HI SIENNA — an alt-pop band from Manchester, consisting of Poppy Jo (vocals), Ste Darling (guitar), Si James (drums) and Charlie Ellis (bass) — are still finding inspiration during the emotional time of Coronavirus by taking up new hobbies in video games, spending time with their 9-month-old baby, or developing a newfound love for whisky.
The band takes the music process seriously but don’t shy away from fun; they are not afraid of theatrics, incorporating colour and costume into their live performances and releases. Lead singer Poppy said: “We wanted to experiment with colour, so we took the colour pink and made it cool.”
HI SIENNA’s songs ‘Favourite Thing’ and ‘Lovesick’ are a chance for their energetic music to complement their big personalities. I spoke to them to find out more about their sound, and they opened up about the difficulties of doing everything themselves on a budget, revealing how this small Manchester band is truly dedicated to their craft.
THE INDIEPENDENT: You are an up-and-coming band with a lot of plans, but what do you bring to the independent music scene that we haven’t seen before?
Poppy: We are here to have fun! We don’t keep asking ourselves “who do we sound like?”, we want to have our own sound. Radio producers tell us all the time they don’t know which station to put us on. That tells us each of our songs are bringing something new to the music industry, and we love that.
Ste: Musically we are different. I haven’t met another North-West band that sounds like us — we mix different genres together and don’t take reference tracks to the studio. We make our own sound.
Si: We went to a gig and there were four other bands that all looked the same. Their music was good but we took a risk with using colour for our image and I think it is going to pay off.
Charlie: We knew we didn’t want to be in all black, like every other Manchester band!
THE INDIEPENDENT: The band aesthetic is truly so versatile; your singles and press material that have been released are either pink or brightly coloured. In what ways is this bright persona reflected in your music?
Poppy: I think we are fluid; we explore different genres and write differently every time – we experiment constantly and that’s what makes us versatile. We don’t put pressure on ourselves to be different, we just found that our sound and the use of colour fits well with our band and we aren’t afraid to draw influences from so many different genres.
Si: A band’s job is to evolve.
Poppy: Totally, and our song ‘Favourite Thing’ is not just about love, just as our recent single ‘Lovesick’ is not about falling for someone that is not right for you. The songs are also about sex and complex feelings and the music reflects this; It’s a whirlwind really, just like our colourful photoshoots.
Charlie: We have more music coming though!
Poppy: I am super excited for it. Our next release is soulful, sexy and its tempo is different to our others.
Si: With COVID-19 we have pushed back releasing anything, but hopefully by June it will be out for everyone to listen to.
Poppy: But I just want to get across that we do take this seriously. While we sort of take the piss out of love in our songs, we still get across that love can suck and be great.
Ste: We just put our all into everything we do.
THE INDIEPENDENT: What does HI SIENNA’s creative process look like? Walk me through the stages: from a song idea, through to production and promotion.
Si: It’s cliché, but we end up being four musicians in a room with an acoustic/indie sound which we don’t really want, but it just happens that way and then we use our laptops and get creative with sound. We like to mix electronic sound with acoustic. We all work quite remotely from each other, despite all living in Manchester, because it’s expensive being an independent band and paying for studio time.
Si and Steve: We also all need to agree that there is a vocal hook, the instruments are important too, but the song won’t work unless it’s catchy. This is our full-time job, so we put a lot of time into the production, so we make music for our audience and music we love to play too.
THE INDIEPENDENT: I saw some members of the band covered Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds’ and The Knack’s ‘My Sharona’, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and posted them on social media. What inspired you to do this?
Poppy: Well Ste sent his “die corona” version of The Knack’s song to us on our group chat and I took the opportunity to post it on social media. We didn’t want people to think we were being insincere, but this is a time of need and we are a band of optimism, so we didn’t want to stop that. We want to put a smile on people’s faces to brighten the situation. That’s what creators do; we inspire.
THE INDIEPENDENT: With all of the tragedy surrounding COVID-19, what are some of HI SIENNA’s “favourite thing(s)” to do during the lockdown?
Poppy: I’ve tried to learn Spanish, written about three paragraphs of a book, taken up day drinking and tried yoga and I’ve somewhat mastered Call of Duty. It’s all fun, but to get serious for a minute: there has been a lot of pressure on creators to continue creating, but it is hard! We have tried to keep ourselves busy and we are still playing our instruments and we have a few finished songs ready to be released.
Charlie: My family have moved to the Yorkshire Dales, so being back from Manchester is different; I can walk around my Yorkshire town in about 20 minutes and I’ve invented a one-man game with a football.
Si: It’s weird, I’ve decided I like whisky and can’t get enough of it.
Ste: I’ve got to spend so much time with my baby girl, she’s clapping, waving and crawling and I’ve even had a chance to meet my neighbours, but I am massively concerned about my hair — I’m definitely not shaving my head though.
THE INDIEPENDENT: Let’s imagine for a minute that it’s summer, there’s no lockdown and the lack of venue isn’t an issue: what can we expect to see next from HI SIENNA?
Poppy: We have a few singles ready. We can tell you we have written and produced a gospel-inspired song, that is ready to be released come June. We’ve taken language from choir songs, and sang about sex. We’re so excited for the band’s next steps. We have a lot to come!
Charlie: I’m excited for the festivals.
Poppy and Si: We have around six festivals, but most of them have been moved to September with Coronavirus. Things are tight because we can’t do gigs, but we’re still creating music remotely from home and we are trying to stay positive by looking forward to the festivals.
Ste: And we are on the main stage for Bingley Weekender!
Poppy: …which is the day after Si’s wedding — but don’t worry the band has something special up their sleeves to make it up to his wife!
Interview conducted by Polly Dale
This article was originally published as part of The Indiependent’s May 2020 charity magazine, which raised money for the British Lung Foundation. Find out more here.