Indigo De Souza wants to be a light. It’s a proclamation that she repeats over and over, her conviction growing as if speaking it into existence, on ‘Way Out’ - the penultimate track from this month’s second album ‘Any Shape You Take’.
“I’m by nature a depressed and anxious person, but I’ve found a way to harness that energy into a light-making place, to connect deeply with people so that we can enter a real space together instead of having to fake anything,” she says today, chatting via video in a comfy hoodie, a string of fairy lights suspended above her. “With music, it feels similar. I’m able to express lightness and darkness, and for both to be true.”
Growing up in Spruce Pine, North Carolina - a small, conservative town - Indigo couldn’t find her place. One of only a handful of people of colour in her school, she was raised by her “hippie” mum. “We were so insanely different from everybody,” she says. “I dressed with all kinds of crazy colours, and was very expressive.” By 16, her dementia-stricken grandpa had moved in, making Indigo’s teen angst a little too combustible. She moved in with her older sister in Asheville - a vibrant, liberal city an hour away. It was a salvation. “I realised that I wasn’t insane; there are other people in the world that are like me,” she says. In the music scene, she found her voice. “I started to notice that playing music brought people together. And I could say anything to them, and they would hear it.”
Indigo’s home-recorded 2018 debut full-length, ‘I Love My Mom’, featured her mum’s artwork on its cover, as does ‘Any Shape You Take’. Her mother, explains the singer, is a major inspiration. “She’ll walk down the street in like, a wild costume, and doesn’t care what people think,” she smiles. “For a long time I was embarrassed of her, but when I got older I realised how special she is.”
‘Any Shape You Take’, meanwhile, is sonically a step up. Throughout 2020, she worked with producer Brad Cook (Bon Iver, The War On Drugs) to carve out a stunningly imaginative album that states its case from the get-go of opener ‘17’ - a brilliant, reflective, synth-pop cut. There’s funk-pop on ‘Hold U’, and grunge rock on ‘Late Night Crawler’; Indigo recalls listening to Rihanna, SZA and Tierra Whack during that time, though this album is too leftfield to be pinned down to any one set of influences. “It will always be a mystery to me, why all different genres of music pop into my head,” she laughs. “Really I was just having fun.”
“During the pandemic, it was the first time I’d felt as if the pain everybody was experiencing was somehow similar.”
The shape-shifting nature of the album is a perfect vehicle for Indigo’s lyrics, which explore the ever-morphing feelings that come with loving other people. It’s unconditional love she strives for, something she has opened up to the possibility of recently. “I used to take things really personally. But eventually I was like, ‘I’m just gonna love everybody, no matter what they do’,” she nods. “That came with learning about boundaries too - that boundaries could save me from feeling so attached to everything.” Whether detailing romance on ‘Hold U’ or a breakup on ‘Pretty Pictures’, Indigo expresses that love with an incredibly moving tenderness.
Her revelations came not just through romantic love, but platonic too: “I found a group of friends that were so life-giving, and they really saw me for who I was,” she explains. “I felt really inspired by that.
“I almost get distracted from my art a lot of the time because I’m just obsessed with passing energy between all the people in my world, and having dance parties and meals and going on adventures,” she continues. “I’ve always been so ready to share everything. I think that’s why I got hurt so much before I knew boundaries, because I just wanted to be really close with everybody that I loved. I feel that way with music. I wanna open up my life as much as possible to people listening, because it makes people feel seen. It’s a way of seeing people that I’m not even able to meet.”
In a representation of that sentiment, during the making of the album Indigo put out a call on social media for fans to submit recordings of themselves screaming. They did so in droves, some attaching messages to the singer that detailed what this catharsis meant to them. They can be heard in the track ‘Real Pain’, in a psychedelic breakdown of animalistic howls. Explaining the idea, Indigo says that “pain can feel really singular and lonely. [But] during the pandemic, I realised that it was the first time I’d felt as if the pain [everybody was] experiencing was somehow similar.
“I cried so much when we were making that track. It was really special.”
It’s an unlocking of the floodgates that feels key to ‘Any Shape You Take’, as if all that it means to love and be human is opened up at once. If there is a manifesto to be found with the record, it’s perhaps this: “It feels like real love is just allowing people to be whatever they want to be, whenever they want to be it. When you do that for a person, you’re really allowing them to feel seen in the world.” This is Indigo De Souza; let her be a light.
‘Any Shape You Take’ is out 27th August via Saddle Creek.
As featured in the August 2021 issue of DIY, out now.