The Danish singer and producer Erika de Casier conquered many hearts in the summer of 2019 with her solo debut Essentials, a slow burner full of romantic R&B slow jams and light-hearted pop bangers. On her second album, Sensational, she wants to show a more dramatic and free version of herself with her evil alter ego Bianka.
Written by: Loulou Kuster
Photos: Dennis Morton
Her debut album Essentials was close to simply ending up on her computer in the folder called 'fun projects' and would never have been released. The Danish singer and producer Erika de Casier was losing her love for music with her then project Saint Cava. “At the time, I set far too high standards for myself, everything had to have a deep meaning and it had to be very good right away. That really got me stuck in the process. Essentials was then a small project for myself, a space in which I was allowed to experiment. I wanted to give myself the chance to be able to receive my own music with open arms again, without wanting to impress anyone or even myself. I wanted to find that spark again.”
“I remember sitting in the school yard with some friends as a kid when someone told me that Aaliyah had died. I cried so loudly.”
De Casier was born in Portugal to a Belgian mother and Cape Verdean father. At the age of ten, the family moved to Denmark for her father's work. In a small village with colder temperatures and also a "colder culture", she felt like an outsider for a long time. The only role models De Casier had were the R&B stars she saw on MTV. “I spent hours and hours with MTV. It was really nice to see people who looked like me. But I also spent days wandering through the library's CD section. I picked out the covers that I thought were cool or names that appealed to me. For example, I discovered Erykah Badu, because her name is also Erykah. A great find, because Badu's music has meant a lot to me.”
But her biggest influence is American R&B star Aaliyah, who died exactly twenty years ago this year in a fatal plane crash. Although De Casier was still a child when Aaliyah passed away, her death is still visible to her. “I will never tire of Aaliyah's music. Her voice... It is one of the voices in the world made to tell a story. She hardly needs to use words, just the sound of her soft, sweet and sexy voice tells a story. I remember sitting in the school yard with some friends as a kid when someone told me that Aaliyah had died. I cried so loudly. It was the first time I cried for someone I actually didn't know at all, but I kept on crying. Now that I think about it, it's kind of crazy to be so upset about a deceased pop star as a kid, but it was the first artist I felt such a bond with.”
De Casier eventually found the spark she had been looking for in her private project. In fact, the project became her debut album, which she released in 2019. It was a typical slowburner that slowly but surely received more praise. The record is full of nostalgic R&B slow jams like 'Intimate' and lighthearted pop bangers like 'Do My Thing'. The fact that she eventually released the project as an album is partly thanks to producer Natal Zaks, better known as DJ Central and one of De Casier's best friends. “We got to know each other at school and started hanging out together in the studio basement there. I then let him listen to some tracks that I liked and he let me play some club tracks that he liked. At the time, I actually had no idea who I was dealing with exactly, except a chill guy with whom I could talk about music. Until people around me said: 'Wow, do you work with DJ Central?! That's insane!' Little did I know that was a thing.”
“When Natal's brother Milán, alias DJ Sports, also joined the team, the realization that they were flying all over the world to run slowly diminished. My image of DJing was like in that song, 'Hey Mister DJ turn the music up' (Rihanna - 'Pon de Replay', ed.); I had no idea you could play the kind of tracks they played me in clubs. I showed Natal some of my sketches from Essentials and actually it was very clear to me: this is something of my own and I'm not going to do anything with it. I'm just letting him know so he knows what I'm doing. But Natal was immediately so enthusiastic: 'This is great! We're going to do this!' Natal and I had built such a good bond from our shared love for music that I entrusted him to make a record of my sketches.”
The Casier has become more confident since then, although she still suffers from stage fright. On Sensational she looks at herself with different eyes. She invented her evil twin evil twin Bianka, a dramatic character who seems to have walked right out of the long-running American soap 'Days of Our Lives'. “When I released the single 'Drama' I also made a statement: because you're not entirely yourself when you're in the violence of your emotions, on behalf of Bianka. It was meant as a joke, but there is also some truth in it. I thought of it while listening to a speech by Eckhart Tolle, in which he says, “Whenever you interact with people, don't be there primarily as a function or a role, but as the field of conscious presence. You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are.” I can be a very different person sometimes when I'm shy or scared in a situation. For example, in 'Polite' I sing about a guy I was on a date with a while back. He was really rude and annoying, but I kept sitting out the date as a courtesy, when I should have stood up for myself by standing up and saying, "You know, I don't really want to be here, you're really super unkind. Bye."
But it doesn't all have to be too much for De Casier. “I was thinking about what to do with the video for 'Drama'. That had to be a bit dramatic and I wanted to have the same soap opera vibe that I had created in, say, 'No Butterflies No Nothing'. I was scrolling through a costume site when I saw a wig. I thought, 'A wig! Yes, a wig! A wig, of course!” Once I had it on, it felt wonderful. I just felt totally empowered. So besides the fact that it's nice to have an evil twin as an alter ego, it's also just fun to dress up and dress up to that character. Sensational is actually exactly like this: I mean what I sing and it's serious, but I also want to keep having fun with my music.”
Sensational is out now on 4AD. Buy the album onBandcamp.
Editor's note: this article was originally published in Dutch. Some quotes may have been altered in the translation.