Watch Tsar B's Cinematic New Self-Directed Video for "Swim"

Watch Tsar B's Cinematic New Self-Directed Video for "Swim"

The producer and singer also talks about her varying inspirations, coming up with her royal name, and more.

The producer and singer also talks about her varying inspirations, coming up with her royal name, and more.

Text: MATHIAS ROSENZWEIG

Belgium’s Justine Bourgeus, better known as Tsar B, is officially the latest to join the world of noteworthy dark-pop artists. Her brooding synths, carried by R&B beats and intertwined with moody vocals, make her music easily comparable to the likes of BANKS or Lorde. But her particular brand feels a little off-kilter, delivering experimental electronic vibes that are more reminiscent of FKA twigs than the more radio-friendly artists. With one EP under her belt and a ton of love in Europe, the emerging solo artists is setting her eyes on the States, which she'll surely conquer. Don’t just take our word for it—check out her new self-directed video for “Swim,” which aptly shows Bourgeus’ mastery of both audio and visual artistry.

We spoke to the exciting new talent about her classical beginnings, being a woman in the industry, and why she’s thrilled that people make love to her music.

Why did you choose to go by the name Tsar B.?

When I was about 5 years old, I had a fairytale book full of stories about tsars instead of queens and kings. It made me wonder what they looked like and it made me curious. I guess I always had a big interest in other cultures, especially the [Middle Eastern cultures]. The “Tsar” gives my music a “ruling” vibe, and the “B” stands for my second name, Bourgeus.

How did playing violin at such a young age affect your style of music?

It totally affected my musical skills. Thanks to the early start, I [was able to train] my ears. When I have a certain arrangement in my head, when I’m producing music, I can put it into a song in a minute. I don’t think education is necessary to be able to create music; sometimes, it can even limit people’s creativity. But for me, it was totally interesting. Classical music is still one of my biggest inspirations. You should definitely listen to “Stabat Mater” from Pergolesi, or “Lascia ch’io pianga” by Handel.

Do you think it's more difficult to be a woman in music than a man?

Well, all the people I work with in the studio and on stage are very cool, and I’m glad I didn’t have a lot of issues. But I know that in the world around it, I’ll always have to prove myself. I’ll always have to say that I’m a producer and not just a singer and I‘ll always have to fight for what I want. There’s still a long road ahead. But it’s a hard world for everyone. I must not complain.

What type of themes do you find yourself working with when you're writing your lyrics?

I write about [inequality], the awesomeness of sleep, fears, anger, and a lot about escapism, in the way that it’s about people leaving their natural habitat and seeking other places.

What is your creative process like overall?

First, I start by recording a sort of “hook;” a signature that makes this song different from other songs. That could be a recording of my voice, a sentence, a table machine (that’s a drum machine that Indians use as a guide for their sitars), a little violin pizzicato…but most of all, a bassline or drumline that gives me the creeps. And then I start building on it, adding vocals and synths. I make a lot of samples of things around me. I like to use orchestral instruments but use a lot of effects to change them into weird new sounds.

Besides the obvious, what's the difference between working as a solo artist and being in bands (as you were previously)?

It’s just a totally different thing. Since I gave birth to Tsar B [laughs], I constantly think about new things, like new ideas for songs or for videos and artwork. I’ve never felt this free before. I can make whatever I want. And even though playing in other bands is a kick—performing together with people you like—it’s less satisfying than having a project by yourself.

When and why did you decide to pursue music professionally?

Well, I guess I always wanted to be a musician—since I was five. I always played in cool bands until I was 18, and then I joined a Belgian band to tour with as their violinist. So things got real. And when I was 20, I knew I was going to make my own stuff. I didn’t expect it would turn out like this!

Who are your biggest inspirations artistically and why?

My inspiration comes from everywhere and nowhere. The basic layer is ruled by classical music, Eastern inspirations, Björk, R&B, Jeff Buckley and Holy Other. But my daily inspiration comes from my sub consciousness.

What would make you feel the most successful or happy when it comes to your music?

I love it when people say that my music means something to them. When people told me they made love to it, I just thought, “Wow, if that’s what my music can be, I’m lucky.” I also discover a lot of videos of people dancing to my first single “Escalate.” I can’t stop watching their videos. How lovely it is to see people using my music for something of their own.

Credits: Banner Image Athos Burez

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