What were you doing when you were 21 years old? Most people would probably answer aimlessly, searching around for answers to life that we were all told existed. There would be the inevitable gap year, the dead end job and the faltering love life. For Bibi Bourelly, it is rubbing shoulders with the musical elite and releasing her first solo EP entitled Free the Real Part 1. Bourelly first came into the spotlight having written Rihanna‘s mega-hit Bitch Better Have My Money, and has already been credited for her work with other artists like Usher and Lil Wayne.
We were lucky enough to have a chat with the upcoming artist, who, in spite of rubbing shoulders with such musical heavyweights, is far from overwhelmed – she’s far from her peak just yet – nor has it got to her head. Bourelly is a rising star, undeterred by the glare of the spotlight. Behind all the hype and chart success, she is just a normal twenty something that’s still trying to get it all together.
We spoke to Bourelly about where she talked about the need for conflict in her music, living and dying for her art, and how she’d love to just be a fly on the wall around the late Janis Joplin.
Listening to your Free the Real Part 1 EP it’s clear that it comes from a place of vulnerability. And you’ve also said it was from a time where you felt misunderstood. Is it a cathartic process for you to put your feelings into songs or does it sometimes only heighten those issues that you’re trying to deal with?
It could be either way really, it’s so powerful. It depends on what you allow yourself to come up with and how you decide to express it.
You said the place where your music comes from is “immortal”- does that mean that you look at it like the filmmaker David Lynch does, where he believes that the idea already exists on another mental plane and you just receive it?
That could be it, I’m a very spiritual person. It’s definitely not me. I myself, Bibi, can be dishonest. I make mistakes, I say things the wrong way, but I want to be accepted by people. I think my soul, my spirit, my purpose is not to be that way though. So it could be that.
You’re obsessed with your art but are you obsessive over it. Do you spend like one week going over a melody or are you from the other way of thinking where you believe if you stay on one thing for too long it loses its magic along the way?
100%- the music is definitely lost immediately when you sit with a track too long. What a song is, is a moment. It’s capturing the moment. When you record a song it is about capturing that moment. It isn’t supposed to be able to be repeated in that same way. It’s supposed to just be caught. Capturing it becomes the challenge. It’s no longer the purest form of self-expression if you sit on it for too long, it becomes self-expression that is polished.
In your songs there are a lot of references to haters and all that negative energy around you. Do you feel like you need some sort of conflict in order to create?
Definitely. That is what I have been learning about myself recently. It’s either that, where conflict is necessary for me to make my art, or it’s just that I’m really bad at ignoring conflict. Either way it’s not very positive *laughs*.
So you prefer to say things out loud and if people don’t like what you have to say that is their problem?
That’s how I feel. But obviously I feel bad after what I say sometimes. But I say it anyway because I believe in that you say what you feel.
Do you believe that you have to suffer for your art?
I mean I suffered for my art. I can’t speak in general terms or for other people. Other people call themselves artists that I would never call artists. But who am I to say that someone is not one? That in itself defeats the whole purpose. I can only speak for myself and I definitely suffered for my art.
Talking about artists, what’s your relationship to the word and concept of it now that you have gained some recognition? Has it changed in any way or does it still mean the same to you?
You have to live for your art to be an artist. You have to be ready to die for your art. It has to be the reason why you breathe. The dying part is dramatic, but I truly believe that you have to live for your art. It has to be the reason why you’re alive – it’s your engine, your motor.
Beyond just your art, it is bigger than that too. It is people, the world, the environment. In my opinion, and at least from my experience, the way I create is through taking in and letting the world marinate inside of me. It’s being receptive of things other people just aren’t receptive of. It’s allowing yourself to feel things that other people don’t allow themselves to feel. So it’s bigger than just my art, it’s people too. I believe that I am meant to create and move people forward. It’s not like, ‘I just want to make shit because I’m bored’ *laughs*. I’ve been making things since before I could talk and I don’t know how and I don’t know why. But this is why I’m alive. I don’t think there is a lot of people who think and feel like that.
I read that you said humans need to, “strive for truth and push each other higher instead of going around in circles.” Where and why do you think we, as people, have stagnated?
Because we are all so fucking judgemental. I’m not excluding myself from this but we’re all so judgemental and waste time doing it. We love to point out each other’s flaws instead of focusing on our own desires and truths and insecurities. Instead of fixing ourselves from within we waste our time fucking ridiculing others. We need to decide to live our lives how we want to live them.
We are distracted instead of investing our time into ourselves. We need to learn how to become the best people that we can be. I don’t want to say it’s not hard to do, but if everyone just focused on making sure they were living honestly and doing what was making them happy, the world would be a lot better of a place. We wouldn’t just keep on fucking hurting each other all the time.
You seem confident in yourself, but obviously you have your insecurities and anxieties. How do you deal with being so young and being thrust into the spotlight and having to deal with this judgement on a personal level?
You know, I don’t know how I deal with it – I just wing it. Honestly, it’s like fucking asking someone to work four jobs or something. I work three jobs! I’m getting through it and it’s just a survival mechanism. I’m trying to figure out how to stay normal. It’s so fucking crazy though.
You try to reach out to people because you want to connect with them. But the moment you do that some exclude you. Or they think that you’re superior. I think that if you think that you’re superior, that’s a way of excluding people. So I don’t want to do that.
How do I deal with my insecurities? I’m learning how to not be insecure. I’m learning how to understand that no matter what I say, somebody is going to say something about me. But also I’m learning that it’s fucking okay to change my mind. It’s okay to say something today and go back on it tomorrow. It’s okay to be a human being. It’s okay to be a regular ass person *laughs*. As long as you’re conscious and aware of your insecurities it’s okay. You’re never going to be perfect, but I’m going to aim to be better all the time. And that’s what I’m trying to say.
Do you see your music as a sort of activism then in a way? Do you use it to try and provoke reactions in your listeners and to get them to think about the sort of things you think about, or do you try and stay away from all that?
My overall goal is to make people feel something that will elevate them and move them to the next level. So whether that is consciously or not- they don’t even have to fucking know. I want to create something that evokes thought in you. It’s that simple.
You’ve said creating songs sometimes is a burden because you can’t stop it. Have you tried to take a break away from it or have you become used to the constant cycle of creating?
I can’t help it. It’s not really a matter of trying to take a break away from it. You know what, it’s weird though. I’m in a place now where I’ve been feeling kind of musically uninspired. But every now and then I do meet people who move me.
Is it almost like the fact that you were thrust into the industry and you’ve lost a bit of the spark, because you have to deal with so much other stuff- like interviews for example?
Exactly! One, I appreciate this interview and I don’t say that often. Two, the music industry… You think your whole life you’re going to get something. I’m going to work really, really hard and one day I’m going to get into the room with the best people in the world! There’s going to be this big treasure box and I’m going to discover something amazing. But then you open up this big red curtain and there is nothing there.
You learn so much about life in that moment. Part of life is learning that lesson, and becoming uninspired by that. But then the other part is figuring out how to find the inspiration in truth. That’s the truth and that’s just the way things are.
We’re so hard on ourselves. We think that the grass is greener on the other side. We think that there are keys to life and fucking treasure chests. You think that you’re going to open them up and you’re going to flourish. People write books about all that shit! But really it all comes down to just being yourself – that’s the key. Do what the fuck you are good at.
I read you were a big fan of Jeff Buckley and his version of Hallelujah. So it got me thinking about which three artists you would hypothetically like to meet, dead or alive, that you think would give you some of that inspiration you desire?
[Jean- Michel] Basquiat. I’d just love to kick it with him because he seemed cool. Janis Joplin.
Yeah, but I would just want to be a fly on the wall with Janis Joplin.
Yeah, she seemed like a bit of a wild one.
Man, she was epic. When you look at her- I would just like to absorb everything. Just watch her, because I feel like I would take in a lot more that way. And Stevie Wonder.
Free The Real Part 1 is available now via Def Jam.
Image: Sam Balaban/ Fader