SUDAN ARCHIVES: IT’S ALL SO SIMPLE
photography by theo jemison
This self-proclaimed former ‘goody two shoes’ talks about learning violin by playing along at church. After a rebellious streak, she left Ohio for a new life with good weather and more people in Los Angeles. A chance encounter at a show with Stones Throw A&R and Leaving Records owner Matthewdavid eventually turned into a record deal. But if it weren’t for a singing and dancing fiddle group from Canada she saw perform in the 4th grade, Sudan Archives might have never become a singing and dancing violinist. She realized this while describing her self-titled debut EP on Stones Throw and divulging a short version of her life. Sudan Archives performs with Moses Sumney on Sat., Oct. 21, at the El Rey. This interview by Daiana Feuer.
What’s the story behind the fiddle group that inspired you to pick up violin?
Sudan Archives: Around that time I was living in Wyoming [Ohio], this small Jewish community outside of Cincinnati. In fourth grade a group of fiddlers called Barrage came. They played folk tunes and dance and sing at the same time. Now that I’m saying it, that kind of inspired the whole thing of what I do now. When I saw them I was like, ‘Oh my God, I want to do exactly what they’re doing.’ And now I realize I am, in my own way. They were singing, they had the Britney Spears microphones, and dancing and playing violin.
How did you develop your playing style?
Sudan Archives: So I started playing violin but a year or two later I had to switch schools. I’ve been to like six different schools and none of them had orchestra or they were just starting. I already had some basic training, so I was so bored. They were like, ‘This is a bow; this is how you hold a violin.’ I knew those things already and I was ready to learn how to read music and stuff. I was behind but ahead at the same time. So I started playing in church more. My mom pushed me to do it. She said, ‘You don’t need to learn how to read violin to play violin for the people. Everyone up there does it by ear.’ So I started to play in church more and she was right. I just started to hear things and mimic it on the violin just by messing around trying to find the tune—even though I wasn’t good at reading music or the best violinist. I didn’t know how to do all the shifty positions or go all the way up the fingerboard. I was more like a fiddler where you stay in first position and do a lot of repetitive licks but very, very fast. That helped me develop my own style. If it wasn’t for church I wouldn’t be where I am now. That made me be more creative.
Did you take anything spiritual away from playing in the church?
Sudan Archives: Maybe. My music has some mystic qualities or spiritual qualities in a way. Maybe it comes from that place—of making music from the soul.
How did moving around like that affect you? Did it make you feel like an outsider?
Sudan Archives: I just remember being in high school and all these girls were graduating, crying, being like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve known you since we were three years old.’ I just couldn’t really say the same. It was only my second year and I was graduating. That makes you feel like an outcast. I didn’t really have a chance to build relationships with other teenagers. I felt like people knew me but no one really did in a way because I was always in and out. Moving around has something to do with me feeling un-relatable sometimes. Maybe that’s why I became a solo musician. If I had a lot of friends, we would’ve started a band and been making music together. Maybe we would’ve even moved out to L.A. together in the end.
What led up to finally leaving Ohio?
Sudan Archives: I was being rebellious. I was more like a goody two-shoes in high school. When I graduated early I just started going out, sneaking out, saying I was working the night shift at McDonalds but going out with my ex-boyfriend instead … started smoking weed, skipping curfew, stuff like that. My parents even kicked me out.
After that, how did you feel confident telling them you were moving to L.A.?
Sudan Archives: I felt like, ‘I have to keep pushing or else I will be a failure.’ Eventually parents understand, right? I felt like if I could just break through and prove something to them, maybe they would figure it out: ‘OK, she has a good head on her shoulders. She’s just different.’ A lot of my family still lives where they grew up. They stayed there. Moving across the country is crazy to them. I just wanted to leave Ohio to get out of the snow and see some good weather and go to school. That’s all I wanted. And that’s all I thought that I would’ve accomplished by this time. Instead I got a record deal but I’m still trying to finish school!
When did you decide to go to L.A.?
Sudan Archives: I had a plan of moving out. I was working two jobs. I was saving up for a plane ticket. I decided to leave when I felt like maybe I could just go to school in L.A. and I would make more connections musically out there perhaps. I wanted something different. I was tired of being in Ohio. I wanted to travel and be responsible, take care of myself and not live with my parents anymore. Going to L.A. was my first plane ride. I visited once and then came right back for good. I just remember seeing the trees, the palm trees—that just stood out to me.
How was that first plane ride?
Sudan Archives: It was exciting and I was just ready to do whatever I want. Take care of myself, not have curfews, find a job. I was spontaneous about it and optimistic. I wasn’t sad or anything. But after I’d lived here for a couple months I was sad sometimes because I was getting a little homesick. I had made a friend on Instagram named Fatima. Her hair was really cool, like Erykah Badu’s, and she was from Ghana and she was a fashion designer. And we became really close. She said if I ever came out to L.A., I could stay with her until I found a place. So I just moved in with her. Then I found a place to stay in Highland Park with my friend Cat500, who I met on Soundcloud and then we became penpals.
Internet friends becoming real friends!
Sudan Archives: Yeah—she asked me to play a dublab set and then we just became friends. I remember a lot of people saying, ‘Wow, you’re playing dublab?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I don’t really know what it is but my friend invited me!’ Everything here was still very new to me. One of her friends moved out and she had an extra room, and I’ve been there ever since.
How did you end up at Low End Theory and fortuitously meet Matthewdavid?
Sudan Archives: I didn’t know about any music events. My ex at the time was always going to events and took me to Low End Theory. I remember being there, meeting Maththewdavid, just talking to him one on one, and he asked me, ‘So … do you make music?’ ‘Yeah, I’m a violinist…’ and he was really interested that I was incorporating electronics: ‘You should send me some music sometime.’ I was really shy at the time. It probably took me a year to even send him anything. I just wasn’t ready to show anyone my stuff. But I finally did when I was planning on putting out an EP on my Bandcamp. I was asking him if he would engineer it because I heard he was really good at that. And he was like … blown away and wanted to put it out. Then Chris Manak heard it and wanted to put it on Stones Throw.
What part of the EP was done in the studio?
Sudan Archives: I would make my songs in my bedroom and come with the production laid out, but they would help make them sonically sound the way I wanted them to—texturize, make the compression and equalizing everything, making it all sound really big. I re-recorded most of the vocals there but certain songs we didn’t really touch. Matthewdavid would just pump it up and make the bass lines bang the way I want. I’m a producer but I’m still learning the engineering techniques. Sometimes I want to do something and I don’t know how. I’m still learning on that end and I’m super grateful to be working with Matthewdavid because he’s a sonic scientist!
How did you source the sounds for your songs?