Interview: Jillian Billard
Photo: Kasia Zacharko
In 2015, Israeli MC Miss Red emerged on the scene with a her lauded solo mixtape Murder, enchanting us with her fierce conglomeration of dancehall, reggae, ambient, and distorted tracks.
On July 13, the Berlin-based artist is set to release her debut full-length album, K.O. on the record label Pressure, recently formed by British producer and musician Kevin Martin, a.k.a. The Bug. It’s fitting that the anticipated LP should be released as the inaugural full-length album on Martin’s label, as the two have collaborated a great deal over the years. In fact, it was at one of The Bug’s shows that Miss Red first got her start back in 2011. The duo met at an impromptu gig Martin was playing at a cramped basement bar in Tel Aviv. Miss Red recounts to me how she was so moved by the set that she walked right up to Martin and prompted him to give her the mic. Initially wary, Martin conceded to her request. The rest, as they say, is history. The following morning (only about five hours later) the two went to a studio and recorded a session, which would become the song “Diss Mi Army.” By 2012, Miss Red had moved to London and was playing live shows with Martin as an MC.
A blend of ethereal tones, heavy beats, and a deft lyricism inspired primarily by the Jamaican reggae scene, Miss Red’s voice flits over Martin’s minimal baseline, creating a sound that has been coined as “dancefloor devastation.” We spoke to Miss Red about her upcoming album; her greatest musical influences; navigating a predominantly male dominated scene; and consistently going out of her comfort zone to create something fresh and new.
Hi! So let’s start with your background. Where are you from, and when did you first begin making music?
I am from Haifa, Israel––probably the chillest place in Israel [laughs]––at least as chill as it can be. I started making music at an early age, often singing along with my big brother while he practiced his DJ skills. I started writing my own songs on guitar when I was 10. I’ve always loved making music, but could never imagine that I would do it for a living––that always seemed so far from a reality for me.
How long have you been making music as Miss Red, and where does the name come from?
It takes time to establish yourself on a certain path––and then even when you find your path, you are always evolving. So the way I see it, I’ve been becoming Miss Red for as long as I’ve been navigating this world. Officially, though, I have been making music as Miss Red for 5-6 years.
Everything is red for me. I feel it in my energy, in my tone, in my blood, and yeah––I like to get stoned too. 🙂 When I am really on fire, my face turns red; my hair turns red; the place turns red.
K.O., set to release July 13, is your first full-length album. It’s also the first full-length record to be released by the label Pressure, founded by producer Kevin Martin (a.k.a. The Bug). Can you talk a bit about your collaboration with Martin, and how you began working together?
I grabbed the mic at a surprise gig he played while he was touring in Israel. I flipped the fuck out while he was DJing. I was so hungry for the mic, so I asked him if I could spit. We destroyed the place––I don’t think anyone who was there that night will ever forget it. The morning after the show––maybe 5 hours later––we were in the studio, recording and working on shit. It was immediately clear that our tones were a great match, and since then we’ve been working together to try to create the freshest dancehall music out there. We make music that we want to hear and that nobody out there is making. We both have the same attitude towards what we are making and a desire to keep writing things that are 100% original and honest.
This album is a conglomeration of a number of different styles, from reggae to ambient to heavy dance music. It’s a very new sound that’s refreshingly authentic and beautifully complex. How do you go about creating a track? What does your writing process typically look like, and how do you continually switch things up and challenge yourself so that you keep growing as an artist?
I’m always learning from everything around me. You can never know it all––that’s the most important thing for an artist to remember. I don’t like comfort zones, so I’m always trying to challenge myself. My writing process all depends on whether I can go wild with my lyrics. I wrote this album in a time of confusion and chaos, and it was really important to me to spit my truth, whatever the price. Each track came to me in a different way––some songs I’d blend with a sketch that Bug had sent me; and some songs were ideas that had been floating around in my head that hadn’t materialized until the beat flipped a switch in my brain.
The songs all make perfect sense to me, but sometimes people can’t understand them, as English isn’t my mother language, and neither is Patois. I even speak differently in Hebrew [laughs]. So I write something that strikes a chord with me personally, and then try to make it as clear as I can. I hope people pick up the clues and can hear their story in my stories.
Everything is red for me. I feel it in my energy, in my tone, in my blood…. When I am really on fire, my face turns red; my hair turns red; the place turns red.
You’ve said in an interview that as a white Israeli girl it’s hard to be taken seriously in your field. What sort of adversities have you faced, and how do you overcome them?
It’s not always simple for people to see where I am coming from, so they might misunderstand me. And that’s cool. It’s a part of this process of being free with my choices. I would always get shit for being who I am. By now I don’t take anything personally. I can only hope that people would take a moment to really look at me as a creator, and not just as another stereotype.
The album artwork and title are an homage to your grandfather, who was a prize-fighter. How has your grandfather acted as an inspiration to you, and how does his spirit and energy inform the album?
My grandfather passed away while I was making this album. The love that he and my grandmother had for everything and everyone around them was a big lesson in my life. You don’t see this a lot in our generation––this endless source of giving and loving––and the need to fight for good, fight for justice, and always give more to others than to yourself. They were brave and beautiful people, and their spirit walks with me wherever I go. My album is all about knocking out the pain of reality and this glass box we all have in our mind. This album is my therapy––to remind myself to continue living life and seeing life the way my grandparents taught me.
My grandfather was a Berber-Moroccan Jew. He fought to stay with the love of his life, and escape with her from Morocco to Israel. He brought my family together, and was a source of love for everyone. That will always be a part of my essence.
Who are some of your greatest musical influences? Who are some contemporary artists that you feel you align with?
My biggest love was always old school Rub-a-Dub. Collecting records from that time and being extra nerdy about it gave me so much joy––that was the era of Billy Boyo, Yellowman, Lady Ann, and Sister Nancy. They were the first ones I got hooked on. There was also artists like Super Cat, Nicodemus, and Pupa San––who I thought had such unique tones and fresh vibes. Later on I discovered Warrior Queen, and I was completely hyped about this new dancehall sound. She is an originator and a mad lyricist, and just a great woman to look up to overall.
On the other hand, I’ve always loved Gonjasufi’s attitude and vibe. His delivery and style has had a great effect on me. I had a chance to tour with an artist named Flowdan, and he is one of the bravest grime musicians, with such unique ideas flow and tone. He drives people insane at his show. Daddy Freddy is also a huge influence––probably one of the biggest ragga rockers out there to this day. In the same breath, I love David Bowie to the bone, as well as Alice Coltrane; Sun Ra; the Egyptian Om Kalsoum; the Israeli revolutionary Meir Ariel; Rob Lichens; the doom metal band Sleep; and so many more.
Where are you based now?
I’m based in Berlin, but I move a lot. Traveling from Haifa to London to play gigs, it’s hard to have any regular practice, but Berlin gives me that when I am able to stay here for over a month.
Do you have any daily rituals that help you maintain balance?
I move a lot. I bicycle at least 20 miles to relax; practice yoga and meditate to keep fresh; and sing all the time. These practices allow my heart to keep opening up. And I make sure to never plan too much [laughs].