Born in Portugal to Belgian and Cape Verdean parents, Erika de Casier grew up in the Lisbon suburb of Estoril until she moved to the tiny Danish village of Ribe at the age of 8. Having spent a year abroad in Vermont as part of an exchange program, she eventually settled in Copenhagen and taught herself music production in her bedroom. Though she had to learn to sing in a hushed tone so as not to disturb her flatmates, she’s since found ways to harness that intimacy to convey all manner of emotion, whether invoking the sensuality of ’90s and ’00s R&B or taking cues from the empowerment anthems of Destiny’s Child and TLC. She draws from both musical worlds on her new album, Sensational, her second following 2019’s Essentials and first since signing to 4AD; each subtle texture radiates warmth as well as newfound confidence, lending an air of playfulness to what is an otherwise stripped-back and relaxed affair. But more remarkable than de Casier’s self-assured presence is her ability to explore relationship dynamics with elegance and style, making her minimalist, confessional songs feel vivid and nuanced: not just palpably romantic, but full of possibility.
We caught up with Erika de Casier for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about how she discovered her creativity, her new album Essentials, and more.
What do you like about being in Denmark now that you didn’t appreciate as much when you first moved there?
I’m so used to it now because I was eight when I moved. And I think I’ve adapted really quick, for example, to the cold; I used to hate the cold, and now it comes as kind of a relief sometimes when winter starts, because it’s like there’s no pressure to go outside and enjoy the sun, you know. [laughs] Because I feel that a lot. There are many things that I still don’t appreciate, but that’s more to do with how the world is going now. One very specific thing I really like is our bike culture. Everybody’s biking around, from when you’re a little kid until you can’t anymore.
Do you feel more connected to a music scene or community now?
Yeah, now I’m part of a music community, but I think that’s also part of getting older and finding your interests and other people that have the same interests. When you go to school, you’re just put in a class with a bunch of random people, and then you have those common interests for the year that you go there, but when you get older, I think a lot of people find people that have the same interests that you can talk to about stuff. And I think I definitely got that here. I moved at one point, just sort of like six months, and when I came back, I missed it so much. I just missed my community and being able to go to like the café I usually go to where all my friends hang out. I also love that we don’t all make the same music – we really inspire each other with very different sonic realms.
Were you creative as a teenager? How did you discover your creativity?
When I was a kid, I was alone a lot, and I started drawing – I had to entertain myself a lot of the time, so I guess it came that way. I found that it was a great way of expressing your emotions without talking about them necessarily, but just making something – or even, you know, as a kid when you’re playing, you’re being creative because you have a great imagination. And I feel that even if I’m a part of the community here, when I’m making music I’m still by myself. I still have that space – I seldom sit with somebody and make music. And when I do, it’s people that I really know or like one person. For me, I’ve always connected being creative to something I do on my own, and where I can just shut the world off.
Was it a similar reason that drew you to writing in English specifically, that you felt you could express your emotions in a way that you couldn’t in another language?
I’ve been wondering about that actually, why I write in English. And I think it’s just a language that comes more naturally to me when I’m creating. I’ve written maybe one Danish song, and it’s a whole different way of expressing yourself. First of all, the vocabulary is much smaller in Danish; there are different ways of saying something, but not as many words. And also, I’ve always listened to a lot of English music, and it took me some time before I listened to Danish music after I moved here as a child. I knew English music before I knew Danish music, so I think that’s why it comes more naturally to me.
You’ve talked about the importance of MTV early on in your life, but I’m curious how you were exposed to the more underground or contemporary influences that inform your music.
When I was a teenager I got more and more curious about music, and I felt it was also a way to shape your identity. I went to the library a lot and borrowed CDs and downloaded a lot of music. I don’t know – I guess I felt special, in a way, listening to something that not many people knew about.
In what way was it tied to a sense of identity?
I grew up with just my mom and my brother, and my mom’s from Belgium and I’ve never lived in Belgium. So I think I was very curious to find out who I was, and to find out – like, my dad is from Cape Verde, and I also listened to some Cape Verdean music. I looked up to artists on MTV that looked like myself. [laughs] And also, when I was 15, I think I was – like a lot of 15-year-olds are – you know, the music on the radio wasn’t doing it for me. I was so cynical at this time – I felt very much like a victim, like “nobody understands me,” you know. I remember I started listening to Radiohead and I felt like, “I’m the only one listening to this right now in the world.” [laughs] I think once I got older I loosened up a bit.
It was the same for me with Radiohead. You know, they have millions of fans and somehow I felt like I was the only one in the world who knew them.
It was also before social media, like you couldn’t go in and see Radiohead’s page and be like, “Wow, they’re actually pretty well-known.” Back then it was nothing, it was just like, you found a CD and you had no idea when people are listening to it. It gave space for maybe a little bit more mystique than we have now.
I wanted to ask you about your debut album, Essentials, which has been described as a kind of word-of-mouth success. Did it feel very organic to you?
I felt it was very organic. When I released the Essentials, people were like writing me like, “Oh, cool album,” but it wasn’t like all of a sudden I was on every magazine, [makes rhythmic sound], hype, hype, hype. I played a release show in London for like 10 people, you know. So it wasn’t like that at all, which was really nice because I got a chance to follow it without freaking out.
To what extent did any expectations affect your approach to the new record?
I tried not to let it influence me. I think it’s natural – whatever goes on in your life influences what you make, so of course there was an expectation to myself about wanting to make something that was good. But that was also the case with Essentials, I really wanted to put something out that I really liked. And I’ve also tried to think about, “It’s one record, I don’t want to put my all my worth and all my happiness – I don’t want Sensational to carry that, so if it goes well, that’s really nice, I’m glad people like it.” And some people won’t, you know, you can’t make everybody happy. I try not to let it take up too much space in my mind because it does affect me, of course. You spend maybe one two years making something, and then you’re just like, “This is what I made. What do you think?” But I try not to let it touch me when I’m making music – you know, if I’m sitting writing a song and I get that little ego voice going, “Is this good enough? Are you gonna put this out?” And I try to just like, “No no no, I can throw this in the garbage if I want.” There’s no pressure when I’m making the tracks, but I would lie if I said that it didn’t affect me.
You said before that you kind of loosened up as you were growing up, and that’s something I also feel is part of the shift from your first album to Sensational. Going into the album, I’m curious what kind of attitude and vibe you wanted to convey, especially with the album title.
When I was writing it, I had a lot of words like “sensual,” “sensational,” “sexy,” all these s-sounding words. When I wrote ‘Drama’, I was like, “This is so sensational,” and I also say it in the lyrics. And when I had to piece all the tracks together, I was like, “These are all pretty like sensational tracks,” because I do feel that I’ve experimented a little bit more with a more outgoing persona. And I like the exaggeration of the word, it’s almost like saying that it’s not by calling it that. You know, sensational. Like, “Okay, relax. Who do you think you are?”
It’s kind of tongue-in-cheek as well. You mentioned a more outgoing persona, and I know that you’ve invented a character called Bianka for your latest music videos. But I’m wondering to what extent in the album itself you’re inhabiting certain characters when you were writing the songs, as a way of being more free.
I think it’s characters that are within me, like when I say a persona, it’s still me. When you write, you can be anything, you can be who you want to be. And when you are in a certain situation, you have one thing that is what you say, and another thing is what you think. And another thing is what you think five hours later. And a lot of the songs are what I thought after I got to processes it, like, “Oh, I should have said this” or “I should have said that.” And in some of the situations, I’ve actually had the courage to say what I felt, but there’s so many things where you’re like, “What would the person say?” or “I don’t want to come off as mean or needy or whatever,” you know. I just felt it was empowering to write that way this time around.
One moment I love on the album is the song ‘Acceptance’. It’s kind of an interlude, but there’s this confidence that the previous tracks and the album as a whole has, and this feels almost like a moment of defeat, maybe hinting at the lonelier, more melancholy feelings that the album doesn’t show as much. What was the inspiration for it?
It was during lockdown, and I just felt like nothing was going my way. I was just fooling around with orchestral sounds and I made this little snippet, almost, and I thought it was just gonna be a fun little thing that I wasn’t gonna use. But then I thought it really gives a good image of that one moment where I was feeling… Yeah, kind of defeated, actually. You know, sitting in your room, isolated. I was trying to make something, and I went from making one beat that was useless, that doesn’t give me any feeling – that’s the worst when you’re making music, like, “Well, it’s a nice beat, but it’s not touching anything inside.” And then with ‘Acceptance’, it was just like, “Let me just make something.”
It’s such an honest album, even when you’re exaggerating or playing a character. One thing in particular that I love is how it expresses sentiments that are simple or would otherwise be perceived as cliché – like the “when you fell from the sky” line on ‘Make My Day’ – but it always feels genuine. Where do you think that comes from?
It’s hard to dissect, but I feel it’s just a matter of how I’m used to writing, or why I started writing. When I started writing love songs, it’s about making the other person understand something that you think. That’s how I started writing very… almost like letters, you could say, to the person I was trying to tell something to. So I think the honesty comes in that. Sometimes I’m – for example, doing these interviews, I’m like, “Am I saying something that’s contradicting what I said a few days ago?” You know, you constantly evolve, and that’s why in some of the songs I’m the one with the upper hand and some of the songs I’m the victim, almost, or defeated, as you said. I’ve just tried to get as many of these different roles we have in our lives.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.