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Kosheen Singer Sian Evans Interview: KVIFF

Kosheen Singer Sian Evans Interview: KVIFF

British electronic music band Kosheen had its big breakthrough hit in 2001 with “Hide U,” which expresses a desire to keep a loved one safe from harm and still feels topical in the age of social media trolling. Its blend of drum and bass, trip-hop and other electronic music genres found a fan base in different parts of the world. The band’s five studio albums range from Resist in 2001 to Solitude in 2013.

Then, the Welsh lead singer and songwriter Sian Evans and her two bandmates decided they had to go separate ways and a dispute over the Kosheen name and songs ensued. However, Evans started touring again in 2019 and has been traveling to events in various countries with new collaborators.

Earlier this year, Kosheen played live with a full orchestra for the first time ever in the U.K. at London’s Koko, performing such hits as “Catch, “Hungry,” and “All In My Head.” And the band keeps going.

On Friday, Kosheen will kick off the 58th edition of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic with a free open-air concert, similar to how fellow U.K. band Morcheeba rocked the spa town last year.

“The band, which thanks to previous concerts in the Czech Republic has a strong fan base in the country, will perform the greatest hits from its repertoire,” fest organizers said earlier this month just days before a big Prague show.

THR talked to Evans via Zoom about how she and Kosheen have changed since the band’s debut 25 years ago, why she feels better and more inspired than ever, and what is next for her and Kosheen.

It seems like you and your band members have traveled all over. I heard you just had a show in Prague and will be back in the Czech Republic to open the Karlovy Vary film festival on Friday evening. How is all that travel?

It’s a lot, but I’m super grateful to be able to do it. I wake up every morning and I say “thank you, body, You are still going.” It’s brilliant.

We took a train ride from Prague all the way to Hungary, and that was beautiful, apart from the air conditioning that wasn’t working. And it was 34 degrees. It kind of tested us and our resolve. I think as in any relationship, if you can get through a six-hour train journey in the heat, and you still like each other at the end of it, I think you’re winning.

How did the KVIFF invite come about and have you ever played a film festival before?

We’ve done a couple. And in fact, I’ve played the Karlovy Vary festival before, but only in a DJ and MC capacity. I’m not really an MC but I do control a microphone. And I was singing over the top of the boys mixing drum and bass. That was an after-show party. It was good fun.

We are very popular in the Czech Republic. We’ve had a lot of love from that territory for a very long time. The whole area of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Serbia and Croatia and Eastern Europe has totally embraced Kosheen and kept us in their hearts for 25 years. So it’s a joy to go back there. We’re very friendly with a lot of the promoters. And promoters who are working in hospitality for the film festival thought about us. We put on a fantastic show, so we’re going to go and entertain.

But with the festival, I’m already stressing about what am I going to wear. My bedroom looks like we’ve been burgled by the fashion police, but they have left everything.

Where do you live, if I may ask?

It’s a four-storey Georgian house, and it was once lived in by Dylan Thomas [the famous Welsh poet also known for his turbulent personal life]. You can see the sea from the window. We live right on the waterfront here in Laugharne, Wales, which is so inspirational. It is such a beautiful spot. And to be sharing a house with Dylan Thomas, the incredible Welsh poet who’s very popular in America.

Sian Evans’ bed and breakfast in Laugharne, Wales

Courtesy of Sian Evans

In fact, I think Dylan Thomas is more popular in America than he is here. I often get guests because I run the place as a bed and breakfast when I’m not working because I love to be busy. And Americans come and say: “Oh my God, Dylan Thomas lived here. Oh, my God, it’s haunted.” They love it.

Kosheen decided to take a break and then you built it back with new colleagues. Tell me about the reasons a little bit…

Every relationship has its ups and downs. And in my experience, if the fire is burning very, very brightly, it doesn’t burn for very long. So the relationship with the original members and co-writers of Kosheen was very passionate, very fiery, very volatile. And after many years together, over 15 years of touring, our relationship just fell apart. The guys had a different memo to me. I wanted to continue writing songs for Kosheen and to please our audience. They wanted to go down a much darker, more underground route. I think that they took it real hard that the drum and bass world wasn’t particularly responsive to our music, and they wanted to be in the underground drum and bass scene, and I wanted to write beautiful songs.

So it came to a terrible end. We could no longer be in the same room together, it was just really hard and heartbreaking. And they didn’t want me to continue to sing the songs that I’d written. So I had to fight for that, and that took a long time, six years. It was just awful. During that time, I had to keep going. And I reinvented myself as Kosheen Unplugged, and Sian Evans and I did some co-writes, which were very successful, just to keep going. But what my heart wanted to do is to continue to perform Kosheen songs to the audience that we developed together. Now I can and all that is in the past. It was a very difficult period of my life. It wasn’t just the band that went under, my marriage also fell apart. And I had to leave my marital home and step out into the world again on my own in my late 40s, which was a real test. But I landed on my feet in this beautiful place. I’ve surrounded myself with incredible musicians who actually really love me and who support me creatively, personally, emotionally. They have really encouraged me to continue and to flourish in what is now my fifth decade.

And you sound and seem to feel good…

I feel sexier, I feel stronger. I feel more creative in my 50s than I ever have. I was terrified of it. I didn’t want it to happen. But actually it’s been the making of me. My shoulders have dropped, I feel confident and quite powerful.

The breakup of the band and then a long period of fighting in the courts in order to release the branding of Kosheen and be able to perform again was such a hard time. But always in the back of my mind, I wanted to perform with an orchestra. And Maria, who is my manager and my very close friend, said we will do this as we were on a rather extensive tour of the U.K. And she called me and said that we’re doing it in February. I didn’t have enough time to panic.

The orchestra was sent manuscript parts for the songs, and we had one rehearsal. It was breathtaking. I had impostor syndrome for a little while because I was thinking, “How am I going to stand up in front of these amazingly talented, learned musicians that have been to school.” I never went to school. So I was thinking I’m a blogger, I’m not real.

But they were absolutely spectacular. It was probably one of the most exciting moments of my life really to be there in front. I believe that electronic music is modern-day classic music. There’s so much going on in there. You can feel the different levels that go on within electronic music. So that was echoed by the string section, by the horn section, by the percussion. It was just something else.

I have always loved electronic music, but some people do indeed seem to look down on it a bit compared to classical or other genres of music…

I think Beethoven was probably seen as quite a punk rocker in his day, quite underground. “What is this crazy music?” Like Tchaikovsky, Wagner – listen to that. Wow, what was going on there? They were creating these soundscapes, which our amazing producers now do with the orchestra in a box.

How has your stage show evolved?

For many years with the original lineup of Kosheen, I wasn’t being supported. I wasn’t being encouraged. I was being bullied quite a lot. And so my confidence dropped. And I became very depressed because this was my dream. I was supposed to be living my dream. And I was actually sad, very sad and very lonely.


Courtesy of Honza Zirovnicky

Now that I’m surrounded by amazing people who adore me, I can really blossom and I feel that my performance has blossomed. I’ve thrown off any of those feelings of inadequacy and feelings of trying to impress the people on the stage. I mean what the fuck is that all about? You know, it should be about the audience not about the politics of what’s on stage. Now I’m completely supported. I can direct my performance to the audience. I focus very much on my voice, on my vocal delivery.

The show we did in Hungary was 98 minutes long. And it’s full on all the way through. It’s vocal, it’s physical, it’s moving. I’m a very physical performer. So, I was exhausted after that. But it was worth it. We could have kept going for another 90 minutes. We’ve got so many tracks, we’ve got so much music.

How do you choose which songs to play?

The drummer, Mitch Glover, and I sit down and go, “So what are we going to do?” Let’s do this, this, this and this. And he goes: “Well, you have to take something away. We can’t do all of this.” It’s such a luxury to have so much material to pick from. When I read my forum and the social media, people are asking for some quite obscure tracks, and we kind of do a lottery. We say several hundred people want this track, 2,000 people want that track and 100,000 or whatever people want this track, and then we put it in. We have to honor what people want. It’s just lovely because a lot of the tracks that people are asking for are not even singles but album tracks.

Not that I want to make the selection process even harder for you, but any chance we may get a new Kosheen album some time?

I am working on a new album. We need to stop touring to be able to really focus on that and can really get down to it. Over the years, I’ve collaborated with some incredible artists, and I am calling upon those producers to now make a track for my album. And I can say with confidence now that it’s my album, it’s Kosheen, and I’d like it to be a continuation of the good work that the last five albums have laid down. So it has to be in the same stream as those albums but stronger. After the fight that I’ve had, and the success and the amazing shows, I owe my fans, a really, really good, deep, heartfelt album.

Do you have a busy summer coming up?

This weekend, we’ve got Karlovy Vary. On July 5, we are playing at the Butterfly Festival in Austria, in the U.K., Germany, and Belgium. Then we’ve got a big tour this autumn in the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Serbia. It’s just lovely.

But I’ve got a few weeks off in August, so I’m going to enjoy my environment here and have some guests in the bed and breakfast and talk about Dylan Thomas. I don’t tour like I used to where it was back-to-back. I do more the kind of lady touring or gentleman touring now.

Beyond a less crazed touring schedule, is there anything else you are doing or approaching differently?

I’m very aware of my physical being. I have to take care of my body and practice yoga and breathwork techniques. I am very mindful. But for the first time in my life, I put myself first. My well-being comes first. So I also nap a lot. And I don’t drink when I’m performing. I like a glass of wine when I’m not performing. I wasn’t disciplined when I was young. I’m very disciplined now because I think that the audience deserves 100 percent if they bothered to pay for a ticket to be there and to have supported us for all these years. They deserve the best, and they’re going to get it.

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Any food favorites when you tour?

I’m really looking forward to Karlovy Vary. There’s an Italian restaurant on this square and it’s just lovely. And I hope it’s still there because it’s been so many years since I’ve been there. Along with music, and film, I love food. And I cook.

As soon as I come home, sometimes I just drop my bags in the kitchen, snuggle my dogs and then I get cooking and just start chopping. I get such relaxation from preparing food. And I always cook too much. So in this little enclave here, you will see me walking around with a plate of food for my old next-door neighbor or my other opposite neighbor and taking food to them.

Sian Evans’ bed and breakfast in Laugharne, Wales

Courtesy of Sian Evans

Any chance you may find time to see a few movies at the Karlovy Vary film festival?

I wish because I’m a real movie buff. I love movies and the Czech Republic has a long history of very strong movies. So it would be very interesting to be able to go to a premiere, but I won’t get a chance to.

Any favorite movies or actors?

I really like Marlon Brando. I also love a good musical, a good cowboy film and movies such as The Dirty Dozen. I like the old movies and that cinematography. It was about the cinematography, the images, the colors, the costumes, and I really dig that. My favorite Marlon Brando film is On the Waterfront. The costumes, the clothes are just so amazing. I love a man in a cardigan.

Have you ever written songs for film or TV?

A lot of our songs have been used in TV and film but I’ve never made music for movies. My son, Yves Thomas, has.

How did you come up with the name Kosheen?

Luckily, we landed on Kosheen because we were going to go with Cochise, who was a Native American warrior. But one of the boys in the band couldn’t pronounce it. He was from Glasgow. So he was going, “Kashis? Kochin?” And I was like, “Yeah, Kosheen. Let’s call ourselves Kosheen.”

And now all you can find if you google Kosheen is Kosheen. When we first released “Hide you” on the white labels the internet was a baby. Nobody really knew how we were going to work this animal. But we were genius to have landed on something that was so original, because it’s the only thing you can find now. That along with somebody who called their baby Kosheen because they were making love listening to “Hide U” and they got pregnant.

Anything else that is important to you that you would like to highlight?

Living by the sea, which is such a beautiful part of nature, I am very aware of our overuse of plastics. So in my little mini hotel here, we try to be zero plastic. We try to stay very organic and very local. So we support all of our local businesses. Nothing is in packaging. That is something that I’m super passionate about reducing. I walk along the coastline and I find all the plastic bottles and plastic fishing nets and other plastic every day. It’s just too much. We need to respect our beautiful, beautiful planet and stop tangling it up in all of our shit.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

Kosheen show

Courtesy of Infinite Words Photo

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