I’ve written a lot about Laila Sakini’s debut album as Princess Diana of Wales, but each time I go back to it, another dimension opens. Not only that, Sakini’s last three solo releases under her own name are just as special. Her work is contemplative without being overwrought, building from the ground floor before dissipating into the spectral ether. Sonic ravines gather buried emotions like an obsessive collector, only letting go once the voices trail off and the arrangements become dreams.
Sometimes it feels like too much, but usually, it’s just right.
Princess Diana of Wales’s debut is out now on A Colourful Storm (with the vinyl edition finally available, as well as some new t-shirts). Laila can be found via her Bandcamp page and is playing at Cafe Oto this Saturday, July 10. More information HERE.
First, like I often do, I would love to learn about some of your earliest memories and experiences with music and sound. Are there particular songs or albums that made an impression on you when you were younger or experiences that have stuck with you all these years?
I don’t remember, or I have a very vague recollection of, playing instruments as a very young child. I know that at age 3, my parents bought me a tiny Casio keyboard because my brother was getting a keyboard, and they thought I should have one so I wouldn’t get jealous or try and use his too much. Apparently, I played it all the time, and ever since, I was given keyboards for birthday presents, etc. I became quite obsessed. There must be about seven old keyboards still at my parents’ place! Naturally, I went on to study piano at age 6. Because my parents could never afford to buy me a piano, I would always go next door to use my neighbors, nearby friends, community centers, etc., forever piano scouting.
Did you always want to make your own music and sounds?
Yeah, I think I did.
How has your family been with all of this? Do you have support back home?
Ha hmmm. My family always wanted me to be a musician, so they are emotionally supportive; however, they get concerned with the level of risk and volatile financial aspects and I think they underestimate that. This was especially the case during the pandemic. So I think that was a pretty reasonable concern. Hopefully, that event is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.
Seeing how your music has evolved through the years has been so interesting. I have vague memories of watching/listening to you on Boiler Room doing a DJ set what feels like 100 years ago, but then it seemed like the next thing I was aware of was Vivienne – two things that feel pretty far apart. But I wonder how those things are complementary for you? How did you go from DJing to composing songs like that?
Both things were happening at the same time. They still are. Like many of my friends, I see dance music as part of a spectrum of sound that interests me. I suppose Vivienne is in a different part of the spectrum to say what I played on the Boiler Room set – Cooly G, Peshay, Chris & Cosey… but different work for different occasions. Vivienne was actually quite loved by techno people in the beginning. I remember being emailed by Silent Servant, who said he loved it. But then you remember there’s a cold wave, classical and ambient sensibility within techno, so it’s not that much of a stretch. But yes, probably don’t watch the Boiler Room show (if it’s still online [Ed. Note: It is, but I won’t link to it. Ha!]) straight after listening to Vivienne.
So I could ask a ton of questions about that cache of excellent solo releases in 2020/21, but I want to focus this more on the new project. At what point did you get the idea to do Princess Diana of Wales? And what’s the story behind calling it ‘Princess Diana of Wales’ anyway?
A few years ago, the title/alias was something that spilled out of my mouth during one of my many conversations with Moopie [A Colourful Storm label boss] about things (I’ve got a bit of a reputation for being an Anglophile because of my interests in history, British film, and period dramas). I think we were talking about other people’s aliases, and I said, “oh, I’ll be Princess Diana of Wales” we laughed, and then he was like…. “Wait, that’s actually quite good.” So we used it for a song I contributed to his mystery compilation, I Stumble and Then I Fall, and later, he asked if I wanted to do an LP for him. We both thought the name worked for his label, which has a sense of humor/seriousness in its lore that caters to “the concept” of a name like PDOW.
Originally it was a ‘secret’ project, right? But now most people know it’s you… why’d you initially start it out as something anonymous? (Full disclosure: I did the same thing with a project of mine but found it becomes too tricky keeping it secret (or maybe I just felt too weird referring to myself in the third person when saying anything about it.. heh))
It was initially anonymous because everybody who contributed to the first compilation used aliases as a guessing game – when all the artists involved actually knew each other quite well (Melbourne is a very small town). Towards the release of the actual LP, we knew it wasn’t viable to continue to keep things secret – The Wire and other magazines wanted to publish proper reviews, and so we let go of that idea. We never intended for it to get that far or become as popular as it did, but it was fun. Some people rolled up to my first gig as PDOW at Cafe Oto and were actually surprised, “oh, it’s YOU,” there were conversations about wearing a costume to continue the myth, and at that point, we realized it was becoming a little TOO silly – even for us.
As a person with more than one “solo project,” I always love to hear about others’ takes and reasons for this approach. How do you separate PDOW and your ‘solo’ work under your name? Is it something that you decide before you set out to work on a piece, or as you’re writing something, does it sort of reveal itself to be either/or?
Both, I’d say. But it’s similar to how I’d differentiate between records/LPs/EPs… Which is loosely based on a grounded theory… So the music is made however it needs to be made, and then it is generally clustered around that period/moments/feelings. Princess Diana of Wales is both an album title and a name, so it focuses on the happenings of 2021 – and yes, there was an intention to group this work for the use of Princess Diana, but it was more of an outline that needed to be colored in. Obviously, the work didn’t have a form until it was created, so there was no extreme template to adhere to. Still, I tried to use different instruments to my previous two LPs so that it appeared different on the face of it. For some reason, I thought the occasion called for more prominent vocals, which went into it as well. Not sure if that would have happened if it was a “Laila Sakini” record, but we both felt like the work had settled in a good/appropriate place without overthinking it or overworking this idea of it being “different.”
What’s surprised you most about doing this project and the reaction to it and/or the record?
There have been a few surprises, I guess. I’m noticing more and more that I learn things about myself by listening back to the records. With PDOW, I suppose I felt like things were quite cryptic and perhaps a bit unclear (especially with an alias), but most people seem to read the work and come back with an insight that is quite relevant to how I was feeling at the time. That was confronting/surprising. Seems there are no secrets in sound.
What’s next then for not just Princess Diana of Wales but your solo work and other projects as well?
Well, for Princess Diana of Wales, we finally have the vinyl arriving in stores, and we got T-shirts (literally yesterday).
This Sunday, there’s a live show at Cafe Oto with Thomas Bush and Guy Gormley (Enchante). (info HERE)
DeNor in Antwerp
An improv gig in Hamburg (TBA)
Live show at Gaudeamus Muziekweek, The Netherlands
Hopefully, a DJ gig in between.
Of course, there will be some more music out this year, but for now, we wait.