Q+A: Cold Specks

With a new record, Fool’s Paradise, Laden Hussein aka Cold Specks was in Ottawa on Dec. 2. The soulful singer chatted with The Charlatan about the album, her heritage, and her current music recommendations.

TC: What were some of the influences behind Fool’s Paradise?

CS: Fool’s Paradise is a collection of songs where some of them are dystopian reflections, some of them are broken love songs inspired by love and loss of time. They all sort of come together, there’s 10 songs.

TC: What do you mean by dystopian reflections?

CS: For me, I called it [Fool’s Paradise] because it’s a reflection of the times through my perspective. I feel like we’re living in a crumbling world and I felt compelled to write about. Sonically, I wanted it to be beautiful and hopeful, not mournful.

TC: You’ve talked before about exploring your own Somali background on the record, do you want to talk a little about that?

CS: I suppose some of those songs, the songs that deal with identity and diaspora, that was my reaction to seeing my country on the news. Sitting down, watching Donald Trump spewing his hate while I was sitting with my father and my mother and my sisters, all who are refugees from Somalia, who left to find some light and suddenly there’s more darkness . . . I wanted to bring some light. There’s always these narratives attached to a country and I wanted to bring beauty from ashes.

TC: How’s this tour cycle been for you so far?

CS: It’s been long, exhausting and thrilling in equal measures. It’s been nice to play these new songs. There’s softer tones, much more subtle, and it’s been nice to bring that out. I’ve been listening to a lot of Sade on the road.

TC: Do you have a favourite thing a fan has ever said to you?

CS: Last night, I had a really special moment with a fan. I played a song I don’t usually play, but I played it and she came up to me and told me it was the song she played at her sister’s funeral. She really appreciated me singing it tonight, and we had this moment . . . it was incredibly emotional and beautiful as well. It’s remarkable when you’re an artist and you make songs for yourself, and they mean new things to people you don’t know. It’s a beautiful thing really.

TC: Do you have a favourite song to play live?

CS: I like them all, they’re all my children. I couldn’t choose one.

TC: Is there one that’s had a larger impact on stage or gotten the best reactions from audiences?

CS: I like “Wild Card.” I like the melody of the song. It was a single, so people really react well when we play it. Melodically, I really enjoy singing that song.

TC: How would you describe your evolution as an artist over the past few records?

CS: I think to create art, you have to constantly evolve and challenge yourself. Nothing I ever do is the same, which I want. The first record was pretty stripped back, acoustic guitars, sparse arrangements. The second one was textured, more layers. This record is softer. I just am constantly seeking to challenge myself.

TC: Are there new challenges that you’re hoping to embrace over your next few records?

CS: I stopped playing guitar last year. I’ve been guitar more now, getting to know my Telecaster again, getting reacquainted. So that’s been really nice. I really want to improve my skills on the guitar.

TC: What drew you to naming yourself after that line in Ulysses?

CS: It was striking: “Born all in the dark wormy earth, cold specks of fire, evil, lights shining in the darkness.” I liked the juxtaposition of light and darkness. It was also an homage to X-Ray Spex, the band. It made sense.

TC: If you could be remembered for one thing as an artist, what would you want that thing to be?

CS: I want to make music of substance that people enjoy. I don’t know, I just want to make good art, that’s it.

TC: What have you been listening to over the last little bit that you would want to recommend to a bunch of university kids?

CS: I’m obsessed with Sade at the moment, and Shamir.

TC: What is it about them that draws you to them?

CS: Sade is just smooth and beautiful and striking. It took me a really long time to enjoy her music because I wasn’t a fan of the 80’s smooth jazz production. It’s taken me until this year to really fall madly in love with her, despite my lack of interest in some of the production. It’s beautiful melodies, striking tone, wonderful songwriting. Shamir makes weird music, and he does it for himself. It’s outsider pop from a 23-year-old kid who struggled with bipolar disorder and record labels and a lot of shit . . . I really enjoy his new album Revelations. Those are my recommendations.

TC: You get the opportunity to sit down to dinner with literally you want. Who is it, and what’s on the menu?

CS: Hmmm. I’d love to have dinner with Aretha Franklin, and it would be the most outrageous menu. We’d sit there, I’d be silent, and observe her in all her beautiful sexiness.

TC: What conversations would you have with her?

CS: I’d probably ask her about Sam Cooke and her friendship with him. I’d want all the details and all the gossip. She was really young when she played with him, I’d want to know more details about that. I would honestly just sit there silently and observe her.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.