by Olivia Redfern
A few weeks have passed since Char, known by the alias 'Sugar Mice', took her first steps onto the music scene with her self-titled EP. The ethereal yet haunting melodies paired with a spacy electric guitar melt warmly together on each of the four tracks. We spoke to Char about her unique sound, overcoming her doubts and her plans for the future.
1. How would you describe your current sound and genre?
“It's quite a weird one. I always ask other people how they describe it because I don't really know myself. It just feels like a big open space, and a lot of people have said it's quite ethereal. I think there are elements of shoegaze and lots of '90s influence on me, so it's pretty electrical. I don't think I'd ever do acoustic-type stuff, but who knows.”
2. Are you planning on delving into any different genres in the future or are you content with developing your sound right now?
“I feel like I do want to try other stuff. I don't ever want to put myself in a box, so maybe I will, or maybe I won't. We'll have to see! But part of me thinks that if I do go for it, then I might have another alias and do it under a different project.”
3. What inspired you to start playing instruments and eventually making music?
“I had piano lessons from about [aged] seven until about 15 and did GCSE music. I picked up a guitar about two years ago and actually started trying on the guitar about a year and a half ago. I kind of bought the electric guitar I used for this album on a whim. I was just like, "let's splash the cash!" But immediately after, I thought, "I don't know why I bought this." I wasn't very good for about six months, but I was slowly getting better. Then I started putting in the time to do open tunings. The first song I ever wrote was an open tuning, actually, which was about a year ago.”
4. Where did the name Sugar Mice come from?
“You know those little sugar mice sweets? I really liked them as a kid, and I also have pet mice, so I thought it felt relevant and cute and also kind of creepy. The songs on this album feel kind of spooky, but then you look at the album cover, and it's just some cute little mice in a band. I just think that it's really fun, and I was making the whole set simultaneously with writing the songs, so it actually really helped me through the whole process.”
5. Speaking of the album art, where did that come from?
“The mice were felted by an artist called Judy Youssef on Etsy, who is so talented, and I made the set itself using clay and some cardboard. Once all the trees and stage were set up, I took a photo and edited it to make it a bit more spooky. I added the blue background to really make it feel like you've stumbled upon the mice in a forest. I really like making things and being creative in that sense. I like painting, knitting and making jewellery too.”
6. Do you have a favourite song on the album?
“I don't actually think I have a favourite. I made the four songs over quite a long period of time, and they all kind of have different emotions and feelings behind them. I can think of each song and remember what I was doing at that time, so I don't know!”
7. How would you describe the album in five words?
“Ethereal. Ambient. Spiralling. Spooky. Rodents.”
8. What is it about music and creating music that makes you feel the most passionate?
“I think music is probably one of the most immersive art forms. If you're listening to a song, it completely takes away one of your five senses. So in that sense, it's really overwhelming in the way that music can affect people. I mean, when I finish a song and put on my headphones, I just close my eyes and listen. It's so immersive, and I think that's why it's so scary to put music out there because people are going to have my voice in their heads.”9. During the process, as a new artist, did you ever face doubts or second-thoughts?
“It was quite the conflict between wanting to get myself out there and expressing myself, but it's just so personal, and you have to be so vulnerable. Part of me was considering just not telling anyone about the album. I could just let it exist, and whoever finds it finds it. Also, some of the lyrics in "Dog With A Death Sentence" made me wonder if I really wanted to say all of this. It was actually the last song I wrote, and I recorded it in the last few days leading up to release day. Now it's actually the song I've received the best feedback about, so I'm glad I did release it.”
10. As someone who's new to releasing music, can you describe the process? I'm sure it must have been pretty overwhelming.
“I feel like information about it is quite gatekept. I don't have a producer or a label, so I'm completely on my own. I just had to ask around, and I've made a couple of friends in the industry who are quite small musicians. I was just asking them lots of questions, and they would explain things to me in simple terms. They were all just so helpful.”
11. What is your process for song writing?
“I usually start off with a handful of chords, set up my phone to record and just play around with them. My phone is currently not functional because there's just no storage because of all of the voice notes I have. I'll hum or sing to try and get melodies I like and then record them. I genuinely feel like the words just fall out of my mouth, which is good.
‘A Soul To Rely On’ was a song very much like that, just a lot of quite unrelated lyrics.
‘Dog With A Death Sentence’ was a poem at first, so it was more of a direct process. If I have any leftover lyrics, I'll try and put them on a new one. I've got so many notebooks – I go through them at the speed of light.”
12. Who is your biggest musical inspiration?
“Jeff Buckley. The ways he viewed and spoke about art were so profound. There's a book called ‘Jeff Buckley: His Own Voice’, that is basically just copies and scans of his notebooks over the years with all of his lyrics and inner workings. He wrote about authenticity and how you just need to make music for yourself, which I really connect with. I also love Puma Blue, Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star and Wolf Alice.”
13. Do you tend to stick to one genre when you listen to music, or do you listen to a variety?
“I think my music taste is quite varied, but sometimes it can get quite overwhelming listening to different genres because I'm like, "Oh, I want to write a song like this! Wait no, like this!" I think I need to teach myself to switch off my musician brain sometimes so I can just enjoy the music.”
14. The music industry is still a heavily male-dominated space, with gender and sexuality expression still being quite imbalanced. What are your thoughts on that?
“I think where I'm quite fresh on the scene, I haven't personally experienced a huge amount of discrimination, but I do still feel it. The fact that I'm a woman and I have produced this album by myself, you just feel like you've got to prove yourself. Even just playing the guitar, it's almost like the default is, "Oh, she doesn't actually play." I feel like I have to prove myself more than a guy would need to. But I think that just existing in this space and being unafraid and continuing to put stuff out there is important.”
15. When can we expect more music from you?
“Early next year! I'll probably try and release a larger number of songs than I did before. I'm a bit of a perfectionist, so it will be a while before I'm happy with it anyway, but I have lots of new stuff written already, so!”
16. Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking about making and releasing music of their own?
“Just keep making songs and doing your thing. You will get better, and you will get more knowledgeable about it. I've genuinely written about 50 bad songs before I got one I liked. I also think that your imperfections and the things you maybe don't like about your music are what make it special. I mean, there are definitely parts of my songs which aren't perfect, but I think that's what makes them mine. So just… keep going.”
You can find Sugar Mice on Spotify now.