LEILA FADEL, HOST:
And finally today, Sudan Archives, a violinist and singer making innovative R&B music with a classical twist.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CONFESSIONS")
SUDAN ARCHIVES: (Singing) Confessions are falling down. Down. Down. They soak up the dark, damp ground.
FADEL: That's "Confessions" by Sudan Archives. Her stage name is a nod to some personal quirks.
SUDAN ARCHIVES: Sudan's just a name that my mom gave me 'cause I don't like my real name. So she gave me Sudan. And Archives - it's going to get nerdy - comes from my obsession with string music, but specifically like ethnomusicologist's archives.
FADEL: Her given name is Brittany Denise Parks, and she just came out with her debut album, Athena? When I caught up with her earlier this week, she told me she's obsessed with the violin because of its versatility.
SUDAN ARCHIVES: I love string music. And I love finding the similarities between the instrument. Like, violin music is all over the world. And they have - there's folk music, like Celtic. There's Irish jigging. There's, like, music of Sudan, the violin culture there. There's like West African fiddling. There's like classical violin-playing music. It's just, like, amazing.
FADEL: And did you draw from all those influences on this album?
SUDAN ARCHIVES: I actually did because the first song I played was an Irish jig. OK. But people - I know people think I have this, like, African touch with things, but it's kind of like - I want to say some of this stuff is just like some Irish kind of, like, upbringing by the sound of, like, Irish music.
FADEL: You know, one of the songs that's an earworm for me is "Glorious." Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GLORIOUS")
SUDAN ARCHIVES: (Singing) Need to focus on the bottom line, what they call a dollar sign. Focus on the bottom line, so you never fall behind.
FADEL: So there's a lot of really cool stuff happening in the song. You can hear the hip-hop, classical influences. Now that you say Irish, I'm thinking I'm hearing Irish.
SUDAN ARCHIVES: That's definitely Irish jig right there.
FADEL: So what went into creating it?
SUDAN ARCHIVES: All my songs start with, like, the violin. So that violin you hear is probably the first thing. That's like where the idea starts, and then everything else is kind of formed around it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GLORIOUS")
SUDAN ARCHIVES: (Singing) I can't wait to buy my mom a place, pay her debt. She could quit today. Hit the max on my card today. Pay it back as soon as I can pay.
Throughout the album, I go through all of this, like, inner conflict and all of this, like, questioning everything, like what's right, what's wrong? But "Glorious" is just like, hey, just focus on your family. Like, everything that you're doing is going to give you the opportunity to just help your family more.
FADEL: You talk about how it all starts with the violin. And one of the songs on the album - pretty short, all instrumental - "House Of Open Tuning II."
(SOUNDBITE OF SUDAN ARCHIVES' "HOUSE OF TUNING II")
FADEL: So I really love this because the violin's the star. And you have this really playful approach you take with your music. And I really - I couldn't believe it when I read you were self-taught. Tell me about that. What drew you to the violin?
SUDAN ARCHIVES: What drew me to the violin was them fiddlers. They came up in my school. They started playing these Irish jigs. I was like, oh, I'm sold. Like, I'm sold. And that's how I started playing violin. But since I went to so many different schools, some schools didn't have orchestra - some did, but they were just starting. So it was weird because I was re-learning the same things. I was just always learning like how to - what the instrument was called and the parts and how to pick it up. And then we never really got into the learning process. And I went to so many different schools.
So I definitely kept playing in church, though. And the church is so, like, supportive. They just, like, tell you to go up there, and even if you sound bad, you just - they just say, oh, yeah, keep playing, keep playing. The next thing you know, you kind of are playing pretty good. And I've also learned by ear by playing in the church. Like, just being with, like, the small band that we had, I had to learn how to just, like, play certain lead parts.
FADEL: You talked about the church being a really supportive place to learn music. Does that have any influence in your music today?
SUDAN ARCHIVES: Yeah, there's definitely - my harmonies, I think, come from the church because I just always - I'm obsessed with harmonies. Like, I love it when it sounds like me times a hundred, probably because I wanted to sound like a choir.
FADEL: So being a self-taught musician, did that have a big impact on the way you make your music now?
SUDAN ARCHIVES: Yes because my sound can never get altered too much because I come in the studio with like a demo. Like, I know how to just, you know, do my own thing. And actually, maybe because I have my own sound as well. Like, I have these EPs out, and people kind of know what to expect. And it's great. I'm in the studio. Like, I have input. Like, I always, like, am - even with the engineering, I have ideas of how we can mess around with different effects. Like, it's just really fun.
FADEL: So you really keep control of the final product.
SUDAN ARCHIVES: Right.
FADEL: So let's hear another song. This is "Coming Up."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COMING UP")
SUDAN ARCHIVES: (Singing) I saw the trees. I'm in (unintelligible). I saw your smile, oh. It's not been the same for a while. Guess I've felt this way for some time. I'm not trying to offend you, but the (unintelligible) through. You said I gave up. I'm going under, not coming up.
FADEL: Can you tell us a bit about this song? What inspired it?
SUDAN ARCHIVES: There's there's actually, like, a voicemail of my friend's ex-boyfriend kind of like harassing her. Like, he just could not take no for an answer when they broke up. He had a hard time dealing with that. He would call her all the time. She would wake up to like 20 voicemails.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COMING UP")
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Please call me back. I really need to talk to you.
SUDAN ARCHIVES: So I was like, girl, give me that voicemail. I want to make a song about this, like...
FADEL: A lot of your songs, it seems like you're drawing a lot from your personal struggles, from the struggles of those around you. What were you going through when you were creating the album?
SUDAN ARCHIVES: I was definitely growing. Like, I have a hard time basically communicating when it comes to something like when it - communicating, like, that I'm uncomfortable or communicating, like, something negative, like, oh, like, the way you're treating me, I don't like this, you know. So I think I was going through that. Like, I was learning how to, like, vocalize.
FADEL: You did it through music.
SUDAN ARCHIVES: Yeah. I think I definitely get through all of these problems through music that I have in life. It's like music has always been my therapy. Like, and now it's great that it's a career now, but I will never stop making music. It's like even when I was working two jobs, like, if I was stressed out, I'd just, like, start making a song about it.
FADEL: What is it that you can communicate through music that you can't through words?
SUDAN ARCHIVES: Different ranges. Your voice is - you know, the voice that you're given is at a certain, like, melodic tone. And you have your own, like, you know, range of how high and low you can go, I think. But the violin is like an extension of me. And I can just make these crazy sounds that I probably could make with my voice, but I just feel so much more comfortable, like, doing it through an instrument. And also, with electronic music, it's just like the possibilities are limitless. It feels like it.
FADEL: So what song should we go out on?
SUDAN ARCHIVES: Oh, OK. We should go out on - oh, my God - "Black Vivaldi."
FADEL: Why? Why this song?
SUDAN ARCHIVES: This song - because it's kind of like the theme of the album. Once I made this song, I realized that the album would be about duality.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK VIVALDI SONATA")
SUDAN ARCHIVES: (Singing) I don't care if we start a war in heaven. Who really needs to be rescued? Why can't we blind them in the room together? Wouldn't understand it...
FADEL: That's Sudan Archives. Her debut album, "Athena," is out now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.