Latitude 2013: Five minutes with... Serafina Steer


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The Independent Culture

English harpist Serafina Steer writes heartfelt ballads about love and moths. She's also a major player at this year's Latitude, where she'll be gracing the i Arena. We asked her a few questions and got, well, a lot of answers...

Which latitude are you on right now?

East London.

Sum up what you do for us in one sentence for anyone who might not know...

Write queer songs that cover a range of topics such as love, lost love, unrequired love, (love) machines, moths, cathedrals, fresh running lemon springs, honey hips, the sea and transformation. and outer space. and parties. With a harp and increasingly wavery voice. and cosmic effects via Kristian Craig Robinson (Capitol K).

What’s the best thing about performing live?

Time travel.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

Yes, not like OCD ones. It depends how wholesome I'm being. I used to warm up and all that. Then I started cutting down on that and drank wine beforehand then I cut down on that and now I'm back to warming up and focusing. Choosing the set list has become a kind of divination of the environment and mood. Likewise 'costume.' Though festivals are chaos and a different story.

What’s your best festival story for us? The stranger the better!

Well, it'd be the first time I played at Glastonbury, in a small offshoot band of The Memory Band. It's probably not actually strange. It was a bit of a blag anyhow. We had got there the day before punters arrived and it was mysteriously hard for the band's manager to produce enough wristbands and paperwork.

So I don't know when it starts on the Thursday or Friday but the first night I went wandering about, a bit out of my shell like and bumped into an old friend and we suddenly realised we were maybe in love with each other and sort of went trudging around and saw lots of things etc.

Then at some point we fell asleep up near the Green Fields/Healing Fields and so I could wake up and not have a clue where I was. I set off towards my tent. Couldn't remember where we'd put those. It was a hot year though still morning. I walked around for a bit then remembered it was near an entrance! So I decided it would be more peaceful to go off-site and walk around the edge. Of course, by this point the festival had started properly and when I got to my entrance, the people on the gates explained kindly to my by now very hungover self, that my getting back into the festival without any ticket or wristband was similar to a hope in hell.

It was very hot and I had no money either. I called the band's manager and relayed my situation. It was only medium-funny to him, especially as we were meant to be on the festival radio at that exact moment. I wasn't finding it all funny either. After a couple of HOURS he called back and said I should walk out to some collection point and someone would get me. I was eventually smuggled in on a band's tour bus. They looked at me like a real sad case. And I looked at them in a similar way, until one of them gave me some chocolate and I took that to be a great kindness.

Ha anyway so finally got in and got off the bus and I was back where I'd started! No nearer to my tent at all. So I sat on a bale of hay and called the manager and asked if he could please come and help me find the tent area in person, if I was to make it to any of the band's performing commitments. As I sat and waited, not quite sure that he would come, I started talking to an old biker dude. I said I'd had a bit of a rough night.

He said "that's nothing" and told me a Glastonbury story to make the eyes water (that included taking so much acid that he lost the keys to his motorbike and then just lost it! And all his money. And then he'd been such an asshole all his friends left him at the festival and he couldn't remember anything and had to try and hitch somewhere north but no one would take him) And then he said but he'd been really straight ever since prison.

So that all put things in perspective.

Tell us a something you’ve never told an interviewer before?

I snooze.

What’s your signature cooking dish?

I don't have one. I think I make good soups sometimes but it's serious alchemy and it can go very wrong.

What book/film/record etc. changed your life and why?

OH. I think a good book/film/record should change your life, I mean that's part of what I classify as good. Though I don't mean stop you smoking or find you a job just introduce/recalibrate/illuminate somehow.

Presently, I am being changed by reading 'Infinite Jest' by David Foster Wallace which if anyone who has read might be able to tell, from the cod-version of his style that has temporarily taken over some of my sentences.

Knock Knock, who’s there?

It's not going to work.

And lastly, summarise Latitude in three words

Well last time I played it was 'anarchy in rain' but hopefully this year it's going to be sunny...