Interview: Who is Sequoyah Murray?
Words and interview by Naya Clark
Sequoyah Murray is a 20-year-old singer and performer based in Atlanta. His music is a submersion into the vast range of his voice and vibrant performances. Despite his young age, his talent is inspirational in addition to his music that has positive lyrics, mostly centered around perseverance, and is shrouded in encouraging wisdom.
Watching Sequoyah perform live is an experience of its own culture and calibur. The first thing I noticed about Sequoyah Murray’s voice at a collaborative show called Hypereye at WonderRoot’s basement was how much he can do with his voice. Murray genuinely uses his voice as an instrument, almost animatedly. Each voice of his a character with deep emotion ranging from low moans and falsettos to Kermit-like croons over synthy tribal music.The second was that everyone at the venue, danced when they saw Sequoyah dance. Mainly because Murray’s care and joy are infectious in both his music and conversation. In addition to his, fittingly titled EP, True Fun.
Murray has recently released his latest album “Dream Sequence”, and celebrated its release party in New York. I've interviewed Murray on his lyrics, production, and influences on his peculiar sound. Afterwards, Plasma’s amazing photographer, David Hawthorne took a few pictures of Sequoyah, whose just as amazing as a model as he is an artist. In addition to our chat, check out the slideshow of pictures taken by David Hawthorne.
NC: What got you started in music?
SM: I come from a musical family. My father is a percussionist and goes out almost every night to play music, for my whole life.
NC: What kind of percussion?
SM: He plays drums, drumset, bells, he plays guitar. He’s an all-around musician, know what I mean? He Inspired me. I grew up in a house where he had a studio, and in the middle of the night when he would put me to sleep and I was little, I would hear the music come out of the studio, and I would creep down the hallway and see him working. That left an impression on me. On top of that, my mom is a vocalist and a guitarist. So with both of my parents, even though they weren’t together when I was a kid, I would go with both of them to their gigs and watch them. I wasn’t ever interested in being a musician until 10th grade in high school. There’s this musician named Grimes, I like Grimes a lot. I was inspired by the way she produced her own music on her laptop or whatever. So I asked my grandparents for a laptop for Christmas that year, and I got started. Ever since then, I’ve been getting better and better and growing.
NC: Do you produce all your own stuff?
SM: Yeah, I produce all my own stuff, yeah!
NC: I wanted to ask who produces because it’s so layered and complex. There are so many aspects of it. How long does it normally take for you to produce a track?
SM: The way I do it, I do it all together. I write the vocals. I just do it all in little pieces. It’s like building a building but building the parts all at one time. Not starting with the frame, and then doing the inside, then doing the electricity. It’s like I build a little bit of each part of it all together, so they’re all growing together. Let’s say you have five lego blocks. Do you want to build 5 lego towers by one? Or you can put one[block down] for each one, so they each grow [together]. That’s how I make my songs.
NC: What is your headspace, when you write lyrics, versus when you produce or make the vocal undertones and the ad-lib-like vocals?
SM: There’s the main melody and the background vocals, and that just all comes later. I was working on a song last night, and basically you just...You make a song idea you like and you keep playing it over and over, and you’ll add things over and over. There’s just a certain amount of hours that you just have to sit with the song. And it all just grows. When you think about it, when it’s done, it’s like having a child, growing it in your body, and then raising your child. Then your child goes off into the world...People can listen to it separately in the world, without me even knowing they’re listening to it. It has its own story, separate from me, from its parent. I still love that, and I created that, but it has its own timeline and its own interactions with people. When I’m not playing it, they’re just listening to it somewhere else.
NC: Your music has such a dynamic quality about it, especially in “Run to that Feel”. Some of your music is a bit more melodic than lyrical. How do you decide what’s going to be more melodic, what’s more lyrical? Some of it is so playful. You named everything so fittingly. I listen to it like “This is True Fun!” It’s truly true fun to listen to.
SM: Thank you! Thank you so much. I try to make the songs authentic feelings. For me it’s not that I really choose when to be melodic of lyrical, it’s that my immediate first reaction when I’m making music is to always make something that’s melodic. When I just sing stuff I don’t really sing words. I’m not one of those people that have to sing words.
NC: Because you have a dope ass voice. You can do so much with your voice.
SM: Yeah, it’s more that I just like the sound of the singing and the notes rather than making words. Thank you so much. Like a dolphin singing. So I had to try to *makes dolphin noises*. But I had to try to make it into words. I got a response over time like “I love it, but what are you saying?” Now, I don’t like a song anymore unless I can make really good lyrics, a verse, and a chorus. So I’ve been trying, and it’s a challenge for me, and on the new album I tried to work more like that.
NC: When you do have lyrics they’re really kind of encouraging. Are you always like that? Are you always like that? Even in conversation, when I’m trying to think of things to say, you’re comforting.
SM: I’m a humanist
NC: Is that you all the time, or is that something that you can tap into in your music.
SM: Kind of, but I need that from other people just as much as I like to give it to them if that makes sense. Because a lot of time, I really feel like I’m struggling, or I want some support. So in return I try to be supportive. That’s just the kind of person I am. I feel like I’m a loving and a caring person. But because I’m so sensitive to people’s feelings and stuff, I want the people I’m around to have the most well being.
NC: You’re an empath.
SM: I'm an empath. I’m a very loving person, ya know?
NC: So [in addition to] jazz, you have a lot of grunge aspects. Especially in one of your songs, “Clean cut”, itt was very “Nirvana feeling”.
SM: You liked that one?
NC: I think that one was probably one of my favorite ones. You’re just so varied, and where do you get your voice? How are you so dynamic? You can go from all the way up here, all the way down here. And all between, like a voice actor.
SM: Thank you. When I was a kid I wanted to be a voice actor for animated shows because I always like to do different voices. There’s a lot of little funny voices I can do, and imitating people. I want to be like a Lyre bird, that lives in Australia and can make any sound that it hears and it’s accurate and it sounds real. I care about the sound of my voice and I hold myself in high regards. I listen to a lot of vocalists that are doing challenging, but interesting things with their vocals. I was inspired by Grimes in production, but there’s a Canadian synth pop band called TR/ST who I listen to, and the guy, he’ll go from really high to very low baritones. That inspired me to work with my range and see what I can do too. There’s a singer named Caroline Polachek who produced the song “Angel” for Beyonce, actually. I have a lot of vocal inspiration. My mom’s voice too. A lot of times when I’m singing, I hear her voice.
NC: Are your parents from the U.S?
NC: The quality of your music sounds like you have an influence like a second generation. Almost like somebody whose parents may be from somewhere else. Like maybe the Caribbean, or Africa. It really transports you. It has very transporting elements.
SM: That’s the kind of music I’ve been exposed to. Music from all different genres. My dad is playing on my album. A lot of the drums you hear are my dad. My younger brother is singing on that song with the little boy’s voice.
NC: Wow, I couldn’t figure out whether that was you, and you just manipulated it. How old is your little brother?
SM: He’s ten.
NC: Is he musical as well?
SM: Yes, he’s musical. So all the music is a family affair. We’re all together. My mom is singing on the first song.
NC: You have a lot of influences in your music. Who do you want your music to influence?
SM: I want my music to influence this whole country to make better music, honestly, and the music that we listen to. The music that people our age listen to has went down in quality a bit since the 70s or 80s, and I know it's a different time, and we have different ideas to express. Things have to change, but I just feel like the quality of everything has kind of gone down and I want to inspire the music industry as a whole.
NC: Why do you think it’s gone down?
SM: I think because we have it a lot easier for us not to make music. We have computers. With everything I think we’re getting a little lazier and people aren't enjoying themselves. People aren’t singing for real, people can’t sing.
NC: You’re performances are really fun
SM: You’ve been to one of my shows?
NC: The first time I saw you was at WonderRoot. It was really fun. It was fun to watch. It was fun to see people really want to dance, and you encouraging people to dance, and you dancing. It was truly an experience, and it was an experience separate from everybody else’s set’s . What is your goal when you perform? What is your mental space when you are performing?
SM: I want to put on the best fucking show that I can. Beyonce is my inspiration. No not really, but, Beyonce or Prince, Michael Jackson. They worked really hard when they perform. All those three, they sing and they can dance at the same time. I feel like what I was born to do is the performance at my shows when I’m singing and I’m entertaining. That’s the best thing that I know how to do. I know how to make people come to the show, and make them leave feeling like “Oh my God, I just got my money’s worth!” or “I didn’t even pay, but damn, this one of the best shows I’ve ever seen!” I want to leave you with the full experience. I work really hard during my shows.
NC: Good! You should, and it shows! Where do you see your music? Honestly when I heard your music, I thought “I would love to hear this in Lion King.” in a modern Lion King, or I don’t know if you’ve seen or heard of Kirikou and the Sorceress. I could see your music being in the background. Anyways, where can you see your music being in the near future, or far out when you’re like forty?
SM: I imagine myself older than that. By that age, I want to have so much vocal power, and be so powerful with my instrument. I know it’ll change over time because I’m about to be in my prime soon. By the time I’m forty, I’m sure my voice will have changed, but I want to be a master of my craft. I just want to sing effortlessly and for people to enjoy. I want to collaborate, and for there to be a demand for whatever I want to put out, so I never have to want for anything. If I want to make a new album there’s people saying “We would love to have you come to our studio. We respect you, and we love your music.”
NC: So not necessarily crazy renowned, but when people hear your music-
SM: Kind of, honestly. I don’t want to limit my dreams. I’m kind of limiting it, because the other day I told my dad I want to be a pop star, and he tried to discourage me from thinking about my success in that way, because he said that music wasn’t real anyway. Like “Do you want people who know and love good music to like you, or regular people who--.” I like everyone. I want the best of both worlds, actually. I want everyone to like good music now, and then want to hear me.
NC: I don’t think that’s unfeasible. I could see what he was saying. A lot of pop music, or the idea of pop music is very manufactured, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Even things like being under a label it works for some people, a lot of times it doesn’t. It’s just all a part of the industry. Like textiles, you can do it all by hand, yourself but it’s easy to take advantage of somebody’s talent especially when they don’t know what they’re capable of. Or somebody that doesn’t have talent, and have the technology to make it sound like they do. It’s different. it’s not like you have a typical background in music of maybe coming from a church, and developing into a singer.
SM: That is the story for a lot of people
NC: Then they go into music, get taken advantage of, et cetera. I personally think it disqualifies you [from that reality]. They do package [the pop industry] nicely but… Who would you like to work with outside of your family?
SM: There was girl who just performed with me in New York City. She was my opening at my album release. Her name is Natalie. She’s cool. She’s just getting started with her writing and production. I feel like her voice would sound lovely on my album. Do you mean somebody that’s already big and established? That’s my honest first choice. I really don’t want to compromise myself. I don’t want to change, because I feel that my sound has something different that I want people to hear. I just want to have more equipment, but that’ll come with time. A lot of my friends are in their late twenties so I try not to compare myself to them, but I think that’s good for me.
NC: It is good to have older influences. Most of my friends are at least 5 years older than me, so it's easy to think that’s where I should be. Then thinking, “Oh wait...I have so much time.” Sometimes you have to know that where you are, you’ve manifested for yourself to say “this is mine.” Even if it seems haphazard, it’s still yours. What about your album art?
SM: My cousin actually shot for True Fun. My cousin Brynn. She’s awesome. We were just hanging out downtown one night. I was like “Take this picture. Maybe one day it can be an album cover!” I was against the wall and then I started dancing and that’s when she caught me. The most recent album art is a photographer named Matt Evans. It’s a black and white photo taken with film.
NC: Is there anything you wanted to say about your music, or anything you would want to tell other artists that have a different sound appeal?
SM: To stay true to yourself. Work hard. Keep your dreams in sight. Don’t feel defeated.
NC: Have you felt defeated?
SM: mmm...Sometimes I feel defeated if I play a small show and no one comes and I feel like “I should be going upwards. I’m not going upwards.” But this whole time I’ve been making music the people have really taken to it. Opportunities just happen out of nowhere. Maybe it’s spirit.
NC: That’s you!
SM: It’s great. Things just come to me. My first big show, they reached out to me and this artist Abdu Ali, because of my friend Alessandra, who I went on tour with for my first album. I went up to Montreal and New York. She’s awesome. Her name is Pamela Andersons. I’m planning another tour. Now we do teahouses. It’s called Dream Sequence. The album is called Dream Sequence, but the Teahouse Experience is called Dream Sequence too.
NC: Sequoyah, thank you so much for letting me interview you.
SM: No, it was truly my pleasure, Naya.
Photography by David Hawthorne
Styled by Naya Clark