Cruel Youth's Teddy Sinclair on turning personal tragedy into excellent pop music
You might know her by her former stage name, Natalia Kills, or you might not know her at all; She’s yet to have a proper hit in the U.S., but either way, singer-songwriter Teddy Sinclair wants you to pay attention to one thing as she storms her way back onto the scene with her first original release in three years: the sometimes painful, often brutal, always personal story she tells through music.
As a solo artist, Sinclair has written some of the most powerful pop lyrics in recent memory, showcasing a natural talent that earned her a spot in the studio penning tracks for Madonna (“Holy Water”) and Rihanna (“Kiss It Better”).
Now, Sinclair is releasing soulful tracks on a new EP, +30MG, recorded as part of her group, Cruel Youth — a collaborative effort between Sinclair and her husband, recording artist Willy Moon. On the release, the 30-year-old U.K. native goes a cut deeper than she ever has before with seven raw, unfiltered songs that recall differing genres, bouncing from doo-wop to bass-heavy hip hop.
Sinclair tells EW that, after performing her pop songs with an all-female band while on tour, she wanted to explore a new side with Cruel Youth, channeling “The Ronettes on Oxy” and “narcotic lullabies.”
She says, “I feel like I am now, in the project and with our band, who I’ve always been. It’s the purest dose of me you can get,” she says of the EP. “I’ve been through a few things that people normally wouldn’t repeat out loud in conversation, let alone a song, but when you put beautiful music behind these things and you get to say it out loud, I think you’re turning sad or tragic moments into something really beautiful. There’s nothing like a big ‘f— you’ and a glass of champagne.”
Below, Sinclair details Cruel Youth’s latest EP, spinning highly personal lyrics from personal tragedy, and finding her true sound through the pain.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Is Cruel Youth a reaction to the sound you’d experimented with earlier in your career as Natalia Kills? You were doing pop songs with stars like will.i.am.
TEDDY SINCLAIR: I love [my 2013 solo album Trouble], I really do, but there are a few songs on that album that are familiar, in ways, to Cruel Youth, like “Outta Time” and “Boys Don’t Cry,” that have a sort of doo-wop, ’60s, jingly tambourine feeling. There’s lots of surf guitar, lots of ringing, and lots of “oohs” and “ahhs” as pad melodies. Then, I think of Perfectionist‘ssongs like, “Zombie,” with hip hop drums and urban sounds executed in that typical Jeff Bhasker, Emile Haynie, electronic way.
When I think of all of those things, that’s the hybrid of what Cruel Youth started from and has developed way beyond. I feel like I am now, in the project and with our band, who I’ve always been. Because there isn’t a record label or anyone saying, “Oh, yeah, take those hip hop drums out. Don’t make it so trap. You can’t say ‘f—’ so many times,” or asking, “What’s all this ’60s s—? Stop with the ‘oohs’ and the ‘ahhs.’ There are tambourines all over the place; it’s a tambourine s— show.” No one’s saying those things to us. It’s just Willy and I making great records, just the two of us in our studio with no interference with no feedback or advice until well after we finish the songs.
Do you think this is the music that’s truest to you, after this long career you’ve had?
There’s absolutely no filter. It’s gone. Before, working with different producers and having quite a large team of yeses, nos, and even more nos coming at me before I made an idea, perhaps things might have gotten changed by the time they got to the listener. In my lyrics, my contributions have always been from me. I think when you listen back to my other records, the lyricism, stories, personal torment and the experiences I’ve had of not really giving a f—, they’ve always been there. Now, the whole thing connects to the music as well. It’s the purest dose of me you can get.
But because you’ve taken on several identities, whether it’s as Natalia Kills, as Teddy Sinclair, or on tracks for Madonna and Rihanna, do you find yourself writing from different perspectives or is it coming from the same place?
It’s all coming from the same place, and I don’t really know where that place is, to be honest. I sit there with a pen and suddenly it goes on the page.
Judging by those lyrics, I think it’s fair to say there’s an essence of sadness or pain that’s essential to your process. Is that reflected on this EP again? Were you able to tap into that place of vulnerability once more?
I’m really just telling you about my life. If it comes across as sad, then I guess it is. But, am I a sad person? If I’m writing about a particular memory and it’s not a nice event, I’m not going to sugarcoat it so it’s an easier pill to swallow. I suppose I’ve been through a few things that people normally wouldn’t repeat out loud in conversation, let alone a song, but when you put beautiful music behind these things and you get to say it out loud, so freely and joyously and unapologetically, I think you’re turning sad or tragic moments into something really beautiful. There’s nothing like a big ‘f— you’ and a glass of champagne.
What do you hope people connect with, specifically, on this EP, then?
I wrote those songs because it brought me pleasure. I make songs that make us really happy, that bring us a lot of joy to make. It’s all exposing moments in my life. There are moments that aren’t sad. “Mr. Watson,” for example, is a love song, maybe not to a person. There are times when I’ve hated a relationship I was in or felt like my friends abandoned me or my dad was in prison. I haven’t spoken to my mom or my family for years, my grandma who raised me died…
That’s alright. It’s good for the music, isn’t it? Heartbreak happens to everybody. In a song like “Mr. Watson,” I’m talking about these feelings and talking about them in a joyful way because there’s always been a quick fix there for me to get me out of the sadness, and it’s come in the form of what feels like a person or what feels like a relationship. “Mr. Watson” is asking, “What would I do without you? You saved me. You rescued me. You’re not good for me, but what is good?” Everything kills you in the end, anyway.
There’s also a song called “Alexis Texas,” and that’s about a special memory I made with Willy in Paris. It’s about first times. I haven’t had a lot of first times, recently, but when I met Willy, everything was like the first time. If you have a really good night, you might not remember most of it, but you know it was good anyway. That might be sad and it might be bad, but it feels so good to finally say it. It’s all f—ed, isn’t it?