Italo disco that you’ll find in there. And then all down to Red Hook in Brooklyn, the record shop there run by Bene Coopersmith.
The best, in my opinion, bang-for-the-buck record store in the city.
Bene’s a national treasure.
Malik: Bene is a national treasure. He’s one of my best friends. Nya and I helped him open that shop. Nya was chiseling the light bulbs and we were helping paint. And been there from day one. And I used to live around the corner, so I worked there in the early days. But Bene has been a great inspiration in my life really, in all of our lives. But musically, he has just uncovered so many gems and kept us inspired all the time.
He’s a walking encyclopedia. I pull out any record and he’ll sing a whole verse from it. It doesn’t matter what, he knows it. It’s crazy.
Malik: And he does it with such grace. He never lords it over you. He’s so supportive. And he’ll throw some special things in the bins. I probably shouldn’t say that out loud because everyone will be here looking in the dollar bins a bit harder for them. But for the diggers, sometimes he’ll be like, “You know what? Let me leave that there. Just leave that there, P.” He’s such a generous spirit. He really is. I don’t know how he finds the time to give and give to all the musicians in that community. And then I’ll probably come back and do some more work at the loft.
That’s a long bike ride. Sabrina, what about you? What’s your day like?
Cunningham: Oh, gosh. On a day off, I’ll probably start with a run in Prospect Park and then likely hit the gallery. I have to say there’s some really amazing stuff right now in Chelsea. If anyone is around, I don’t know how long this stuff is up for, but at David Zwirner and Gagosian, there’s two incredible shows. But you go see some art. Probably like you say, go do some work with Piya. And hang with Nya and Piya for drinks somewhere in Brooklyn. There’s so many amazing Korean places by me that I’m kind of on a very serious Korean kick right now. Kuun, Insa. There was this really amazing one on Fifth Avenue, but I think it shut down. But definitely food and art, I would say, are the focal point for any days off from touring or just music.
Malik: Insa is actually owned by our friends, Ben and Sohui, who I met through Bene years ago. They were like the first people down in Red Hook to build a restaurant called The Good Fork, and then they open up Insa later. They’re some of the greatest humans. You know the people that you love the most somehow, even if you don’t get to see them that much? And they really supported our music from day one. They come up, they come back around. We have this really amazing friend called Peter Hastings, who we call him Patron Saint Peter, or you could describe him kind of like a fairy god friend. And he sort of looks after us and let’s stay at his place in L.A. And he was saying, “How do you know Ben and Sohui?” And he was really old friends with them. And I said, “What a small world.” And he said, “Oh, no, darling. It’s a big, beautiful club.”
Cunningham: So good.
Nya, what about you?
Brown: We just got home last week and I’m like, what do I do with my life? I don’t even know what to do with myself. Since I’ve been home, I’ve been catching up with friends .and just going out to eat and catching up with them. And then also just trying to organize my health. And I think I’m about to join a gym on this little time, so just thinking about health stuff, getting in some yoga, spending time with friends that I haven’t seen and just having good food and being a good company. I think that’s, since I’ve been home, what I’ve been doing.
Do you have any last words? We covered a lot of ground.
Cunningham: Just thank you for having us. We’re such fans of the magazine and the podcast. And it’s just so awesome to meet you and be a part of this, so thank you.
Very nice of you to say. Thank you. We’ll see how you feel once this is out.
Brown: Oh, no.
Malik: I’ll be drowning my sorrows with Negronis. Okay?
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