Sofia Malamute

The Tapestry of Suki Waterhouse’s Tender Heart

She’s a performer with a dreamy persona, a recognizable face, and an air around her that is light… too light for someone whose lyrics range from “When I dream my nightmares are calling,” to “I know I’m in trouble when I start looking back over old memories that don’t belong to me.”

Divine and intimate and effervescent is the art of Suki Waterhouse. Emotions are compiled and arranged straight from the source, forming memories through melody. Sprawling soundscapes lay underneath personal narratives to create an indie pop sound that is cozier than most – the outcome of a nostalgic singer-songwriter coming to terms in real time with adulthood, femininity, the weight of feelings, and the unpredictability of relationships.

Waterhouse, 30, is someone most have crossed paths with at least once over the last eight to 10 years – even if you didn’t know it. From Vogue covers and Burberry shows to pop culture moments and tabloid headlines, the London-hailing model has been seen on screen, in print, and on stage since she rose to prominence in the early-to-mid-2010s. You may have caught her in rom-com Love, Rosie, the star-studded British comedy Misbehaviour, or the beloved Divergent series as she began her foray into the film world. It’s possible that you are even currently excited for her role in the highly-anticipated Prime Video miniseries, Daisy Jones & The Six, which premieres March 3, 2023 – not too long after the Coolest Place in the World Tour comes to a close.

This tour will be Suki Waterhouse’s first as a headliner that spans throughout North America – 18 U.S. states, plus Toronto and Montreal, and two records under her belt. Both were officially released via Sub Pop this year – I Can’t Let Go [LP] on May 6 and Milk Teeth [EP] on November 4 – to immediate acclaim. Fans and critics alike have been following the blossoming songstress era of Waterhouse since 2016 when the starlet began dropping snippets of songs here and there – tracks like the beloved “Johanna” have been circling the underground Brit-pop world for years and, upon taking it to the live stage this year, has a new timeless quality to it. We had the pleasure of interviewing Waterhouse to talk about just in between EP release and tour start.

We here at The Aquarian were able to catch your show in Brooklyn this past spring and it featured such a small, intimate group of people. It was immaculate, so thank you for putting on such a wonderful performance that night.

Oh my God. I loved that show. That was one of my favorites. It [was] right off the bat of releasing the record and those ones were incredibly overwhelming and special because it was right after… like the day or two after the record came out. I did an LA one, aSan Francisco one, and then two in New York. There is nothing like it. The energy that you get when you’ve been waiting to release something? It felt very much like, “Wow, this is the first time that I’ve ever gone into a room and actually had a lot of people that were singing the lyrics, people who knew the songs.” It was very shocking to me to have everyone singing the words back to me for the first time. Oh my goodness… I didn’t even realize this was a thing for me yet.

Going off of that, we have a newly announced headlining tour of yours on our mind. You’ll be playing at Webster Hall. That’s a very big step up from something like Elsewhere in Brooklyn in terms of size and the amount of people ready to sing your songs back to you. Coming off of those smaller, one-off shows and opening for Father John Misty, what’s going through your mind?

The Father John Misty tour was incredible. Like you said, I went from a couple of shows in these 200 people [capacity] venues to the first day with Misty at like Red Rocks in Colorado. It was kind of a shock to the system to suddenly be able to say, “I did Red Rocks. I did Radio City Music Hall. I did The Ryman in Nashville.” Some of those venues that we – that I – played as a support for him were once in a lifetime opportunities. 

Also, just being around the high level of musicianship that he has and all the musicians in his band have? There’s about 10 people on stage with him every night and they’re all just absolutely world class. I would watch that show every night and be like, “Oh, I’m really getting to witness this and be part of this? The absolute highest level of talent.” I’m right at the beginning of my [music career] and I got to be around them and the highest level of excellence for such a long time. It was really very special.

To be in massive rooms some nights and know that people aren’t there entirely for you… it’s very different from the kind of show that shows in Brooklyn. Because of that, I think it was great for me to kind of be really overwhelmed and really out of my depth, as well. When you do it for like two months, you are ironing out mistakes and learning things every night. There are also things that will always go wrong every now and then. There’s something that will go super wrong, but it’s kind of amazing to have that level of being overwhelmed in such a large space. In large spaces, you can just appreciate that those things will happen and some may notice, some not, but you can still have an amazing show. You know what I mean? Little things like that I was learning constantly on that tour.

Oh, absolutely. Just throwing yourself into the deep end is something very commendable, especially in front of so many strangers, but I can imagine it is also a lot of worthwhile fun.

Oh my God, yeah. I feel incredible coming off that tour. […] It definitely changes you. I feel like it changed my brain waves eternally. You just kind of always think about the next time that you’re gonna be on stage. The anticipation of the next show is evident – and it’s in about a month in London, actually, so a hometown show. I’m kind of trying to put my feet back on the ground for a bit before doing like the European run and then, and then the headline tour at the top of next year. I still can’t really believe it’s happening.

I love that so much. I know so many people are excited about catching you as a headliner and hearing these songs – more songs – be performed live. From the past few months of touring, have any songs stood out to you? Songs that you think really resonated with audiences? I know that “Melrose Meltdown” was such an atmospheric moment in New York, but maybe on your end of things it was different and a certain track or two did even better in that setting.

I think my standout one is “Johanna.” I always have the best time doing “Johanna.” I love the songs where there’s a rise and fall, and there’s a big kind of cathartic moment to it. “Good Looking” has been incredible to do, too. I love “Coolest Place In The World.” I added to the set this “Brutally” medley with “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star. I did that a couple of times and that was definitely like a standout for me.

I love a good moment when people can do a cover on stage and kind of pay homage to their inspirations and their influences. You’re going to have another release out, though, by the time the U.S. dates roll in. All of the songs on Milk Teeth, except for one, have been in the world in some way for a while and have been performed live. Why is now a good time to be putting studio versions of these songs out in a cohesive package?

Just the making of these songs, that first initial creation of these songs… it was such a leap. I had such a need to find a way to express myself and have a catharsis that wasn’t available to me in my life at that time at all. I’ve kind of had the same group of friends that I’ve been collaborating with for a long, long time – Natalie Findlay and Jules Apollinaire were the first people that I really sat down with and wrote with that felt reflected back to me. I had written songs with people before, but with them it was a tapestry. These songs created a tapestry of what I’ve been going through, the people I was around. It felt like a tangible thing. Then kind of fast forwarding, it took a lot of time to feel comfortable with them being in reality. It felt difficult for me to even put them out. It was a very slow going process, I’ll admit, and there’s so much unreleased music that I have; even unreleased videos are sitting around because I was making so much. I was always wading through mud to get myself to just put one out.

All of these songs are very connected, very telling from that time. When it came to finally making a record – I made the record independently. Then I got signed and that was… wow. I kind of didn’t really expect any of that to happen. There was this moment where actually many people on my team were like, “Oh, ok, we’ll get rid of all the old songs. We want to delete them and remove them and just have this new record.” I was like, “No!” It was like a bit of a fight. These songs, those songs, they were all complete and everything was done. They’re everything to me, these songs. The fact is that now I’m at this point where these songs actually have a completely new fire behind them, but the same people want me to delete them. Now I get to and it’s been a complete turnaround where now we actually get to release them on vinyl. Vinyl is so important to me because it’s a tangible thing that gets to live in somebody’s house. All of the vinyls that I’ve had, they have moved from place to place with me and gone wherever I’ve been in the world, wherever I’ve lived. My Aimee Mann vinyl, in particular, and my Annie DeFranco vinyl, my Sharon Van Etton vinyl. Those come everywhere with me. For me, getting to do a vinyl release of these songs just feels like the most amazing kind of circle back to everything. It is kind of a victory moment for me.

Absolutely. Especially with these songs that were kind of the stepping stones to the full length record we got this year and the buildup to where you are now. I’m glad you fought for those, because a song like “Brutally” is everything. I think that song’s been around six years and it’s still resonating for a reason.

That’s my favorite. That really is probably my favorite song. That was like the first one I ever put out. It came from an absolute place of desperate need to express. I remember going into the studio and it was a day where my whole life had kind of fallen apart. I was just crying the entire time – even through the recording of that song. I can only hope that my life will be like that again, to be honest! [Laughs] I’m kidding, I kid! Maybe it will be at some point, but it hasn’t been for a long time. Those are the moments, though… those are the ones that I’m just so glad got memorialized into a song and I think that’s why that one still resonates so much.

It is a song about lost love and, and yearning and passion. It is one of my favorite songs of yours and it was one of the first I heard from you. 

I love that.

Now on Milk Teeth you also have “Neon Signs,” the new song on there. What was it like picking one of your new songs to kind of round out this soundtrack of old ones? 

When I recorded “Neon Signs,” I absolutely loved it. I wrote it with Jules Apollinaire and Natalie Findlay produced it. It was also written in parts of it with my incredible friend, Lisa Luxx, who is a poet. We were always sort of finding each other in moments where our lives were coming apart and getting together to create a lot. At the time it was written I was living in my first apartment and the only light that I had working was this giant neon sign. That was where we wrote that song together. I made a video for it, too, and for some reason – like what I was saying before – something in myself just didn’t let me release it properly. The small amount of fans that I had at that time, still ask for it like years later. They’re all, “Where is it? Why is it not on Spotify? YouTube?” It’s to the point where I don’t remember what the reason was anymore, so maybe it should be something else – be on something else. I want to give it its moment that I think it deserves… and on the EP it gets that.