Sega Bodega breaks down the wild concept behind new album Romeo
The Irish producer’s second solo album charts his relationship with mythical girlfriend Luci, made entirely of light.
For the best part of a decade Sega Bodega has led the way in crafting pop-adjacent underground electronic music. NUXXE, the London collective he co-founded, is home to future-facing artists Shygirl, Coucou Chloe, and Oklou, while his production credits took in the similarly minded Brooke Candy, Zebra Katz, Dorian Electra, and Eartheater. However, it wasn't until 2020 and the arrival of solo album Salvador that people were truly let into Sega Bodega's inner sanctum.
Essentially self-titled — his real name is Salvador Navarrete — Salvador might have sounded tough on first listen, but beneath the chrome beats and affect-free vocal delivery was an artist dredging up painful memories and putting everything on display. Concerned with solitude and intimacy, it seemed eerily well-timed. Released in February 2020, it would only be a few weeks before the world was plunged into isolation.
Today he returns with a second solo album. Romeo is a far lighter affair, spinning a high-concept narrative around the fictional character Luci. Named after Lucifer, Luci is the bringer of light and a figure who illuminates everything she comes into contact with. This newfound vision carries through into songs like "I Need Nothing From You" and "Angel On My Shoulder." At one point Arca, another of Sega's close friends, melts into the digital ether and emerges, insect like on the beautiful "Cicada."
Speaking about the album in the run-up to its release, Sega told The FADER about the inspiration behind Luci and the ways in which he feels Salvador and Romeo compliment one another. He also took a moment to remember friend and collaborator SOPHIE, whose death in January the music world is still only just beginning to process.
The FADER: Does the release of Romeo feel different to when you were releasing Salvador 18 months ago?
Sega Bodega: Yeah. I feel more sure of this one. I wasn't sure about the last one. Every release you get a bit better at things. So, just feel more sure of what I wanted to say in this album. I just think it sounds better.
So what is it you want to say with Romeo?
Maybe not even what I wanted to say lyrically, but just, I feel just like I've worked, I've spent so much time working with other people and I've learned so much about songwriting and stuff. Basic songwriting skills have really helped in making this more concrete feeling. It's hard to explain.
What is the most basic songwriting skill that you've learned between albums that you think has been utilized on the new album?
I've kind of learned, I don't think this is a basic songwriting skill, but it's something that works for me, is just getting to the point quicker. I want the feeling of the song to be obvious within the first 10 seconds. I'm quite impatient with listening to other people's music. I like to just get to the point very quickly.
Romeo tells the story of a relationship between yourself and what's described as a mythical girlfriend called Luci. I understand that this idea sort of first came to you as part of a photo shoot that you wanted to do. Can you remember the origins of that idea and what originally in the photo shoot you wanted to communicate with that idea?
I was thinking of a few ideas and this one just popped into my head. I was like, 'oh, that's actually really strong.' I can never really see something before it's there, especially with photo shoots and stuff. I'm always like pleasantly surprised, but I never go in with an image in mind. And I remember really wanting to do this image where I'm sat on a bed and this person made of light is holding me from behind, which is the artwork for one of the singles ["Only Seeing God When I Come"]. And I just remember seeing that, and then I kind of was like, 'this is not just a photo shoot, this is my whole album.' I saw that as kind of a big sign.
What was it that you were seeing in that moment that gave you that spark?
Well, I was talking to Caroline [Polachek], we were doing a session and I was telling her this idea, because she had just come from a meeting with Aidan Zamiri and I was telling her my idea. She was like, 'that sounds great. That's like a whole story. You should get Aiden to shoot it.' I don't really approach things too much with meaning. I'm not able to articulate usually, I don't do anything for the meaning of it. The meaning comes afterwards.
It just has to sound and look good. Those are my only rules. I speak to so many artists and they'll shy away from an idea because it doesn't fit the concept that they've already predetermined is the thing. So already you're limiting yourself because you're like, 'oh, I can't do that because it doesn't fit the concept.' That's not a fun way to work.
That sounds a bit like you're working almost for your audience less than for yourself, not in a bad way, but you're prepared to lose something meaningful if it doesnt look or sound great for you and for them...
This is for me. I've definitely put out stuff that people have been like, 'I don't like that.' I think about what people want very much last. I think, no, it doesn't come into it. I think if it did the result would be a lot different. I kind of have an idea of what they want and I'm not sure a mythical girlfriend is really it.
So, the mythical girlfriend is called Luci, which is sort of a play on Lucifer. But I understand that it's almost like a positive version of Lucifer, like a bringer of light. Was this representation something you were familiar with before?
I've spoken about this person Lucifer before as always shortened to Luci. I spoke about her, I put it in a song called "Mimi," and I put it in a song called "2 Strong" on my last album. So I've spoken about this person before as the devil. Caroline was like, 'you should call her Luci, because that means the bringer of light.' And it was just perfect, it was just a perfect kind of full circle of this character.
Two of the singles leading up to Romeo have been "Angel On My Shoulder and "Only Seeing God When I Come." I wondered if you could talk to me a bit about your relationship toward religion. Were you raised in the church?
I struggle to see it as anything other than just really good stories. I don't believe in God. I don't believe in the God that's in the Bible. I don't believe that we should be using rules from 2000 years ago. I mean, so much of that is so good, but so much of that is basic just morality. But how much it affects so many people's lives because the Bible said it, I struggle with that. It's kind of ridiculous.
You were born and raised in Ireland, where religion is an incredibly big part of the culture...
Sure. In the schools and, yeah, I wasn't raised religious. I think how extreme Catholicism and religion is in Ireland is enough to make anyone who knows the history of it think it's not something worth pursuing. I understand having faith and stuff is important for people, but it's not for me.
You put out Salvador in February 2020. Was it important to you to come back in a relatively quick fashion? Or was it perhaps maybe more just a product of being inside for the last year like everybody else?
Yeah, it just happened, I just had all these things and I guess being inside was definitely helpful. I wasn't, I probably wasn't in a mad rush to get another one out. This one doesn't even feel rushed, but I don't know. I never feel bored because I do so much stuff with other people. I'm always kind of making something and something is always kind of coming out that I can show what I've been up to and that scratches a big itch.
Salvador ended up being quite timely in a way because of the themes of isolation and being disconnected and alone. And then it came out in a period of quarantine and lockdown when suddenly that was kind of forced on a lot of people. Did the album take on any extra meaning for you or your fans in that period?
There's a song on the album that came out and literally at the end of it I had my friend, Paul, there's just a dialogue where he talks and he's just like, "go home, lock your doors, don't go out."
I wouldn't say it matched the mood of the time, but there was a lot of people who responded to a song called "Calvin," which is about suicide. A lot of people still now tell me that that was a helpful song for them, which I kind of hoped. It was helpful for me to write it.
When you came to write that album, were you surprised by some of the darker themes that emerged? Like you said, you write things to sound good and kind of please you in that sense, when you went back and kind of looked into it a bit deeper, did it surprise you that it ended up being quite a dark record?
Well, it was all about stuff from my life from 2016-ish and before, and I know that those were dark years of my life. I had a very, very bad drinking problem, and it affected all my relationships. So, it touched on everything, because alcohol abuse is alcohol abuse and it's not a chill problem to have. It's a very loud problem when you're close to someone who has it. I stopped drinking in 2016 and I wasn't really writing lyrics then, so when I did start to actually talk about myself in songs, I guess I had like a backlog of stuff that I wanted to write about. So it's a dark album, but it also represents my much younger self.
So, is Romeo in some ways working as a bit of a response to that? Does it feel important to you that people get an album that is more representative of who you are now rather than who you were?
It's not really that important because I feel like I'm a lot more vague on this record. The last one was so much more direct in how I feel and this one anyone can kind of interpret their own meaning to it and it could be very different from what I originally said. I like to have some ambiguity in what I'm talking about.
One of the artists you've worked with the most over the years is Shygirl. I was thinking about this idea of Luci and some of the aliases and characters that she's put into her music. Have you spoken with her about this shared interest in fictional characters?
Not really. Hers are very much different versions of herself, which is something that she develops quite hard. She does a really good job of showing these different characters of yourself. But mine is very much this other person that I'm talking to.
Was there any particular reason that you felt the need to create this fictional person to talk to? Other people might base this on a real person, but you've created this character.
I've kind of found that in the past I've maybe dedicated something to someone and I was quite straightforward about that. And then a couple years later we don't talk. Or we just grow apart, or maybe they piss me off, or I piss them off or whatever. This person can't, this fake person is not going to change because I have created them. So, my relationship with them in five years time will still be the exact same as it is now because it's very much fictional.
You're going on tour in the U.K. and Europe in the new year. How are you feeling about getting on stage after a long time away?
Yeah. I'm excited. I'm still building the live show and what the show is. I need to be happy with it and I need to be comfortable as well. I don't consider myself a performer. This is the part I'm still trying to figure out, who I am on a stage, because it's not my natural habitat. Some people are born to be on stage, but I am very much not.
I wanted to end by asking about one last collaborator of yours, SOPHIE, who passed this year. I guess it's about six months maybe now on, how are you dealing with that loss and how have your feelings around it developed over the time?
Almost every night she'll pop into my head and I'll just think about it. I can think about it and it doesn't hit me. But then sometimes it'll just hit me all over again and I need to take a couple minutes and just go through it again. I don't think that's ever going to change. And I don't really want that to change because, I don't know, it's hard. It's a very tough, that was tough for me and tough for so many people.
How would you sum up the impact she made on the music world?
Well, it didn't sound like anything else. It always sounded so new and I just think that you see it a lot now with people and you see because of how visibly we see younger generations now, because of the internet, you see them get inspired, you see them discovering things like The Strokes, or you see them discovering, and it's just like this whole new wave of people just discovering these people. And I think when we start to see people who are five years old now in the future discovering SOPHIE and really seeing how much kind of like, SHOPIE's music kind of hit everyone like a train. I have a strong feeling that it will always sound great even in 20, 50 years time. It's too physical not to.
Her music doesn't feel tied to a specific period of time, which is what tends to date music as time progresses...
If you listen to something and it sounds like dubstep, you say, 'it sounds like a dubstep track or that's a house track.' But when you listen to something by SOPHIE, you don't say, 'oh, it sounds like this,' you say 'it sounds like SOPHIE. So it doesn't matter if people try to change it, because it's SOPHIE's sound. It's its own genre.