Janat Sohail – better known by her moniker “Wooly & The Uke”- describes herself as “someone who intentionally and subconsciously focuses on human fragility and this loop we’re all stuck in; a self-critique on it all.”
The Berlin-based Pakistani musician and audiovisual artist, known for her hauntingly beautiful vocals and deeply introspective lyrics, just released her latest single “Home” from her upcoming EP “These Days”. The single, she says, is dedicated to those who carry “multiple homes inside of them” and in particular focuses on the grief that resides within all of us.
She described her songwriting process, her growth since releasing her first single “Circus” in 2017, and her thoughts on art and emotions with us on Instagram Live.
The Tempest: Musicians usually try to break through the Pop and Rock genres, but not many go for Indie because of how selective it is. What were the challenges you faced trying to break through the Indie music scene, especially in Pakistan?
Wooly: It’s difficult for all of us to know what we want because we are constantly surrounded by so many different media and so many people put forth so much work that gets so much spotlight, so it’s so hard to know if is what I want to worth it… Many people have told me that the music I make is too artsy for them to understand. It feels really good to make such music because it’s what I feel, but there’s also a part that makes me realise that it is a small niche.
Not many people want to listen about ‘the death of this world’ and other such existential themes while driving around in their car *laughs*. I’m still learning to find that balance between what I want and making it easy enough for others to understand by communicating it well enough.
“It feels really good to make such (artsy) music because it’s what I feel, but there’s also a part that makes me realise that it is a small niche.”
The Tempest: You released Circus back in 2017, and now you’re releasing a new E.P. with the lead single already out. Do you feel that progression and change in yourself compared to then?
Wooly: I think there’s been a massive change because when I release “Circus,” I didn’t trust in my own vision and trusted what I thought others needed. While I’m still happy with it (Circus), from then to now there’s been a massive journey of discovering and trusting myself and my own vision as well. It’s a challenge we face in our society when we are conditioned so much to be humble and grounded and compliant.
I’ve also explored different kinds of music and I’m in the process of breaking out of this bias/binary and opening myself to all these other kinds of genres… There’s so much happening in the spectrum and so much other music coming out, and there’s so much to learn out of all of that; what I could implement in my own music. Experiences such as travelling and getting to collaborate with other people from all over the world change your vision a lot too.
The Tempest: Let’s talk about “Home,” your lead single from the E.P. “These Days.” You described it as an ode to those who carry grief like home inside of themselves and those who carry multiple homes inside of them. What was the process behind its creation?
Wooly: The past two years living abroad taught me that it doesn’t matter how comfortable you get somewhere, there’s always an urgency to start another chapter; a spiralling identity crisis because of where we come from and always feeling like an ‘other’ in this society. That, and constantly having to prove yourself are these two categories from which I view it all from the surface.
But if you look at the subcategories of yourself, and go deeper, there’s so much more going on in there! Your own unique talents, your personal beliefs, your identity and so many other layers make you you. And usually, when you’re unable to accept these parts of yourself, you question how other people will accept you. So you condense yourself into tiny boxes with all the different identities you show people on different occasions; these different personas are different shelters which we can call home. One that’s very different from the one we have physically.
“You condense yourself into tiny boxes with all the different identities you show people on different occasions.”
The lyrics start with “Mother, brother…” because I feel like these are two figures are the most important in life. You always feel guilty for not doing, listening or being enough for your mother and you’re scared of losing her; a mystical figure in your life. Brother is a binary male figure to who you’re constantly trying to prove yourself to. All of this while carrying yourself and trying to breathe through it all is what it’s all going for.
The Tempest: This was your directorial debut too. How did that feel?
Wooly: The words “directorial debut” also took a lot of confidence to write and adopt. But it was important to me as well. There’s always a beginning for everything, and if you have a vision for it, it’s important to go with that. I’m also in the process for it to be clear that it didn’t come across as a big-budget production with any fancy special effects, because my priority was to get that raw emotion out.
When I was writing the idea for ‘Home’, I was just sitting at night and visualised the whole thing; all I could see was the figure in the black shelter/shroud sitting like a creature. The idea was that when we’re all going through something, especially grief, we turn into this lump or creature without realising it. We’re all creatures of emotion and it’s hard for me to see us as anything other than that. We’re constantly trying to shed things, take things, others trying to force them on or off you. I tried to portray that moment of isolation and rejection in the video.
“We’re all creatures of emotion and its hard for me to see us as anything other than that.”
The Tempest: Normally you put your own interpretations of your music in description boxes. How open are you to other interpretations, if they’ve been conveyed to you?
Wooly: It’s interesting, especially since a lot of interpretations for ‘Home’ had religious contexts to them. I feel like all art is metaphorical and it’s okay to have your own interpretations of things because it matters to you and what you think and experience. There were religious concerns that even I had with ‘Home’ because I thought about how people would mistake the cloth as a burqa, and breaking out of it would be taken as breaking out of oppression (which it isn’t, at all). Other interpretations were similar to what I had so I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing *laughs*
The Tempest: You have three other songs in your E.P. “These Days”. Will they be similar to Home, or different or somewhere in between?
The idea behind the E.P. is to have it flow like a narrative; like Pink Floyd and how their albums felt like a story progressing with a beginning and an end. Home is the intro, and the next song “Same as You” is about a very taboo topic in our society – how difficult it is to love other people who may be misunderstood in our society or not accepted. “These Days’ is an interpretation of my own thoughts of what these days have been like. Life has always been kind of shit *laughs* even if it has its good things.
I’m also in the works of releasing a pop song, in collaboration with Zahra Paracha and the really talented pianist Maham Riaz from Nescafe Basement, that I’m very excited about too!
The Tempest: What can we expect from Wooly & The Uke in the future?
Wooly: Music is definitely going to continue. I’m in Pakistan for the next few months and I’m very open to collaborating with people now. I got a really nice idea from someone for a little musicians’ retreat which I’m excited about. I’m also in the process of setting up a small audio-visual production house, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time; combining all my interests into one thing. And of course, making more obscure shit with everybody else *laughs.* I just really want to end the year with my brain splattered everywhere into what I create.
The Tempest: Like a Jackson Pollock painting, all splattered over the canvas?
Wooly: That’s a really good comparison, yes.
The Tempest: Out of my own curiosity: where did the ukulele come from?
Wooly: I got the ukulele around the time of Nescafe Basement, and I love it because it’s very portable and I can play it anywhere. It’s a sneaky little instrument and I can take it everywhere.
“These Days” will be releasing soon, as an audio experience. She will be returning to Europe in a few months and will be performing more then. In the meantime, you can check out our full interview with Wooly and the Uke on our Instagram account!
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