Quirky is a term not always welcomed in describing an artist. It can imply a lack of depth or something frivolous. But when applied to Josa Peit it is only in best sense of the word - unique, different, playful - and these qualities demand a certain bravery and strength of spirit.
A native Berliner, Peit first arrived on the scene in 2009 and has been honing her sound since then through collaborations with German beatmaker Dexter on his album 'The Trip' and crucially with Ben Lamdin's seven-piece jazz band Nostalgia 77, featuring on the albums 'The Sleepwalking Society' and 2014's 'A Journey Too Far'.
Lamdin and Peit's musical connection, which would enchant crowds across Europe, actually began with an email out of the blue from Peit asking him to listen to a few of her songs she sang in her flat. "I thought immediately that she has an interesting voice so took a punt and got her over and it worked", Lamdin told the Telegraph in 2011.
Now she has taken those experiences and used them to craft something of her own - her debut EP 'Constellation' released in September on Berlin label 'The Gym'. It is a mystical funk-infused journey which seeks to engage you at every turn. Amid the gritty organs and vintage synths, there is weight of purpose and a hint at the unknown that only the best electronica can provide.
We caught up with Josa to talk influences, favourite albums, and the beauty of imperfection;
What inspired your EP and what are the main themes involved?
I started working on it last year, while taking some time off in the States – travelling westbound from New York. I made a lot of field recordings out there, on the streets, in museums, in nature. On the record you will hear some of those sounds I picked up with my phone. Getting away like that really inspired me. It was a very personal journey, heavily influenced by different kinds of music that I listened to during that time. I ended up meeting musicians I had always wanted to meet, like Carlos Niño from Build An Ark after I had rediscovered their music on my travels. Everything on the EP is really about constellations among people, moving on, about energy and experimenting with sound.
As your debut, how did you find the creative process? Did things flow easily?
It was challenging, but in the best way. I was learning much from it. I still am actually. For the first time I was not focussed on my comfort zone, I was not singing that much, but explored what I wanted to create beyond that. A lot of new things actually happend when things did not flow. I produced the central piece Constellation when I needed a break from the other tunes. It came together quickly and I felt, BAM, it says what I want to say with this record. It was the same with the intro and outro. The cover of Dawn originated from trying out a bass that I had bought......you could almost say the whole record evolved during minor crises!
I also tried not to raise too many questions that would keep me from ever finishing...which synthesizers to use or what the best drum machine was. I tried to follow my intuition more and worked with what I had at hand. Paul from The Gym helped me keep my sanity, not sure if I made him keep his!
You have a very unique style of singing, where does that come from?
I grew up with a lot of different music. I was especially into expressive voices that had a lot of strength and were drawing from life experiences, Nina Simone, Bill Withers, Dinah Washington.... I felt that quite strongly and could relate to it. I like the edge, voices that sound a little imperfect are really beautiful to me. I don’t know if you can hear that in the way I sing, though. I never went through proper voice schooling, I know the techniques, but if I don’t feel it I struggle to do it. So you can hardly call me a pro! But then what does that mean?
Did it take a while to become confident in pushing a different style?
It’s an ongoing process. I have learned that it is super important to stand behind the things you do. I know the other side of it too, yet can also draw from the lows. I continue learning to trust my feeling. It was cool for me to encounter artist I could relate to and who worked in a more experimental way. I also came across all those female pioneers in early electronic music, Delia Derbyshire, Else Marie Pade. Listening to them was exciting and impressive. It was a little intimidating at first, but then reassuring to continue exploring. The Gym definitely helped me feel good about the hissing noises, the music. They were behind it – I could not have asked for better faith to start out with! It’s definitely a good and important feeling to finish things and then move on.
What was the best piece of advice you have been given relating to music? Or is there anyone in particular you have learnt a lot from?
I have been listening to this Paul Simon tune from the 80s, Maybe I Think Too Much, over and over last year. It fitted to what a good friend had said to me, which was to just let people hear my music. I would not have played my label my demos if I had not have someone say that to me. Regarding musicianship and Ethiopian Jazz the best teachers I have had were Ben Lamdin and his Nostalgia 77 gang. I am extremely thankful for having taken me along on his and their journey.
Have you played with any artists who have blown you away with their talent?
Again, I was really lucky to sing with Nostalgia 77 – all of the musicians in the band are so superb. Playing with them was like taking a ride on a schizophrenic beast. Tripped out, beautiful, calm and wild. Keep an eye out for forthcoming stuff by Matthew Bourne or Kit Downes, listen to James Allsopp, Tim Giles, Riaan Vosloo formations. They are beautiful cutting edge artists.
What is your favourite album of all time and why?
If I really had to pin it down to one, I think I would go with my first musical memory, which is – again – Paul Simon. Graceland. There are so many other influences, but I listened to this one a thousand times in the car as a child, still have my dad’s worn tape. It always makes me feel good. I like the history behind the album, the message, the live vibe, love the bass sound, Ladysmith Black Mombazo, Miriam Makeba. Most of all it made me explore the African scene, Francis Bebey and all the rad stuff that was made in the 70s and 80s.
Is it better to be a music artist now or twenty years ago?
Ask me in twenty years?
What 's in the future for Josa Peit?
Future things! Music music music, getting girls involved in electronic music at an early age more....exploring onward.
Constellation is out on 7th September via The Gym.